I always get excited when a new Mel Gibson movie comes out. I’m a big fan of his work both in front and behind the camera. I think he’s an amazing filmmaker. After discovering he would costar with Vince Vaughn in Dragged Across Concrete, the latest film by Director S. Craig Zalher (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl In Cell Block 99) I was pretty excited. I loved the stylistic and brutal vibe of Bone Tomahawk and even though I’ve yet to see it, I’ve heard good things about Cell Block 99. Even the terrible trailer didn’t put me off because there are plenty of amazing films with poor trailers.
But to my surprise and horror, Dragged Across Concrete ended up being the most boring and painful viewing experience of 2019 for me. It was so terrible, I felt like I had been dragged across concrete myself as I watched the most drawn out, unimpressive story with the most ridiculous dialogue delivered by some of the most embarrassing performances since Crossbreed. But at least Crossbreed wasn’t 159 minutes overlong, and it certainly wasn’t a poor attempt at being a cheap imitation of Quentin Tarantino.
Dragged Across Concrete begins with Henry Johns (Tori Kittles) being released from prison and returning home to his mother and wheelchair-bound brother. His mother has become a sex worker due to financial hardship only exacerbated by her drug addiction and the fact that Henry’s father abandoned them to be with his boyfriend. With his mother’s drug problem and his brother’s dreams of being a videogame designer, Henry decides he needs to do something to make a better life for his family – even if it means getting involved in crime again.
The story then centers on Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), two police officers working the streets of Bulwark. After making an arrest where they are unknowingly filmed applying excessive force on a criminal, both are suspended for 6 weeks without pay. With a wife suffering from multiple sclerosis and a daughter who has been victimized numerous times due to the rough area they live in, Brett becomes fed up with not being able to provide a better life for his family. He organizes a heist with Anthony to steal from an out-of-town criminal in order to provide the two police officers with a big payday.
This plan will eventually lead to Brett and Anthony crossing paths with Henry Johns and his friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) who are the drivers for the dangerous criminals they hope to steal from. But before they can steal from this mysterious out of town criminal, they must first stake him out and monitor his movements to determine the best time to do the deed. And that’s what the majority of this film consists of – Brett and Anthony inside a car watching the criminals from afar. A lot of watching, a lot of talking, a lot of not doing enough of anything else.
The acting is so wooden, so robotic and so unnatural you could remake this with the marionettes from Team America and nobody could tell the difference. At least then you could forgive the lack of emotion and lack of believability. Even though the dialogue is rubbish and would have hindered the performance of its most famous actor, I expected so much more from Mel Gibson. He’s renowned for giving intense performances and bringing to life memorable characters. A veteran of nearly 60 completed films as an actor, it was heartbreaking to see the man who gave us Braveheart just carry out the performance like he was going through the motions – the type of thing you see with Bruce Willis movies that go straight to DVD.
Vince Vaughn is particularly awful, though he gets a little more forgiveness from me because, let’s face it, he’s no Gary Oldman. His character also had the most ridiculous dialogue and pointless scenes which just added to the train-wreck performance we got Vaughn. It was like you could see him focusing on getting the words right because what he says is just downright unnatural. People don’t speak this way and this reality is hammered home like a punch in the face every time Vaughn speaks. Actually, an actual punch in the face would have helped me get through this film by making me feel something more than just agitation.
The rest of the cast fares better, but not much. They’re still better than what Gibson and Vaughn deliver, however. With so much of the story focused on Gibson and Vaughn talking, eating and sleeping in the car, their scenes don’t contribute enough to salvage any real entertainment value.
One of the major things that make this film so difficult to watch is how hard it tries to be stylized, gritty and dark. Particularly with the horrendous dialogue and the laughable, overly-evil posturing of the main villains. S. Craig Zalher so clearly wants to be Quentin Tarantino but hasn’t been able to pull it off. Some may say this movie is a slow burner, but it’s not a slow burner. It’s dragged out…literally. There’s not enough plot to warrant a runtime of nearly 3 hours. For comparison that’s longer than the director’s cut of James Cameron’s Aliens and a lot more happens in that.
Other than a walk through society to see how people talk, what this film really needed was serious editing to trim the fat so we could focus on what this movie is really about: men who do the wrong thing in order to provide for their families – or in Anthony’s case, his potential family.
Had a solid hour of unnecessary padding of things we didn’t need to see been cut, like how the villains got the money to buy the van or seeing bank clerk Kelly Summer (Jennifer Carpenter) struggle to return to work after having a baby or watching how loud Anthony eats his food, perhaps we’d better understand the frustration these men feel. Brett feels helpless he can’t afford to live in a better place where his daughter won’t be hassled. He hates that he’s being punished for the sake of politics even though he feels he was performing his duties. Henry is fresh out of jail and financially unable to pay off his mother’s last 6 months of overdue bills or help his younger brother get into college.
These are all things we can relate to. But whatever poignancy becomes lost among a sea of unnecessary scenes that aren’t even relevant to the overall plot. I’d even argue against the unnecessary, grotesque violence and I usually enjoy violent movies. And the ending just leaves your head shaking with disbelief.
Dragged Across Concrete is terrible. I can’t remember the last time I felt this agitated watching a movie. I can’t stress enough how woeful the dialogue is, trying too hard to be clever and gritty. I know people are going to tell me that it’s supposed to be stylistic like a Quentin Tarantino movie, but with Tarantino it works. Even though I find Tarantino dialogue to be needlessly long (I don’t rate him to be honest) it never feels forced like it does with Dragged Across Concrete. Throw in a bloated runtime of nearly 3 hours for a story that could have easily been told in 90 minutes and you’re left with possibly the worst viewing experience of 2019…so far.