There’s a benefit to simplicity in genre movies. Set up a single situation tense enough to stretch out for 90 minutes and you’ve not only got a genre yarn easy to produce on a miniscule budget, but something with an easily sellable hook. ‘Downrange’ desperately wants to be one of those movies. The hook ain’t bad, and thanks to hiring a gifted and hyper-stylized director, the shock and gore gags all hit hard. Unfortunately, the characters are all so dumb and stock it’s hard to care whether they live or die.
In fact, the characters are so plastic and disposable that it’s not even worth mentioning their names or the actors who play them. Essentially, ‘Downrange’ is about a gang of disposable college kids on a road trip. One of their tires blows out and, while trying to change it, they realize that a sniper shot out the tire. Next thing you know, bullets are raining down on the group. Those who aren’t instantly killed are stuck finding cover behind a car and a few bushes. There’s no escape. Any attempt seems to guarantee another bullet in a bad place. Let the tension begin.
The flick is directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, a filmmaker who specializes in hyper-stylized and extremely violent movies designed to make viewers question their sanity and shout out, “What the fuck?” His best movies are probably ‘Versus’ and ‘Midnight Meat Train’, the former because it makes no attempt to tell a story (just stimulate), the latter because Clive Barker served up a decent concept for Kitamura to hang his set-pieces and trick camera shots on. The guy is talented with a camera and knows how to shoot gore gags like art projects. ‘Downrange’ is filled with opportunities to show off and he does just that. Cameras are mounted on rotating car wheels, eyeballs fly out of faces, bullet hits explode like bloody fireworks, and cars leap through the air before turning into fireballs. Whenever Kitamura is allowed to cut loose and stage something violent and insane, the flick is a goofy good time.
Sadly, the budget was too low for ‘Downrange’ to be comprised exclusively of set-pieces. The characters need to be set up and there should be down periods between the mayhem. Without fail, Kitamura loses the movie every time it slows down for an instant. The characters have no real inner life and the primetime soap reject actors portraying them only make matters worse.
It’s a shame, because the action and horror are masterfully crafted with a devilishly dark sense of humor. That stuff is absolutely spectacular, building towards a hilariously perfect ironic ending. When you can watch ‘Downrange’ at home and can hit a fast-forward button every time a character speaks, it’ll be a damn fine 50 minutes of fun. Until then, the other 40 minutes really drag the movie down.