Swelter is a movie about a group of former/escaped convicts who trace a former partner to a desert town named Baker. He was the only one to have gotten away from a heist ten years ago but was badly wounded. He was also in possession of 10 million dollars which is what his former crew is after. The only problem is that due to the injury he has a bullet in his head which can’t only kill him should it move, but also is responsible for him having amnesia and no recollection of his former life. To top it all off: he’s now the town’s sheriff.
Swelter is a modern day western which bears some resemblance to that other Van Damme western “Desert Heat“. But unlike that movie, this is a more gritty story, one in which Van Damme takes a step back again in a supporting role with very few lines, despite the being front and center on most of the promotional material. The story revolves around Bishop (Lennie James a.k.a. Morgan from The Walking Dead) who is living a quiet life with his girlfriend and her 17 year old daughter. He might be the sheriff, but as is noted by everyone at multiple times, he walks around without a gun. One of the many subplots in this movie revolves around a deputy trying to get elected as the new sheriff.
When his old crew enters town things change. They were former residents of Baker and go around hassling several people. This is the moment the movie started to lose its focus as all of the crew members go their own way. Van Damme tries to woo a female bartender, another is harassing Bishop’s stepdaughter and her boyfriend. In fact this movie is so full of bit-parts it’s hard to keep track of who’s who and doing what to whom. Not helping the situation is the fact that Bishop’s girlfriend is the former girlfriend of the leader of his former crew. Oh and there’s also a doctor played by Alfred Molina whom I feel obliged to mention because his name one most of the promotional materials. He has no real important part to the story, but is just another example of the too many characters this story has running around.
Because the movie is all over the place I lost interest after about 50 minutes and had trouble maintaining attention. Swelter could have been a lot better would it have focused on a smaller group of people with more interesting backgrounds. The plot is already over the place, the fact that it even includes unrealistic scenarios makes it ever more tedious. At one point the four gangsters stumble upon a police roadblock. They execute all the policemen and yet we have to believe that the next three days they are in Baker and no police force shows up in search of them?
What I did like was the western look of the movie. Unlike The Shepherd Swelter was actually shot in the US rather than an Eastern European country. It works wonders for the movie as the atmosphere is spot on. Lennie James brings the same charisma he displays in The Walking Dead to his Bishop. Alfred Molina is wasted in a glorified cameo but is a welcome addition to on otherwise overcrowded flick. Van Damme’s role reminded me somewhat of his first steps into the movie business where he played almost mute bad guys in B-movies like Black Eagle and No Retreat, No Surrender. But that was then and giving him so little to do is a waste of his talent and our time.
The makers of Swelter have tried to inject Tarantino influences to give their movie more depth than the usual western. Quick cuts, non linear story telling and multiple colorful characters are some of the elements they throw in, but sadly the haven’t got the dosage of their ingredients right resulting in a movie that is hard to digest.