Jean Reno has had a bit slump of late. His seminal performance is undoubtedly 1994’s Léon where he played the titular honourable hitman for hire. Since then, he’s not really had much to write home about, appearing in a number of films which will quickly fade from public consciousness (Armoured anyone? Couples Retreat?)
Sadly 22 Bullets will do nothing to bring Jean Reno back to prominence even though he’s easily the best thing about the film. He stars at Charly Mattei, a retired Marseilles gangster living with his son and wife and trying to put his ugly past behind him. But when he survives a hit in a car park which sees him riddled with bullets (guess how many!), he vows revenge on his assailants.
An immediate prime suspect is his old childhood friend Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad) who doesn’t share Charly’s scruples when it comes to drugs trafficking and who would surely profit if his old buddy was out of the way. Charly embarks on a journey of methodical revenge, ruthlessly tracking down and executing every one of his assailants. Hot on his trail is slightly tipsy detective and single mum, Marie (Marina Fois) who has her own reasons for wanting both gangsters behind bars.
The pacing is way off, lurching between slow gangster yarn as Charly tries to find out who shot him, and frantic action sequences in which more blood is spilled than the back room of a blind butcher’s shop.
While 22 Bullets is keen to flag up the theme of redemption (can one man get revenge without being dragged back into the world he left behind or does “spilt blood never dry”?) it also wants to get the most out of Reno’s killing spree. As the body count mounts, patience starts to wear thin. Eventually it boils down to a series of hits, as Charly systematically finds and eliminates his targets and the film forgets the message it originally tries to convey – the acts of violence become dull and repetitive.
Jean Reno does a good job with the script that he’s given and squeezes the most out his role – admirably he manages to deliver clichéd lectures on morality with a straight face and his grizzled presence gives some gravitas to a thinly developed character. The supporting cast are fine too – Kad Merad is suitably smug and menacing as his old pal Tony and Marina Fois makes the most out of her small role.
But the good performances are wasted in a film that treads firmly in the well-worn furrows of revenge drama and brings nothing new to the table. If it weren’t for Jean Reno, it could easily be discarded without a second thought – as it stands it’s a familiar, by-the-numbers gangster flick, barely carried by the strength of its leading man.