By Robert Daniels
I never knew I needed to hear Pierce Brosnan with a Southern accent until Phillip Noyce’s “Fast Charlie.” The former Bond plays the titular “problem solver,” as he calls himself, cooler than a summer breeze. A turf war between his boss, Stan (James Caan in one of his final film roles), and a New Orleans gangster named Beggar (Gbenga Akinnagbe) results in the apparent murder of Stan and his entire crew, pushing Charlie to seek vengeance before Beggar finds him, too. Charlie’s predicament also envelops his lover, Marcie (Morena Baccarin), a sharp-talking taxidermist.
Charlie is rendered in the mold of John Wick, if Wick remained in the biz until his actual retirement age. Brosnan moves quietly and efficiently while leaning on smartly delivered one-liners. “What do you want?” Beggar asks. “You, not breathing,” Charlie retorts. Some old dogs do well without new tricks. (Rent or buy on most major platforms.)
‘The Dirty South’
Another Southern revenge story, this time in northern Louisiana, occurs in writer-director Matthew Yerby’s grim and gritty “The Dirty South.” Weighed down by an alcoholic father and an absent, ne’er-do-well mother, Sue Parker (Willa Holland) is on the verge of losing her family bar to the town’s wealthy patriarch, Jeb Roy (Dermot Mulroney), if she doesn’t come up with $30,000 in three days. Lucky for her, Dion (Shane West), a petty pickpocket from an equally broken family, just rolled through town. Sue teams up with Dion to rob Jeb, striking a blow to Jeb’s fief.
At its heart, “The Dirty South” is a heist flick. The resourceful Dion teaches the determined Sue the tricks of his trade and quickly falls in love with her. The climatic heist, a brawling affair between Sue and Jeb, is soundtracked by “Carol of the Bells,” ripping the bow from Yerby’s rough and tumble holiday treat. (Rent or buy on most major platforms.)
Having written about “A Family” and “The Village,” I’m persistently on the lookout for Japanese director Michihito Fujii’s next film. His special interest in random bystanders who become stuck in larger, nefarious webs reemerges in his slick, unhinged remake of the Korean action film “A Hard Day.” Fujii’s “Hard Days” opens on Detective Kudo (Junichi Okada) accidentally hitting a pedestrian with his car. The victim turns out to be at the heart of a battle between a corrupt internal affairs investigator, Yazaki (Go Ayano), who’s tasked with retrieving a key to a vault, and the elderly gangster (Akira Emoto) who is intent on stealing its contents.
The messy situation immerses Kudo into a pure comedy, turning scenes requiring subterfuge — a traffic stop or his mother’s funeral — into hilarious near catastrophes. Okada builds his performance from broad physical gags toward a showdown against a crazed Yazaki among the tombstones of a Buddhist temple, not unlike the ending to the classic Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Their battle of the wills even leaves an opening for a sequel. (Stream it on Netflix.)
‘The Legend and Hag of Shaolin’
Chinese director Zhang Dicai’s “The Legend and Hag of Shaolin,” with its faceless white-clad cult following its holy goddess on a trail to a MacGuffin treasure map, certainly qualifies as offbeat. Zhang leans into the comedic potential of this otherworldly premise through the two martial arts warriors — Hong (Gu Shangwei) and Shiyu (Zhao Wenzhuo) — who take the map into hiding. In a country village, the pair run an acupuncture clinic that, despite their best efforts to lie low, becomes a hit with the town’s women.
Although corrupt martial arts masters, a romance and a major twist arise, the lighter-than-air fighting is the film’s primary vehicle. Clean frames and fluid choreography imbue Hong’s leaps and slides with balletic grace. The foley artists, the key engine to any good action film, propel these staged confrontations, making Hong’s trusty spear sound like a whistling crystal searching for blood. (Stream it on Hi-Yah!)
Pietro (Pietro Castellitto) is a small-time gun runner, who, with his sharpshooting partner Marcello (Tommaso Ragno), works to earn a living during the waning days of World War II. Though Pietro deals with the resistance, he isn’t a revolutionary. He’s on the side of earning the kind of money he hopes will impress his girlfriend, Yvonne (Matilda De Angelis), who happens to be the mistress of Achille Borsalino (Filippo Timi), a brutal fascist commander. After hearing about the Italian leadership’s plan to flee the country with a bounty of gold, Pietro forms a team to steal the treasure first.
Italian director Renato De Maria’s “Robbing Mussolini” is an inspired blending of “Inglourious Basterds” and “Sunset Boulevard,” relying on lush period detail, ornate art deco sets and resplendent gowns emblazoned with intoxicating splashes of red. The heist itself, in a nearly impregnable square surrounded by high walls, barbed wire and snipers, is equally imaginative: Long tracking shots capture the bevy of explosions and well-choreographed firefights, with biting precision and arresting flair, on an audacious scale. (Stream it on Netflix.)