Sometimes, nothing hits the spot like a disposable, low-budget, B-movie that trots out all the usual tropes. “Bloodlines” director Stephen Durham’s rural crime thriller “Army of One” (*** out of ****) qualifies as a “Rambo” revenge pastiche.
A happily married couple from Georgia camp out in the Alabama backwoods and run afoul of a homegrown criminal cartel led by a murderous matriarch who prefers to be called “Mama.” Mama and her mesomorphic maniacs are so odious you’ll savor their demise at the hands of our indestructible leading lady who takes a licking but never stops kicking.
Cast as a tenacious, U.S. Army Ranger skilled in hand-to-hand combat, actress Ellen Hollman proves herself every inch a tigress. Although the opposition outnumbers her, they make the fatal mistake of underestimating her rage. Recuperating from stab wounds on an unrelated case, Atlantic Homicide Detective Dillon Baker (Matt Passmore of “Jigsaw”) and his wife Brenner (Ellen Hollman of “The Matrix Resurrections”) take time off to enjoy the great outdoors in the Heart of Dixie.
At one point, a summer shower catches this amorous couple in the open, and they take refuge in a remote shack in the woods. Shedding their sodden apparel, the couple indulge in some afternoon delight. Afterward, Brenner’s suspicions are aroused by the sight of a huge armoire blocking a doorway.
Dillon refuses to help his wife move the unwieldy armoire. After Brenner shoves it aside, they discover an abundance of assault rifles, C-4 plastic explosives, and marihuana. Earlier in the day, a Forest Ranger had stopped by their camp and warned them about the unfriendly natives. Before the couple realize it, the cabin owners surprise them, tie them up, beat them down, and shoot them in their skulls.
These homicidal hellions waste no time hauling away their warm bodies and heaving of them in a gully where nobody will ever find them. Unfortunately, for these felonious fools, one of their bullets creased rather than cleft a skull!
Watching Brenner tangle with tough guys twice her size is the best part of “Army of One.” These encounters are staged with just enough flair to know some thought went into them. The filmmakers add to Brenner’s statue later when Mama’s college boy son, Lawrence (Jacob Hobbs of “Death Factory”), finds Brenner on Facebook, while Mama peers over his shoulder. “First female Ranger,” Mama takes the words out of Lawrence’s mouth as they scan the posts of our heroine in army fatigues.
Somewhere on the sprawling, ten-thousand acres that Mama owns and cultivates for her criminal pursuits, our heroine decides to destroy everything that Mama has created. When Brenner and her husband Dillon cruised into Mama’s bailiwick initially, Mama’s Mohawk headed son Butch (Gary Kasper of “The Lincoln Lawyer”) played chicken with them.
Recklessly, this blustery buffoon swerved his pick-up truck up alongside them in the adjacent lane of the two-lane country road to badger them. Brenner and Dillon ignore Butch until they stop for food at a local café, when they reencounter Butch in the company of his friends. Mama intervenes when Butch tries to bully the couple again and sends her son packing.
Later, after they had established their campsite, the couple are cautioned by a Forest Ranger (newcomer Melissa McLaney) about the xenophobic attitude of the locals. Little did our heroes realize at the time the Forest Ranger was on Mama’s payroll and would keep Mama abreast of the couple’s whereabouts.
Mama’s network of informants extends into the Sheriff’s Office, too, with a sexy dispatcher who alerts Mama about anything of interest. Eventually, Sheriff Hobbs (Niko Foster of “Supercollider”) and Brenner run into each other on Mama’s acreage. Brenner guns down one of Mama’s trigger-happy henchmen only moments after he shot Hobbs in the leg.
Above all else, the feminist-fueled “Army of One” amounts to a clash of wills between two uber dames. Neither are prepared to concede. Director Stephen Durham does an admirable job of balancing out our heroine’s heroics with the horrible atrocities of her chief adversary, Mama (Geraldine Singer of “Green Book”), a matriarchal puppet master who pulls the strings of her brawny country boy mafia.
Just as Ellen Hollman commands your attention in her rough and tumble combat scenes, Mama dominates every scene with her imperturbable ‘poker face,’ until she realizes the threat our heroine poses to her criminal enterprise. Gradually, Mama unravels each time Brenner whittles down her goon squad.
Unlike the athletic Brenner who is either shooting a guy in his tracks or slugging it out with another, Mama behaves more like a coldblooded criminal czar rather than a warm, sweet mother figure. Mama projects an aura of menace that not even her boisterous son Butch would dare to defy.
For example, once he wraps up an illicit automatic weapons sale with a mercenary, Butch takes the payment and stashes it without bothering to count the amount. Butch’s behavior surprises the mercenary.
Mama’s Mohawk wearing son points out that the mercenary made a deal with Mama. In a rare moment of candor, Butch warns the mercenary that nobody lives who crosses his Mama. Mama is ten-times more vindicative than Butch.
During the final moments of this brisk 86-minute epic, Mama reveals her murderous penchant for violence when she kills an innocent hostage Brenner sought to rescue.
Indeed, if you pay attention to the dynamics of their rivalry, Mama’s last casualty—a simple-minded girl that her son raped and impregnated– illustrates Mama’s sadism. As “Army of One” draws to a close with Mama still alive, Brenner returns for a showstopping finale that you won’t forget!
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