Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Big game animal hunter Frank Walsh (Nicolas Cage) has just captured his most unique prize yet: a rare snow white jaguar. He books passage on a Brazilian freighter bound for Latin America with the hopes of selling the jaguar and other captured animals for big money. But as the cargo is being loaded, so too is Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand), a mysterious assassin being secretly extradited to the United States.
It is obvious where things go from there: Loffler escapes, people die in increasingly violent ways, chaos ensues, Frank has to save the day and somehow the jaguar and the other animals factor into the mix. It is standard action movie nonsense that you have seen before, aping the best parts of Die Hard and any number of Thrillers that take place in close quarters and/or at sea (Under Siege with Steven Seagal immediately springs to mind). But Primal still manages to be entertaining by sheer will. It never lingers on anything for long and at 97-minutes long, it does not overstay its welcome. After the players are set, the Film starts briskly moving once Loffler escapes – quickly devolving into a multiple cats (both figurative and literal) to one mouse situation – and does not let up until the Film ends.
If this sounds like what you are looking for in your daily quarantine viewing, then Primal delivers in spades. The CGI is an awkward and distracting eyesore, but the Film around them is just fine.
While you can pretend to expect top tier work from the Cast, it is clear from the start that Primal is not primed for a future of awards. Emmy nominee Michael Imperioli is long past his brilliant days on The Sopranos and practically sleepwalks through his shady government agent type, and Famke Janssen, as the only female character in the Movie with real lines, never contributes anything meaningful. On the flip side, Durand is a hulking beast of a man and makes for an effective villain. His dialogue is a bit dodgy and he is a bit too soft spoken in some moments, but his methods are brutal and his low stakes plan is refreshing to say the least. As for Cage, well, he is playing the typical wise-ass, weathered, too old for this shit archetype that Cage continues to perfect with each new role. He sadly does not get a moment to insert a genuine Nic Cage freakout, but he is clearly enjoying himself and puts some kind of effort into the proceedings.
In the end, Primal is a decent and entertaining enough diversion. It does not set out to reinvent or make a statement by being wholly original. It is just content to work through the patented list of knock-off Action Movie stereotypes one by one, ensuring each moment lands harder and faster than the last. I just kind of wish they went with a better title, instead of the schlocky one it ended up with.
VVS Films release PRIMAL on Digital and On-Demand on Tuesday, July 28, 2020.