“There Are No Saints” is an odd case. Directed by Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, from a screenplay by Paul Schrader, the movie entered preproduction in the fall of 2012, under the title “The Jesuit” and finished shooting the following year. It’s been gathering dust on a studio shelf ever since. The delay has lent the project an air of mystery amplified by the involvement of Schrader, who has been enjoying one of the most fertile periods of his career.
Nearly a decade later, the final product is here, and it is neither a colossal train wreck nor a misunderstood masterpiece. Rather it’s a bland, unoriginal action thriller about an entirely predictable quest for revenge. When a local drug kingpin, Vincent (Neal McDonough), kidnaps the son of a reformed hitman known as the Jesuit (José María Yazpik), the father must steal across the border into Mexico in pursuit. On the way he lays gruesome waste to hordes of gun-toting cartel heavies in various neon-lit bars and strip clubs.
It can be difficult to take genre movies that are this clichéd seriously, and doubly so when they insist on regurgitating tropes in a humorless register. The director, Ulloa, tries to mask the derivative story by embellishing the violence, cutting to closeups of flesh wounds and bullet holes as a distraction from the routine plot and hardboiled dialogue — he seems to be aiming for stark and gritty, but his tough-talking assassins, crime lords and arms dealers bring the whole thing closer to unintentional camp.
But I more often found myself thinking of “Detective Crashmore,” the uproarious action-film spoof on Tim Robinson’s “I Think You Should Leave.” Winkingly described as “a cosmic gumbo” that combines “the action of the 90s … with the exploitation films of the 70s, but with modern touches,” it’s a dead-on (if completely accidental) imitation of “There Are No Saints.” But frankly, “Crashmore” was a lot more fun.
There Are No Saints
Rated R for language, sexuality and extreme graphic violence. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.