MOVIE REVIEW OF ”SURVIVE THE NIGHT”

“Game of Assassins” director Matt Eskandari’s predictable but entertaining home invasion thriller “Survive the Night” (*** OUT OF ****) lives up to its ominous title. Mind you, this is another one of those low-budget, straight-to-video, B-movie melodramas where “Die Hard” superstar Bruce Willis takes a supporting role. Willis plays Frank, a sheriff who retired after 35 years of service.

Tentatively, Frank and his wife are sharing their spacious country home with their adult son, Rich (Chad Michael Murray of 2003’s “The Lone Ranger” television movie), who has lost a civil, medical malpractice lawsuit. Bankrupt now with nowhere else to turn, Rich has taken a position at a rural health clinic where he plans to restore his reputation. Rich and his father don’t see eye to eye about the malpractice lawsuit.

Frank believes his son should have fought the litigation. Reluctantly, Rich concedes he screwed up and accepted the verdict. Quietly, father and son tolerate each other’s presence under the same roof. Rich’s wife, Jan (Lydia Hull of “Broken City”) and his teenage daughter Riley (Riley Wolfe Rach) are caught up in this catastrophe, too. Neither Jan nor Rich see eye-to-eye about the lawsuit.

Basically, this straightforward but heavyweight melodrama boasts its share of memorable, white-knuckled moments. When two trouble-prone gunmen on the lam need a surgeon urgently to mend a gunshot leg wound, all hell breaks loose. As the villains, Jamie (Shea Buckner of “Arsenal”) and Matty (Tyler Jon Olson of “10 Minutes Gone”) resemble migrant workers Lennie and George from John Steinbeck’s classic novel “Of Mice and Men.”

Specifically, Jamie is Lennie, and Matty is George. Brawny and trigger-happy, Jamie is a loose cannon with no qualms about gunplay. Matty struggles to keep Jaime from killing people. These two miscreants are as much at odds with each other as Frank and Rich. Eskandari and writer Doug Wolfe have appropriated an ordinary plot wallowing in clichés and converted it into a nail-biter about good and evil clashing during a night of bloody violence.

As the plot unfolds, in “Survive the Night,” Matty and Jaime wheel into an empty parking lot to celebrate the $20 thousand they have stolen from an underworld crony that Jamie murdered. Matty insists they cross the border into Mexico by midnight. He figures the authorities will pursue them once they have identified their victim. Later, after they swing into a convenience shop after dark for gas, Jamie starts a gunfight with the cashier.

Eventually, things escalate, and Jamie seizes a single white female customer. Taking the girl hostage, Jamie threatens to blow her brains out if the cashier refuses to drop his rifle. When he doesn’t budge, Jaime shoots the twentysomething woman in the head without blinking. Frantically, Matty scrambles into the store and catches a slug in his thigh. The cashier dies in a hail of gunfire. Jaime begs Matty to forgive him for his mistake.

They careen off in their car. Pulling up at a rural health clinic, Jamie approaches the receptionist, but she says the clinic has closed for the evening. The two villains tail Rich once he has left the clinic, and they follow him out to Frank’s house in the middle of nowhere. The villains bide their time until the lights go out and then disable Frank’s home alarm system before they sneak inside.

Ascending to the second floor, Jamie finds Frank asleep in bed. Frank’s wife Rachel (Jessica Abrams of “Someone Somewhere”) spooks Jaime when she reenters the bedroom after a late-night snack. BANG! Jamie leaves the unfortunate woman sprawled on the floor with a fatal gunshot wound in the stomach. Frank jumps him, but Jamie relies on his brute strength to repel Frank’s frenzied attack. Meantime, Matty warns Rich nobody has to die.

Basically, he wants Rich to extract the slug from his leg. Since his wife and daughter have been taken hostage, Rich operates on Matty without anesthesia, while Jamie holds his brother down. Rich removes the slug. Afterward, Frank quarrels with Jamie, and the brawny thug slashes him in the belly with a knife. Somehow, Frank manages to elude Jamie and vanish into the woods. Jamie’s ill-aimed bullets smash harmlessly into the trees around Frank. During this fracas, Jan and Riley escape, but Jamie recaptures them.

He uses them as hostages again to force Rich to sew up Matty’s open wound. Rich sticks his surgical scalpel against Matty’s throat. Without warning, Jamie shoots him in the shoulder. Painfully, Rich manages to finish the operation on Matty’s leg. Jamie shows no sympathy for anybody but Matty. Not surprisingly, relief is in sight when Rich turns the tables on this odious goon for murdering his defenseless mom. Frank distracts Jamie long enough for Rich to free his wife and their daughter. Earlier, Frank had displayed nothing but contempt for Rich. Ultimately, Rich conquers his nerves and fights back against heavy odds, much to his father’s relief.

Despite its formulaic origins, nothing about “Survive the Night” seems either contrived or exaggerated. Eskandari doesn’t give either the heroes or the villains a break during the mayhem. The death of Frank’s wife comes as a shocking surprise, and Jamie’s wickedness defies constraints. He doesn’t care who he kills, no matter how often Matty warns him to cool it. Every time he screws up, short-sighted Jamie insists Matty figure out how he can compensate for his blunders.

At one point, after the demise of his wife, Frank assumes a more avuncular attitude toward Rich and confesses he admires his son. Earlier, Frank had confided in Rachel his innermost fears they had not accomplished enough of good things in their lives. Naturally, not only does Rachel console him, but she also advises him to loosen up on Rich. “Survive the Night” belongs more to Chad Michael Murray’s pusillanimous doctor than Willis’ gimlet-eyed, retired lawman. Ultimately, like the traditional Hollywood western hero, Rich redeems himself at fadeout as a fearless man of action and refuses to let two gun-toting ruffians ride roughshod over his family.

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