It’ll doubtlessly please genre fans, but Triple Threat is a weirdly underwhelming who’s who of action cinema that packs a lot less of a punch than you might expect.
Rarely do I wish that I liked a film more than I like Triple Threat. As a longtime enthusiast of dumb action cinema and a longtime adversary of anyone who isn’t, there was a part of me that thought this might be the only dumb action film I’d ever need — until John Wick 3 comes out, obviously. But Jesse V. Johnson‘s uniting of contemporary action icons from all over the world feels less like a celebration of the genre than yet another tired example of it, and the who’s who on the billing feel like they might have been put to better use in their own vehicles, rather than made to share space in this one.
The obvious point of comparison is The Expendables, which put together 80s and 90s action stalwarts in a retirement village of a movie that they all resented. That film being badly acted and thinly written felt like a thematic choice; a pastiche of the movies that its stars had risen to prominence on the back of. Triple Threat doesn’t have that meta luxury; it being badly acted and thinly written feels like an accident, and by extension a distraction.
This isn’t as much of a problem here as it might be in other films, and for some, it won’t be a problem at all. But I found the periods of inaction to be grating. The silly, convoluted plot involving a Chinese heiress (Celina Jade), hired mercenaries, fictitious Asian countries, loss, revenge, and fractious allegiances did nothing for me, except to make me wonder, quite often, why anyone was bothering to fight anyone else at all.
Of course, the plot exists entirely so the cast can fight one another, so it isn’t worth dwelling on too much. In the red corner are Iko Uwais (The Raid, The Night Comes For Us), Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi) and Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak), representing Indonesia, China, and Thailand, respectively. In the blue corner are a misfit team of western assassins including Michael Jai White and UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping, led by Scott Adkins, master of overwrought Russian accents, although here he speaks like any old Cockney Herbert. This lot are matched up against each other in various compositions all throughout the film, but the tastiest face-offs are saved for a blowout final-act payoff that is admittedly great stuff.
And that’s the problem — Triple Threat contains a bunch of great action sequences, at least enough to justify the cost of at least a rental, and genre fans aren’t likely to leave disappointed. So why didn’t I like it more? Oddly, I think the cast might be too stuffed with actors whose work I want to see; everyone is frequently required to share screen-time and punch-ups with some combination of others, to an extent that it can feel wasteful. But I think what’s more off-putting is the film’s earnestness; it really seems to think it’s telling an engaging story and devotes more time to that than seems wise. Here’s an example of a film misunderstanding its own appeal. Relative to expectations, it might be my biggest disappointment of the year so far.