Below Zero has Con Air written all over it, but a lack of personality and charm holds it back. Instead, it travels a well-worn road with a few bumps, but just about gets where it’s going.
Con Air is one of my favorite dumb action movies of all time, which I raise because Netflix’s new Spanish action-thriller Below Zero is so clearly inspired by it that it borders on plagiarism. Don’t let me give you the wrong idea, though – it’s nowhere near as good, with a padded runtime, far less memorable characters, and a frigid atmosphere that extends way beyond the freezing climate that threatens the life of copper Martin (Javier Gutiérrez) along with the cons who escape the prison transport bus he’s driving. It does similarly manage to stretch logic to breaking-point, though without the charming personality that made the silliness of Simon West’s enduring dumb-fun classic so tolerable.
You can see it in the setup. Below Zero might have swapped the plane for a bus, instead relying on the environment to create that high-stakes danger, but the early, overly patient sequences are so familiar that you can’t help but notice. Prepping the prisoners for transport serves as a meet-and-greet, and there’s even a beat lifted directly, when a personal possession of a prisoner is taken away by the officers and will surely be returned later, perhaps by force. You get the idea. The assembled madmen are a far cry from Cyrus the Virus and Garland Greene, but one of them is of particular importance to a third-party interloper, given the whole thing a slightly different vibe. That tinge of mystery, though, isn’t enough to sustain an audience through an hour and forty-five minutes that feels longer than that.
Gutiérrez, in the lead, seems to be making a point of cropping up in Spanish Netflix movies; The Occupant and Mirage both featured him, though Below Zero, geared much more to an international audience, might be the role that gives him a bit more Stateside traction. The film’s playing the usual mass-market beats on the way to a relatively perfunctory ending designed not to split opinion; there are bumps on the road along the way, but the film more or less gets where it’s going without much fuss.