‘I just checked out that dumpster, there’s not much in it,’ noted Sylvester Stallone in much delayed super-hero movie Samaritan, yet another film from 2020 eventually finding an audience in 2022. Like many of this year’s recent releases (Top Gun: Maverick, Death on the Nile, The Man from Toronto) Samaritan was originally due back in 2020, but the pandemic had other ideas, and so Stallone’s film now drops directly onto the Amazon Prime streaming service rather than cinemas currently starved of the popular content they need. Developed by Stallone’s Balboa production company, it’s a proper cinema release tailor-made for the star, and despite some critical raspberries, it’s anything but rubbish.
The main character is a kid, Sam Clearly, played by The Umbrella Academy’s Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton. He’s growing up in the hardscrabble Granite City, where crime is everywhere and Sam’s poor mother (Dascha Polanko) struggles to make rent for her family. Crime is a temptation, although the bullying Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) doesn’t offer much choice. Sam’s best hope is the mysterious Joe Smith (Stallone) who lives in a nearby apartment. Could old Joe turn out to be the near mythic figure of the Samaritan, who once fought off the deadly threat Nemesis? Smith isn’t talking, but events conspire to reveal his true identity…
In terms of non-franchise films, Samaritan is Stallone’s first leading role in a decade, adapted from a script that was then reworked as a graphic novel. It’s largely focused on the growing relationship between the boy and Stallone, which is familiar but has a welcome small-scale. With Stallone turning out to have the super-powers the boy suspects, his absurd indestructability as a super-hero is fairly much in line with the gung-ho way that Rambo turned out. Director Julius Avery does manage to give the film a uniquely grimy, poverty-row look, with rain-soaked streets and abandoned buildings giving with to a large-scale and suitably fiery finale.
Samaritans’ crowd-pleasing curtain-call for Stallone, who has been making action movies for nearly 50 years now, may be diminished by missing out on big screen exposure and being reduced to casual home viewing, but it’s far better than the trailer suggests, and that’s predictably because of Stallone’s still-got-it performance. ‘I’m a troglodyte’ he announces after pouring fruit juice into his cornflakes; there’s always been something endearingly daft about the kind of touches that Stallone brings to the tone of a film, and Samaritan has just that daffy quality. Fudged, abstract politics reflect that Samaritan was filmed during the Trump presidency, but the film’s reluctant hero somehow catches a cultural wave as a kind of Shane for the Dark Brandon era. For fans, the action and one-liners will be enough, but Samaritan gains depth from our on-going interest in Stallone as a star, and packs the requisite star action to get pass marks.