After his last few lackluster DTV efforts, Dolph Lundgren finally returns to screens in Castle Falls, a vehicle more worthy of his talents. Teaming up with martial arts superstar Scott Adkins for the fourth time, Castle Falls also finds Lundgren working once again with one his better directors. Himself.
Lundgren has shown considerable skill in the past behind the camera, with the best of his directorial output being The Mechanik (2005), Missionary Man (2007) and Command Performance (2009). All three of these contain Lundgren’s penchant for gritty action scenes and feature him being a total badass.
While Castle Falls certainly has enough going for it to recommend to action fans, it is certainly the least of Lundgren’s work as a director with the production being somewhat hampered by its low budget. Thankfully both Lundgren and Adkins’ performances make up for some of the film’s other drawbacks.
Unlike his other director-starring movies, Castle Falls features Lundgren in more of a supporting role with the lead duties going to Adkins. Now this doesn’t mean that Lundgren takes a back seat to the action as he still gets involved in his fair amount of fist fights and shootouts.
However, as expected it is Adkins that especially impresses, not just with his physical prowess which he gets to show off on multiple occasions but also with his likeable acting performance, injecting his character with enough personality and humanity that may not have been instantly recognizable upon viewing the script.
Adkins plays Mike Wade, a past his prime MMA fighter, struggling to make a living. He is looking for one last shot in the ring but when an old shoulder injury squanders his chances he is forced to look for other work. He is offered a few days work clearing out old hospital Castle Heights which is scheduled for demolition.
On his last day Wade finds a bag of hidden money. Keeping it a secret from his fellow employees, Wade returns to the building later in the day to retrieve the money. Unbeknownst to him there are other parties looking for the money. Prison Warden Richard Ericson (Dolph Lundgren) has been made aware of the money by one of his inmates and is looking to retrieve it in order to pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment.
Another spanner in the works is the emergence of Deacon Glass (Scott Hunter) and his gang who have been tasked to find the money by Glass’ imprisoned brother. Glass is willing to kill whoever gets in his way in order to get what he is looking for. It is now up to Wade and Ericson to come together in order to make it out alive with the money.
I was surprised to see that screenwriter Andrew Knauer had previously written the Arnold Schwarzenegger starring vehicle The Last Stand (2013). Now, that film didn’t exactly set the world alight but I certainly enjoyed its mixture of modern day western and 80’s style action.
I had hoped from Knauer’s involvement that the script for Castle Falls would be more fun, but for the most part there is nothing here that separates it from the many other generic DTV action films flooding the market (strangely all starring Bruce Willis). At least it gives our leads enough opportunities to break out their moves, with them even in some instances showing their sensitive side.
Of the two main characters, Lundgren’s is probably the more emotionally involved with his character having much higher stakes in wanting to find the money and willing to do whatever it takes to get it. With this, Lundgren gives himself enough time to show off his emotional side, with him even breaking down at one point when all hope is seemingly lost.
Interestingly, Lundgren’s own daughter Ida portrays his daughter in the film, so perhaps this made it easier for Lundgren to get into that emotional state. Now I am not saying this is award winning stuff, but considering that Lundgren isn’t typically given credit for his acting skills I think it is worth noting.
As mentioned, Lundgren definitely has skill when it comes to helming action. The majority of action on show in Castle Falls is of the martial arts variety, although there is some gunplay included. As expected, the gunfire was digitally added in post and doesn’t exactly look convincing. For the most part though it is kept to a minimum.
Luckily when it comes to the fight action there aren’t any such drawbacks. Like the best Adkins productions, Tim Man is on fight choreography duties. While this is in no way his best work, he still puts our leads through their paces and crafts a number of finely choreographed fights, with Adkins taking on multiple opponents throughout.
Even though they are ultimately on the same side, the filmmakers have smartly recognized fans’ desire to see Adkins and Lundgren square off. Their fight scene comes about more due to a misunderstanding. It is quite brief in comparison to some of the film’s other fights but it is a fun inclusion and Tim Man has fun choreographing a fight with two diametrically opposed screen fighters, with Lundgren towering over Adkins (or anyone for that matter).
While both Adkins and Lundgren make the most of their characters, the villains come across as more generic. There are no grey areas here. They are just clearly the “Bad Guys”. Although some still manage to have fun with their roles such as Scott Hunter who makes for a decent foil for Adkins and Lundgren to go up against. He also proves to be physically capable, facing off against Adkins in the finale.
Hunter may not be instantly recognizable but he is quite a prolific stuntman, having worked most recently on the likes of Suicide Squad (2021) and Red Notice (2021). This is one of his most substantial roles to date and he can certainly pull off a convincing villain. I additionally liked the inclusion of his relationship with Kim DeLonghi’s Kat which made his character appear more rounded, even if ultimately this wasn’t the case.
All of Lundgren’s work as a director has been on DTV productions, so lack of resources are expected. However, this is probably his cheapest production to date with the entire film having that drab digital look that affects many DTV actioners these days. At least his previous work like The Defender (2004) and the aforementioned The Mechanik had a professional sheen about them with quality cinematography.
It’s a shame as it detracts from the overall quality of what’s on screen. Still, I was able to overlook this aspect of the production and still get enjoyment from seeing Lundgren and Adkins once again sharing the screen and getting involved in some entertaining action.
I was also pleased that Lundgren never tries to over extend his reach. He works within the confines of the production instead of trying to include the type of action that his meagre budget wouldn’t stretch too i.e. car chases, large explosions etc.
Additionally Lundgren doesn’t allow the film to drag, coming in at under 90 minutes. He doesn’t jump right into the action. After Adkins’ brief intro where we get a chance to see his MMA skills, it is quite a while before we are treated to another fight scene with the audience being introduced to the different characters first.
It would be nice for some investor to give Lundgren a bigger budget to play with as he clearly has the skills and definitely still has a dedicated fan base (myself included) that would love to see him helm and headline an A-list action movie.
Lundgren’s next couple of projects will certainly be higher profile than Castle Falls with his supporting roles in both Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and Expendables 4. He’s also reteaming yet again with Scott Adkins for action thriller Section Eight which additionally features one of his Expendables (2010) co-stars in the form of Mickey Rourke.
Lastly, it looks like he will be going behind the camera yet again for the recently announced Wanted Man, an action thriller that he co-wrote with martial artist/actor Michael Worth. While it is being produced by Millenium Films who are known to cut corners, it will hopefully be afforded better resources than Castle Falls.
Castle Falls hits theaters, on demand and digital December 3rd.
Plot: 2.5/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.2/5