The 1980s was a prime era for action movies, and few could claim to be a bigger action star than Sylvester Stallone. He had two franchises — Rocky and Rambo — plus one-offs like Cobra, Over the Top, and Tango and Cash. As he’s aged, he hasn’t quite given up the role of action hero, but he has transitioned into the role of elder statesman, usually letting others have the spotlight.
That’s what makes his new film, Samaritan, a surprise, as it puts him back in a lead role. He plays Joe, a garbage worker whom a young neighbor, Sam Cleary (Javon Walton), believes is a superhero named Samaritan, someone who supposedly died 20 years ago. Samaritan and his twin brother Nemesis became mortal enemies after their parents died in a fire, an antipathy that culminated in a fight in which they both perished.
Sam and his mom Tiffany (Dascha Polanco) are poor, and so Sam starts working for a criminal named Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) to earn some money. Cyrus has an affinity for Nemesis, searching out anything related to him to take up his mantle. Sam associating with Cyrus brings Joe out of hiding, taking on bad guys across the city, perhaps showing he truly is Samaritan.
Directed by Julius Avery and written by Bragi F. Schut, the film is a B-movie with a mainstream veneer. It starts off with the Samaritan-Nemesis backstory, but the scenes are so impenetrable that they do little to illuminate who they were, how they came to have superpowers, or why each of them meant anything to the city in which they lived.
The main story of Sam discovering Joe’s powers and being saved from Cyrus’ evildoings is hit-and-miss. There’s a certain charm to Sam idolizing Samaritan and essentially bullying Joe into admitting the truth, but because it’s paired with over-the-top badness of Cyrus and his minions, there’s little time to enjoy the discovery process.
The action scenes are routine, save for a special type of weapon that Cyrus employs on multiple occasions. The 76-year-old Stallone is not called upon to do much more than throw punches or swing weapons, with Avery and his team using editing to cover up for the fact that he can barely move. Thanks to the less-than-scintillating story, none of the fights carry much weight to them, even when the obvious plot twist comes along.
Stallone, despite his gray hair, still has that one-of-a-kind face and a muscular body, both of which combine to do half the work for him. Walton does as well as could be expected of a child actor, and he makes for a fun counterpoint to Stallone. Asbæk, who kind of resembles Michael Shannon, chews the scenery a lot, but that’s exactly what his character calls for, so his performance is interesting in its own way
Samaritan is not based on an existing comic book/graphic novel, and its attempt to create a superheroic character from the ground up never gains any traction. Stallone still has a presence, but he needs a much stronger story to pull off a movie like this.
Samaritan is now streaming on Prime Video.