Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sweet Karma: Action Indie Movie

Starring:  Shera Bechard  Category: Action
If you've been reading this site for some time, you would notice that I don't review action movies that much. Not that I don't watch them. But most of the time they fall into two broad categories, Hollywood and low-budget. Hollywood types are those that are full of crazy, expensive, over-the-top action and a simple enough plot to follow along and seem interesting. Low-budget of course are the B-movies and where blood is spilled by the pint-load. Add a dash of intrigue and it would be more of a thriller or mystery. Add a bit of comedy and it'll more funny than bang-bang. Most of the time there is nothing interesting to write about either of them. They may be a good ride but there is nothing to take away with you once it's done.
There are notable exceptions to the first category. Comedy and action are just at the right mix in Die Hard. The Bourne series capture the even more elusive mix of action and mystery. And then there is Hot Fuzz, mixing action, comedy and mystery in almost equal amounts. Most of the action is at the tail end of the movie, though and it does have the advantage of being in awe of and drawing inspiration from other action movies.
Basically, an action movie has to be special for me write about it. It has to fall outside of the two broad categories or be interesting enough to write about. It has leave an impression.
Which brings me to Sweet Karma. It is one of those movies other people tell me I should check out. I watch more than my fair share of crappy movies and feared the worst. I put it off for fearing it was the result of a few rednecks with a camera trying to get away with a Saturday Night Special (pun intended). After watching it, I wasn't sure what movie I had watched. But I was sure I had just watched a star being born. 
The movie starts with Russian girl Karma being duped into a job in Canada by the recruiting agent for a human trafficking syndicate. I use the term loosely because it's not really human trafficking if you are utilizing the "workforce" yourself. It's worse because basically it's kidnapping for prostitution. Then it gets interestingly confusing because Karma lands in the promised land of maple and honey but does not get corralled with the other girls. The Russian mob are not looking for her either. We then find out she is really seeking revenge for the death a girl that was previously duped by these people. And that she killed the recruiting agent after she got her papers. Thus begin the killing spree.
If that were just the movie then it would have fallen into the B-grade low budget action movies. But more twists and turns come up. The narrative shifts time moving from the present to the past with slightly confusing flashbacks. It moves the plot along and provides more information at the same time. The dead girl turns out to be her sister. Karma is also not a trained professional nor does she transform into one right after her first kill. That is squarely Hollywood territory. She is nervous. She messes up, gets caught twice. Some more twists follow. More killing and graphic scenes of violence. All leading to a, let's call it "eventful", ending.
For all the movie's faults, it was made up by lead actress Shera Bechard's brilliant acting. She was so good that at times her acting looked out of place with the other actors. They would look okay doing a scene together but then Karma walks in and suddenly they looked bad by comparison. Did I mention Karma was mute? So Shera had to really act to convey her emotions and thoughts. Her facial expressions and her body language had to make up for the missing dialogue. Sometimes looking at her eyes, you would know what is going on in her head. I think this also had the added effect of the audience having to relate closer with her, to get what she was trying to get across. The audience would have to pay close attention to her to better understand what was going on. Which they had to because of the various twists and turns. No exposition on who was who. In Hollywood movies, there is a conscious effort to introduce the key characters, so that the audience can follow. This doesn't happen in this movie. Some characters look alike enough for me to get confused. And a minor character at the beginning suddenly becomes a key character half-way through the movie.

Shera Bechard was so good an actress that in most reviews I read, they never mention that she is also a Playboy model. Which helped in some scenes. But in all others, where she was not talking (and fully clothed), you can see genuine elation, horror, fear and disgust. Sometimes just in her eyes. It distracts from the various flaws of the movie. So much so, that I couldn't see the cliched ending until it was too late. Yes, she is blindingly beautiful but there are better actresses who are as beautiful yet don't act as effectively. She was Hugh Hefner's girlfriend for a while. She is now living in the states under what is called a "genius" visa. Probably given after somebody saw her in this.
What let the movie down was it's budget. Acting was uneven with some actors looking out of place and others looking like they've been doing it all their lives. Lighting was kept to a minimum. That gave it the indie look. Camerawork was uneven with some scenes well shot and others looked amateurish. So much so that it looked like they didn't move the other chairs and table while shooting a restaurant scene. All the signs of an indie production. Music was ok but sound mixing was bad with dialogue being drowned by background music in some places. Also, I have never heard Canadians curse so much outside of a hockey game.
Sweet Karma is truly a cross between an indie and action movie. It is not quite in the same vein as Sharkskin Guy, Peach hip girl, which an action movie with an indie feel. It probably had a bigger budget. This is an out-and-out action indie movie. It feels gritty and believable. The producers should reward themselves by trying to sell a sequel to Hollywood. It worked ok for Robert Rodriguez and the El Mariachi series. I can totally see Karma making a return. Watch Sweet Karma.

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