Finding the Spanish-language action-thriller Bajocero (Below Zero) ranked #1 on the U.S. Netflix chart speaks less to any immediate excitement it generates than the current exhaustion of available content options. Maybe people are cheekily choosing it as a snow-day movie amid a widespread winter storm.
Director / co-writer Lluís Quillez’s film sounds on paper like a not-bad cross-up of Con Air and Assault on Precinct 13, as a recently transferred cop named Martín (Javier Gutiérrez) and a group of white-collar and bloody-collar prisoners struggle to survive a snowy-night siege on a prison transport. Quillez possesses a decent instinct for tight-space atmospherics on a limited budget, including some close scrapes involving sniper bullets and gas fires. Too bad there’s a similar paucity in the script he has concocted with Fernando Navarro. The only surprise here is that the folks carrying out the siege aren’t there to spring the nasty human trafficker among the prisoners.
A few moments of Bajocero suggest a sidebar of commentary on the social state of things in Spain, including a tossed-off bit of dialogue during a first-act tire change in the rain and the musings of Pardo (Miquel Gelabert), an elderly thief whose history of fleecing folks has the whiff of governmental fiat. But this isn’t something like City of God or Elite Squad. No, Bajocero mainly marks time with shenanigans and mayhem until the underwhelming revelation of why the siege is happening. That’s never more apparent than in a character’s second-act reemergence that serves only to momentarily spike the volume and conjure easy outs to off some more cast members.
Bajocero is the sort of action time-waster flashy enough to hold attention but not so engaging to keep your mind from wandering to who might play these roles in the Americanized version. (Screen Gems or Lionsgate distributing? Take your pick. Either makes sense.) One role screams De Niro although F. Murray Abraham could be the bargain choice. Titus Welliver as the cop, maybe. Or some WWE personality if this really takes a turn. Definitely Machine Gun Kelly as “the kid.” Thomas Middleditch as the formerly well-to-do junkie. Perhaps Paul Giamatti as the analog to Ramis, the only prisoner in possession of much personality (thanks to character actor Luis Callejo). After all, you need a couple of big faces to stand out in the VOD gallery these days.
A climactic showdown in an abandoned village introduces boilerplate business about digging two graves for vengeance and rhetorically wondering what Martín would do were he in the (eventual) villain’s shoes. But the Michael Clayton-ish closing credits, lingering on Martín’s face after a brutal choice, invite no true reflection on how nations often tend to pursue political opportunism after individual acts of violence rather than simply serve justice. There’s simply not much on Bajocero’s mind beyond the most marginal thrills; it doesn’t even indulge the frigid elements suggested by its title all that much. Turns out the iciest thing out there right now might be the cold stones we’re willing to overturn for the sake of a couple hours of entertainment.