To equate Indonesia's high-impact thriller The Raid: Redemption to modern video games seems a little unfair to video games, a medium that grows more sophisticated every minute. The Raid's one-dimensional story follows a Jakarta SWAT team that invades a 15-story apartment block occupied by an army of drug dealers and other criminals. The good guys literally go from level to level taking on mob bosses from different rungs in the corporate crime ladder. Only if the building featured a giant barrel-throwing ape would it be more game-like.
While The Raid: Redemption scarcely bothers to engage the audience's hearts or minds, it goes for the gut like few films since the heyday of John Woo. Even recent cult flicks like Ong-Bak look sleepy beside it. At a time when most empty-headed Hollywood entertainments fail to deliver basic thrills, The Raid succeeds as a jaw-dropping showreel of the Indonesian martial art of Silat, as well as an inexhaustible array of stunts that simulate creative forms of death and/or injury.
Welsh writer/director Gareth Evans builds The Raid around Iko Uwais, a compact, punch-throwing machine soon to be an international action superstar. He plays Rama, an untested police officer with a pregnant wife and apparently a personal connection to someone within the building. The veteran officers on the mission believe Rama and the other rookies will just get in the way, particularly when Rama helps a hapless husband deliver his wife's medicine.
A white-haired, Lee Marvin-type cop honcho (Pierre Gruno) leads the mission to take down loathsome mobster Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who's made the building into a sanctuary for the city's worst malefactors (although why civilians also live there isn't really addressed). Initially, the officers sweep in undetected, but then in the first of a series of bravura slow-motion scenes, a young lookout spies them in a corridor and shouts "Police!" up a stairwell the split-second before a bullet takes him down.
From then on, the film scarcely takes a breath, with wave after wave of thugs attacking the police, first with assault rifles, then with machetes. Evans proves to be a straight-A student of economical 1970s crime films like Assault on Precinct 13 as he reuses the squalid, poorly lit corridors and other sets, heightening the claustrophobia and sense of urban decay. With swarms of furious goons constantly rushing around identical corners shouting "YAAAAHHH!" The Raid resembles the most relentless of spicy-food nightmares.
Uwais radiates the quiet, generally benign intensity of Jet Li, but the most memorable performance belongs to Yayan Ruhian as "Mad Dog," Tama's chief enforcer. Mad Dog comes across as a sneering, mustached pip-squeak until he begins brawling, and his punches and kicks fly with propeller-like velocity. Hooked on the bloodlust of hand-to-hand combat, Mad Dog evokes Darth Maul in his skill at kicking ass while fighting two heroes at once.
You'll be able to tell which movies theaters will show The Raid: Redemption without even looking at the marquees. They'll be the ones with flushed film geeks gathered outside, all saying at once, "Remember when he chopped that guy in the shoulder with a fire axe, flipped him on his back, and then axed him in the chest? Or the guy who crashed backward onto the handrail so his back looked like a horseshoe?" Of course, some audiences won't be intrigued by a film full of performer credits like "Hope Drop Attacker #8." Sometimes the average filmgoers don't have nearly enough fun.