Taking its title character cue from the folk ballad and virtually every other cue from the Quentin Tarantino playbook, “John Henry” is a lead-footed revenge thriller that lands with all the subtlety of the mighty steel-driving man’s sledgehammer.
Recast as a gentle giant of a former gang member attempting to leave his violent past behind him, Henry (the formidable Terry Crews) finds himself drawn back into the fray when a frightened young Central American refugee (Jamila Velazquez) shows up at the door of the South L.A. home he shares with his wheelchair-using dad (Ken Foree).
Turns out she and her brother are on the run from Henry’s sadistic, gang-leader cousin Hell (a metal-jawed Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), leading to an evitable death match between the familial forces of good and evil.
Not that there was any expectation of cinematic gold being spun here, but director and co-writer Will Forbes never achieves any satisfying sense of momentum, interrupting the occasional burst of cartoonish violence with ponderous stretches of banter straining at QT irreverence.
While the actors do what they can here, their efforts are smothered by the bombastic score also furnished by Forbes, which yields to soulful Spanish guitar each time the virtuous Latina appears on screen.
Where’s MC Hammer when you need him?
Rating: R, for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, sexual references and some drug use
Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 24, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD