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Reviews: Scott Adkins’ career-best ‘Avengement’; ‘The Poison Rose’ and more

(L-R)- Craig Fairbrass as Lincoln Burgess, Nick Moran as Hyde, and Scott Adkins as Cain Burgess in S
Craig Fairbrass, from left, Nick Moran and Scott Adkins in the movement “Avengement.”
(Rob Youngson / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

‘Avengement’

Prolific British action filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson has developed a real rapport with martial artist Scott Adkins. Through making movies such as “The Debt Collector” and “Accident Man,” the two seem to have realized that what works best for them are uncomplicated quest-plots, where Adkins gets to show some personality as a simple man on a mission — while Johnson gets to stage a succession of raw brawls in seedy locations.

“Avengement” is Adkins-Johnson’s best film yet: a clever reinvention of their formula, which puts all the usual bone-crunching into a more mythic context. Johnson and screenwriter Stu Small tell most of the story in flashbacks, as a pitiless bruiser named Cain (Adkins) sits in a pub and explains to a bunch of thugs how he got so hard — and why he’s pointing a gun at them now.

Cain was once a decent bloke and a champion boxer, who did a favor for his mob boss brother Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass), and landed in prison. Over the course of seven years of getting beaten up behind bars, Cain pieced together the full extent of Lincoln’s malevolence, and he escaped during a furlough, intending to set everything straight.

“Avengement” features a good balance of colorfully profane British gangster-speak and intense, explicitly gory punch-outs. A genuinely engaging story veers from pubs to prisons to hospitals to quaint English streets — all providing a vivid backdrop for Adkins’ career-best performance, playing a man who’s been forged by time and circumstance into a dangerous weapon and who has finally figured out exactly where to aim.

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‘Avengement’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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Playing: Starts Friday, Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; available Friday on VOD

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‘Assimilate’

(L-R)- Calum Worthy as Randy Foster, Andi Matichak as Kayla Shepard, and Joel Courtney as Zach Hende
Calum Worthy, left, Andi Matichak and Joel Courtney in the movie "Assimilate."
(Gravitas Ventures)

Anyone who gets restless watching the science-fiction/horror picture “Assimilate” can kill time tallying up all the movies it’s copying. After an opening that recalls “Scream” — with a young woman being stalked by a killer in her suburban home — the film settles into the story of a small Midwestern town whose residents are being replaced by alien lookalikes, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-style. Also, for no good reason, about a third of the movie is shot from the perspective of two teens shooting a web series, harking back to “The Blair Witch Project.”

So there’s nothing especially original about “Assimilate.” But director John Murlowski and a talented young cast — including Joel Courtney, Calum Worthy and Andi Matichak as the plucky high schoolers trying to save their town — do at least keep the action lively and unpretentious. Make no mistake: This film adds absolutely nothing new to the “everyone you know is turning into a brainless monster” sub-genre. (It doesn’t even try to score any relevant political points.) But it’s a harmless replica of some much better movies … unless that’s what the aliens want us to think.

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‘Assimilate’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Friday on VOD

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‘The Poison Rose’

(L-R)- Morgan Freeman and John Travolta in a scene from “The Poison Rose.” Credit: Brian Douglas
Morgan Freeman, left, and John Travolta in "The Poison Rose."
(Brian Douglas / Lionsgate)

John Travolta, Famke Janssen and Brendan Fraser engage in a spirited “bad accent” contest in the southern-fried neo-noir “The Poison Rose,” playing old high school friends from Galveston drawn together by a murder investigation. Fraser wins handily, as an eccentric sanitarium director who unaccountably speaks with a mincing lisp. But Janssen doesn’t fare much better as a fading belle whose lilt reads generically “southern,” while Travolta slides too easily into the cartoonish, playing a bourbon-slowed East Texas good ol’ boy.

Director George Gallo and screenwriter Richard Salvatore (the latter adapting his own novel) strike a good tone with “The Poison Rose,” aiming for a more light-hearted spin on the old-fashioned P.I. picture, with Travolta playing a disgraced ex-football star now working as a detective. But even with solid supporting performances by Morgan Freeman, Robert Patrick and Peter Stormare, this movie’s just … well, sad. Twenty-five years ago, this exact cast and creative team might have turned this material into something to rival “Harper” or “Body Heat.” Now, they all seem slower and lazier: as committed to making a taut mystery as they are to mastering a Texas drawl.

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‘The Poison Rose’

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Rated: R, for some violence and language

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Friday on VOD

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‘Isabelle’

(L-R)- Adam Brody and Amanda Crew in a scene from “ISABELLE.” Credit: Vertical Entertainment
Adam Brody, Amanda Crew and, at right, Dayo Ade in the movie "Isabelle."
(Vertical Entertainment)

Amanda Crew and Adam Brody give bracingly realistic performances as a grief-stricken couple in “Isabelle,” a supernatural thriller ultimately too sensationalistic to make proper use of the stars’ excellent work. To keep audiences on their toes, director Rob Heydon and screenwriter Donald Martin frequently shift focus, introducing new elements and then doubling back to explain why they matter. As a result, their film’s alternately too vague and too clever.

The emotional core of the picture is Crew and Brody, playing Larissa and Matt Kane, a hopeful young couple who move into a pleasant new suburban neighborhood while awaiting the birth of their first child. When Larissa nearly dies because of a pregnancy complication, the Kanes face an unimaginable tragedy, then deal with their own guilt and shame — all while Larissa starts hearing phantom baby cries, and keeps catching their creepy, possibly witchy next-door neighbors staring at them.

Ultimately, “Isabelle” is too split between the serious study of parental anxiety and regret that Crew and Brody are playing, and the more straightforward (and not scary enough) spook-show it eventually devolves into. Even a twist ending feels like a last-second attempt at resolving the unresolvable.

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‘Isabelle’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Playing: Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; available Friday on VOD

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‘Perfect’

(L-R)- Garrett Wareing and Leonardo Nam in a scene from the movie “Perfect.” Credit: Brainfeeder Fi
Garrett Wareing, left, and Leonardo Nam in the movie "Perfect."
(Brainfeeder Films)

Steeped in symbolism and allusion, Eddie Alcazar’s stultifyingly arty science-fiction exercise “Perfect” follows a psychologically disturbed young man (played by Garrett Wareing) who gets committed to a high-end clinic/rehab, where he spends his days either indulging in hedonistic revelry or self-administering “treatments” that involve carving little flesh cubes from his body and replacing them with a smooth, clear plastic substance.

Along with a softly hypnotic Flying Lotus score, the soundtrack is filled with stiff, pretentious dialogue and voiceovers (credited to screenwriter Ted Kupper), in which characters ruminate on what it means to try to “fix” humanity’s flaws. More music video than movie, “Perfect” confirms that the highly touted young filmmaker Alcazar (a protégé of Steven Soderbergh, who produced this film) is already a superior visual craftsman.

“Perfect” also shows that striking images alone aren’t always enough. Alcazar and cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser have concocted some fine illustrations. Now all they need is some decent text.

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‘Perfect’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills

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