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Review: Mel Gibson is back with a vengeance in under-the-radar ‘Blood Father’

“Blood Father”
Mel Gibson and Erin Moriarty in the movie “Blood Father.”
(Lionsgate Premiere)

Mel Gibson so rarely stars in movies these days that his new thriller, “Blood Father,” would be an event even it were lousy. Luckily for Gibson fans, the movie’s a small gem: a good old-fashioned chase picture, thickened with pulp.

Gibson plays ex-con John Link, a growly tattoo artist struggling to stay clean in the California desert. Erin Moriarty plays his long-lost daughter Lydia, who shows up in his life with murderous drug dealers on her tail, forcing him to revisit some of the worst of his old friends to keep her alive.

Based on a Peter Craig novel, “Blood Father” is like a grubbier version of “Taken,” with Gibson as a super-capable dad protecting his daughter using decades of know-how — in this case, gleaned from prison and backwater biker gangs. Thirty or 40 years ago, a story like this would have starred Lee Marvin or Charles Bronson … and might have become a cult favorite.

Director Jean-François Richet maintains too zippy a pace, not leaving much space for scene-setting or character nuance. But he’s helped a lot by reliable character actors such as William H. Macy (as Link’s neighbor/sponsor) and Michael Parks (as the kingpin of a racist memorabilia empire).

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Most important, Richet has Gibson, whose manic “Lethal Weapon” energy has mellowed into something soulful. Whether Link’s debating politics with his troublesome kid or fighting off a group of armed thugs with just a steak knife, he’s a wonder to watch. The guy playing him is welcome back any time.

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‘Blood Father’

MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, language throughout and brief drug use

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Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: In limited release


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