Nitro (2007)

(In theaters, July 2007) You can make a film that deals with touchy ethical issues and you can make fun action movies. Just don’t try to blend them together, otherwise you’ll piss off the audience that’s there for what the marketing campaign promises. The problem with Nitro, surprisingly enough, isn’t with the action scenes: Despite the typically minuscule budget of French-Canadian films, the filmmakers work wonders with what they’ve got, and know how to move the camera for a decent amount of tension. An underground racing sequence inspired by The Fast And The Furious is the film’s best moment, complete with a brutally enjoyable fight with nitro bottles. Other chase sequences later in the film do well, including a spectacular parkour sequence through a low-rent Montréal neighbourhood. Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge more than holds his own as a credible action hero with believable emotional depth. But the film fatally missteps in the dramatic structure that holds the action scenes together: a bad ethical choice by the lead character forever erases any sympathy we would hold for him, and the web of issues surrounding him does little to raise the stakes. It doesn’t help that the script goes awry in other various ways. The strongest female character, wonderfully played by Lucie Laurier, is relegated to a stand-in who lives only for the hero: a sad simplification for a character who could have stolen the protagonist’s mantle at any moment. Martin Matte is another issue: though he has a strong screen presence, it’s not that of an underworld boss. Ultimately, the small and big script mistake accumulate and rob the film of any enjoyment we may have gotten from the action scenes, leaving us with a grim conclusion and the sentiment of having been manipulated in gratuitous pathos. You can forgive even the worst mistake if it leads to a happy ending, but even the slightest mistake will make nuanced endings just feel cheap.

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