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Bloodshot displays all the telltale signs of a testosterone overdose.

Psycho Killer

Vin Diesel is Bloodshot
Vin Diesel is Bloodshot

These days, it’s all about the spin. To that end, consider Bloodshot as a rarity. But it’s the wrong kind of rarity; it’s one of those over-the-top mind-sucks that actually might’ve been better under the thoughtful artistic stylings and sophisticated narrative subtleties of Michael Bay.

Back in the summer of 1984, some of the moviegoing public was up in arms over the gratuitous violence found in two high-profile PG-rated movies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins. As a result, the PG-13 rating was born and, later that summer, John Milius’ Red Dawn was the first movie released with the new rating.

What a difference 36 years makes. Bloodshot is one ultra-violent PG-13 movie. Granted, most of the violence isn’t actually on the screen; quick cuts and obstructed camera angles shelter the eyeballs from much of the grisly action — all revved up in a relentlessly brutal tone. There’s no doubt an R-rated extended cut (“with footage not seen in theatres!”) is destined to make the rounds on home video.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a payoff for enduring all that mayhem. The story serves up one plot hole after another, quickly covering up each one with some sort of distraction disguised as a plot twist.

In a nutshell, this is the story of Ray Garrison. What more needs to be said than Ray is portrayed by Vin Diesel? That basically says it all. A super soldier with a heart of gold. A cold-blooded killer on the battlefield and a warm-hearted lover in the bedroom. A brawny man. A man’s man. So many stereotypes and clichés. At least he’s not burdened with the description of “brainy.” Unfortunately, he’s also largely humorless. That’s Diesel’s downfall. His best characters have a sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurdity surrounding them (think of xXx: Return of Xander Cage or, even better, his (extremely) limited role in Guardians of the Galaxy). The more Diesel has to play it straight, the more painful it is to watch.

The Code War

The setup is made during a stunningly violent pre-credits segment, which finds Ray seeking revenge for the murder of his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley, HBO’s Westworld). In the process, he winds up dead and, with his body unclaimed by family or loved ones, the military donates his remains to a company called Rising Spirit Technologies. That tech incubator is the brainchild of Emil Harting (Guy Pearce, Memento), who’s working on a sophisticated biotechnology for cell-regenerating super soldiers. Ray becomes Emil’s final guinea pig before Emil attempts to sell the technology to the highest bidder.

It’s a passable idea. But, thinking through the story, this really isn’t superhero material. It isn’t even anti-hero material. This is the brutal story of a vengeful soldier and it’s so shallow, it’s not much of a spoiler to say he seeks vengeance on Emil, who in turn manipulates his latest programmable soldier into a murderer of Emil’s former colleagues.

Unfortunately, the inventiveness doesn’t extend beyond Bloodshot’s main concept: bringing soldiers back to life through the marvel of nanites, essentially teeny-tiny, sub-microscopic robot spiders that serve as his new blood stream. Trouble is, they lose power over time — of course, certain activities drain their power faster — and then Ray needs to take an e-nap and get his batteries recharged (literally). Aside from that, Bloodshot is a character of virtually no rules, which makes his case completely unrelatable. Given the weak attempt at setting up a narrative involving other wounded warriors, that’s a significant oversight of astonishingly limited imagination.

It’s enough to make one wonder if screenwriters Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) and Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5) ever bothered to read the original Valiant comic book. Valiant? It’s another comic book publisher, along the lines of Dark Horse and so many other “independent” shingles.

The setup for something much more substantial is right there in the first pages of the first issue of the rebooted graphic novels, first published in 2012 (the character dates back to 1992). Bloodshot should’ve been an event movie. Topical, with its wounded warrior lead character. Psychological, with all the mind games that could come into play with the threat of a human being hacked by terrorist organizations. Thrilling, with the potential for extraordinary adventures given this character’s nanite bloodline. Horrifying, with the installation of nanites as a new lifeline that makes Ray’s eyes go red. This could’ve been exhilarating. It could’ve been fun.

So. What went wrong? Well, Diesel’s not the right guy for the source material. Neither are the writers. Nor is the director, David S. F. Wilson, making his feature directorial debut. He’s a Hollywood veteran, largely in visual effects; at least that background comes in handy for this CGI-heavy monstrosity.

Start over. Reboot Bloodshot.

Overclock

This movie exhibits some of the same cheats found in the latest iteration of The Invisible Man. Wasting precious little time in something called “character development,” the movie uses a cinematic shorthand to show every facet of Ray. All two of them: a soldier in action and a man of love.

That’s not nearly enough to make for a compelling character. There’s no soul here. There’s precious little reason to care about Ray or his situation. What exactly is at stake? It all revolves around Ray’s small world and the obscure threat of Emil selling his technology; ostensibly, that would indicate he’s open to selling out to the Russians, Iranians or any other force with a big enough wallet.

Even the action — Bloodshot is nearly wall-to-wall action — isn’t enthralling; It’s a jarring experience that makes a sedative a borderline post-show necessity. That’s rather surprising, given Bloodshot is produced by the same corps behind Diesel’s Fast & Furious series, which has increasingly become more preposterous while maintaining a certain entertainment value.

The best example of how Bloodshot repeatedly falls flat involves Ray and the hunt for the man he perceives to be his wife’s killer. They’re in a darkened tunnel following a major crash executed by Ray. There should be all sorts of tension in this dimly lit scenario; it should be thrilling, borderline terrifying. But none of the scene’s potential is realized. There’s no satisfaction in seeing the villain get wiped out. Instead, it’s a relief. He’ll finally shut up. And that’s the level of antipathy other characters generate. One of the lugs in particular is a gum-chewing, power bar-chomping nuisance. Lordy. His demise is in an elevator shaft (something given to the audience a long time prior); it would’ve been more satisfying if he had simply choked on his gum.

As for Ray, he shares many of the tropes of Tony Stark, Marvel’s super-popular Iron Man. It doesn’t help matters that Guy Pearce played a villain in Iron Man 3. Those thoughts only reveal more of the weaknesses in Bloodshot. It’s all mindless action without a heart. At times, it even has the nerve to spin around and mock the genre’s clichés, only to spin again and ignorantly commit a whole bunch of clichés. Robert Downey Jr. found the essence of Tony Stark and fleshed him out, made him into a well-rounded, fully developed character. Diesel is no Downey.