Movie review: He Never Died

What did you watch? He Never Died, starring Henry Rollins.

Why did you see it? It stars Henry Rollins.

Where did you see it? On Netflix, a movie starring Henry Rollins.

Who is… don’t you even dare.

(maybe some spoilers below)

He Never Died came out in select theaters one weekend in December. It’s an independent film and it stars this guy. This guy Henry Rollins. He’s the lead actor in a movie about his character. I’m a bit of a fan of Henry Rollins because he was in some kick ass rock bands, he kicked ass in those rock bands, and he could kick your ass by thinking about it because that’s how smart he is. But I didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters because A. the nearest theater showing it was two highways away (and I live in a big metropolitan area, so to have to drive to the far off burbs? What?) and B. some movie about some wars in space opened that weekend, and I had to drag my nieces to see THAT.

This reminds me of a bit on one of his spoken word CDs where there are two movies, a big budget family friendly adventure starring well known beautiful people where everything is nice. But no one is in the theater, because everyone is seeing the OTHER movie about an angry guy. Well, that’s the scenario. Except I went to see Star Wars and missed out on a movie about an angry guy.

I didn’t see many reviews. Horror movie sites were kind, while ‘regular’ trade-style reviews were indifferent or focused on the cheapness of the movie (only a few sets, etc.). No one really punched down, but no one said anything regarding the plot or even if Rollins is any good. Whether you think the guy is a bonafide actor or not (he was a regular on Sons of Anarchy, and has been appearing in movies and TV for over 20 years), he’s not the kind of person who half asses it.

The story is about a guy who lives like something out of a paragraph-story from Eyescream or Solipsist, except he may have supernatural powers. He’s definitely invincible, and needs human blood. We catch this character at a moment of his life where he might have to open up and let people in no matter how surly or murderous he gets, or maybe it’s just another bump in his road and they’ll be gone. He meets a daughter from a previous “relationship” and does his best to shoo her away. There’s also a waitress at his café who tries to cozy up to him. In between there are henchmen who cross his path because they are trying to lean on his source of blood, a med student who owes the mob some money.

Despite what all the reviews say, it doesn’t look cheap. The movie looks great. Sure, there’s his sad apartment, the café, and a bar and its office belonging to the son of a mobsterish guy that Rollins’ character (Jack) used to work for, as it is revealed, among other things. And the movie goes back and forth to those locations. There’s a sketchy guy who picks up Jack’s newfound daughter, who also (I’m guessing) was either married to or once dated the waitress/borrows her car, so small world, right? But there’s also effective setups that build up some suspense and, in one case, stages a fight scene in the café WITHOUT SHOWING IT! Maybe it’s a visual punchline as the camera rolls outside and along the café as the action happens, and maybe that’s what some think is cheap, but I thought it was one of the movie’s most clever moments.

There’s also an old western/farmer guy who stares Jack down during certain moments. I guess he’s a harbinger of impending death surrounding Jack that only Jack can see (though his daughter says she can see him at one point, and…uh, I’ll get to that).

To describe the plot further or who Jack really is further would be to spoil a story that, unfortunately, gets lost somewhere. Maybe it’s because there’s a miniseries being developed for IFC, and if so, good for them. Because I sadly didn’t feel like this movie was a special moment in our anti-hero’s long and sordid/heroic life, even meeting the daughter. Even rescuing someone in the actual climactic fight seemed like a chore. I don’t think the eternal warrior that this movie focuses on learned anything, or will be a different person, even if he’s alone in his apartment again at the beginning of the TV series.

I really felt bad for the waitress character only because she’s just there to hear Jack talk about himself. She pokes and prods him for a date and once it’s revealed what kind of crazy life is outside their world (because of him), she sticks around, even if she is repulsed by any reveals (supernatural or criminal) and should have run miles away even when he approaches her for help (was that the character development? That he needed help for a scene, basically for a ride to the mobster HQ?). Why would Jack even drag her into it further? And why would she go along with it at all? Why not just steal her car or buy it from her or something?

And that there’s a ‘main bad guy’ who is introduced, says he didn’t commit a transgression against Jack (who has super hearing powers in that moment), and then later…he can see the old western guy? What? Does that mean he’s about to die or does that mean he’s being made an eternal warrior for Jack to face off against in the miniseries?

See, right there, huge questions. Why introduce this visionquest character if only other people can sporadically see it…and not explain why? Unless there’s a metaphor worked in here, that both Jack’s daughter and the villain have suffered something and now the old guy is present. Or that she’s related to Jack and she can see into his eternal realm, and so she can see? Don’t put a quirky something or other that only our tortured hero can see except once in a while other people can too without justifying it.

And that’s how the movie ends, I guess. Open ended isn’t a bad thing, but there should be some resolution beyond “he rescued someone and they drove off, probably, and it looks like the mobsterish guy is dying but sees the old western guy so…to be continued.”

Wow. So you didn’t like this movie? As a movie, ugh. By the time we’re introduced to mobsterish bar owner bad guy leader, it’s pretty obvious he’s going to be the person kidnapping someone for Jack to rescue, and there’s only so much of the movie left over. Why not introduce him earlier? Why not introduce Jack’s daughter later? How does the waitress stick around so long? That’s the part that really sticks with me. Any crush she had on the loner weirdo who is pretty mean to her should’ve finally been wiped out when she saw him kill someone. Boom, she runs out of that script in a hurry.

BUUUUT the potential was there. I actually liked a lot of it: Jack walking around LA trying to pick a fight; some of the mobsters trying to drown Jack; The diner scene I wrote above. And Rollins, whether you think it’s Henry Rollins who happens to be in front of a camera beating people up OR if you are into this character Jack, carries it. Jason Krawczyk must have had an angsty loner character from Rollins’ book, in Rollins’ voice, in mind when he was developing this movie. That Rollins has brush-off “I’ll tell you but I’m bothered to do so” answers  to his daughter & waitress’ questions is unfair to the character and to the actor; his character COULD carry conversations. Maybe a quirky henchmen in an ensemble cast would be fun for Rollins (and the viewers) in another project. But Rollins as a loner better-than-Highlander character with the occasional superpower? That should be a movie where you see why he (his character) does all he can to repress showing off his invincibility at the cost of something in his life, and we sadly didn’t get that here.

What it boils down to: if Krawcyzk & co. can set up a scene where Jack faces a bunch of thugs in the diner and cut away and it’s the best part of the movie, then he can set up a real reason why Jack has to rescue some people beyond the feeling that, sigh, he has to, end of story.

So will you give the TV series a shot if it ever comes to fruition: Sure.

Eyescream or Solipsist? Solipsist, all the way.

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