First-time filmmaker Mo Ali’s Shank is a grimy mess of borrowed ideas and mixed messages. Utilizing a gritty style derivative of Guy Ritchie’s British productions and a few intensely physical chase sequences reminiscent of District B13, Ali’s flick never quite establishes its own identity.
Set in a dystopian 2015, the story centers on a scrappy gang of scavengers and amateur rappers, including the soft-spoken runt, Junior (Kedar Williams-Stirling), and his older brother, Rager (Ashley Bashy Thomas). With the food supply in steep decline, the gang often scrounges for “munchies,” the prize commodity among London’s warring factions.
Rager, who regularly preaches that violence isn’t the answer, is shanked in an altercation with a rival clan and Junior snaps, bent on having his bloody revenge. Well, which is it? The misguided quest takes the crew through trash-ridden streets overrun by drugs and prostitutes to find the culprit, Tugz (Jerome Holder), while making pit stops to plop down in front of rambling, over-the-top crime bosses or pausing to spit impromptu rhymes.
Perhaps to achieve a more forgiving rating, the film skirts the violence with frustrating cutaways, darkened blood, and bizarre, animated recreations. A drug-fueled high turns into a Grand Theft Auto-type video game and a random dog fight becomes a Mortal Kombat battle set to synthesized techno. Only a climactic playground rumble stays with the characters, even if it’s largely lifted from The Outsiders.
Ali, who made his name directing music videos, directs the frenetic action with a certain beat and cuts the scenes with a choppy, staccato style that matches its rhythm. But Shank‘s series of wildly uneven scenes, jumbled morality, and isochronal influence never mesh in what feels like a film at war with itself.
1.5 out of 5.