Sam’s life is far from epic. He lives in a broken-down apartment building in the wrong end of the city. (I mean, it always seems to be raining on his street.) But as run down and soggy as it all is, his overworked single mom still has a hard time keeping up with the rent.
For that matter, 13-year-old Sam doesn’t see himself as anything special either. He’s kind of an undersized kid who’s not the wisest goose in the gaggle. And he wouldn’t have a chance in a fight with anyone who could stand upright. (He might hold his own with an infant or someone in a wheelchair … on a good day.)
But there is one epic thing in Sam’s life: his search. Sam is convinced that that the great, good-guy super, Samaritan, is still out there. And Sam is going to find him.
Sure, everybody knows that Samaritan and his evil, and equally super twin brother, Nemesis, were both reported deceased some twenty-five years back after an all-out explosive battle. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Many books, stories and online rumors claim that Samaritan survived. And if that’s true—which Sam is convinced it is—all it would take is some young guy like him to use his observation skills to figure out where Samaritan is and why he’s been hiding. That’s Sam’s calling.
OK, admittedly Sam was wrong about the school janitor, his first choice. But, hey, that dude was the strongest mop-swinger Sam had ever seen. And the postman was a bust, too. But did you see how he zipped past the neighbor’s bulldog?
This time, though, Sam is certain he’s found the right guy. It’s his neighbor, Joe. Yeah, yeah, he looks like a beat-up old prize fighter who’s tasted canvas one too many times. But this guy can move a dumpster like it’s papier Mache. Sam saw him through his window with his shirt off, too, and Joe’s got scars all over his back (just like you might get from a huge fiery battle, dontcha know).
This old guy even came to Sam’s rescue when he was being beaten by some local guys. He tossed those knife-wielding thugs around like rag dolls. But the capper was when Joe got hit by a speeding car. He just got up, snapped his broken bones back into place, and moved on. Now that’s super!
All Sam has to do now is convince Joe to become the hero he once was. The city sure could use a hero right about now. And maybe he could teach Sam to fight. Hey, that bone-fixing thing would be cool, too.
The overall theme of the movie is that we all have a choice about the kind of person we will be. But we can also change, stepping away from foolish decisions and replacing them with wise ones.
“The real truth is, good and bad live in everybody’s heart. And it’s up to you to make the right choice,” Joe tells his young neighbor, Sam. And Sam’s mom echoes that statement, reminding her son that the “decisions you make add up.”
After noting the care and love Sam’s mom has showered on her boy, Joe tells him, “You have a good mother. Lucky. Very lucky.” Joe also talks to Sam about being afraid of fighting and suggests that in spite of all the many battles he’d personally had, running away from a fight is often the right choice. “Street fighting is for fools,” he tells the boy.
That said, Sam does feel the need to fight and stand up for a battered friend at one point. For that matter, Joe steps up to defend the helpless, too, saving both Sam and a young girl he meets.
A local gang leader named Cyrus reveres Nemesis, Samaritan’s evil brother. He notes that “to people around here, Nemesis was a god.”
As the camera looks across a homeless area, it takes in some tents with crosses on them.
Cyrus’ female partner in crime, Sil, wears an outfit that bares her waist and back.
Cyrus identifies so closely with the former villain Nemesis that he decides to assume that persona himself. Cyrus raises an army of people to create chaos and havoc in the city. First, an underling of his steals some explosive ordinance that Cyrus uses to attack a police station and raid its evidence locker. There, he steals Nemesis’ hammer that was supposedly created from the baddie’s “hate and anger.”
That hammer is used to smash walls, doors and people—generally sending anything struck by it crumbling or flying. Joe is later hit in the face and body repeatedly with that weapon.
Beyond that, numerous scenes picture people looting and burning buildings. Large segments of the city are set aflame by screaming, raging people. A cop gets beaten bloody and then shot in the back.
Then there’s Joe. Being superpowered, he takes lots of punishment from every corner and is riddled with bullets. The pounding, knife stabs, explosions and gunfire he absorbs results in a little bloodiness. Joe’s also hit by a fast-moving vehicle—after which he staggers up and snaps his bones back into place.
Of course, the souped up hero also unleashes his own swath of painful punishment, too. Joe smashes people through walls, hits them with heavy objects, stabs people with knives, breaks backs, shoves a grenade-like bomb into a guy’s gut and throws a villain into a pit of raging fire. He kills scores of baddies (somehow without actually causing their blood to spurt, the biggest deaths happening just off screen). Explosions, gunfire and destruction abound.
On a smaller scale, young Sam takes quite a bit of punishment as well. He’s beat-up a couple times by teen baddies. In one case, a guy picks up a huge wrench and breaks his arm (later dumping his unconscious body in an empty lot). Sam’s mom gets knocked unconscious while trying to defend her son.
One f-word and 13 s-words lead out the foul language pack, followed by two or three uses each of “a–hole,” “h—,” “d–n” and “b—ch.” There’s one crude reference to male genitalia. And God’s name is misused seven times (once in combination with “d–n”).
We see a group of guys drinking bottles of beer in the street.
Despite the fact that Sam is this story’s protagonist, he isn’t always wise, nor does he always make the best choices. In order to make some money, he breaks into a building and strips copper wire out the walls to sell. He also helps some young thugs rob a small market, among other things. Elsewhere, Cyrus pays off a cop.
I can say without the slightest bit of kryptonite flinch that the idea behind Samaritan had a lot of smile-worthy potential. I mean, who couldn’t imagine a grizzled Sylvester Stallone playing an aging, battered and reluctant former super hero trying to hide away in the bad end of town.
It almost writes itself, right?
Well … not quite. This comic book-like tale swings frantically, whiffing back and forth between feeling too dark on one hand and too silly on the other. It never quite finds a good balancing point between those two extremes. And there’s all the unnecessary foul language and back-breaking violence in the mix, too.
There are good lessons here, including teachable moments that could prompt viewers ponder the good and evil inside us all, and lessons about how our choices push us all one way or the other. Unfortunately, the family audience that this pic and its lessons might have appealed to are the very people who should be warned to stay away.
Nothing to smile about on that front.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.