Christmas Bounty and all the images you see in this review are owned by WWE Studios and Warner Bros Television
Directed by Gil Junger
What, you thought I was gonna stop talking about WWE movies in October! Oh HECK no! Their film studio pumps out PLENTY of stuff including two Christmas movies which we’ll be looking at this December and, oddly enough, both star one of the GREATEST wrestlers in their stable; Mike THE MIZ Mizanin! The dude is one of the best heels WWE has working for them who knows how to work the ring and also has some phenominal mic skills. Too often heels can fall into the trap of either being too good to root against or too bad to be taken seriously. Mike finds the perfect balance where he can back up his cockiness and with a strong show of genuine skill while also seeming petty and goofy which lets us keep hating him for being a jerk; though I still like him either way. What can I say? He’s a charming guy! Will he be able to translate those skills to a made for TV Christmas film? Let’s find out!!
Things start off less than ideal as the movie begins with a terrible Christmas pop song and some pretty cheap looking titles. If you’re post production work is something that I of all people could plausibly pull off, then you MIGHT want to throw an extra few bucks at the editor; at least to get some original fonts!
Alright, so what are we in for her? Well the movie is all about Tory (Francia Raisa) who lives in New York and works a school teacher. She’s also dating James (Will Greenberg) who’s an IMPORTANT BUSINESS MAN that seems blandly charming enough, though he has this weird tracking app so he knows wherever she is (put a pin in this because it’s DEFINITELY gonna come up later!), but other than that things seem perfectly fine for our hero! However, she seems to be housing a DARK SECRET! Despite all appearances of being Perfectly NormalTM, she’s actually BATMAN and proves that to us when one of the kids is about to be taken away by their deadbeat dad. This lady runs on the school’s roof and jumps on top of the dude’s moving car!
I’m not sure exactly why this has to be a SECRET from James (and I guess everyone else), but whatever. If she wants to spend her nights fighting crime and punching out muggers’ teeth, that’s between here and the state police! No, not really. She’s not a school teacher by day vigilante by night (wasn’t that the premise of Cybersix?), but she does have a secret that she’s keeping from James which sadly come to the forefront at his parents’ fancy Christmas Party. Now stick with me here because right off the bat this plot starts to go off the rails. Okay, so at the party Tory gets a phone call from a mysterious number. When she picks up its… some dude named Manucci (Aleks Paunovic). Who is Manucci? Well the BIG SECRET (if the title didn’t give it away) is that she used to be a bounty hunter and it turns out that one of her big catches has just escaped from prison and is after her and the other bounty hunters that caught him. That whole “Bounty Hunter” is something else you should put a pin in (a MASSIVE one), but forget about that. Isn’t there like fifty better things this dude can be doing with his time? I mean sure, getting revenge against the person who wronged you is the premise of a great number of films like Face/Off and Ricochet, but at least in those films they bothered to build up the bad guy’s menace before just dropping a plot bomb right in the middle of it! What, was it SO IMPORTANT that we get the disapproving rich parents scene that we had to just straight to THERE’S A BAD GUY AND THEY HAVE A BIG HISTORY AND HE’S OUT OF JAIL NOW!? Well maybe it’s just a rocky start and they’ll smooth things out once the ball starts rolling! Said ball by the way is Tory deciding she needs to head back home to Jersey and doesn’t tell James about the whole ESCAPED CONVICT thing; leaving him to think she’s just helping her parents (Michael Hanus and April Telek) with some business, which… I guess is kind of true? I mean once she arrives home in Jersey we find out that her parents are indeed Bounty Hunters themselves and helped Tory (codename: Tornado) catch Manucci in the first place along with her ex-boyfriend Big Muscles Mike. Yeah, take one guess who that is.
I’ve got to admit. Despite how bad this movie is (and BOY is it bad), I couldn’t help but perk up a bit when Mike THE MIZ Mizanin showed up on screen. The dude is just brimming with that over the top charisma that defines a WWE Superstar, though it’s always a bit jarring to see a wrestler standing next to a normal person as Mike is HUGE compared to everyone else in this movie despite being rather average in the WWE. However, even he can’t salvage what’s about to happen next, and before we can even get into THAT we need to discuss the whole “Bounty Hunter” angle and what that even is. Laws vary from state to state of course and this is knowledge mostly acquired in fifteen minutes of google searches, but this is how Bounty Hunting GENERALLY works. If you’re arrested and need to post bail, you could go to a Bail Bondsman who will cover the majority of your bail for a fee. Once you show up in court, they get all the money they posted back and keep the fee that they charged; therefore making a profit. Now what happens if you don’t show up for court? Well this is where the Bounty Hunter comes in. The contract you sign with the Bail Bondsman allows them to hire a Bounty Hunter to drag you to the authorities and that contract gives them some pretty far reaching power; including breaking into your home to try and find you. As far as I know they don’t get hired for anything else, like say if there’s a manhunt for a suspect or if someone breaks out of jail. You, as the person who didn’t show up for court, need to LEGALLY WAIVE YOUR RIGHTS as part of the bail contract before a Bounty Hunter can come after you. So, just as a hypothetical, if you go to a mall to follow a crime boss’s sister and beat up their security guards, NONE of whom are on bail or as far as I know suspected of committing any crimes, that would be an instance of a Bounty Hunter working outside of their legally protected job description and they all should PROBABLY go to jail for assault! Especially this bit here! Seriously, Mike! WHAT THE HELL!?
In case it isn’t clear (the cinematography isn’t that great), The Miz just threw this bastard off of a second story railing to presumably crush his spine and kill him on impact. All in a day’s work for a Bounty Hunter I guess (if you’ve got the stomach for it, google just how many times they screw up and kill innocent people) but at least they somehow managed to accomplish their goal of putting a bug on the guy’s sister… Big Donna (Sidika Larbes) who’s just one walking talking gross fat joke. Because I guess that’s what ABC Family thinks is funny. I’ve got to say, on top of this being rather bland with a nonsensical plot and a problematic premise, the movie is just trashy. They indulge in every Jersey stereotype, they do close ups on Big Donna’s face that’s made up to be gross face so you can gawk at it, and the worst part is that the film seems to think all of this is CHARMING and in service of a message. Everyone’s giving her a guilt trip for running off to the big city and leaving everyone else behind who seem PERFECTLY HAPPY to be Bounty Hunting red necks, but I guess being a teacher in one of the most cosmopolitan and culturally enriching cities on the planet is for phonies and democrats. Ugh… you know, how often do you see the reverse story where someone goes off to the country and turns into a total asshole but then heads back home to realize they shouldn’t have left in the first place? Anyway, we cut to Big Donna meeting up with Munucci in an empty factory (I guess you can just buy those for cheap with no background checks), and it turns out that the two of them were EXPECTING Tory to stick a tracking device on her! BOUNTY SHOCK! It looks like the family plus Mikey are walking straight into a trap, though the prospect of most of them coming to a violent end is about the only thing I’m looking forward to here and the infiltration itself has one of the funnier jokes in the movie where The Miz wants to blow up a locked door and Tory just quietly picks the lock. Okay, it’s hardly the rapier wit of Oscar Wilde, but it’s The Miz being goofy and I’ll take what I can get!
Sure enough, when they get inside they find that Munucci is waiting for them, though not in the way that you’d expect. Now I figured there would be like forty guys in the rafters with automatic machine guns ready to turn The Miz into Swiss Cheese, but instead Munucci is… eating dinner in the middle of the warehouse. I mean… sure. That’s kind of a cliché for badass mob boss characters who is so unthreatened by the hero that they’ll enjoy a nice lobster while a gun is pointed at them, but the thing about this movie is that it understands clichés and story conventions without understanding why they can sometimes work despite themselves. Manucci is PLAYING the part of a tough guy villain and Aleks Paunovic is doing a fine job in the role, but it has no weight or context for it to be the least bit intimidating or funny in any subversive way. The guy KNEW that Tory was going to come here, but all he could think of for his masterstroke of a plan was this shtick and four guys with pistols? It only gets more hack from here by the way. Remember the boyfriend’s tracking app thing I told you to put a pin in earlier? Well guess who tracked their girlfriend down and entered this abandoned warehouse with a surprise teddy bear!? WHAT!?
So your telling me that this guy didn’t see ANYTHING suspicious about his girlfriend’s phone leading him to an empty warehouse; nor does he take the time to take in his surroundings before calling out to her!? Let’s say that this was a PERFECTLY normal factory and she was here on some sort of legitimate non-lethal business. You STILL wouldn’t just waltz in through the side door (he CLEARLY didn’t enter from the front!) and start yelling your girlfriend’s name! You’d look for a receptionist or maybe someone who wasn’t busy to ask if they knew where she was or if she was busy! This script is so hack that I can’t go five minutes without finding something that makes my eye start to twitch, and we’re only twenty three minutes in! Needless to say that he causes MASSIVE chaos to the already precarious situation and ends up getting knocked out… somehow. One minute he’s standing in the room and the next Tory is tackling him just as the teddy bear’s head explodes, so I guess being knocked to the ground and being within spitting distance of a bullet whizzing through his skull was enough to give him a concussion or whatever, and by the time Tory drags him to safety Manucci and his men have escaped. WELL I GUESS THERE’S NOTHING ELSE TO DO NOW EXCEPT TAKE THE BOYFRIEND TO THE HOUSE! I mean there were MULTIPLE shots fired and a wanted criminal is still fleeing the scene, but I guess calling the cops and giving a statement would just take the fun out of it; not to mention that they’d ALL probably go to jail too! Anyway, back at the house Tory is trying to clean things up so they don’t look as trashy, and HOLY CRAP! WHO THE HECK ARE YOU!?
Seriously, that was my ACTUAL reaction when this character popped up on screen! He’s Cousin Bones who apparently lives in the house, and I THINK earlier in the movie someone mentioned that he was sleeping or something, but you still don’t introduce an integral part of your cast like this! We don’t see him enter the room, he doesn’t introduce himself with any dialogue, and he’s not the focus of the scene when we first see him! He’s in the background and looks like a crew member who forgot to get off the set! It’s not even like he’s integral to this scene either since we’re still focusing entirely on Tory’s reluctance to show James her actual family (frankly I can’t blame her) and he’s only really on hand because he needs to hear the ground rules for the rest of the movie; namely that everyone has to pretend to be slightly less trashy (the father is asked to wear sleeves! GASP!) and to not mention bounty hunting and Manucci as long as James is there. Now admittedly I did find a few of the gags here a bit funny with the family trying to act fancy around James when he wakes up from his near death experience. James is playing it a BIT too broad for my taste (even if your rich, how the heck are you baffled by canned cheese?), but there’s something kinda… defeatist about this whole plan that makes it a bit entertaining. He never really guesses that they’re Bounty Hunters, but no one is pulling the wool over his eyes as to where he is, and while he’s kind of bemused he’s not outwardly antagonistic or snobbish about it. I’m reminded a bit of the Simpsons episode Lisa’s Wedding, albeit with far fewer injuries surprisingly enough. This lasts for about, oh… five minutes before the plot comes roaring back when James proposes to Tory right then and there. It really only serves one purpose which is to put pressure on the “love triangle” between these two and The Miz, and I used air quotes there because this is yet another example of the movie DOING something without UNDERSTANDING it. Out of NOWHERE while they’re celebrating the engagement, The Miz says a few sweet words and they all of a sudden kiss. Never mind that they’ve already dated, broke up for obvious reasons, and that literally nothing has changed between them since Mike’s the same Jersey jerk wad and she’s still not keen on being pegged as a Jersey Bounty Hunter when she has other interests and aspirations, but he’s the big star of the movie so I guess we’re gonna have to give him a reason to wind up with the girl. THAT SAID! The Miz is still one charming dude so in ANY other circumstance I would actually buy this happening.
The next day, the team gets a tip that Manucci is going to be at a Christmas Tree Lot… for some reason, and contrive a reason for Cousin Bones to babysit James while they’re off hunting down the wanted criminal. However, James is starting to suspect something’s up with Mikey Muscles and smooth talks Bones into taking them to the Christmas Tree Lot where he immediately gets in the way again and is kidnapped by Manucci and of course he takes him to… the abandoned warehouse. Yes, the same abandoned warehouse from earlier. What the hell is all this for anyway? Does Manucci have some sort of plan in mind? Well… yes! He IS working towards something, but it ultimately doesn’t matter and is utterly asinine. Okay, remember Big Donna from earlier? It turns out that she’s… GETTING MARRIED! Yeah, all of Manucci’s scheming up to this point was to gather stuff together to throw her a lavish wedding ceremony… in an abandoned factory. You know what the weirdest part is though? Despite the ridiculousness of having a wedding in a factory, or the fact that we have never met the groom (spoiler alert: we will never meet or even SEE them; they throw in a wedding but forgot to add a GROOM!?), or that it’s being officiated by a wanted criminal, or that said wanted criminal is drawing undeniable heat towards himself by KIDNAPPING SOMEONE AND TAKING THEM TO THE ONE LOCATION EVERYONE’S BEEN TO ALREADY (including the person who was kidnapped!), there’s a scene here with Manucci and Big Donna that’s actually the best scene in the whole movie! Yeah, the actors have a nice moment where they talk to each other about the wedding and how important family is which gives them SO much more depth than anyone else gets through the entire movie! Plus, there are no fat and ugly jokes! Was the director asleep at the wheel so long that someone COMPETENT managed to grab it for a few minutes!?
Then of course things start to fall apart IMMEDIATELY because Manucci’s plan doesn’t make any sense; not even in the sort of “I’m blinded by vengeance” sort of way. Let’s walk through this. He wants the bounty hunters to come after him. Presumably that means he has a trap, right? Well… not really. True, the wedding is a packed house full of trained murders and criminals, but as far as I can tell no one here actually knows that the bounty hunters are coming and if anything Manucci is putting them in a serious amount of danger; especially since the wedding has a no gun policy (everyone hangs theirs up like it’s a coat check) and Manucci hasn’t hired any new muscle to protect it! At best he’s created a scenario where a lot of chaos can break out which MIGHT be good for him if he plans on making an escape, but way to throw all of your criminal buddies and even your sister under the bus when an actual, you know… PLAN could have worked! Of course the bounty hunters crash the ceremony, capture ALL the bad guys in attendance, and barely face any resistance in doing so. Not too shabby considering that despite them being the only ones with the gun they’re still outnumbered ten to one, but I guess having dear old dad die a heroic death or The Miz taking a shot in the shoulder would be too intense for the perceived target audience of this. Oh, but there’s still one that’s managed to give them the slip! Just where are you hiding, Manucci!?
Well after getting a serious as-kicking, Manucci calls out James to use as a bargaining chip against Tory. I guess that was his plan the whole time, but what does ANY of that have to do with the wedding!? I don’t know, Manucci decides to trade James for Tory because reasons (why not just shoot her in the head!?) so he and his head henchman (Keith Dallas) walk her out to his car so they can… I guess take her on their crime filled adventures? Whatever their plan was, it gets cut rather short when The Miz (yes, the bad guys COMPLETELY forgot about the giant muscle bound hunk lurking the warehouse) and he manages to free Tory and catch the henchman, but Manucci escapes again. Except not really. Manucci starts to drive off in a car, Tory grabs another car, and then she crashes into him; finally catching the jerk and thankfully bringing this movie even closer to an end. I’d complain about the fact that the police seem to have NO PROBLEM with these bounty hunters’ actions over the last few days when they come to arrest the criminals, but we’ve got SO much bigger nonsense to parse so let’s jump right to it. While everyone is kind of just chilling at the crime scene, Tory goes up to James and tells them the engagement is off. Of course she does. Never mind that we didn’t get ANY indication that she and James were having problems or that she was in any way unhappy with her life in New York! It’s just another example of this movie completely skipping the plot so we can hit all the plot points for bland made for TV fluff. Speaking of which, she goes over to The Miz, they have a speech about feelings while acoustic guitar plays, and then they start making out; well within eyeshot of James by the way!
And so the movie ends with Tory moving back to her hometown to her old job and her old; leaving her new life behind which I GUESS is this movie’s interpretation of a happy ending. Eh. At least The Miz gets a happy ending. So that’s it, right? Nope! Just to twist the knife one last time before bringing this nightmare to a close, the ending credits has the cast dancing terribly to this weird techno dance Christmas song.
Why did I do this to myself? I just reviewed an ABC Family movie; I might as well tell McDonalds why their chicken nuggets lack in nutritional value. This movie is loud, obnoxious, and poorly thought out, and I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere NEAR it if it wasn’t for the castling of Mike THE MIZ Mizanin and its connection to WWE Studios. The studio is capable of backing solid projects, but just like with See No Evil their goals don’t seem to be quality as much as just getting exposure to as many markets as possible. Now sure, the WWE DOES survive based on how widespread its brand is and if they want to make rom-coms to maybe get a few other people to subscribe to their network, well I can’t really fault them. What I CAN fault them for is doing it this badly, and BOY is it done badly here! There’s no reason the plot has to be this poorly constructed and reliant on so many clichés other than I guess that’s what this particular market is looking for, but the thing is that there are PLENTY of underrepresented markets in their programming that would make for a much more engaging product and potentially better side projects than what we have now. The company remains nominally progressive (at least outwardly), but this is a movie that totally craps on the idea of “metropolitan lifestyles” and conflates New York with rich people; something I’m sure will give people in the Bronx a hearty and derisive laugh. Let’s face it; this is white bread Pablum for white bread suburbanites who fancy themselves “grounded and authentic” compared to the hustle and bustle of the big cities, and I get the feeling that that particular audience is already well represented in the WWE fan base. Alright, well I’ve still got ONE more of these to go, so hopefully that will be MUCH better! I mean, it can’t get worse than this… right? Ugh, well let’s at least hope for a Christmas miracle.
If you liked this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below! I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite! In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed! Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage! You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?