International assassins are well-placed to thrive in a work-from-home gig economy. That’s the main take-home message of this film, in which an Australian hitman uses an Uber-like phone app to hire sniper backup for a planned shoot-out. That, and the fact that nine years after Gareth Evans’s The Raid stormed its way to international accolades, Indonesia remains a cracking location to shoot an independent action thriller.
One key difference is that while Evans’s film made a star of local martial artist Iko Uwais, this one has imported Home and Away’s Paul O’Brien for lead role of taciturn tactical genius, Ryan “Message Man” Teller. This both introduces an awkward white saviour dimension to the otherwise entertaining revenge plot and invites the sneaking suspicion that Australian writer-director Corey Pearson is prioritising living out his boyhood Bond fantasies over entertaining us, his audience.
Ryan is leading a lonely life on his huge yacht when, during a trip ashore for supplies, he’s befriended by cheeky street kid Doni (Aji Santosa) and his attractive single mother (Agni Pratistha). This ready-made family unit is ruptured when Doni crosses paths with a local crew of sex-trafficking pirates, whose ultimate boss, Lee (an enjoyably villainous Verdi Solaiman), is an old nemesis of Ryan’s with a score to settle.
Henchmen are disarmed and dismembered with the usual gory efficiency until Ryan hooks up with an affable driver-cum-sidekick Adi (Mario Irwinsyah), by turning a straightforward fare into a rescue mission. This collaboration leads to the movie’s most inventive action set-piece, involving a big tipper at a strip club. “Collateral in a tuk-tuk” proves a highly watchable premise – it’s only a shame that Message Man doesn’t arrive there until the film’s final third.
Message Man is out on digital platforms from 17 August.