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Mel Gibson steps back into the limelight after what seemed like an eternity in Hollywood jail to embody Brett Ridgeman, a salty cop peddling on both sides of the law in S. Craig Zahler’s crime-drama Dragged Across Cement. Sure, Gibson’s popped up in a few higher profile studio releases over the past decade but it’s been since the 2011 Jodie Foster-directed The Beaver that he’s been in the pole position leading a film. And, unfortunately, Dragged Across Concrete hardly gives us a chance to celebrate the return of the veteran actor with a troubled history.

Forced to take a six-week unpaid suspension after a video of excessive on-duty force surfaces, Ridgeman looks for a score off the record to try to lift his family out of their bad neighborhood. His wife has MS and his daughter is bullied by black kids who throw orange soda at her (the stereotypes start but don’t end there) and a pay cut also means no chance of moving anytime soon. Ridgeman enrolls his also suspended partner Anthony (Vince Vaughn) in the hazily sketched scheme to lift a score from shadowy criminals and the pair take to stake-outs to determine how they’ll make their move. Zahler, who wrote as well as directed, hones the plot in on the how/when/why/and where of it all, taking the heist as a procedural narrative but falling far short in the editorial department of keeping everything tightly wound.

At an imposing two-hour-and-thirty-nine-minute runtime, Dragged Across Concrete spares no gritty detail, bogging itself down in tertiary subplots that lead absolutely nowhere. There’s an entire sequence that involves a casualty of the heist-in-question that introduces us to a character, their backstory, their insecurities, their family life, only to coldly mow them down the next scene. Likewise, characters talk, shoot, scope, or philosophize but their actions rarely contribute to defining the most important angle of the heist story: making us care about any of the players involved.

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Zahler’s motive in creating these side quest storylines is clear but his execution is lacking, an unsuccessful attempt to catch the audience off guard or, rather, to justify later instances of icy violence. This is an angry movie, through and through, that wants you too to be angry. What for specifically can get lost in the haze. That is in large part due to the fact that for a movie with this much time at its apparent disposal, so much is wasted, with main characters remaining largely one-dimensional. 

Concrete’s emotional premise is built on baiting its audience – the race-baiting elements alone may make some uncomfortable, especially those that consider Gibson already on shaky ground. There’s no shortage of racial slurs and homophobic jabs littered through Zahler’s script, which add little to the overall picture other than a one-note attempt to establish its players as “old school men” sparring with “locker talk”. Even from a performance standpoint, there’s little remarkable or worth commenting on. Gibson is pretty good and has the whole pissed off, world-weary hunk of meat act down pat while Vaughn has almost nothing to chew on at all. Tory Kittles as a recently released con in on the score but wary of its crew is probably the most well-drawn of the cast even if his character too is victim to threadbare “I gotta do it for my family” motivation. 

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Coming off a killer one-two punch of standout western-horror Bone Tomahawk and cripplingly intense Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler has simply taken a step in the wrong direction, giving into baser directorial instincts in a film that feels more like a debut than the word of a storyteller sharpening his skills. There’s enough double and triple-crosses, shoot-outs, threats, extortion, uneasy alliances, unexpected violence, and a long-winded Mexican standoff to please die-hard fans of this kind of material but Dragged Across Concrete can’t escape the long shadow of the proto-standoff crime film Reservoir Dogs and feels like one of the many instances of short-stack Tarantino-wannabe hat tips. Perhaps the most egregious part of all – no one even gets dragged across concrete.

CONCLUSION: Hard-boiled but undercooked, S. Craig Zahler’s nihilist crime saga invests in too many tangents and too little character development, forcibly dragging this frustrating but occasionally inspired story over the distant finish line.

C-

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