Directed by Drew Barnhardt.
Starring Brenna Otts, G.C. Clark, Ketrick ‘Jazz’ Copeland, Reggie De Morton, Luke Sorge, and Gena Shaw.
A veteran suffering from PSTD is offered a chance at therapy that opens up a world of sex, murder and revenge.
“Ordinary is not the thing that I want,” says Jill (Brenna Otts – Westworld) to Lurdell (Reggie De Morton – Legion of Iron) during a crucial scene in Rondo, the second full-length feature from director Drew Barnhardt, and it is probably the most telling piece of dialogue in the film as Rondo is anything but ordinary, sometimes to its detriment.
Jill is the sister of Paul (Luke Sorge – Phantom Limb), a war veteran suffering from PTSD and using his sister’s couch as a bed while he tries to sort himself out. Jill’s only rule is ‘No booze and no guns’ but Paul seems unable to stick to that and so Jill gives him the number of an addiction therapist she had recently met called Cassie (Gena Shaw – The Vampire Diaries). Paul goes to visit Cassie, who happens to be heavily pregnant, and she immediately theorises that Paul just needs to get laid, suggesting that he tries something a little kinkier than normal and gives him the address and password of somewhere where his needs will be taken care of.
And so it is off to an apartment where Paul and two other men are offered sexual fulfilment with the clearly drugged-up young wife of a rich middle-aged businessman, but with Paul being the last in the queue he gets to see what happens to his predecessors as they are both killed during the act, prompting Paul to make a run for it and opening up a world of trouble for the former soldier as he is hunted down by Lurdell and his henchman, and that is when the story really gets interesting…
Interesting because Rondo is essentially a standard revenge story but it is wrapped up in a cloak of Tarantino-esque dialogue and oddball decisions designed to throw the audience towards a climactic scene that felt like a long time coming after all of those twists and turns, even though the movie comes in at a trim 88 minutes. However, what comes along with those twists and turns is a sense of the disjointed, a situation that throws up more questions than it answers and some filmmaking tactics to pad out a story that doesn’t have the necessary character development or depth to sustain itself on narrative alone.
But that said, there is enough to keep you watching if you’re not too fussy about plot and gratuitous sex and violence can overcome such details, and that is where Rondo delivers, tapping into a ‘70s grindhouse aesthetic with little flair and plenty of relish. Drew Barnhardt is clearly desperate to get you to the all-important final scene so he can show off the only truly stylish set piece in the whole movie – and it is very stylish, given the amount of blood squibs that must have been used and it does go where a lot of other filmmakers may have pulled back a bit – but the polish with which the rest of the movie is shot doesn’t always sit too well with what is happening on-screen and appears to be masking the fact that beneath the surface and away from your expectations, there isn’t actually very much happening that couldn’t have been done in half the time, which would have made Rondo an excellent short film but at feature length it suffers.
However, the lead performance from Brenna Otts is outstanding and Reggie De Morton is also noteworthy for how deceptive he makes Lurdell, his most savage lines sounding warm and inviting and what should be his more agreeable dialogue sounding cold and calculating. Overall, Rondo will appeal to Tarantino/Rodriguez fans for its dark heart, depraved subject matter and its repetitive score (if you don’t know, look up what ‘rondo’ means in musical terms) but the execution of it doesn’t quite sit as well as it might given how deliberately off-kilter it tries to be when playing it straight may have given it a bit more weight. But despite its flaws, Rondo still has enough intrigue to make it worth watching once if violent crime thrillers flick your switch but it may veer a little too much towards “the other thing” (as Jill puts it) for repeated viewings or those not fully invested in its quirks.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★