Rating out of 5: * * *
Verdict: Bang, bang.
The 1985 television series on which this film is based set a high water mark for clammy dread in primetime that has seldom been equalled, much less beaten.
It should come as no surprise that the film version is shorn of the original's many chilling subtleties; shoehorning a six-part story into barely two hours of screen time means compromise and only a fool would complain that the film is a bad version of the TV show.
But even taken on its own terms, it's at best a by-the-numbers thriller with a high body count and a serious cop-out of an ending. The scriptwriters Andrew Bovell (Lantana) and William Monahan (The Departed) seem to have taken to heart pulp fiction king Raymond Chandler's advice "When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand".
The last half-hour is virtually continuous gunfire and it's hard to resist the conclusion that the film-makers decided to kill a lot of people because they didn't know what else to do with them. Certainly the attempt to update the politics is pretty lame. Gone is the pre-apocalypse nuclear conspiracy thriller and in its place an American corporation is making weapons for the other side. And so many other subtleties are sacrificed: Winstone's menacingly expressionless
Matt Jedburgh has replaced Joe Don Baker's golf-mad Darius, who was most chilling because he was also so cheerful.
The original was a sort of horror film about one man's dawning realisation, but this is just a movie about a man getting even.
His cause of vengeance is the doorstep murder of his activist daughter (Novakovic) by a shotgun blast he assumed was meant for him. But as he digs deeper, he uncovers a web of corporate and government malfeasance.
The film certainly has its moments - most of them when Gibson, in his first feature-film role since 2002's Signs, brings out Mad Mel. We thrill to those wild blue eyes, just as we thrill to Jack Nicholson's eyebrows, because that's what we came for.
When a snooty lawyer working for a crooked senator says "Who do you think you are?", Gibson's Craven replies: "I'm the guy with nothing to lose who doesn't give a shit". You can feel the audience silently cheering: "Atta boy, Mel. Let's do it."
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts, Ray Winstone
Director: Martin Campbell
Running time: 126 mins