Range Runners (Movie Review)

In any situation, perseverance is the key to overcoming almost all obstacles. One fiercely dedicated long-distance runner is already well aware of this fact, and she uses it to her advantage in Range Runners. Dark Star Pictures and Uncork’d Entertainment deliver the Survival Thriller to DVD and Digital on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.

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This is not a simple story of vengeance. Left for dead in the woods after having her backpack stolen by two men, former Olympic hopeful Mel (Celeste M. Cooper: Chi-Raq 2015, Chicago P.D. series) will not go quietly into the night. Hellbent on taking back what is hers, she will stalk the two criminals—Wayland (Sean Patrick Leonard: Sweet Leaf 2013, Rockabye short 2017) and Jared (Michael B. Woods: Sinister 2 2015, Utopia series)—targeting their weaknesses as she follows them deeper into the forest in the name of determination—not revenge.

Range Runners marks the feature debut of Director Philip S. Plowden (Cellar Door short 2016), who had a hand in creating the story along with Devon Colwell (Cellar Door short 2016). A solid entry into the Thriller field, but also offering up elements of Crime and Drama, the film is a lengthy 111 minutes that see Cooper’s Mel outwitting two lackluster thugs at every turn.

However, unlike many Survival Thrillers, here there is a clear focus on developing Mel’s character, allowing moviegoers a chance to understand her motivations as well as why she makes the seemingly poor decision to chase after Wayland and Jared. And her upbringing plays a pivotal key in this tale. Thanks to a father (Carl Clemons-Hopkins: La méduse rouge 2013, Candyman 2020) with massive dreams and all the tact of a drill sergeant, she has been indoctrinated into the idea of dogged determination. Consequently, this has driven a wedge of sorts between Mel and her sister, Chloe (Tiffany Renee Johnson: Shameless series, Chicago Med series), who even in adulthood are seemingly still battling for their father’s affections.

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With evocative flashbacks to Mel’s younger years—where she is portrayed by the talented Mariah Gordon (The Chi series, Chicago Fire series)—we are given a thorough background on our lead and fully understand that she is a tenacious, long-distance runner, a former Olympic hopeful who will stop at nothing to attain her goals. While some men will believe that they are the cause of a woman’s strength, our heroine proves that this is definitely not the case. And you don’t want to mess with a woman like Mel!

And yet, despite all of the unresolved anger brewing inside her bones, Mel still stops to help a stranger in need, proving that she does have a good heart. Portraying this intricate balance, Cooper is flawless in her role, delivering an exceptional performance that empowers the entire production. As the “restless and intense” Mel, Cooper is never afraid to get ugly: scrunching and screwing her face into tormented expressions that convey her pain and suffering, along with the battles that rage both inside and around her character. Her expression of Mel’s emotional pain is palpable and all of her struggles feel real. Cooper—along with her talented stunt double, Kiea Houseton (Before You Woke short 2017, Chicago P.D. series)—goes through hell to deliver a physical performance, one that borders on superhuman. There’s a seamless transition between Cooper and Houseton throughout, while both ladies take a beating to bring a realism to this rugged storyline.

And then there are Mel’s foes: the intense Wayland and the meek Jared. As the obvious ‘Alpha male,’ Leonard is awkwardly eerie. To better explain, the actor seems to rely on his size as an intimidation factor and when he tries to actually present something vile, he often overplays his move and ends up delivering more of a caricature of a villain. Although, when he simply offers up smooth-voiced, honey-coated threats, he can definitely make the skin crawl. His wide-eyed and timid counterpart, Woods’ Jared, is the ‘monkey in the middle’ of this tale. The ‘accidental’ criminal with obvious regret, the character offers Woods more material to work with and, for this, he gives a solid performance.

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All of this said, Range Runners is still a Survival Thriller, one that places an athletic, intelligent, and determined woman into the woods with two stereotypical baddies. But the screenplay’s attention to developing Mel’s character offers viewers insight into her decisions and motivations, elevating the experience from the cliché ‘trying to escape death in the woods’ experience to something more skilled and sophisticated. Coupled with lovely cinematography from Darryl Miller (The Chi series, Chicago P.D. series) that utilizes some truly beautiful Southern Illinois vistas, Range Runners’ steady pacing and supernatural lead actress make for an enjoyable experience. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Range Runners 4 of 5 stars.

Uncork’d Entertainment

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