Aaron Eckhart, handsome and versatile leading man who has played everything from a corrupt tobacco lobbyist to tough Marines and sexy lovers in every kind of movie from Thank You For Smoking to Erin Brokovich, is hell-bent on versatility. Many of his films have been poorly received by audiences and critics alike, but he has been personally praised in every role as relentlessly charming. There is nothing charming, appealing, or remotely memorable about a thing called Rumble Through the Dark. This one goes down in the Aaron Eckhart filmography as an ill-advised mistake. The only reason I can imagine why he was attracted to it was his persistent resistance to being labeled one of People magazine’s 100 most beautiful people.
RUMBLE THROUGH THE DARK ★ (1/4 stars)
Nothing beautiful about the character Jack Boucher, a washed-up bare-knuckle fist fighter first shown as a child given away to an orphanage by his mother as the prelude to a life of misery and misfortune. In time, he morphs into a battered and decimated shell in such deplorable shape he can barely shuffle, much less walk, from one knockout to the next. Spitting blood with his head shaved down to a nub, he tries desperately to keep going long enough to support a terminally ill father until manhood. Losing his mind to dementia after so many fights, self-medicated with opioid painkillers and whiskey, Jack owes money for back taxes on his mother’s house and is in deep debt to the sleazy owner of an illegal fight club called Big Momma Sweet.
The $30,000 he wins on the roulette wheel in a lucky night at a local casino could save his mother from bank foreclosure and death in a nursing home, but a bounty hunter named Skelly (Joe Hursley) steals the money, hijacks his truck from a gas station, and leaves Jack beaten half to death and lying in a cornfield. In a film this dismal, where everyone is a hopeless loser, it’s Skelly who dies after a tattooed carnival fortune teller named Annette (a wasted Bella Thorne) steals Jack’s bankroll for herself. Feeling guilty because she secretly believes Jack might be her long-lost father (don’t ask!), she ponders the idea of giving it back, but before he can save his Mama’s house, he bets the money on one last caged fight to refund the money he owes Big Momma Sweet. The ape he fights makes Godzilla look like a nursery-school chimpanzee from Toys’R’Us. The sounds of bones crunching in the brutal bare-knuckle fight scenes are souped up to resemble the bombs that fell on Nagasaki.
Filmed in a bayou in Mississippi where, as we all know, there is always a depressingly glum traveling carnival and an extra roulette wheel handy, the preposterous Rumble Through the Dark is contrived and manipulative but not in any meaningful or significant way. The one-note screenplay is adapted by Michael Farris Smith from his novel “The Fighter,” which I never intend to read, and co-directed by brothers Graham and Parker Phillips. Living up to its title, the film is so dark you can’t see what is going on half the time, but it does raise two serious questions—why make it in the first place, and what could persuade an actor with Aaron Eckhart’s talent and reputation to appear in it? It doesn’t stretch his range, it stands the chance of a popsicle in hell to make money, and in the final analysis, nearly two hours of savagery add up to nothing new to say or write home about. One-word summary: Huh?