Home Video Hell is where filmic outcasts—straight-to-video, straight-to-VOD, or barely released—spend eternity.
The condemned: A Common Man (2012)
The plot: A scowling Sir Ben Kingsley plants a series of bombs around Colombo, Sri Lanka, then calls the police and demands the release of four imprisoned terrorists or he’ll detonate the explosives.
Over-the-top box copy: “But in an urban jungle already torn apart by fear, what could be the real motive behind a cunning madman’s ultimate plan?”
The descent: A Common Man was filmed in Sri Lanka with a local cast, and it becomes clear very quickly that it was never destined to make a splash—it’s amateur hour all the way, just a couple of steps above The Room. Though filmed in 2011, it lingered until going straight to DVD in early 2013. It did take home a bronze medal from the New York Festivals International Television & Film Awards, which sounds impressive until you realize a) nobody’s ever heard of those awards, and b) they gave out 119 gold, 145 silver, and 104 bronze medals that night. Apparently it’s like the grade-school science fair—you get a ribbon just for showing up, and A Common Man still managed to come in last.
The theoretically heavenly talent: Only two scenarios could possibly explain why Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley (he’s Gandhi, for chrissake) is in this ridiculous movie. Either he owed somebody a favor, or he got paid a shitload of money for very little work. (Perhaps both.) Though he’s the star, Kingsley could easily have worked on this movie for half a day: He spends nearly the entire running time on a rooftop making phone calls. There are exactly two short scenes in which he speaks to another actor in person. And how’s this for respect: The DVD package misspells Gandhi (as “Ghandi”—twice!) while pimping Kingsley’s presence.
The execution: From its packaging and description, A Common Man looks to be just another run-of-the-mill Hollywood action movie, but parts of it are so amazingly, ridiculously amateurish that it becomes an enjoyable giggle. Kingsley is a fantastic actor, no doubt, but what happens when he’s plopped down in the middle of a Sri Lankan production that’s trying to emulate ’80s American cop shows, with crappy actors, poorly recorded dialogue, and a truly dumb script? Here’s a scene in which Sir Ben speaks with the only other halfway-decent actor in the movie, Ben Cross of Star Trek and Chariots Of Fire:
That’s bad enough, but when the movie is given over to the locals, nobody is quite sure what to do. The police conduct an investigation, and when they find a crook who might have some information, they hand the interrogation over to their most badass, American-acting cop. There’s so much to love and laugh at about this scene: the sunglasses, the guy offscreen who hands the badass a baton, and especially the ending—an informational screen about a suspect, a device that is never used in the movie again.
And then there’s the twist: Kingsley isn’t exactly a terrorist after all. He’s demanded that these four prisoners be released only so he can kill them. It turns out he’s just a common man who’s fed up with living in a society where various religious terrorists run roughshod over the people, and he believes that he can end terrorism by murdering terrorists himself. Here’s the best part: Once he gives a big speech about it, every cop except the main one basically agrees to stop looking for him. After all, Kingsley has only murdered three people—and they all deserved it. This deference to eye-for-an-eye justice is particularly fantastic considering that this is the man who played Ghandi, err, Gandhi.
So at the end of the day, the movie provides exactly one explosion—it’s small, and in the distance—and this life lesson: In the pursuit of a more peaceful world, it’s a good idea to plant bombs in major population centers, threaten innocent civilians, and murder terrorists who were already in jail. This is the plan that the Sri Lankan police department looks at and says, “Yeah, why not?” And this is the script that Ben Kingsley looked at and said, “Sure, okay.” (Or maybe, “How much?!”)
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Because it’s so bad, A Common Man could find an audience that loves to laugh at it. There are plenty of meme-ready moments. Every time a deadline is mentioned, there’s a dramatic shot of a wall clock ticking, with a quick zoom, and there are plenty of memorably silly characters. Here’s one more clip, featuring a super-cool hacker who’s brought in to help the police. He’s got style.
Damnable commentary track or special features? Nothing. Even the menu screen looks slapped together: It just says “play movie” and “scene selection.” They could have at least provided an optional laugh track.