After beginning his career as an actor—he was “Cougar” in Top Gun—John Stockwell showed some early promise as a director sensitive to teenage angst: He made the fine HBO movie Cheaters, about the conspiracy between students and their teacher to game a standardized test, and Crazy/Beautiful, a star-crossed romance that remains one of Kirsten Dunst’s better roles. But then Stockwell took to the simpler pleasures of beachside locales and good-looking young stars in bikinis, first ogling them in Blue Crush and Into The Blue, then killing them off in Turistas. With the generic “hip” thriller Cat Run, Stockwell mostly stays on dry land, but hasn’t lost his interest in hot bodies, which only makes the film further resemble something that might pop up on Showtime at 2 a.m.
It might be hard to reach for that remote, though. Words like “smug,” “derivative,” and “shallow” could all be fairly applied to the film, but as a piece of late-night exploitation, it delivers the violence and nudity with the regularity of an IV drip, and some familiar faces in the cast help class it up. Bland at the center, Scott Mechlowicz and Alphonso McAuley play best friends in Montenegro who decide on a whim to open up their own detective agency. Their first and only case: protecting high-priced call girl Paz Vega, who’s on the run after witnessing a series of murders involving the U.S. Secretary Of Defense (Christopher McDonald) and some shady local mobsters. Before they can even get around to solving the case, the amateur sleuths struggle just to catch up with Vega before a ruthless assassin (Janet McTeer) finds her.
Too much of Cat Run is goosed up by empty stylistic feints, like introducing each character by throwing nicknames and factoids on a title card or using split-screen just for the sake of it. Though smoothly orchestrated, the script tackles the irreverent crime movie by getting too wacky, as evidenced by D.L. Hughley’s casting as a single-limbed receptionist (and arm-wrestling champ). Yet McTeer nearly redeems the film on her own as an assassin who looks and acts like a prim Mary Poppins type, but goes about her business with pitiless efficiency. So, too, does Cat Run.