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If you thought moving day sucked, wait until you move into the wrong house! That’s basically the premise of Eduardo Rodriguez’s “Stash House”. If the name Eduardo Rodriguez sounds familiar, that’s because I just reviewed “El Gringo”, which he also directed. Like “El Gringo”, “Stash House” is part of the After Dark Action movie line-up, and has the distinction of being the fourth in the five-film “festival” package that makes up the inaugural After Dark Action franchise that we’ve reviewed on the site. (The fifth movie is “The Philly Kid”, which is about boxing, and unless it has Rocky in the title, I’m not much of a boxing fan, so there you have it.)
“Stash House” is not to be mistaken with “Safe House”. For one, you get Sean Faris instead of Ryan Reynolds, and while they may both be pretty boys that get all the girls, their paychecks probably differ a tad. And with “Stash House” you also get Dolph Lundgren instead of Denzel Washington. Again, you could probably mistaken the two for twins, but the size of their trailers separate the two gents. Plus, the budget is really, really small here. Hell, I’m not sure if the entire budget for “Stash House” would be enough to cater the cast and crew of “Safe House”. Mind you, not that budget has the final say regarding a film’s quality. Gary Spinelli’s script for “Stash House” was made to be a “contained” thriller — that is, a movie set in or around a single location with a small cast. There is basically only four people in “Stash House” — young married couple Emma (Briana Evigan) and David (the aforementioned Sean Faris) and the two bad guys, Spector (Lundgren) and Ray (“Castle’s” Jon Huertas).
When we first meet the two former Ohio natives, David has just put a nice down payment on a recently foreclosed home, and presents it to his hardworking vet wife as a gift. David works at a bank, and their new life in sunny California is on the upswing. Or, at least, David’s is. (There is quite the contentious spilling of beans on this subject later in the film.) That is, until Jay shows up, pretending to be a neighborhood security guard, and tries to kill them. Seems the couple have unwittingly moved into a stash house whose walls are stuffed with big thick bundles of drugs. Assuming that the bad guys want those drugs, Emma and David try to give it to them. Hey, if they get what they want, they’ll leave, right? Turns out, no, they don’t actually want those drugs. They want something else inside the house. Soon, Spector arrives, and the two gunmen begin laying siege on the house.
Thankfully for our young couple, the stash house is also heavily fortified, and it only takes one push of a button to turn it into an impregnable fortress, complete with an obscene amount of fancy security cameras that are apparently run by a Skynet-level artificial intelligence. I say this because those cameras sure seem to know where the bad guys are every time and can zoom in all by themselves to easedrop on every little conversation, not to mention using facial recognition software to ID the intruders. Mind you, not that Emma and David ever make much use of the house’s ridiculously state-of-the-art security system. Emma sorta messes with it for a few minutes before giving up on it entirely. Luckily for the film’s budget, those omnipresent cameras allow Rodriguez and company to save on some bucks for a huge chunk of the movie’s middle section. It sorta, well, just disappears in the Third Act.
Faris and Evigan, as our two young leads, have some wacky emotional swings throughout the movie that is likely to make the viewer chuckle rather than empathize. At one point, Faris even sheds a single dramatic tear, though I have absolutely no idea why he was crying. You might recall Evigan from one of the “Step Up” movies (the one where she’s dancing in the rain, I think), and Faris has done plenty of B-level work. The kids do their best, and they’re certainly a handsome enough couple. It’s no surprise that Lundgren gets top billing here. He is the film’s biggest name, after all, even if he seems to be phoning it in for much of the first hour. There was also a moment in “Stash House” where I thought Rodriguez and Spinelli might make us question Spector’s integrity as the film’s main bad guy. It would have been an interesting twist, but they never really go for it.
By their very nature, contained action thrillers are very hard to maintain in terms of pacing. Once the set up is done, you pretty much have to constantly increase the intensity, always upping the stakes for the participants. “Stash House” doesn’t quite pull it off, though to give it the benefit of the doubt, setting the siege in a house surrounded by, well, a neighborhood probably took away a lot of their options. Even so, I’m doubtful even that drug dealer’s fortress of a house could actually muffle a grenade explosion. There are enough nice, clever moments in the film as Emma and David slowly uncover more and more of the house’s secrets to keep things interesting and moving. Still, I thought the ending was a little overly drawn out and too simplified. The day started off with Emma and David facing off against Jay and Spector, and it really should have just stayed that way. Rodriguez did better work in “El Gringo”, but he also had more to work with there.
Eduardo Rodriguez (director) / Gary Spinelli (screenplay)
CAST: Dolph Lundgren … Andy Spector
Briana Evigan … Emma Nash
Sean Faris … David Nash
Jon Huertas … Ray Jaffe
Alyshia Ochse … Trish Garrety