Land of Bad is a Tense But Deeply Flawed Thriller

Welcome to the land of, well, you get it.

Liam Hemsworth and Luke Hemsworth in 'Land of Bad'
The Avenue
Inverse Reviews

Land of Bad is as no-nonsense a thriller as you can get. The new, William Eubank-directed film is a modern-day, drone-driven riff on the same kind of stranded-behind-enemy-lines story that moviegoers have seen plenty of times before. The film doesn’t waste much time jumping straight into its story, though, and there’s real enjoyment to be found in just how efficiently Land of Bad moves through its familiar plot. Unfortunately, just when it seems like Land of Bad has found its rhythm and laid the groundwork an hour into its runtime for a nerve-wracking climax, the film overcomplicates its own story. It broadens its ambitions, alters its unlikely hero’s mission, and attempts to introduce the kind of political ideas that it’s not equipped to properly handle with care.

Land of Bad, in other words, is a film that would be incredibly easy to love — were it to end 30 minutes before it does.

Land of Bad follows Kinney (Liam Hemsworth), a rookie Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) who is assigned at the last minute to accompany an elite Delta Force team as it infiltrates enemy territory in order to rescue a captured military asset. Kinney spends the first 15 minutes or so of the film fielding jabs from his team’s more experienced soldiers: Sugar (a game Milo Ventimiglia), Abel (a likable, if underutilized Luke Hemsworth), and Bishop (a tattoo-clad Ricky Whittle). Things quickly take a turn for the worse, however, when the team is suddenly caught up in a dangerous attack from multiple sides that leaves Kinney stranded and alone.

His only constant source of aid comes in the form of Captain Eddie "Reaper" Grimm (Russell Crowe), a US Air Force drone pilot who monitors Kinney’s progress through his drone’s cameras and communicates with him from a base in Las Vegas. Through Kinney’s headset, Reaper bonds with the young JTAC and does his best to keep him as calm as possible. As he does, Reaper grows increasingly invested in making sure that Kinney gets out of his uniquely bad situation alive. However, the longer that he remains stranded, the more complicated rescuing him becomes.

Behind the camera, Eubank makes the most out of Land of Bad’s mid-sized budget. Kinney’s journey is propelled forward by chaotic set pieces that the director patiently sets up and then executes. At times, Eubank struggles to keep the audience geographically aware of where Kinney is in relation to his fellow soldiers and enemies, but the filmmaker mostly succeeds at making each of Land of Bad’s action sequences as engaging and, in certain instances, terrifying as possible. That’s particularly true of the film’s inciting shootout, which is kicked off by a horrifying act of brutality and only grows more and more alarming the worse things get for Kinney, Sugar, Abel, and Bishop.

Land of Bad is a consistently tense and engaging action thriller that overstays its welcome.

The Avenue

While Land of Bad doesn’t ultimately have much to say about its characters’ stories, the film knows how to use its cast. Liam Hemsworth proves to be surprisingly well-cast as Kinney, who spends much of the film frightened and unable to mask it. The actor isn’t quite as convincing when he’s asked to sell Kinney’s inevitable transformation into a battle-worn warrior, but that’s partly due to the performances given by Ventimiglia, Whittle, and Hemsworth’s brother, Luke, all of whom embody their tough-guy characters so completely that it feels, at times, like they must have mistakenly wandered off the set of one of Guy Ritchie’s recent thrillers.

They’re all outshined, though, by Crowe, who doesn’t share a single scene with any of them but nonetheless emerges as Land of Bad’s most powerful weapon. It’s unclear how much Crowe is actually enjoying the current, B-movie period of his career (see also: The Pope’s Exorcist, Unhinged, Poker Face), but nearly every one of the mid-budget thrillers he’s starred in as of late has served as yet another reminder of his own charisma and star power. The Oscar winner spends most of Land of Bad staring at a computer screen, but he fills his character with enough charm and relatable frustration that it never feels like a chore when Eubank cuts away from Kinney’s action-packed odyssey and back to him.

Russell Crowe steals the show in Land of Bad.

The Avenue

Reaper and Kinney’s relationship is endearing enough that you buy the former’s growing attachment to the latter, but that just makes it all the more disappointing when Land of Bad swaps out their moments of remote bonding and Kinney’s desperate attempts to make it home in favor of grimy, dime-a-dozen torture scenes. The film’s script, which Eubank co-wrote with David Frigerio, spends part of its final third trying to address the unavoidable but unnerving political vagueness of its story by throwing out a handful of cringe-worthy, underbaked references to real-world events.

These moments don’t add anything to the film. On the contrary, they just make one wish even more that it had remained content with being nothing more than a bare-bones military thriller. If it had, it might have been far more memorable. Does that make Land of Bad a complete misfire? No, but it does undoubtedly miss the mark quite a bit when it counts the most.

Land of Bad hits theaters Friday, February 16.

Related Tags