Trigger Warning Fails to Justify Its Rambo-Meets-John Wick Claims

Jessica Alba’s return to the movies is a middling disappointment.

Inverse Reviews

Trigger Warning has been billed as a female-fronted cross between First Blood and John Wick, the kind of nonsense spiel you’d expect to see on a straight-to-DVD actioner in a supermarket bargain bin. But in fairness, the Netflix original has a pretty impressive pedigree.

Its Thunder Road producers are responsible for Sicario, The Town and Keanu Reeves’ never-ending hitman franchise. It’s helmed by Mouly Surya, the Indonesian director credited with revolutionizing the revenge genre with Cannes favorite Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. And its leading lady is no stranger to kicking ass, having appeared in the Sin City and Machete films as well as James Cameron’s dystopian sci-fi Dark Angel.

Yes, after a five-year absence from our screens, the once-ubiquitous Jessica Alba has chosen to bounce back as a special forces commando whose skills with a knife could put John Rambo to shame. And she gets plenty of chances to show them off, too, in a film which may be short on plot, tension and nuance, yet certainly can’t be accused of skimping on the body count.

Jessica Alba and Tone Bell after all the opening scene’s carnage.


Alba stars as Parker, who, as shown in the Syrian desert opening scene, has the ability to take on a literal army of men single-handedly. On the way home from dispatching with the enemy and tackling a trigger-happy man mountain on her own side, she learns her beloved father Harry (Alejandro De Hoyos) has perished in what appears to be a tragic collapse of his man cave, which was actually in a cave.

Returning to fictional hometown Creation, Parker reconnects with her old prom date-turned-sheriff Jesse (Mark Webber) and amiable pot dealer Mike (Gabriel Basso, far more lethargic than in Netflix megahit The Night Agent). Thanks to a remarkably perceptive understanding of geology, she begins to suspect her dad’s burial might not have been the accident purported.

While hunting for the truth, she also makes enemies with casual racist Elvis (Jake Weary), Jesse’s hot-tempered brother with a penchant for blowing up taco trucks with projectile missiles. In a prime example of the script’s laziness, his character actually bellows “Elvis has left the building” during one particular exit, as if such a zinger had never before entered his dumb brain. And then there’s their father Ezekiel (Anthony Michael Hall), a senator who’d blatantly twirl his mustache should he have one, his blatant disregard for law and order prompting Alba to utter an even more obvious banality: “Why are politicians such liars?”

Parker showing off her skills with garden shears.


Trigger Warning appears to signpost the answer to its whodunit so early on, you’re continually left waiting for the rug to be pulled from under your feet. Perhaps her computer hacker sidekick Spider (Tone Bell) is a double crosser, for example? And yet that moment never really arrives, with the whydunit also something of anti-climax, its ties to the American alt-right never explored beyond anything other than surface level.

It’s therefore left up to Alba, who's in almost every scene, to bring the magnetism. While her tough-as-nails heroine gets a few emotional moments, including several cack-handed childhood flashbacks which attempt to pull on the heartstrings, it’s only in the cleverly choreographed combat sequences where she compels.

The hardware store sequence where Parker wipes out a bunch of rifle-toting criminals with a sweeping brush and pair of garden shears is the movie’s sole truly inspired moment. But the firebombing of her inherited bar — a side plot which has echoes of the recent Road House remake — and a climactic goodies-versus-baddies showdown conducted solely within the labyrinthian cave walls also make good use of Alba’s martial arts training.

Parker engaging with Anthony Michael Hall’s lying politician.


It’s also refreshing that, apart from a brief rekindling with her old flame, Trigger Warning doesn’t saddle Parker with a shoehorned love story. Her most convincing relationship is the sibling-like one she shares with Mike, a man far more interested in the true nature of her hush-hush international exploits than wooing her into bed. With the behind-the-scenes team also including screenwriter Halley Gross, producers Erica Lee and Esther Hornstein, and cinematographer Zoë White, it’s perhaps little surprise the film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.

Of course, it could be classed as a sign of equality that a predominantly female team can also now make a thriller which is never more than serviceable at best, the kind of unchallenging Saturday night flick that will fit neatly into Netflix’s Top 10 for a week or two before being entirely erased from memory. Indeed, there’s little here to suggest that, unlike the action hero vehicles it was very generously compared to, Trigger Warning will inspire any further lore.

Trigger Warning Is Streaming Now on Netflix.

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