MJ Palo, Andrew Arguello
MJ Palo, John Reizer
It's bizarre how ideas can tend to come in waves sometimes; it was just earlier this month that I reviewed a short film called "Vax" that dealt with a very similar concept, only that film revolved around the cure for Malaria - instead of going for the big one – cancer – like "Target List" does. This film comes from writer/director MJ Palo, who co-directs with Andrew Arguello and co-writes with John Reizer. Essentially, we're once again dealing with the very plausible theory that if medical science could find a cure for something massive, that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be easy to get it to the people that need it. Special interests – aka BIG PHARMA – tend not to want cures as much as they want treatment, which has proven more profitable. A functional, living human being might be more beneficial to the economy overall, but in terms of what big pharma would want, it does make sense that keeping people eternally sick would be a good thing for their bottom line.
So, there are a couple of ways to look at this film. On the brightest side of the scenario, it achieves its main goals of telling a story that makes sense and offers up some genuinely thought-provoking material - that should have everyone out there questioning whether the cures we need for different diseases are just sitting on a shelf somewhere, hidden away from the public. The other side of the coin presents a film that doesn't seem to quite know which direction it wants to go in. From my perspective, if MJ Palo had decisively gone the Action/Mystery route and leaned into that, "Target List" might have found a style that worked as a better vehicle for the kind of story we're dealing with. As it stands, this flick is labeled as an Action/Comedy, and if I had to hazard a guess, that's going to cost this film some of its potential audience.
One of the most common complaints I used to get schlepping films back in the days of video stores was when we had a film categorized as something it wasn't. It's not always something that is done on purpose – sometimes we have different opinions on what we're watching actually is – it happens. I know I'd be getting a few people out there coming back to me riled up if I was to advertise "Target List" as a Comedy; that aspect of the film is highly absent and probably a bit on the misleading side. By my count, I was just shy of thirty-eight minutes into this movie before I found my first semi-chuckle. That's not bad if it's in a film where you're not expecting any, but it's a major concern if you're calling something a part-Comedy. I tried to think of it from someone else's perspective, like, maybe it was just a different kind of humor than what's suited to my own personal taste – but it's not that…there just really aren't that many jokes or funny scenes written into the script, straight up. That's why I'm advocating for a film like "Target List" to dive further towards the Action/Thriller section because the odds are that the public perception would be more of a match, and they'd give it more of a chance. If they're sitting there waiting for a laugh, watchers tend to get really discontent quickly.
I felt like the cast did the best they could with the material they had, but there's no singular performance that was quite strong enough to rescue "Target List" from sitting squarely in the middle of the road. I hate beating on that dead horse, but the issues really are in the attempts for Comedy, which end up feeling very forced and don't hit the intended mark. If that aspect of the script wasn't there to hinder this film, "Target List" probably would have worked out that much more. That being said, there are a few bright spots in that regard that do eventually reveal themselves and could go on to produce a laugh or two, like the character or Clyde trying to purchase a knife or when he and Donna meet the "lovechild of Vin Diesel and The Rock." As I wrote above, there are moments of Comedy, but they are unfortunately few and far between when it feels like Palo, Reizer, and Arguello were hoping they had something that would get the people rolling in the aisles without realizing that isn't going to be the case - and probably shouldn't be the dominant aspect of the tone of the film for it to succeed. Believe me, when I tell you I'm always looking for the positives when it comes to what I choose to watch – I'm not trying to be a jerk in this review; I'm simply explaining that something is more off than on. Like the character of Amanda, for example, was great, and if the movie had a more serious tone to it, she would have stood out that much more for what she brings to the film. Considering it's focused on trying to be a Comedy, chances are that's pace and timing - the two most essential ingredients in making that genre work.
To its credit, "Target List" is shot cleanly, both Donna and Clyde are characters we do want to see succeed in surviving, and we cheer for them to make it out of this film alive. But the story seems more uneven than perhaps it should be, and never seems to find the right balance. It is cohesive, and we can follow it from start to finish, but it never quite turns out in the way you know this film was intended to. It commits to the core concept it started with, and for that reason, I'll meet it in the middle with two and a half stars out of five. There's more potential here than it taps into, but there's no cure for its overall imbalance, which could likely leave audiences in the position of becoming terminally restless.