‘Vigilante Diaries’ is painful to watch

vigilante diaries

About halfway through Vigilante Diaries, Michael Madsen stares directly into the camera and says that the “best laid plans can turn into a gigantic clusterfuck.” That would be an apt description of exactly how Vigilante Diaries plays out if I believed for one second that there were any plans laid at all. This is the most incoherent kind of cinema, a film where every element feels hapharzardly thrown together in the hopes that someone will want to pay to see it. To call it stupid is a compliment to stupidity. To call it tedious would be the understatement of the year. To call it incompetent doesn’t even begin to describe it.

“Plot” is much too generous a word to describe the amalgamation of scenes that have been thrown together in the hopes of crafting a semblance of story. The basic gist is that The Vigilante (played by co-writer Paul Sloan, and yes, that is the main character’s name) is a former soldier who now spends his time stateside hunting down criminals for reasons unexplained. A documentary filmmaker, Michael Hanover (Jason Mewes, affecting a stilted version of Clerks’ Jay to no comedic effect), made a movie about The Vigilante, aggrandizing his exploits, which in turn caught the attention of the Armenian mob. The mob begins hunting the documentarian, so Michael uses his underground contacts to try to get in touch with The Vigilante, only to discover that he is being held prisoner. He in turn contacts The Vigilante’s sidekick who hires some mercenaries to bust The Vigilante out. If that sounds unnecessarily convoluted and confusing, let me assure you that it is; that doesn’t even cover half the movie, with the second half completely changing focus to a new, entirely contrived conflict that begs the question of why there was so much complicated set-up in the first place.

If only the problems ended there. With a first act told so nonlinearly that it only makes a modicum of sense after some retroactive expository narration, Vigilante Diaries does not even have the courtesy to introduce us to our protagonist in any meaningful way until nearly thirty minutes in, making him an alien and unrelatable figure to root for. Characters are introduced so quickly and so ineffectively in the midst of a sea of exposition that nothing anyone says resonates or is memorable, even when what is being communicated is vital plot information. There are multiple characters that serve the same narrative purpose, making it hard to remember who’s who, especially when so many of them don’t even have an archetypal personality, much less an immediately identifiable one; the previously mentioned Michael Madsen seems to be around purely as a recognizable face to spout exposition. The screenplay is littered with awkward dialogue so that every actor feels as if they are reading the text of a particularly vulgar grade school play, and the lack of acting skill by many of the players is “disguised” by having them speak directly into the camera, removing the necessity of physical acting but consequently making the film feel like an especially boring Skype chat.

Some of this could have been forgiven if there were at least some competent action in the film, but Vigilante Diaries can’t even deliver on a base cathartically violent level. Almost every shot of a person shooting doesn’t follow up to show what they did or did not hit, leaving it up to the audience to imagine just how awesome our “heroes” are as they shoot entire clips offscreen. Hand-to-hand combat and chase scenes don’t fare much better, relying on shaky camera work and quick cuts to unconvincingly cover up how unimpressive The Vigilante’s moves really are.

I wish there was something, anything to justify this movie as anything other than a waste of time, but even its attempts at humor fall staggeringly flat, and the production doesn’t even manage to be unintentionally funny in how awful it is. Vigilante Diaries is a dull cacophony of action movie tropes, slammed together without regard for internal logic or entertainment value. What a clusterfuck.