Focus is the name of the game on small-scale cinematic productions. Sprawling ambition is not unwelcome, and in fact it can often inform the boundaries which a film’s creative influences may wish to push, but there has to be an equal understanding of the constraints that budget and genre convention place on what should otherwise be a straightforward affair. This is the issue with Showdown in Manila, a film that desperately wants to be three different films at once but has neither the genre-blending acumen nor the basic understanding of character development to make those ambitions work.
Showdown in Manila’s first act would much more charitably be considered an overlong prologue, as we’re introduced to Nick Peyton (Alexander Nevsky, who has all the screen presence of a discount Jason Mamoa) in the middle of conducting a police raid on a building. The action is restricted to tight hallways with smoke billowing everywhere, supposedly creating an atmosphere of tension but is completely devoid of such due to our lack of context. Apparently the operation is bungled and Nick, though injured, is determined to be the appropriate scapegoat and loses his job. Cut to two years later and nearly a half hour into the movie, we see a shootout occur after a police officer recognizes known mob boss The Wraith (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).
This is where the movie starts proper, picking up on Nick and his new partner Charlie Benz (Casper Van Dien) as private investigators who take the case from the dead officer’s widow. This is where the film reveals that, instead of being the tactical shooter drama we were led to believe, it has aspirations to be a buddy cop movie circa the 1980s (or, if we’re being generous, a Shane Black movie). This jarring shift might have been forgivable had the humor actually landed, but Nevsky and Van Dien share little to no on-screen chemistry, and the script’s running gag about Charlie’s womanizing actually being a sex addiction is completely tone-deaf.
But wait, if you thought we were done switching up subgenres, Showdown in Manila moves its final act to a jungle setting so that the final capture of The Wraith can have some Rambo-esque guerrilla shooting. We’re introduced to a slew of new characters that act as Nick’s and Charlie’s support team, and while it’s clear that they’re all supposed to have distinct and amusing personalities, they are so hastily introduced for a singular beat of kissing Nick’s ass that nothing about those personas stands out. The third act is the worst at hastily introducing new elements, but it is emblematic of the complete lack of focus the production has for telling a complete story that allows its characters the time and opportunity to breathe.
Showdown in Manila isn’t entirely devoid of fun action or interesting ideas, but the execution is so scattershot that there’s no way to recommend the movie. This is a screenplay that needed extensive reworking or potentially even a planned trilogy treatment, but the script they used is so unfocused that this is less a movie than it is a weirdly-paced highlight reel of gunfight footage. This showdown really demonstrates what it means to push the envelope too far.