Review by Bradley Smith
Terry Crews loosely brings a folk hero to life as the titular character in John Henry. In this version, John Henry is a former gang member trying to live a peaceful life with his aging father. But John may have to revisit his old ways when the lives of two immigrant teens (young 20-somethings maybe) are threatened by his former gang leader (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges).
The movie opens with one of the protagonists, a female immigrant from Honduras, being held by gang members in their hideout. After a few minutes showing/discussing their illegal activities, bullets start flying and a raid to rescue the girl is revealed. But things do not go well and she winds up at the home of John Henry. Despite a language barrier, that is eased when his father reveals he speaks the language, John Henry lets her stay awhile while he decides if he’s going to help her and her brother, who was captured following the raid.
The film is a respectable first outing for writer/director Will Forbes with an intriguing plot, fine visuals, and a steady flow, though the plot is predictable and hindered by the excessive language and one or two unbelievable plot points (adrenaline can do that?). As a white guy, I was raised to steer clear of the “n word” or any variation, so repeated uses in a film, even with it ending with an “a”, makes me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, if the filmmakers and audience are comfortable with the script, that is their business; I, however, may not be a repeat viewer due to the language. There is a lot of violence, but it is not really John Wick level violence, though it might aspire to be. The violence is about 50/50 visual (on-screen) vs. implied (off-screen).
Overall, if you like a more serious Terry Crews (this isn’t President Camacho or even Lieutenant Terry Jeffords), then you may enjoy John Henry. Plus, old Kenan and Kel fans will enjoy seeing Ken Foree playing John Henry’s father. And Ludacris makes a fairly good villain when he is on screen.
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