Clearly intended as a leg-up in the ranks of the female action star for Gillian White, this smalltown revenge thriller starts off well but takes a fatally long time to gather momentum. White plays Zara, a successful lawyer in a desert town whose martial arts skills, courtesy of lethal-but-sensitive husband and dojo partner Brian (Michael Jai White, her real-life husband/trainer), make her a social media hit after she disarms a goon threatening a coffee-shop assistant. This lowlife is in fact part of a local human-trafficking ring, masterminded by chihuahua-loving hoodlum Patrick (Mickey Rourke), with links to Zara’s secret past.
Any B-movie thriller worth its salt should get to its inciting incident within the first 20 minutes. Here, it’s the kidnapping of Zara and Brian’s daughter, and it takes nearly 50 minutes to arrive. The plot is jammed instead with portentous run-ins with Patrick’s thugs, leaden teasing-out of Zara’s history that hovers close to matinee melodrama, and only the sporadic justice-servings we are really here for.
With a fierce crochet hook of a left eyebrow, White has a natural charisma and authority, and – with him indoors taking a back seat – ample room to strut them. Yet director Christian Sesma shoots her in a cramped way that prevents full butt-kicking glory, and she starts to become strangely decentred in her own film. Elsewhere, despite looking these days like a man trapped inside Mickey Rourke prosthetic makeup, Rourke has a rueful dignity in his few, largely static scenes that is hard to take your eyes off.
• Take Back is released on 29 March on digital platforms.