Dark Asset review – ambitious super-soldier cyborg thriller goes hard on flashback

John Wick has probably created unrealistic expectations for the adrenaline levels to be encountered in luxury hospitality venues, and this low-budget super-soldier thriller, largely narrated over cocktails in a swanky hotel lobby, follows firmly in its gold-card wake. But the generic and strangely pointless tech conspiracy on offer here supplies as memorable an experience as a branch of the average Hilton. And despite its attempts to juice up its cyborg setup with some old-fashioned body heat, Dark Asset ends up more smarmy than sexy.

Former special forces soldier (Byron Mann) is fitted out with a cybernetic enhancement chip and a John Doe moniker, the latest recruit in an experimental programme. Once the chip has been activated by boffin Dr Cain (Robert Patrick, who has acquired fiendish eyebrows since his Terminator 2 days), he has access to enhanced cognitive and physiological abilities. But the hardware malfunctions, and John busts out of the secure facility and heads not for the nearest casino (surprisingly given his card-divining capability), but to a hotel where he cracks on to Jane (Helena Mattsson) and insists he has quite the tale to tell.

Never mind the bodyhacking, this combination of action thriller and Scheherazade-style raconteuring is an unstable hybrid as John proceeds to recount the stories of the enhanced operatives who came before him. It’s admirably ambitious on the part of writer-director Michael Winnick, but the two approaches are fundamentally at odds with each other; the nested narratives sap the relentless forward momentum needed, and the individual flashbacks are not compelling enough set-pieces on either the action or character front. The tricksy structure needs greater intrigue to justify it, but with the programme apparently being at the behest of a cabal of anonymous businessmen, it’s not even as fleshed-out as Universal Soldier.

Mann does look fantastic – lean and dapper – but his chip appears to be malfunctioning in his scenes opposite Mattsson; a smug grin is virtually his only facial expression. Both leads also consistently opt for the “cheesy dialogue” option in their head-up displays. Dark Asset finally finds a semi-satisfying groove as John’s grand design is revealed, even if it consists of too many borrowed parts to be a real quantum leap.

• Dark Asset is available on digital platforms on 18 September.