The Baker (2023)
The Baker (2023)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: July 28th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jonathan Sobol Actors: Ron Perlman, Elias Koteas, Harvey Keitel, Joel David Moore, Emma Ho, Samantha Kaine

 


 

B

uffing his white sneakers and donning his crisp apron, Pappi (Ron Perlman) of Pappi’s Bake Shop sets about delicately and precisely kneading dough and filling ovens. He’s a master of his craft – or so it would appear, thanks to the stock yet detailed insert shots from his introduction. Of course, with baleful music by Fløqi, it’s all but certain that “The Baker” isn’t entirely focused on that specific profession.

Sure enough, mere seconds later, a gang of masked thugs attack a well-suited man in an airport parking lot, quite violently, with bats and hatchets, as limo driver Peter Stanton (Joel David Moore) watches in awe from a nearby car – entirely by coincidence. After witnessing the corpse-laden fiasco, Peter snags a discarded red duffel bag loaded with primo scag, which prompts him to grab his 8-year-old daughter Delfi (Emma Ho, scripted to portray one of the most annoying of all screen children) and flee, under the guise of a last-second vacation. Their first stop is to Pappi’s, who happens to be Peter’s father, where Delfi is dropped off while he slips into town to conduct some nefarious dealings with a local drug connection.

“I just need this one thing from you.” The standard, estranged father/son relationship isn’t fresh, nor is the concept that the son is a failed businessman caught up in get-rich-quick schemes, planting him firmly in the line of fire of dangerous gangsters. Even the rough-around-the-edges, impatient approach by Pappi, who quickly warms to the gentle, quiet, caring, innocent behavior of Delfi, isn’t remotely unique (nor are the sequences in which he softens and grows more fatherly). But regardless of the setup, the intention is evident: placing Perlman in the lead role of a “Taken” ripoff. He’s an elderly maker of doughy delights, but he’s not without certain other skills – as initially suggested by unseen nightmares that jar him awake.

The tone at the start is so sullen and somber that it’s difficult to find the fun in this premise, despite the fact that it ought to be an inherently exciting action-movie template. Even the arrival of dependable character actor Harvey Keitel as head drug honcho the Merchant (who only speaks a few lines, every one brimming with uncreative cursing), and Elias Koteas as subordinate Victor, tasked with hunting down Delfi, aren’t enough to spruce up such a dry, generic method of navigating this material. Pappi eventually begins some investigative sleuthing to figure out who the bad men are that are chasing him and his unlikely ward, but even this is handled with tedium and disinterest; his digging around in the underworld might as well be footage spliced together from a dozen other pictures crafted exactly like this one.

It takes a painfully long time before a hint of verve arises, and even then it’s so obscured in inky alleyways and lightless corridors that it’s difficult to make out the specifics of the combat. After all, Perlman isn’t exactly the type anymore – especially when out of the makeup and costuming of a role like Hellboy (or, more minimally, his turns in “Pacific Rim” and “Alien: Resurrection”) – to appear as if he’s a quick-fisted or physically imposing martial arts ace. To make up for it is obfuscating editing (far beyond just the fight scenes, spilling over into movements to and from various locales), pounding music, and slow-motion bravado, but they’re enormously unconvincing. At least one shot inside a delivery van, which sees the camerawork maneuvering around two assailants grappling in close quarters (with a rolling pin weapon!), is noticeably impressive, despite also being thoroughly murky. But by the end, it’s simply not enough, as its mood and atmosphere remain startlingly dark and uninspired, similar to “Pig,” but without Cage’s wholeheartedly wacko performance. “The Baker” doesn’t possess the originality necessary to warrant its existence; this plot and these characters are entirely too familiar and blandly presented to make this a worthwhile bit of entertainment.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10