‘White Elephant’ Review: Olga Kurylenko Overshadows Other Big Names In This Direct-To-Video Film

White Elephant

The world of direct-to-video films is a harsh one. In it, we see countless filmmakers and actors doing their best efforts into creating something that will probably not be watched by anyone or by very few people. In the past, this market flooded itself with tons of releases and filmmakers were able to create small fan bases inside of it. However, as streaming services continue to expand, they have now become the direct-to-video market of this new era, and the standards have been raised.

However, even with the boom of streaming services, there are still some filmmakers out there that have made the VOD space their home. These filmmakers continue to deliver films each year that have some sense of quality and effort behind them, even when the resources available to make them are scarce. Jesse V. Johnson is one of those filmmakers, he and Scott Adkins have made a career together and the director’s chops are quite solid, he only needs a big break. Sadly, White Elephant might not be that either.

White Elephant is a film directed by Jesse V. Johnson and stars Olga Kurylenko, Michael Rooker, John Malkovich, and Bruce Willis, in one of his last roles on screen. The film tells the story of Gabriel, an ex-marine, now transformed into an enforcer for the Mob, that starts having a duel with his own consciousness when he is forced to do horrible things for his boss.

White Elephant

The tale of the reluctant hero is as old as time, and White Elephant does just that. Rooker plays the old dog that is unable to learn new tricks and still finds the courage to overcome the obstacles and follow his own moral code. It is standard storytelling, and the film doesn’t really break the mold here or try to do anything different. So, if you have seen some of Johnson’s movies in the past, you know exactly what to expect. Adkins’ absence is palpable.

Johnson finally gets big names for one of his movies, but sadly, almost everyone is on autopilot. It is clear that for most of them, even for Rooker who is basically playing the lead, this is just another paycheck gig. And it would have been awesome if they could have delivered themselves some more to the story and to their characters. For example, like Rooker, Malkovich is basically just being himself once again, at playing a corrupt lawyer, there is really no difference between the characters and themselves.

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Willis, who is the elephant in the room, is used sparingly for obvious reasons. It is really sad to see him mostly on a chair as other characters talk to him, and his responses feel completely detached from the other actors’ lines. It is sad to see Willis knowing his condition, and even sadder that such a big star has to leave on such a low note.

Kurylenko is the only one of the big-name actors that are actually trying to create a character here. And just for that effort, it is just clear that she and her character should have been the protagonists of the film. Rooker is fine, but Kurylenko’s portrayal is just miles away, and her character is just so much more interesting. Kurylenko’s career should be bigger for sure, she deserves it and her professionalism is really shown here.

White Elephant

Johnson does a good job at creating a lot from basically nothing. This guy knows how to stage action, so when the action needs to happen it is clean and direct, if he could just have more resources, then he could really let his chops show. Unfortunately, most of the budget was surely spent on getting the big actors, so we are getting shortened in the department that would really have made a difference for this movie. It is a conundrum that is difficult to solve. We only wished Johnson could step up to the big leagues, we think he is ready.

The plot is just an excuse to move the characters around from one place to another. There is really no way to solve how convoluted the plot is, and it doesn’t offer stakes or big twists, everything feels like just something that came out of a can. The dialogue is really bad, and the talking scenes really have no propulsion behind them. Very few people will care about the story when watching this, but will be disappointed when the build-up just ends in a flash of action towards the end.

White Elephant could have been so much more. Next time, just hire Kurylenko again and surround her with tons of action starts and deliver a full-octane action fest where she can be the sole star. That sounds ten times better than what we have here, a tired story with uninteresting actors playing the most important roles. Johnson also deserves more, as he clearly loves his craft and always tries to go that extra mile even when he cannot do it.

Imagining Johnson directing a Marvel movie or something with less scale but still, a sufficient budget could be a dream come true, let’s hope we get there sooner than later while Johnson still has the fire to do it.

SCORE: 5/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.