By Bobby LePire | August 3, 2019
Joseph Mbah’s Expo is about Richard (Derek Davenport) an armed forces veteran-turned-driver, who is looking after his younger sister, Sarah (Amelia Haberman). One day, a co-worker of his calls out of work so he agrees to pick up his next ride; however, due to an issue with Sarah, Richard is running behind schedule. This delay allows Chris (Richard Lippert) to kidnap the teenager, Lyla (Hayley Vrana), so he can sell her to the highest bidder on the dark web. Since Richard was the only person expected to be at the pickup location, he becomes the chief suspect in Detective Moro’s (Michael C. Alvarez) case. Still, there is not enough evidence to charge him
Now, Richard is out to clear his name. He utilizes his military training to track down the clues and find the real perpetrators. As Richard sets out to expose this vast ring of horribleness, Chris and his goons wish to prove a point to him. As such, they kidnap Sarah, which makes things personal. More determined than ever to stop the degradation of human life, Richard finds himself in a desperate fight, not just for his life, but for his sister’s, and all the other girls Chris has kidnapped.
This is Mbah’s first film as director since the rather fun Krampus Origins last year. And it is his first screenplay in two years, from a story he and producer, Amber Thompson, created. Expo has a lot to praise. But first, the issues, ranging from minor to major. The first flaw to come up is Moro’s insistence on Richard being connected to, or the main culprit, in this crime. There is physical evidence, phone calls, and text message records that prove Sarah needed Richard at the time he was supposed to pick up Lyla. Thus, Moro’s refusal to believe anyone else could have done this is quite difficult to buy. By the time Sarah is taken, Moro does realize that Richard isn’t the guy he’s after. As such, this issue only exists for a brief time, and it is easy to ignore after a spell.
“This delay allows Chris to kidnap the teenager, Lyla, so he can sell her to the highest bidder…”
The next problem is the supporting cast. The leads—Davenport, Lippert, Alvarez, and Haberman—are all good, but a lot of the minor characters are played by actors who barely react to anything that’s going on. In flashbacks, Richard’s gravest mistake during his service is shown throughout the film. After accidentally killing a young townswoman, Richard’s escape is aided by someone whose “quiet, follow me” face makes that actor look constipated. It undercuts the dramatic tension of the scene. During a fight at the bottom of the stairs, the henchman involved in the attack is throwing punches, kicks, and body slams just fine; however, whenever he gets hit, choked, or bashed, he simply looks confused.
The main issue in Expo, though, is the make-up effects. Specifically, the scars, cuts, bruises, scratches, and scabs that Richard acquires throughout the film; there is a lot of action in the movie, and he gets beat up on the regular. The problem is that they look awful. The ash gray coloring is not well blended to match the rest of his facial coloring. Thus, it is evident where the fake injuries stop, which is amazingly distracting. They are also too puffy, protruding off the actor’s face, almost comically. Such effects wouldn’t hold up in my high school drama productions, much less do they in a motion picture of any kind. If this ruined the film for an audience, I would absolutely understand.
However, it does not ruin Expo for me. Davenport is quite charismatic as Richard and his love for his sister is never in question. Plus, he is fantastic in the numerous action scenes. As the lecherous Chris, Lippert is easy to hate. His uncaring attitude and casual indifference to those he has taken works to make a credible, menacing, all too human threat. Haberman finds the right balance between naive teen and genuine heart so that Richard’s frustration by her, and love for her, makes total sense.
“…drips style from the first scene to the last and is such a kinetic, furious watch…”
Detective Moro’s rationale early on might not be logical, but Alvarez makes the most of it. His initial interrogation of Richard, in which he tells the military veteran that he is the only suspect, comes across as believable and intense. Plus, like most of the main actors and actresses in the film, he is credible during all the action beats.
The reason to watch this film is Mbah’s absolutely jaw-dropping directing. Expo drips style from the first scene to the last and is such a kinetic, furious watch it is incredible. Every action sequence––and there are so, so many––is a beautiful thing to witness. The hand to hand combat is brutal and excitingly choreographed. Each shootout pulsates with energy and brutality. The visually creative camerawork creates a kinetic and exciting atmosphere, so the film is never dull.
There is a scene in which Richard is punching his rage away, and with each hit of the bag, the background blurs in and out. The camera gets close to him as he continues to punch his feelings out. It is visually astounding and sells the brutality of the film. My favorite part of the movie, though, is a shootout slightly more than an hour in (give or take a few minutes). The camera is in the POV of Richard, and as he quickly turns corners, shoots at the bad guys, or spins to avoid return fire, the camera stays with him. It is visceral, jarring, and beautifully mounted.
Joseph Mbah’s Expo has a handful of faults; most notably the awful special effects make-up. However, if one can look past the minor plot holes and iffy supporting cast, they’ll get an action junkie’s dream. The direction is stylish, the fight scenes are relentless, and the main actors are great. Oh, did I mention the action scenes are bloody amazing?
Expo (2019) Directed by Joseph Mbah. Written by Joseph Mbah. Starring Derek Davenport, Richard Lippert, Amelia Haberman, Michael C. Alvarez, Hayley Vrana, Shepsut Wilson.
6.5 out of 10 Beatdowns