‘Samaritan’: Stallone proves his star powers in a modest superhero universe

Entertaining fantasy film tells its mentor-protege story in low-key style.

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Sam (Javon Walton, left) suspects his neighbor Joe (Sylvester Stallone) is a superhero long presumed dead in “Samaritan.”

MGM

We’ve seen how the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Movie Universe are each vast and wondrous, and mind-boggling in their respective complexities. We’re dealing with a seemingly endless multitudes of worlds and characters, people.

With the Sylvester Stallone-starring “Samaritan,” we’re talking about a much smaller superhero vehicle. Even if it were to expand into a prequel or a sequel or a spinoff, it’d be like a Samaritan County or perhaps a Samaritan Greater Tri-State Area more than a whole Samaritan Universe.

Directed with low-key style by Julius Avery and featuring a suitably world-weary, “Rocky” meets “Demolition Man” performance from the 76-year-old Stallone, this is a small-scale riff on “The Dark Knight Rises” (with a sprinkling of “Unbreakable”) that knows its limitations and strengths and plays to the latter accordingly. It’s not likely to stick with you for long after the 101-minute running time and I can see how some folks will be hurling tomatoes in its direction, but this is an entertaining B-movie bolstered by performances from a cast that often rises above the predictable material.

‘Samaritan’

Untitled

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures presents a film directed by Julius Avery and written by Bragi F. Schut. Rated PG-13 (for strong violence and strong language). Running time: 101 minutes. Available Friday on Prime Video.

The young actor Javon Walton, best known for his scene-stealing work as the pint-sized Ashtray on HBO’s “Euphoria,” brings a similar street-smart charm to his portrayal of Sam Cleary, a frequently bullied comic book geek who lives with his widowed mother Tiffany (Dascha Polanco) in a shabby apartment in the economically depressed and crime-riddled Granite City.

As Sam tells us in the opening voice-over narration, the twin brothers Samaritan and Nemesis once ruled over Granite City with their superhuman powers — but they became sworn enemies because Samaritan chose to use his power for good while Nemesis … well, you know the drill. There was an epic battle in a power plant, and as Sam explains, “Samaritan and Nemesis died in the blast. This is the story we’ve all been told. But I believe Samaritan is still alive.”

Sam has spent much of his young life in search of Samaritan — and it appears he’s finally found him in one Joe Smith (Stallone), the crusty old garbageman who lives right across the street. After Joe rescues Sam in a scene out of “The Karate Kid” and later survives getting run over by a speeding car, he can no longer deny his true identity to the lad.

Meanwhile, Pilou Asbeck’s Cyrus, a garden-variety villain with elaborate tattoos and a tricky haircut, breaks into a police evidence room and steals the magic hammer that was “forged from the hatred that Nemesis had for his brother,” dons Nemesis’ mask and starts riling up the disenfranchised people of Granite City, just like Bane did!

“Who comes to help the helpless?” says the fake-news Nemesis. “Who is our hero? I am back to start a revolution for all the people this city left behind.”

Cue the obligatory scenes of the locals looting and rioting and setting cars on fire. (We’re supposed to be in a metropolis, but it never looks like there are more than about 250 people in the entire city.) Director Avery and cinematographer David Ungaro deliver a suitably neo-noir look to the generic locations (like a kazillion other movies, “Samaritan” was shot in Atlanta) and we get some nifty fight sequences in the usual locales, e.g., back alleys and vast warehouses. Stallone’s line readings are pure Balboa Dialect, and he has a nice mentor-protégé chemistry with Javon Walton.

This might be a one-and-done effort, but I wouldn’t mind seeing an expansion of the Greater Samaritan County.

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