The last thing Major John Cafferty (Tahmoh Penikett, “Man of Steel”) remembers is running with his Special Forces squad through a cave tunnel in Afghanistan trying to escape . . . something. When he wakes up in a hospital bed, however, he can’t remember how he got there, or what happened in Afghanistan. The orderlies bring him to see Dr. Troutman (Colm Feore, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) who explains that he’s in a military hospital and that he and his unit were extracted from a top-secret retrieval mission, but that they’ve all lost their memories. Cafferty joins his team in group therapy sessions in which they’re told by Troutman that the recovery process must be a slow, gradual one — the stress of a recovered memory on their brains could cause permanent damage.
Each night, the group is given sedatives to help them sleep, but each night Cafferty is plagued by nightmares of their mission in Afghanistan and their search for an electromagnetic signal deep in the caves. Memories begin to slowly come back, but some of the squad succumb to the trauma. Once Clifford (Skerivet Daramola) breaks down under his disturbing hallucinations, Cafferty vows to discover where they really are, what it is they were searching for, and to find a way to save what remains of his detachment.
Written by Jason Groce, Kirk Roos, and director Peter Winther, Painkillers is an unsophisticated movie that’s part action (a squad first under attack in Afghanistan, then trying to escape a medical facility), and part science fiction (I’ll give you one guess as to where the mysterious electromagnetic power source hails from), with dashes of basic plot twists scattered towards the end. Yet, as far as straight-to-DVD fare goes, this isn’t an absolutely horrible, unwatchable film; the story is far-fetched and silly at times, but the mystery is unraveled in such a way that you’re mostly willing to go along for the ride and suspend disbelief for the 102-minute runtime. This is — and it knows it — a B-movie for people who like to scan Netflix for random movies to fill an afternoon. Put up against other sci-fi/action flicks with a modest budget, though, Painkillers falls very short.
The mysterious hospital motif is weak, the otherworldly power source is barely more than a blip on the plotline radar, and the acting by a litany of character actors that includes Lesley-Ann Brandt (“Drift”), Erica Durance (“Saving Hope” TV series), Julia Voth (“Bitch Slap”) and Tom Carey (“Forsaken”) is just so-so, even for Colm Feore, who plays a role that I’d venture was written with him in mind. He’s not, unfortunately, as convincing as the movie needed him to be nor as sinister as I wanted him to be (I just loved him in Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century” mini-series!).
If you do give Painkillers a chance, I will also warn you that the tagline “The cure for mankind has been discovered” suggests much more of an “Us vs. Them” battle-film than this actually is. It’s low-level action, with some sci-fi framing and overdone, predictable twists — something for a mindless Sunday afternoon if you’ve already exhausted all the bigger budget films in Redbox, nothing more.