I’ve seen this episode of MacGyver before.
It’s the one where he’s minding his own business in the ambiguously Canadian woods until some ne’er-do-wells drag him into a scheme involving duffel bags of ransom money and broken home melodrama. That week’s character actor really made a meal out of playing the broad-stroke bad guy in charge, doing their best to chew through gristle like, “You just don’t get it, do you?” and “You can’t change a man’s true nature.” But you can change a man’s true nature, because one of the goons gets hurt and MacGyver helps him survive long enough to reach the budget-bland cabin where his fellow goons are waiting. In return, the good goon repays the favor within minutes of the end credits. There are also a few respectable explosions and the constant threat of gift shop mysticism, like magic wolves or something.
As a matter of fact, I’ve seen about seven episodes of MacGyver like this movie. They might not have as much gun violence or MMA, but they also know what they are. Daughter of the Wolf is as serious as a lawsuit, and that’s a problem for any movie that ends with the hero and a dog exchanging a knowing nod.
Gina Carano (Fast & Furious 6 2013, Deadpool 2016) is a former commando going Commando. When her son is kidnapped by someone with an old bone to pick, she has no choice but to get him back, one Action Essentials muzzle flash plugin at a time. Carano has more than proven herself as both an actress and athlete, but Daughter of the Wolf really only trusts the latter. Every shopworn line she fights through has been ground out by a thousand actors before, but this time, they’re personal. The extra prepositions in, “I’ve held up to my end of the agreement. Now you hold up to yours,” may read slight, but they sound like rattles under the hood of a car that’ll shortly be stranding you on the interstate. Carano makes it work well enough to keep watching, but nobody could walk away from material like that without a limp.
By the sacred law of B-action villainy, Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws 1975, Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977) gets the choicest cuts of dialogue. While MacGyver usually kept its bad guy archetypes to Capitalists or German, Daughter of the Wolf scores on originality by going full Mad Prospector. Dreyfuss stomps, kicks and stabs his own thug with an incandescent poker, all while adding plenty of loosely Southern seasoning to platitudes like, “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t driven by rage.” He even golfs a wolf off the side of a cliff with the butt of his Winchester rifle. The movie does not play it for laughs. His performance deserves a movie that would’ve.
Which is not to say that this kind of story must be told with tongue firmly in cheek. It’s as much MacGyver as it is The Grey. But the lead-heavy way the story is told in Daughter of the Wolf leaves everything the same shade of dull with a few moments of unintentional comedy to help keep it interesting.
Director David Hackl (Saw V 2008) has proven one of the more capable directors in the VOD world. British Columbia is a special effect unto itself, and he wisely spends a lot of screen real estate letting it work. The biggest stunts, like jumping a snowmobile off a mountain and flipping an SUV, land with clean, clever staging. The fights don’t fare as well. A knife-swinging brawl on the edge of a stunning snowbound waterfall lets a little too much air back into the lungs when several swings miss by several miles. The real culprit seems to be the script from Nika Agiashvili (A Green Story 2012). It has a beat and you can fight wolves to it, but there’s nothing in it we haven’t seen, heard, and shot at before. While it’s pretty clear what’s going on and why it’s happening, Daughter of the Wolf plays a dangerous game with Dreyfuss’ character, Father; in a movie where everyone’s backstory involves a deadbeat or just dead dad, good luck figuring out which father anyone’s ever talking about… especially once someone starts calling Father the Other Father.
Is Daughter of the Wolf worth the price of admission? If you’re a Carano or Dreyfuss completionist, sure. They’re both good at what they do, if only they’d been given more of it. If you’re a VOD connoisseur, this is higher end stuff, but the ingredients are unmistakable – travelogue drone footage, passable action, familiar faces underused, and a plot you already know by heart. Or you can just curl up on the couch and watch MacGyver with your dog. I recommend either episode “The Invisible Killer” or “The Survivors.” Same woods, better sense of humor.