I found myself watching this movie partly because of Henry Rollins; partly because I love these big, 50s style declarative titles (They Live!, It Came From Outer Space, etc.); and partly because Netflix decided not to load any other options for me. We can blame the Xbox app, or we can blame fate, but either way I’m glad this is how things turned out. He Never Died tells the simple story of what happens when a socially awkward, immortal, cannibal, ex-enforcer breaks edge.
In his first leading role, Henry Rollins plays the titular “He,” AKA Jack. Jack has a pretty boring life that seems to consist of sleep, killing, bingo, and visits to his favorite diner. Jack is impervious to mortal injuries and obviously has an extensive and traumatic history. He’s pretty much Wolverine without the claws.
When Jack is visited by the 19 year old daughter he didn’t know he had, we get to know him a little better. This is what really works about this movie; we get to see the day-to-day of Jack’s mundane life. He drinks water and hot tea. He is a vegetarian, he doesn’t smoke, and he doesn’t drink. (Ian MacKaye could probably have played this role as well…) Jack’s daughter, Andrea, makes a great foil to the brooding Henry. She is full of life, social, and always looking for something fun to do. It’s a shame that she gets kidnapped by a very poorly defined organized crime association that Jack used to work for. This of course causes Jack to start killing more people. Unlike your typical Liam Neeson, Jack also eats his victims, which is just the darndest thing.
The movie poses and answers the question of whether Jack is going on this bender just as an excuse to kill or to actually help Andrea. The plot is somewhat loosely defined and the mafia thing that Jack kills his way through is lame and underwhelming. But He Never Died makes up for its shortcomings by being surprisingly character-driven for a violent superpowered murder-fest. Viewers are lead along by the movie to find out Jack’s true identity.
It’s somewhat hard to differentiate between Jack and what you have to imagine Henry Rollins is actually like. A swirling mass of noise plays whenever he finds himself alone. His sentences are short and declarative. He does a great job yelling, brooding, and punching people, but feels a little more stilted when he’s arguing over the phone with the mother of his child. There’s something Terminator-esque in the way that he speaks; only he can’t employ the “I’m a robot” excuse. Fortunately most of the movie can be summed up in the line “Walking, bingo, and getting punched in the head,” so it all works out in the end. Henry’s also got an ear for comedic timing, letting his grumpiness lend humor in the tradition of aging badasses (i.e. Mike from Breaking Bad). In probably the funniest scene in the movie, Jack recounts an immense list of jobs that he’s held throughout his immortal life. These jobs range from antique selling to teaching to mining (for coal, silver, and gold). It’s Henry’s self-assured, deadpan delivery that really carries this moment.
There will never be a point in this movie where you forget you’re watching Henry Rollins, but I think that’s the point. We’re with him essentially the entire time and this is probably the most screen time he’s ever gotten. Relish it.