In a perfect world there would be a bleak first draft of this movie. It has all the elements for a harrowing tale, a drunken uncle, a boy trapped in the seedy, dangerous world of Hollywood, forced to fight by the aforementioned drunken uncle, vicious gangsters, and Don "The Dragon" Wilson. This is the film we'd have got if Lars Von Trier directed*. Instead, we get the main Merhi himself (that's Joseph, not Jalal typo fans) with his co-conspiritor Richard Pepin is not far behind, making a family movie about one kid's dream to kick people in the face. And a dream is just a wish... coming true. Whatever that means.
The kicking people in the face part should not be suprising, as Magic Kid was written by Stephen Smoke, writer/director of Final Impact, a Lorenzo Lamas movie about kicking people in the face (I know that doesn't narrow it down much). The kid part is a little more unexpected, as PM Entertainment are more known for their action films than wholesome family fun, though wholesome family fun this indeed is, as much as Captain Ron at least.
Our Hero, and (presumably) the Magic Kid in question, is Ted Jan Roberts as Kevin, Vague Martial Art expert and youngster (though older than he seems to be playing in the film). After becoming champion at the Vague Martial Arts Championship of Spokane by defeating a kid in Rex Kwan Do trousers Kevin is packed off with his sister Megan, played ably by Shonda Whipple, to visit their uncle Bob, an agent out in LA. Fans of mid-ninties sci-fi will recognise Bob as Stephen Furst, Vir on Babylon 5, and in my mind one of TV's go-to guys when you need someone rotund and nervous. Interestingly, Furst went on to direct Magic Kid 2, which is unavailable in the pound shop, so far.
Bob has promised Kevin that he'll introduce him to Don "The Dragon" Wilson, to whom Bob gave his start many years ago. Kevin is a huge The Dragon fan (proving that the film is set in an alternative universe where people other than Lloyd Dobbler are obsessed with Don Wilson), and sleeps with a slightly disturbing picture of Don doing a bit of Bruce Lee pose on his night stand. Megan has been promised a meeting with "soap star" Tony Hart**, though I think I'd have pushed for the whole deal and asked to meet Morph as well. Of course, when the pair arrive in LA they discover that Bob is a drunk and an inveterate gambler, who mostly seems to be an agent for clowns, and is heavily in debt to some (comically inept, of course) mobsters. Then, as little as you may expect it, martial arts ensues.
The martial arts is really quite good, and usually setup with an entertaining lack of pretence. Practically any situation seems to have a chance of resulting in some Beefy Guys kicked in the face by Kevin. This could be Megan being hit on by some obnoxious surfers (where is Swayze when you need him) while Kevin is inexplicably fishing, Bob enjoying a game of pool against some undesirables who don't want to pay up, or just a good old fashioned trio of gangsters in fancy dress. In terms of raw martial-arts-per-minute, this film is definitely good value. The physicall kicking-in-the-face is well done as well, Ted Jan Roberts clearly being a talented martial artist, with the final fight against hordes of mooks, which also features The Dragon, featuring some impressive double kicks and big sweepy roundhouses, and throughout the fighting is complemented by decent editing which doesn't obscure the moves too much.
On top of the regular family fun of TJ kicking people, there are some nice bits of non-martial arts acting, with some decent scenes between Bob and his girlfriend/assistant***, and of course with the Goofy Goons. There's also a beautiful advert for Universal Studios, as Bob tries to redeem himself by taken the kids on all the rides. Presumably this is how they got permission for shooting some of the At A Film Shoot type stuff at Universal, or some other such deal, but I'd advise taking the opportunity to make a cup of tea, stretch your legs, or drain The little Dragon, as the movie continues shortly.
Being basically a kids movie, it's hard to critique the plank like qualities of the acting, though TJ takes his performance to hardwood levels, with some excruciating descriptions of the True Ninja Way, plus a slightly creepy monologue at the start of the film. Shonda Whipple makes a reasonable job of a nothing role, and Stephen Furs tsweats and stammers his way through the film with consumate ease. Other than Bob's, the best lines seem to go to the comic relief mobsters (Mobster: "Where do goons live? Laguna!", Boss: "When your iq reaches double digits I'll give you a payrise."). Joseph Campanella makes a great, drily sarcastic godfather, and Bill Huffsey does a good job as the lead clueless wise guy. Much of the rest of the cast is there to get kicked in the face by Kevin, but throw in some quality stuntmen acting, and on one occasion a Ninja Turtle level californian accent.
Overall, Magic Kid isn't a bad family-oriented martial arts film, a genre not overly known for it's acting powerhouses anyway, and would make a reasonably entertaining matin? movie. I have no idea why the BBFC decided it deserved a 15 rating over here, as it's a PG in the states and that seems like a fair recommendation. I notice that Magic Kid 2 was submitted at the same time (2004) and received 3 seconds of cuts, so I'm guessing there's a fight move that falls under their repeatable behavior watchlist - probably headbuts or ear claps. I'm hoping it wasn't as part of their restriction on "portrayal of violence as a normal solution to problems", as the movie does clearly show that while most problems can be solved with violence, sometimes you just have to knuckle down and hustle some bikers at pool.
By the way, in case you watch to the end (which I recommend, if you're already watching it) I think you'll see it also confirms my theory that putting a "where are they now" dragnet style ending on a movie is never, ever, a bad idea.
* I think we all know that's a lie.
** OK, it was Tommy Hart. But Morph goshdarnit!
*** I tried to check the name of the actress on IMDB, and I think it's Sandra Kerns. It's never good when your prime piece of IMDB trivia is that you're not related to someone though. Unless you're Adam Baldwin.
When I mentioned the name Gary Daniels to one of my friends he professed to be shocked that I would intentionally watch a movie featuring the big G, who my friend claimed had "No Charisma". I retorted that I not only watch Gary Daniels movies, but Gary Daniels movies where he doesn't even kick anyone. The case in question, No Tomorrow, is from the fertile production minds of MWIAT favourites Mehri and Pepin, who not only went straight from rap mogul Master P's directorial debut on Hot Boyz/Gang Law into his sophmore effort, but also manage to slot in a host of PM Entertainment regulars.
For his second attempt Mr Miller directs a script written by Terry Cunningham, though I suspect he injected some elements from his own fertile imagination. The cast is top notch, with the lead going to aforementioned Brit kickboxer and direct to video star Gary Daniels, Master P featuring as rap mogul and gangster "Maker", and Pam Grier playing the G-woman on the trail of international arms dealer Gary Busey. Frank "Frank" Zagarino has a cameo at the start, the female lead is filled by aussie Jodi Bianca Wise, and a host of B and TV regulars pop up throughout.
The opening of the movie is also the first scene of what we will refer to as Film B - being the Master P Shoots Things film, as opposed to the longer Film A, which is the Gary Daniels Does Acting film. Film B starts at The Ice Factory, which as far as I could see wasn't a club, but literally a factory where they make ice, where Frank Zagarino is overseeing a shipment of Illegal Weapons. Maker's none to happy in being cut out of the deal, and when the Zag summons a squad of men in balaclavas and chemistry class goggles, Maker takes pulls out a combined flamethrower and rocket launcher - an elegant weapon for a more civilised age. Despite the overwhelming odds, Maker's rocketthrower makes short work of the many, many SWATesque guys, eventually leaving just Frank cowering behind a previously exploded car. Maker offers him a simple choice: tell him where Noah is and drive out of here with the truck o' weapons, or get flamerocketed. Frank chooses the smart option, gives up his boss and hops in the truck, which Maker immediately blows up. Never trust a rap icon Frank.
The remainder of "Film B" focuses around Master P's inherent inability to complete his everyday record label business without hordes of bemasked commandos invading his personal space. Percy dispatches said commandos with his pair of gold plated gats, occasionally employing some implausible kung fu. While many may think of this as ego stroking, I think P would defend it as a build up for Maker's reintegration to the film proper, and in many ways an exposure of his inner character through the medium of violence - much in the style of Hong Kong's tradition of heroic bloodshed. Being that at one point five men with submachine guns fail to hit a crouched Maker as he cowers three feet away, all dying seconds later as he unleashes his twin pistols of death on them, I favour the first theory.
"Film A", on the other hand, focuses around our hero Jason (Daniels), known, like everyone else in this film, only by his first name. As we are introduced to him, Jason is working in some sort of shipping admin job. His wideboy friend has an proposition that could net Jason some money, and shows him a glitzy night on the town, with visits to stripclubs, and some sort of nightclub complete with a bit of darkwave pumping out the speakers, and some goth-ish hookers. Potentially this is just Master P's view of what white shipping clerks do to have fun, but it clearly works for Jason, who dives into Wideboy's scam - cooking the books at the company to get product through to The Greek, or in this case The Busey.
Noah (Busey) is an international arms trading middle man, briefs FBI agent Pam Grier. She's attempting to stop the a nutty right wing militia buying a plutonium trigger - a deal Noah is brokering. Unfortunately Diane's command of her minions is incomplete, and one Agent Lancaster decides to pay Noah a visit, at the same time as both Messers Jason and Wideboy, and Noah's Chinese trigger supplying buddies are in town.
Lancaster's subtle FBI psychological technique of hammering the place with machine gun fire takes out most of Noah's entourage, including Wideboy, and it's left up to Jason to effect an escape, with car/helicopter persuit aplenty, until Jason dispatches the chopper, and Lancaster, with a molotov petrol can. Noah decides the deal is still on, promoting Jason to higher duties, and preparing for an exchange out in the Mojave, at a (presumably) disused airport. Little does he know he, unlike the audience, is in for a few suprises.
Production wise, things stack up well for No Tomorrow. The soundtrack is full of No Limit (? Master P) tracks, and there are some decent cuts in there, especially during Film B's record label shoot out. There are explosions and action set-pieces, and it's clear the filmmakers spared no expense (well, relatively) on the blowing stuff up part of the cinematic process. The stunt work is up there with PM's best, and at times the film has the feel of a much more expensive movie.
On the flip side some of the sets are work experience D&T student cheap, Pam Grier's HQ in particular, and the variety of locations (except the sole beach, which appears to be masquerading as somewhere Tropical during the ending) don't really lend themselves to a consistency. It's mostly forgiveable stuff.
As for the talking-and-doing-stuff part of the movie, if you ignore the ego stroking scenes (or, peversely, just watch them on their own) and the irritating and predictable ending, it's not a terrible movie. Unfortunately, the bits that work don't quite gel with each other, and while Gary Daniels' performance is a major step up for him, especially considering that he does no martial arts at all, putting veterans like Pam Grier and Gary Busey in the mix doesn't really help - though neither does the wardrobe department's "artistic vision" in the boxer shorts Mr Daniels sports before shower sex scene. The ending is almost a case in point, as I certainly would have much preferred to follow Gary B's arms dealing sociopath out the end of the film than Gary D's mercenary sociopath. I mean, Noah had just been sold out and he responds with "You're sneaky Jason. I like that!".
Of the supporting cast, Jodi Bianca Wise does a good turn as Gary's love interest, and is pretty and talented enough to land more than the one shot tv roles she current appears to be getting. Her aussie twang broke through a couple of times, but mostly her accent was passable, and her performance solid. Larry Manetti's slightly sycophantic assistant complements Gary Busey's natural craziness pretty well, Eric Cadora does an excellent job of being FBI arsehole Lancaster, and George Cheung does his normal good Oriental stuff as the Chinese supplier.
No Tomorrow should have worked, at least as well as a pound shop movie can. There's some decent action, a suprisingly good performance from Gary Daniels, and some excellent scenery chewing by Gary Busey. Unfortunately, the gratuitous Master P sections are totally disconnected from the film, and while Daniels does well, you just don't engage with Jason at all. Partially this is due to the performance, but from the beginning there's nothing that gives the audience empathy for the character. In clips, I bet No Tomorrow looks great, but as a whole it just doesn't quite hang together. The moral of the story is: gratutious sex scenes - ok, gratuitous rap shootouts - no need.
I don't want to make the same mistake I did with Gang Law, so here's the full sound track listing, as cribbed from the credits:
Constantly 'N Danger - C-Murder, Mia-X
My Love - Sipping Soma
Throw 'Em Up - Master P, Kane and Abel
Give Me The World - Silkk The Shocker
Crucify - Cassius Clay
Elektronik - LCD
Think Smart - LCD
Price of Darkness (black Version) - The Electric Hellfire Club
The TRUest SH... - C-Murder
Between bouts of starring in informercials for excercise products and being a source of internet comedy, Chuck Norris makes the odd movie. Mostly he takes the leading, but on occasion elects to support some young gun, usually in a script he penned himsself. Despite only Chuck's name appearing on the cover, Eddie Cibrian is such an actor, and the movie in question is gangster / revenge / martial-arts made-for-tv epic, Logan's War.
Before we get to the main review, a couple of Caveat Viewers. First, despite the similarity in names, there is absolutely no relation to sci-fi classic Logan's Run, and any hopes you may have of seeing Michael York switchkicking his way back into the dome will be cruelly dashed. Secondly, if you, for some reason, actually want to follow the plot of this movie, do not watch the trailer that accompanies the DVD. Presumably due to the fact that there never was a theatrical release, someone has created a cinema length trailer by simply grabbing clips at fairly regular intervals throughout the film and sticking them together. Our junior/work-experience trailer creator made sure to include all the important plot points and action sequences, effectively summarising the entire film down into one 3 minute video. On the other hand, if you just want to see The One True Kick (see below), then the trailer is a good way of consuming the reader's digest condensed version of the movie. Thinking about it, there's probabaly a market out there for talented editors with time on their hands to recut movies into bite sizes recaps for those who like to discuss movies in the pub, but don't want to spend two hours of their life watching Chronicles of Riddick.
With regards to the story, this is an action movie so it shouldn't cause anyone suprise or alarm. Though, I do suspect there is some derivation from the script I wrote, for a film starring me, where Chuck Norris would be my uncle and teach me karate on a farm. Admittedly there weren't any mafioso in my version, but there weren't any scenes of Chuck and I fighting ninjas on top of stampeding cattle in his, so it evens out.
Logan Fallon (Brendon Ryan Barrett) is just ten years old when he witnesses the murder of his sister, mother and DA father by the mob - narrowly escaping the same fate through a prescient sense of danger. He's placed into the care of his ex-Ranger rancher Uncle Jake (Norris). Jake provides a loving but bearded home life for Logan, teaching him about life and roundhouse kicks. Driven to earn his uncle's respect, but at the same timing Burning With Hatred for the gangsters that killed his parents, Logan, now all grown up into Eddie Cibrian (currently on Invasion, but also featured in the excellent But I'm A Cheerleader) joins the US Rangers. He rediscovers his danger-sense by deftly escaping through an enemy minefield after his mission in Terrorististan goes wonky (nb: you may now forget he has magic danger sense, as it plays no further part in the film*). As soon as he gets out of the Army, having won his Uncle's respect, Logan goes back to Chicago to infiltrate the Mafia, and find the man that killed his family - eventually working his way up to a meeting with the main man himself, the Don.
Supporting Eddie and Chuck are are number of pretty decent actors, primarily FBI agent Joe Spano, who's currently making a decent turn as another FBI agent in NCIS, and TV semi-HITG Jeff Kober who plays the gangster that killed Logan's family in order to become a made man. Behind the camera is regular Norris director Michael Preece (who helmed the lion's share of Walker: Texas Ranger), while Chuck and Aaron Norris wrote the script.
Of course, no one is really going to watch Logan's War for the moving drama of a boy's battle with his deep seated internal demons, which leads us to the true motivation: kicking people. However, there is suprisingly little violence in the film, especially in comparison to the average b actioner. I'm guessing this is due to the made for tv nature of the movie, as while the action is not excessive, there is generally something going on that might convince the channel hopping viewer to stay and watch a few minutes.
Of the scenes that stand out, the inital hit works fairly well, though it's pretty much straight out of the textbook of scared children watching their parents get murdered, and the training and war scenes are similarly functional, but not massively exciting. Still, they are mostly buildup for Logan's infiltration into the mob, which features some natty moves as he shows the Don he can be valuable as muscle. Even so, the movie only really gets into top gear near the end with the final action sequences. In fact, it all builds up to one absolutely fantastic stunt (a remake from an earlier Norris movie), which, appropriately enough, is performed by Chuck, involving leaping through the windscreen of a car to kick a man in the chest. It is a kick that cannot be adequately described with my poor grasp of the language, but suffice to say one of Chucks feet actually goes through the steering wheel. As you may expect, it's shown uncut in the pseudo trailer mentioned above.
Putting the move near the end was a good idea, because instead of ejecting the DVD with a slight feeling of disappointment, you stab the button with the knowledge warm in your heart that Chuck Norris just kicked someone through a car. While it does just about justify the pound, the fact that the film has to rely on Eddie Ciprian's wooden, flat performance really does take some stomaching, especially since he's proved that he can turn in a good take on other projects. I think with the relative lack of arse-kicking involved, the film would have been better served by a more experienced actor who they could have trained up to do the martial arts, rather than the other way around.
On the other hand, the lack of blowing up every vehicle that appears on screen made the budget stretch a bit further, and the production values are generally high. Starting with some good helicopter shots of Chicago, the film is well shot, and features a variety of credible sets - fairly unusual among the crop of pound shop movies. Chuck's performance is spot on, of course, though I think that just makes how unengaging most of the film is even more glaring.
* OK, technically he uses it when Jeff Kober has a gun to his head, but what kind of danger sense is that? I don't thing you have to get chomped by a
radioactive genetically modified spider to work out that when a gangster has a gun to your head that you are in danger. Or if you do, then get my cape and spandex because it's crime fightin' time.
Ah literature. While I haven't technically read anything by Mark Twain in really quite a long time, I have seen his apperances in those episodes of Star Trek when they go back in time and Whoopi Goldberg is there, which I think makes me more than qualified enough to judge Arye Gross' Californian re-imagining of Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, in the way more radical The Prince And The Surfer.
Gross is best known as an actor, for some definition of "best known" anyway, but on this film he's (mostly) behind the camera - this is his first, and so far only, directorial credit. Being that he's somewhat of a Hey, It's That Guy himself, it is no suprise that the film is packed out with similar familiar faces, but often unfamiliar names. Timothy Bottoms presumably had his name taken off the final credit roll, but plays the Surfer's dad, Johnny, C. Thomas Howell appears as a wacky security guard (warning: it's krazy komedy!), the always fantastic Vince Schiavelli plays the prince's manservant Baumgarten, Robert 'Freddy' Englund plays evil Minister Kratski, Allyce Beasley (who played a gnome in Everquest 2) makes an apperance as part of the royal staff, and Ayre Gross himself turns up as the other wacky security guard (caution: kooky).
The leading roles are filled by Sean Kellman, whom I have never heard of, and possibly neither has anyone other than Mr and Mrs Kellman, as the two titular roles, the up and coming Linda Cardellini as Mel, the Prince's love interest, and the not-up-and-coming, perhaps-peaked-with-this-film Katie Johnston as the Surfer's love interest, Lady Galina.
While I'm sure everyone is familiar with the plot, everyone is probably not familiar with the tubular inSURFpretation writer Gregory Poppen (who cameos as a steering wheel lock wielding driver) has fashioned. The prince is Prince Edward of Gelfland - heir apparent to a monarchy with economic problems. The Queen, a distinctly and inexplicably american Jennifer O'Neill, takes her son and his betrothed on a trip to the USA, hopefuly to broker a trade deal to save their country. At the same time, over in the States, Edward's doppleganger, "Cash" Canty, is hanging with his buddies, riding his board, and robbing magically disappearing coffee and news papers (continuity may not be this movie's strong point). Cash dreams of becoming rich, and getting out of the rut he and his friends find themselves in. Edward dreams of seeing America, and experiencing life with the common people. Unfortunately Cash hasn't got the cash, and Minister Kratski wont allow Edward out of his hotel.
Eventually, Edward manages to get the chance for one slow limo drive by of the beach, with the Princess Galina, his bride to be. As they argue, Galina decides to throw caution to the wind and stick her head out through the limo's sunroof. Of course, this happens just as they pass a skate park where Cash is hanging out. Intrigued, Cash skates up to the limo and skitches a ride into the royal resort, and mananged to evade the security. While looking for the princess, Cash ends up in Edward's room and on noticing the resemblence, a plan for both of them to get what they want is born. Little do they know that the evil Minister Kratski has a plan of his own, to make himself rich with the help of a group of scheming theme park developers who want to turn Gelfland... into Golfland.
I think it's fairly clear that this is a movie for the kiddies, and should therefore not be held to the same standards that we, as adults, would demand from our cinematic entertainment. That said, it is pretty unreasonable for a movie that has Surfer right there in the title to not actually feature one single instance of surfing. At one point you see a couple of surfboards, and late in the film Cash's dad runs towards the sea with just his trunks and a surfboard, but I think that's a pretty poor effort. Given that there were some I'm Gonna Git You Sucka like stunt doubles used for some of the skateboarding scenes, it would have seemed reasonable to do the same with the surfing. To be fair though such scenes may be left forgotted on the cutting room floor, as I noticed on the credits there was one "Gail Trout" who was credited as "Female Johnny Double". Now Johnny was indeed the name of Cash's dad, Timothy Bottom's character, but I can't think of an instance, apart from the aforementioned, and not shown, surfing, where he would require a double. Especially a female one. Unfortunately Gail Trout does not have any other credits to her name over on IMDB, and there's something fishy about the google results for her name (boom boom), so her role shall remain a mystery.
There are some stand out elements of this movie though, primarily Erik Lundmark's casio keyboard score. While clearly made with a very limited amount of time, and money, I feel it is one of the few movie soundtracks that really help move the film along. This is mostly achieved by the DUHN DUHHHNNNN everytime we cut to a shot of Robert Englund's evil Minister Kratski, and the tinkly happy piano-a-like trills as Queen Abby finds love in the arms of Johnny. The laugh a minute gag fest that is the banter between the incompetent security guards at the resort actually finds its mark every now and again as well, mostly thanks to some good timing rather than funny lines. As could be expected really, most of the actors put in a decent job, including Katie Johnston. It does seem a shame that she's not done anything bar a couple of TV episodes since The Prince and the Surfer, but for all I know she's in some big broadway show. Or drunk in a gutter. Either way.
There is a new crop of DVDs in at the pound shop, with some bigger names than usual. Admittedly Sean Kellman isn't one of them, but there are far, far worse kids movies that are aired to defenceless children every day. The evil cues, Vincent Schiavelli, and Sean Kellman's attempt at both a posh and a surfer-dude accent are entertaining enough that I'd have no problems saying this is worth a pound. Interestingly, the Paul family that produced the movie have some other quality adaptations to their name, films with wonderful titles like "The Princess & the Barrio Boy", "The Modern Adventures of Tom Sawyer", which appears to feature Erik Estrada AND inline skating, and "The Karate Dog", which probably isn't an adaptation, but will probably will be adapted out of Jon Voight's CV.
The skill of tae-bo, the kill of tae-bo.
1. "I didn't know you could think"
In a nutshell Expect No Mercy is the story of Front Side Bus* agent Justin Vanier, played by now Tae Bo superstar Billy Blanks. His mission is to infiltrate the reknowned Virtual Arts Academy, a high-tech martial arts training camp which doubles as a front for a double super secret assassination agency, run by the evil Wolf Larsen, as Warbeck. Much bad martial arts ensues.
The film starts with a hit by Warbeck's boys. Possibly the high point in a movie that never lets off the Action Accelerator, the hit begins with a realistic Virtual Reality sweep through a city and out to the target's country mansion. The 3D sequence is literally in a class of its own, and makes the graphics in, well, just about anything, including that Dire Straits Money For Nothing video, look good. We join the live action sequences as Warbeck's Camp Crusaders reach the edge of the compound. Stealthily kitted out in pitch black combat gear they blend in seamlessly with the bright green grass and trees in the middle of this sunshine filled day. In a sequence that echoes the SAS assault in Patriot Games, the team sneak across the open ground, take up positions behind small trees and shrubberies, and wait for Warbeck's go signal.
The ensuing fight is one sure to go down in history. Highlights include Anthony Delongis as Damian (camp baddie #1, and Warbeck's right hand man) lashing out with his whip and breaking the neck of the "mark", who throws his glass of wine into the air as he dies, the contents going everywhere. In the next slo-mo shot, however, Damian cooly catches the falling glass and takes a sip. As the rest of the team engage, Spyder, played nepotistically by Michael Blanks, brother of your hero and mine Billie, leaps over a small wall and engages a mook in mortal combat. What makes this fight outstanding is Spyder's tendancy to yell "CHA" as he throws his lethal martial arts moves. This combined with a propensity for the mooks to die from falling over, falling through tables, or being punched in the stomach, makes for an entertaining few minutes. Finally, on their way out, whip wielding Damian is snuck up upon by a canny guard. With a gun mere feet away from his back, and only a whip in hand what can he do? Only roll forwards, and with a whip move of stunning imposibility, whip the gun out of the startled guard's hand. You can't pay for this kind of stuff, son, you've just got to live it.
In short order we are introduced to Jordan (in a dead kind of way), who was the police's former contact inside the Virtual Arts acadaemy. Varnier is the best of what's left, and is rushed off in his big pink pick-up to enter Warbeck's layer. The Virtual Arts academy is a large campus like center, filled with people training in various forms of martial arts and doing excercises. Giant pictures of Warbeck hang on the walls, and guards dressed in stylish GuardGarb(tm) patrol the upper levels.
Having unbuttoned his shirt and rotated his cap to acceptable levels, Justin enters the compound and is introduced to one of the great innovations of the film. You see, as this is a Virtual arts academy, there can't be any of this old fashioned sparring (though this does appear to be going on in various shots). No, here sparring is done in small rooms against VR opponents, using headsets and some interesting technology that allows the user of the room to feel the blows from his virtual opponent. Luckily for us all, no one attempts to explain how it works.
The opponents in these virtual booths (of which there are apparently lots, but we only ever see the few around 113) are cleverly designed to replicate real life situations, with a mugger complete with stripy top and Lone Ranger style face mask, a jester and a samurai all making an appearance. Vanier demolishes a few opponents with ease, impressing his blonde, female instructor, Mz Female Lead Vicki, played by Laurie Holden, who recently featured as The Thing's ex in Fantastic Four. We are speedily introduced to the poor man's** Jean Claude, Jalal Merhi as "Eric". He's short, knows some karate, and speaks with a slightly bizarre, and often monotone, accent. To give you an idea of his vast abilities, here is what the trivia section of his imdb biography used to say:
"Apparently an expert martial artist."
Unfortunately for us, an person named "Jalal Merhi" appears to have submitted a more flattering bio to the DB, with tidbits like: "Is known to his admirers as Beiruit's Steven Segal."
While Warbeck is hired to do another hit, on a man under police protection, Justin meets up with Eric and they begin to investigate the academy. Having cunningly stolen a passcard, Eric and Justin begin to sneak into the more secure parts of Warbecks fortress-like school. Unfortunately they are noticed by Vicki, who is persuaded to join up to the forces of good. Once inside, Eric begins hacking into the computer, while Justin goes off for no particularly good reason. Unbeknownst to Eric, Vicki (intentionally) sets of the alarm, before Eric shows her the evidence of Warbecks assassination business. This prompts Vicki to say "shit". However, on my 18 certificate video this has been inexplicably, but humorously, dubbed over with her intoning "shoot". The alarm prompts a series of pole wielding mooks to run down various corridors to be dispatched by Justin. Showing his tactical skills Justin attempts to evade one lot by hiding in a door well, pressing himself into the left hand side, leaving him in full view of the guys he was running away from, as they approach from the right. This moment of genius over, Justin runs downstairs and confronts a slightly higher class of mook, causing him to issue some classic dialogue, along the line of "that virtual stuff, that's crap". Eric does the same, until they end up outside the building, on a rooftop several floors up. Luckily the bad guys didn't know about the converted Vicki, and she escapes with the disk containing the evidence. This is roughly the end of the lad's good fortune however, as Damian shoots them both with tranquilising darts. Warbeck decides to let them live, hooking them both up to the computer to it can "learn their moves". After a brief bit of lauding it over our plucky heros, Warbeck leaves to take care of his teams assault on the police safehouse, which is situated in some woods.
In the mean time, a scientist who looks like an old(er), squished Robert Plant sends wave after wave of cheesy opponents at Eric and Justin, culminating in a whole possy of unlikely characters pounding on the deadly duo. Luckily, Vicki turns up just in time and rescues our heroes, who head off to the next action set piece, at the police safehouse
The fight is, unsuprisingly, a bit crap, and to gloss over the details all the cops die, but the all important Woody Allen-alike witness is kept alive. The scene does contain the films "touching" moment, and an explosion, and there's nothing wrong with that. In the ruckus Vicki was nabbed by the two surviving goons, Damian and Spyder, who leap in a car and speed back towards base. Justin, Eric and Woody leap in another car and set off in an OJ style slow speed chase. Rebelliously defying convention, the cars go in a straight line at a moderate pace, with occasionaly smatterings of gun fire being exchanged. Eventually, the bad guys do the sensible thing and shoot a rocket launcher at our heroes, causing Woody to run off, and give the dynamic duo an excuse to steal a Porsche, which they promptly do.
By the time they reach the academy, things are looking grim. Warbeck has realised the cops are on to him, and decided to set up shop elsewhere. Spyder's downstairs planting bombs all over the place, and Damian has Vicki hanging by a rope over the side of a Big Tower. Eschewing backup, Eric and Justin charge in, Mr Vanier looking for Spyder while the second name-less Eric goes for the girl. Spyder and Justin fight, watched over remotely by Warbeck. While it looks like the baddies may have the upper hand for a while, in the end Spyder learns that justice is thicker than water, and goes down for the count. Ignoring the bombs, Justin heads off after Warbeck, while on the roof Eric encounters Damian.
Justin enters Warbecks offices, seeing him sitting calmly at a desk. He attempts to assault the haircut of evil, but finds that it is only a hologram! Enraged by the trick, he slaps on some virtual goggle, and goes to fight Warbeck in the CyberRealm (or something). Having been mostly whupped, he calls out the evil mastermind, and heads down to the main hall.
On the roof, the fight is not going well for the good guys, as Damian alternates between kicking Erics ass and sawing through the rope that holds Vicki (who is selling her midriff for all it's worth).
Back in the hall Justin has been tricked again, as some kind of VirtualForceFieldGridOfDeath begins to lower down towards him while Warbeck chuckles from the stairs, accusing our hero of being obsolete, and a thing of the past. Justin's not done yet however, throwing a flag pole into a convenient looking box which shuts of the field. Warbeck steps up, and they resume their dance of death.
On the roof, it looks like things are all over for Eric. Damian is whipping him about like a plaything. Then suddenly Eric fights back and scores one hit, and another. Reeling back Damian looks up with suprise and exclaims "I didn't think you were this good!". Eric cooly replies "I didn't know you could think" and kicks him off the tower. Yay Team Good! BUT all is not over. Damian may have the last laugh after all, as Vicki's strained rope finally gives way and she plummets towards her certain doom. At the last minute, Eric leans over the edge and catches the rope with Damians whip, and hauls her up to safety.
In the hall room, Justin and Warbeck are clashing like veritable Titans. Warbeck presses his advantage, until Vanier fights back with a series of massive roundhouse kicks. Battered and bleeding, Warbeck realises he has lost, and Justin makes a little speech. Warbeck tries a move, a la Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon, but with a final shot, Justin knocks him out, throws him over his shoulder and runs out as the building explodes.
2. "Is that all you got?"
The always entertaining comment writers on IMDB have a range of opinions. My favourite review is less than complementary, but captures the movies inherent charm:
"I know some of the people who worked on this film, and I still can't stand it. Most of the fight scenes were wooden and boring - your basic B-movie fare, the dialogue bites and was there a plot here? I'm sure someone thought so, but I didn't.I watched it once to be polite to my friends, but I felt like my foot was caught in a bear trap and I would have to gnaw my own leg off to escape. Never again."
To break the movie down a little: The direction is flat, but at least it attempts to be exciting. Zale Dalen has evidently seen action and martial arts movies, and knows what kind of shots and scenes should be in them. That is about all. The script is distinctly rubbish, but then again so are a large number of scripts that do well. With better effects, different actors, could this movie have been a classic? Well, no, and I think it probably would have made it worse. Billie is the definitive Snipes-Lite, and the monotone of Jalal has a strangely crap charm to it, though he does, as one review said, act like an on screen fight choreographer. The effects are deeply horrible, but there's no shortage of them, and they are all executed with a brave kind of gusto.
3. "That virtual stuff, that's crap"
Yes, horribly enough there's a game, and appropriately enough it's shit. The one review I could find, which has been since erased from the web, gave a stunning 30%. It's an arcade beat 'em up and according to the review appears to have almost no good features at all, apart from the finishing moves . Here's a taste:
When you start the game, you'll see a non-interactive video transmission from a fellow agent and be prompted to select a "Virtual Opponent" to fight in the "Virtual Arena." The opponents themselves are an odd bunch, ranging from an evil clown to a scantily-clad dominatrix, while your character is a generic male in a karate outfit. An information screen pops up, and the round -- and your headaches -- begin
As you can see, it's true to the movie. It seems that the publishers, Microforum, have left the games business, and that along with the review, most traces of the demo have been excised from the web. I'm fairly sure I still have a copy in my extensive crap movie game tie in archives, but I was never able to get the thing to go so I can't to give a first hand account of its majesty.
4. "Here's one opponent you can't switch off"
I thought that Zale Dalen's career had been completely killed by this film, but it seems I was wrong. IMDB has listed "Call of the Wild", a TV series of which Mr Dalen directed an episode, after a gap of 5 years since EnM. We can only presume he has been in therapy. For those interested, he looks like this, and I must admit I cannot imagine that man actually directing this film, so I'm guessing he wasn't there. If you really want to know, then you can email him here or here.
As for Billy Blanks, while you of course know him from your weekly Tae Bo workout, but he was also the suicidal american football player in underrated Bruce Willis Die Hard-alike The Last Boy Scout. Unfortunately, at some point Billy decided to hide his EnM past, and removed the movies page from his site. Still, if you want to support him and his foundation, you can purchase some motivational dog tags, even if his former range of techno BillyWear appears to have been discontinued.
The good lookin' gal in EnM, Laurie Holden, differs from many of the cast by being fairly succesful and popular. There are a number of fan sites dedicated to her, and after a quick check around this one looked the nicest. For some reason it doesn't mention Expect No Mercy however.
Writer J. Stephen Maunder is credited on a new(ish) film, starring and directed by Jalal Merhi, called "Expect To Die". I have thus far been unable to confirm it is a sequel, but it definitely features a virtual training system, which is good enough for me. Unfortunately, the UK has been so far deprived of a DVD release, but the US import is sitting on my shelf, awaiting the Proper Time for a Viewing.