Pound Shop Movies

Memory Run (1996)

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

07 Jul 2005

This film has been rated 18 due to sustained floppy haired resistance leaders.
In a terrible betrayal of the movie, nothing in this cover is glowing blue.

How far back is it fair to go with the blame for cyberpunkish dystopian movies? Personally, I'm willing to punch a voodoo fascimile of Fritz Lang in the face for creating the sublime Metropolis, without which I'm sure we'd have had a lot fewer problem. On the other hand, Ridley Scott deserves a kick in the proverbials for Blade Runner, especially since a disturbing percentage of these films contain some variant on the word Run in their title. Memory Run, or Synapse as it seems to be called in America, is in fact not a low budget sequel to Johnny Mnemonic (oh how good that could have been), but instead tells the story of body crime, in a future time.

Andre Fuller (Chris Makepeace) is a criminal with a somewhat british gang and without much in the way of morals, thanks to witnessing the murder of his parents by the corrupt, totalitarian government when he was young. After a bit of the regular robbery shennanigans, and some boffing of the (entirely willing, ex-girlfriend) victim (Karen Duffy), Andre goes his merry way to sell some guns to floppy haired resistance leader Gabriel. Unfortunately, it seems the powers that be have designs for him other than a life of crime, and Andre soon finds himself stitched up (fairly amusingly) for her rape and murder, by one of his own gang no less. The punishment for this crime is to have his mind transplanted into his former girlfriend's body, and be brainwashed into an acceptable replacement. Thanks to the scientific genius of Dr Munger (Saul Rubinek), the manly Andre now inhabits the body of his former girl, with a new name, Celeste. Personally, I think the conditioning might have gone easier with, say, the name Andrea, but Celeste does roll off the tounge.

All this is at the behest of the mighty chairman of the Life Corporation, Bradden (Barry Morse). It doesn't take long to realise that Bradden has more interest in the success of Dr. Munger's experiment than merely as a new form of capital punishment, and when Munger fails in his attempts to condition him, Andre is then given over to the care of Munger's colleague, and Bradden's lover Dr. Meringue (IMDB claims it's spelt Merain, but I don't believe them). Meringue installs a device into Celeste's head that causes pain every time she is violent, but still this doesn't control her. Munger, outraged at what is being done with his work, does his best to help Celeste, but soon the experiment is given up on as a failure, and Celeste is sent to rot in a prison.

Fortunately, her cellmate happens to be the sister of a certain floppy haired resistance leader, and Celeste gets out, though at the cost of the cellmate's life. After taking revenge on her old gang, Celeste keeps the promise she made to find the resistance and tell Gabriel what happened. Celeste/Andre finds the resistance again in about three minutes, something you'd imagine the lifecorp would have been trying to do for a while.

Gabe has both key weapons of an underground resistance, floppy hair and trenchcoats. He also has the shoddy hang out, the disturbingly small number of men (though more do turn up and get shot at appropriate times), and an edgy, world weary charm that makes him impervious to bullets. Most importantly though, he has a SciFiBike. This bike is no ordinary one, featuring pointless smooth plastic bits the likes of which only Airwolf has seen, and a big ol' sidecar which accomodates two people. Disappointingly we never get to see Munger take a trip on it, though he must have utilised it as Celeste, Gabe, and the good doctor head to Lifecorp's HQ to take them down, and find out what happened to Andre's body.

Saul Rubinek (with quad damage). When it comes to the cast, one name dominates, despite not appearing on the cover (though neither does anyone else's), Saul Rubinek. He's slightly chubby, he's jewish, he cracks wise, and he's playing a doctor. His character, Dr Munger, is one of Shakespearian proportions. Trapped beween his blind passion for his work, his regret for what the horrors that work has caused, his compassion for Celeste/Andre, and of course his fear for his own life, Munger may be the defining character of low budget sci-fi in 1996.

In fact, he's part of a fairly reasonable cast, with the fetching Karen Duffy enjoying the leading role as Celeste (and I'm not even going to mention her tiny, tiny part in McBain *). Barry Morse and Matt McCoy play Bradden the baddie and the angelic Gabriel respectively, and both provide a strong dose of hey-it's-that-guy reactions, though without reference to their extensive careers on IMDB the only things I can actually remember them in are Space 1999 for Morse and Seinfeld for McCoy. But hey, Space 1999 and Seinfeld.

Behind the camera, director Allan A. Goldstein obviously had a message to communicate with this film, and that message was that the future is blue. The opening, where a young Andre's family are murdered by government stormtroopers, is presented in blue and white, and the night time views of the city are similar bathed in blue. The shields that guard, amongst other things, various buildings, and imprisons Dr. Munger in a comfy chair, glow an eerie, "cheap-special-effect" blue, and the lightening like bursts that zaps our heroes when walking through a forcefield is, of course, blue. If a given object can glow blue, it's fairly safe to say that at some point it will.

The other message here is one of gender issues. What happened to Andre is the subject of more than one distubing Christian Slater/Mr T. slash fiction outing in the literary outback of the internet, but it does make you wonder. Is Celeste female, or male? She pretty quickly falls in love with lanky Gabe even with her male brain. Is he gay, is she straight, are they both bisexual? The transgendered question is a difficult one which the film, well, pretty much ignores.

Karen Duffy. Sometimes credited as 'Duff'So OK, Memory Run might be bluer than BB King in a horrible loo cleaner accident, and the gender issue may get less screentime than people being shot in the chest, but the questions are at least in the script. The credit for that almost certainly belongs to Hank Stine, as it is his 1968 novel Season of the Witch that the film is based on. Though the actual book seems relatively hard to get hold of, the ebook is readily available. Interestingly, the ebook page claims that the book has been made into "a major motion picture", but declines to mention the title. Smart move.

At some point after writing Shadow of the Witch, Stine had a sex change and is known know as Jean, which implies parts of the book were more than just intellectual curiosity. The ebook is variously listed as romance, erotica, and sci-fi, so it may flag up some disturbing FBI list for strange people, but does feature a new afterword. Should anyone get it and it turn out to contain a reference to the film, please let me know. Especially if that reference mentions Saul Rubinek. Or if you are Saul Rubinek. That would be cool.

I didn't mind Memory Run too much, and as with so many of these movies much of the blame lies with paceless editing. In the tradition of all bad sci-fi, it replaces potentially confusing cerebral moments with gun fire, but people die with a fair wack of style, and the good guys wear trenchcoats. Saul Rubinek really is the best part of the film, but Barry Morse's performance is a close second (and Chris Makepeace's at the end deserves a nod). The story that peeks through is solid and, to be honest, more fit for the world of budget movies than the "I, Robot" end of the movie millions scale. Memory Run is worth a watch, and it's probably worth your quid at the poundshop, but I can't see it getting much repeat viewing.

* Dammit.

The Revenger

In: mudwig, reviews, action

06 Jun 2005
This is possibly the only picture of this cover on the internet
How an actress of Nancy Mulford's stature did not get a top billing is beyond me.

Unfortunately, as the years march on the chances of an acting partnership between Dirk "Face man" Benedict and Frank Zagarino diminish significantly, which I think is not just my loss, but humanity's. However, Frank has worked with some legends in his time and one of the biggest is Oliver Reed, who died after drinking a typically inhuman amount a few years back. The late eighties were not the best time for Oliver Reed, film wise, which while probably fairly irritating for him proves fortunate for fans of action b-movies - thanks to 89's The Revenger.

Before we get into the main storyline, I should warn you that this movie features more than your recommended daily allowance of saxophone. Michael Keller (Frank Zagarino) is a saxophonist, which naturally means a lot of sax on the soudtrack, but we are also treated to Mike's reacquiring of his saxophonal skills after a stint in prison. I have a theory, backed by no research whatsoever, than the saxophone playing during the "rubbish" and "doing scales" sections is Frank himself tootin' the horn, while the "professional jazz saxophonist" section is an over dub by a professional jazz saxophonist. In a perfect world Frank would have a website and I'd be able to email him the question, but then again he may never have responded, much like Anthony De Longis when I posed an Expect No Mercy/Bullwhip related inquiry.

Still, on to the plot. This script must have sung to the experienced ears of AIP, as it has the lot. Kingpins, vietnam vets, porn, gangsters, explosions, did I mention porn, and a clean cut young hero we can all get behind. Frank plays Michael Keller, who, after a gig one night, gave a lift to his deadbeat brother Mackie, played by Arnold Vosloo (who has had a good run on 24 recently, and was, for a short period, married to Nancy Mulford, the leading lady). Unfortunately Mackie is (quite obviously) on the run, and is kill in the inevitable ensuing police chase , as is a police officer. Michael gets charged with the death of the policeman and is sent down.

Once again Frank found himself playing his instrument on the toilet.Years later and back in the open world, Michael finds out that his brother was on the run from a porn producing gangster by the name of Jack Fisher (Reed) who is convinced that Michael has the half a million dollars that Mackie stole from him, which he doesn't. To put a little pressure on our hero, Jack kidnaps Michael's girlfriend Lisa (Mulford), leaving Michael no option but to take her back by force with the help of Mackie's old Vietnam war buddy, Harry, played by Jeff Weston. Fisher isn't the type to give in easily though, and the body count starts rising. As an aside, the film opens with a stylised Zag training scene presented in black and white with odd splashes of colour, perhaps inspiring the cinematic style of the recent Sin City movie. Perhaps not.

Given the period, the cast, and the high levels of nudity early on, it would be fair to say that I expected very little of the acting in The Revenger, but I was most pleasantly disappointed. Oliver Reed chews the scenery well, but actually injects some pathos into his character, notably in his neurotic interactions with his girlfriend, and his distress over the death of a henchman. On the side with the white hats, Zagarino does almost as well with Michael, carrying off what could have been quite a nauseating role with aplomb. Of course, you expect him to be able to yell out of a burning building while holding a machine gun, but the segment where he goes to find his old band, and some of the scenes with his brother's army buddy Harry are played just right. Speaking of Harry, Jeff Weston puts in a cracking performance, again against a very cliche ridden character. Frank Zagarino always brings an entertaining energy to his movies, no matter the budget, and this time the cast complement it well, even Nancy Mulford, who makes a competent enough girlfriend in peril.

At least Mr Reed isn't wearing sun glasses in this sceneThere are problems though. On the nitpick-y front, there isn't a great deal of actual revenge in this movie, at least no more than you'd expect from your average b-action movie, which makes me doubt whether anyone had actually watched the film when naming it. On the more practical front the film is not short on predictability, and suffers from a completely unnecesary wrap-everything-up ending. The poor finish is highlighted by the fact that it follows a generally excellent ending sequence, complete with explosions galore, barricaded cabins, and slightly heroic petrol station attendants. The writing in general is on the more acceptable side of medicore, but lacks the witty flair that, to be fair, this kind of movie didn't really get till after Lethal Weapon, which was probably not released until after The Revenger had been written.

Still, there's enough good to overlook the bad, and I wouldn't hesistate to recommend not changing the channel should this one pop up in a late night slot somewhere. Zagarino fans will get everything they've come to expect, and it might be interesting for Oliver Reed fans to see what he can do with some downright dodgy dialogue. For the Nancy Mulford fan(s), well, it's probably better than Act of Piracy. There are far worse girlfriend kidnapped by a porn kingpin movies out there.

Should you specifically want to see this movie, which is within the realm of believability for the Zagarino connoisseur, the options are somewhat limited. Amazon returns only the kung-fu movie of the same name, and for those across the pond there doesn't appear to be any evidence of a region 1 DVD release at all. If the local pound shops are all out then a few copies seem to be available on ebay, but I'd view that as a last ditch as you will be paying more for postage than you will for the film.

Final Impact

In: mudwig, reviews, action

05 May 2005
Warning: Impact may not be final.
Lamas, and chest rug.

It seems that the great movie makers often overlook kickboxing during their cinematic investigations into the human condition. While regular boxing has movies like On The Waterfront, Champion, Raging Bull or Rocky, kickboxing has movies like Final Impact. OK, so some of those movies aren't really about boxing and there are certainly better kickboxing movies than Final Impact, but this film is so dire that it drags the genre down in the same way Police Academy 7: Mission To Moscow erases all my happy, carefree memories of Police Academy 6: City Under Siege.

So why would you be attracted to the film, apart from the general pedigree of the ILC publishing stable? Well, it's Lorenzo Lamas for one thing, a direct-to-video giant, and this is an actorly outing for him as most of the fighting goes to someone else. Also, he sports a cowboy hat for much of the movie, which is generally a sign of acting pedigree. Secondly, it's a movie about a washed up champion taking on a young prot?g?, which means you have the distinct advantage of having basically seen this movie before, probably several times, hence freeing the mind from having to concentrate on those distracting plot elements, or troublesome storytelling.

As you may have guessed, Lamas is in fact the washed up former contender of the piece, as one time kickboxing champion Nick Taylor. Beaten humiliatingly by the current champion, played by Jeff Langton who pulled off an inpiring combination of TV work with episodes of Buffy and Matlock on his CV, Lamas has given up on the world of Sport, and retired to running a strip / kickboxing bar, and drinking booze to try and exorcise the demons of his defeat. However, when a young turk with the potential for greatness comes along, Taylor sees the opportunity to return to the sport, and have his revenge on the man that beat him. The contender is Danny Davis, played by Michael Worth, and has, as far as we can see, no skills whatsoever, but that can be solved with a short Team America style training montage. Then it's off for the big tournament, Danny's shot at the big time, and Nick's shot at vengeance.

So, the negatives. Well, it's a cheesy movie, but you do expect that to some degree, especially when Mr. Lamas is involved, and I'm not sure that cheesiness really changes a fun movie to a rubbish one. Unfortuately for Lamas' fans he is only involved in one fight in the whole thing. His role, as it happens, is reasonable, but I suspect the majority of people that actually watch this movie are going to be doing so for the chance to see Lorenzo get in the ring, rather than Michael Worth. Even then, the fights are few and far between, and what's between makes them seem a lot further. The pacing of the movie has much more to do with its more dramatic cousins in the kinds of boxing movies I mentioned earlier, but without writers, actors or directors that ever seem really comfortable making this kind of film. Even the lovely Kathleen Kinmont disappoints, wrangling a little bit of life out of a very, very poor role as Taylor's long suffering wife, without any of the attitude that makes her an interesting presence in the more regular action films she starred in with Lamas through the early ninties.

The project does feature a lot of regular PM Entertainment names, with Joseph Mehri co-directing, but I get the feeling that the keeper of the vision was writer/director Stephen Smoke. The PM films, at their best, are slices of entertaining, low budget action, but Final Impact has few of the hallmarks of one of their better pictures. The action, when it's there, isn't bad. I think anyone would enjoy watching Gary Daniels' brief cameo in the film as a fighter at Nick's club who knocks several shades out of Danny near the start of the film, and in general there's an aggressive energy to the fighting that works well, and gives the pace that makes these kind of movies work. Unfortunately, this means that the fights are short, which leads us into a quick return to the slightly drab existence of training montages and stilted dialogue.

Overall, this could have been worse, but it could have been much, much better. Lorenzo Lamas isn't totally incapable of acting, as he has shown in various other projects, but Final Impact tries to be a drama and a kickboxing movie and is entirely unsatisfactory as both. There's not enough fighting for fight fans, not enough talent for drama fans, and the only group I can think of that will really get a kick out of it are the hardcore Lamas-heads who want to see something a bit different.


In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

04 Apr 2005
Watch The Shadows of the Nightmaster Dance
Aussies and paintballs and ninjas, oh my!

In the US and UK this film was known as Nightmaster, which sounds like a low quality computer RPG developed in the former Yugoslavia. In Australia, its country of origin, the film is titled "Watch the shadows dance", which sounds like angsty LiveJournal poetry inspired by the the leather trenchcoat wearing characters of the aforementioned game. These days at least, the draw of the film is the then fresh faced, 20 years old Nicole Kidman, who had not yet starred in one of the high points of her career, the sublime Bangkok Hilton, but had put in her performance in the peak of cinematic genius that is BMX Bandits. Other than the former Mrs Cruise, the cast is relatively low key, with the notable exception of drug dealer Guy Duncan, played by Craig Pearce who went on to co-write Baz Luhrman's Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.

On the other side of the camera, the film is directed by Mark Joffe who went on to make the ninja-less Spotswood, and Billy Connolly vehicle The Man Who Sued God. Providing a spot of new wave-y rock, and some piercing looks during his cameo, is oz singer/songwriter Paul Kelly in his sole film appearance, which curiously seems to be missed out from his otherwise very complete biography.

Of course, the reason any one would watch this is the presence of Nicole Kidman, who in this movie resembles a red headed microphone, a mass of fluffy hair and long legs. That said, while Nicole is an integral player, as Amy, the star is most definitely "Robbie", played by Tom Jennings who is famous for, well, not much really. I'm not sure whether conclusions should be drawn about the presence of a Grahame Jennings in the production credits, but certainly Questions Should Be Asked.

HAIR Robbie and Amy are still in school, along with a number of other students of dubious ages, but their lives are consumed with a secret game, a game of ninja uniforms and shuriken paintballs, glowy paint sticks and cunning traps. The game is their escape from the 80's view of the future they inhabit, filled with clacky laptops that suggest the blazing power of DOS 3, and homework assignments that are handed out on 5 1/4" floppies, which would probably be regarded as some form of bizarre sporting implement by modern school kids. Outside of school the world is a dark, foggy place, filled with slightly weirdly shaped cars, and security officers wearing outfits reminiscent of the Death Star operators.

The game is based in an abandoned warehouse in which the students, properly attired and armed, attempt to mark their opponents with paint to eliminate them, while moving towards a bell on a rope hanging from the ceiling, known as sanctuary, which wins you the game. Even if you can out-ninja all the other competitors there are a series of traps setup by the wheelchair bound gamesmaster and his gang of assistants, most of which consist of a net approximately the size of a tea towel falling on you. Robbie is the reigning champion of the game, thanks no small part to the special attention he receives from the martial arts/gymnastics teacher at school, Steve Beck, who sees the makings of a champion in him, presumably (we eventually gather) in the high profile world of kickboxing, or as I prefer to think of it, the official sport of Don "The Dragon" Wilson.

Steve comes from the John Kreese school of martial arts instruction, the "there's no mercy in this dojo" principle. While his simultaneous attempts to teach gymnastics and martial arts have disturbing parallels to Richard Norton classic Gymkata (tagline: the skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate), Steve mostly teaches a "second place is first loser" attitude that is covering up his own past, some terrible experience in the military. As Steve says, after looking at a photo of himself with his old unit, "all the men in that photo are dead". After Robbie almost kills someone in the game he begins to pull away from Steve's teachings and see Steve for what he is, and that's not just a low rent Martin Kove. Steve is addicted to drugs, and his dealer is the dastardly Guy Duncan.

The good guys are in white. Guy and his gang of two scrawny youths represent the even darker underbelly of the future Australia. Dressed unerringly like Scottish indie darlings Franz Ferdinand, Guy and his posse hit on Amy, dis the game, and generally act sleazy. Unfortunately, after getting mashed trying to start a fight with Robbie, Guy's entrepreneurial brain comes up with the idea of blackmailing Steve, which ends Guy's life and his short, but meaningful, cautionary tale. Robbie witnesses the murder, causing Steve to try and eliminate him and setting up the final showdown deep in the warehouse. The battle is between the amateur ninjas of the student body and the (unexpected) real ninja that is Steve. To his credit, Steve does have a real ninja fan that makes short work of the net trap.

The film is a bit of a mixed bag, with the mix heavily weighted on the crappy side. There are some nice touches; Paul Kelly's lyrics during his bar performance narrating the drug dealing going on in the background, or Robbie's relationship with his mother, who is living in London and communicates exclusively via what appear to be pirated chinese VCDs, which blows Skype out of the water. On the other hand there is the general Neighbours level acting, the phenomenally cheesy fog and neon exteriors, rubbish sound effects from bad chanbara dubs, cops that look too ridiculous for the Sabotage video, and Ms Spane. Ms Spane is another teacher at the school who mostly serves to get Robbie out of a situation by tuning up, utterly inexplicably, to rescue him, on a motorbike.

I don't think the action milieu is Mark Joffe's strong suit. However, there were a lot of these aussie teen action movies during the 80s, and it may have been some form of permit requirement to make one, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Yes, Nicole Kidman is in it, gives a reasonable performance, and looks great in a school girl uniform, but I suspect you'd have to be a bit of a completist/obsessive to watch it for that alone, though this is the internet so that's probably not too unlikely. The music's naff, the plot's thin, and the action, when it's there, is rubbish. On the other hand the final fight could have been worse and the film features some pretty weird dream sequences, but you'd still have to be really desperate for something to watch before choosing Nightmaster.

Amazon are trying to sell this with the description "The boundaries between real life and fantasy becomes blurred when Robbie and Amy play night games...", which may give you the wrong impression about the kind of action this movie contains. The flip side of the double-bill version from the poundshop contains a documentary about tomb raider. Woo.

Playing God

In: mudwig, crime, reviews

03 Mar 2005
Hard to tell that Playing God stars David Duchovny.
As you can see, the plot is the selling point.

Unlike most of the movies that grace these pages, Playing God is actually quite well known. This shouldn't really come as a suprise, given the star presence of David Duchovny, in 1997 at the height of his X-Files fame. Names like Angelina Jolie and Oscar winner Timothy Hutton also provide some buoyancy. It does beg the question how this film ended up in the siberian gulag of poundshop DVDdom, a fate that, perhaps, it doesn't deserve.

Outside of the big three, there are a host of semi-notables in the cast. The brilliant Peter Stomare, doomed always to be "that guy in Armageddon" plays a russian gangster named Vladimir, which does not stretch his abilities particularly, and Gary Dourdan from CSI pops up as Yates, one of Tim Hutton's thugs. There are a number of "Hey, it's that guy"s that pop up, which could prove for some form of entertaining drinking game.

But, while we're all still sober, to one of the less important parts of the movie - the plot. Duchovny plays Eugene Sands, a disgraced ex-surgeon, and drug addict; the latter leading to the former. During one of his regular visits to a shady drinking establishment to purchase some illegal substances two gun men burst in and proceed to shoot a gentlemen enjoying a drink at the bar. After the bar owner nixes the idea of calling for an ambulance, Sands' instincts kick in and he performs a makeshift operation, saving the wounded man's life. Of the bar patrons assisting him Angelina Jolie stands out, as you would expect, as a beautiful girl called Claire, who seemed to know the victim. Sands goes home, mixes some narcotics with his healthy glass of milk, and crashes. Next morning he awakes in a car being taken to to meet gangster Raymond Blos2som, played by Tim Hutton. Claire turns out to be Blossom's girl, and had impressed him with the tale of Eugene's work the previous night. Blossom offers ten thousand dollars for Sands to operate on a man who is set up in the middle of the hotel room complete with all the medical equipment you could want, and nurses. Sands eventually agrees and ends up becoming Blossoms go to doc, and in a slightly strange way, his friend. Of course, things do not continue smoothly as Blossom breaks off a relationship with the russian mob in order to get in with new chinese partners. The russians object to this deal, and express their displeasure with a few hits on Blossom's crew, attracting the attention of the FBI. At the same time, Sands finds himself falling in love with Claire, and getting increasingly addicted to the rush of his new occupation.

It's tough to decide whether the film is affected more by its bad points than its positive ones, since there are significant examples on both sides. For the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie, however, the negative is most certainly accentuated. The first, and most vocal, of the problems is Duchovny's voice-over, which provides a running semi-noir description over the top of the less action packed parts of the movie. While Duchovny's dry delivery does afford some truly amusing moments, and some choice one liners, in general it just feels cheap. There are some poorly considered scenes scattered through out as well, a prime example being during the car ride where Sands is being taken to Blossom for the first time. The two thugs, one white, one black, discuss the differences between american football and soccer, which in a film that often inspires unfavourable comparisons to Pul Fuction perhaps wasn't the best choice. Similarly, at one point Sands decides to get on the wagon, and get off the horse, to mix some metaphors. This is achieved remarkably smoothly, despite one amusing moment of being caught drinking cough syrup, which doesn't really balance with the rest of the film's reality that was otherwise consistent, if not entirely accurate, in its drug portrayal. The drug addiction also invites a number of cringe inducing addict clich?s and lines.

This is a general problem with the script though, elements of which are by far the weakest points of the movie. There are quite a few cheesy moments thrown in for not much payoff, and the dialogue often relies on a rather better than average delivery to make it palettable. David Duchovny and Angelina Jolie don't help much with some distinctly listless acting at times, mostly when they're not working with each other. This, to be fair, shouldn't come as much of a suprise, and Duchovny at least has always performed far better working off other strong actors than on his own. British director Andy Wilson falls over a little on some of the, fairly sparse, gun sequences, but for a first feature makes a decent attempt.

Jolie and Duchovny cut the rug At other times, the writing seems really spot on though. Sands comes across as a compassionate man, and in fact all the main characters seem to have likeable elements, a more positive link with Pulp Fiction. There are some well played comedy sequences, such as a scene of Sands running through a hotel, trying to save Claire, and going back and forth with an FBI agent over a walkie talkie, in another one of Blossom's mooks get killed in his car to the sound of the Bee Gee's Jive Talkin' from the tape player, or in a third an addled gangster waves a gun in Sands' face, yelling at him to make his dead friend Jewish, so that he can avoid an autopsy. Even on the action front the final chase set piece is entertaining and well executed, if a little poorly motivated, making a good show piece for the director.

This isn't really a film where the story is the key element. The characters of Blossom and his henchman work so well, and Tim Hutton in particular puts in such a brilliantly off the wall performance that you are at times swept along by people that are fundamentally likable, while at the same time quite twisted. Even the two psychotic surfers that Blossom farms out some dirty work to have a human side that is endearing, even if the characters as a whole are not.

Duchovny and Angeline Jolie work especially well together, there's not a lot of passion in their relationship, but it still seems significant. Duchovny's detached, sardonic humour lightens the film, which certainly has the potential to turn very dark and serious, and contrasts well with Jolie's in-the-scene intensity.

One of the problems that Playing God suffers is that it is expected to be that it is not. It is not an action movie, and it's not Pulp Fiction. It is a crime movie, but it's not a movie about crime, and it's not about spectacle. Unfortunately, the film itself seems confused about this, and I get the feeling that if the script had ended up in different hands it could have been an almost unrecognisably different experience. This leads to a very variable movie, and unforunately the start is not one of the strong parts. This, I think, will leave some viewers with a bad taste for the rest of the film, which is a shame as overall I think there are enough good elements to make Playing God worth a watch. Certainly Duchovny fans should see it, but I think any one that's willing to give a movie some leeway will find something entertaining in there.

Amusingly, the official review of the film on Amazon refers to, err, Deep Space 9.