Pound Shop Movies

Gang Law (AKA Hot Boyz)

In: mudwig, crime, reviews

09 Sep 2004
Gang Law, like oompa loompas, is mostly orange
Master P's law is like Master P's love...

Who would let Percy "Master P" Miller direct a feature film? Well, PM Entertainment of course, and more than once. It is their 1999 colaboration "Gang Law" that is the topic of discussion today. As you may have guessed from above, Gang Law is actually the UK name, quite explicably replacing the US title: "Hot Boyz". Perhaps in the mean streets of the ghetto Hot Boyz does not sound like it should have .com appended to it and contain uses of the word twink.

As would be expected from a director who also happens to own a hip hop record label, many of the starring roles are filled by rappers. Silkk the Shocker takes the lead role as Kool, and Snoop Dogg, Mystikal and C-Murder all appear as supporting characters of varying importance. The actor contingent is filled with the sizable talents of Jeff Speakman, of The Expert fame, as a doughy martial arts teacher, as well as similar B-stand by C. Thomas Howell as half of the police dream team, and the human wine box himself, Gary Busey, as his mildly corrupt partner and lead investigator.

This cast lends an interesting balance to the script. While Slikk the Shocker can't act even a little bit, his scenes with Clifton Powell as excellent villian The Saint are roundly entertaining, as are his changing attitudes to Anthony Johnson's stuttering (and aptly named) pee wee. Despite these moments, the failure of the main character to be of any interest at all forms the failure of the movie. The story is, despite the maker's best attempts to disguise it, a character study, and a study of a fall into crime and violence. What was filmed often resembles a music video, presumably because of Master P's experience in that area, but the action isn't good or spectacular enough to overcome the shaky foundations it is built upon.

In essence the plot of the film goes as follows. Kool, a young man from the bad part of town, is powerless to help when his girlfriend is framed by a crooked cop. To try and get her out Kool agrees to go undercover to help a detective named Tully make his case against Saint, the gangster Kool knows had the cop in his pocket. However, once his girlfriend is killed in a savage beating from the crooked cop, Kool goes renegade, starts his own gang, and muscles his way to the top.

While this story underpins the movie, it is hidden in a sea of action scenes and Profound Moments, mostly featuring the main character, which are sort of randomly distributed across the movie. Starting (and ending) with an above average car chase through a dock yard, complete with a full complement of trashed police cars, the movie has drive-bys at funerals, gun fights in drug factories, punchups in nightclubs, and Jeff Speakman getting annoyed. There is nothing particularly wrong with any of these scenes, nor really any of scenes in the movie beyond Silkk's limited range, but there little cohesiveness, and very little happening elsewhere in the world they have created to drive things along. The last third of the film, showing the Hot Boyz taking over the city, is compressed into a sequence of shootouts, drug processing, and money counting, but still has no energy. It's almost a time-lapse shot of the take over, informing us of what happened but not describing the effects it has had on the people involved. By the time we catch up with the crew they've have turned into stereotypical gangstas. While this is reasonable for Snoop's character, whom we never really developed any real knowledge of, Silkk's character bears no resemblance to his earlier incarnation, which means whatever empathy the audience could have developed is immediately lost.

Gang Law is one of those movies that should have skipped out of the bargain bucket of doom most PM movies are destined for. It has some names in the cast, a decent soundtrack (despite one of C-Murder's lines being repeated ad infinitum when in establishing shots), good quality action scenes, and the makings of a compelling story. The problem is that it's all about identifying with Kool, and he doesn't make it easy. Combined with the fact that the case against Kool's girlfriend was so flimsy that a small piece of cheese with a stiff stench could have got her out, the film ends up feeling somewhat unmotivated and flat.

Overall, Master P's attempt at a ghetto story could have come off far worse, but it pales when compared to Ice Cube's films. It even looks a bit shaky next to Ice T's, and he's in Players.

C.I.A II: Target Alexa

In: mudwig, reviews, action

08 Aug 2004
Target: Divorce
Lorenzo sporting the Joe Lara look.

In a Renegade-y mood, I attempted to watch CIA: Codename Alexa, but the wonderful world of online dvd rental decided to throw me its sequel, CIA II: Target Alexa. Despite this minor setback, star and director Lorenzo Lamas did not disappoint with some slightly higher budget than usual (but still deeply shite) action.

The plot is the old stolen gadget chesnut. The US have developed the Super Scientron-o-matic 3000 nuke guidance system, which for security reasons is in two parts, a big box and a little key, each in a different location. The big box part is stolen by Straker, an ex-CIA agent with bad facial hair and a bad attitude, who is being fed information from inside the agency and plans to sell the guidance system to whichever Evil Government will pay the most. Unfortunately for Straker the key is stolen before he can get to it by euro-mercenary Kluge, for no discernable reason. Bumbling CIA ninja Mark Graver is sent into get the sciencetron back, dragging his old flame Alexa back to the company after she gets messed up in a robbery.

This movie is all about the ladies. Despite Lorenzo's top billing, the ever lovely Kathleen Kinmont is most definitely the star. The central message of the film seems to be "don't underestimate hot chicks", as a series of ignorant males get offed after doing just that. Starting with an excellent shoot out in a rather sparsely shelved shop, continuing through embarassing a bunch of Kluge's mercenaries, and escaping from Straker's makeshift prison, bloke after bloke assumes Kinmont will be soft a touch and gets kicked in the face for their trouble. On the villianous side as well, Kluge has his own lady of pain who insists on spitting out quite hideous one liners before or shortly after nobbling her confused male opponents.

Out of the gents, the highlight of the piece is clearly John Savage's mercenary leader Kluge. The character is slightly morally ambiguous, mostly fighting on the same side as our heroes, which gives Savage a bit more to chew on than is usual in these types of roles, and his delivery of the usually ridiculous dialogue in a fairly rediculous accent is dead on. I'm only disappointed we didn't get more scenes between him, butch bitch Lori Fetrick (who allegedly pops up in the TV L.A. Heat) and their Vernon-Wells-In-Commando-esque camp sergeant.

Considering that the film is called CIA though, you'd think they'd concentrate a little more on the actual agency. Ususally films portray the CIA in one of two ways: 1) powerful, all knowing government agency starting coups in one country while taking out commie pinko ruskies in another. 2) An incompetent, corrupt intelligence agency out of control, little more than nationally sponsored organised crime. This movie takes an alternate standpoint, painting a picture of an agency with a budget of approximately three pounds a month, and a staff of two fairly useless agents and one reasonably irrelevant controller. Even location wise, the base is far from the glamourous Langley HQ of the first Mission: Impossible movie, mostly appearing to be located above an off-license in a rough part of town. To be fair the movie does feature two other CIA agents, neither of whom get a line before being killed off, though their deaths don't even invoke a cursory check-for-pulse from the entirely unconcerned Lamas.

Overall there are some things that CIA II should be applauded for. It is basically a female led action movie, putting Lamas and co. into the back seat, but in a fairly quiet and restrained way, without the novelty factor that has a tendancy to creep in to a Cynthia Rothrock movie say. However, the pacing drags at time, and I think there would be definite benefits of seeing the first film, as characters pop in and out that were clearly established in the previous installment. There are better movies in the PM stable, but there are also plenty worse.

Armstrong

In: mudwig, reviews, action

07 Jul 2004
Zagarino vs Lara Round 2
Only one of these men is Tarzan.

There aren't many places that say Action more than Russia. There aren't many men that say Action more than Frank "Frank" Zagarino. And there aren't many directors who don't say Action, but judging by Armstrong's sub-Warhead fight scenes, Menahem Golan might be one of them.

This movie looks like it has everything. Sparking Zagarino/Lara action, one of the Princess' from Bill & Ted getting her norks out, bad-ass-old-military-dude for hire Charles Napier and brilliant blonde-weirdo for hire Richard Lynch. Stick it all in Russia, add some obvious stunt doubles and you should have a sizzling slice of b-grade entertainment, but it just doesn't work.

In some movies Kimberly Kate's extended nudity/wet t-shirt (and magically appearing trainers) chase scene would be considered gratuitous, but in the slow, uninspired world of Armstrong, it's absolutely essential. The same can be said of Lynch's cavorting with hookers in his I'm-a-bit-corrupt bar scene, and that isn't the hallmark of a film worth watching.

For what it's worth, the plot centers around Lynch's Colonel Zukov, who is involved in selling russian nukes with the aid of the american and russian mafia. Zagarino (as the titular Rod Armstrong) is employed by Zukov to train his men, having been a former CIA agent and seal, after proving himself able by breaking through the incredibly tight security formed by one man and a window to assault a mock treaty signing. Armstrong is expensive, but that's because every time he goes on a mission he expects to die, though unfortunately for this film at least, he never does. Zorkin (Napier), Rod's old boss, comes to visit with a never quite explained plan that almost certainly involved showing the tape he has of some soldiers joyriding a nuke around moscow to Armstrong, and/or someone that could actually do something about it. When Zorkin is bumped off by Joe Lara and his russian mob cronies, Armstrong knows that he has to save the known world by stopping the mafia's evil plan, and of course get into the extremely hot Mrs Zorkin's knickers. Will he succeed?!!!?!!?/?!!!1!?
Yes.

The world of direct-to-video always stretches credibility, but Armstrong twists and breaks it apart like the cheap toy it is. Grenades explode in a orgy of undamaged furniture, throwing fat men out of windows that mysteriously turn into Zagarino just before impact. The script throws clever solutions to every problem, such as Armstrong stopping a nuke countdown by shooting a load of computers with a AK47, or busting in to a base by driving a truck through the gate. While the truck through gate idea is not a problem, his bizarrely setting the top of the cab ever so slightly on fire, to the point at which it looks like someone has strapped a '70s gas effect electric fire on it, made about as much sense as, well, the rest of the movie.

There are worse films in the world, and I think almost anyone will appreciate the comedy in Joe Lara's delivery of the trite and tired dialogue, but if you're looking for more than laughable lines and Kimberly Kate's fetching figure, then you can do better than Menahem's 35th feature. Armstrong is most definitely less than the sum of its parts.

Warhead

In: mudwig, reviews, action

07 Jul 2004
Tense hacking in Warhead
Artificial Intelligence on a Global Scale.

The tagline for this movie reads "Nuclear Terrorism On A Global Scale". This raises several questions, such as "what is local nuclear terrorism?", or alternatively, "does it really count as global when the action is set pretty exclusively in the USA bar a bit of terrorism in switzerland at the end, which was a) by our hero, hence not terrorism and b) not nuclear?", which is a pretty long winded question. The saddest thing of all is that we may never know the answers.

Warhead is a retread of one of the classic direct-to-video plot lines. A terrorist organisation (the United Patriots Movement) nobbles a bunch of special forces, and gains control of a Very Big Bomb (the titular "Warhead"). The sole survivor of the aforementioned spec. forces team is sent in to stop them, after clashing with his boss because he played by his own rules, was a loose cannon, and possibly a man on the edge. WHO WOULD EXPECT that the terrorist leader and the man sent to stop him were in the same class at commando school, and hence know each others strengths, weaknesses, and haircuts.

Our hero is Jack Tannen, played by the mighty Frank Zagarino, who you may know from... well nothing really, but he has done voice work for a Command & Conquer game which seems disturbingly common amongst actors of films I watch. The villian is Joe Lara, who would meet up with Zagarino again in '99s Strike Zone, '98s Armstrong and '97s Operation Delta Force, quite possibly sporting the same Goatee Of Evil in them all. The fiesty female lead goes to Elizabeth Giordano, who popped up in a couple of episodes of PM's L.A. Heat series, and the award for best acting in the movie goes to the big green crashmat that leaps into the air when Zagarino lands on it during the final fight sequence.

Lest you think this is a clich? ridden, formulaic procession through an obvious storyline, there are some scenes which are unique to this movie. For me the two standouts are: 1) The hack-off between Dr Evans and his scientist daughter Jessica as they arm and disarm the warhead with complex commands like "Destination Washinton" and "Destination Override". 2) The ice hockey scene. In this masterpiece of action several armed goons come after Zagarino, and they mix it up from one side of an (in-use) ice hockey rink to the other. Faced with a lack of traction, Jack Tannen grabs the belts of various players who pull him around to escape or attack the villians. Even when several of their number have been shot by the thugs, the players still seem willing to skate around aimlessly to allow Zagarino to get a good tow, or on one occasion a sling-shot straight into the porky Patriots. A true classic, and worth the price of admission on its own.

Warhead was reasonably entertaining, and the sparking hot ActionChemistry between Lara and Zagarino has prompted me to pick up another of their films, Armstrong. The violence is full on and paced to the music, and while the characters are stupid they are all stupid to the same low level, which gives the movie a sense of consistency. Like watching primary school kids put on a play Warhead is not really any good at all, but it gives Mr & Mrs Zagarino something to tell their friends about when they're asked how little Frankie is doing.

Out For Blood

In: mudwig, reviews, action

07 Jul 2004
Out, For Blood?
Don Wilson is one of the most dynamic action stars in this image.

Don "The Dragon" Wilson was 3 time world kickboxing champion. He featured, both in name and in person, in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything, where he kicked John Cusack in the face. Other than that and a brief appearance in Batman Forever, Don's screen career has focused on the world of direct to video. Always working, often for the people like the infamous Roger Corman, and various PM related groups, Don had starred in ten films in the four years of career leading up to this 1993 Richard W. Munchkin chaired slice of martial arts amnesiac action.

Munchkin is a common co-conspirator with Mehri and Pepin, that latter of whom filled the roles of both producer and director of photography on the movie. Other than Don, the cast includes anime-english-dub voice over regular Beau Billingslea (Jet in Cowboy Bebop) and Aki Aleong, ever popular old chinese guy for-hire.

"The Dragon" plays John Decker, lawyer and happy family man until the day his wife and son are cruelly murdered by a Psychotic Drug Gang©. Unfortunately, the events traumatise Decker to the point at which he can no longer remember what happened, only seeing glimpses in dreams and flashbacks. The law is unable to catch the villians, and so Decker decides to reap his own vengeance. Quickly dubbed Karateman by a media unaware of his true identity, Decker cleans up the streets one villian at a time. Frustrated and unable to get their push their products thanks to Karateman's actions, the local crimelords make a deal with some dirty cops to ruin his reputation, and make him a wanted criminal himself.

His only allies are a lady art dealer (Shari Shattuck) that provides the love interest, as well as a jealous ex-boyfriend with accompanying heavies, and the wise old chinese artist she has in residence (Mr Aleong, of course). Aleong in particular helps Decker deal with the guilt and turmoil he is feeling about his Karateman alter ego, and the fragments of his familiy's murder he is remembering, in a way that his psychiatrist was failing to.

Despite the less than awe inspiring moniker, Karateman does indeed kick some bottom in this film. The action is frequent and always entertaining, with Don giving an excellent performance throughout. The film is utterly, utterly littered with clich?s, to the point at which it is a case of suspending your disbelief that the scriptwriters actually churned this stuff out. The move doesn't so much skirt predictability but settle into it like a comfortable chair, and the only people who are likely to be suprised by the unfloding events are those that haven't seen an action movie. Ever.

However, the villians are villianous, the hero is heroic and there are plenty of fights, explosions, and man-on-the-edge performances from Wilson. The biggest crime in cheap action movies is to be boring, and while there are slow sections this movie isn't that.