Having seen it years ago, I've been intending to review Cybertracker 1 for some time now, but never quite found a way to write it without using the word "Terminator". However, while browsing the revitalised pound store DVD range I discovered a Prism double sider with Cybertracker and it's previously unavailable seque, and decided to skip past the first film entirely.
We are first (re)introduced to Eric (Don "The Dragon" Wilson) at a drug buy - of course he's just working undercover, and soon finds himself, and thirty or forty cops, up against laser wielding bad guys - and these lasers explode! Much like Terminator 2, we're also introduced to a friendly version of the previous film's villain, in the form of a combo Chaingun/Flamethrower wielding Tracker called number 9, who sports a fine cosplay tinfoil Robocop look. 9 rescues Eric and the Cops in the buy, using the power of exploding things, and shows that maybe Trackers are OK, and were just misunderstood.
However, the baddies are busy making next-generation of Trackers, now super advanced killer androids that appear human, and using them as assassination machines. Unfortunately for Cyborg Cop fans John Rhys-Davies was no where to be seen (and you're not likely to not notice him, lets face it), though at least this movie does, in fact, feature a cyborg cop.
The evil assassin corp have been hired to bump the Vice Governor up a pay grade, and do so with an evil robot version of Connie from the first film, a successful reporter and wife of our hero, Eric. The police, of course, assume it's her, and the plucky pair (plus their cameraman) are forced underground as they try to dodge both the forces of Law & Order, and Evil Corp. attempting to clean house.
Most of the heroes will be familiar faces if you haven't blocked out memories of the first movie. Eric, pictured, Connie, the former anti-Tracker terrorist and good looking Journalist, played by Stacie Foster, and Jared, the former anti-Tracker terrorist and good looking cameraman (with a Because I'm Worth level of bouncy hair), played by Steve Burton, both return. John Kassir turns up as a C4 wielding not-so-former anti-tracker terrorist, complete with some excellent Mr C4-Head dolls, to round out team Good Guy.
The replicant based baddies are lead by evil weapons dealer Paris Morgan, played by the wonderful Anthony De Longis, who, it must be said, handles the Evil Genius moments and the brief fight sequence he has with total maniacal cool.
Of course, the casting director had little to do with the biggest stars in the movie, the heroic Explosion and his brother "Boom!". No matter what the actors are doing, there's always time to cut away to a model house getting blown up, or one of the many, many exploding police cars that PM Entertainment presumably had a factory cranking out somewhere. To be fair, the explosions were pretty good, and the models not totally unconvincing, though the lasers left something for the asking.
That said, while "Boom" is rendered pretty well by the Sound FX department, there is a somewhat annoying choice around AGNES 3000 (sister of Outkast rapper Andre 3000 presumably), Eric's computer system. Throughout it's limited selection of scenes the computer emits a truly irritating high pitched whine, which is a shame as the effect is fairly decent - a bit like the digital pixie woman off the Robocop TV series.
The movie doesn't let up on car chases either. Again, in an entirely unTerminator moment there's a chase through some kind of concrete river passage, with an evil Tracker chasing Eric and Mrs Eric in a truck. Eric luckily stole a humvee with a machine gun on the back, which he puts to good effect. One chase scene even involves what is apparently the longest tunnel in the world, where the citizens appear to get actively involved, as the chasing parties overtake the same car a number of times, from a variety of angles.
Interestingly, the film throws in a reference to VR fighting masterpiece Expect No Mercy, when during a extended Eric nipple scene, a random girl arrives to train with his VR headset. Rather than the fine "slightly glowing person in a silly suit" technique of ENM, the VR characters here are poorly modeled Ninjas with detachable limbs, whose asses the girl then eKick. She the proceeds to bear no further relevance to the plot.
This film was released just after the original, implying a somewhat tight schedule, and unfortunately, the back to back nature of the filming seems to have taken it's toll on The Dragon. Mr Wilson is lacking flair, both in his plank like performance, which instead of it's usual supple willow is more of a sturdy oak, and even his kicks and chops don't come across as dynamic as normal.
Indeed, despite the multitude of action sequences, and event some Swayze-level shirtlessness from Jared, the film is actually a bit listless, and rather predictable. When it succeeds in breaking away from this, the film seems to run to the other extreme. There are a few disposable moments, such as VR girl, that contribute little, and I'm pretty sure at one point the Evil Corp. openly assassinate the Governor in the rather public lobby of their secret base without much regards to the consequence - which is fair enough as there weren't any! Traditionally I tend to associate PM movies with a fair bit of pace (and plenty of explosions), but while it does cover a lot of ground, the viewer is left feeling every step.
All in all I found Cyber-Tracker 2 somewhat of a disappointment, a little lacklustre even when compared to the first one, and not up to fine Wilson efforts like Out For Blood. Yes, there is some good quality violence - the EricTracker's assasult on the police station was undeniable fun, but there are better films out there from both The Dragon and PM. Do keeping checking out the pound stores though, as there have been some reasonable releases recently - Bride of Chuckie, £1, bargain!
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.
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.
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.
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.
There 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.
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.
Cynthia Rothrock has a license to blonde.
According to the font of movie trivia that is the IMDB this film was known in the USA as Blonde Justice, which is a far superior title on the grounds that "Sworn To Justice" means not a lot, and that the concept of Blonde Justice is generally amusing. The blonde in question is of course the legendary Cynthia Rothrock, 5' 3" of high kicking action wonderfulness, but in this film she's not just a martial artist she's also... psychic. A psychic psychiatrist specialist witness, to be precise, called Janna, who goes on a restrained rampage of reasonable revenge after her family are killed by Criminals.
Being the family member of a martial arts star seems about as sensible as being Bond's girlfriend. In this case Janna's sister and niece were housesitting for her when they were killed in a robbery - the villians having assumed the house would be empty. Why, exactly, they were robbing the place was a little beyond me, but the punch bags were probably worth something. Janna is haunted by their deaths, not helped by the fact that she sees the events replay in her mind whenever she touches a small amulet her sister was holding during the deed. Determined not to let herself by overwhelmed she goes back to work, but now her abilities seem to be manifesting themselves everywhere. As she sees crimes occuring she steps to stop them, while at the same time searching for the villians that did in her sister, who have not been idle themselves. It seems they all fall under the purview of a recently released gang boss who is taking over with the help of an anonymous Official. During one shakedown at a chop shop, the boss uses the persuasive technique of the heated nail clipper under the nail, which showed flair and innovation in the field of inducing cringes from the viewer. Suppported by the man known only as The Man, they find that the only thing that stands in their way is an unknown vigilante. And her heels.
The cast is nothing special in the main, with some of the most recognisable figures turning up in almost cameo roles. Walter Koenig brings his experience as B5's amoral psychic Bester to bear, and sports a ridiculous accent, as a psychology professor investigating psychic phenomemon that Janna consults about her burgeoning abilities. Still on the trek tip Voyager's Brad Dourif has plenty of experience playing nutters (starting with Billy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest of course) and pops up in court putting in a top notch performance as a defendant whom Janna is providing expert testimony for, but who was also involved with the gang that killed her sister and niece. Of course, this is a martial arts movie, so we're going to need a few asians, and the go to guy is clearly the voice of Aku himself, the mighty Mako, as a wise, blind, news-stand owner.
On the subject of martial arts, it would seem appropriate to mention that the fight scenes are pretty durn good. The movie ranges in tone, on the lighter side is a brilliantly comical bit of vigilantism in the storeroom of a shop against some hoods who are attempting to rob it, which features sarcastic and quite random comments from the clerk ("oh, I remember the combination now!"), cheesy latino music, and a beautitful bit of duct tape imprisonment to put Jet Li's Romeo Must Die plastic tie scene to shame. On the other end of the scale Janna's fight against her sister's killer is short, violent, and fatal. It's so different it could be from another movie. Even during the relationship between lawyer/tai-chi boyfriend Nick their inevitable bout of sparring is played with a light touch by both actors, leading to a remarkably good scene that feels like nothing else in the movie.
That said, whichever angle the film approaches the fight scenes from they work well. Outside of her Hong Kong movies Sworn To Justice features some of Rothrock's best scenes, martial arts wise. The problem is that there are simply not enough of them. The film drifts by on a sea of melodrama, not entirely helped by soap opera like plot twists, and soap opera level acting by some of the cast. It features two sex scenes, both of which were pretty good, and fairly revealing, but neither of which was really necessary, and mostly served to bog down the already slow story. Janna's psychometric abilities were entertaining, and could have formed a core part of the plot, but really served as little more than a vehicle for getting her to the crimes, which could have been done by more conventional means. This is the kind of film that it is easier to be kind to in hind sight than at the time, as the bland sections are simply not worth remembering, so you don't. This doesn't mean the dramatic sections are all bad, Brad Dourif's scene in which his character is interrogated by Janna is fantastic, and one of Rothrock's finest performances, but this is the exception, rather than the rule.
Sworn To Justice is a hard film to recommend. Rothrock fans should watch it for sure, but then again Rothrock fans already will have. Fans of martial arts movies, especially those of the American direct-to-video/Chuck Norris vein should get a kick out of it, and it's better than your average B. Edit out the cruft though and you have the core of a really good quality action movie, and that's probably what makes it an overall disappointment. Through the movie Cynthia's skirts get shorter and shorter, until the sex scenes appear and they come right off. But it's the long one at the end that she looks best in, and if the producers had realised that, they might have made a better movie.
*Amazon have it, but it looks like no particular improvement over the pound store version, for an extra five quid. If you can find the 2 films on one disc version, the flip side is Gen Y Cops, an extremely silly but extremely entertaining movie that makes the package more than worthwhile.
If this cover was accurate it would contain more Hawaiian shirts.
Christopher Walken is in this movie. So is Michael Ironside. Its release caused the Simpsons to use Rainier Wolfcastle instead of McBain for a couple of seasons. It has possibly the most ludicrous plane to plane combat scene in cinema history. This movie should be taught in schools.
It starts, as most things do, in 'Nam. Christopher Walken is a POW, and is being forced to fight in some form of home made Tina Turner-less thunderdome. Just in the nick of time a passing chopper-full of troops, having just been told the war is over, decide to quickly assault the POW camp. McBain wants to say "thanks" to his rescuers, but instead a man by the name of Santos hands him half a hundred dollar bill, as part of a Pact Of Honour. If McBain receives the other half, he'll know he has to come and help Santos move, or feed his cats while he's on holiday.
Years later, McBain is mostly into welding, while over in Colombia Santos and his rag tag rebel band are trying to stage a coup against the corrupt government that is being run by German drug dealers named Hans (all german drug dealers are named Hans). Santos' rebellion does not succeed, and he is executed. His distraught girlfriend takes the only option she has left, and goes to America to find a iron worker. Moved by her story, and his debt, McBain then proceeds to round up his former unit, purchase some hardware, and take over the entire country.
What makes this film a classic is not the quality of the film making. The direction is rubbish, and cuts between many, many things you care not a jot about. Neither is it the quality of the plot, as it makes the average first person shooter game look like a masterpiece of shakespearean proportions. No, what makes this film a classic is the genius of scenes that it sets up. My top five from the movie follow, I wouldn't worry about spoiling them since I do not think mere words can truly convey there majesty.
5. Christopher Walken IS Mossad: McBain borrows $10 million off a new york gangster by hanging him of a roof and pretending to be an isreali agent. Walken gives the distinct, unshakable impression of being completely unhinged, which to be fair is probably an accurate reading. The scene finishes with a quick 1-2 of comedy gold; McBain tells the gangster that his brother in law is ripping him off, which the gangster is all too ready to believe. As they're leaving, one of the McBain Posse asks hims how he knew. He replies "Everyone's brother in law is ripping them off". Zing.
4. The Flashback: About fifteen minutes into the film it quickly flashes back to McBain's rescue in Vietnam, in case you were asleep, got in late, or were in the gents shooting up. The editor had no faith in his audience.
3. Not all drug dealers are bad: The boys need money, and since they're going to free a country from the grip of drug barons, where better to get the cash than from the people that push their products? One quick assault and about twenty dead dealers later, McBain and Co. demand some loot from head dealer Luis Guzman. He explains that he only deals to addicts, never kids (Mr. T would approve), and that he is providing minority employment. When they question as to where he got the army jacket he is wearing he replies "The same place as you". Deciding that Luis is a sound geezer, they decide to hit up the aforementioned local mafioso for ten million instead. OBVIOUSLY.
2. The best doctor in the world, ever: A little girl is dying, hit with a bullet during an exchange of gun fire between the government forces and our heroes. The doc proceeds to take the only chance he has, opening her up in the middle of a field, using a pen knife. He manages to reinflate her lung, fix her flux capacitor or whatever he was doing, and sews her up. Pretty much instantly she smiles, and sits up. Bupa have nothing on this.
1. Air to Air Combat: During their less than stealthy infiltration into SouthAmericanLand, McBain's plane is spotted by enemy radar, who quickly dispatch two elite pilots in their state of the art drug powered fighter jets. One is dealt with by the patritotic mercenary the guys have brought a long in a jet of their own, but the other quickly demonstrates it's superiority to McBain's passenger plane, and pulls up alongside. The pilot gestures, and calls for them to them to land. Faced with a tough situation, McBain pulls out a titchy little pistol and proceeds to shoot the enemy pilot in the head, through the window of McBain's cockpit, the canopy of the pilot's, and the pilot's helmet. This is approximately the second most unexpected thing to ever happen in a movie (the first of course being Ralph Fiennes eating the painting in Red Dragon).
"Pilot: Charlie Seven Zero Four, put the plane down! Do you read me? Charlie Seven Zero Four, put the plane dow... ARRGH!
McBain: We read you loud and clear. "
It's the little details that cement McBain's position in the heirarchy of crap movies. For example, while galavanting happily through their generic south american country, McBain and his crew wear... Hawaiian shirts! And stupid hats! The villian is known only (well, mostly) as El President?, which is about as much spanish as is spoken in the entire film. The south american extras are all Filipino's, most of whom seem to have no idea what on earth they're supposed to be doing. And, of course, an absolutely phenomenal number of people die, something like 240 accord to reputable sources*. I would seriously suggest no one ever tries to play a "drink every time some dies" type game with this film. It is up there with Commando as a film that trying such a game with is likely to put you in hospital.
This film is now in one of those two films on one disc that Hollywood DVD have been going for recently, and depending on your local pound shop you might be able to pick it up for 50p, which would work out as paying just 25p for McBain. To be honest though, I think this film is actually worth paying the full pound for, and I'm sure the people over on the McBain's House Of War forum agree.
* See McBain's House Of War
** McBain  is on Amazon if you are pound shop deprived.
Forsythe floats like a yoghurt, stings like a pie.
Hitmen in movies appear notoriously unreliable. Even the slickest professionals are prone to sudden changes of heart, often culminating in the deaths of their former employer or associates. Actors, however, seem to relish the opportunity to play the anti-hero, and do their best to portray the dark side of the characters. Some, like Jean Reno in L?on, paint a portrait of a man who is human, "no women no children", but inhuman in his total lack of conscience about executing his targets. William Forsythe as the Direct Hit-ing John Hatch echoes the darkness of his part by playing it so understated that in several countries he would be declared clinically dead, and with a throaty, horse delivery that suggested he has smoked more than enough to be considered so in all the others.
The hook is fiendish in its intricacies. John Hatch wants out of the game, but his boss (George Segal) requires two weeks notice, or something along those lines, and orders him to off a local stripper to further the political aims of an ex CIA chief who is campaigning to become a senator. Allegedly, the stripper, Savannah, is blackmailing the propective senator with photos of them in bed together some years ago. Hatch struggles with the patriotism of his job before deciding that Savannah is innocent and that he will protect her from the evil machinations of his employers.
So why would this already trite sounding tale be worth watching? The answer is spread, via the magical movie powers of Pepin and Mehri, over the many characters that grace our screens. Leaving Hatch for a minute, let's look at the female lead, Savannah. Jo Champa is an actress who had had ups (Don Juan De Marco) and downs (this) in her career, along with a cameo in Walker, Texas Ranger, which is of course neither an up or down, but a sideways. Her portrayal of Savannah sets the tone for the film, in that she's a stripper* that actually doesn't strip, making her approximately the worst stripper in the movie. On the other hand it doesn't take her long to strip away the cold, callous exterior of Hatch and find his true cold, callous interior, and that's what she grows, in a traditionally short space of time, to love. She even does an adequate job as a spotter at the end of the movie, in a scene that can only be described as "what".
Forsythe's John Hatch is a whole other matter. Somehow, he actually manages to connect with the audience despite not really doing or saying much of anything, and wearing a lot of very un-action star clothes. Perhaps it's that he seems much more like the kind of person that would actually be a hit man than in other films, or perhaps we're just so glad that his sex scene is very brief, but there is something likeable about Hatch, which is clearly a good thing in any movie.
Much of the film is propped up by the good performances of the supporting cast. Action standby Richard Norton puts his aussie accent to good effect as another agency assassin, whether shooting at Hatch or trying to convince him not to retire ("You turned your target into people. Can't do that!"). The lovely Juliet Landau has a brief appearance in the film as a rookie assassin, prompting a stand off with Hatch that forms one of the best short scenes in the film. George Segal as head of the agency supplies a suprising subtle performance, and makes a decent part out of what is basically a bit character. The movie's introduction is reasonably well played as well, focussing on a young assassin preparing for his first hit partnering with the legendary John Hatch. The hit that follows is pretty ludicrous, as if that's a suprise.
The real money is the climactic hand-over scene. What starts of as an exchange between Sentor Corruptus and Hatch, Savannah's daughter for incriminating photos, in a construnction site (of course) quickly turns into an amazing slice of Forsythe invunerability, and classic PM action. A phenomenal number of villians appear toting submachine guns, rocket launchers, pistols, pointy sticks, and all manner of mullet-esque hair cuts. Now matter how much lead is thrown through the air at him, Hatch, despite having the physique of a wardrobe, dodges with ease, and reaps his vengeance by detonating various explosives he had previously buried around the site. Presumably after the coach that they'd transported all the villians in on had emptied its contents to go to their sandy graves, George Segal flies in for no appreciable reason in a helicopter and ties up that final loose end (presuming the agency will be taking care of the stack of bodies, and the creamated candidate).
Overall, Direct Hit is a reasonable way of spending 90 minutes, and ranks as one of the better PM movies. Running from the Big Powerful Agency, and then killing a lot of people is a bit of a staple sub-genre, but one I think that often works better in the slightly rubbish world of the b-movie than it does when combined with the polish of a blockbuster.
* And single mum. There was actually a law passed in the US in 1985, after intense pressure by the powerful D.C. erotic dancers lobby, that any leading female character that worked as a stripper must also be a single parent, and that the father of her child be a wifebeater/drunkard/moron/all of the above. True that.
** Amazon have a different DVD than the one I've seen.
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.
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!?
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.
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.
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.
The german cover has boobs.
First things first, this movie generated two sequels and (kind of) a spin off series, which proves that miracles can happen. Secondly, this is the first appearance in this mighty organ of a film by Joeseph Merhi and Richard Pepin, AKA PM Entertainment, a veritable powerhouse of direct-to-video movie producing genius. They are responsible for bringing us many, many terrible movies, and some rather better ones in the later parts of the ninties, including the non-Bruce Willis starring Last Man Standing. This, however, was their first film to star Vaguely Famous People, specifically Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and american football legend/star of the screen Jim Brown.
Now, Mr Merhi has a fairly decent directorial style, and it's always nice to hear the directors opinion on a film they've made. However, and I mention this mostly for the advantage of Hollywood DVD, I don't want to hear the director during the film. Hopefully it's a simple SNAFU with my copy, but for some reason at various points you can hear essential comments such as "walk over to the fridge" and "cut, no keep going, keep going, keep going, good" coming somewhere off camera. Mostly this seems to be the fault of retarded editing, as there are also bits of overlapping dialogue.
With cop movies, it's not about the story per se. This one involves a drug dealer named Clarence, a badge on the line, and a girlfriend in peril, which, bar the existence of a drug dealer named Clarence, should be familiar territory. The important thing in this kind of movie is the cop's quirk. Clint Eastwood was slightly to the right of atilla the hun, Mel Gibson had a deathwish, Bruce Willis was burnt out, and Michael Winslow made funny noises. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Jon Chance wants to be a cowboy, as demonstrated in various dream sequences of him, suprisingly, as a cowboy. Unfortunately, he hates violence, and hence deams of himself as a fairly sucky cowboy who gets shot by an indian with furry boots, which is the worst kind of indian there is. His dreams play themselves out, as his partner gets iced by the aforementioned clarence, and Chance has to find a way to make things right, while maintaining his principles.
Jim Brown, to be fair, makes a superb Angry Black Police Lieutenant. He ups the quality of every scene he's in, and makes the film almost seem like a proper movie. Otherwise, the acting is about what you'd expect, ranging from believable to "look that way and say this". There are some fairly amusing side characters, including some good sarcasm from the other pair of detectives, and top class professional stage fighting by a pool hustler near the end.
The end of the movie was not, however, where the tale of Jon Chance ends. He would return, again played by LHJ, a year later in '89 in L.A. Vice, then once again in 1990, this time with Hilton-Jacobs himself taking the directorial chair for Angel Of The City, though this is only according to IMDB, as I've never seen it. Most interestingly, in 1996 PM created two series of L.A. Heat for television, starring regular PM cohort Wolf Larson and going with the ever-wacky black cop/white cop combination.
With regards to this version, L.A. Heat is not really any good whatsoever. However, there is a girl in an utterly ridiculous outfit withint the first ten minutes, and if you get a chance to hear the version with the random directors comments then that's worth something in itself.
I don't care what they say upstairs, I'm a damn good cop! You don't have to kill to be a good cop - Detective Jon Chance
The world of cheap movies is dominated by one name, and that name is Hollywood DVD. While examples of their craft can occasionally be found maskerading as proper movies in mainstream retailers such as Virgin, the true spiritual home of these gems is the pound shops that have proliferated across our towns and cities.
One film published by the aforementioned Hollywood DVD is '77 Jack Palance vehicle, Portrait of a Hitman. The premise is fiendish in it's intricacies. Palance is a hitman, one of the deadliest in the world, but at the same time he is also a master painter, despite the fact the one painting you actually see him working on looks like the cover of a 70s romance novel. All seems well in the world of the artistically inclined assassin, until he's given the contract to kill a surgeon. Not any surgeon, but blonde behemoth Bo Svenson, who plays Palance's closest friend. Being a 70s movie, they express their friendship in the form of high speed races in sports cards, but still, Palance can't go through with it.
Sharp eyed readers may note that as plots for rubbish movies go, this isn't actually that bad. Unfortunately, a number of elements work against the film. Firstly, they clearly didn't shoot enough of it. Clocking in at 88 minutes seems reasonable, until you realise that at least 15 of those minutes are recaps to other parts of the film that you've already seen, usually with the addition of a filter, or some kind of alternative editing. To at least give it a chance of hitting the run time, most of the movie is paced incredibly slowly, apart from short bursts of hyperactively edited plot when someone realised that nothing had happened in the last ten minutes.
This isn't to say the film is all bad. Richard "Shaft" Roundtree pops up as the villian of the piece with an amusing jamaican accent and Phillip "Kung-Fu" Ahn has a role based mostly around sitting down as Palance's hitman friend, Wong. There was also a guy named Bobby, or possibly Billy, that Palance seemed pretty damn cut up about killing. We had never seen him before, but Bobby/Billy's death haunts me to the day, as does most of the movie.
These days you can get the DVDs in two-packs for a pound, so this movie should cost you no more than 50p, but please, place a value on the 88 minutes of your life you will lose, or perhaps the 20 minutes until everyone sensible has given up.
He is in fact wearing one of those Steven Segal vests under there.
Cyborg Cop. Is a cyborg better than a robot, or a "Robo"? Perhaps. Is Cyborg Cop better than Robocop 1, 2, 3 or that weird series with his magical inter-web pixie friend? No. That is not to say however that it is not worth watching.
Our story focuses around one man, who is neither a cyborg or a cop, but was once the latter. His brother goes missing on a mission for the DEA, in some Foreign Place full of Foreign People who are ruled with a drug filled fist by the fat guy from Sliders, who you may recall more recently as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies, John Rhys-Davies. Rhys-Davies goes under the villianous name Kessel, though I doubt even the falcon could get round him in just 12 parsecs.
Kessel is manufacturing cyborg super assasins, as were many drug lords back in '93. Personally, I think he missed the boat a bit, as surely something as sophisticated as his cyborg tech would have had lucrative medical applications, but evidently villians don't think that way. Anyway, our hero, David Bradley, goes off to rescue his brother, picking up an Attractive Female Reporter on the way to find out what happened. Martial arts ensues.
As tat goes, this is of the better variety. The pacing is acceptable, the banter is occasionally witty, and the star has a cool kung-fu style. On the other hand the film starts off on a fairly hardboiled cop/military tip, but after the girl appears in the picture gains the air of a comedy action picture, and sort of flip flops back and forth as required. Rhys-Davies utilises a deeply crazy accent to good effect, but his robot henchment look like rejected Gary Numan backing singers, and appear roughly as threatening as successful Gary Numan backing singers. Oh, and the ending is a bit rubbish, but I think it is our duty To Cinema to judge things as a whole, rather than just on the last five minutes.
Overall, Cyborg Cop is better than Beverly Hills Cop 3 , but worse than Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol, and you can't say fairer than that.