It's rare that you're watching a movie and are forced to check that it was in fact directed by Albert Pyun because it's so awful, but Corrupt inspires exactly that reaction. It's short, clocking in at less than 70 minutes, but don't let that fool you into believing it's a taught, pacy affair. Instead imagine a world of flame throwing gangstas, bin-hiding hoods, and of chip shop operators that get involved in the murky, high-stakes games of drugs (I think) and bizarre haircuts (for sure).
MJ (Silkk the Shocker) is a young up and comer in a tough, yet generic, inner-city environment. Corrupt (Ice-to-tha-Tizzle) is the drug lord that rules aforementioned inner city environment with an iron fist, with the assistance of his right hand, right eye, number 2, Cinque (TJ Storm). MJ and another hoodie rob a poorly defended stash house, taking three bricks of finest intended for Corrupt, in an attempt to break out of the cycle of drug crime and violence that grips their lives.
To be honest, up until the robbery things were going OK for this film. There were some shots of a guy messing around on a bike, some vaguely menacing Ice-T time, and the heist itself. It started to go down hill about the time Corrupt went to confront his connect, who sported one of the most bizarre haircuts I've seen outside Sigue Sigue Sputnik. It was a sort of side pony tail, which would be bad enough, but was unaccompanied by any other hair leaving some sort of hair tentacle growing out of the side of his head. He also spoke in what sounded like a deeply dodgy Jamaican accent, so enraging Ice-T he actually burst into flames, incinerating Sidepony, before throwing fireballs at Sidepony's henchmen and leaping out of the window.
Luckily, being that Corrupt was several stories up, his suport team were passing in a truck with fire extinguishers at the ready. With some off screen detective work, Ice-T twigs MJ was involved in the caper, beats up Lisa, MJ's girlfriend, and goes to hang out at the pie shop where MJ's sister (Jodi, Karen Dyer) works to see if he can worm MJ's location out of her, and himself into her pants.
In much the way that the dodgier modern action films tend towards being a plotless collections of stunts, this movie tends towards a plotless collection of bizarre and improbable scenes. Two of my favourite characters are credited as The Sayer and 'Snackbar Dude'. The Sayer is an apparently homeless guy that turns up in the pie shop, calls our heroine Jodi a 'fly ass bitch', and gets his pie gratis, in what is the only succesful (though unprofitable) transaction the snackshop actually has.
Snackbar Dude is the source of most of the other, failed, transactions attempted in the movie. His lengthy initial attempts to buy anything are met with disappointment, to which he responds by squirting tomato ketchup all over the place, gangsta style. His second attempt results in some food, but instead of the number five he has ordered, he receives a number two (not a euphemism). Snackbar Dude lodges a protest with the management, but only receives a swift elbow in the face from Miles, Jodi's better half, who happened to wander in. You'll be pleased to learn Snackbar Dude does order a burger at the end of the movie, but unfortunately whether or not he gets it is left as a question for the sequel.
One fine example of the work of the many, many lineless extras comes when Jodi is trying to sneak into the mob courts where MJ is awaiting his mob justice. She slips around the side of Corrupt's limo convincingly, and the driver clearly had instructions not to look in his wing mirror, lest he should notice the sneaking and disrupt the viewer's suspension of disbelief. He tries valiantly to stare in every other possible direction, but just can't hold out and has to get a glance in, right at the end of the shot.
Speaking of extras, there is also a rather poorly filmed, but massively overpopulated, shoot out at the climax of the film, during which pretty much every character gets shot and Ice-T justifies his fee with some wonderful expressions. Do stay for the credits though to see the approximately 6 speaking roles and the ridiculously large number of stunt men who were presumably used in the final gunfight.
Other than Silkk and Ice, most of the cast are mostly smaller players. Karen Dyer has a reasonable number of credits, though on her IMDB page there is the notice that she also performs as burleque artists Eva La Dar. One of the more interesting careers goes to Tahitia Hicks, playing MJs fairly mental girtfriend Lisa, whos acting career stops with this film, but from 2003 she has a number of camera and cinematography credits. I would make a crack about Corrupt killing off her future as an actress, but on balance I suspect it would be more likely to be a case of 'even I could do better than that'.
On the backend, the main name is of course Albert Pyun, one of the heroes of the modern B movie. The writing talent comes from Hannah Blue and Andrew Markell, names I haven't previously encountered. They technically have three credits with the great one, as, in a grindhouse sort of way, this movie was originally part of a greater whole.
There are two other films, Urban Menace and The Wrecking Crew that make up the other parts of Pyun's street trilogy, and judging from IMDB all were equally well reviewed, and all somewhat trimmer than the average movie.
On the positive side, the picking are slim. Ice-T puts in a pretty stallwart performance, and often appears to be wearing his SVU standard outfit (including hat) so Finn fans should be pleased. Silkk the Shocker gives what could be called a natural performance, only fluffing his lines once, and Karen Dyer makes a mostly not half-hearted attempt at the dialogue. And it's pretty short!
Sound track fans will enjoy the 2 ice-t tunes that seem to be repeated through out, and I believe the box claims an isolated music score, though I couldn't actually find that on the DVD after a superficial examination. There was an entertaining quiz (tip: note all number plates you see in the film), though clearly the DVD developers expected no-one to finish this, as whle there was a 'you got caught slipping' failure screen, winning just returns you to the menu, making it more of a moral victory.
I can only imagine this film being of significance to Silkk the Shocker or Ice-T completists, and I really would question whether Albert Pyun even turned up, bar a couple of shots. That said, I actually can't think of any other movie where Ice-T spontaneously combusts, and I would be interested to see if Urban Menace and The Wrecking Crew bring this series to something greater than the sum of its parts, or just drive my dvd player to self immolation as well.
As you can see, the plot is the selling point.
Unlike most of the movies that grace these pages, Playing God is actually quite well known. This shouldn't really come as a suprise, given the star presence of David Duchovny, in 1997 at the height of his X-Files fame. Names like Angelina Jolie and Oscar winner Timothy Hutton also provide some buoyancy. It does beg the question how this film ended up in the siberian gulag of poundshop DVDdom, a fate that, perhaps, it doesn't deserve.
Outside of the big three, there are a host of semi-notables in the cast. The brilliant Peter Stomare, doomed always to be "that guy in Armageddon" plays a russian gangster named Vladimir, which does not stretch his abilities particularly, and Gary Dourdan from CSI pops up as Yates, one of Tim Hutton's thugs. There are a number of "Hey, it's that guy"s that pop up, which could prove for some form of entertaining drinking game.
But, while we're all still sober, to one of the less important parts of the movie - the plot. Duchovny plays Eugene Sands, a disgraced ex-surgeon, and drug addict; the latter leading to the former. During one of his regular visits to a shady drinking establishment to purchase some illegal substances two gun men burst in and proceed to shoot a gentlemen enjoying a drink at the bar. After the bar owner nixes the idea of calling for an ambulance, Sands' instincts kick in and he performs a makeshift operation, saving the wounded man's life. Of the bar patrons assisting him Angelina Jolie stands out, as you would expect, as a beautiful girl called Claire, who seemed to know the victim. Sands goes home, mixes some narcotics with his healthy glass of milk, and crashes. Next morning he awakes in a car being taken to to meet gangster Raymond Blos2som, played by Tim Hutton. Claire turns out to be Blossom's girl, and had impressed him with the tale of Eugene's work the previous night. Blossom offers ten thousand dollars for Sands to operate on a man who is set up in the middle of the hotel room complete with all the medical equipment you could want, and nurses. Sands eventually agrees and ends up becoming Blossoms go to doc, and in a slightly strange way, his friend. Of course, things do not continue smoothly as Blossom breaks off a relationship with the russian mob in order to get in with new chinese partners. The russians object to this deal, and express their displeasure with a few hits on Blossom's crew, attracting the attention of the FBI. At the same time, Sands finds himself falling in love with Claire, and getting increasingly addicted to the rush of his new occupation.
It's tough to decide whether the film is affected more by its bad points than its positive ones, since there are significant examples on both sides. For the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie, however, the negative is most certainly accentuated. The first, and most vocal, of the problems is Duchovny's voice-over, which provides a running semi-noir description over the top of the less action packed parts of the movie. While Duchovny's dry delivery does afford some truly amusing moments, and some choice one liners, in general it just feels cheap. There are some poorly considered scenes scattered through out as well, a prime example being during the car ride where Sands is being taken to Blossom for the first time. The two thugs, one white, one black, discuss the differences between american football and soccer, which in a film that often inspires unfavourable comparisons to Pul Fuction perhaps wasn't the best choice. Similarly, at one point Sands decides to get on the wagon, and get off the horse, to mix some metaphors. This is achieved remarkably smoothly, despite one amusing moment of being caught drinking cough syrup, which doesn't really balance with the rest of the film's reality that was otherwise consistent, if not entirely accurate, in its drug portrayal. The drug addiction also invites a number of cringe inducing addict clich?s and lines.
This is a general problem with the script though, elements of which are by far the weakest points of the movie. There are quite a few cheesy moments thrown in for not much payoff, and the dialogue often relies on a rather better than average delivery to make it palettable. David Duchovny and Angelina Jolie don't help much with some distinctly listless acting at times, mostly when they're not working with each other. This, to be fair, shouldn't come as much of a suprise, and Duchovny at least has always performed far better working off other strong actors than on his own. British director Andy Wilson falls over a little on some of the, fairly sparse, gun sequences, but for a first feature makes a decent attempt.
At other times, the writing seems really spot on though. Sands comes across as a compassionate man, and in fact all the main characters seem to have likeable elements, a more positive link with Pulp Fiction. There are some well played comedy sequences, such as a scene of Sands running through a hotel, trying to save Claire, and going back and forth with an FBI agent over a walkie talkie, in another one of Blossom's mooks get killed in his car to the sound of the Bee Gee's Jive Talkin' from the tape player, or in a third an addled gangster waves a gun in Sands' face, yelling at him to make his dead friend Jewish, so that he can avoid an autopsy. Even on the action front the final chase set piece is entertaining and well executed, if a little poorly motivated, making a good show piece for the director.
This isn't really a film where the story is the key element. The characters of Blossom and his henchman work so well, and Tim Hutton in particular puts in such a brilliantly off the wall performance that you are at times swept along by people that are fundamentally likable, while at the same time quite twisted. Even the two psychotic surfers that Blossom farms out some dirty work to have a human side that is endearing, even if the characters as a whole are not.
Duchovny and Angeline Jolie work especially well together, there's not a lot of passion in their relationship, but it still seems significant. Duchovny's detached, sardonic humour lightens the film, which certainly has the potential to turn very dark and serious, and contrasts well with Jolie's in-the-scene intensity.
One of the problems that Playing God suffers is that it is expected to be that it is not. It is not an action movie, and it's not Pulp Fiction. It is a crime movie, but it's not a movie about crime, and it's not about spectacle. Unfortunately, the film itself seems confused about this, and I get the feeling that if the script had ended up in different hands it could have been an almost unrecognisably different experience. This leads to a very variable movie, and unforunately the start is not one of the strong parts. This, I think, will leave some viewers with a bad taste for the rest of the film, which is a shame as overall I think there are enough good elements to make Playing God worth a watch. Certainly Duchovny fans should see it, but I think any one that's willing to give a movie some leeway will find something entertaining in there.
Amusingly, the official review of the film on Amazon refers to, err, Deep Space 9.
This movie is not, in any way, cyberpunk.
Shadow Run a crime thriller without much in the way of thrills, or a gangster movie without much in the way of characters. Michael Caine plays Haskell, a suav? but amoral criminal who has been hired by the aristocratic Landon-Higgins, played by James Fox, to steal some specially made paper. The paper is used for printing money, and is the key element in making undetectable forgeries. Of course, the security is rather tight, with the weakest point being an armoured van that follows a computer controlled route from the factory. The van is still no easy pickin's, and Haskell's initial attempt fails, leaving blood pouring from the van, but no way in to get at the ?100 million worth of paper inside. This is where we come in.
To be precise, this is not where we come in. We come in with a fat kid. Now, I have nothing against fat people, or kids, or even fat kids, but the sight of a large-and-in-charge pasty skinned 13 year old huffing his way across the country side in his PE kit and NHS glasses is just not the way to open a movie. I simply could not imagine, say, a Bond film opening with a pumping David Arnold theme over elegant visual effects involving guns and curvaceous ladies being overshadowed by the cinematic value of a puffed out salad dodger. The name of the jogging giant is Joffrey, and he's played by a young actor called Matthew Pochin who did not manage to spin his performance in Shadow Run into a career, so far at least.
Joffery happens upon Haskell just after the failed attempt on the money van. To keep him quiet, Haskell gives him fifty quid and tells him to keep his mouth shut, presumably because he was a little tired and couldn't be bothered to hide, or move, the body. Joffery immediately goes back to his public school and tells any and everyone he can find about the incident. Luckily for Haskell it seems that Joffery is as fond of telling porkie pies as he is of eating them, and is believed by no one. Through out the rest of the movie the kid pops up occasionally in a fairly unnecessary way, but most of his screen time is based around a sub plot, if it can be called that, about his fairly unhappy life. See, Joffery's father was a criminal of some kind, and he is picked on by the rich kids at his school, partially because of that, partially because he is fat, and partially because he can sing better than them, as they are all choirboys. At this point, everyone with some level of higher mental function has given up on caring, but we still get to experience the boy's highs and lows as he journeys through life, surrounded by his equalling annoying child co-stars. Moving on...
Back at the ranch, Haskell's plate is full. Landon-Higgins doesn't exactly trust him, and the feeling is mutual, he's had to kill an old friend for something or other, and he still doesn't have a way in to the van. Various people proceed to pop up in the plot, first TV's Rae Barker as Julie, a hooker that serves to be an attractive female with some lines. Next, the ever so experienced Ken Colley appears as a driver for the paper plant who has been retired off due to health complications, named Larcombe. With a bit of fiscal persuasion and a night with Julie, Larcombe spills the beans on the van's systems. It seems that the computer that controls the van's route, and sets off the alarm bells if anyone tries to rob it, communicates with HQ via the mobile phone network, and it just so happens that theres a large patch of no signal very close to its route. So close, in fact, that on occasion road closures have forced the van to go straight through it. This area is known to the drivers as "The Shadow", and hence their trip through it "The Shadow Run". Haskell seizes the opportunity, and quickly assembles a gang. The gang mostly consists of some people that don't have any lines and craggy faced villian Leslie "Dirty Den" Grantham, playing Liney. Together they plan, and execute, a predictably violent heist and pretty much everyone dies. Apart from the fat kid.
This film is quite disappointing for a number of reasons. It lacks pace, but in a way that still involves a lot of things happening. The problem is that the vast majority of those things simply don't matter, especially the entire Joffery storyline, and they just bog the movie down. Still, that could have been excused if there was a quality to the writing that made it worth taking your time, but it simply isn't there. Caine, Grantham, Colley and Fox all put in good performances, but it's just throwing rocks against a tide of torpid boredom. Haskell, particularly, is a massive missed opportunity. Michael Caine can play a gangster, we've seen it numerous times, and that experience is evident is his performance, but the shallow, violent nature of the character just doesn't gel with it. How such a man would still be operating acting as he does is hard to imagine, and it is impossible to integrate his actions throughout the movie into a believable whole.
Possibly even more disappointing is the treatment of the core plot elements. The heist itself should have been a good one, a decent target, an interesting solution, and the kind of value that causes a lot of fractious thoughts on the part of the individual thieves. The relationships between the characters had some value too, primarily that between Julie, the hooker, and Haskell. There was a sense of understanding between the two characters that was wasted in service of the film's tone. Finally, the tension between Haskell and Landon-Higgins, while not exactly an original bit of writing, had the potential for some great screentime with James Fox and Michael Caine sparking off each other, but Fox was hardly in the movie and so apart from some brief scenes it just didn't happen.
If you want to watch a British gangster movie in this mould then try Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, or one of a hundred others. Shadow Run doesn't have the laughably bad special effects or true incompetence that could make it enjoyable in an MST3K kind of way; it is simply leaden, heavy handed, tat.
If you're insane, or an excessively dedicated Michael Caine fan, the movie is on Amazon, as well as at the finer pound shops.
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.
A Street Gun Named Desire.
The worst kind of bad movies are the ones that show promise, but never quite follow through. Street Gun is just such a film, though the promise in question certainly isn't in the hands of star Justin Pagel. Street Gun is moulded after many a classic crime story, and shares elements with films such as The Godfather, Once Upon A Time In America, The Third Man, and other classics. Unfortunately, it's in the same way that chimps share elements of their DNA with humans - one flings poo, and the other makes movies like Street Gun. Perhaps this wasn't the best analogy.
The story revolves around Justin Pagel as Joe Webster, a wannabe thief who drifted into crime in the search for something he could excell at, as he did when he was a boy. Dissatisfied with the ineffectual and amateur nature of his operation with his two partners in crime, Joe goes looking for a job with the local big boss, and after proving himself is giving the opportunity to work a major heist. Things, of course, go wrong.
Firstly, I should point out that there are some honest to goodness decent scenes in this movie. Joe's meeting with his father is excellent, as he is criticised for being unable to stay in a job or succeed as a criminal. "Do you want some gas money, for the getaway car?" mocks his Webster senior at one point. Unfortunately, that relationship is never returned to, and the parallel relationship between the crime boss and his son is also not explored, which is a shame as the potential is clearly in the script for it. There is a pretty good stunt sequence as well, with Joe escaping from the FBI by clinging to the back of a truck, and leaping off of a bridge when the truck is finally stopped. The opening robberies are also fairly amusing, by Hollywood DVD standards.
In fact, there are plenty of areas where the film sounds like it could go in an interesting direction. The continued talk about the power of computers, the nature of the relationships between father and son, the clash between moving forward with your life and career and losing touch with your friends, and honour and family among thieves are all touched upon, but never really expanded. This just leaves the film messy and discontinuous, as it dives off into short tangents that are never rolled back into the main story line. On the other hand, at times the movie leaps forward so fast, it's hard to tell exactly what's going on. Characters are brought in and killed off, motivations and characterisations flip-flop, and fairly slow contemplative rooftop scenes are interjected with high violence actions scenes. It's like a Vin Diesel movie, but without any budget or the raft of good supporting actors.
The director hasn't worked on anything else since Street Gun, and in fact neither have most of the actors. This is a shame, as I think it would tough on anyone to always have Street Gun as the last film they made.