Kickboxer 4 (1994)

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Albert Pyun is the director hired to clean up other peoples’ partially shot messes, being cheap and quick, but with his own movies he’s given us gems like “Cyborg”, “Dollman”, all four “Nemesis” movies and a few of the “Kickboxer” sequels. His IMDB page compares him to Ed Wood – unusual sexual fetish that shines through in his films – check; rubbish movies – check; but Pyun is nowhere near as down-to-his-bones odd as Wood was.

He tries, though. Sasha Mitchell returns for a third film as David Sloane, and he’s in prison. What? Writing a letter to his wife Vicky gives us a swift recap of the first two movies (Zian, his trainer / sidekick, is written out of the timeline, and part 3 is ignored completely), and it turns out that Tong Po is an exceptionally sore loser. After killing JCVD off after part 1, then forcing David to fight in part 2 before getting his ass kicked yet again, Tong Po became a Mexican drug lord and had David framed for murder. Oh, but that’s not all – he then kidnapped Vicky, raped her and had her imprisoned on his compound – remember, all this is about “regaining honour”. This paragraph pretty much sums up Albert Pyun’s directing style.

So, David is offered a deal by the FBI – infiltrate Tong Po’s compound by entering his yearly $1,000,000 martial arts tournament, put a stop to things, and rescue Vicky. The subject of disguise is brought up, and David says he’s had some hard years since then and there’s no way Tong Po will recognise him. Dude, you’re his most hated enemy! And you look exactly the same! Sunglasses are not a disguise!

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So, after kicking some ass he gets himself an invitation to Tong Po’s compound, and the film turns into “Enter The Dragon”, pretty much. But only if “Enter The Dragon” were made by a lunatic. Michel Qissi (Tong Po in parts 1 and 2) wasn’t brought back, and was replaced with Kamel Krifia – weirdly, both Qissi and Krifia were childhood friends of Jean-Claude Van Damme. His make up job in this is really hideous, though, and I was wondering if I’d missed a line of “burned in a fire” dialogue.

As well as makeup, I want to salute the sound effect people in this movie. While doing a kata before the fights, every movement seems to break the sound barrier and during them, there’s one groin kick in particular that sounds like a bomb went off.

Pyun’s movies certainly aren’t laid out like normal directors’. At the compound is, incredibly coincidentally, Lando, the kid brother of a former student of David’s who’s now a DEA agent. He gets the romance subplot and way more screentime than you’d expect from a supporting guy; so does Michele “Mouse” Krasnoo, a world champion martial artist, as Megan, one of the other competitors.

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But the logic of it all is what we love about this guy’s movies. If David was in prison for murder, what was Tong Po’s plan with his wife? Keep her chained up forever? Also, the later rounds of the tournament are “to the death”, and all the people who choose to leave at that point get shot. Given that the winner still has to face Tong Po for the money, no-one has beaten him in 6 years, and your chances of death are pretty much 100%, who is going to these damn tournaments?

Add in a magnificently pointless three-way sex scene featuring people we don’t see at any other point in the movie (David hides near them while trying to sneak round the compound) where the women are naked but the guy contorts himself so you don’t see “anything”, and you’ve got yourself the weirdest of the “Kickboxer” series. It’s hilariously wretched – just see how one-sided the final fight is – even while being technically competent (heck, there are a few shots here and there I’d even describe as “good”).

Now onto part 5, with no involvement from Sasha Mitchell, Albert Pyun or Tong Po (either incarnation), which looks like some standalone Mark Dacascos film they renamed. Hurrah!

Rating: thumbs down

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Kickboxer 3: The Art Of War (1992)

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By the second “Kickboxer” sequel, Sasha Mitchell had visibly relaxed. The dedicated, sort of humourless character from part 2 has disappeared…actually, aside from his mission to save all the kids, he might as well be a different guy. No longer a hard-working gym owner, he’s now David Sloane, wisecracking international kickboxing superstar; and Zian, who was a hermit in part 1, is now his ring-second and general sidekick. Given that both films were made back-to-back, this indicates movie-making quality I would not have expected.

Brazil’s street kids are the issue here, and after being robbed by Marcos and Isabella, David and Zian end up befriending them; but we know that Isabella has a 100% chance of being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery by the guy who, coincidentally enough, is also the promoter of the kickboxing event. When she eventually does, it’s up to our two heroes and Marcos to kick a whole bunch of ass and then win the big fight.

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It’s an oddly laid out film. To ensure that David competes but loses, evil guy Frank kidnaps him and forces him to do dangerous backbreaking physical labour for a few days. In terms of successful plans, it’s right down there with tying James Bond to a table with a laser beam slowly moving towards him; and it takes so long! The movie just grinds to a halt at this point – it’s the sort of thing that’d normally be dealt with by a montage in 90 seconds or so.

Because kickboxing is apparently not exciting enough, we’re treated to a gun battle in the middle too. I liked it because it was about 5 minutes after there’d been a whole speech about how killing someone actually kills you a little bit – so seeing David’s cheeky grin seconds after kicking someone out of a window to their death is especially great.

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There’s lots of genuine Brazilian favela on display, and an interesting point is actually raised by Frank, as he’s about to lose everything by betting on the wrong guy at the end. He says, about the girls he kidnaps, that while they earn their keep, he treats them better than they’d be treated on the street. While he’s wrong – you know, being a sex slaver and all – the appalling state of Brazil’s street children, and how happy the “trainees” look when they’re not being chased, shot and killed, indicates that it’s not absolutely black-and-white. Their quest to save one girl, while noble, is also a drop in the ocean, as Frank correctly identifies too. What can you do in a situation like that? Perhaps the film did not intend to pose these questions, and just wanted a backdrop to the fighting, but it’s certainly more food for thought than I’ve ever had with the third volume of a martial arts movie franchise before.

There is a great last bit to the championship bout, where the two competitors go full pro wrestling and start brawling in the crowd with chairs, buckets and so on, and seeing the absolute and complete annihilation of the villain is, while perhaps a bit drawn-out (again), quite a change of pace from your average bullet to the head. Other than that, I can definitely say that this film happened, and that I like Sasha Mitchell, and that it’s fading very rapidly from my memory. It’s an interesting looking film – few Western movies film in the real favela – but an unforgivably slow one.

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Oh, at one point fairly early on, David stops one guy from killing another in the middle of the ring, and even gets in a few licks himself before the bad fighter is dragged away. Zian says wisely, “wrong time, wrong place”. Well, the time I can give him, but wrong place? He’s a kickboxer in the middle of a kickboxing ring!

Rating: thumbs down

Street Fighter (1994)

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Our series of films based on computer games continues (possible title: “Them’s Fighting Films”) with this, probably the most famous of the lot. Currently rated at 3.7 / 10 on IMDB and 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, how bad is it? Were reviewers and fans just upset this was Raul Julia’s final film?

The key to understanding this film comes, I think, from writer/director Steven E DeSouza. His writing credits include Arnie movies (“Commando”, “The Running Man”), action classics (both “48 Hrs” and the first two “Die Hard” movies), action not-so-classics (“Beverly Hills Cop 3”, the first and worst “Judge Dredd”) and, crucially to us, “Hudson Hawk”. That film’s OTT nature – acting, plot and colours – is the same here, and I think it could reasonably be said that this film is that one’s spiritual sequel. If that idea horrifies you, sorry to see you go; if if doesn’t, read on.

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Crisis in Shadaloo! Shadaloo is a country which seems like a mix of Thailand and Russia, and is home to the super-evil warlord General M Bison (Julia). He, along with henchman Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski, who we also loved in “Hudson Hawk”) and his red-and-black-clad soldiers, have kidnapped a large group of Westerners and the Allied Nations, led by Colonel Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme), want to put a stop to his reign of terror. Into this are dropped Ken and Ryu, a couple of hustlers who try and trick arms dealer Sagat and his sidekick Vega, aka “Mexican Hugh Jackman”; Chun Li, Balrog and E Honda, the presenter and crew of the CNN standin; and Bison’s kidnapped scientist Dhalsim and scientific experiment Blanka.

This represents the majority of the characters from “Street Fighter 2”, perhaps the best-regarded video fighting game of all time. There are a few others (Kylie Minogue plays Cammy, one of Guile’s lieutenants, for example), but…there are a lot of different versions of “Street Fighter 2”, with different characters and clothing styles and so on, and it’s a pretty dull street to wander down unless you really, really like the games. I’m sure some of those games have a story of some sort as well, but we’re far enough away from them to treat this movie as its own thing. Characters not from the games include the real Adrian Cronauer (the “Good Morning Vietnam” guy) as the Allied Nations radio announcer; and Simon Callow as an AN official. I do like a good British “luvvie” popping up in a film like this!

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The story is sort of fun – the fictitious setting allows the film to go all out, and Bison’s idea for “Bisonopolis” with all the ransom money is a splendidly ridiculous movie villain idea. It doesn’t particularly rely on the classic 1-on-1 fighting which means it can have non-fighters like Julia, Minogue and Ming-Na Wen (as Chun-Li) in prominent roles; although the fights they do have – E Honda vs. Zangief (who gets the two funniest lines in the whole movie) and the climactic Guile vs. Bison – are great. There’s also a healthy dose of in-jokes for fans of the game which don’t detract from the movie, such as the rather convoluted ways the characters end up in their “famous” gear. Effort has been taken, is what I’m saying.

Okay, it doesn’t all work. It’d have been nice if Ken and Ryu had been played by slightly stronger actors, it’s quite long for an action-comedy and Raul Julia looks visibly ill, which sort of puts a slight damper on proceedings, knowing it’s his final movie. But this is small potatoes and doesn’t explain just why this film was so poorly received, or why this and Hudson Hawk pretty much killed off Steven DeSouza’s career. My best guess is that films that are deliberately cartoonish and OTT, with big name actors hamming it up, really struggle. People expecting another “Die Hard” or a full-on martial arts movie might be initially disappointed by “Hudson Hawk” or this. Now, over 20 years later, there’s been so many snarky reviews from people who see its poor box office, that it’s never going to get a fair crack of the whip, and that’s a shame.

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It’s a fun film, full of great lines, one exchange that “Guardians of the Galaxy” ripped off (Bison saying “for me, it was Tuesday”) and deserves a rewatching with an open mind.

Rating: thumbs up

PS. While you’re watching this, just think about the woman who recorded all the sayings for Bison’s PA system. When she was saying “Hostage Pit is now open” do you think she wondered about her life choices?

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

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How do you know when Jean-Claude Van Damme has really annoyed the producers of a franchise? When they hire an unconvincing lookalike so they can have his character shot and killed by the guy he beat in the first movie (his brother and girlfriend don’t even get an onscreen death). A previously unmentioned brother gets called up from the bench, and on we go.

There are a number of signs this isn’t your average martial arts movie. A bad sign is the director, Albert Pyun; but good signs come thick and fast. We’ve got writer David S Goyer, waiting around for that big break that would take him to the very top of the A-list of screenwriters; plus some strong acting – Peter Boyle must have owed someone a favour, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa does “evil” like few other actors; Matthias Hues pops up for a rather odd little cameo too. Plus there’s the star, Sasha Mitchell.

We last saw Mitchell in “Slammed!”, the sadly not great wrestling comedy – he’s great at playing those “goofy jock” types, but it’s interesting to see him take on a completely dramatic role. He’s David Sloan, brother of Kurt and Eric from the first movie (his parental status is never mentioned, as those two were brothers from other mothers, perhaps Papa Sloan was married again), and he teaches at a tiny run-down gym where he not only trains top-level fighters, but gives the kids from the very poor neighbourhood something worthwhile to do. Basically, he’s a saint. When the UKA, a hot new kickboxing league, starts buying up gyms and booking all the good fighters, their boss (Boyle) and his moneyman (Tagawa) come into conflict with David.

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The plot is really predictable, like, more so than even your average straight-to-video kung fu film. You’ll be able to predict every success, roadblock and twist in the story from a mile away – the trainee who’s going to turn to the dark side; the “surprise” entrance of part 1 villain Tong Po; the tragedy that’s going to strike; and so on. It doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, but if a dummy like me can call every major bit of your movie from the first ten minutes, then you might be in a bit of trouble.

So yes, Tong Po (Michel Qissi) is back, and the rather convoluted way they bring him and David together is all about honour, and restoring it. Reference is made to the national honour of Thailand, after Kurt took it away by winning at the end of part 1, so to defend their national honour they’ve sent a Japanese guy (Tagawa) and a Moroccan (Qissi), neither of whom look remotely Thai. Ah well! Tong Po is still invulnerable to everyone but the guy he fights at the end, which looks sillier and sillier the further martial arts cinema moves away from the “mystic powers” era and grounds itself, at least a little, in reality. Also, he’s really not that scary-looking. He’s not ripped, not particularly big or tall or fast, so it’s on the tough side to buy him as the monster he’s supposed to be.

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There’s fun stuff in this movie, though. Zhin from part 1 comes over from Thailand to train David and help him recover from being shot, and he has fun adapting to American life (the training scenes are a clever spin on the same sequences from part 1); there are some magnificent sadness montages with the most hideous 80s soft rock imaginable over the top; and “Judo” Gene LeBell, the man “famous” for beating Steven Seagal (a good 25 years younger than him) so badly in a real fight he ended up shitting himself, pops up too. If you can accept that a large, commission-regulated, TV-broadcasting martial arts league could replace one side of their main event with an unlicenced Thai lunatic who murdered a bunch of people, then you’ll probably have a good time with this one.

There’s precious little evidence that this was written by the man who’d go on to pen the Christopher Nolan “Batman” movies, but quite a bit of evidence it’s directed by trash-master Pyun. Mitchell is fine, but he’s wasted doing a straight role when he’s so good at comedy…it’s an okay film, I guess?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

King Frat (1979)

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I feel I need to mention, before we get going – any praise of anything in this movie is not agreeing with the activities taken part in or views expressed within it. One must laugh at this film as often as you laugh with it.

It’s Florida in 1979. A film crew rolled into town with the ambition of making a few dollars from idiots at drive-in cinemas. The flavour of the month they were ripping off was “National Lampoon’s Animal House”, so to save as much money as possible, they just hired local actors, which is one of the many reasons you may not recognise any of the fine thespians who plied their trade in “King Frat”. Whereas I’ve seen “Animal House”, an undeniable classic, maybe twice in my life, I’ve seen “King Frat” at least ten times. I don’t know why.

Its simultaneous biggest flaw and biggest plus is the complete lack of any morals whatsoever. And I’m not talking about any film of the last 20 years you’ve seen which claims to be crass and tasteless, which usually just involves a bit of mild nudity and a joke about religion; “King Frat” has a seemingly pathological need to cross every boundary imaginable, to offend everyone it can, to take every funny idea from “Animal House” and dial it way up. Whether this results in a laugh or a horrified gasp seems not to bother these people.

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Yellowstream University, named by the local Native Americans for exactly the reason you are already imagining it’s named, is home to Phi Kappa Delta, the scummiest fraternity imaginable. We’re introduced to them as they drive their hearse with the number plate “HEY 4Q2” round the campus. They fart on the Principal, which kills him immediately – later on, they put a burning block of weed in the ventilation of the church where his funeral is being held, steal his body and leave it in their toilet for the rest of the movie. There’s sort of a plot, with them being threatened with removal from campus by the Assistant Dean and the “preppie frat”, but it’s all pretty irrelevant.

Main student at the frat is “Gross-Out”, played by John DiSanti, who was 41 at the time of filming and looked every minute of it. To deal with the sensitive issue of rampant alcoholism in the Native American community, they have a white guy in crappy facepaint as “Chief Latrine”, who we’re introduced to passed out on the front steps of the frat house in the middle of the day, and who remains blackout drunk throughout. The rest of the frat is a sort of undifferentiated mass of beer-devouring humanity.

The main thread of the first half of the movie is a farting contest. It’s a big deal, drawing a large crowd, and Gross-Out is expected to win of course. Lots of people bending over, strained expressions on their faces, with microphones held down there; Gross-Out’s ex-girlfriend competes (she was too gross even for him); and a dog accidentally drinks some “farting juice” and lets rip with such vigour that it’s thrown across the room. In the second half of the movie, we’re treated to a scene where one of the Phi Kappa boys is in a gorilla suit in the back of an ambulance, and the nurse in there notices he has an erection. Rather than literally any other action, she decides to make use of it, mounts him and gets stuck in the zipper of his outfit, where they’re discovered on arrival at the hospital. Plus there’s a trip to a local brothel where the new pledge finds his wait-til-marriage girlfriend working as a “masseuse”. This is merely a taste of the rich buffet of delights that “King Frat” represents.

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If you’ve sat through every minute of this masterpiece and not exchanged at least three shocked glances with your viewing buddy (seriously, don’t watch this on your own, what’s the point?), then you’re a monster and ought to be ashamed. This really is as repellent as teen raunch movies got – basically no plot, just a series of “sketches”; repetitive beyond even my ability to enjoy farting and drunkenness jokes; stupendously racist towards Native Americans (although not towards black people, oddly enough); and genuinely thinks the only way to be “better” than Animal House is to be louder, dumber and drunker. The tagline?

“#@!! the rules, #@!! the Dean, #@!! the college, #@!! everything… it’s beer time!!”

Yet I love it. I don’t know why, but I do. Its mindlessness probably works in its favour – drunkenness and sociopathic behaviour ages well, it would seem. It’s the worst of the worst, the pits, but there’s something gleeful about it. They love what they’re doing, even if they probably shouldn’t.

Rating: thumbs up

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Youtube Film Club: Dr. Strange (1978)

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After our experience with the original 1979 “Captain America” movie a few weeks ago, none of us could bear the thought of watching the sequel. Too slow, too boring, too much like a bad episode of “Quincy”. But luckily, Marvel tried a number of times in the late 70s to bring their franchises to the screen, so we’ve got options. “The Incredible Hulk” and “Spider-Man” both had their feature-length pilots picked up for series, but sad sad failures were both Captain America and this, and failure is what we like here!

Fellow ISCFC reviewer and Marvel more-expert-than-me @kilran informed us that Morgayne, or Morgana Le Fay, isn’t really a Dr Strange villain in the comics, and I was keeping my fingers crossed that was the worst crime this movie committed. But I didn’t mind when I realised that playing Morgana is the great Jessica Walter, star of “Arrested Development” and “Archer” and one of the great comic actresses of the last decade or so. She was 37 when she made “Dr. Strange” and it was weird seeing the demented matriarch of the Bluth family as a beautiful younger woman, but she’s absolutely brilliant in this, scheming and doing magic and so on.

The basic gist is, Morgana is working for a demon, who tells her he’s a bit annoyed she failed to kill the Sorceror Supreme 500 years ago (presumably, a reference to the Knights of Camelot, even if the timeline’s a bit off). But he’s now old and weak and will need to transfer the power to a successor, so she needs to swoop in and kill one or the other, so demons can rule the earth, probably. I never pay attention to the world-conquering plots in movies like this, because it’s not like they ever happen.

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The Sorceror Supreme is Earth’s primary defender against magical attacks, and is played by John Mills, who must have been bored that week, or had a kid who was a huge Marvel fan or something. He’s a pro, though, so his bits have a weird gravitas; his assistant is one of the great “That Guy” actors, Clyde Kusatsu. It’s Dr Steven Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme’s chosen replacement, who’s the odd casting, though. Peter Hooten is his name, and largely disappearing from the movies since the 80s is his game. He’s okay, I guess? Just a bit bland.

I made a similar criticism of the Captain America movie, but I just can’t imagine being a fan of the comic, full of demons and magic and excitement, and enjoying this. Strange is a psychiatric doctor (which makes his surname even more inappropriate), and a fairly hefty portion of the movie is based around hospital politics. Now, in the comics, Thor’s day job is doctor as well. Could you imagine Marvel making a Thor movie where he has to argue about what medication to give to a patient? There’s an argument to be made that it was a money-saving procedure by the studio at the time, but there has to be something more exciting they could have done – for instance, the 2001-style psychedelic tunnel effect was great, a bit more of that sort of thing please.

There’s a normal human woman roped into this too, of course, Strange’s love interest from the comics. There’s reference to a “psychic bond” between her and Morgana which is never really explained; and, towards the end, Strange almost walks away from it all because he just doesn’t believe in magic, despite having been sent to the Astral Plane and battling demons. What? Add this lack of explanation to the almost funereal pace of the rest of the movie and it’s a really unsatisfying experience.

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Morgana’s plan fails, in part, because she’s attracted to Dr Strange. Thinking about it, that’s normally a male failing, so it’s quite refreshing to see. Personally, I’d have picked Morgana’s offer of excitement, adventure and really wild things over being a doctor and hanging out with my boring human girlfriend and John Mills, but that would have been a rather different movie, and is a good reason for never offering me magic powers. I would definitely use them for evil.

If I didn’t know better, I’d suggest that CBS hated Marvel and was on a mission to make all their most exciting comic characters look as boring as possible in order to ruin them. This is 15 minutes or so of moderate excitement surrounded by 75 minutes of tedium. For those of you keeping track, it also fulfills all the “pilot that crashed” criteria.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Manhattan Chase (2000)

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Genre mashups have been pretty big business for a while, but in all the zombie-comedies, scifi-westerns and war-werewolf movies, no-one apart from the makers of “Manhattan Chase” thought of creating the kung-fu / super-intense family drama combination, and now you can watch it too.

This represents the nexus of three of the ISCFC’s favourite review subjects – Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock and Godfrey Ho. Yes, the king of splicing two mostly unrelated films together had a go at making a real movie, under the name Godfrey Hall, and this was amazingly his last movie before retiring to teach filmmaking (whether his course notes were just notes from two different courses, thrown together mostly at random, is sadly unknown). If you’ve never heard of this movie, don’t be surprised because it was barely released anywhere – Ho failed to sell it in either the US or Hong Kong, and now Youtube is basically the only place you can get hold of it.

Loren is Jason, a Mob hitman who is caught, just as he’s about to kill someone, by cop Cynthia Rothrock and locked up for 6 years. When he gets out, he just wants to re-establish his relationship with his son, so despite being asked to resume his old job, he says no. His old cellmate offers him a place to stay, and all seems well; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jenny, who steals some drugs from her stepfather in order to sell them and make a new life for herself, only to witness her stepfather beat her mother, before Jason’s old crew pop in and and start shooting, looking for the drugs (Jenny escapes, everyone else dies).

You’re then assaulted by the first of a hefty pair of coincidences that bring the characters into each others’ orbit. Jenny, as she’s running from the assassins, literally falls over Jason’s car as he’s just driving his son around. He offers to help her; at the same time Jason’s ex-wife comes into town, looking to see the son she abandoned just after he was born. The ex-wife’s sister? Cynthia Rothrock. If you can swallow those, then…nah, still not sure you’d stomach the reveal of just who the main villain is.

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If I had to guess, I’d say Godfrey Ho never bothered with any shooting permits, because there’s no way he could have afforded them for where he filmed. He’s definitely in New York, and films in real locations – Central Park, busy Manhattan streets, a public monument in Queens, and lots of filthy broken-down side streets with famous landmarks in the background. If you want to see what a city’s really like, look at its low-budget films, and “Manhattan Chase” will definitely show you that.

Despite Rothrock being top billed, she’s not really in it too much – Godfrey Ho took two scenes with Avedon and Rothrock sharing the screen, a few Rothrock-and-sister scenes and some of Rothrock chasing criminals, including one amazing scene where she kicks a bad guy through a table, which is just sat in the middle of a filthy alley; he sprinkles them throughout the main plot, Jason and Jenny vs. the Mafia, and hey presto! That Ho magic is in full effect.

Due to the use of natural light, and perhaps the cameras, everything feels cold and miserable in this movie. This isn’t helped by the tone of the conversations, which are about loss and family breakdown and honour and death – given its pedigree, I have to assume most of this tone is accidental, the result of a script by someone for whom English was not their first language (the credited writer, “Lisa Cory”, has this as her only credit, which leads me to believe it’s Ho under a pseudonym).

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Weirdly, Loren Avedon stands out like a sore thumb – not a wild overactor like the Mafia guys or a calm underactor like Rothrock and his former cellmate, he has the look in his eyes of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time, that his dreams of a happy family future are fading fast. Given that he’s previously excelled at fighting and light comedy, this is a pretty impressive turn from him, and is probably his best performance in anything we’ve seen of his so far.

As we take brief detours to see perhaps the fakest fake boobs of all time, a truly bizarre gunfight in Central Park, and a very fast-developing romance, we move towards an ending which is both very downbeat, followed immediately by the least likely coda I think I’ve ever seen. Good old Godfrey!

It’s absolutely worth watching, although not for many positive reasons. The fights are too few and far between, but it’s just so strange! Watch it and be sad that Avedon never got that bigger budget role he thoroughly deserved.

Rating: thumbs down

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Out Cold (2001)

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If this film had consisted of its first five minutes, followed by 85 minutes of footage of snow falling, or an empty bar, or of the cast asleep, it would have still been 100000x better than “Snowboard Academy”. This started off a philosophical discussion at home about how we’d have felt about this if we’d never seen the other movie, but nothing exists in a vacuum (and it’s a lot of brain power to be spending on snowboarding movies).

It’s an “ice movie” – wacky band of layabouts at a ski resort, which is threatened by closure or catastrophic change by an outside force (bank, rich scumbag or developer). But “Out Cold” shows how you can actually make a pretty decent film from that template, and the first step is hiring a good cast. For comedy fans, the three main faces you’ll recognise are Zach Galifianakis, David Koechner and Thomas Lennon but it’s packed with dependables – Jason London, AJ Cook (from “Criminal Minds”), Willie Garson (“Sex and the City”, “White Collar”), Caroline Dhavernas, and Lee Majors, to name a few.

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Rick (London) is still mourning the end of his holiday relationship with Anna (Dhavernas) – the name of the bar in Cancun where they met, “Pedro O’Horny’s”, made me laugh far more than it probably should have done. Jenny (Cook) is one of his co-workers and basically throws herself at him for the first half-hour or so of the movie, but he’s an idiot like all men in these sorts of movies are idiots. He’s best friends with brothers Pigpen and Luke (Galifianakis), and they all work at Bull Mountain, Alaska, where the famous former owner’s son (Garson) is wanting to sell up to developer Mr Majors (Majors). Firstly, they’re happy, as a new owner means new investment for the great snowboard run Rick has planned, but he has a lot of other plans that don’t involve a bunch of drunk slobs. Plus, Majors has two daughters – one is Victoria Silvstedt, and guess who the other is?

With some comedies, the feeling you get is the first time you see the characters is the first time they’ve met, and we’re told about rather than shown their relationships. The core cast of this feels like they’re actually friends, though, and it just makes it easier – no need for lengthy “hey, do you remember how we became friends?” speeches, comedy flows more naturally, everything. When they’re given their new Majors Resorts outfits, their reactions feel natural…anyway, this is a huge mark in the plus column for this movie.

Zach Galifianakis really doesn’t like this (although he’s made worse since he became super-famous – the last Hangover movie, “Operation: Endgame” and “Due Date” all spring to mind), and it’s occasionally easy to see why. It feels like an unreconstructed 80s teen raunch movie at times, with Luke attempting to have sex with the outlet pipe of a hot tub and getting stuck in it all night; their initial reaction to a wheelchair; and the very odd lesbian chat room scene. Plus, there’s a lot of violence substituting for humour, but I think that can work, as long as you don’t do it too often. Plus he gets fellated by a polar bear at one point, so there’s that.

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I think its worst crime is occasional laziness in the plotting. No businessman in history has paid millions for new signs and uniforms for the business they were buying, before signing the contract to actually buy it; the central coincidence is staggeringly large, even for a cheapo comedy; quite a lot of people really ought to have been arrested after the end credits; and no attempt is made to put any sort of interesting spin on the central will-they-won’t-they relationship, leaving it to move on rails to its inevitable conclusion.

But, I really enjoyed “Out Cold”, even if it’s a rewrite away from being genuinely great – Lennon is one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters (look at his credits) so they could have asked him to have a run at it, plus Galifianakis could have contributed. There are obvious scenes where they let him or Koechner just go wild, and they’re usually hilarious; plus, Pigpen (Derek Hamilton) appears to be doing a movie-long impression of Crispin Glover, and it’s great. There’s a lot of little things that show care was taken, like Dhavernas wearing a coat from ISO, the organisation from “The Six Million Dollar Man”, and the way that large chunks of the plot are not-so-subtle tributes to “Casablanca” – could Humphrey Bogart have delivered a line as beautifully as Jason London’s “We’ll always have Pedro O’Horny’s”?

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Add on a heck of a good soundtrack and a number of fun outtakes and you’ve got a completely decent movie. The racing scenes are shot well too, by no means a given in this sort of movie, and I’d be surprised if you don’t enjoy this. Its low rating on places like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes is a complete joke, it’s way funnier than those reviews would have you believe. You don’t even need to be on some pointless quest to watch every winter-sport comedy movie ever made to enjoy it!

Rating: thumbs up