I think I might write a longer piece on the golden age of video shops at some point soon. There’s at least one book (“The Golden Age Of Crap”) which is a collection of reviews of the films released in that period (with plenty of background, too), and probably loads of scholarly articles, but none from the perspective of a socialist, sci-fi / slasher movie aficionado, too much time on his hands 40 year old. So look out for that, and if you have any cool photographs of video racks in corner shops from way back when, please send them in.
But in the meantime, there are yet more Olivier Gruner starring, Phillip Roth directed, sci-fi movies of the late 90s / early 2000s to review. Gruner is Shaun, who is introduced stealing important documents then beating the crap out of a bunch of guys with guns with his hands tied behind his back, just so you know how badass he is. He’s in charge of a small group of military types called Interceptor Force, who do the jobs the real military can’t, or something. Their boss is Brad Dourif (did he owe the director money?) and has he got a mission for them!
In my last Roth / Gruner review (“Velocity Trap”) I spent ages just recapping the insane first twenty minutes of plot, and I could very comfortably do the same thing here. I think the issue is, there’s too much “stuff” in it. There’s an alien ship being shot down with a nuke and the escape pod crashing in Mexico; Interceptor Force being told it’s a normal military plane crash; them being given new team members, who clearly know more than they’re letting on; there’s a huge conspiracy involving multiple governments; and the Mexican village the escape pod landed in is apparently controlled by a drug cartel which has local law enforcement in its pocket. That’s a lot of plot for a 90 minute sci-fi B movie, right? When they leave out important stuff – like, what Interceptor Force actually is, who they work for, and so on – you will sort of wish they’d crammed a little less in, and let the important stuff breathe a little. The Mexican village which is apparently Drug Central is just a completely normal looking little rural village, with a gang of about ten guys in it, who all dress like normal villagers (apart from the leader, who appears to be channeling Antonio Banderas in “Desperado”), which leads me to wonder why they didn’t simplify the whole process a bit.
So, when all the plots have been revealed, Shaun and his comrades have to take on a creature which is a lot Predator-y (an alien that can go “invisible”), a bit chameleon-y (if it eats you, it can transform itself into you), and a bit Nightcrawler from X Men-y (it can sort of turn itself into smoke and teleport). His team (and the rest of the cast) is populated with B-movie mainstays – you’ve got William Zabka (“Karate Kid”) as his sidekick Dave, Glenn Plummer (“Speed”, “Showgirls”) as the tech guy, and as well as Brad Dourif, the main army guy (who honestly sounds drunk through most of his performance) is the great Ernie Hudson.
The action in the Mexican town is a lot of fun, but there are some really bizarre little moments leading up to it that make you wonder if anyone was paying attention during filming. While on the plane to get to Mexico, rather than sit in their seats, they sit inside the 4×4 in the hold – I mean, they clearly didn’t have the money for a plane set, but it looks so strange visually! There’s also the way Dourif talks, as if he understands every bit of his dialogue is the worst exposition, like he’s having to explain the plot to a 7 year old, and resents being there. Or there’s how the new female member of the crew has chosen fashion leather trousers to wear to go on the mission.
So, while the cheap CGI alien does its thing (when it transforms into dead team members, it’s a nice budget saver), the movie covers up for its fairly standard progression by just having even more stuff which doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Sending a group of soldiers to fight an almost indestructible alien but not telling them what they’re up against is a recipe for getting them all killed; and as they’re told quite quickly by one of the new team members, makes less than no sense. There’s the way Gruner is able to beat a nuclear strike’s spreading sphere of destruction by just running away, and obviously suffers no ill effects.
But the final scene deserves its own paragraph. Gruner survives (there’s a sequel, come on, it’s not that bad a spoiler) and, walking out of town, sees a young woman sat by the side of the road, crying. He looks around, but there’s no-one else there…then punches the woman in the face! When she reacts like any woman punched in the face by a pro martial artist would react, he apologises and the movie fades to black with a woman we’ve not met to this point kicking and shouting at Gruner as they walk across the plain, back towards civilisation. What the hell? Playing assault of a woman for laughs, as THE CLIMAX OF YOUR MOVIE, is genuinely one of the oddest choices I can think of a movie making.
Throw in the dreadful incidental music which plays over almost every second of the movie, no matter the scene, and you’ve got yourself another splendidly odd little movie from the Gruner / Roth stable. They don’t make enough weird counter-productive choices to get themselves into rarefied bad movie company, but for what appears to be a straight sci-fi / action B-movie, it’s weird as hell and absolutely worth putting on. Will the sequel be as good? Visit us in a few days for the answer!
Rating: thumbs up