“Die Hard” in space. You don’t really need to know a ton more than that to make a decision on whether to watch this or not. Heck, even IMDB’s first line is “low-budget Die Hard clone”! Along with “The Most Dangerous Game”, “Die Hard” is one of the most enduring templates for low-budget cinema, because it’s an enclosed location and a limited number of actors and the plot is fairly standard. But even in a genre lousy with clones, “Assault On Dome 4” really tries to set itself apart from the pack by being as similar to “Die Hard” as possible. Cop not supposed to be in a location? Check. Wife, unaware of his presence? Check. Charismatic psychopath criminal boss? Check. Need of particular location for some nefarious criminal purpose? Check. Cop fights guerrilla war against almost insurmountable odds? Check.
ASIDE: There’s a whole website devoted to the “Die Hard scenario” and its many iterations, so if you’d like the complete list, it’s HERE.
Add in Bruce Campbell, and I imagine most of your decision has been made for you, one way or the other. The B-movie legend plays super-criminal Alex Windham, who manages to escape from the apparently most secure prison in the galaxy and bust out a load of his criminal cohorts too. Now, before we get going, you might look at the alleged super-prison, and think it looks a bit like the top level of a normal car park. You might wonder why it only has three guards in it, and how Windham’s plan to escape is pretty much just “overpower a guard and steal his gun”, and how the galaxy’s most secure prison would probably have one or two more safeguards in it to stop this thing happening. But if you wonder these things, it’s going to be a long evening.
We have yet to come to the hero of proceedings, the guy for whom the movie is named in some markets. Chase Morran is a cop, whose wife works on Dome 4 – Dome 4 is a scientific base on a far distant planet, but all terraformed and quite nice (hence, in the brief outdoor bits, you can see clear blue skies). He’s decided to go and surprise her for her birthday. Guess which Dome our band of criminals need to go to, to get ingredient X for their secret plans? Anyway, Morran is played by a fellow called Joseph Culp, perhaps best known as the son of Robert Culp, or maybe for a recurring role on the early seasons of “Mad Men”. To say he doesn’t look like an action hero is putting it mildly – he’s a skinny, relatively uncoordinated chap who doesn’t exactly light the screen up with his presence, and if I didn’t know better I’d say he was the money man behind this movie because it seems genuinely insane that anyone thought he could hold his own against Bruce Campbell.
He also has the habit of explaining all the things he’s doing, as if the actor was trying to remember, and combined with the completely drama-robbing framing device of the alive and well Morran defending himself at a tribunal about the assault on Dome 4, you feel like you’re being told about the action rather than shown it.
A couple of other decent names pop up – first, the great Brion James as the Chairman of the United Government (you might wonder about why Morran is having to go to court, when his “mission” was approved by the most powerful person on Earth…); and Jack Nance as some old guy who’s completely unconnected to the rest of the base, and whose job seems to be repairing old computers. In deep space. Anyway, this is possibly the last movie Nance ever made, as he died in odd circumstances in 1996, and it’s a damned shame.
There’s quite a lot of fighting, which is a curious choice for a leading man who wasn’t any good at it. When Morran’s old friend, the General, shows up to help out, it’s a veritable skinny white guy apocalypse. Were actors who looked like they knew what they were doing on strike that week?
One final scene discussion before we wrap this up. The base’s cops are being held hostage, so Morran decides to bust them out and even up the odds. However, his crappy plan just gets them all killed, but the movie seems uninterested in pointing to Morran’s guilt in these deaths – they were all safe and sound before he stuck his oar in, lest we forget. For such a nothing actor, this movie really does love him; the end of his “court case” is absolutely pathetic.
I thought perhaps the other work of the crew would give us a hint as to why this movie is so empty of fun and interesting stuff. This is director Gilbert Po’s only English-language movie (and one of only two he ever made); and writer Hesh Rephun (made up name, surely?) isn’t much more prolific, with only this, a teen raunch movie so terrible even I’d never heard of it, and an early Mark Dacascos vehicle to his name. Why was this made? Who thought it was a good idea? Why was it renamed “Chase Morran”? If the character’s not famous, and the actor playing him certainly wasn’t, what was it supposed to achieve?
Bruce Campbell is always watchable, and Jocelyn Seagrave as Chase’s wife is fun too (she was also in “Moonbase”, so must have briefly specialised in the 90s in sci-fi films with escaping criminals in them). But pretty much nothing else is. Lazy and pointless and, I discover, a very early SyFy Channel original movie (when they were still Sci-Fi). Start as you mean to go on, guys!
Rating: thumbs down