The Strike (2001)

Our friend Donald Farmer made movies in an interesting array of styles, after his early, low-budget horror. There’s sexy thrillers (“Compelling Evidence”), sexy horror (“An Erotic Vampire In Paris”), historical (“Blood and Honor”), child-friendly (“Space Kid”), comedy (“Bollywood and Vine”, which I think remains unreleased) and revenge thriller (“Body Shop”), among more horror.

Also, in 2002, he made a martial arts movie! Well, I imagine his friend Andre Buckner, who’d appeared in several Farmer movies to this point, came to him with the script and asked him to direct (Buckner would go on to direct a couple of his own movies in the years to come), so add another string to the bow of one of the more individual genre directors of the last forty years.

I’ve seen a lot of martial arts movies, and you can get a fairly good sense of where things are going quite quickly, but “The Strike” mocks such easy attempts at categorisation! The Typical Martial Arts Movie Plot, which this is definitely set up to follow, goes as follows: the star’s big brother is killed in a different country, taking part in a tournament or because he won a tournament. The star must go to the country and take revenge for his brother, either by winning the tournament or killing his brother’s killers, or both. It’s typical that he gets some ancient wisdom or learns a new technique along the way (and, surprisingly often, shacks up with his brother’s girlfriend).

There are two brothers, one of whom is a champion pro kickboxer, the other a hotheaded amateur who wants to compete in the big leagues. But at every point where you expect it to get going with some action, it just doesn’t – not that all fighting movies should fit this template, but they should at least offer us a decent reason to keep watching.

Right from the beginning, it feels curious, as we see a scene of older brother Damon (Buckner) training a class of kids. Compare this to, say, “Kickboxer 5: Redemption”, where an identical scene at an identical point lasts 15 seconds. Here, it goes on for two minutes, which doesn’t seem like a lot but when it’s kids who have zero to do with the rest of the movie, really begins to drag. Anyway, he’s a good guy ex-cop who helps kids, and his younger brother Joe (Tony Luke) is…also a pretty good guy, honestly, even though Damon tells anyone who’ll listen what a dog Joe is with the ladies.

Joe’s girlfriend Rachel (Stephanie Sinclair) has some character quirks, like wearing a Juliana Hatfield t-shirt and lecturing him about the wonders of female indie singer-songwriters; also, she has a large, square free-standing poster of Andy Garcia in the corner of her bedroom. I’m genuinely fascinated about the sort of person who would spend money on such an item, and would have that and only that next to their bed!

Damon and his girlfriend talk about Joe a lot, like, way too much, while they’re in the apartment and while they’re on a random walk round the city. About 20 minutes in, they’re strolling round when Damon sees a couple of guys attempt to abduct / rape a woman in an alleyway. I need to break this scene down, a little. One of the two guys is holding the woman from behind with a pipe across her throat, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say he’d only had the concept of acting explained to him thirty seconds before Farmer called “action”, as he starts off by looking right at the camera, and throughout his too-brief time in the spotlight looks nervous and away from the action, as if he’s looking to someone behind the camera for advice. It’s amazing and is almost worth the cost of admission on its own.

Joe wants to get involved in the real fight league, but because he’s dumb as a box of rocks and his friend is a sleazy asshole, he goes to see Mr Ramsey (Farmer regular Danny Fendley). Apparently, if he fights for Ramsey, there’ll be all sorts of influential people there who can help him move up the ladder. Unfortunately, the actual fight is in a large warehouse, where there are maybe 5 people there to watch. Did he at no point smell a rat? Also, the fights are to the death, and as I’ve said before, running a fighting organisation where all the losers are killed just seems like a very poor business model.

There’s a brief appearance by B-movie legend George Stover (who has his name spelled wrong in the credits) as the producer of “American Expose”, the tabloid TV show that links a number of Farmer movies together and has given me the idea for the script I’m writing set in the Farmer-verse; their film crew films one of the fights and then disappears from the movie. What? Also, there are two very similar-looking redheads (Jenny Wallace, as Ramsey’s secretary; and the host of the TV report on the fight league) which lends an air of confusion to a movie which doesn’t need any more confusion.

I’m getting way too bogged down in the minutiae of “The Strike”, but I feel that’s because it seems determined to confuse and disappoint. The camera cuts just as sex scenes are starting, on several occasions (we still see a few naked women though), which is, sources close to the production tell me, were filmed but removed on the insistence of an actor’s wife. But I need to break down one more scene!

To keep him fighting for them, Momota, one of the other criminals involved in the fight league (who may or may not be in league with Ramsey, it’s almost impossible to tell) kidnaps Rachel. But, he’s also got a bunch of other attractive white women enslaved in another corner of what I presume is the same warehouse, and wants this young lady drugged up and turned into a prostitute. The four women aren’t on beds, they’re just on what look like long painting tables, two to a plank, and aren’t in a room, just a corner of a massive warehouse. Who does this? Could no-one have sprung for just one extra room to film in?

The best way to describe this is “unsatisfying”. The plot is poor, the acting poor, and the stakes are rather low. The direction is fine, but I’m going to guess (again) that Farmer didn’t have a lot to work with, either in terms of budget or available talent. It starts off nowhere and goes nowhere, unable to decide which of the two brothers is supposed to be the star. It ends nowhere too, with there being no real crescendo to the action, and although both brothers appear able to fight, the fight scenes are slow and sort of boring.

Because its structure is so odd, I’m going to take a wild guess and say it was quite personal for Buckner. Maybe he has a brother who helped him out at a tough time in his life, or he read a story when he was younger that really affected him. Or maybe it was just written by a guy who’d never done a script before and had no real idea how to structure them? Who knows?

An intriguing curio from one of our favourite directors, but perhaps not worth spending too much money tracking down.

Rating: thumbs down

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