Hostile Environment (1999)

As you, dear reader, waited with bated breath for the next installment in the David A Prior mega-series, I had the temerity to move house. I kept trying to persuade my wife to stop packing and pop on this particular gem, she – for some reason – refused, so I had to wait all this time to give you yet more opinions.

David A Prior took almost ten years off from movies, in between the late 90s and 2007 (where we’re going to jump to next), and this appears to be his last one before the break. Pair him with a script by a guy whose entire writing career was two different Brigitte Nielsen 1999 movies, and one of the more egregious cases of miscasting ever, and…well, I guess you’ve got yourself something that looks like a movie?

In this particular post-apocalypse, the world’s water supply has been completely contaminated by nuclear waste, and there’s only one place where people can get it, a giant ship commanded with an iron fist by Minna (Nielsen). She has some device that purifies it, and makes sure she gets…well, not a lot, as far as I can tell. Do they trade with people for it? They seem oddly fixated on one small group of people who are distilling their own water, and their boat doesn’t have any cool stuff on it, which you’d sort of expect from the people who own the only clean-water-producing device on earth. Like, works of art or jewels or stuff like that.

Oh, they’ve got lots of slaves too, although they mostly use them for some sort of fight club situation. I don’t know that a lot of slaves is a good idea when you have to provide them with water all the time, and there’s a very small amount of it available.

The plot! Brigitte and her villains are all “hey, villagers (post-apocalypse villagers, you get the idea) – stop making your own water or we’ll kill you”. They don’t, but ask resident badass Mike Erikson for help. He’s played by Mathias Hues (“No Retreat, No Surrender 2“), who looks like a good physical match for Nielsen, but he can’t act worth a damn and isn’t that hot a fighter either. He refuses until an attractive woman, Jennifer (Rochelle Swanson), is attacked, then springs into action. But both of them get taken and turned into slaves on the ship.

I presume if you looked for a retired US Navy ship docked somewhere near Mobile, Alabama in the 1990s, you’d find the place this, and several other Prior efforts, were filmed. While it’s no doubt authentic, it’s not very visually interesting, being the same gunmetal grey everywhere; but as Hues meets some of the other slaves on board and, in between Fight Club sessions organised by the guards, organises a rebellion.

I mentioned miscasting. In the cast list, you might have noticed Darren Shahlavi. He’s entertained us in “Kickboxer: Vengeance”, “The Marine 3”, and “Alone In The Dark” – he’s a superb onscreen martial artist who can act, and never really got the chance at stardom in the West he deserved (he sadly died a few years ago). Here, he plays Rocky, the brother of Jennifer, not introduced til nearly halfway into the movie, and who has a parallel plot before meeting up on the boat for the big final battle. He’s a better actor and fighter than Hues, and it’s not like there’s a great deal of difference in the star power of the two. So…why not make Shahlavi the star? Because, one assumes, that would be fun and entertaining and this is David A Prior.

There’s really not a lot to tell you about “Hostile Environment”. There’s a subplot, but most of it is the miserably leaden Hues wandering about the ship, getting involved with Jennifer and having Minna throw herself at him; Rocky kicks ass and quips; and they really hope you don’t question any of the deeper questions of this society. Like, just how much water all those people (and we see a heck of a lot of people) would need to survive, and why Minna and her people keep so many people alive for no good reason.

I think, if you’re going to make a post-apocalypse movie, think about the concept. Spend a couple of days mulling it over, ask your friends about it, don’t just go “right, there’s no water, only one person can purify it, let’s go”. Perfect planning prevents piss-poor performance, as the old saying goes.

So we leap forward to 2007 next time, and “Lost At War”. I’m sorry in advance, but we’re on the home stretch!

Rating: thumbs down

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Mercenaries (2014)

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I imagine the Asylum has wanted to mockbuster “The Expendables” since the first movie came out, but they ran into a problem – Stallone had already hired every washed up former action star, rendering their traditional casting methods moot. So, it remained un-Asylumed until someone had the great idea of making the cast women! And here we are with “Mercenaries”.

After a joke which I presume is at the expense of the “Expendables 3” (about watches with GPS trackers in them) the cast greeting comes thick and fast. Brigitte Nielsen is the baddie Ulrika, trying to take over an unnamed former Soviet satellite state by kidnapping the US President’s daughter; and hired to take her on are four women who you’ll either sort of recognise or cheer in delight for, depending on how wasted your youth was.

Cynthia Rothrock, star of many many terrible martial arts movies, doesn’t even fight in this one, being the boss of the team, and the person who offers 4 inmates presidential pardons if they’ll help out Uncle Sam. Vivica A Fox is probably the best known of them, and Zoe Bell was hired more to do with her being one of the best stuntwomen of all time than being great at acting. Nicole Bilderback and Kristianna Loken, on the other hand, are both still in their prime and can act, so perhaps they were taking a punt on this becoming a surprise hit.

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The thing is, this film is sort of good fun. Yes, it’s cheap as hell, and they couldn’t afford many big fight scenes, but it makes sense and gets from A to B reasonably and fairly quickly – sad as it is that a film that achieves basic competence needs to be singled out for praise. Our four heroes infiltrate Ulrika’s compound, discover a bit of sex trafficking, try and rescue the President’s daughter and prevent the bad guys from making off with a couple of ICBMs. No muss, no fuss.

The problem is everything else. I don’t think all female-dominated films need to be written and directed by women, but with seemingly no female involvement in anything non-acting, there can be a tendency for it to not really sound “real”. Weirdly, we’ve covered the entirety of the writing career of Edward DeRuiter (“3 Musketeers” and “Two-Headed Shark Attack”), and a lot of the directing career of Christopher Olen Ray (ensuring a second generation of poor quality filmmaking, after dad Fred) and while I’ve never noticed it before, the two of them seem entirely cloth-eared when it comes to women.

An example, I hear you ask? Bilderback – who despite being by a distance the best actor involved in this movie, so good that it’s a shame she’s doing this, but gets saddled with all the worst dialogue – says at one point “Let’s go PMS from hell on this place”. My wife, relatively quiet to this point, turned to me and said “women don’t talk like that!” Vivica also expresses the desire, late on in the film, to “fuck George Clooney…with a strap-on”. The banter is even worse than in the Expendables movies, a phrase I never thought I’d have to write.

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That’s not all of it, though – see what happens to the sex-traffic women; and the weird equation of strong women always being lesbians (although this film is a long way from being the only offender at that). It doesn’t take a feminist to figure out that the men in charge of making this film might reasonably be said to have a few issues with women. What makes it even weirder is the women are pretty good at their jobs – apart from being rotten shots, a trait they share with everyone in this movie – and their gender isn’t really an issue when it comes to fighting. For a cleverer skewering of this than I could manage, “From The Women’s Desk” give it a great review.

So, apart from the banter being terrible and it being a fairly poor portrayal of women and it being cheap and how not much stuff really happens and how the weakest actor of the main four has to do most of the acting, it’s a pretty fun movie. It seems from IMDB that a sequel is in post-production already, with the same writer, director and everyone who survived this one returning.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

GERALD WEBB ASYLUM WATCH: Yes. Rothrock’s assistant. Good to see you Gerald!