Interceptor Force (1999)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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Youtube Film Club: T-Force (1994)

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Video shops were strange and wonderful places. Before Blockbuster took over, long before online destroyed Blockbuster, video shops were either dedicated shops or, and these were my favourite, a few racks of tapes in the back of a normal “corner shop” (convenience store, to my American readers?). Rental copies of big-budget movie VHS tapes used to cost a fortune (I saw them with £80 price tags, and this was the 1980s), so local shops didn’t buy too many of them, filling their shelves with whatever cheap trash companies like Cannon were making or distributing.

This trash is the subject of thousands and thousands of movie review blogs, of which this is but one (and it’s not like we do this stuff exclusively, either). It seems there were an infinite number of these movies, because even people like me are still discovering “new” ones, 20 years later, with the great benefit of having Youtube serve as a sort of surrogate (completely free) VHS shop. It’s even more surprising when it’s a near-future, robot-cop movie – hell, I thought I’d seen all those damn things! But “T-Force” is a little sleeper classic, featuring performances from ISCFC favourites old and new.

Those old and new favourites are Evan Lurie and Deron McBee. Lurie has entertained us in such fare as “Hologram Man” (which shares this movie’s director, Richard Pepin) and “Cyborg 3”, and after retiring from acting in the late 90s has had a surprising second career as a composer and owner of an art gallery. McBee is the magnificent over-actor from “Immortal Combat” and “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, and as soon as you see him (in those movies) you’ll love him too. They’re both androids, robots, whatever dumb name they give themselves, part of T-Force, a group of 4 who kick ass when the police are outnumbered or outgunned. Check out the amazing logo of the company that designed them:

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We’re introduced to them in a pretty brilliant opening sequence, which also happens to be a gigantic ripoff of “Die Hard”. Vernon Wells, looking like he’d just had major dental work before falling asleep on a tanning bed, is the Alan Rickman, and four super bad-ass robot cops are the Bruce Willis (okay, the analogy isn’t perfect). Unfortunately, our robot pals have a bit of a problem when it comes to orders with even the slightest grey area, and to stop the terrorists they straight-up murder a bunch of hostages too. If you’re going to create a bunch of perfectly human-looking robot cops, and give them personalities of a sort, then you really ought to work on their ability to understand and process differing instructions. Like, “if one of your solutions involves blowing up a bunch of innocent people, then maybe try something else”. But I’m not a future-scientist, what do I know?

It’s up to vehemently anti-robot cop Jack Floyd (Jack Scalia, star of more cheesy 80s TV than you could shake a stick at) and the one member of T-Force who decided to stay on the side of good to take on and destroy the rogue robots. Will these two mismatched cops become friends? I’ll leave that as a cliffhanger for you, dear reader. There’s a whisper of an interesting idea here, as Jack talks about how mechanisation threw good working people like his dad on the scrapheap, but it’s not really developed, as if they realised that to go too far down that path would lead to some miserable realisations.

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The low budget is admirably worked round most of the time, with some pretty inventive miniature work and that one disused factory that about a million films have used; but it comes up in other ways. A strip club scene features a terribly dowdy stripper – around 40, huge un-erotic underwear, looks a little too old to still be pursuing this line of work. But then it turns out she’s a robot! If you’re building a robot stripper, why build one who looks vaguely sad and ready for retirement?

I don’t want to rag on the script too much, because it’s a fun film, but the robots are pretty terribly written. They speak normally some of the time, then they revert to that no-contractions “robot style” so beloved of cheap movies and TV; and their whole motivation seems pretty bizarre. When Evan Lurie and the sole female robot have sex, to see what the fuss is about, I was hoping for the faintest whisper of them realising how ludicrous it was, but I’m not sure and think they just wanted to get some boobs on the screen. Plus, this movie has more “cool guys walk away from explosions” moments than perhaps any film ever. Did the writer not go “nah, too many of these already. Perhaps something else” even once?

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If we’re being honest, it’s not the most original movie ever. I mentioned the way the first segment rips off “Die Hard”, but then there’s a complete lift of the scene where Arnie slaughters the police station from “Terminator”, and a bit of “Robocop” too. There are certainly worse films to crib from, I suppose, and the end result doesn’t just seem like a bunch of sloppily meshed together ideas from better sources, so kudos to them.

I know I’ve just complained about a ton of stuff in this movie, but it’s a cheap sci-fi/action B-movie, and absolutely delivers on what it sets out to do. There’s plenty of fun, some bizarre acting choices, and even if it does waste its secret weapon Deron McBee by not letting him pose and grimace like a crazy person, it’s solidly entertaining and you could do far worse.

Rating: thumbs up

Project Shadowchaser 2 (1994)

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Do you remember the first “Project Shadowchaser” film? Well, the producers of this are sure hoping you don’t, because they’ve decided to sort-of remake it, only in a slightly different location.

My theory – the company that made the first film wasn’t interested in doing a sequel, or in doing much of anything with part 1 (still yet to be released on DVD), so the actual filmmakers decided to make their own “sequel”, (see the name on the VHS cover above) but with a number of glaring similarities to the first – Zagarino has a female sidekick with short blonde hair; there’s a helicopter rescue at the end which is almost spoiled by a thought-to-be-dead villain; and excessive use of air-ducts. They decided not to make ol’ Frank an android in this one, though, and have a slightly cleverer plot. Then, about three-quarters of the way through filming, they managed to get the rights to the “Project Shadowchaser” name, which led to some last-minute rewrites. Zagarino’s character name is never mentioned, and he displays no signs of anything you could call android-y behaviour until 59 minutes in. His voice is completely different, and he’s far more…animated in this one than he was in part 1. An example, you ask? Well, this is what he wears when he mows down a Christmas party in full swing:

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I kind-of want that picture in HD and to turn it into a poster, but I think it’s unlikely. Anyway, Android (how he’s listed on the credits) and his chums infiltrate a nuclear research place, take over the weapons and threaten to blow up Washington unless…here’s where I’m a bit vague on the details. I think it’s all a cover for the theft of something from the secret lab’s storage vault, which they’re pretending is all about getting a few of their friends out of prison, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. I guarantee not one of you will read this review and be disappointed at the lack of fine plot details. About my rubbish writing style, maybe.

Luckily for humanity, the lab has Frank (Bryan Genesse), a kickass martial artist / former baseball pro who’s working as a maintenance man; along with his beautiful but hard-ass boss and her unhappy teenage son, they’re all that stands between Android and…doing whatever he needs to do (I’m sure he had a good reason). Also luckily, and in keeping with the first, everyone in this film is a rotten shot. Bullets are sprayed liberally in any and every direction and most of the time hit no-one at all, and don’t even appear to be aimed at anyone, really. Also, my notes have the line “everyone in this film is scum”, indicating a fair few people that it’s difficult to root for. And with there being a kid in it, you know he’s going to survive, which makes any scenes of peril featuring him boring – as, in fact, are 99.9% of all scenes featuring kids in peril in films.

I feel a bit silly writing a new review for something so similar to its predecessor, but there are some fun moments. Frank is fighting one of Android’s minions, and he gets set on fire BUT CONTINUES TO FIGHT, surely one of the most badass things captured on film. Android, to prove he’s serious about whatever it is he’s up to, takes control of some surface-to-air missiles and blows up a passenger aircraft which is flying overhead, killing hundreds (which feels like footage from another film, as it’s a lot of money to burn on a set which is on screen for maybe a minute).

Ultimately, of course, it’s designed to be a fast-paced sci-fi action film. Despite the sci-fi element being so small as to be effectively invisible (it’s only the lip service paid to Android’s non-human nature that differentiates this from a thousand Die Hard clones), it’s plenty of fun. Zagarino and Genesse clearly worked well together, as they did a few other films with each other, and their fights are probably the best thing about this. If you weren’t immediately put off by the name, you’ll probably want to stick around and watch it all.

Rating: thumbs up