Shadows In Paradise (2010)

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As you may remember, I got pretty excited at the prospect of the as-yet-unreleased, star-un-studded “Beyond The Game”, also written by J Stephen Maunder. Well, that might be tough to find, but we were able to locate a copy of what would appear to be a trial run for that, 2010’s “Shadows In Paradise”. Mark Dacascos! Armand Assante! Bruce Boxleitner! Danny Trejo! Tom Sizemore! Vernon Wells! Andrew Divoff! A veritable “are they still working?” list of Hollywood’s finest, in some cases hired for more than a day!

 

Dacascos (aged 45 at the time of filming) is Lt. Max Forrester, part of a squad of soldiers taking down some terrorist base in a Middle East that looks an awful lot like Arizona scrub-land; one of the others is his fiancée, Lt Sasha Villanoff (Sofya Skya). More on her later, but she was 22 at the time of filming – good old Hollywood standards! Anyway, they get separated when bombs start flying, and Forrester’s CO, Col. Bunker (Sizemore) wrestles him away from the danger zone. He makes it out and she doesn’t.

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Two years later, Forrester is living the sweet civilian life, when his old army buddy, Cpt. Dyer (Boxleitner) informs him that they’ve got evidence Sasha is still alive! Perhaps that sentence didn’t deserve an exclamation mark. Anyway, she’s on an island off the coast of either Libya or Kuwait (I wasn’t listening at that moment) and because she, a normal US Army grunt, has apparently got loads of secrets, they’re about to send in “Special Forces” to arrest / kill her. Max has two days to find her.

 

Luckily, she’s literally the first person he sees when he strolls into the island’s one village. Now, it’s not outside the realms of possibility, I suppose, but there’s a heck of a lot of white guys wandering round this Middle Eastern village, which only looks slightly faker than the town from “Blazing Saddles”. Anyway, she’s not happy to see him at all, and from this curious reaction springs a tale. First, the CIA goes in; then the Special Forces team, which is Assante, Trejo, and some cannon fodder, one of whom is perhaps the most aggressively predatory lesbian ever captured on film – you could tell the producers wanted Michelle Rodriguez, but when she sensibly turned them down they hired a lookalike.

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Forrester is all “we have to get out of here right now” but instead of doing that they go back to his hotel room and have sex, then sleep in. Like no-one bothered reading their own script, or something. No, I don’t think that scene was put in just so we could see Sofya Skya in her underwear, perish the thought. But this whole scene leads to my chief criticism.

 

What’s most noteworthy about “Shadows In Paradise” is how sloppy it is. Lines are flubbed left, right and centre; the sets look absolutely pathetic; and there’s a scene where Sasha’s backpack falls off as she slips down a hill, and it’s in shot for ages as she runs off; then in the next scene it’s back on her shoulder. I get the feeling there weren’t a lot of take 2s in this movie, probably due to them having very limited schedules with most of their stars. It becomes a funny little game, to spot which actors were only hired for a day and had all their scenes in the same location – Boxleitner for one, and Vernon Wells does his entire part sat down at a table.

 

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the sloppiest bit of all. Right at the end, one of the villains (no spoilers) is escaping with two briefcases full of cash, and out of nowhere Forrester produces a rocket launcher. The car has been driving away for maybe 30 seconds by the time the rocket is fired, but when you see it impact the car is both stationary and about 50 yards away from where it started! Come on, movie!

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As if to make sure the sloppy bits didn’t feel lonely, writer / director Maunder makes sure to fill it with monstrous logic holes too. While tracking down Sasha, Forrester finds himself outside a house with guards outside it, and kills one of them to stop from being discovered. He has no idea where he is, if the people are good guys or not, but feels okay to kill them? Then, near the end, Vernon Wells (as the Army General) tells Dacascos to do his best and try and stop the big sale of Stinger missiles, because there’s no backup nearby. Next breath, he orders an airstrike as it’s too risky to just trust one guy. Er, why didn’t he just say “we’ll call in an air strike, you get out of there”? Yes, the plot, the thing that Sasha felt unable to tell anyone until way too late (a missile sale to Al Qaeda was going down), was perfectly reasonable information for other people to have way earlier on, as the withholding of that information nearly killed her fiancée, who she apparently loved still. And if I saw one more scene where someone had a gun on someone else, but was stood too close so it was super-easy to disarm them, I was going to throw a boot at the TV.

 

Perhaps a little deeper, how many really old soldiers were there in this movie? The two captains we see were 60 and 59 (get some promotions, boys, you’re too damn old) and soldier-badass Trejo was 65. I’m willing to bet there’s not a single person on an active duty squad like that who’s a day over 40, 45 at the absolute outside.

 

I don’t like being cynical, but this has the air of a tax dodge, or money laundering, about it.  Shoddily made, a random selection of “stars” of yesteryear, cheap sets and a dumb plot; then there’s Sofya Skya. She’s a very beautiful woman, and at least the acting equal of anyone in the cast, but…she also sings the theme tune, and is married to a Russian billionaire who looks like this:

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It’s not the biggest stretch to suggest some of his money was spent, on the proviso his wife got a leading role. And that there’s something slightly fishy about this whole operation; look at the cast list of this, “Blizhniy Boy” and “Beyond The Game”. A fan of 80s and 90s action hires his old favourites, at least those favourites who don’t mind who they work with. This could all, of course, be baseless speculation (please don’t kill me if you’re really bad lads, I can be bought off very cheaply).

 

There’s entertaining stuff here, partly just from seeing so many old favourites, but it’s really lazy.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

 

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Youtube Film Club: Champions (1998)

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If you’re going to rip off a movie, then it’s often considered smart to not mention the movie you’re ripping off at the start of the process. So, when “Champions” decided to go “hey, this is just like Enter The Dragon” alarm bells should start ringing. The sad thing is, it’s sort of a fun movie! I mean, it’s a long way from being a good one, but…anyway, read on and I’ll tell you all about it.

I’m half tempted to copy and paste this recap in from one of the dozens of movies we’ve covered with almost the same plot. Louis Mandylor (not from “Fist Of The North Star”, as I previously thought, that’s Costas) is William Rockman, the star of Terminal Combat, the world’s most brutal full-contact fighting sport. During one training session, he “accidentally” kills his sparring partner (seriously, we see him break the other guy’s neck, something tough to do by accident) and retires immediately. We catch up with him five years later as he has his own dojo, training kids to be respectful and kind martial artists.

Terminal Combat has gone underground, which we find out about thanks to a handily information rich news report, and from Rockman’s brother Ray, who’s decided to start competing himself. Evil fight promoter Max Brito (Danny Trejo, seemingly having a competition with himself to see how many times he could laugh like a deranged idiot) puts Ray up against his champion The King (UFC fighter and pro wrestler Ken Shamrock, in a very very rare acting performance), and of course Ray dies, which forces Rockman out of retirement and down into the world of “snuff” fighting.

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Not original (at all), but solid. Since I just referred to UFC, I think it’s worth mentioning that this is maybe the first movie to use that so directly for inspiration. UFC had its beginning in 1993, and was enormously successful on PPV and home video, but by 1998 it was almost dead, with future Presidential candidate John McCain calling it human cock-fighting and leading the charge to get it banned almost everywhere. “Champions” actually uses that plot, with an evil Senator making it illegal so he can profit from its new underground tax-exempt nature. The “Enter The Dragon” comparisons really kick in when the fighters are basically locked up in a compound somewhere in the badlands of Mexico and are forced to befriend each other to survive.

There’s a lot of very rough edges in this movie. The late great Buck Flower does a super-awful Irish accent (along with a bar full of other “Irish” people), Kool Keith plays himself and raps about half his dialogue, and there’s a religious nut fighter who rails against sin at the same time as taking a Mexican lunatic’s dirty money to murder people. There’s also a bit later one where, shortly after being beaten unconscious by Rockman, that same religious nut is seen training in the weight area, completely unmarked, and even being friendly towards the guy who’d just schooled him. Plus, it’s got one of my favourite things, the mis-spelled advertising hoarding:

I won't buy equiptment from you!

I won’t buy equiptment from you!

But on the other hand there’s plenty to like. Rockman’s way of befriending people by just being a decent human being is well-handled, and Shamrock, while not good by any stretch, really tries at his part. There’s also a lot of subplots weaved well into the main action – The King losing his wife and freedom due to gambling debts to Brito; there’s Sergeant Kimberly Pepitone, the cop who quits the force to join Terminal Combat and fight the guy who raped and murdered her partner; the romance between her and Rockman; the splendidly OTT turn from Brito’s assistant Mary (Robin Joi Brown, “Final Equinox”) and the people who run Brito’s IT department. For such a short movie, they pack plenty into it.

Director Peter Gathings Bunche’s history in low-rent erotica is evident in the love scenes and the casting of surgery-enhanced females, but it’s a fun, well-paced movie and it’s a shame his career went basically nowhere after this. It’s also pretty much the only writing credit for any of its three billed writers, which isn’t too unusual when you imagine them just flicking through the scripts for every other martial arts movie released in the past decade and taking all the bits they needed.

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It’s on Youtube, and is free, so you’ve got many worse ways to spend a couple of hours. One final compliment – The King, as mentioned, loses his wife thanks to gambling debt, and she becomes Brito’s concubine. If either of them tries to escape, the other one dies. Now, they’re freed and reunited at the end (not much of a spoiler) but the movie at least has the good sense for them to just escape and not kiss, profess their love for each other or spend time in each other’s arms. In fact, I hope as soon as they’re back to civilization, she divorces him for being stupid enough to wager her to pay off his debts.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Alone In The Dark 2 (2008)

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You will be pleased, but unsurprised, to find out that this is better than part 1. Being kicked in the head for 2 hours is a bit better than part 1, though, so we’re starting from a very low threshold. Uwe Boll is merely the producer this time, and the budget is substantially smaller – the only casting choices of note in this are Danny Trejo in an uncharacteristically subdued little role and Lance Henriksen as the mysterious expert on all things supernatural.

 

We have a slightly smaller scale than part 1, which is also welcome. The first twenty minutes or so are very curious, as we’re introduced to people who we’d expect to be stars of a Boll movie (Natassia Malthe, too good for this garbage; Jason Connery; and Zack Ward, who we’ll be meeting again in “Postal”), only to have them killed off, and then have people who seem completely unrelated to the central conflict suddenly know all about it and become the stars of the rest of the movie. There’s a choice between “this was heavily edited, so it makes no sense” and “this just makes no sense” and neither of them reflect well.

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After sort of inheriting top billing in this movie from Ward, we meet Edward Carnby. That was Christian Slater’s name in part 1, but here he’s an entirely different character, and played by Rick Yune, who you may remember from actually good movies like “The Fast And The Furious” and “Die Another Day”. What he’s doing slumming it in this movie is anyone’s guess. He’s taken in by another group of independent, “Supernatural” style occult investigators, who are trying to kill an immortal witch-spirit who…nah, her motivation is definitely a bit unclear.

 

In fact, everyone’s motivation is unclear in this. I don’t need a set of life stories, but at least some reason why these people have chosen to dedicate their lives to tracking down a ghost would be handy. It might also have been handy for a movie called “Alone In The Dark” to have the characters be alone, in the dark, for at least some of the movie. But that might just be me, picking fault. Your opinion may be different. Also, if I’d fired a thousand bullets at a smoke-figure and done no damage whatsoever, I’d probably give up on the shooting thing. Not these guys though!

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Okay, it’s not quite as aggressively bad as part 1, but it’s like they were trying to make it terrible! What have the filmmakers got against explaining anything to us? The witch is all ghostly and made up of smoke at one point, then later on she’s fully corporeal, with no reason given for how she went from one to the other. Why was the witch so fixated on this one group of people? Why not go after a random few people, as at the very least they won’t have all sorts of spells and potions to try and fight you off?

 

Actually, I’m not convinced this is better than part 1 now. I apologise for my somewhat slipshod review, readers, but this movie is tough to pin down. It feels like the final two episodes of some TV show we never got the chance to see.

 

I thought it would be funny to use pictures from  the game, sorry

I thought it would be funny to use pictures from the game, sorry

Honestly, it’s probably best to avoid both of these. Why anyone would want or pay for a sequel to one of the most universally reviled movies of the 21st century is beyond me, but is probably down to some obscure clause in a contract somewhere. Sorry, good actors and crew who worked on this movie! You deserved better.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Wedlock (1991)

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Fresh from our review of “Salute of the Jugger” a few weeks ago, I was about to make a joke about this being the end of our Rutger Hauer / Joan Chen season, but it turns out they made another film together, 1996’s “Precious Find”. Do you think they turned up for the first day of filming and went “you again?”

This is one of those great sci-fi B-movies that seemingly sprang up everywhere in the 80s and 90s. Frank (Hauer), Noelle (Chen) and Sam (James Remar) are robbing a bank vault which has $25 milion worth of diamonds in it – Frank and Noelle are engaged, but she decides to betray Frank and throws her lot in with Sam, after a hell of an escape sequence. So, after getting shot, he ends up in future-prison, and that’s where Wedlock comes in.

It’s sort of a clever system – no walls, very few guards, regular male-female “alone time”. Every inmate is fitted with a metal collar with C4 in it, and as long as you don’t go 100 yards from your wedlock partner, you’re fine – problem is, you don’t know you’re wedlocked to. There’s a line indicating a hundred-metre diameter circle, as long as you stay inside it you’re always safe. The inmates spy on the other inmates, because no-one wants to get their head blown off – if your partner makes a run for it, you’re done for too. You misbehave and you get put in the “The Floater” – a large coffin full of water, pretty much.

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This is a pretty cool setup for a movie, but it’s only half of it – Hauer ditched the diamonds before being double-crossed, so no-one knows where they are; and Tracy (Mimi Rodgers) has figured out that Hauer’s her wedlock partner, and she wants out, reasoning that as long as they stay together, they should be fine. So the rest of the movie is chases and double-crosses and the two of them desperately trying to stay within a hundred yards of each other.

There’s a few flaws in the Wedlock system (some savant on the IMDB message board clued me in) but never mind that, because this is fun! Hauer and Rodgers make an unlikely but good team, Remar and Chen relish playing their OTT bad guys, and there’s a memorable turn from Stephen Tobolowsky as the prison warden and inventor of Wedlock. There’s a very brief early appearance from Danny Trejo too, seemingly pre-at least some of his tattoos, and a few good visual gags…it’s just a strong, entertaining movie with a clever central idea, and it’s absolutely worth a watch. If anything, it uses its plot points too quickly! The direction from Lewis Teague is okay, nothing too flashy or interesting (his IMDB bio’s first descriptive word is “efficient”, which says a lot).

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This movie is also a minor entrant in the “Cubs win the World Series” range of movies. If you want to indicate you’re in the future, or an alternate reality, this is the trick that many many movies have used. For those of you who don’t like or follow baseball, the Cubs are the unluckiest team in the sport, having not won the main prize for over 100 years (this list gives a breakdown of all the things that have happened since). This trope is most famously used in “Back To The Future 2”, when the year of the Cubs drought-breaking win is…2015. If they actually win next year, get ready for the internet to explode.

Rating: thumbs up

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Ghostquake (2012)

Not called "Helville", and it's not a Homecoming dance

Not called “Helville”, and it’s not a Homecoming dance. Oh, and nothing else on this poster happens

The longer I watched this film, the more a peculiar feeling began to overtake me. This film is…dare I say it…pretty good! Whether it’s just the law of the stopped clock, or SyFy got lucky and hired people who could write, direct and act, is as yet unclear.

I like teachers who are supposed to be teaching classes, but are really acting as info dumps for us viewers. This chap is telling his students about the supernatural and how it’s real and open your minds and blah blah blah – I’d have thought that sensible, science-based folk and religious types would have cornered the market on teaching, but it’s good to know a few real oddballs can still get through. He and the main student Quentin seem to have some sort of connection, which I thought might be a gay thing but is sort-of blackmail. No need to worry though, the teacher dies pretty quickly.

But none of you are interested in that! By now, you’ll have seen the picture above and gone “hey! Danny Trejo and MC Gainey are in this!” Trejo is the school’s janitor who clearly knows more than he’s letting on, and Gainey is…well, I don’t think I’m spoiling too much to reveal he’s the ghost of the former principal, an insane child murderer and big fan of all things occult. Thanks to a magic gold coin, he and his…wife? Daughter?…can sneak back across from the other side and resume their killing ways.

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Against this fella are the sort of groups of people you get in a school long past closing time – kids who’ve broken in to hack the computer and change their grades; school band members practising for a show (with teacher Griff Furst, who eagle-eyed viewers will recognise from “Transmorphers” – thank heavens he’s learned to act since then); a librarian (an extremely short cameo from Charisma Carpenter); and the teachers and students who are helping set up the gym for the upcoming prom. So, lots of different groups, lots of different sorts of students and adults. So far, so good. And it looks like they filmed in a real school, as the sets are several orders of magnitude better than the average SyFy film.

I’m about to gush about this film, so I’ll get the negatives out of the way first. Quentin is, for the main character, a pretty weak actor, and he has zero chemistry with his love interest, Whitney (Lauren Pennington). Also, there’s no real rhyme or reason to the people who get killed – it’s nice to know the supernatural has some sort of weird moral code, but our villains just seem to want to kill everyone in no particular order. Oh, and there’s a smidgeon of “haha all our friends are dead” at the end.

But enough of negativity. This is a funny, well-made film! Gainey is clearly having the time of his life, laughing maniacally and spewing the worst, cheesiest, death one-liners imaginable. Trejo appears in one scene shirtless for no reason whatsoever, other than to show his tattoos and old-man-muscles off. Virtually anyone in this movie can act rings round the entire cast of most SyFy Channel movies. The plot moves along at a decent pace, and it’s got a good sense of humour about itself. Towards the end, the way they figure out to stop the ghosts is so wonderfully half-assed that you can’t help but laugh.

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Getting a bunch of teenagers, a few adults and something evil locked in the same place is a staple of low-budget cinema, and there are no new plots under the sun, really. What we look for is films that use those standard building blocks well, to show some basic competence at the art of filmmaking, and this one nails it, I think. And I’m not sure why! Looking at the films of director Jeffery Scott Lando, it’s not a strong CV; perhaps the motivation came from writer Paul Birkett, who’s responsible for some of the SyFy Channel’s funnest films, like “Ghost Shark” and “Arachnoquake”. The other writer, Anthony C Ferrante, is much, much better known as the director of the “Sharknado” movies, so perhaps we’re witnessing the ascent of the only in-house talents SyFy has, both on the same movie.

If you see this on SyFy Channel’s schedule, clear an evening for this and you’ll have a good time.

Rating: thumbs up

Modern fighting – thoughts on “The Raid 2” and “In The Blood”

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The ISCFC loves fighting films – a few days ago, we reviewed martial arts classic “Dragons Forever”, and a few months ago we did modern gem “Ninja”. Today, we’re taking on a couple of brand new films with fighting at their core – one of them the sequel to a modern classic, the other a good old-fashioned (relatively) low-budget actioner starring someone best known for fighting for real. How do they shape up?

I wasn’t as big a fan of “The Raid” as some people. I enjoyed it a lot, but felt there was quite a lot of stuff I remembered from computer games – find a bit of cover, crouch behind it, shoot endless swarms of bad guys, repeat. Perhaps it was the rotten subtitles on the version I saw, which kept dropping out or going “invisible” (white words on white background), but I didn’t feel like it was worth the hype. “The Raid 2”, on the other hand, is a 2 ½ hour beast, a sequel that goes further, with more of…everything, really.

Iko Uwais is Rama, the cop who broke so many people in pieces in the first film, and this time the raid is to go undercover with Jakarta’s biggest criminal gang, not to bring them down but to discover the crooked cops who are on their payroll. This, unfortunately, involves him going to prison for 2 years – but luckily for us, he does get to have an amazing mass brawl in the middle of a muddy quad. The big boss’s son is in prison, so Rama helps him out, gains his trust and works alongside him. Add to this other gangs trying to muscle in on their territory, the son plotting against the father and the crooked cops trying to kill everyone, and you’ve got a recipe for insanity.

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The filmmakers clearly want you to bother about the plot of this one – Rama is supposed to be going to prison for a few months, but due to political interference, ends up in there for two years; although if you were expecting them to develop that side of the story in the gigantic running time of the film, you’d be disappointed. What the film does extraordinarily well is the fighting. The martial art of choice is pencak silat, one born in Indonesia and full of amazing close-fighting speed, and Iko Uwais clearly knows his stuff, as the fights are full of speed and incident and incredible precision.

Oh, and violence. Boy is this a bloody film – people get their faces smashed in and shot off, folks get impaled on a whole variety of things, Hammer Girl (her name in the film) uses her hammers to cause the sort of damage you’d expect…and so on. It’s really really violent. But beautiful, weirdly, as there are so many wonderfully filmed set pieces – like “Hero” but in the here and now.

I liked that this film wasn’t one long orgy of shooting and violence like the first one, but director Gareth Evans seems to have put an entire normal-length ultra-violent film in here, then added another hour of gangsters and crooked cops and betrayals. The thing is, I’m not sure a film like this really needs to be quite as long as it is (two and a half hours)- and it’s got an exceptionally downbeat ending, if you think about it for a minute.

So, “The Raid 2” goes over the top with violence, while giving us plenty to chew on, and it’s an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It feels very very modern, too, but our other film of the day, “In The Blood” feels like it was taken straight from the 80s (with the exception of the gender of the protagonist).

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Gina Carano is brilliant. She was a kickass MMA fighter, and drew some impressive PPV numbers for her fights until she ran into the (chemically enhanced) Christiane “Cyborg” Santos. After that, someone decided she could make a lot more money acting and not have to get her head kicked in for real, so she made a move. Her first big role was the Stephen Soderbergh-directed “Haywire”, which I loved, and while she’s still not the world’s best actress, she’s not bad and improving all the time. She plays Ava, who marries Derek (Cam Gigandet) after they meet in Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s rich, and his family don’t want him marrying someone like her, who’s probably just after his money, but they do anyway and go for a honeymoon to an unnamed Caribbean island.

We also get regular flashbacks to Carano’s childhood, where she watches her parents get killed (before killing the two assailants herself) and then is brought up by the sort of mysterious fella you get in films like this, who teaches her how to fight extremely dirty and generally look after herself. This is a handy way round the explanation for her being an amazing martial artist, so when Derek falls from a zipline and disappears on his way to hospital, she starts beating her way to the truth.

This is where the film stops making sense, too. I’d suggest stopping reading now (rating: thumbs up) if you don’t want to have it spoiled, as I’m not a good enough reviewer to tell you why otherwise.

Derek is important because he’s an exact bone marrow match for violent gangster Silvio (Amaury Nolasco), who has some rare cancer. The problem is, with the timescale of the film, there’s no possible way Silvio could have known that about Derek before everyone started acting weird. Thinking back on it, it starts to make less sense – unpicking the series of events that led Derek to being kidnapped by Silvio, I’m trying to remember if he had a blood test at any point, and I just don’t think he did. Talking of stuff that makes no sense, what about the bizarre way Derek’s family treat Ava when they come over from the mainland? They seem fairly satisfied that she murdered him and hid the body and just leave after a day or so, never to be seen again.

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So, provided you can completely ignore the fact that this film’s plot is a complete house of cards and the merest whisper of wind is enough to send it tumbling, there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s got some great B-movie people in it (as well as Nolasco, we have Treat Williams and Danny Trejo) and Gina Carano is beautiful. No sense ignoring it, and despite being grotesquely large by Hollywood standards (in other words, built like a fit, strong, athletic woman rather than an undernourished waif) she dominates every scene she’s in and when she fights men, she looks infinitely better than when we’re expected to believe some 100-pound woman who looks like she’s never trained a day in her life can beat the crap out of some ripped 200-pound guy (there’s a reason boxing and MMA have weight classes, you guys).

A bit more acting development and Carano could be a huge star, but I think the writers (one of whom only did cheap horror sequels before this, the other wrote “Dumb and Dumber”) need to work on establishing why stuff happens. I annoyed my viewing companion by trying to puzzle out the ludicrousness of the story, and probably when I cheered at the nightclub fight, where women in tiny dresses throw each other around, so sorry about that; but I’m not sorry for still being unable to work out why A followed B in this movie. So watch and enjoy, but don’t whatever you do spend any time thinking about it.

Death Race 3: Inferno (2013)

This is an odd film to review. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a completely forgettable cash-in straight-to-video film, with its original star (Jason Statham, a man so magnificent he could break up my marriage either way he wanted) long gone, replaced by Luke Goss, who we Brits will remember from his time in 80s pop group Bros and very little else; and its original director, Paul W.S. Anderson, who also did the Resident Evil films, reduced to a producer and story credit.
 

In case you confused it with the old Death Race 3

In case you confused it with the old Death Race 3

But it, for no good reason, punches substantially above its weight. The cast, apart from Goss who’s a bit of a charisma vacuum, is strong – Ving Rhames, Dougray Scott chewing some scenery, and Danny Trejo still on a mission to be in the most films of any actor ever all show up, and the women hired as eye candy acquit themselves very well – Tanit Phoenix as the main love interest Katrina and Roxanne Hayward as Prudence stand out. There’s also a weirdly slavish devotion to continuity, but more on that later.
 
The original film, 1975’s “Death Race 2000”, was a low-budget gleeful skewering of the American way, where drivers in a dystopian future are awarded points for running people over in a transcontinental road race – my favourite scene is where nurses at a hospital wheel out terminally ill patients to be killed by their favourite drivers. This trilogy is pretty much based on that film in name only – there’s a character called Frankenstein, there’s cars in it, but other than that, not a lot. Prisoners are forced to race round a track, blowing each other up, and another nearby prison which appears to exclusively house errant supermodels supplies the navigators / co-drivers.

The first film is the last, chronologically. Jason Statham destroys the fabric of the Death Race and goes off to live a happy life. Part 2 is a prequel, and we see that way back when people got their jollies watching prisoners fight – however, we’re then told that people would rather watch vehicular murder than actual murder, something that current motor-racing v UFC ratings would seem not to bear out. We’re also introduced to a previous Frankenstein (because we already knew Statham wasn’t the first).

Part 3 is an interesting beast, though. Frankenstein (Goss) recovers from the horrible injuries he suffers at the end of part 2 and is then plunged into a bit of politics. Ving Rhames, the owner of the Death Race concept, is forced to sell to Dougray Scott, who decides to expand the concept from its sole location to a round the world thing – first location, South Africa. So the survivors from part 2 get sent there, where the prison is apparently inside some sort of mine. We’re given a nice big fight – seems unlikely that they’d jeopardise their celeb racers by having them injured or killed by a bunch of petty thugs, but whatever.

Their accommodation is hilarious – Frankenstein sleeps in a cell three inches deep in water, and the supermodels have bare cages with cockroaches everywhere. But never mind that, because Death Racing apparently makes everyone super-horny. Everyone is trying to have sex with someone, or actually having sex, to the point where it becomes a bit of a joke. Oh, they make the women fight to the death for the 10 co-pilot spots, which I suppose makes sense when you’re making a crazy-ass action film but not much sense when you’re running a business. Still, having identical twin serial killers and an IRA terrorist (for real!) chopping each other up makes for a fun time.

Never bring a knife to a flamethrower fight

Never bring a knife to a flamethrower fight

The race is cross-country this time, through the desert and what appears to be a real township / shanty. I really hope they paid to repair every bit of damage they’d done and did some improvements, or something, because I’m distinctly uncomfortable with Hollywood films doing stuff like this (Fast & Furious Five, I’m looking at you).

Dougray Scott decides that…well, he’s just generic villain no.1. He wants to kill Frankenstein to stop him from winning his fifth race, and therefore his freedom, but his motives aren’t remotely important – he’s evil! And he does stuff because his evil mind demands it! He’s also great and absolutely worth watching all the time.

At the end, we get a rather lovely bit of dovetailing with the beginning of the first film, so all three make a nice little mobius strip, or circle, or whatever it is (but I won’t reveal what the dovetailing is, in case you want to watch it yourself). I think there was no reason to make the film as good as it was, and to load the cast with big B-movie names and people from the previous two installments. Someone clearly gave a damn about this film, and it shows. Strap yourself in, get a bottle of some wicked strong booze and do a Death Race marathon. I think you’ll have a good time.

Death Race 3: Inferno on IMDB
Buy Death Race 3: Inferno [DVD] [2012]