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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Aladdin and the Death Lamp (2012)

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We have my friend Vicky to thank for this review – when I showed her a list of the SyFy Channel original movies I’d yet to review, this one leapt out at her. For good reason, I mean, “Aladdin and the Death Lamp” is a badass title, but for those of us who live in the cinematic gutter, we know a great title is no guarantee of a great movie. Perhaps there’s an “Uncanny Valley” style thing for movie titles, where normal ones are okay, then wacky ones are good, really wacky ones…drop into a pit of misery!…then the really really really wacky ones emerge victorious on the other side.

 

I miss the old-fashioned genies, who would just hang out, wearing sweet robes, granting three wishes. Blah blah “closer to the original legends” blah blah, we see four magicians fighting an evil jinn (which is a really good special effect, by the way, it feels like it has some weight and exists in the world of the movie), while at the same time getting a voiceover which fills the uninitiated in on the myth. Vanquished and trapped in a lamp – why is it always a lamp, I wonder? – we then leap forward in time to where our hero Aladdin and one of his buddies are doing a spot of tomb-robbing.

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Rather than finding the lamp straight away, they find a book that leads them to the lamp, and this book intrigues salesman / murder enthusiast Abdul, as well as Aladdin’s foster-siblings and –father, so there’s all manner of shenanigans out in the wilderness. Can they control the jinn? Stop it from opening its portal to the jinn dimension and unleashing a torrent of murder on the people of Earth?

 

I first became aware of director Mario Azzopardi from “Highlander: The Series”, one of those cheesy shows from the 90s I adore. Knowing he’s one of those Canada-based guys who’s directed a ton of TV, I then started paying a bit of attention to the backgrounds, and noticed how…let’s be polite…it doesn’t look remotely like the Middle East. Not even a bit. It looks like rural Canada in the spring, and it’s so awful it draws you out of the movie at times. But as we try to be a bit positive about SyFy’s TV movies, one thing they have done is got an almost entirely non-Caucasian cast, which is an event so rare in mainstream movies that it deserves an approving mention.

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Now, if it had been a good non-Caucasian cast, we’d have been onto a real winner. But before we get going, a sad RIP for Aladdin himself, Darren Shahlavi, who died suddenly in January 2015 of a rare heart condition. He was born in my part of the world before going off to Hong Kong and then Hollywood, doing stunt work and acting, and while he wasn’t the greatest actor in the world, he gave a little movie like this his all. Complimenting him is Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica), but basically everyone else in this movie sucks, with wooden line readings and bizarre facial expressions aplenty – special criticism to Eugene Clark as father/mentor Khalil, who takes (admittedly, not great) dialogue and mangles it so it resembles more a close cousin to English than English itself.

 

Like so many SyFy movies, that second act is a real problem. I like the characters and their introduction – you sort of believe Aladdin is a driven guy who’ll ignore good advice, the moral quandary his friends are in rings true…then there’s a ton of wandering about the forest as the lamp and control of the jinn is passed to and fro among the cast. When the plot gets going again, it picks up, but that mid-movie lull is a killer.

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And before we leave the rich world of SyFy for another day, the jinn himself. Later on in the movie, it seems to need people to make a wish before it kills them. Okay, I have no problem with that. But at the beginning of the movie, it’s killing people willy-nilly, and the end too. Stick to your own damn rules!

 

It’s a fun title and a great potential backdrop (I love that rich world of adventure you can get from that medieval / Middle East setting), but wasted on this.

 

Rating: thumbs down