Youtube Film Club: Expect To Die (1997)

We here at the ISCFC are long-time haters of Jalal Merhi. He’s perhaps the worst actor to ever headline multiple movies – he made his money from his family’s jewel business and plowed all that cash into making his own starring vehicles, always producing them, and often directing too. It’s really hard to over-emphasise just how bad an actor he is, though, seemingly unable to portray any emotion or deliver a line in anything other than a monotone.

But, he knows how to surround himself with actors we like, and he’s at least competent as a director, so here we are, on our…tenth?…Merhi review. Today’s movie features David “not the British character actor” Bradley and Evan Lurie, both high-quality B-movie veterans, and tells a story of virtual reality, managing to get the future weirdly right (there’s a VR game coming out this year for the Oculus, PS4 and Steam called “I Expect You To Die”, coincidentally enough). Apart from the thing about VR killing people, I guess? Also, it’s not to be confused with the previous year’s “Expect No Mercy”, also about virtual reality being too powerful, also with people fighting inside it, also starring Merhi.

 

Things kick off with a military test of virtual reality software, where a soldier dies because the VR was too real – a solid standard 90s plot device. The guy who invented the software is Dr Vincent MacIntyre (Bradley, completely bizarrely miscast) and he’s furious that the military want to cancel the research; and he’s even furiouser that his company kicks him out because he’s a loose cannon. This is tied into his dead father, who was a Colonel who was framed for murder by the military establishment? This completely undeveloped plot thread makes “Expect To Die” feel like the sequel to an unmade movie.

Luckily, both the Army and the software company are okay with MacIntyre selling the software to a criminal, I think?

 

Hold on, I need to try and establish how confusing this whole thing is. There’s an illegal arms sale in a warehouse, where all these wealthy bad guys have women on their arms as nothing more than set dressing (Merhi is among the most sexist of the 90s action crowd, no mean feat), but one of the bad guys wants to pay for the merch with computer disks, which has “Expect To Die” on it. This is the game created by MacIntyre’s old company, but is a normal “Mortal Kombat” style fighting game – we learn this thanks to Merhi’s girlfriend, a computer programmer / plot device (she gets kidnapped later on). The virtual reality “game”, with the same name, is being developed in secret for some criminals, but why is either never mentioned or I wasn’t paying attention for those five seconds. How much profit is there in a game which just straight-up kills you?

 

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Merhi’s female partner gets shot (while in her underwear, for the flimsiest of reasons) so he needs a new partner. Evan Lurie! There’s a bunch of references to Lurie getting shot when they were partners before, which again leads me to believe this script is the sequel to something which never got made? Anyway, Lurie tries his best with the dead weight of his co-star but it’s tough at times.

What’s most important to note about this movie is it’s a complete ego trip for Jalal Merhi. He’s got a gorgeous female partner but he’s devoted to his wife; he’s also the best martial artist in the world. Want to know how I know this? Evan Lurie, a talented screen fighter, only has one fight scene, and David Bradley, who was the star of an entire action franchise, doesn’t fight at all. Can’t distract from the star! Merhi kicks ass all over the place, of course, and even shows off how buff he is in the VR bootcamp program he’s plugged into, but even then, there’s a weirdly small amount of martial arts in a movie with three martial arts stars as the top billed actors, especially as the plot seems designed to have fighting in it?

 

This is a really bad one. Even though it’s got two great action stars in it, it uses them terribly – Lurie really ought to have had a few starring roles, not second banana to a charisma-vacuum like Merhi; and it’s interesting seeing Bradley as the bad guy, even if he’s given a really weird character. But everything else just feels like it was thrown together at the last minute, mostly at random. The number of dropped plot threads might be, in the hands of anyone with a modicum of skill, a joke in and of themselves, but here you’re pretty certain they just didn’t consider why anyone would care about anything other than Merhi being the ultimate badass.

Definitely one of the more confusing 90s action B-movies. Worth watching for that purpose? I don’t know. Merhi’s previous directorial effort, “Operation Golden Phoenix”, was quite good, and “Expect No Mercy” was at least fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. This is po-faced, not very exciting and probably not worth your time (even if it is available for free).

Rating: thumbs down

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Cyborg Cop 2 (1994)

If you think about it for a minute, these titles make no sense. Even if you consider the title as a cop who polices cyborgs, he’s not a cop, he’s a DEA agent; if you want an actual cyborg cop, then the two minutes that his brother decides to be a good guy at the end of part 1 is all you’re going to get. But “Human DEA Agent” isn’t quite as catchy a title for a B-movie, I’ll admit.

David Bradley (not that David Bradley) is back as Jack Ryan (not that Jack Ryan), who seems to be the same character? His girlfriend is gone, his brother is never mentioned, but he still has that kid and the fanny-pack. Presumably, someone complained about the lily-white cast of part 1, so he has a black partner now, who he’s close enough with to have a photo of the two of them together on his apartment wall. Oh, he’d quit the DEA in the first movie but is back in this one. Who knows?

There’s a terribly filmed raid scene, where a group of criminals led by a charmer called Starkraven, wipe out most of the people inside a drug factory – there was money owed, or something. Anyway, this criminal-on-criminal action is interrupted and Starkraven is arrested by Jack (Jack is introduced getting out of a car, with a slow pan up his body like he’s a damn model). Later, though, he’s taken from jail by some federal agents, only for the next day’s newspaper to tell us he died. Huh?

Don’t worry, those feds are the ATG (Anti-Terrorism Group) and they’re building super-cyborgs. They’re literally called that, it’s not just hyperbole! They’ve got heat-resistant kevlar skin, special hats which link to their brain, and magic glasses. Now, for those of you thinking “wouldn’t it make more sense to just put that stuff in their bodies?” you’d, of course, be right, and just for extra confusion, that’s a big red herring as none of the cyborgs use those glasses at any point (they all wear hats, but seem to gain no benefit from doing so). Also, the plan for the ATG is flimsy at best, and the people who work there all seem like assholes, not decent law enforcement.

Just getting back from a Paula Poundstone lookalike contest

Anyway! Starkraven is renamed Spartacus by the head scientist, and of course escapes almost immediately, taking the one device – a sort of wrist computer – that can fry his circuits, killing everyone and freeing his cyborg pals. He’s got world domination on his mind! But my absolute favourite bit of this scene is when he opens his eyes for the first time and they play that servo noise! His eyelids have motors attached to them! As well as world domination, he wants his first slave to be Jack Ryan, as he resented being kidnapped by a guy with a bad haircut, a cheesy leather jacket and a fanny-pack.

ASIDE: Dear 90s scientists, stop using criminals for your experiments. It never works.

The woman with the big “love interest” sign above her head in this movie is ATG agent Liz McDowell (Jill Pierce). She’s the classic b-movie combination of extremely beautiful and extremely bad at acting, and even though she knows about the cyborgs, you can tell she’s one of the good people. Eventually, they team up, and Jack also gets help from a local sheriff who, rather inexplicably, appears to be English? Can Jack and Liz defeat the apparently indestructible cyborgs? Will they get together, despite hating each other when they first meet? And when will someone tell Jack that fanny-packs are a really bad fashion choice?

Liberally cover everything in music so inappropriate that I began to wonder if it was a joke on behalf of a savvy producer, and you’ve got yourself a sequel. Bradley seems less convinced by the material than he did in part 1, and is (unfortunately) a little weak; but he’s Olivier crossed with Gielgud compared to Jill Pierce. Watching her was confusing – was she this bad on a dare? Was she under heavy sedation the entire time? Was she a crew member who had to replace the actual actor on the first day of filming? Apparently, she was a professional acting-person who was also in “Kickboxer 4” and “Omega Doom”, although her “retirement” in 1998 was not a particular loss to the industry. The guy playing Starkraven was fine, although the rest of his cyborg army clearly got no direction as they’re entirely blank-faced whenever you see them on screen.

Talking of which, it’s time for “ISCFC Low-Budget Film School”! The way you’d normally film someone getting blown up with a rocket launcher is in three parts:

  1. Shot of bad guy
  2. Shot of good guy firing rocket launcher
  3. Immediately cut to bad guy blowing up

Simple and effective. “Cyborg Cop 2” follows this, almost, but leaves in a few too many frames of the pre-explosion bad guys in section 3. It’s not like I’m even all that eagle-eyed, but one lucky freeze-frame later and here is the shot of the bad guys an instant before they were killed:

Pay your editor, people. It’s worth it.

If you watched part 1 and enjoyed it, you’ll like this too. They share a director and a sense of humour, and despite it being a bit silly, it rips along at a fair old pace. A few seconds of editing and it’d have been even better. Part 3 sounds interesting too, starring ISCFC favourites Bryan Genesse and Frank Zagarino, so I’ll have a review of that up soon.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Cyborg Cop (1993)

If you’ve ever heard of “Cyborg Cop”, you might wonder why the ISCFC has never covered it – it’s perfect for us, in terms of era, production company, stars and plot. Well, I watched it about a week before I answered a forum post saying “anyone want to review movies?” and started writing for this site, back in 2012, and I’ve needed this amount of time to forget enough stuff about it to watch it again, and it fits in nicely with our “— Cop” series of reviews.

It’s a welcome return for David Bradley – not the one from “Kes”, or the one from the “Harry Potter” movies, I’m talking about the famous one here – last seen by us in “American Samurai”. Here, he’s DEA agent Jack Ryan (generic name alert!) and he and his brother Philip (Todd Jensen) are tracking down some dealer through a disused factory. The dealer has a hostage and a vest, so Jack takes out his magic armour-piercing bullets, which you’d think would be referenced later during the climactic battle but totally aren’t, and shoots him. Hostage survives, bad guy dead, no problem, right? Well, the TV news, making Fox News look actually fair and balanced, are there within seconds, and as the dead guy is the son of a media magnate, Jack is out of a job.

Jack retires to a generic bar, to wear a leather jacket and a fanny-pack and look miserable. Philip, still a DEA guy, takes a team to storm the remote compound of Kessel, and here’s where I need to stop the review for a moment.

John Rhys Davies! Reviews of his movies litter our pages, and his run on TV show “Sliders” is a particular highlight – we can even leave aside his crappy Margaret Thatcher-supporting right wing views. But here, he clearly turned up for the first day of filming and said “hey, director! I’ve got an idea. How about I do a camp Yorkshire accent?” and then just refused to change it when everyone said it was not a good idea. As far as I’m aware, it’s not JRD’s real accent (having been born down south and brought up in Wales) and it appears this particular voice is not one of his strong suits. Anyway.

Philip is captured by Kessel and Jack has to go and look for him. As the title sort of gives it away, Kessel’s business plan, as well as selling drugs, is to create cyborg warriors and sell them to international terrorist organisations – the prototype is the guy who captures Philip. Before we go any further, Quincy (the prototype’s name) has an amazing knife-hand thing, like a combination of Freddy Krueger and Wolverine, and his impassive performance is a minor gem. Anyway, Jack gets to (Mysterious Unnamed Caribbean Island) and wouldn’t you know it, the reporter who exposed him back at the beginning of the movie is here on the island to look into the same thing! It may take you at least three seconds to figure out they’ll be having sex at some point soon; but Alonna Shaw, who plays Cathy, is actually a pretty good actress, so it’s still fun to watch.

The movie progresses pretty much like you expect it to. Jack and Cathy investigate things, get involved in chases and fights, and Kessel tries to track them down, or kill them, or both. Director Sam Firstenberg (who also did the first two “American Ninja” movies, as well as “American Samurai”) knows how to keep things going at a good pace. There’s a fine example of something which is lost in movies today – good blood squibs. There’s so much CGI shooting these days that it’s fun to see someone doing it the old way, and doing it well too.

Also, kudos to writer Greg Latter, who’s got some comedy form. As well as JRD’s performance (which we could charitably describe as OTT on purpose), there’s some decent banter between the two stars, and some decent comic relief from Kurt Egelhof as “Rastaman”. Plus, a guy gets a hole punched right through his head, which (I hope for my sanity) was put in there as a grim joke.

This is another Nu Image production. They were founded by executives from Cannon after that company folded (check out our review of the Cannon documentary HERE) and decided to make movies just as cheesy as Cannon did, but to actually have a control on their finances and so on. That’s why Golan and Globus are a joke now and Nu Image is making the Expendables movies and sitting on a large pile of cash. We have the solid performance and low-ish budgets of movies like “Cyborg Cop” to thank for that success. Hurray, I guess?

Both main stars never made another movie past the late 90s, and I think that’s a shame. David Bradley was a great martial artist, looked like a leading man and, towards the end, bothered to learn acting (he’s totally fine in this, for example). Alonna Shaw is way better than I expected a former model to be, too, so there’s precious few of those moments where your brain tunes out because you can tell everyone on screen is struggling with their lines.

So, it’s a lot of fun, there’s plenty of action, and cyborgs too! ISCFC readers will no doubt have a fine time with this one. Join us in a few days to see if part 2 is anywhere near as good!

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: American Samurai (1992)

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Why to-the-death underground fight leagues wouldn’t work in real life, in three simple bullet points:

 

  • How would you get fighters? If every guy has a 50% chance of death, then you’d exhaust the area’s supply of crazy people and over-confident martial arts guys in the first few weeks.
  • I just don’t believe you’d get enough people who’d cheer on mutilation and murder to make a financial go of it. Are there that many bloodthirsty sociopaths in the world? What about when fights end in one strike? How do you bet on a fight which lasts three seconds?
  • Most importantly – competition. Pro wrestling stopped being “real” and boxing introduced padded gloves in large part because if you want to create rivalries, which are hugely important for drawing money, you need your main guys to stay healthy enough to fight reasonably regularly. There are no best-of-three fights when it’s to the death (obviously).

 

That’s leaving aside that the police might eventually get interested in the dozens of disappearances / bodies being dumped just outside town, although the local cops are usually bought off in movies like this. But, as well as being an underground fight league movie, “American Samurai” is also an example of that surprising durable favourite plot of martial arts movies, the feuding brothers. Those “brothers”? David Bradley, star of the later “American Ninja” movies, and Mark Dacascos, of all sorts of things but most notably to us, “Double Dragon”, “Kickboxer 5”, “Drive” and “Sabotage”. This entire smorgasbord is thanks to Cannon Films, which decided that “American Ninja” was such a hit, they’d try and start another, effectively identical, franchise, with the same leading man.

A quick word about our leads – both actors improved after this. Dacascos was at the beginning of his career, and while Bradley had already starred in several “American Ninja” instalments when this was made, he got better too. Bradley is acting like he’s just taken strong painkillers and Dacascos like he’s just taken speed.

 

A plane carrying an American family crashes in Japan, with the only survivor being a tiny baby. Rather than reporting it to the authorities or allowing the remaining family the slight respite of knowing the baby made it, a local samurai master takes the baby and raises him as his own, alongside his own son. Luckily, they all speak perfect English, and the baby is raised without a hint of a Japanese accent, even. The two brothers feud, because Drew (Bradley) is hard-working and devoted – while not having the slightest interest in meeting any of his extended family, even into his 30s – and Kenjiro (Dacascos) is a bit of a scumbag, and indeed joins the Yakuza when it turns out that their father is going to give the Clan’s sword to Drew. Drew is now “keeper of the blade”, although this seems to be solely limited to just putting it in a nice case on his mantel.

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This bit is so standard as to be barely worth recapping. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen four or five movies with a similar opening sequence; but what you won’t have seen is the next scene, where suddenly Drew is living in the USA as an investigative reporter. Did he go to college in Japan? He’s being sent to Turkey to check out some drug smuggling activity, and is assigned a photographer. Yes, of course the photographer is a hot woman, and of course their relationship is prickly at first, come on! I don’t need to tell you all this stuff!

 

That sword is really important to Kenjiro, for some reason, so he sends a bunch of goons to steal it, and they succeed, but not before Drew has beaten a bunch of them up and taken a bullet to the gut. After they leave, he hears his Dad’s voiceover (which ought to be third-billed in the movie, it’s in it so often) telling him to manage his own pain, or some such nonsense – this is just so he can pluck the bullet out himself and heal, with zero help, virtually instantly. Well, it’s more accurate to say “the movie just didn’t bother showing him get better, in about a day, from a gunshot wound”.

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He goes to Turkey, and we discover he’s just looking for his brother, who he knows is there. He helps out a big ol’ redneck in a bar fight – who’s definitely not supposed to be a cheap ripoff of Ogre from “Bloodsport” – then gets kidnapped, and forced to fight in the to-the-death underground fight league, or they’ll kill Pouty McLoveinterest, who was kidnapped at the same time. Guess who’s champion of this league? And guess which big redneck is also signed on as a competitor? This whole section (which takes up a good half the movie) is so weird and wonderful – rather than one martial art vs another, it’s just dudes in fancy dress with blades, killing. There’s a Conan-looking guy, a Viking, a not-racist-at-all African jungle guy, and…a plain boring old white guy!

 

There’s so much to talk about! Let’s discuss some of the more bizarre technical choices – and there’s a lot of them. The plane that crashes at the beginning is going so slowly it actually bounces off the tree it’s hitting, and is such an obvious model that they might as well have had a kid’s hand guiding it in. Conan is killed in one scene, but he keeps showing up in the background, training, for the rest of the movie. There’s a really bizarre editing choice which only happens in the first half, where the last line of dialogue of a scene is played over the beginning of the next scene, even when the two have nothing in common. Then there’s the sex scene. Oh, the sex scene! While their faces are entirely in shadow, and their bodies are suddenly, mysteriously, quite different, Drew and Pouty have sex. Did the actors hate each other to the extent they refused to film a sex scene? Or (and this is way more likely) Cannon ran out of money and inserted these scenes much later to get it to a release-able length?

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Talking of inserting scenes, the final fight between Bradley and Dacascos isn’t really much of a fight. At the beginning, there’s lots of talking and a few blindingly fast but brief movements…so seeing the fight really kick off is pretty exciting, until you realise they’re not fighting each other all the time, and footage from other fights is being spliced in. You cheeky devils!

 

It’s not like the director was a novice, either. Sam Firstenberg was one of Cannon’s go-to guys, directing instalments in the “American Ninja”, “Ninja” and “Cyborg Cop” series. He’s even responsible for the movie which spawned a thousand terrible “name a fake sequel” jokes, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”! So quite what went on here is a puzzler, dear reader. It’s the only credited script of actor John Corcoran, so maybe he’s to blame? He certainly didn’t spend too much time making this a particularly original script, but I doubt he wrote “now put in some really weird editing for no reason”.

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I really enjoyed it, and it being free on Youtube certainly didn’t hurt. The constant “you must defeat the demons inside yourself” crap from Dad was a bit boring after a while – and, according to dialogue, he’s still alive, so they probably ought to have brought him in for the final fight (again, probably budgetary). But, it’s hard to really hate a movie with this many odd choices, which is based around a fight league – even the worst one is at least a bit of fun. Also, Bradley does some of the funniest acting I’ve ever seen, in an extreme close up, trying to convince us he’s using his sixth sense, an eye in his mind. Boy, is he going all out pretending like the middle of his forehead is looking at stuff!

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Youtube Film Club: Total Reality (1997)

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David Bradley must have decided shortly after making “Total Reality” that the movie business wasn’t for him. After taking over the “American Ninja” franchise and doing a pretty good job of it, he’d turned from MARTIAL ARTS GUY into a decent, charismatic leading man who could also kick ass. Then, after a few movies in 1997, that was it. When there’s “actors” like Jalal Merhi and Ron Marchini who made w-a-y more movies than they should have, it’s a shame when a good actor makes too few.

Although perhaps he saw the finished product of this confusingly plotted movie and thought gardening was a more satisfying career. John Bridges (Michael Mendelson) has written a self-help book, which advocates selfishness to get ahead, and as you might have guessed, he’s a bit of a dick, as we see his ex-wife Cathy (Ely Pouget) storm into his rather sparsely attended book launch to demand the return of money he stole from their joint account. But we’re then whisked 200 years into the future! Humanity spread throughout the galaxy pretty quickly, but with the pretty evil-sounding Bridgist political party / philosophy dominant. There’s a rebel force and a war waged which kills billions of people, and we join the action as the Bridgists are about to storm the last remaining rebel ship. Bradley is Lieutenant Antony Rand, leading the Bridgist commandos.

 

Now, right about here, ten minutes into the movie, is where everything goes off the rails. I don’t think it’s always necessary, but when you’re making a cheapo sci-fi action movie, it’s often handy to have clearly defined heroes and villains, at least early on. It gives you an “in” to the movie, allows you to get acclimated before the twists and turns of the plot really kick in. “Total Reality” on the other hand, gives you something different – the Rebel leader, Commander Tunis (Thomas Kretschmann, who’d go on to a decent career, including “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”), shoots the assistant who suggests surrender to save the families on board; then Rand secures the ship, only to have his Bridgist superiors destroy it from a distance with their super-lasers. Rand shoots his superior officer and is sent to military prison; Tunis and his second-in-command escape on a small craft and go back in time to 1998.  By the way, the rebel ship is the USS Haldeman, no doubt a reference to the author of sci-fi classic “The Forever War”, which I wish this movie had borrowed more from him than a name.

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I could spend an entire review unpacking the plot holes and confusion in just this one tiny bit of movie, because it’s pretty special. The sole “good guy” is happily on the side of the evil Bridgists to this moment, and both sides seem like absolute scum. Then, thinking just a tiny bit deeper, if both sides have time travel technology, why haven’t they used it before this, the last possible moment of the war? Why did Tunis need to kill his assistant and potentially all the people hiding in the hold he blasted his time-travel ship out of? Why did Rand learn the truth about the Bridgists so early in the movie, leaving no big reveal for later?

 

From Rand’s new home on Ganymede Space-Prison, the movie then becomes a sort of reverse “Terminator”, crossed with “The Dirty Dozen”. Rand and three other inmates are given implants that will explode in 40 hours, and sent back in time themselves to capture the two rebels, alive or dead. One might think they’d at least give the four the most basic of preparation for life in the late 20th century, but no! Sure is lucky one of them can drive, otherwise this would be a movie about four people in body armour and rifles trying to hitch a ride. There’s also a smidge of “Back To The Future 2” as one of the convicts takes back a disc with every stock price movement for the last two hundred years on it.

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The Fearsome Foursome are tracking the chips implanted in the rebel leaders’ necks, because every Bridgist has one implanted. Never mind that the war has been raging for decades and chances are the two rebels would have been born outside the Bridgist sphere of influence! Just go with it! They find Cathy pretty much by accident as she’s gone to her former home to get some stuff, and the two rebels turn up too, looking for Bridges themselves. Thanks to this meeting, we get perhaps the primary stylistic choice of this movie – NO-ONE CAN SHOOT FOR SHIT. People stood in the same room as each other, with big powerful guns, are appalling aims, even worse when you consider they’re all trained soldiers. This carries on throughout, to the point when you’re actually surprised when someone fails to navigate the mostly harmless hail of bullets.

 

The thing about David Bradley is he’s a fantastic screen martial artist, so if you hire him for your movie you’d expect there to be some decent fights. Of course, if you’re the producers of “Total Reality” then you’dabsolyutnaya-realnost-scene-2 have him in no fights at all, apart from him punching one guy in the face. I’d understand that if it were a crash-bang-wallop action movie, with stuff happening all the time, but it’s really not. As well as all the comparisons above, it’s got a lot of “The Dead Zone” to it, just with being from the future substituting for being psychic, and also has a whole undeveloped plotline which reminds you of the episode of the Simpsons where Kang and Kodos replace Bill Clinton and Bob Dole on the election trail. Whoops, spoilers!

 

If you’ve got a clash of ideologies, like Bridgism vs. whatever the rebels stand for, then you really need at least one description of what those ideologies are. This movie goes out of its way to not tell you, to leave you in the dark about what exactly everyone is fighting for, and while we know Bridgism is bad we’ve got absolutely no idea what the rebels would replace it with. Their plan is, what we see of it anyway, confusing, and given that Rand should really be on their side from the very beginning, sort of pointless. To top all this off, it gives us a bizarre anti-climax of an ending, with the movie’s fourth banana the one to get the big dramatic closing speech, which isn’t actually all that dramatic at all. And what the hell was with the mysterious FBI agents? They clearly knew more than they were letting on, but why? And how?

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They must have filmed at 4:30 am on the streets and in an abandoned mall, because aside from the main cast there is literally no-one in this movie. I’d love it if it were a conscious choice, but I bet the filmmakers just didn’t want to pay any extras (the big book launch that will apparently change the universe is attended by maybe 10 people, for example).

 

I wanted to like this – time travel, sci-fi, David Bradley, director Philip Roth (who also did ISCFC favourite “Digital Man” and now produces SyFy Channel-esque movies) – there’s plenty of good elements for the B-movie lover. But it’s all so empty. Why not take out one of the meaningless talking scenes (or heavily trim the coda) and have a character explain their motivation with some clarity? “Oh, that’s why that guy shot his friend and then risked all the people on his ship to go back in time!”

 

Rating: thumbs down

American Ninja 5 (1993)

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Well, that was a strange little series.

David Bradley, star of AN 3 and 4, filmed another, unrelated film about a guy and some ninja shenanigans. Cannon, never ones to pass up an opportunity to make a quick buck, renamed it “American Ninja 5” but didn’t do anything a person might expect, like changing the name of the main character or having it make any sense in terms of the four films that preceded it. That’s how we like em at the ISCFC! Anyway, that makes the American Ninja series perhaps the only example of the same film series having two parts that didn’t tie in to the rest, or each other. Congratulations!

Bradley is Joe (a different Joe to the one Dudikoff played in 1, 2 and 4), who’s training at Pat Morita’s gym! Morita, clearly doing this as a favour to someone, pops up at the beginning to ask Joe to look after his great-nephew Hiro, a sullen 13 year old, then sods off til the last two minutes. As well as having this annoying kid in tow, Joe meets a beautiful woman sort of by accident, only she’s the daughter of some scientist who’s being held by an evil crime fellow, and the crime fellow has a super-powerful ninja as his main enforcer…

Fabulous!

Fabulous!

In a bit of a coincidence, Tadashi Yamashita, the guy who played the bad guy from AN1 is here, as Pat Morita’s assistant trainer, but his credit is as himself? It’s a puzzler, as he doesn’t seem to be that famous. To increase your confused frown as the film goes on, Hiro is played by Lee Reyes, a genuine junior karate champion, and he did most of his own choreography. He’s one of those style of characters that films occasionally fall in love with – the extremely annoying precocious pre-teen who can do everything better than the adult cast. The scene where he’s walking through a city somewhere in Venezuela, crying and begging for random strangers to take him to the American embassy, is a low point even for this series. Anyway, clearly Cannon thought he was a star in the making, although they would seem to have been very badly mistaken on that.

David Bradley learned how to act in the intervening years, and is a decently funny, credible actor in this one. He’s no longer got that rabbit-in-the-headlights look when it comes to being the lead guy in a movie; which makes his seeming complete disappearance from cinema in 1997 slightly sadder than it would have been if you’d only seen AN3.

What did we learn with this movie? Well, we learn that baddies sometimes have their offices, complete with computers and all sorts, just in the open air, near the pool of some hotel. We learn that ninja-ism is hereditary, and you just need to unlock the potential with a short montage. We also learn that if you get bored of being the legal guardian of a kid, you can just fob him off at a moment’s notice on one of your work colleagues while you go on holiday. These are some important lessons, I think you’ll agree.

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Although this film was clearly sorry to see us viewers go, feeling like it lasted for 4 hours, this is the end of the series. Cannon Films are now the subject of a couple of different documentaries which I’ll try and review for you soon; and the world is a bit sadder for having fewer racist lunatics making cheap crappy films to fill up video shops.

Rating: thumbs down