Future Fear (1997)

Neither of them dress remotely like this at any point

Welcome, dear reader, to the heady far off days of 2017 as imagined in 1997, which even though it’s a dystopia is slightly less hellish than the actual 2017 we all lived through. If only you knew how badly it could get messed up, children of Blair and Clinton!

Anyway, it’s 2017 and a comet, last seen in 1997 (based on Hale-Bopp, which showed up then and was perhaps the brightest comet of the 20th century) is coming back round for another pass, and because there’s signs of alien life on it, a probe is sent out to have a look. The probe, on its way back to Earth with real genuine alien RNA on board, crashes in Africa and the plague unleashed from there wipes out almost all the human race.

The guy doing the voiceover – yes, a B-movie which needs to explain its central plot at length in the first five minutes is probably going to be tough going – is anti-establishment genetic scientist Dr John Denniel, who we meet in a helicopter, being chased by a red helicopter, piloted by his wife, who’s now his most hated enemy, Anna. Couple of gems of casting – Anna is played by Maria Ford, who’s a bit of a B-movie legend (we’ve met her before in “Deathstalker 4” and “Future Kick”); and John is the great Jeff Wincott. Because he’s a legit martial artist, he’s done a bajillion straight-to-video martial arts movies, but he’s also an actual actor and won awards for his TV work (“Night Heat”). We love him here at the ISCFC, and have covered his work in the “Universal Soldier” sequels and “Prom Night”, and it appears that while making this movie no-one ever thought to tell him to dial it down a little.

There are three things to note if you’re thinking of embarking on an evening of “Future Fear”. One is the title doesn’t really match the action – it’s being set in the future is never referenced and there’s not so much as a whisper of any cool future tech. Two – it’s 75 minutes long, and doesn’t waste a second of it, jumping between times and plots with reckless abandon. Three – it’s produced by Roger Corman, and don’t let the fact that Corman produced 17 other movies that year (!) convince you of its lack of quality.

I want to leap around a little less than the movie does. Stacy Keach, who must have owed someone some money, is the main US Army guy, until it’s revealed he’s actually a Nazi whose plan to wipe out the human race apart from the pure Aryans works perfectly (he crashes the satellite into Africa deliberately). John and Anna try to come up with a cure, fall in love, get married, then almost immediately turn to murderous rage towards each other – she gets pregnant and he suggests abortion, as bringing a baby into this world is sheer folly; then their solution to the virus is some embryos of animal-human hybrids with natural immunity, and she sees them as her children, he sees them as sources of valuable genetic information. And thus lies what might charitably be called the plot.

The first half gives us four timelines simultaneously – the early happy relationship of John and Anna; the miserable breakup time; the bit where he’s still trying to save humanity but she’s actually a secret recruit of Stacy Keach; and then the bit where Anna is trying to kill John. The second half of the movie is pretty much entirely their fight through the corridors and air ducts of their research base, with lots and lots of “hey, I caught you! No, you escaped really easily!” moments; and because “Die Hard” cast a long shadow, John has a friend who he only communicates with via radio, who’s trying to help him.

Wincott really goes all out here, enjoying the chance to do what appears to be intentional comedy. He quotes from “Alice In Wonderland” throughout, which is an interesting touch but not one which really goes anywhere, like an earlier draft made it part of the plot but they forgot that bit and left the quotes in anyway – sadly, they never quoted a very important line, “it would nice if something made sense for a change”. There’s a fight scene where John uses a toilet plunger, which is stuck to the wall – some of my fellow reviewers don’t seem to have a sense of humour and treat it like it’s intended to be serious. Come on!

What you’ll notice most obviously, though, is how disjointed it is. As well as the classic Corman touch of splicing in scenes from other movies he was making at the time, to save money, the editing is so offputting that I wondered if it was deliberate – probably not, is the answer. There are a few scenes that feature a ticking clock graphic at the bottom, but what that time is counting towards is never revealed. Good old Roger Corman!

This does break one of my most treasured movie rules, though – never directly remind someone of a more fun movie they could be watching instead. As he escapes one trap, John quips “I feel like I’m in a poor man’s version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, and while it’s more a very poor man’s Die Hard, just don’t draw attention to it!

I’ve been a little harsh to “Future Fear”, but – puzzling editing aside – it’s a fun little movie. OTT performance from Wincott, cheap and cheerful, rips along and is so puzzling, you’re unlikely to be bored at any time.

Rating: thumbs up

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12 Rounds 3: Lockdown (2015)

In news that’s as curious to me as it is to you, WWE left the best til last. I stopped watching pro wrestling in 2006 or thereabouts (although I occasionally pop on a Wrestlemania for old time’s sake) so my knowledge of the current product is fairly limited; although I was aware of the star of today’s review, I’ve never seen him in the squared circle.

But any doubts about the acting ability of the lead ought to be allayed when you see the crew that was assembled round him by director Stephen Reynolds. You may know them as “That Guy!”, but to me they’re the glue that holds some of the best recent genre TV together. Roger Cross, Ty Olsson and Lochlyn Munro are crooked cops Burke, Harris and Darrow and are extremely solid hands, so kudos to the casting – there are plenty of other Canadian TV veterans on hand too.

Dean Ambrose (real name: Jonathan Good) is cop John Shaw, returning to work after a seven-month absence after his partner was shot on his first day on the force. Turns out a lot of people blame Shaw for the kid’s death and his return is not universally popular. But, the most popular cop in the precinct, Burke, is dirty as hell, having shot the only witness to his drug-dealing operation and (so he thought) destroyed all the evidence. But…the coroner notices a flash drive disguised as a credit card on the corpse, and because Shaw is bored and isolated, he looks into it. Photos of deals! Bad things going on!

Quickly, things degenerate, and we’re presented with an interesting spin on the dependable “Die Hard” template. Burke triggers the fire alarm and gets the police station locked down with just him and his crew, Shaw, and innocent cop Jenny Taylor (Sarah Smyth) inside. Not sure how useful it is to be able to lock a police station up so tightly that no-one can get in or out (including cutting all the phone lines and blocking mobile communication), but we’ll leave that issue for the moment. Whereas “Die Hard” was the right man in the right place by accident, this is like if Hans Gruber was a cop, and wanted to kill another cop, so locked up Nakatomi Plaza so he could kill him at leisure.

You may be wondering “where do they crowbar 12 rounds into this?” and the simple answer is, they don’t. Shaw and Burke are having a chat near the beginning, at the firing range, where they’re sort of angling for power, trying to get the upper hand, in a very nicely written scene. Burke sees Shaw’s boring police-issue gun, and notes it only has “12 rounds”, and that’s the sum total of the bullets Shaw has to use to try and win the day. One other thing – Burke mentions their history together, that they went through the academy at the same time. Roger Cross is actually 16 years older than Dean Ambrose (although Cross looks younger than his age, and Ambrose older than his), which makes it a slightly odd visual.

Burke has one friend, Captain Matthews (Rebecca Marshall) on the outside; and if you’ve ever seen a movie before, you’ll know at least one of the beautiful lady-cops is working for the bad guys. Which one it is, I’ll leave you to discover for yourselves.

Although it’s set in one location, there’s plenty of variety and they actually bother to do something with them. A shooting range, a server room, a roof, plenty of offices…one must give kudos to director Stephen Reynolds, who started in self-funded short films before moving to LA and knocking on doors til someone gave him a job. I imagine it would be very easy to take WWE’s dime and knock out the same old rubbish, because no-one really cares, but it seems he was interested in moving onwards and upwards (he also directed the WWE movie “Interrogation”, which we’ll be covering soon).

Ambrose is surprisingly good in the lead role, too. I completely believed he was a cop returning to work after the death of his partner, and he wasn’t embarrassed stood next to some decent actors. I’d be very happy to see him in more movies, so I hope WWE continues producing them, or he moves on and gets some normal action-movie gigs the same way Steve Austin and John Cena did.

No problem recommending this to everyone. It’s logically ridiculous (why didn’t he just smash a window and jump out of the building? Or just shout to the cops outside that everyone else was trying to kill him?) but put all that to one side, because why on earth are you this far down the cinematic ladder if you want logical consistency? You want action and fun and “12 Rounds 3” delivers in spades.

Rating: thumbs up

Chameleon 2: Death Match (1999)

The “Chameleon” series is, I think, unique in movie circles for having each of its three installments be pilots for TV shows that never got made; not only that, but all three have no relation to each other, apart from the main character.

It’s curious, to compare this to shows that did get made – anyone remember “The Lost World”? “Cleopatra 2525”? “Relic Hunter”? “Lexx”? “Starhunter”? All mostly forgotten, cheap, genre TV, and “Chameleon” would have fit perfectly in that lineup. Although, just a year or so after part 3, both “Dark Angel” – very similar in terms of format – and “Alias” – one of my favourite shows of its time – would come to TV and prove there was a market for female led, slightly sci-fi-based, action spy shows.

But enough of me reminiscing about TV shows no-one cares about any more! It’s 2059, and corporations have taken over the American government. Standard stuff. The IBI is the new corporate police force, and they’re led by Casey Siemaszko, who is a fine actor but doesn’t exactly fit a person’s image of an action series lead. Casey is Jake, Bobbie Phillips returns as genetically engineered / slightly cyborg-y Kam, and there’s a whole team of people who’d supply all the useful technobabble and skills Kam doesn’t possess throughout the intended series.

It’s a “Die Hard” clone. No sense beating around the bush! A group of criminals infiltrates a futuristic casino and holds corporate bigwig Henry Kubica (John Waters, not “the” John Waters but an actor who looks like the bastard offspring of David Warner and Gerard Depardieu) and his son Tyler hostage, along with lots of other casino-goers; Kam is undercover in a tight dress, trying to keep Kubica safe. The only real differences are that Bruce Willis couldn’t turn himself invisible and didn’t have magic cyber-sight; and that Bruce was largely a solo act, and this is a team effort. But other than that, it’s got the endless corridors and cocky villains and a huge explosion happening in a lift shaft, you know, the classic building blocks of a ripoff of this sort.

Phillips is fine, again, but she’s weirdly emotionless in some scenes, like she was directed to play it like a robot. The thing is, her animal DNA ought to make her more emotional, not less? I think? When she’s showing her inner self a little, she’s excellent, but there’s not enough of it. Siemaszko is a comic actor, and is therefore horribly miscast as the lead agent; and everyone else is solidly dependable, like most TV actors.

It’s a little cheaper than part 1, with weaker special effects and a smaller focus, plus at least one of the special effects (the bike run through the warehouse full of bad agents) is a direct lift from the previous instalment. Also, everyone is greasy, like the makeup person didn’t have the right sort of powder to put on their faces, which you can handwave away by saying the building’s air conditioning was on the fritz. On the plus side, through, it’s got a meaningless title (there are no “death matches” of any sort) if you like that sort of thing.

There’s a scene at the end where they’re trying to evacuate the casino, and all that happens is people in the background run in random directions, constantly criss-crossing to get to…nowhere in particular. Which is, I guess, a perfect way to describe this movie. Much more than part 1, this screams out “TV pilot”, and while I enjoyed it more (better focused, for one) I just wish they’d either made it a proper movie or that it had been picked up.

Fingers crossed that part 3 is a bit different, and hope that the ISCFC doesn’t have to review any more Die Hard ripoffs for a while.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Cyberjack (1995)

It’s “Die Hard” in the near future.

Still reading? Well, now we’ve got the review out of the way, we can relax a little. This movie manages the rare-ish feat of being known by two titles that don’t describe it at all – first is the title you see above, which is a reference to a sort of hacker in the movie’s universe that’s about to be made redundant thanks to new technology, and of whom we meet none. It’s also known as “Virtual Assassin”, subtitled “death on the internet”, and, of course, there are no virtual assassins and no-one dies on the internet.

The first few seconds of the movie might have you believing it’s a little similar to “Ghost In The Shell”, with its monstrously large advertising hoardings general dystopian air to things – but it’s important to remember that after this brief scene, the era the movie is taking place in is never referenced again. But, you know, perhaps someone involved had some interesting ideas.

It’s a welcome return to the ISCFC for Michael Dudikoff, from “American Ninja”. In the intervening years, he’s apparently learned to act quite a bit, and here he’s Nick James, a cop with a cheeky grin and a hot partner. While discussing baseball, the two of them are called to a disturbance which ends up being ISCFC Hall Of Famer Brion James! He’s called Nassim, and has an amazing shock of bright white hair and a pencil-thin white beard; his motivation at this moment seems cloudy – he’s just interested in cackling maniacally and murdering.

Thanks to being unable to take a shot at Nassim, his partner is killed, and we cut to several years later, where Nick is now the janitor for a large office building, where some scientists have created…come on Mark, you can do this…a sentient computer virus that apparently bonds with human DNA! Really?

Guess which villain shows up, along with a large multi-ethnic gang of thugs, to steal the virus? Although after the ludicrous opening, I was ready to accept pretty much anything. So, we’ve got a gang holding a bunch of scientists hostage, and one man who wasn’t supposed to be there (he’d decided to not bother going home after the end of his shift, but stay at work and watch holographic pornography). They establish a little flirting relationship with Nick and Dr Alex Royce (Suki Kaiser) right away – she also has a firm opinion on the outfield of the “Neptunes” baseball team – so he’s got a reason to stay and help and not just try and escape.

If you were thinking “it’s just the idea of the movie they ripped off”, then I have four scenes / lines, all of which happen within five minutes of each other, to convince you otherwise.

  • The first good cop on the scene to help Nick says “hell of a week to quit drinking” (AIRPLANE)

  • Nassim says “I used to fuck a guy called Nick in prison” (ROADHOUSE)

  • Lift falls to bottom of lift shaft and explodes (DIE HARD)

  • Bullet is stopped by metal flask in breast pocket (A MILLION MOVIES)

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But I feel like I’ve given you a rather negative view of this fine piece of 90s action. Brion James is superb as the super-OTT villain, and his crew of baddies are all trying their hardest too, especially Garvin Cross as “Numb” and Topaz Hasfal-Schou as Megan, sporting amazing be-nippled steel armour. Although it’s very very standard (the first sentence of this review will have accurately placed about 80% of the movie in your mind) it’s pretty good fun, because it’s an entertaining template and it’s pretty hard to mess it up.

There’s clever touches, too. This is the first time in movie history anyone has hidden inside a hologram of someone else (I think); and the sheer volume of odd ideas at the end (including the “hovering” robot and wild computer stuff) is to be commended. But don’t worry about the quote from Stephen Hawking used at the beginning of the movie, as it has zero to tell us about what will happen, and is never so much as referenced again. Perhaps this is due to it being director Robert Lee’s first movie, or perhaps, judging from his future output, it’s just the sort of director he is.

And then there’s Dudikoff himself, who’s come on in leaps and bounds from his “American Ninja” days. He’s relaxed, able to do comedy, and doesn’t feel the need to be the most bad-ass fighter on the planet – in fact, he’s sort of a sucky fighter in this and gets his ass almost kicked on several occasions. His burning desire to know the score of the ongoing baseball game between the unnamed Chicago team and the “Neptunes” is a fine running gag; as is how much of a baseball nerd Alex is too.

It’s cheesy trash, without a doubt. But entertaining cheesy trash, and it’s free too.

Rating: thumbs up

Terminal Rush (1996)

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Long-term readers may remember our reviews of the “Bloodfist” series, 9 movies which mostly featured Don “The Dragon” Wilson, playing a variety of characters in a variety of environments. It could have been a “Bloodfist”, I suppose – released the same year as “Bloodfist 8”, it bears the same relation to the rest of the series as that one does (none whatsoever). “Terminal Rush” does bear a passing resemblance to one of the more enduring B-movie templates of all time, but more on that later.

 

“They’d have to be a real nutcase” to try and take over the Hoover dam, says a cop near the beginning. Luckily, the movies are lousy with erudite nutcases who want to blow things up and steal things and make a ton of money from doing so, and “Terminal Rush” is no different. Harrison Dekker (Michael Anderson Jr, “Logan’s Run”) leads a team of mercenaries into the Dam, killing some guards, taking others hostage and threatening to blow the dam up unless he gets $25 million. His sidekick is Bartel (the late, great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) and if you’ve seen any promotional images for this movie, you’ll have noticed Bartel’s rather unusual make-up choices.

 

Wilson is local Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Harper (who spent 6 years in Special Forces, we are helpfully told at one point) and he seems to like the life in whatever small town it is that’s next to Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, his wife Katherine (Kate Greenhouse) doesn’t, I guess – it’s never really elaborated on – and as the movie begins, she’s packing her stuff to move out. She wants Jacob to go with her, but he won’t because his grandfather told him his destiny is to perform an act of great heroism in this town. We discover later that she’s pregnant, and her brother is one of the other Deputies, so her insistence on leaving town right at that moment feels a bit off; but literally no-one in the universe is watching this for accuracy in the depiction of marriage, so I won’t dwell on it too much.

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As you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s a “Die Hard” clone, with a bit of “Under Siege” thrown in for good measure. Don finds out that the Dam has been taken over so goes in through a secret maintenance tunnel and starts kicking ass. The FBI are brought in, and they try and stop him; then the Sheriff asks for the Army to be brought in too. In a moderately interesting twist, it seems some of the people on the outside are working for the people inside, and $25 million isn’t going to make much of a difference divided that many ways, so there’s a whole other reason for them being there and a whole lot more money to be made. Can Jacob stop them all? Can Dekker stop doing that thing where the villain shoots one of his own guys in cold blood to prove a point to the other guys?

 

There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be decent – I’ve liked a lot of those cheap ripoff movies, think Don Wilson is a decent enough actor and a great martial artist, and love Roddy Piper. It just feels like a cover version with no soul, though. Take the gunfire scenes (please) and watch how many people appear to be just firing randomly into the air. Or, even with a complete amateur’s limited knowledge of tactics, how stupid they all seem (set yourself in position before you start firing, don’t run and gun from the hip, you’ll never hit the bloke). It’s mostly in one of those disused factories that we B-movie fans know and love, but there’s no sense of where people are in relation to other people…

Terminal Rush - Die Herausforderung / Terminal Rush CDN 1995 Regie: Damian Lee Darsteller: Roddy Piper, Don 'The Dragon' Wilson Rollen: Bartel, Jacob Harper

It’s just poorly directed. Full of Dutch angles, and that thing where people are shot from a camera which appears to be sat on the floor, meaning we see up a lot of noses. Lord knows why, it becomes irritating really quickly. Director Damian Lee is in regular work (and made ISCFC non-favourite “Ski School”, among others), making those thrillers you’d see on the video shop shelves starring former big stars who still have some name recognition (Dominic Purcell, Andy Garcia, Forrest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding Jr, Christian Slater), and maybe he got better, but this is just bland. Even Piper is sort of bland in this, like he got the weird face-paint but wasn’t allowed to go over the top at all.

 

A word about screenwriter Mark Sevi, who seems to have written more sequels than any other writer ever. To list his first seven credits: Excessive Force II: Force on Force; Dream a Little Dream 2; Scanner Cop II; Relentless IV: Ashes to Ashes; Ghoulies IV; Fast Getaway II; Class of 1999 II: The Substitute; Dead On: Relentless II. “Terminal Rush” was only his second original screenplay – well, okay, “original” is pushing the definition a bit much.

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I expected the ending to be “well, husband, you’re good at your job, therefore I love you again” but they did a surprising (and quite welcome) twist on that sad sexist old trope. It is, unfortunately, the only remotely surprising thing about the movie, and while it’s certainly tolerable, it’s just a bit too amateurish. When you have a movie where Roddy Piper gets to blow up helicopters with a rocket launcher and you’re not grinning from ear to ear at the end, you’ve done something wrong.

 

Rating: thumbs down