Shadows In Paradise (2010)

shadows-in-paradise-movie-poster-2010-1020682172

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.

shadows-in-paradise-587414l-imagine

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.

2_midi

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!

mark-dacascos-and-sofya-skya-in-shadows-in-paradise-2010

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:

picture-128

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

 

 

Advertisements

Youtube Film Club: American Samurai (1992)

samurai1

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.

s9sm-600x460

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”.

americansamurai4

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?

americansamurai5

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”.

1891005tfphoalyl6fovnr2ljanu6zfg6xnplqyfkbp39vm3zlk9wwvc_4gd8sx2ujznv0kwiaxmv24mny7xng0wy-3w

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

Wolvesbayne (2009)

71sOyNzfqpL._SL1060_

We’re back in the warm welcoming arms of the SyFy Channel. They’ve provided some of the highest highs (“Dark Haul”) and lowest lows (to pick one of many at random, “Crystal Skulls”) but they have a way of doing things that feels comforting and familiar. Take one star on his way down, mix in a familiar plot, film somewhere in Eastern Europe to cut down on costs, and boom! Or is “boom!” too exciting a noise for these movies? Anyway.

 

Our fading star today is Jeremy London, one of the London twins (along with the Ashmores, I find them so identical it’s pretty much impossible to tell them apart), as scumbag property developer Russell Bayne. The last shop he needs before turning some low-rent part of town into another pointless, ugly commercial development – my words, not his –is the occult shop run by Alex (Christy Carlson Romano). After a hard day of trying to bribe her to give it up and then being horrible to his employees, he’s driving home down a country road – you know, like all people who live and work in the same city do – and, while he stops to sort of almost help out a stranded motorist, is attacked by a werewolf. Because he’s not quite killed (unlike the motorist he stopped to help) you know what happens next!

maxresdefault

Thanks to whoever it was who decided that vampires and werewolves are now interlinked forever, this movie has to have a clan of vampires, and this one’s led by Von Griem – Mark Dacascos in perhaps his most gloriously bonkers performance ever. He’s trying to resurrect the mother of all vampires, Lilith, for the terribly important reasons people in movies like this have, but which seem a bit silly when they’re written down. Lilith is played by Yancy Butler, at what would appear to be the end of her several year-long rough patch, involving rehab and arrests and so on, and similarly to Dacascos, she realises how ridiculous this all is and hams it up to the maximum too.

 

It turns out Bayne is central to the resurrection of Lilith, as his grandfather had one of the five magic amulets required to give her her power back. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to spot a link, but I really can’t see one – Bayne’s attack by and transformation into a werewolf is entirely coincidental; a coincidence which multiplies into the realms of “least likely thing ever” when it turns out that Alex is also a werewolf, and that she’s friends with a couple of Slayers, the only-nine-alive-at-any-time supernaturally powerful vampire hunters. The slayers (one of whom is a Van Helsing!) are in town to stop Lilith being resurrected, so…is this all being played for laughs? While there’s humour in it, I’d suggest the actual plot is probably supposed to be taken seriously, so I’m baffled.

wolvesbayne-trailer-01_med

Bayne and Alex go from enemies (he attacks her as the only occult person he knows, after waking up in the morning with a dead pig in the middle of his living room, suspecting hex-style foul play) to friends with no real indication of why, other than he needs someone to flirt with and to train him in the ways of the werewolf. Oh, for the day when the chief woman in a movie is something other than “cool love interest”! At the same time, Von Griem is feuding with the other vampire clan heads over whether they need Lilith, and the Slayers are trying to slaughter their way through the undead horde. You know there’s going to be a big ending battle, and Bayne will discover his true power, and so on – and the movie delivers in spades. The problem is, Bayne’s arc isn’t very arc-y – becoming a werewolf doesn’t make him a nicer person, and we never really get why he changes from dick to reluctant hero.

 

A word about the director – if you’ve read a lot of our reviews, you’ll have come across the work of Griff Furst on several occasions. He acted in the first “Transmorphers” and is a regular in low-budget movies and decent budget TV (“Red Road” and “Banshee”, among others), but he’s also directed a fair few SyFy and SyFy-esque movies. Solidly above average ones, too – “Swamp Shark”, “Arachnoquake”, “Ghost Shark” and “Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators”, movies that stand a decent chance of entertaining you if you happen across them on TV one evening. However, it seems – despite it not being his first movie as director – that he was still learning his craft here, and part of that learning was “let’s throw every trick we have at the screen”. So we see split screens and brief handheld sections and weird angles and colours…it feels like that first-time director who doesn’t understand what works and what doesn’t yet – none of it adds to the movie, that’s for sure. He probably ought to have concentrated on the story a bit more – when you realise he’s added a major character with zero foreshadowing, with 20 minutes to go, you appreciate something’s a bit off. *

wolv2b

Anyway, “Wolvesbayne” is a movie I really enjoyed, despite itself. The story is something we’ve seen a million times before (most recently in the “Underworld” movies and “True Blood”), with feuding groups of supernatural creatures and us humans in the middle. The acting is all over the place -when you see Mark Dacascos bouncing off the walls, and Rhett Giles (as Van Helsing) quietly under-emoting in the same scene, it’s certainly an unusual experience, and one you’d only get in a SyFy Channel movie. But it’s fun! It never slows down too much and the style clashes are entertaining.

 

Is anyone else bored of movies and TV shows about vampire families? Like, we’re expected to care about their clans and power structures and conflict and all that. And why are they always skinny and wear fancy long coats? Vampires, werewolves and so on all work best when they’re representing some deep dark part of our psyche, or are a metaphor for disease, war, capitalism, or whatever. I couldn’t really give a damn if Clan X and Clan Y are feuding over whose coats are fanciest and teeth are the most pointy.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

 

  • The character introduction I complained about is due to this movie being a sequel, to “Dracula’s Curse”, featuring three returning characters. Although it’s information buried in the FAQ section of the IMDB, so I don’t blame myself for not knowing.

Sabotage (1996)

b764c9d819a02876fe11f9524babfc30

Quentin Tarantino cast a long shadow over 90s action cinema. You all know this, but “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” established a template which a horde of lesser talents used to make a seemingly endless series of movies with wisecracking pop culture referencing central partnerships, verbose villains with weird little tics and quirks, near-autistic “heroes”, standoffs and super-bloody set-pieces. There’s more mainstream ones like “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead”, “Two Days In The Valley” and “Get Shorty”; less mainstream ones like “Coldblooded” and “Palookaville”; and absolute garbage like “8 Heads In A Dufflebag” and “Very Bad Things” (although I’ll never watch it again, I thoroughly enjoyed “Boondock Saints”, ignore all the asshole reviewers who loved it at the time but want to convince you it’s garbage now).

 

I’m just listing movies (sorry) because I’m still trying to figure out how to describe this, and hope you’d be distracted – plus, I’ve seen a lot of too-cool 90s garbage. “Sabotage” is the work of two people long-term readers will be familiar with – director Tibor Takacs, who’s behind ISCFC favourites “Mansquito” and “Ice Spiders”; and star Mark Dacascos, from “Drive”, “Kickboxer 5” and “Double Dragon”. Not two names you’d associate with Tarantino-esque thrillers, I think you’ll agree, but read on. Or don’t. I get paid the same (£0) either way!

sabotage

Starting off in the first Bosnia / Serbia war, Bishop (Dacascos) is a sniper / general badass who is so awesome he survives an encounter meant to kill him – first, an almost impossible rescue mission, followed by a freelance assassin (Tony Todd) shooting him seven times, then blowing up the building he was in, while walking away. Quick aside: when was the first incidence of the “guys walking away from explosions” thing? TV Tropes calls it the “Unflinching Walk” and the earliest example they provide is from “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” in the late 80s. Anyone got an earlier one?

 

Anyway, this is a fun opening, but we’re immediately whisked to the present day (well, 1996) where Bishop is now a sharp-dressed bodyguard for the Trents, a couple of billionaire arms dealers. Tony Todd, in what you imagine must be a heck of a coincidence, has been tasked with killing the Trents just a few weeks after Bishop started working for them…of course there are no coincidences in this world. Bishop manages to save the wife, but the killing of the husband and a few of his other bodyguards brings in the FBI, in the shape of Agent Castle (Carrie-Anne Moss, a few years before “The Matrix” would briefly elevate her into the A-list).

r729

Around here is where my notes run out, because the film becomes one of those pointlessly convoluted crime dramas so beloved of the time. Castle’s boss has some weird relationship with CIA guy – and extremely obvious villain – Nicholas Tollander (Graham Greene); then there’s Bishop’s old mentor Follenfant (John Neville), who has a younger Dacascos lookalike as his manservant / eye candy. I guess the implication is that Follenfant did more than just mentor Bishop? No-one seems unhappy about the arrangement, so it’s hard to tell. Anyway, he knows more than he’s letting on, and then there’s Todd and who he’s working for, and who the FBI guy is working for, and why “they” didn’t kill Bishop when they had the chance. Considering pretty much everyone but Bishop and Castle are scum, the reveals, when they come, are like “oh, that bastard is dead now. Never mind”.

 

One of this movie’s redeeming features is the quality of the cinematography, courtesy of the extremely busy Curtis Petersen. Everything looks chilly and miserable, and even though there’s a slight overuse of the bullet-POV cam, the atmosphere created by his filming and lighting elevates what is as generic a thriller as they come. When you have a couple of old hands like him and Takacs in charge, at least things will look okay and have a beginning, middle and end. Don’t laugh – as our previous reviews will testify, that’s far from being a sure thing.

Sabotage-1996-700x325

Dacascos is great in this – for a guy who’s a fantastic martial artist, he only has two (fairly short) fights, having to get by on his acting. Curious choice, but one that works, and he solves way more problems with his brain than he does with his fists. Everyone else feels a little too…written? Like they’re speaking lines that sound too clever-clever, not quite right when said out loud, if that makes sense. The writers are Rick Filon (who wrote “Kickboxer 5” for Dacascos, and never worked again after this) and Michael Stokes, who’s done nothing but kids stuff since the turn of the millennium.

 

“Sabotage” feels like a movie trapped between two stools. Like, it was going to be a straight Dacascos ass-kicking fest until the enormous success of “Pulp Fiction” made them retool it to go for that dollar. Or it was going to be a chilly, cool thriller until one of the producers went “we got Dacascos!” and they altered it to play to his strengths. There’s a whole chess thing (Bishop and Castle, plus the main villain is referred to as the “White Queen”) which isn’t really developed, and the end is just twist, twist, ooh that character is a badass now, end.

 

I think your opinion of this movie will depend on how you feel about Dacascos, Moss, and that thankfully-dormant genre of super-twisty crime thrillers. Like any two of the three and you should be okay, like all three and you’ll have a good time. Not essential, but decent fun and a reminder of a less simple time.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Drive (1997)

Drive

Although its time has come and gone in terms of cinematic trends, the thing “everyone” said about “Drive” was it was a sleeper hit, only known of and loved by the faithful, and it deserved some of the fame of “Rush Hour” (a film which it predated by a year). What it definitely was, was the purest Western version of Hong Kong action cinema we’d seen, and even 15 years after it was released, it remains pretty unusual, a standout in a genre which seemed to live and die based on the English-language careers of Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

 

Looking at it now, it resembles Shane Black being asked to direct a sort of “Rush Hour” / “Midnight Run” hybrid, only with a much lower budget and one of the best fight co-ordinators in the world on staff. Mark Dacascos is a Toby Wong, a Chinese medical experiment who’s been given a bunch of cybernetic implants and a super-battery in his chest, which makes him the the hardest quickest martial artist in the world. Due to a fairly flimsy explanation involving a dead wife or girlfriend or something, he escapes to go to America to sell the implants to a friendly American company.

drive41

This movie’s age is amply demonstrated by the Chinese being villains – in recent years, we’ve had stuff like “Red Dawn” where the Chinese were digitally altered into North Koreans and “The Interview” where China was shown to be a virtual paradise compared to its evil North Korean neighbours. China’s box office is worth a lot of money and they unfortunately can’t tolerate the slightest criticism of their way of life. A bit like if you want to show the actual US Army in your movie.

 

The plot is, to be kind, flimsy. Wong gets himself a sidekick, a guy who just happened to be in the same bar as the first fight involving Toby (Malik, played by the almost-a-superstar Kadeem Hardison), and along the way they get help from hotel owner’s daughter Brittany Murphy, a fantastic OTT performance as almost a trainee 1950s movie “bad girl”, but one who’s still super-kind and generous. She’s great, as are the two chief bad guys tasked with tracking Toby down (“That Guy” actors par excellence John Pyper-Ferguson and Tracey Walter).

John+Pyper-Ferguson+in+Drive

If you were being exceptionally unkind, however, a criticism you could level is that it’s more like a highlight reel than it is a movie with a story. Dacascos is a gifted screen martial artist, and combining his talent with the fight choreography of Koichi Sakamoto produces some truly breathtaking fight scenes. The most famous is justifiably the hotel room fight, where five guys fight in a small set, turning the tiny space into a blur of punches, kicks and stuff being thrown at people; but it’s far from the only great fight in the movie. The disused factory (thank heavens for disused factories), the dock and the final fight at the bar are spectacular too. It’s definitely best to not expect a great and complex plotline – this is fighting and comedy and fighting and fighting.

 

Kadeem Hardison is a great deal better at both comedy and acting than Chris Tucker, his corresponding actor in “Rush Hour”; and Dacascos holds his own against the by-then-aging Jackie Chan really well. His comic chops are surprising too – for instance, the karaoke scene feels like it comes out of nowhere but works really well. Given the choice between watching this again and “Rush Hour”, I’d pick this – less to get annoyed by, less Chris Tucker, and although the budget is appreciably lower, they don’t waste a penny of it. There’s also little wonderful oddities dotted around the film, and I’m not just talking Brittany Murphy’s performance. There’s a couple of in-movie TV shows that the characters watch and comment on – one where a group of underwear models beat up criminals with their high heel shoes inside a UFC-style octagon; and then there’s “Walter the Einstein Frog”, a giant frog with a brain enclosed in a glass helmet, who helps pilot spaceships and perform tricky surgeries and so on. They’re touches that didn’t need to be in the movie, and make me sad that screenwriter Scott Philips never went on to the Shane Black-sized career he deserved (based on this movie, anyway).

1308634898_1257589341_drive10-rip

A minor classic of a genre that seems to have morphed into movies like “The Raid”. Watch it, make sure you’re watching the UK director’s cut DVD, and you’ll have a good time.
Rating: thumbs up

Kickboxer 5: Redemption (1995)

kickboxer5

The first half hours of martial arts movies are littered with corpses. Brothers and best friends who went to compete in the big tournament but met the almost invulnerable champion; wives shot because the star won’t work for the villain; teachers beaten to death by their old student. These and other corpses are the driving force behind an entire genre, and “Kickboxer 5” is no different.

It also has a surprisingly regular variant on this – the off-screen death of the previous installment’s star. After JCVD’s death at the beginning of part 2, we get Sasha Mitchell’s at the beginning of this, but done in silhouette which made me think it was the weird opening to a James Bond movie. Also, it would appear villain Tong Po, after sneaking off the set at the end of part 4, decided to get into a less deadly line of work, and does not return. But luckily we have an excellent replacement in this movie, in the shape of Mark Dacascos (last seen by us in “Double Dragon”).

Because they thought no-one would notice, perhaps, the filmmakers also rip off the plot of part 2 – the “evil martial arts tournament” plot, where in this instance Mr. Negaal (James Ryan, “KIll And Kill Again”) is building up an international smuggling empire at the same time as organising a kickboxing league. As a disgraced former competitor, he wants to crush the World Kickboxing Council so he invites all the world’s champions to join his organisation – if they don’t sign, he has them killed.

Look-who-it-is-e1334895864238

Now, they sort of pay lip service to how ludicrous this plan is, by having him be in South Africa and the American police not be able to touch him, but come on! How’s he going to do shows in other places? And if you were a famous kickboxer, would you want to go and work for the world’s biggest and most psychotic criminal? Still, it’s sort of fun in how over the top it all is. Well played, Mr Negaal! He gets better the more unhinged he becomes, as his lieutenants start to doubt their career choices.

Matt Reeves (Dacascos) is a trainer who sees his student killed by Negaal’s goons and decides to go to South Africa and exact some revenge. On the way he picks up Paul, sent by Negaal to kill him but ending up joining him; and the two of them kickbox a swathe of destruction through South Africa. There are a couple of pretty spectacular fights – the airport and factory scenes are brilliant, with multiple guys and levels and it’s all handled really well.

The South African locations give an interesting visual flavour to proceedings, and all in all it’s a good looking, tightly shot, fun film. Dacascos is another martial arts guy with a great talent for comedy, and as he doesn’t have Albert Pyun’s insane directorial choices weighing him down he’s able to look like he’s enjoying himself. Talking of directors, this is a rare example of a martial arts film directed by a woman – Kristine Peterson – and it’s a shame she didn’t go on to bigger things. It’s a good looking movie.

Keri-Strug-e1334896338755

Okay, so review over, really. I’ve been a fan of actual kickboxing and mixed martial arts for many years, and there’s a couple of points I wanted to make about the world these movies exist in. First up is the “association with criminal elements” thing. Pride, a hugely famous MMA organisation in Japan, was brought to its knees almost immediately when it was revealed that there were Yakuza ties to some of the top people. Now, that wasn’t any evidence of wrongdoing, you understand, just ties, and they lost their TV deal and top sponsors pretty much overnight. And Negaal thinks he can just form a fight league?

Most importantly, perhaps, and this has been bugging me a little for five films, is that this isn’t really what kickboxing looks like. By the time of this movie, K-1 in Japan had been enormously popular for years, and had put on shows round the world. Here’s a classic fight from 1995, Peter Aerts v. Ernesto Hoost:

Kickboxing is a great deal more like boxing than it is karate, and while I’m not sure what style it is these people are working in, I know for sure what it isn’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun (and part 5 especially was loads of fun) but…the title!

Anyway, it’s been a good series, by and large. Albert Pyun’s movies were hard to get through, but overall not bad.

Rating: thumbs up

Double Dragon (1994)

Double_Dragon_1994_movie_poster

Believe it or not, this film has a lot in common with 1991’s “Hudson Hawk”. Okay, the cast is several orders of magnitude less famous, and it was a lot cheaper to produce; the similarity isn’t really their box office failure either. It’s that both films were comedies that didn’t take themselves seriously and were over-the-top on purpose, and the huge majority of reviews of both don’t seem to grasp that, thinking that making a heist film (or a martial arts film) with so many oddball characters and insane situations detracts from the movie; to that, I say they ARE the movie.

After a primer on the mystical Double Dragon amulet and how, if the two halves of it were united, the world would be blah blah blah, we’re introduced to the heady far off future of 2007, and the city of New Angeles. Earthquakes have done for this city, but it seems the entire world is in flux, with damage being environmental? We discover this thanks to TV news, and the first indication that isn’t your average post-apocalyptic kung-fu movie is the news crew – George Hamilton, Vanna White, and Andy Dick, all playing themselves. Add this to some funny quake protection adverts and it’s immediately apparent that someone actually bothered building up an interesting world for this movie to be in.

The villain is Robert Patrick, playing “Koga Shuko”, who just wants your standard world domination and knows that the complete amulet will give it to him- he already has half. The streets of New Angeles are no-go areas at night, with a curfew leaving the gangs in complete control; Shuko is behind the scenes using them to find the amulet – imagine the various gangs of “The Warriors”, but with no need to tie them to any sense of reality, and you’d be pretty close. The sole beacon in this pretty dark future is “The Power Corps”, a loose and friendly gang led by Marian (Alyssa Milano, post “Commando” and pre “Charmed”) and into this mess step the Lee brothers, Jimmy and Billy (Mark Dacascos and Scott Wolf). Explanation for them not exactly looking like brothers? Zero. I love this movie! Their foster mother / guardian owns the rest of the amulet, and it’s her death at the hands of Shuko that really gets the brothers pumped for revenge.

6756371_orig

BREAKING BAD! Okay, that’s just an attempt to get some search engine action, but there is a strong link to “Double Dragon”. This movie’s scriptwriter was Peter Gould, who would go on to be a producer on “Breaking Bad” as well as write 11 episodes. Is your dismissal of its cheesy dialogue and ridiculous dystopian storyline starting to change a little now? Are you drifting towards the “it was always a minor gem” camp? See, I’ve loved it ever since I first saw it, so I don’t have that problem.

Apart from Milano, who’s trying her hardest, everyone seems to just be having a good time in this movie. Wolf and Dacascos have an easy camaraderie, Patrick is in full scenery-chewing mode, and the assorted gang members (including a brief cameo from horror superstar Michael Berryman) are overacting like their lives depended on it.

This film wasn’t cheap – there are a ton of well-dressed sets, lots of extras and actors, large-scale fight and chase scenes, and some decent special effects. I couldn’t find any confirmation of the budget, but it can’t have been small; there’s a lot of detail in the movie that you wouldn’t normally find – like, the way their car operates, and lots of little references to the actors’ other work in the dialogue. I think its comparatively poor performance at the box office allowed people to treat it as a bit of a punching bag, so like “Hudson Hawk”, the mockery it gets is wildly out of proportion with the quality of the film itself; by now, its very 90s aesthetic means it can be safely dismissed too.

MSDDODR EC012

Now, I don’t want to make out like it’s a great lost classic, but there’s quality here, and it’s a lot of fun to watch, with a surprisingly satisfying ending. The fights are great, too, lots of speedy action and some of the set-pieces, like the final battle in the Power Corps base, manage to be both well-choreographed and comedic. Lots of bad puns too, if that’s your thing, and cheesy post-defeat one-liners. I haven’t even mentioned the computer game it’s based on! That’s mostly because I never played it, and now the game is over 25 years old I imagine fans of it are few and far between. Just enjoy it for itself!

Rating: thumbs up