Bounty Hunters 2: Hardball (1997)

After the unexpected treat which was the first “Bounty Hunters” movie, we were pretty pleased to find out there was a sequel, with the same writer / director and the same stars; we’re pleased to report it maintains the same high quality.

But they try their best to confuse you, right from the beginning. A Western scene turns out to be an advert that bounty hunting couple Jersey (Michael Dudikoff) and BB (Lisa Howard) have shot to drum up more business. Now, it’s not the Western setting which was confusing, it’s that they needed to shoot an advert at all. Isn’t the entirety of their audience bail bonds people? It would’ve been cheaper to just drive to every bail bonds place in LA and do a personal pitch to them…but then we wouldn’t have seen them in goofy hats and shirts with Morricone-esque music playing in the background.

After the events of the first movie, Jersey and BB are living together again, but because no-one could figure out another way to get the back-and-forth dialogue working, they’re soon separated, thanks to a wild scene where they bring in a bail jumper while he’s in the middle of robbing a jewellery store (Jersey, again, leaves with a couple of perps, letting BB mop the others up). An interesting thing about this movie is BB is definitely the most ass-kicking of the two, despite Jersey being played by a martial arts movie star; he kicks a few people during fights almost by accident, like he forgot the sort of character he was playing.

While you’re being distracted by (the Canadian) Lisa Howard’s odd Bronx accent, the plot will be revealed. The jewel thieves they apprehended worked for Carlos (Steve Bacic, one of the hardest working men in show business), who’s sort of a Mafia guy, and he’s less than thrilled about losing the loot. He’s even less thrilled when his boss shows up in town, wanting to promote him but only when he’s taken care of this little bounty hunter problem they have.

Now, depending on the VHS / streaming service poster you saw, you’ll either be expecting Tony Curtis or going “huh? Tony Curtis is in this movie?” He’s the boss, and to say it looks like he didn’t want to be there is something of an understatement. Presumably he owed someone a favour, or had a mortgage payment due and a spare weekend. He wanders into a scene wearing a fancy hat, looks like he’s reading all his lines off a cue card, and then wanders off and is not seen again until the last ten minutes. Although there’s a lot of competition, this will be up there when we rank the ISCFC’s all-time laziest bit part performances.

Much like part 1, they love blowing stuff up. One of the villains is a bomb-maker, so we get plenty of chances to see him enjoy his work, including one scene where a building is blown up so well that a car next to the building explodes too. Or the scene where a car he actually wanted to blow up flies through the air a little, and touches another car…which then explodes. It’s a lot of fun, honestly.

Now, I talk about sexism and exploitation quite a lot. Firstly, I’m a socialist and feminist (feel free to stop reading if you really disagree with those things, I guess) so this stuff is important to me, but sometimes it’s so blatant that you have to talk about it. I want to watch terrible cheesy exploitation movies with women (well, those of them that don’t admire the female form) and have them enjoy them too – so, have plenty of male nudity as well, or just cut down on the nude ladies. I don’t mind. “Bounty Hunters 2” is far from the worst violator, but it’s just so blatant! BB is spying on a house, and we’re treated to a couple of seconds of a woman naked; later on, a woman working in an underwear store just gets one of her boobs out while talking to a customer. Er, shouldn’t you be wearing underwear if you work at an underwear store? I sort of want to create a little graphic of a crowbar with boobs to put in these reviews.

As Carlos sends lots of Mafia hitmen after Jersey and BB (my favourite – the wildly overacting Chili), as well as works on plans to take over the whole criminal organisation, you can feel confident you’re in good hands. The action rips along, the interplay between the two leads is still strong, and there are laughs to go along with the action. I mean, it might be nice if the two trained professionals were better at fighting than every random joe they met (there’s a scene with a couple of garbage men, for instance), because every single brawl goes on a trifle too long, but small potatoes, really.

The weirdest thing you’ll notice is the lousy stunt doubles. Perhaps Dudikoff and Howard had better agents by part 2, who stopped them doing all the stunts; no idea why they hired people so unalike the stars to be their doubles, though. I was about to provide you with a screenshot, but then I decided to be like the producers of this movie and not be bothered.

So, abysmal showing by Tony Curtis, and it’s a little less comedic than part 1, with only Dudikoff and Howard really delivering funny lines. Other than that, though, everything is fine. Perhaps don’t watch the two movies back-to-back, as they’re fairly similar plot-wise, but if you have any love in your heart for buddy-buddy crime/comedy movies, you’ll have a good time.

Rating: thumbs up

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Bounty Hunters (1996)

Once in a while, the B-movie gods smile down on us and we get a gem from an unexpected source – in this case, a writer / director whose only previous experience was a Lorenzo Lamas vehicle (“Snake Eater”), and who’d go on to make a whole lot of pretty cheesy looking TV movies; and a couple of stars whose previous experience was in martial arts movies and fantasy TV shows. Let’s talk “Bounty Hunters”!

There are signs, early on in good movies, where you can tell immediately that someone was paying attention, or at least trying. As the camera pans over bounty hunter Jersey Bellini’s gun-rack, one of those ones where there’s guns encased in perfectly cut foam, only to see a couple of cigars with their own foam-slots…it’s like a calmness spreads over you. It’s an action comedy where both the action and the comedy work!

Bellini is played by Michael Dudikoff, who’s the reason we plucked this from the VHS mega-pile. After seeing him recently in “Cyberjack”, we know he’s got a light side, but it’s on full display here as Bellini is both incredibly well-prepared for all eventualities, and a complete slob who smokes constantly. While handing in one bad guy, he runs into his…ex-girlfriend? (it’s never really clear) BB, who’s also a bounty hunter – they work for the same firm! – and also kicks ass. They spar, verbally, but it’s not til they’re put on the same case by their unscrupulous boss that the sparks really start to fly. BB is played by Lisa Howard, who you might remember from such TV gems as “Highlander: The Series” and “Earth: Final Conflict”, and she’s better in this than I can remember her, ever.

The plot opens up logically and quite cleverly. As they’re going to apprehend car thief Izzy, they discover that he’s just, on a whim, stolen the Rolls Royce of a gangster by the name Deimos (Benjamin Ratner, looking for all the world like a poor man’s Lin-Manuel Miranda). As well as being a rather expensive car, it’s got a prostitute in the trunk (Erin Fitzgerald), and she was just on her way to get murdered for witnessing a mob hit when Izzy stole her car. So, our good-natured heroes, trying to find Izzy so they can collect the bounty on him, are drawn into the Mafia storyline because they want to keep him alive, at least until they get the money.

It’s not going to win any awards, for originality or anything else, but it’s important to remember that these as well as hoovering up all that sweet video shop money, these movies are allowed to be fun. It seems that Dudikoff and Howard, despite wildly different styles, work well together (there’s a sequel, and neither of them were short of work at the time, so they must have enjoyed it too). Their relationship, a sort of friendly antagonism with a medium-strength sexual undercurrent, could be cheesy if played the wrong way, but they both nail it.

Dudikoff is my favourite, though, and he clearly relished the chance to do comedy. An early scene involves him leaving BB to fight off a horde of goons, not because he’s chicken, but because he genuinely can’t be bothered; and him trying to blend in at a rap show is hilarious. Given he made his name in “American Ninja”, his fighting style here is that of a punch-drunk prizefighter – no kicks, no fancy stuff, and he even cheap-shots one goon right in the nuts. In fact, BB is a better fighter than he is.

I mentioned the signs up above, and another fine example that someone gave a damn is that every character has a character. It’s not “macho goon 1”, “macho goon 2”, and so on – from the woman who works in the video store (a store that displays only posters for director George Erschbamer’s previous movies), to the cast and crew of porno movie “Bimberella” that Jersey has to visit, to each and every bad guy, they all get a few lines and a chance to shine. I can’t tell you how rare that is, at this level of the movie business.

I didn’t care for the b-plot of the kid who lives next door, who adores Jersey, even if the parents think he’s a flake – he exists because the childless unmarried Jersey needs someone to care enough about to go and rescue – but I never like child actors so your mileage may vary. Other than that, though, I’ve got no reason to complain and neither should you if you’d like to track it down. The plot is simple, logical, and well thought-out; and even though there are a few tired scenes (hostage exchange has been done a million times, and there’s a very Lethal Weapon-y torture scene) and it goes on a shade too long, it’s a heck of a lot of mid-90s fun.

Rating: thumbs up

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

Navy SEALs vs. Zombies (2015)

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For some reason, “X vs Zombies” has been a remarkably durable sub-genre; I guess all you need is a few bags of fake blood and six or seven of any outfit. Anyway, filling in that X have been – Cockneys, Humans, MILFs, Cowboys, Bears, Pro Wrestlers, Santa, Models, Ninjas, Strippers, Bigfoots, Kids, Wiseguys, and Abraham Lincoln. They are all real movies.

 

So it really surprised me when I watched this, having been jokily recommended it by my friend Jamie, and it turned out to be pretty good! What the hell, movie? It looks like some serious coin was spent on it too, which is perhaps even more surprising – there’s one car wreck that looks like they set it up and did it without just stealing the footage, and there’s lots of real use of Government buildings. So kudos to the lunatic who put up a few million dollars (which they’re never going to get back) to make this movie stand out.

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Also unlike just about every other zombie movie of recent years, it’s got a decent cast. Michael Dudikoff (“American Ninja”) is the Colonel, who we only ever see in one room so they probably shot all his stuff in one day; same with the great Molly Hagan (“Some Kind Of Wonderful”, “Herman’s Head”) as the CIA agent who knows what’s actually going on. Add in Ed Quinn (“Eureka”) and Rick Fox (former NBA star turned actor) and this is the low-budget equivalent of star-studded!

 

The Vice President is doing a speech in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when zombies start pouring across the lawn of the building. Communication goes down, so the Colonel sends in a team of Navy SEALs, lead by Quinn, and with a new member who left his pregnant wife at home (fun fact, one of Quinn’s team – Kevin Kent – was legitimately a SEAL for 20 years, in case you were as impressed as I was by the real tactics, teamwork and communication showed by the group). As they’re about to wrap up the first rescue, Hagan tells them about a secret CIA lab which might have a cure for the zombie virus elsewhere in the city, so the majority of the movie is them – along with a reporter and cameraman who were covering the Vice President – getting across the city and trying to rescue the scientists.

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A rule of thumb for how much I enjoy a movie is how extensive my notes are – the better it is, the fewer things I’ll write. It’s difficult, after all, to write “I’m enjoying this” twenty times. My notes dried up after the halfway mark, pretty much, which is a very good sign. So, let’s go through the ways this movie shows up the huge majority of recently produced zombie movies, aside from the budget we’ve already mentioned.

  1. Action – stuff happens! Throughout!
  2. Characters – even the minor characters are given a bit of definition (it’s my fault I kept getting the bearded guys confused)
  3. No stupidity – no-one behaves like a dumbass, just to give the zombies something to munch on
  4. Tension – the ending could genuinely go one of several different ways
  5. Sense of humour – not so much jokes, as humour arising from the situation they’re in, which is a refreshing change

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For a “vs Zombies” movie, it’s far better than it has any right to be, and the people who made it understand what people like about these sorts of movies; they get the little stuff right too, like the competence of the soldiers, the locations, and so on. We have a first time director to thank – Stanton Barrett, a former NASCAR driver and stuntman, and I think he’s got a decent career ahead of him. I like the subplots, I like the ending, and I think you’ll have a fine time watching this.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991)

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Ninjas are actually threatening again! From three films where they were basically ignorable cannon fodder, we come to a film where they appear to have skills and use them to kill people. Hey, it’s a big step! And we also have a moderately amusing attempt to crowbar the last film into this series’ “continuity”!

But the one thing these films never forget is to include numerous moments of staggering technical incompetence to give us all a nice laugh. It’s bookended with them – at the beginning, the Vicar performing a wedding is reading his lines off a piece of paper. Wouldn’t he know the words to the wedding ceremony, which given his age he would have performed hundreds of times? And right at the end, a helicopter is blown up and we’re treated to a couple of seconds of the mangled miniature swinging in the breeze on a string. Thanks, Cannon Films!

Sean (David Bradley), who was a pro karate fighter in part 3, is now a CIA agent, and along with his black sidekick (who’s a mostly non-fighting nerd, because Steve James was not hired for this) they’re sent to exotic location X to stop a Muslim fella along with his British “ex-policeman” friend from sending a suitcase nuke to New York. Along the way, he picks up a love interest pretty much by accident (she’s so immediately hot for his bod I wondered if they already knew each other, but no) and then gets captured and chained up by the Sheikh.

Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff, who never bothered getting any better at acting) is now in the Peace Corps, teaching, and is reluctantly brought out of retirement to rescue Sean, the other special forces guys, and basically bring peace and happiness to the world. And thank heavens! His intensity was sorely missed in the last film, as it was in the first 45 minutes of this one. Strangely, the two apparent great friends Joe and Sean share basically no screen time. Did the actors not like each other? Was it some weird money-saving thing from Cannon? Who knows?

This is the sum total of them sharing the same screen

This is the sum total of them sharing the same screen

So, you don’t need much more from me about this one. You ought to expect what you get from the fourth installment of a low-budget series of ninja movies.You will learn that ninjas can dodge bullets but not throwing stars, which seems ass-backwards, that Joe has developed a Vulcan Death Grip, and that at the end, he walks away in a white t-shirt without a single mark on it, in fact, having taken zero damage throughout. Hurrah!

There’s not a lot technically to say about any of these movies. Cannon were experts at low-budget cinema so all the sound and camera angles are competent and completely uninteresting. The special effects are ropey, but very rarely used. Weirdly, these days they seem much higher-budget than they were, due to the use of proper film and lighting.

Now, onto part 5, which I think will also qualify for unquel status, making this a rare example of a franchise having two non-consecutive films which bear zero relation to what’s gone on before.

Rating: thumbs down

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

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Although “much better than the first one” is a legitimate thing to say about a movie, it’s not like if you’re the sort of person who’s going to willingly view a film called “American Ninja”, you’ll be too worried about sequel quality. But let’s discover what’s fun about this together!

Oh, hold on, it’s subtitled “The Confrontation”. That’s pretty much described every film ever made! Confrontation is the meat and drink of motion pictures, but I would like to see “American Ninja 5: The Friendship”. But luckily good ol’ Michael Dudikoff wants confrontation and we get to see more of his ninja skills.

Improvement reason 1: fighting
Despite some ropey fight scenes right at the beginning, and the fact the main villain doesn’t appear to have ever seen a sword before, they’re still better than the fight scenes from part 1, with room for improvement in parts 3 and 4 too!

Improvement reason 2: sidekick
Steve James is back as Joe’s sidekick Jackson, and it’s much more of an equal partnership now. Although you’d describe him as a cut-price Carl Weathers, his presence guarantees a good time (he was present in a lot of 80s action movies), and he’s a huge improvement on Dudikoff in the acting and charisma stakes. And I’m sad now, as I discovered when looking him up he’s been dead since 1993, when he was only 41.

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Improvement reason 3: stunts
Lots of jumping from rooftops, but most memorably of all, the ninja who gets dragged along behind our heroes’ car, taking some truly hellish looking knocks along the way. Hope he was alright!

Improvement reason 4: plot
Although the plot is, it must be said, quite similar (Joe discovers a plot involving military people to make money where they shouldn’t), it’s more fun. The location is better (a Caribbean island of some kind, plenty of neon coloured beach wear), the baddie is better (a guy who wants to create a genetically engineered race of super-ninjas) and it all just feels better put together.

Improvement reason 5: comedy
As well as Steve James being great at delivering his lines with a funny inflection, the actual comic relief character is a lot better this time. And with Dudikoff relaxing, a little, everyone around him can be more relaxed too.

There’s still plenty of that low-budget “huh?” factor though. As the camera pans across the super-ninjas, one of the extras clearly lied his way onto the set, because he can’t bend down or do any of the moves, and looks hilariously out of place. The bar described as “the hottest joint in town” without a trace of irony looks like an absolute hovel,. and the way that no matter where they go, they’ll just find a few ninja hanging out on a street corner never fails to make me laugh. The visual of Joe and Jackson fighting ninjas near the beginning is fantastic too, because Jackson is only wearing small red shorts and Joe a surfing outfit.

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So, although it’s still not terribly good, it’s a huge improvement over part 1, and wouldn’t be out of place in the rotation for your “cheesy but fun movie night”, should you and your friends have one.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS. There’s a very early variant on our favourite “haha all our friends are dead” and I’ll leave this photo and caption for you to enjoy:

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American Ninja (1985)

USA! USA! USA!

USA! USA! USA!

Michael Dudikoff is perhaps the most 80s of all the action stars. Despite a fairly steady career up to 2000 or so, the only films anyone remembers, at all, are the “American Ninja” series; although 1998’s “Freedom Strike”, co-starring – I can’t believe I’m typing this – Tone Loc, sounds pretty awesome too. Anyway, Dudikoff is probably feeling a little aggrieved he never got a call from the “Expendables” people, and after taking a decade away from acting he’s been making a mini-comeback over the last few years.

But that’s all a long way away to the world of 1985 and “American Ninja”. Dudikoff (how many times was he called “The Dude”, do you think? I’ll go with 10 million) is Private Joe Armstrong, a guy who was discovered unconscious on an island in the Pacific, with amnesia. He bounced around reform schools for a few years before being offered prison or the army, and he picked the army. Sent to the Philippines, he scowls his way round the base before a hijack attempt on a convoy he’s driving in forces him to use his super bad-ass martial arts skills to rescue the Colonel’s daughter.

This was made during, well, probably a few years after, the American fascination with all things martial arts and Oriental. Joe has to fight one of the other guys on the base, Jackson, because he’s a loose cannon who gets people killed, and he does this by not throwing a punch, just using Jackson’s weight against him in a nice basic kung-fu display. The weird reverence the rest of the guys then have for him is way over the top for what he can actually do, but he’s a pretty good fighter all the same.

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If you want something which is thick with good old 80s action cheesiness, then this is the film for you. There’s a plan to steal some stuff from the base which Joe discovers, but who else is in on it? Who can he trust? Why don’t people trust him when, wherever he goes, he kills a few evil ninjas? Was there a reason other than “we need some stuff to crash through” why they had all those fruit stalls on the dock? And how awesome was the scene where the private ninja army was training?

Given that Dudikoff had been acting for a long time before this movie, one would have expected him to be better at it. He stays silent (even when speaking would benefit him) for great periods of the film, and when he does speak he’s got quite a light high-ish-pitched speaking voice, which doesn’t go with his character at all. I mean, it’s not like the rest of the cast is RSC material or anything, but he stands out as weirdly bad. I discover that, far from being a martial artist who converted to acting, he’s a model who converted to acting, his pout at the beginning sort of bearing this out, and then took up martial arts later.

If you think about the ninjas in this film for a second, it gets a bit odd. They wear black to go unseen at night, but if you’re in the jungle in daylight then wearing black is a terrible idea. It’s not a uniform! Chief bad guy ninja has a laser, which is a fantastic weapon but not traditionally part of the ninja’s arsenal; oh, and the explanation for how Joe gets his ninja skills when it’s forbidden on pain of death to teach them to a Westerner is so obvious they might as well have hung a sign round the guy’s neck. There’s a whole thing about ninja magic, and light / dark side nonsense too.

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Alright, it’s not very good. Dudikoff looks way out of his depth, the plot is cheesy, the bad guy’s accent is so bad as to almost be a deliberate joke, and the fights scenes aren’t anything to write home about. But…even though this is a thumbs down movie, if you’re in the right frame of mind you might enjoy this. Cannon Films, run by Golan and Globus, specialised in this thing and it all runs smoothly and fairly quickly. Wow, that sounds like damning with faint praise, eh? Picture that DVD cover – “Runs smoothly and fairly quickly” – Mark, ISCFC.

Rating: thumbs down