Future Hunters (1986)

This movie represents the emergence from the background of our subconscious and the “hey, I recognise that name”-ing of director Cirio Santiago, one of the most prolific directors of the Filipino genre film boom of the mid-70s to mid-90s (as shown in “Machete Maidens Unleashed”, a wonderful documentary). Just roll a few of these titles of his movies round your mind, and just imagine the thrills contained within, and the video store shelves that bent under the weight of them:

TNT Jackson; She Devils In Chains; Vampire Hookers; Death Force; Hell Hole; Stryker; Caged Fury; Final Mission; Naked Vengeance; The Devastator; Eye of the Eagle; Equalizer 2000; Demon of Paradise; The Expendables (not that one); Dune Warriors; Raiders of the Sun; Fire Hawk; Kill Zone; Angelfist; One Man Army, and Bloodfist 2050 (the only one we’ve reviewed so far).

There are many more. A few of them are obvious attempts to cash in on trends – TNT Jackson is blaxploitation, Dune Warriors looks like Dune, etc. – but most of them are just “which Western actors do we have in town this week, and what half-finished script is lying around?”

Which brings us to “Future Hunters”. The main western actors in question are Robert Patrick (who appears to have gotten his start in this part of the world) and the great Richard Norton, whose survival I was immediately worried about when I discovered he wasn’t first-billed. This feels like a much less fun version of the end of “Blazing Saddles”, where the stars break through a bunch of different film sets – it starts off in a post-apocalypse Mad Max style, before turning into an Indiana Jones thing, going through a martial arts section, jungle war movie, Far Eastern travelogue, even throwing in modern Hitler enthusiasts and a friendly army of midgets.

It is, in other words, a movie that’s more fun to describe than it is to watch. But I watched it, so here goes.

Right from the beginning, you know someone realised how odd this all was because we get a two-minute voiceover explaining the world we’re in – 2024, where humanity is virtually extinct thanks to nuclear war. Someone has figured out that the Spear of Longinus, aka the Spear of Destiny, aka the thing that pierced the side of Christ while he was on the cross, has the ability to turn back time, so Matthew (Norton) is described as humanity’s last hope, as he needs to go back and stop the apocalypse from happening. Quite why he’s being chased across the desert by a bunch of bad lads is never adequately explained, but anyway, he gets to a derelict building of some sort and grabs hold of the spear-head, just as the bad guys start shelling the place.

1989! Michelle (Linda Carol) and Slade (Robert Patrick) are at the same ruined building, she looking at the carvings and paintings for her university thesis, he sat around bored. A bunch of criminals attack them for no reason, and Slade is immediately knocked unconscious, showing just the sort of character he’ll be for most of the movie – luckily, out of the ruins wanders Matthew, who saves the couple, shoves the spear into one of the criminals, turning him to dust, then gets shot himself. Sorry, Richard Norton fans!

From this point on, it’s the two of them arguing about whether the spear is real or not, then a bunch of criminals, sent by modern day Hitler wannabe Fielding (Ed Crick) and led by a guy who looks like a blond ape poured into a suit, Bauer (Bob Schott), chasing them across the world. They get just enough information to convince them of the rightness of their mission and eventually Slade grows a backbone, although for a former Marine, he gets his ass kicked by randos way too often.

Aside from the odd bit of bad film fun, like one scene where the two dubbed characters voices change completely half-way through, like the voice guys just wandered outside for a cigarette but they couldn’t be bothered to wait for them to get back, or the chase scene that starts in the dead of night but finishes, minutes later, in broad daylight; it’s honestly a little bit boring. Too many locations, too little sense, and the gradual evolution of Michelle from interesting lead character to damsel in distress is pretty crappy. There’s even a scene where the bad guys tear her dress open as there’s no way they’re making it through an entire movie without degrading a woman.

It’s also too long, clocking in at around 100 minutes. If you’re going to do a cheapo exploitation movie, there’s very little need to have it above 80 minutes, or at the very outside 90. It’s not like they make any more profit if it’s longer, either, so I’m not sure why it was padded so much. The endless battle scene in the last third, which isn’t even all that well directed, could have been half the length and no-one would have minded.

It does have some pleasant lapses in logic which bring it from being terrible to merely puzzling. Like, why don’t the bad guys just kill our couple, rather than tying them up and giving them chances to escape? They’re not needed in the least. Or why do the bad guys keep giving them chances? Is the lead Nazi like one of those serial killers who keeps giving the cops clues as he’s secretly desperate to be caught?

Too little Richard Norton and too much bickering couple. Too much change and too little fun.

Rating: thumbs down

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Double Dragon (1994)

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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.

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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.

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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