Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)

After a franchise resurrecting movie which didn’t have the action, the humour or the technical chops to be enjoyable enough, we have a sequel which, despite a lower budget, fewer stars and a writer/director I’d never heard of, manages to be vastly more entertaining. All those little things that fell flat in “Kickboxer: Vengeance” work exactly as they’re supposed to here.

The theme of this movie is, if you’re really good at martial arts, you can predict the future. Well, there’s other stuff to it, but you’ll definitely turn it off with that impression. Kurt Sloane (Alan Moussi) and his wife Liu (Sara Malakul Lane) are on a train going through the mountains, and their dance number is interrupted by a bunch of bad hombres who want to kidnap her and kill him. A few well-places kicks and a fight on top of a train later, and…it was all a dream! But, despite him never meeting these people before, a whole bunch of them turn up as the villain’s goons in the last third, and Kurt has that “where do I know you from?” face.

Kurt’s a UFC (or whatever off-brand cage-based fighting league they’re saying it is) fighter now, living his best life and making mincemeat out of his opponents. After getting kidnapped by a couple of fake cops one night, he finds himself in Thailand, in front of the fellow we presume is part 1’s unseen Mr Big, Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert, who should have fired his agent around 1990, and now looks like the reanimated zombie version of himself). It’s a matter of honour that Kurt should give him a chance for a rematch, and is even prepared to pay him a million dollars for another fight to the death. If not, well, they’re fully prepared to throw him in a Thai jail for the murder of Tong Po in “Vengeance”…despite, one would imagine, that all having been cleaned up a while ago, what with his wife being a cop at the time and them not exactly leaving Thailand in a hurry.

But, you may not have seen “Vengeance”? So let’s not poke too many holes in the continuity, as continuity snobs are the worst – yes, I’m definitely one myself, but I’d go to Continuity Snobs Anonymous if I could.

Anyway, he gets thrown in jail, and the first thing he does is fight his way through the place in a brilliant fight scene which is all done in one continuous take. I mean, it’s not really, as you can see the cuts, and it’s a very long way from the frenetic pace of the modern classic of this mini-genre, Tony Jaa kicking an entire hotel’s ass in “The Protector”; but they’re trying! It’s easily better than any individual scene in “Vengeance”.

So, he hangs out in prison, not breaking as Mr Moore throws everything he can at Kurt to get him to submit, including regular whippings. Eventually, Kurt discovers a little gang of friends inside the jail, including his old trainer Master Durand – a welcome return for Jean-Claude Van Damme – who was blinded after the events of part 1 for his role in the murder of Tong Po; a footballer, played by real-life Brazilian footie legend and far-right lunatic Ronaldinho; and Briggs, a boxer, played by Mike Tyson. The scene where Kurt meets Briggs is hilarious, because you can imagine the negotiations that went on behind the scenes to get Tyson to appear – even though Kurt is supposedly one of the world’s best martial artists, the 51 year old Tyson has to win the fight and do cool stuff like punch straight through walls and so on. There are also a boatload of appearances from UFC guys like Wanderlei Silva and Shogun Rua playing pretty much themselves.

As well as learning to box, he gets some wisdom from Durand. Now he’s blind (sort of a reference to his other beloved 80s franchise “Bloodsport”), his other senses are heightened, which results in him being able to “see” where a blow will land before it’s even thrown (not sure what sense this is, but whatever, it’s not played seriously anyway). Both these new skills are shown to us in that favourite of all scenes, the training montage! I love a training montage! Oh, and he can even “see” fights he’s not involved in due to sensing the air, or something. I have no idea, but it’s wonderful.

The guy he’s got to fight is Mongkut, played by none other than Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, former World’s Strongest Man contestant and currently The Mountain on “Game Of Thrones”. He’s genetically engineered like Dolph Lundgren in “Rocky 4”, for much the same purpose, even though you might wonder why a 6’8”, 400 lb beast of a man needs any more chemical help to beat up the 6’0”, 200 lb Kurt. The bit during the final fight, when Mongkut’s hipster trainer / technician just openly shoots him up with high-grade pharmaceuticals at ringside, is a hoot.

There are a few logic holes that, weirdly, just add to the camp charm of this gem of a movie. Even though Kurt is presumably a relatively famous martial artist back in the States, no-one seems to give a damn about getting him out of the jail where he was illegally kidnapped and taken to…apart from his wife, thank heavens. His American promoter doesn’t send over a group of tough dudes to bust him out, or anything! There’s also the way that in this almost entirely Thailand-set movie, none of the people we meet (apart from background extras and so on) is Thai. Hero and villain are both white Westerners, the villain’s boss is French, the main people in the jail are a black American, a Belgian and a Brazilian, the fight MC apparently has Asian, Hispanic, French and Native American ancestry….you’re about twenty people deep in the cast list before you get to anyone who’s actually from the country they’re traipsing through, and that person has the huge role of “Female Valet No.1”. One last bit of racial business – the chanting of “White Warrior” by the crowd during the final fight was problematic in “Vengeance” (although perhaps I’m missing something in translation) but its return here makes literally no sense as both competitors are white.

But please put any notion I didn’t enjoy this far from your mind. I loved it, and I think you will too. First up, the fights are very well shot, with the epic final confrontation even telling some of the story, and the action is fun and exciting. Kudos to director Dimitri Logothetis, who, if he’s known at all, is as a producer, not a writer / director (although he’s done all three). I imagine there’s an interesting story behind it all, or perhaps he just came into some money and bought into the relaunching franchise. Who knows? But he’s a great match for the material.

The script is over the top in all sorts of subtle ways, and it appears Moussi learned a lot about acting in the intervening years, as he’s able to deliver its ludicrous premise much better than he did before. I do like how some of the reviews of this complain about the silliness, as if a movie about an underground fight league where people are regularly murdered by a giant steroid freak should be serious business. Come on! What some people seem desperate to forget about the golden age of martial arts movies is that they were, by and large, silly as hell. That’s fine, of course, and you can still have tight action and good performances in a camp movie (which I believe “Retaliation” achieves).

Okay, before I leave you, I want to talk Bad Guy Economics, one of my favourite subjects. Moore puts his giant up against Kurt, and works hard to ensure Mongkut wins – including injecting him with steroids at ringside. Now, given Moore is in charge of the betting, who the hell is betting against the monster, especially after the first round when Kurt is virtually dead and Mongkut is entirely unharmed? No matter how short the odds, everyone would have been betting one way, so he’s definitely going to lose money, right? He really ought to be either telling Mongkut to go easy on him for a while, or to finish things off quickly, because the longer it goes on the worse his payday gets. Or, he should want Kurt to pull off the upset!

Rating: thumbs up

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Sharktopus (2010)

We’ve covered the latter two Sharktopus movies here at the ISCFC, and splendid fun they both were too – the second one had Conan O’Brien in it and a genuinely funny script. The first one I watched just a few months before I started writing for this fine site so I’ve never written a review of that one – oh no, I hear you cry! How will I know what to think about it? Don’t worry, dear reader, I have you covered (finally).

Probably starting with 2004’s “Dinocroc”, Corman realised he could make a nice chunk of change from portmanteau-word-based monster movies – thus, “Supergator”, “Dinocroc vs. Supergator”, and “Dinoshark”, before this opened the floodgates (and almost certainly inspired the SyFy Channel to try “Sharknado”). Right from the beginning, it’s nice to see Corman realised just how dumb this entire concept was and had fun with it, making sure director Declan O’Brien and writer Mike MacLean kept it light and silly (we’ve met O’Brien before, with “Joy Ride 3”, not remotely funny, or good either).

After plenty of illicit Santa Monica footage, we see a shark get eaten by a creature which is far bigger, tearing it apart before going after the beach-goers. It’s got a radio-control kit on its head! Chief scientist is Eric Roberts, who looks legit drunk throughout, like he was ashamed at where his career had ended up – although, to be fair, it’s got even worse since.

His daughter, scientist and sort of in charge of the whole sharktopus project, is Sara Malakul Lane, a great actor who’s sort of half-stuck in low-budget scream queen hell, as well as being in stuff like the new “Kickboxer” movies. In “women who deserved much better” news, also featured in “Sharktopus” is Shandi Finnessey, who did this, “Piranhaconda” and then pretty much quit the business. Although we’ve always known this, women are treated exceptionally poorly by Hollywood, so I hope Finnessey quit on her own terms and not because of some disgusting producer.

Anyway, we’re wandering away from the “plot”. Genetic experiment to create a sharktopus, a freak accident breaks the control gear, meaning it starts killing everything in its path. It goes to Mexico so Eric Roberts re-hires his old…tracker?…Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin, an actor more famous in his native Turkey), who’s living down there. There’s an investigative reporter and the drunk sea captain she hires; plus a pirate radio DJ and his glamorous assistant (Finnessey). And, you know, a giant Sharktopus.

I wonder if Roger Corman ever thought, while doing this sort of stuff in the 50s and 60s, he’d still be knocking out cheap monster movies in 2010? I hope he wanted more, but…eh, 99.99% of all people in Hollywood ever would be happy with his career. He can do tightly made, reasonably entertaining with the best of them.

Unfortunately, “Sharktopus” is a title with not a lot else behind it. It’s sort of okay, and has a few laughs in it; plus, if you like model-type beautiful women, then there’s plenty of that for you too. But…it doesn’t really go anywhere? Perhaps it would have been better if Eric Roberts had stayed off the sauce for a few days of filming, or they’d had a bit more plot to go along with the central creature, or something of that sort. I don’t know. There’s just no real development. Plus, there’s one of those central bro-lationships, and I don’t buy for a second that those two men had ever met before, much less were old friends.

I feel like this particular cinematic trend has ebbed considerably in recent years, which is why maybe this feels like a curio. It’s fine, I guess, but I am beyond tired of cheap wacky-ish monster movies, and if someone demands you watch one, just pick part 2, a genuinely funny movie.

Rating: thumbs down

 

PS – I almost forgot, this is a SyFy movie! Pretty good for them, I guess, even if it did teach them all the wrong lessons.

100 Degrees Below Zero (2013)

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I couldn’t let the weekend be over without another film from the Asylum. I feel like some sort of addict who has to watch all of these damn films before I can move on with my life, so I come to their attempt at “The Day After Tomorrow”, with a soupcon of the torn-from-the-headlines Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull thrown in for good measure. For those of you keeping score, this is another in our recent tradition of reviewing films where the title is, at best, misleading – it gets cold, for sure, but any film where the lead actress can walk round in a tanktop pretty much all the way through is not 100 degrees below.

 

After a few films which appeared to have stuff like production values and special effects and stuff, we’re back on familiar ground with this one. The military base shown at the beginning of the film is just a fairly big house, and the interior shots of the base are entirely filmed in what looks like the office of a normal house; the scientist who figures out what’s happening appears to be working in an empty office with no equipment other than a laptop; while the film appears to have shot, briefly, in Paris itself, the city only has seven people in it. Then we get this gem, which is the IMDB description of the film:

 

“After freak climate and weather events destroy the world around them, a group of rogue scientists attempt to reverse the deadly new ice age.”

 

Not true, at all. I would have liked to see that film, because it sounds fun, and not even remotely like what we ended up with.

 

What we get is John Rhys Davies, star of more rotten films than you could shake a stick at, as a British Army colonel somewhere in Germany. He’s informed by a scientist that Europe is pretty much doomed, thanks to a volcanic eruption in Iceland, which in turn messed up a lot of fault lines leading to pretty much every volcano in Europe erupting, which in turn would cause a dust cloud which would drop the temperature, ruin agriculture, kill millions of people, and so on. The scientist guy also tells a group of what I think are supposed to be world leaders that Europe is doomed via a multi-person Skype chat, but all these people are just dressed in normal clothes and are filmed in their bedrooms or against blank walls.

 

We then get the second strand of the story. Jeff Fahey is a pilot (using some of that pilot-acting experience he got from “Lost”) taking his new wife to London on a small plane. Where the plane set off from is never mentioned, I just think it seemed like a good idea to establish he was a pilot. His two children are together in Paris, and they’re all planning to meet up. The son is a bit nondescript, it must be said, but the daughter is the lovely Sara Malakul Lane. She can’t act worth a damn, but she’s almost too beautiful – and she’s also been in “Sharktopus”, which sadly for you I watched before I started working for the ISCFC.

 

The weather changes sharpish, and Fahey is forced to land somewhere near London. Luckily, he used to fight alongside John Rhys Davies in NATO, so Fahey and family are offered slots on a plane leaving for Australia (weird choice of location, but maybe they’ve been offered money to film a sequel over there). From then on, a really unacceptably long portion of the film is devoted to the family trying to find each other, in true “Day After Tomorrow” fashion. Fahey and wife drive to the Euro-Tunnel, then towards Paris, while the brother and sister try and make it to the Eiffel Tower. This would be fine for maybe 20 minutes, but it’s almost an hour out of a 90 minute film, and as much fun as watching Fahey and looking at Lane is, it’s still d-u-l-l. Fahey crashes his car (while driving across a field, for some reason)! Lane has a set of incredibly cheap shelves fall on her while trying to loot a coat, and her brother can’t lift them for some reason! Fahey gets on a helicopter, but the ash cloud makes it difficult to fly! The brother and sister are trapped inside the US Embassy! And so on. In place of drama or character deepening, we get roadblocks which achieve nothing.

 

That’s not to say the film is completely worthless. We get some fun death scenes and the bit where Lane manages to kick away a falling lump of ice (falling from the sky, I hasten to add) before it lands on her brother is hilarious. We also get to ponder in what universe the half-Thai Lane and the entirely Caucasian Marc McKevitt Ewins as her brother could be born from the same two parents. There’s also the classic low-budget disaster movie problem of not being able to afford closed sets, so we get scenes of absolute disaster where people are just going about their day peacefully in the background.

 

The ending will surprise no-one, if you’re still able to give a damn by that point. Tying a “Day After Tomorrow” plot into real world events is a fun idea, but they really weren’t prepared to spend any money on it at all. The scenes that appear to have been shot in the real Paris must have been a result of one of the cast members being on holiday there, or something. For all its sins, being ponderously slow is its worst.

"We should have a hotel here, right? Why don't we pop back there and put the kettle on?"

“We should have a hotel here, right? Why don’t we pop back there and put the kettle on?”