Incoming (2018)

Misleading at best (no guns, and it’s set in space)

The “space / future prison” genre has a long and honourable history. Well, okay, neither of those things are true, but there are certainly plenty of them. From the classic “Escape From New York”, to 1990’s “Moon 44”, to “Alien 3”, both “Fortress” movies, 1997’s “Moonbase”,Assault On Dome 4”, then getting further down the quality scale to “Starfire Mutiny” and “Total Reality” (there are plenty of others), audiences have been delighted by the implausibility of sending your worst criminals into space when it would be a great deal cheaper and easier to put them in a vault at the bottom of the ocean, or something, for 40 years.

The latest addition is “Incoming”, which first piqued my interest due to its casting of Scott Adkins. Adkins is B-movie royalty – you might recognise him from small roles in “Doctor Strange” and the second “Expendables”, but although his filmography sounds like some cruel joke – things you’ve never heard of called “Wolf Warrior 2”, “American Assassin” and “Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear” – he’s one of the greatest modern on-screen martial artists and is a surprisingly strong actor.

“Incoming” is about terrorism, in a way, but a terrorism completely devoid of any motive, political or otherwise. The Wolfpack, a group mostly comprised of Eastern European men solely because it was filmed in Serbia and that’s what the producers had access to, blow up Big Ben in London, and the first scene is a man in an empty apartment, save for a laptop he’s watching the news on, get arrested.

Five years later! And we’re at the International Space Station, which has been repurposed as a prison for the six members of the Wolfpack they’ve been able to catch. Argun (Vahidin Prelic, doing surprisingly well for his second language) is being tortured by Kingsley (Lukas Loughran), and Kingsley is one of those monsters who seems to quite enjoy his work. The government-approved torture is being done to find out who the Alpha of the Wolfpack is, although it being five years might indicate to some that the torture isn’t working. Whatever!

Into this happy scene comes a pair of CIA agents – one, a doctor, coming to check them out, Stone (Michelle Lehane); the other, an accountant, just one who happens to be ripped and mean-as-hell-looking, Reiser (Adkins). There’s a pilot who flirts with Stone a little, Bridges (Aaron McClusker) and the other five terrorists, of course.

I’ll give the movie credit for being against torture, by no means a given in the world of 2018. We get the line “the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply in space”, which was good enough to put in the trailer, and we get a decent argument against it from Stone, too. But then, she’s tricked by Argun and inadvertently lets the terrorists out, and it’s torture-crazed terrorists versus a woefully underprepared foursome for the last two-thirds.

The “incoming” of the title refers to the terrorists’ plan to point the International Space Station at Moscow and use it as a giant bomb, but it just acts as the race-against-time thing the good guys have to stop and doesn’t particularly factor into things. Well, I say good guys, as there’s definitely some layers to the non-terrorists on board.

There are some nice touches, such as when the terrorists find the room they’ve been tortured in for the last five years and, even though they’re in control, seem unsure about entering; Adkins gives a decent performance too. The sets use their cheapness to their advantage, as it sort of looks like what the ISS would look like if it was largely ignored for five years. Okay, there’s a bit where they carry in the supplies for the prisoners, huge boxes labelled “Beans” with a picture of beans on it, and it’s very obviously an empty box, but no-one’s perfect.

ASIDE: I do like how they get round not being able to afford the zero-gravity effect, by saying “by the way, we’re using this super-good new gravity technology on everything these days”. Good save, movie!

I’d suggest the main problem with “Incoming” is the lack of a reason for why anyone does anything. The terrorists want to blow up Moscow…why, exactly? Why have they done any of this? And when the twist, such as it is, happens, unless you’re paying absolute and complete attention to the dialogue, the reason for their behavior would be a complete mystery to you.

Hiring Scott Adkins for your movie but only giving him two short fight scenes is like hiring Fred Astaire and only bothering to have him do a vague bit of soft-shoe in the background. But, of course, he makes the most of it, and the fights, as well as being brutal, actually tell a story and help advance the movie.

It’s a tense thriller with not an ounce of fat on its bones – while it may be curiously scripted at times, I’d suggest the action of it means it’s worth your while.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Sci-Fighters (1996)

I’m 100% sure the makers of “Sci-Fighters” came up with the title first and the plot second, without worrying about any of those pesky things like what it meant, if it made any sense, etc. Looking for a plot, they made an amalgam of “Blade Runner” and “Die Hard” (two movies with titles that also don’t make much sense); voila, another 1990s video shop classic is born.

It’s a fond return for one of the more long-lasting ISCFC genres, the “space prison” movie. So far, we’ve covered “Alien Space Avenger”, “Moonbase”, “Lockout”, “Assault on Dome 4”, “Starfire Mutiny”, “Total Reality”, “Critters”, “Fortress” 1 and 2, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten; I am prepared to go on the record to say I will watch pretty much anything set in a space prison. Although “Sci-Fighters” only uses it as a jumping off point, but makes sure to make it as confusing as possible, in case you had any crazy ideas about enjoying it or anything like that.

Billy Drago, one of the all-time great “That Guy” actors, is Adrian Dunn, in prison on the Moon, and because one of the other inmates steals a cigarette from him, he starts a circular saw fight (!) and ends up by beating the other guy to death. While trying to make it look like an accident after the fact, Dunn digs an alien parasite of some sort out of the dead guy and puts it in his arm, then “dies” from the exposure. He definitely does this deliberately, although why he does it and how he knows it will have any effect on him is a matter the movie chooses not to bother itself with.

Back on earth, our good friend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is Detective Cameron Grayson, who’s a special cop with a black badge, which means he can investigate whatever he likes, no matter what his super-stereotypical Captain has to say about it. Thanks to some very crude exposition, we discover the Earth has been under a layer of night (called Econight, caused by volcanic ash maybe?) for 79 days, and everyone’s getting a bit tired of it. They try and simulate daylight by turning on as many lights as possible during the “daytime”, but it’s not working. Oh, and it’s 2009! I love a good “future that’s already happened” movie. He was partners with Dunn but they had a very unpleasant (and, at least initially, unspecified) falling-out, many years ago.

Turns out Grayson and Dunn were partners on the police, way back, and had an (at least initially unspecified) serious falling out some time ago. Presumably, before the being locked up in space prison thing? Anyway, Dunn is brought back to Earth for burial, but he revives thanks to his body’s guest and goes back to his old killing ways, while gradually deteriorating, both physically and mentally. The spore thing he carries inside him spreads, sort of a bit like “The Hidden” but not really, and Grayson has to stop him. To this end, he ropes in scientist Dr Kirbie Younger (Jayne Heitmeyer, “Earth: Final Conflict”)…

Okay, there’s a rather large and entirely pointless coincidence here. Turns out that Grayson’s dead wife, who he “stole” from Dunn and who Dunn then killed, looks exactly the same as Dr Kirbie. There are no flashbacks, and aside from one moment where she tries to convince Dunn she’s still alive and he should stop murdering people, it’s a sub-plot they do nothing with. I presume there was something left on the cutting room floor?

Anyway, there are no real surprises in store if you choose to watch this, just lots of bits cribbed from other, both better and worse, sci-fi / action movies. Piper and Drago are both excellent, pitching their performances perfectly for the material, and once again Heitmeyer shows she was wasted on cheap genre stuff like this. The OTT captain is lots of fun too, there are plenty of fun minor characters…but it’s really really slow in the middle, and the weird way the three main characters are linked ends up being rather annoying.

There’s some fun world-building, though, and you might be forgiven for expecting a sequel. Director Peter Svatek dipped his toe in these genre waters before becoming a TV movie guy, but writer Mark Sevi has previous ISCFC form, having given the world “Scanner Cop 2” and “Terminal Rush” (and lots of movies we really ought to cover). There’s plenty of talent involved, is what I’m getting at in a rather roundabout way. I’m just not sure any of them could be bothered in this instance – maybe there’s a really interesting story about the production? It just feels like they thought up a cool future-world, some great characters but then abandoned the script after writing a beginning and an end.

Not one you’re going to remember much a few days after seeing it, but still good fun. Ish.

Rating: thumbs in the middle