Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Der Clown

DER CLOWN (2005)

Directed by: Sebastian Vigg
Screenplay: Timo Berndt
Starring: Sven Martinek, Eva Haberman, Thomas Anzenhofer, Xenia Seeberg and Gotz Otto

Action Concept is a German based production-company that specialises in action orientated products. With a real back to basics feel, Action Concept is an old school purveyor of the action sequence: no CGI, everything done for real. Scoring huge hits with their German TV series Der Clown and Alarm Fur Cobra 11, both of which feature many a spectacular vehicular stunt and explosion, the company has now moved into cinema territory. They recently released their second feature Kampfansage (aka The Challenge), a modern day martial arts flick, but their first main feature was 2005’s Der Clown: Payday, a spin-off movie from the original TV series. And while, yes, the main protagonist likes to wear a clown mask during scenes of high risk danger and the plot often seems to be an excuse to destroy as many BMW’s as possible, Der Clown: Payday is an action movie that delivers in spades.

Der Clown or The Clown first saw incarnation as a TV movie for German television. Featuring the exploits of Max Hecker (Sven Martinek), his trusty sidekick, Dobbs (Thomas Anzenhofer) and sexy heroine, Claudia (Diana Frank), the TV movie became a TV series and had the three vigilante types running around Germany thwarting bad guys, dodging the police and getting caught up in many (many) car chases. Hecker wears a clown mask to hide his identity and, acting like a modern day Robin Hood, fights crime and stands up for the innocent. A bit odd sounding, maybe, but it all works mainly due to the enthusiastic performances and the abundance of expertly staged action sequences. All of which are replicated, ten fold, in the big budget movie version.

The film opens with previous events, detailing the killing of Claudia, the escape of the killer and Hecker swearing vengeance. ‘The Clown’ is now in hiding, as a security guard at a mall awaiting the return of Zorbeck (Gotz Otto: Stamper from Tomorrow Never Dies), Claudia’s killer, who has hidden the plans for his next daring heist in the mall. Yet things are never simple. Zorbeck kidnaps a reporter, Leah (Eva Habermann) who just happens to be Claudia’s sister and uses her to flush out the The Clown/Hecker. Hecker is soon persuaded by Dobbs to don the Clown mask one more time to save Leah and stop Zorbeck and his crew from stealing all the gold from Germany’s Federal Reserve. And that’s basically it. Action is piled upon action as The Clown, Dobbs and Leah kick into high gear and start destroying those aforementioned BMW’s.

The main cast share good chemistry and acquit themselves well in both the action and drama departments. Otto and Xenia Seeberg (from the Lexx TV series) are also on fine form as the sneering bad guys. The production is polished, moves at a fair lick and has its fair share of tension during the suspense and action sequences. And what action it is. As mentioned, Action Concept are renowned for doing all their stunts for real. Thus there is a (welcome) feel of 80’s action movie about The Clown: the plot is kept simple, the good are good, the bad are bad and the stunts and explosions come thick and fast. Competently holding its own against Hollywood blockbusters (and leaving many overloaded CGI behemoths far behind in the dust), The Clown features one huge set piece after the other. From the opening armoured car heist, to the gunfight/motorcycle chase/ helicopter rescue, to the dodging missiles/ ‘raining gold bars’ finale, the movie’s action sequences are absolutely thrilling. There are two set pieces alone that make the film worth watching. The first is a car chase that features up to 12 police vehicles being launched into the air, many vaulting over a nearby hovering helicopter. Simply jaw dropping; this stunt quite rightly won the Taurus World Stunt award in 2005. The other is the sequence involving an eighteen-wheeler that, among other things, has a helicopter land on it before smashing it into an oncoming bridge. All done for real, no CGI.

I know we all like a good story and strong character development to go along with our action, but sometimes it is refreshing to watch an action movie simply supply pure unadulterated action thrills. There is enough story and charisma to carry the film to stop it becoming a shallow exercise in explosions and the end credits show how fun it obviously was to make. Fight fans may be a little disappointed with the lack of one on one combat as this is primarily a stunt filled film, and those looking for a slightly more complex action ride may feel under challenged. But for the rest of us fans, The Clown provides the requisite action thrills and then shoots into overdrive. Watch out for the cool Speed reference that also adds to the fun factor.

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