Thursday, 31 January 2008

Cybertracker 2



CYBERTRACKER 2 (1995)

Directed by: Richard Pepin
Screenplay by: Richard Preston Jr
Starring: Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and Stacie Foster.

Sometimes all you want from a film is gunfights, car chases and loads of explosions. Cybertracker 2 delivers all this with aplomb and by the bucket load. Starring kickboxing champ, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cybertracker 2 is one PM Entertainment’s most enjoyable action flicks. Utilising what appears to be a decent budget, director Richard Pepin (Dark Breed) piles one scene of destruction on top of the next in a well crafted thrill ride that, literally, never lets up.



What plot there is finds Wilson’s Federal Agent and his reporter wife (Stacie Foster) going on the run after being set up for murders they didn’t commit. A nefarious hi-tech corporation has created cybertracker doubles of Wilson and his wife and this is where most of the fun comes into play. The evil doubles cause much mayhem as they set about destroying their real life counterpart’s lives and most of Los Angeles as well. The plot is second fiddle to the mayhem and for once it doesn’t matter. Action is the name of the game and with the amount on display here, the production of Cybertracker 2 must have kept at least half the stunt community in steady employment.



Slick and well executed, the action incorporates many a car cash: one involving an armoured truck and a supped up, futuristic Trams Am and another featuring a truly eye popping stunt with a police van. There is also a surplus of brutal gunfights that appear to use more ammunition than the entire Second World War. It must be said that some of these scenes have a very violent edge to them as the body count mounts up. This is not a film overly worried about human life. Of course it is not realistic in the slightest. The film also blatantly rips off the Terminator flicks with the police station shoot-out lifted from The Terminator and one character dying almost exactly like Joe Morton did in Terminator 2.



Martial arts fans may be a little disappointed as Don Wilson displays little kung fu here. Obviously branching out into a different kind of action flick, Wilson holds up well in the gunplay and car chase scenes. He is especially cool, and unstoppable, as the evil version of his character. The opening scene has so much gunfire, explosions and stunts it would do as the conclusion to most big budget action flicks, yet it is only the beginning in what is an action juggernaut of a film. If you are an action fan, track down Cybertracker 2 now.

Friday, 25 January 2008

AVP R - Aliens vs Predator - Requiem



AVP R – ALIENS VS PREDATOR – REQUIEM (2007)

Directed by: The Brothers Strause
Screenplay: Shane Salerno
Starring: Reiko Aylesworth, Steven Pasquale and John Oritz

Fanboys have a lot to answer for. When the first Aliens vs. Predator (AVP) was released in 2004, there was uproar about the watered downed violence, terrible characteritization and general murdering of two beloved franchises. AVP is a serviceable film, at once entertaining but also frustrating. Not great but no where near as bad as you may have heard. The outcry was at least right in the fact the film had been watered down way too much. It’s Alien and Predator: there is supposed to be no holds barred chest bursting, spine ripping action from the get go. So after much boo hooing, ridicule and general hysteria from the online community, Fox and directors, The Brother Strause took all these complaints in and went the direction of an all out bloody, R-rated horror fest for the inevitable sequel, AVP R. That awesome red band trailer was released, hype was built and the film finally arrived. Yet, once again the fanboy internet community is in turmoil, bleating and wailing that AVP R is another fine mess. A mess, maybe, but a great, bloody, limb severing, gut spewing, hardcore mess. Come on fan boys, stop elevating movies to mythical type proportions and start enjoying the fun, groovy, gory ride this flick delivers. You wanted blood, guts and none of that human’s make friends with Predator nonsense: well here it is.



Now, AVP R is no way a great film and by all rights could have been a little tighter, a little tenser and maybe a good ten minutes longer but it certainly delivers the Alien on Predator action the title suggests. I think it's been firmly established that any further sequels to Aliens and Predator will never live up to the originals and that’s pretty much been the case since Alien 3 was released almost sixteen years ago. Leave expectation behind and enjoy the fact that The Brothers Strause have at least crafted an intense and gory flick that pays homage to both characters and even brings back some of the cooler aspects of the original films. The Predator character is the slim line version last seen in Predator 2 and not the bulky cartoon looking monstrosity from AVP. Its groovy theme tune and thermal vision are also back and made good use of. There is a ton of Aliens this time around, and they make for a striking visual running around a modern American town. The Predalien may be underutilized but it does get in a couple of good scraps and is mercifully not CGI’d out the wazoo. Once the action and gore kicks in, it never lets up with several set pieces being well staged, not least an extremely gory scene set in a hospital. And any film, especially an Alien or Predator film, that pins one its main characters to a wall with a giant blade, is doing something right.



The films does drop the ball with its lack of tension and gaping plot holes (too many to mention here) and the fact that gorgeous and talented Reiko Aylesworth is actually sidelined for most of the action, despite the trailers promising otherwise. Characterization is thin but the actors actually perform well and are more rounded than the first AVP. The trailer, especially the red band one, gave away the whole movie meaning there is no sense of surprise and every money shot has already been seen. The setting, a small American town, provides a nice visual backdrop for the beasties to face off, but the Dawson Creek lite storyline does mire the film in some tedium. Bring it back to the city or jungle, or better yet, space.

Yet, this is a monster movie and for the most part, a monster movie that delivers. Fans wanted blood, guts, gore and more Alien/Predator action and that’s what they got. Yes, it would be great to have deep characterization, intricate plots and the sense of dread and tension of the originals but movies are made differently nowadays and prospects of achieving these aspects is probably no more than a pipe dream. However, monsters, fights and kids having Aliens burst from their chests (a brave move for a studio film) are all delivered with aplomb and if you can let yourself go, AVP R provides a fun, gross time at the movies. Come on, lighten up.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Flight of Fury



FLIGHT OF FURY (2007)

Directed by: Michael Keusch
Screenplay: Steven Seagal and Joe Haplin
Starring: Steven Seagal

Straight to video star and former American Ninja, Michael Dudikoff is recruited to go behind enemy lines and retrieve a top secret plane which has been stolen by a group of renegade terrorists. Said plane can make itself invisible and it’s of the up-most priority that it's retrieved before the terrorists use it for some dastardly plan. Hold on, that’s Black Thunder and that movie came out almost ten years ago. This movie is Flight of Fury and stars straight to DVD and former A-list action star, Steven Seagal. Except both movies have exactly the same plot, music and liberal use of stock footage. Yep, Seagal stars in a carbon copy of an old Dudikoff film and you know you are in trouble when one of his latest films is a remake of a straight to video acitoneer from ten years ago, that itself was cobbled together from footage from other movies.



Seagal has been churning out straight to DVD action flicks for some years now. Long gone are the days of action epics like Marked for Death and Out for Justice and while Flight of Fury is by no means his worst (that honour still belongs to Out for a Kill and The Foreigner) it's still far from some of his other entertaining straight to DVD flicks, like Mercenary for Justice and Submerged (both of which I enjoyed and were competently made). Flight of Fury has the potential to be a fun B action pic: top soldier must steal back secret plane, cue lots of action and explosions. Unfortunately, Seagal seems to be trying even less in this picture than some of his previous efforts, which is surprising considering he co-wrote and produced this. Badly doubled and dubbed in a lot of scenes, Seagal sleepwalks through most of the flick playing the most unconvincing Stealth pilot to fly the skies. The saving grace is, he does do most of his own fighting this time and even has a cool fight sequence where he brandishes a mini axe, chopping up the bad guys with aplomb. It’s almost vintage Seagal.



The action does pick up in the last half hour with gunfights, fistfights and explosions galore but the arial combat scenes are just cut and paste footage from other films. I swear the footage has been used in at least the following films: Iron Eagle, D.A.R.R.Y.L, Black Thunder, Stealth Fighter, Active Stealth, Desert Thunder and possibly even Top Gun. It’s jarring watching so much stock footage jammed together which makes the first hour so tedious. It’s a shame as director Michael Keusch films the new footage with some skill and stages some competent action. A pity they opted to use so much stock footage because Flight of Fury, as stated, had the potential to be a fun little action pic.

As it is, Flight of Fury is mildly entertaining, often unintentionally funny and only picks up in the last half hour. Seagal completists will be the sole benefactors from seeing this.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Ninja Strikes Back



NINJA STRIKES BACK (1982)

Written, directed and starring: Bruce Le, Andre Koob, Joseph long and Jean Marie Pallardy

A list of what is awful about Ninja Strikes Back:

- The horrendous acting, especially the constant posing of “star”, Bruce Le
- A main villain with an obvious giant fake gold hand
- The complete lack of coherency and continuity
- The inane dialogue that often makes no sense
- A kung fu fight on a porn film set
- The most unconvincing lesbians on said porn film set
- An extended chase that endangers the life of a child and ends with the heroes letting the bad guy go despite the fact he has just put many people’s lives in danger
- Teleporting ninjas (no, really!)
- A random flashback scene of the hero’s family so they can shoe horn in his sister to the kidnap plot
- A dude being overpowered by drugged up, topless babes: this scene consisting of him lying on the floor while the topless babes fall over him in a drunken manor
- Crazy animal sound effects in the fight scenes
- Harold “Oddjob” Sakata appearing as the exact same character he played in Goldfinger, complete with bowler hat
- An actress billed as ‘Chick Norris’ (no, really)
- Music nicked from all over the place including possibly the most illegal use of the James Bond music ever
- Cartoon inserts of breaking bones
- Those crazy opening titles
- A kidnapper dressed in drag for no other reason than to be dressed in drag
- A finale which is an exact replica of the finale from, Way of the Dragon
- The fact this movie was written, directed and starring Bruce Le, Andre Koob, Joseph Kong and Jean Marie Pallardy

A list of what is awesome about Ninja Strikes Back:

- See all of above



Churned out by exploitation master, Dick Rendell, Ninja Strikes Back is quite possibly the most absurd kung fu movie ever made. And that’s saying something. Starring Bruce Lee clone, Bruce Le and featuring tons of gratuitous nudity and quite possibly the best freeze frame decapitation ever, Ninja Strikes Back is a sleazy, fight filled extravaganza. Track it down, consume vast quantities of alcohol and let the madness unfold. One of the worst kung fu movies ever made: definitely. Highly recommended: absolutely.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Bloodfist 4: Die Trying



BLOODFIST 4: DIE TRYING (1992)

Written and Directed by: Paul Ziller
Starring: Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cat Sassoon and Gary Daniels.

Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, one of the unsung heroes (along with Gary Daniels and Mark Dacoscos) of martial arts cinema, made somewhere in the region of 8 Bloodfist films. A long running and successful kung fu series, Bloodfist 4: Die Trying is an entertaining and well made, if unspectacular, action film. Wilson plays Danny Holt, a repo man who is just trying to make it through the day so he can take his daughter out for dinner. Yet circumstances conspire against him when he repossesses the wrong car: a black BMW belonging to bad guy, Gary Daniels (complete with lion’s mane and shoulder pads). Inside the car is a box of chocolates (!) containing stolen nuclear triggers, which a nefarious mob boss (Kale Browne) desperately wants to get his hands on. Killing all his workmates and kidnapping his daughter, Danny is forced to go on a one man rampage against the mob, the police , the FBI and a whole host of martial arts experts.

Produced by legendary low budget filmmaker, Roger Corman, Bloodfist 4 benefits from some decent production values and an energetic pace that features a smattering of bare knuckle action. The first half hour or so builds the tension up nicely as Danny’s world falls apart. There are some cool fights; one with Daniels on top of a multi storey car park and another with Cat Sassoon in a kitchen incorporating many of its utensils. Wilson is a likeable hero, and while he’ll never win an Oscar, at least shows some sensitivity in the scenes with his daughter. The fights, choreographed by Art Camancho (Recoil), Paul Maslak (Red Sun Rising) and Wilson himself, aren’t as kinetic as those in a Hong Kong flick but still manage to deliver a brutal impact. In fact, the film is very violent, the body count is high and the action often fierce.



Around the half way mark things fall apart somewhat. The pared down storyline soon becomes convoluted, with unnecessary characters and plot developments. Too many characters are introduced and underdeveloped, clogging up the fast paced action that came before. James Tolkan’s (Back To The Future) comedy relief FBI agent is an unwelcome annoyance and pairing Wilson’s character with an irritating and fairly useless sidekick (Amanda Wyss) robs the film of the lone wolf aspect it was developing in the first half. The action also deteriorates with a second fight with Daniels being a disappointment.

However, if you are fan of Wilson’s there is still much to enjoy. As mentioned, Bloodfist 4 is an adequate action flick, competently made and fun if you are a fan of fight flicks. It also features credits which list the martial arts performers and their respective titles and achievements. So we get: Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, WKA World Kickboxing Champion; Cat Sassoon, WKA North American Forms & Weapons Champion; Gene Lebell, RAU National Judo Champion; and Carolyn Raimondi, Women’s National Taekwondo Champion to name but a few. If that doesn’t make you want to watch the film, then nothing will.

The Order



THE ORDER (2001)

Directed by: Sheldon Lettich
Written by: Les Weldon and Jean-Claude Van Damme
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme , Brian Thompson and Charlton Heston.

At one time Jean-Claude Van Damme used to make entertaining martial arts, action films. Kickboxer, Cyborg, Bloodsport, Death Warrant, Hard Target and A.W.O.L are all classic Van Dammage. The Order is not. A sort of cross between Indiana Jones and, well, a crap Van Damme film, it has a barmy plot about some cult out to destroy every other religion. They have also kidnapped Van Damme’s dad, who he then sets about rescuing, all the while destroying half of Israel.



I’m a big Van Damme fan (I even like Double Team) as his films are often enjoyable and usually feature entertaining action and fight scenes. This is not the case with The Order. Instead we get Van Damme as annoying git, Rudy; Charlton Heston making even more of an embarrassment of himself than he did in Bowling For Columbine; a car chase involving airport baggage vehicles (exciting!); Brian Thompson in a very bad wig; an impossibly sexy Israeli female cop (wait, that might be one of the good things); dialogue along the lines of, “Something’s not kosher,” (nice); some incredibly bad editing; Ben Cross as a baddie (no, never); and the site of JCVD dressed as a rabbi: priceless.

This should have been a fun action romp, especially from director Sheldon Lettich, who directed two of Van Damme’s earlier classics: Double Impact and A.W.O.L. But instead, it is just dull, sloppy and badly acted. Die-hard Van Damme devotees might like it (there is one decent fight on the rooftops of a city) and it is slightly better than Streetfighter. To quote the words of Ben Cross’ corrupt police chief, “I can smell bullshit a mile away.” Nuff said.

Side note: Van Damme's movies have improved since The Order. Check out Wake of Death, In Hell and Until Death for recent quality Van Dammage.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Dead Trouble (aka Grand Slam)



DEAD TROUBLE (aka GRAND SLAM) (1990)

Written & Directed by: Bill L. Norton
Starring: John Schneider and Paul Rodriguez

A fun little TV movie from the late eighties that never really caught on as a series, Dead Trouble (aka Grand Slam) applies the buddy cop formula to a pair of mismatched bounty hunters on the trail of a ruthless South American drug dealer. John Schneider (Dukes of Hazard) is Hardball, a no nonsense, ex-cop turned bounty hunter who has a knack for capturing his bail jumpers using baseballs (hence the name Hardball). Paul Rodriguez is Pedro, another tough talking bounty hunter who can spit out one liners as fast as he can catch crooks. Forced to work together on a $1 million bail, the two must learn to put their petty squabbles aside in order to catch ruthless killer, Aguilera (Juan Fernandez), and save the baby of the inevitable woman caught in the middle (Susan Walters).



While never breaking new ground, or reinventing the genre it so plays to, Dead Trouble is a fun ride that succeeds on the chemistry of it two stars. Schneider and Rodriguez bounce off each other well, creating the perfect action movie buddy couple. At first they hate one another, then get into the obligatory fight to prove who is best. They then work together, thus realizing they get along just fine, then both make fools of themselves trying to woo the babe who obviously has no interest in either of them. Old hat stuff, but it is done well so why fix what ain’t broke? The two leads seem to be having a ball and the scene where they dare one another to eat dangerously hot Mexican chillis is a hoot. Juan Fernandez (Crocodile Dundee 2) also brings a bit of bite to his role of the bad guy, coming across as genuinely scary as he snarls and kills his way through the movie.



Director Bill L. Norton (who made the underrated, early Gene Hackman flick, Cisco Pike) creates a fine balance between comedy and action delivering just enough of both for a well made TV movie. The action is of the bike and car stunt variety with baseballs and a huge gatling gun also being used to great effect. If the film loses any points, it’s in the unrealistic portrayal of how the kidnapped baby survives so many close calls. Put in harms way more than once and somehow surviving a severe automobile crash the little nipper always (and thankfully) comes out ok. His onscreen mother never seems too concerned, however, especially considering he has been kidnapped by a unhinged killer and whisked away to Mexico.

However, minor nit-picking aside, Dead Trouble is quality action comedy that will leave you with a smile on your face.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Cold Harvest



COLD HARVEST (1999)

Directed by: Isaac Florentine
Written by: Frank Dietz
Starring: Gary Daniels, Bryan Genesse and Barbara Crampton.

Isaac Florentine is a little known (at least to mainstream audiences) film director who has made some of the best never heard of action films. Savate, High Voltage and U.S. Seals 2 are all decent little action flicks, showcasing some brilliant martial arts considering their meagre budgets. In 1999, he teamed up with action star Gary Daniels to make one of his (and possibly Daniels’) best and most loved films, Cold Harvest. Factor in, it's probably the best futuristic, kung-fu, cowboy flick you will ever see and you have a real gem of a film for genre fans.

In the not too distant future a comet has ravaged most of the Earth, leaving it sunless and its population dying from a plague. Six humans are found to have the antibodies to cure the plague and are being transported to safety when their convoy is attacked by Little Ray (Genesse) and his gang of thugs. Discovering one of the occupants is a childhood friend, Oliver (Daniels), he kills him in a sadistic duel, but not before Oliver’s wife, Christine (Crampton) escapes. Realising Christine is the only survivor left with the antibody, Little Ray sets about hunting her down. However, Christine teams up with Oliver’s bounty hunter brother, Roland (Daniels again) and learning of his brother’s murder, the scene is set for an explosive showdown.



Director Florentine has managed to mix the genres of sci-fi, martial arts and western into an effective and entertaining concoction. The western angle is played up to maximum effect, as good and bad guys brawl, stride and shoot like they are in the old west. Mad Max type cars and motorcycles replace horses and of course there is a saloon where all the characters eventually cross paths. It’s a refreshing take for a sci-fi flick and is pulled off with enough energy and cool production design that one can’t help but get caught up in all the cowboy shenanigans.

Daniels (Recoil) is on fine form providing one, well two really, of his best performances as the twin brothers Roland and Oliver. He is particularly good as Roland, acting all gruff and tough as the bounty hunter gunslinger. Genesse (Cyborg Cop 3) is also good as the unfortunately monikered Little Ray. He provides the right amount of threat as the menacing cowboy, but does camp it up a little in some scenes with his girly cigarette holder and dubious affection for his right hand man, T-Bone (a bad case of character naming does seem to be present in the film). Re-Animator and From Beyond scream queen, Barbara Crampton also provides decent support as Christine, even getting in on the action in some of the combat scenes.

The film’s main selling point, however, is its fight scenes. For a low budget American feature, the fighting is quite exceptional. Well filmed by Yossi Wein (Beyond Forgiveness) and cut together by Irit Raz (U.S. Seals 2), the fight scenes are blistering attacks that utilise Gary Daniels exceptional fighting skills. The fights are exciting to watch and should satisfy any avid kung-fu fan. Much like Florentine’s other work, the fight scenes feature over the top whoosh sound effects everytime a character moves or picks up a weapon, but this all adds to the fun and dynamism of the fighting.



The low budget does affect things a little. The lighting is often quite stark, revealing the obviousness, and cheapness, of the sets. In the car chases, it is also clear that the vehicles are going very slowly for a high-speed pursuit. Proceedings do drag a little in the non-action scenes and the less said about the awful plinky-plonky music used in the tender and romantic scenes, the better.

Yet these are just minor quibbles for what is essentially a great fight film. Isaac Florentine seems to be getting better with each film (check out his later flicks, Special Forces and Undisputed 2) and will hopefully make it into the big time one day. Cold Harvest is also one of Gary Daniels’ best films and, as mentioned, it is probably the best futuristic, kung-fu, cowboy flick (just had to get that in one more time) you are likely to see. And that is as good an honour as any in my book.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Expect No Mercy



EXPECT NO MERCY (1996)

Directed by: Zale Dalen
Written by: J. Stephen Maunder
Starring: Billy Blanks and Jalal Merhi.

Martial arts and virtual reality collide head on for the action cheese-fest, Expect No Mercy. Starring everyone’s favourite Tae-Bo instructor, Billy Blanks, Expect No Mercy is another fight extravaganza from low budget producer, and co-star, Jalal Merhi (Fearless Tiger). A high tech facility, known as the Visual Arts Academy, is training young people to be the best fighters through virtual reality technology. However, a spot of moonlighting is occurring as the Academy’s founder, Warbeck (Wolf Larson) is training these would be students to be deadly assassins. Enter undercover agents Justin (Blanks) and Eric (Merhi) to bust this illegal organization, and a few heads as well.



Jumping on the mid-nineties (brief) virtual reality bandwagon, Merhi has produced another bargain basement action flick. The now outdated computer effects range from the decent and sort of retro cool to the downright awful. The film fails with its virtual reality angle, as the filmmakers obviously didn’t have the budget to pull it off effectively. The fights set in the virtual world are dull and uninspired and feature an array of increasingly ridiculous opponents who look like rejects from a panto. The film starts off well with an efficiently staged assassination set piece but becomes somewhat befuddled once the virtual reality concept kicks in. The acting, as expected, is often sub par. Larson overacts out of his hair extensions, Merhi is as charismatic as a plank of wood and while Blanks is likeable, his dialogue is a constant barrage of lame one liners: “It’s time for some steam cleaning.” What?

However, the film is saved by some pretty energetic (and non-stop) action scenes, which are mercifully unhampered by dodgy CGI. Blanks’ has a brutal dust off with his real life brother, Michael, and there is an excellent extended shoot-out at a remote cabin. The flick also moves at a fair pace and is made bearable by some decent camerawork and production values. It’s a typical low rent action pic, but Expect No Mercy is brainless entertainment that gets by on its attempts at creativity. Get your buddies round and the beers in and enjoy the bone crunching daftness.

Fifty/Fifty



FIFTY/FIFTY (1992)

Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Written by: Dennis Shryack & Michael Butler
Starring: Peter Weller, Robert Hays and Charles Martin Smith.

A pair of mercenaries, Wyer (Weller) and Frenchie (Hays) are roped into a mission to overthrow a cruel dictator. Dumped in the middle of the jungle, they train a bunch of ragtag wannabe revolutionaries to help protect themselves from the unruly despot. But when many of them are killed in a deadly ambush and the American government refuses to get involved, Wyer and Frenchie figure maybe it’s time to do something worthwhile rather than just run with the money.

Fifty/Fifty is as standard as they come. Harmless in an easy going kind of way, it is a mediocre affair never living up to its potential of being a fun action comedy. Basically a glorified TV-movie with swearing and a bit of violence, it is a typical meat and potatoes action flick churned out by Cannon studios. The exotic locations look good on camera but Charles Martin Smith’s direction is just too flat to work up any energy. The action is pretty much non-existant and apart from a mildly exciting helicopter ambush, is nothing you don’t see in a regular episode of the A-Team (i.e. lots of highly untrained men running around shooting and hitting nothing). In fact, the whole thing feels like an extended episode of the A-Team, only with the guy from Robocop and the bloke from Airplane! Weller and Hays try hard and have good chemistry but calling each other “skunk-humper” and “cheese-face” does not really constitute as comedy. Plus, the fact that most of the film is spent training the would-be revolutionaries who then get killed, meaning the heroes have to do the final mission by themselves, renders three quarters of the film pretty much pointless, because if two of them could it why train dozens more to go with you?

A harmless pic that will neither offend or excite, Fifty/Fifty will probably be best appreciated by guys with moustaches who wear checked shirts and like their flicks where guys are tough, wisecracks fly and stuff blows up.