Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Missionary Man



MISSIONARY MAN (2007)

Directed by: Dolph Lundgren
Written by: Dolph Lundgren & Frank Valdez
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Kateri Walker & John Enos III

The Swedish Oak brings his A game and surprisingly talented directional skills to his latest offering: biker action flick Missionary Man. Dolph has always been the most overlooked of all the 80s and 90s action stars and while he has made his fair share of turkeys (Agent Red) he has carved a niche for himself with many solid action pictures (Dark Angel, The Peacekeeper). Recently he has turned director and thus delivered some of his best work to date. Missionary Man is Dolph’s take on Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider; just replace the Wild West with the modern day and horses with motorcycles. Dolph plays the mysterious Ryder, a lone warrior type figure who rides into town atop his hog to help a family being bullied by the local mob. Ryder is a religious man but not averse to dishing out extreme punishment and the odd shot of tequila. But his own past may be catching up with him when a ruthless biker gang show up to aid the mob, led by the dangerous Jarfe (John Enos III).



Despite a low budget and a varying grip on tension, Missionary Man is great fun and one of the best action flicks to hit DVD in some time. An equal balance of character and action with only a few plot holes and loose ends marring what is essentially a good film. Dolph is still learning the ropes of directing but has obviously put his considerable experience of being on so many other movie sets to good use. The flick has a visually interesting look, all washed out blacks and brown, playing up to the western theme of a dusty, abandoned town. The action isn’t the greatest, not always getting the right beats and sometimes coming across as truncated, but Dolph still manages a nice fight with baseball bats (a nod to the axe handle fight in Pale Rider) and a shotgun happy finale with one scene that is guaranteed to make your jaw drop.



Cast perform well with Dolph doing the strong, silent type to perfection. But this show is well and truly stolen by John Enos III, who is a fiery menace as the biker gang leader, Jarfe. His deep voice, black beard and piercing stare make for a memorable bad guy and the only complaint is: he isn’t in it enough. But when he is, Missionary Man is quality stuff. Despite its few flaws, Missionary Man is an entertaining action film with a neat twist and shows Dolph still has a lot to give in this game. Also check out Ken Sanzel’s Lone Hero for more excellent modern day western/ biker action.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Street Kings



STREET KINGS (2008)

Directed by: David Ayer
Screenplay: James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer & David Ayer
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans & Hugh Laurie

Now this is how they used to make them. Tough, tense and taught with a good story backed up by great acting and great action. Street Kings is a no nonsense cop thriller that has no pretensions about being anything else. A good story well told, Street Kings follows somewhat dirty cop Tom Ludlow (Reeves), a guy only just on the right side of the law, not afraid of bending the rules to get the results he wants. A veteran, Ludlow has seen and done it all and is more than adept at handling himself in a tough situation. When his former partner, Washington (Terry Crews), threatens to blow the lid on some of his shady dealings, Ludlow decides to take his own action and teach his ex partner a lesson. When Washington is gunned down in a convenience store hold up, this shakes Ludlow out of his rage and he is determined to catch the killers, but not before his Captain (Whitaker) covers up the shooting as it may implicate Ludlow. Confused and slightly wary of his Captain and his fellow unit members, Ludlow sets about solving the crime without their assistance and finds corruption runs much deeper than his own soul.




A genuine surprise and riveting from beginning to end, Street Kings is an action thriller done right. With a gritty feel that captures the seediness at the heart of Los Angeles, David Ayer’s film captures the spirit of cop flicks and action films from a bygone time. No flashy editing or camera tricks and no extravagent special effects, just grit, great storytelling and superb acting. The ensemble cast (which also includes Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Naomie Harris, Jay Mohr, and Common) all dive into their roles with relish, spitting out the tough dialogue with panache. Forest Whitaker is his usual grand self staying the right side of ham and fusing his character with a blinding confidence that is his eventual downfall. But this film belongs to Keanu Reeves. He has rarely been better and gives an intense, measured performance as the tortured soul, Tom Ludlow. Never grandstanding but always in control and demanding your attention, Reeves is Street Kings emotional backbone. He may have his detractors but Reeves has always been a talented actor and gives us some of his best work here.



Reeves also commands in the action scenes. The action complements the story rather than dominating it. Harsh gunfire and brutal punch ups serve as the main ingredient and Ayer quite rightly keeps them grounded in reality. From the grocery store shootout to the scene where Ludlow takes out a bad guy using a fridge as a shield, the action is hard hitting and never flashy. We experience the tension and feel the pain. Ayer has developed a style at writing and shooting these hard edged LA police thrillers from Training Day and Dark Blue to Harsh Times. While it may not be as personal as Harsh Times, Street Kings is perhaps his best film, as the story, acting, shooting style and action all gel seamlessly. The advertising did not do it justice, almost selling it as a throw away urban action film. It’s not. Street Kings is smart, emotional and a ride worth taking and while it may feature some rap actors in small roles there is no hip hop on the soundtrack or pseudo posing here. Street Kings is a tough thriller like we used to make them and a film that deserves to be seen.



Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Ten Dead Men



TEN DEAD MEN (2008)

Directed by: Ross Boyask
Story: Ross Boyask & Phil Hobden
Screenplay: Chris Regan
Starring: Brendan Carr, Keith Eyles, Pooja Shah & Doug Bradley

Independent British action cinema takes another step in the right direction with the arrival of Ten Dead Men, Modern Life’s superior follow up to their cult hit Left for Dead. Fusing action, drama and violence into a blistering whole, Ten Dead Men shows us Brits can hold our own in the action arena. Ross Boyask and Phil Hobden, with help from writer Chris Regan, step up their game to deliver a full on action hit.



Ryan (Brendan Carr) gave up his life of a fulltime killer just a little too late. Striving for the normal life we all have he comes within touching distance of a happy marriage with his beautiful wife, Amy (Pooja Shah), only to see it all crumble when his previous life comes crawling back. Asked to do a ‘favour’ for a former business associate, Ryan thinks he can get in, get the job done and get out, without disrupting his new life. But things soon spiral out of control and when his former boss, Hart (Terry Stone) gets wind of what Ryan is up to he sets his dogs out to even the score. Ryan watches as his wife is slain in front of him and then he himself is left for dead. But, in true revenge movie fashion, Ryan survives his injuries and sets out to kill the ten men that took his perfect life away.

Produced on a considerably small budget, Ten Dead Men overcomes any limitations by sticking to its guns and delivering a painful, punchy ride. The talent involved is also a plus and everyone has contributed well to make the best film they can. What keeps Ten Dead Men together and keeps you watching in between the bouts of ballsy action, is the story. A simple revenge film it may be but the little twists on the genre help to make it a much more entertaining ride. Ryan is a silent character, hell-bent on one objective. But instead of being the standard emotionless killer, his thoughts, feelings and impulses are described by a narrator who acts as Ryan’s voice. Superbly played by Doug “Hellraiser” Bradley, the narration is a novel idea that may seem unnecessary at first but soon becomes a vital part to the film and gives our hero a lot more depth. Chris Regan’s script also keeps proceedings tight, never bogging the story down in too much exposition or back story but fleshing out the characters enough so we care about them. Kudos to him for also giving each of the ‘Ten Men’ individual personalities and motives so the film never dips into a monotonous slew of faceless bad guys being killed.




Director, Ross Boyask also sharpens his skills as a director, keeping the film lean and mean and managing the fine balance between action, drama and flashback scenes. The cast is great fun as well, with leading man Brendan Carr cutting a mean figure as Ryan. It also helps that he looks like he could stop a Sherman tank in its tracks. As mentioned the ‘Ten Men’ are all individuals and get a chance to shine especially Keith Eyles as the twisted ‘Project Manger’ and JC Mac and Jason Lee Hyde as deadly numskulls, Parker and Garrett. Their little touch of comedy gives the viewer a small reprieve from the violent tone but is never over done nor over shadows the seriousness of the flick. There is also good performances from Pooja Shah, John Rackham, Ben Shockley and even Lee Latchford-Evans (yep, him from Steps). Also look out for appearances from action stalwarts Silvio Simac, Chris Jones and Glenn Salvage.



While the story and tone are suitably dark the action is never slack. Not as relentless and as full on as in Left for Dead but appropriately brisk, brutal and evenly spaced out. It helps that Jude Poyer (The Medallion, Red Trousers) was on board to choreograph the action and brings his considerable Hong Kong experience to the production. Working with what must have been a pittance for a budget, the action is clean, crisp and fitting to the tough nature of the flick. Highlights include a bruising fight between Ryan and a character appropriately named Bruiser (Tom Gerald), a big shootout come the finale and a smartly choreographed fight between Carr and Silvio Simac. Ten Dead Men delivers full on in your face action.

It may be a little rough around the edges and lack the gloss of a big budget action film but Ten Dead Men holds it own and shows independent action cinema can serve up the goods, especially when made by people who so obviously love the genre. It’s also great to see a film sticking to its dark roots and not punking out come the final act. Great stuff and here’s hoping it receives a release very soon. Ten Dead Men will be doing the festival circuit including the upcoming Seni Show and the PhantasmaGoria film festival in July.

www.phantasma-goria.co.uk

Until Death



UNTIL DEATH (2007)

Directed by: Simon Fellows
Screenplay: Dan Harris & James Portolese
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme & Stephen Rea

Van Damme is a dirty cop. A no good, lying, cheating heroin abusing dirty cop. He sneers, snarls and spits his way through the first half of Until Death, seemingly trying to take down master criminal, Stephen Rea. But really all he does is get several cops shot, another fired from his job and then pushes his wife into the arms of another man. His seedy life style and corrupt law enforcing soon catch up to him, when Rea and his goons leave him for dead with a bullet in his brain. Then things kind of go all Regarding Henry. Van Damme slowly recovers (well, quickly really, as this is a movie), discovers he is nice guy and still loves his wife after all. Decent acting from Van Damme ensues but it can’t save the plodding pace and slapdash direction which all of a sudden ends with a big shootout and Rea hamming it up ten fold.



Until Death was supposed to be Van Damme’s shot at serious acting and while he does well, the film eventually falls apart due to some misguided stylistic approaches. Van Damme is good, especially as the drug addicted cop, reigning in his kicking muscles and getting to flex his acting ones. It’s when he switches to recovering cop, you begin to wish he would just get on and kick someone in the head. It’s good to see the action star stretching a bit and even appearing in a non martial arts movie (no fights here, I’m afraid) but the film just plods along, occasionally livened up with some gunplay. The fire fight in the diner is particularly good. Plus, Van Damme was actually better in Wake of Death and In Hell, two films which are far grittier than this.

The pacing and editing don’t always help, the director never quite getting the tension this kind of film needs. Still there is a bit of cool camera work and for all the scenes that don’t work, there is a few that stand out including a memorable one where Van Damme is caught and tortured. It’s a shame Until Death, as a whole, isn’t as memorable. Van Damme is still making good films (the aforementioned Wake of Death and In Hell) and this one isn’t bad (certainly better than Derailed or The Order) but could have been so much better. Still, its good to see the Belgian bruiser trying something different and at least succeeding on the acting front if not the action front this time around.

Rage




RAGE (1996)


Directed by: Joseph Merhi
Action Director: Spiro Razatos
Screenplay: Joseph John Barmettler & Jacobson Hart
Starring: Gary Daniels, Jillian McWhirter & Kenneth Tiger

Rage is one of Gary Daniels best action films. Made at a time when PM Entertainment were at the top of their game, and the video stores were awash with action orientated material, Rage is about as pure as action films get. Once this bad boy starts it rarely lets up and while the premise and what plot there is, is completely bonkers, the action scenes still deliver and are some of the best to come out of a low budget movie. The story takes all of five minutes to set up with Daniels’ character being kidnapped, injected with some kind of super serum by some dodgy government organization before he goes on the run with the government, police force and the media all in tow.



Eschewing any kind of plot and character development, Rage just keeps on giving and giving in the action department. Daniels cuts a fine hero and there is even some attempt to address the callousness of the media, but really all Rage wants to do is cram in as many eye searing set pieces as possible. Watching the action sequences now, one realizes how ludicrous they are. In this cynical day and age nothing can be seen as suspension of belief, but when Rage was released over ten years ago, action films could do what ever they wanted. Yeah, the fact that a trained police man with a high powered rifle is only a few feet away from Daniels character, who is hanging off a skyscraper with nothing but his fingers, is ridiculous but the stunts involved are still amazing. Watch stunt men fall tens of storeys, swing onto helicopters and leap off gas tankers ploughing into school buses: all done for real. The action may be over the top but the stunts are all real, making Rage a worthy viewing for any action fan. Spiro Razatos, stunt guy extraordinaire, coordinates some dazzling set pieces and vehicular mayhem and even bookends the flick with two adrenalin pumping shootouts that show Daniels zipping through the with double Uzi’s, shattering all glass in sight. Fun stuff.

Yeah, Rage is as mad as a bag of snails but it’s a great, pure action film. Non stop Uzi fire, tanker smashing, falling from helicopters (and surviving), car flipping, and glass shattering chaos that will leave you with a big, broad smile on your face.



Attack Force



ATTACK FORCE (2006)

Directed by: Michael Keusch
Screenplay: Joe Haplin & Seagal
Starring: Seagal

Oh dear. It’s getting tough to review these direct-to-DVD Steven Seagal films. I seem to be watching way too many of them, always hoping they might get better and always being disappointed when they get worse. After the endurance test that was Into the Sun, I figured things couldn’t get any worse. Well they have and while I’m not sure if Attack Force is actually worse than Into the Sun, it’s certainly on a par with it and a front runner as Seagal’s career nadir.



Now it’s easy to make fun of Seagal and his films, and most critics do, but it really is too hard to be positive in any way about this film. The most disheartening factor is there was the potential for Attack Force to be an entertaining, possibly even sci-fi tinged, action ride that was completely scuppered in favour of this incoherent, juvenile mess. To be honest, I’m not even sure what the story was about: something to do with the water supply being infected with a new designer drug and Seagal has to stop it. But from the shoddy editing, the non-existent action, characters all of a sudden developing vampire like super powers, the atrocious dubbing and the fact Seagal is actually in this for all of ten minutes (and he actually wrote and produced this thing!!??), Attack Force is a disaster and a complete waste of time.

In an attempt to be positive the film looks glossy and at least this time around the supporting cast are just as bored and lifeless as the leading man. Really, just watch Out for Justice or even The Glimmer Man if you need a Seagal fix. Heed the warnings: this really is as bad as they say.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Final Tactic



FINAL TACTIC (1975)

Directed by: Walter Grauman
Written by: David Levinson
Starring: Nick Pryor, William Lucking & Gerald Gordon

If you get caught, we don’t know you…

A cool tagline for a cool little TV movie that never saw the light of day as a series. A shame really, as Final Tactic is a breezy 78 minutes of criminals turned cops, polyester suits, car chases and enough one liners to rival most Schwarzenegger films. Three ex-cons (William Lucking, Nick Pryor, and James Hampton) and a bent cop (Roy Jenson) are recruited by tough talking police officer Gerald Gordon to help battle organized crime. Regular cops aren’t cutting the mustard and getting the results needed, so the department resorts to hiring crooks so they can use their skills to catch likewise law breakers. At first reluctant to make the career change, the new crime fighting team soon bond and become adept at catching the bad guys.

Fast and snappy, Final Tactic coasts along on its easy going, crooks with charm narrative, delivering witty dialogue with 1970s style and TV pacing. The cast is likeable and seem to be having fun and the production benefits from a cool car chase and some other eye popping stunts that elevate it from typical TV fair. A car stunt involving a leap over a wall and a sequence where a helicopter lands in swimming pool give Final Tactic an edge and make this pulpy, fast talking flick worth tracking down. Good fun.

Also known as Force Five.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Empire of the Wolves



EMPIRE OF THE WOLVES (2005)

Directed by: Chris Nahon
Screenplay: Jean Christophe Grange, Chris Nahon, Christian Clavier & Frank Ollivier
Starring: Jean Reno, Arly Jover & Jocelyn Quivern

This French action thriller certainly packs a punch. Chris Nahon’s follow up to his equally excellent punch happy debut, Kiss of the Dragon, manages to mesh style, visual trickery, engaging characters and tough action into a concoction that wields horror, politics and thriller elements into the un-expecting viewers face. Anna (Arly Jover) is having trouble remembering who she is. Often she doesn’t recognize her own husband and doesn’t know why. Threatened with a possible life shattering biopsy to “cure” her of her amnesia she seeks out help before the operation. Meanwhile, somebody is carving up and dumping lowly Turkish girls in the Parisian sewers. Good natured cop, Nerteaux (Quivern) is assigned to the case and reluctantly agrees to the assistance of veteran and Turkish culture immersed cop, Schiffer (Reno). Uncovering a plot with ties to the police and a strange society called the Grey Wolves, their path soon crosses with Anna’s whose own husband and friends may be linked to her mind melt and all those dead bodies turning up.




Red herrings don’t begin to describe the maguffins Empire of the Wolves uses to keep you guessing who is who, what is what and what the hell is going on. With a plot that twists, turns, bamboozles and then completely morphs into something else, it’s a testament to Nahon and his cast’s skill that they manage to keep proceedings on track. France has been getting good at turning out slick, action orientated thrillers like this, such as The Crimson Rivers, Sweat and District 13, and Empire of the Wolves is no different. What sets it apart is the vibrant style and its sheer, unrelenting verve. No matter how complicated, inexplicable or absurd things get, Nahon just manages to keep a reign on things, grounding the story in enough reality and grit to make us believe in what is happening. What starts as a serial killer thriller then turns into an action film before twisting into a political thriller, and Nahon shows some balls throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to keep us guessing. Underworld crime boss with acid melted skin and throat: yep. Mind bending mind control and some scary ass assassins: oh yes. People alarmingly turning into wolf type creatures at a dinner party: you betcha. Empire of the Wolves is certainly unique.



At just shy of two hours, the plot manages to hold together pretty well before it all starts to crumble come the last half hour. However, it’s the only real quibble for what is a wild ride buoyed by an excellent cast. The principals perform well, their respective characters fleshed out enough for the action, with Jover standing head and shoulders above everyone else with her multilayered role. Reno is, as always, on fine form as the seedy, no, downright dirty cop, all Hawaiian shirts and bleached blonde hair. The action is solid if a little poorly handled at times but always entertaining with two standout sequences that keep in with radical vibe. One is an exhilarating set piece featuring shotgun action and some visual spectacle with a collapsing spiral stair case, while the other is a short, sharp and scary fight between one of the cops and an extremely deadly ninja looking assassin. This scene comes out of nowhere and is thrilling in its intensity.

If you are looking for an action film that’s off the beaten path, then Empire of the Wolves fits the bill. It may tie itself in knots come the end but sure is a fun, emotional rollercoaster ride getting there. With this and Kiss of the Dragon, Chris Nahon has developed a distinctive and invigorating action style that is all his own. Just watch out for those wolf people. Yikes.


The Legend of Zorro




THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005)


Directed by: Martin Campbell
Screenplay: Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta Jones & Rufus Sewell

Good old fashioned action, adventure and romance return in The Legend of Zorro. A belated sequel to the original Mask of Zorro, Legend manages to keep the successful ingredients, and most of the cast of its predecessor, to deliver another “this is how they used to make em” thrill ride. Its ten years on from Mask and Zorro (Banderas) and Elena (Zeta Jones) are married with a pint sized Zorro in training. Elena wants Zorro to give up the mask and sword but Zorro has other ideas, still fighting the plight of the common folk. When a nasty, and obligatory foreign, bad guy (Sewell) makes moves on Elena and has plans to blow up California with newly discovered nitro glycerine, Zorro suddenly finds himself not only fighting for the people and their state but himself and his family.



Mask of Zorro was a breath of fresh air when action films were going all high tech and CGI. Its old school approach to action adventure conjured up tons of fun not to mention spectacular stunts and sword fights. The enthusiasm and infection of the cast also helped make it one of the best blockbusters of the 90s, and a film that just gets better each time you watch it. The cast and director, Martin Campbell, all return and while it may lack some of the zest and bite of the original (and unfortunately rely a little, though only a little, on CGI come the finale), Legend is a worthy sequel, a great adventure and another dose of expertly made, old school action. The fiery chemistry and comic interplay between Banderas and Zeta Jones is what really cements the fun factor. Now comfortable with their characters, and not burdened with an origin story this time, the two zip and zap off one another hitting as many comic beats as they do action ones. Despite some contrived plot gear to keep the two apart so they can rediscover their love again, Banderas and Zeta Jones shine, no doubt relishing the opportunity to play these characters again.



Martin Campbell is just as important to the success of Zorro as its two stars and once again shows he is the master of the set piece. The action is thick and fast and the sequences are large and inventive in scale. From Zorro’s opening gambit with a bunch of scummy cowboys, to the oodles of fights, to the extended sword/train chase fight, the action is superb. Tight choreography, relentless pace, non flashy editing (meaning we can actually see what is happening) and lots and lots of stunt men being thrown into things just like the good old days, the set pieces are a marvel and generate the sense of adventure Zorro stands for. And Zorro himself? Well he, perhaps, is the best thing about Legend and Mask. Banderas fits him like a skin and while he me may be an expert at the swash and buckle (and quite possibly martial arts in this instalment) and survive every death defying scrape he gets into, Zorro is still an ordinary bloke: a bumbling, often humourlessly drunk, human bloke. No posing, no vanity, just really good in a sword fight. Kudos to the cast and crew for delivering another action packed thrill ride that is just as enjoyable as its originator

Monday, 14 April 2008

XXX 2: The Next Level



XXX 2: THE NEXT LEVEL (2005)

Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Ice Cube, Willem Dafoe & Samuel L. Jackson

Bubblegum action is what XXX 2 is, a ridiculous but very entertaining follow up to the original Vin Diesel starring XXX. Bubblegum in the sense that many people die, but the film is never really violent, the colour scheme is awash with bright hues that often jar with the tough guy theatrics and fantasy levels of heroism and indestructible good guys is played to the tilt. XXX 2 proudly wears its “this is not for real” badge on its sleeve and provides us with a sugar rush ride that eventually goes pop under its own sickly indulgences. Shiny, fast and a lot fun, XXX 2 is a blast.



Bad guy Willem Dafoe has a plot to kill the president, get himself elected in his place and refresh the good old US of A with the patriots it so desperately needs. Sam Jackson (returning from XXX) steps in, hires a new XXX soldier in the form of disgraced Navy Seal, Ice Cube and they set about thwarting (with some help from a comedy relief guy, some other government dudes, a bunch of rap stars (!!??) and a couple of babes) Dafoe’s evil ways. Cue boats flying out of the water and landing on cars; pinball played with tanks; Cube making love to a cheeseburger after getting out of prison (it’ll make sense when you see it); some double crosses; cool scenes of firepower and a finale so CGI’d you would swear you were watching a video game.



To be fair the action is pretty good. Tamahori (The Edge) knows his way around an action scene and gives us explosion junkies a good mixture of big stunts, hand/gun combat scenes, a bit of CGI and a fair few explosions. Cube is pretty good in the combat scenes, and though they are cut to soften the violence, his few hand to hand fight scenes are quick and tough. The CGI finale isn’t as bad as it sounds, involving a bullet train, a helicopter and a muscle car, but as always the best action is the ground based gun battles and punch ups, all which are handled with aplomb. The opening scene gets a special mention for the cool device the bad guys use to break into the good guys compound. Cool and where can I get one of those?



XXX 2 succeeds on its fun factor and for mercifully jettisoning the embarrassing “extreme sports dude” bollocks of the first instalment. There is still a fair share of urban posing and crappy music but it never dominates the film or hinders the fun of the action. Purists may balk at the fact Tamahori is now directing action fluff like this, considering his debut was the award winning Once Were Warriors, and those of you who detest CGI best stay away. But for pure unadulterated fun with some cool actors obviously having a ball, then check out the slick action XXX 2 provides.

Street Crimes



STREET CRIMES (1992)

Written & Directed by: Stephen Smoke
Starring: Michael Worth & Dennis Farina

An earlier effort from 1990s action specialists PM Entertainment, Street Crimes still remains one their most solid and satisfying films, managing an easygoing balance between action and drama. It may not be bursting with car chases and fire fights much like PM’s later and more well known films, but Street Crimes offers excellent performances, and some quality scenes of kickboxing, in the story of an idealistic young cop (Worth) who sets up a meeting place for the cops and criminals to work out their differences in bouts of fist to fist fighting. Worth’s cop attempts to provide a way for the two sides of the law to let out aggression in the ring, and with the help of his grizzled old partner (Farina) lessens crime and confronts his childhood friend cum drug dealer who is trying to shut down this new bond between cop and criminal.

Michael Worth (US Seals 2) has always been a charismatic actor who despite flourishing in a number of action films never really made it big. His acting is just as good as his fighting and he gets to put both to good use in Street Crimes. His chemistry with Dennis Farina (Get Shorty) is spot on. Farina himself brings a touch of class to the production as the grumpy but well meaning seen-it-all cop. The romance Worth strikes up with Farina’s on screen daughter also provides a sweet sub plot to all the man on man fist crunching action. The fights are crisp and clean and while they aren’t intricately staged or adrenalin inducing, they are fluidly put together and satisfyingly more realistic in their approach to blocking and takedowns.

Unpretentious, easy going and well meaning, Street Crimes provides requisite action thrills and entertaining character interplay. It’s refreshing to see the action heroes not necessarily as super, all conquering beings but as real people who deal with emotions and relationships along with fights and shoot outs. Solid direction, solid action and solid performances make for a solid and much recommended action film.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Out of Reach



OUT OF REACH (2004)

Directed by: Po-Chih Leong
Written by: Trevor Miller
Starring: Seagal & Matt Schulze

Out of Reach ain’t half bad. Well, ain’t half bad for a direct to DVD Steven Seagal flick that is. It’s not great and at times, downright bizarre, but compared to the some of the Silent One’s other efforts, it’s not bad. Some kind of crazy story about Seagal (amusingly playing some one called Billy Ray) who corresponds with a young girl in an orphanage somewhere in Eastern Europe. Naturally, Seagal is a former CIA operative (or some government variation) and when his pint sized pen pal goes missing he leaves his animal sanctuary behind to go find her. What he finds is a dodgy prostitute ring run by a slimy Matt Schulze (The Transporter), a whole heap of bad guys on his trail and another orphan kid who loves wearing shades.



Toning down the gratuitous violence (aww, shucks), Seagal attempts to take a somewhat different route in dealing with bad guys and rescuing damsels in distress. Out of Reach is less a slam bang action film and more an attempt at a thriller. There is little action until the end, save for a few punch ups, as Seagal spends his time decoding messages left by his pen pal, sort of romancing a local police detective and showing his kinder, gentler side by helping all the unfortunate kids. Sometimes it works, sometimes its unintentionally funny, a fact Seagal fans are no doubt accustomed to now. What is most bizarre, besides the dodgy prostitute ring, is the horrendous dubbing of Segal’s voice and Schulze’s weird performance. Seagal is front and centre for most of the filming, but apparently couldn’t be bothered to come in and loop his voiceover, which has been done by someone who is very obviously not Seagal. Jarring does not even begin to describe what it is like hearing Seagal with two different voices. Schulze meanwhile, acts straight out of a panto.



Having a fondness for the Tall One’s movies, I tried to enjoy Out of Reach (and that’s a tough order after enduring Into the Sun) as much as I could and did fairly well. Despite the bad dubbing and some wonky editing, the film is well made and director Po-Chih Leong (The Detonator) even rustles up some tension and a few cool shots. Despite a lack of action, the ending pays off satisfactorily with a well staged gun battle and a bit of sword fighting. So overall not bad, and for a recent Seagal flick, not bad is pretty good.

The Fast & The Furious



THE FAST & THE FURIOUS (2001)

Directed by: Rob Cohen
Screenplay: Gary Scott Thompson & David Ayer
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez & Jordana Brewster

There is no denying The Fast & The Furious (TF&TF) is a slick and often entertaining piece of action cinema. But like many of its protagonists and car racers, underneath the hood it’s just a shallow shell and another glossy Hollywood cash in on a current trend in popular culture: the popular trend being street racing, where kids have souped up cars and race them in illegal street drags. Despite the shallow people, cookie cutter plotting (the flick is a poor man’s Point Break with muscle cars) and inane rap and nu-metal soundtrack, TF&TF does have one thing going for it: the awesome car chase scenes. Actually, it has a couple of things going for it, as Cohen’s tight direction and the bevy of bodacious babes also help to make TF&TF a little more digestible.



Dispensing with plotting, character and the acting (Diesel and Walker are pretty good and show they are much better than the material on offer) I’ll cut straight to the chase: the car stunt and chase sequences are awesome. Cohen and his team have crafted slick, exciting, and most importantly, adrenalin pumping car chases that elevate TF&TF from the teenage orientated dreck it really is. Revved up cars chase trucks with muscle, slipping in between and even under the trucks with greased up effortlessness. From the opening hijack; to the rescue of one of Diesel’s crew; to the motorcycle pursuit, the chases never slacken and show Cohen’s skill at crafting action cinema. Aside from one sequence, the chases are pretty much sans CGI and benefit from the stunt crew doing everything for real.

Not a great film, but a film with some great sequences in it, TF&TF is certainly recommended to car chase enthusiasts. The horrible day glow cars may not have got my engine running but the chase sequences certainly did. Not to mention that bevy of bodacious babes. I guess I’m pretty shallow too.