Thursday, 29 May 2008
NO REATREAT NO SURRENDER 2: RAGING THUNDER (1989)
Directed by: Cory Yuen
Screenplay: Keith W. Strandberg, Maria Elena Cellino & Roy Horan
Starring: Loren Avedon, Cynthia Rothrock & Max Thayer
Originally filmed as Raging Thunder before the producers decided to use the NRNS title, this sequel to the original No Retreat No Surrender finds Loren Avedon replacing Kurt McKinney in the central role as Scott Wylde, an American kickboxer who must journey into the heart of Vietnam to rescue his girlfriend from some evil Russians. Teaming up with another brash American (Max Thayer) and a feisty female (Cynthia Rothrock), the three engage in all out war in a sequel that ups the action and fighting to giddy heights.
Once again directed by Cory Yuen, with a little help in action department from Mang Hoi (The Blonde Fury), NRNS 2 is a no holds barred action film. Gone is the ‘believe in yourself’ message from the first film, which is replaced by an onslaught of brutal fights and stunt sequences. While Avedon will never be mistaken for an Oscar worthy actor, he acquits himself well and is a very gifted fighter, ably supported by Thayer and Rothrock (also excellent in the fight scenes). The theme of Russians being the bad guys was very popular around this time and carries over from the first film. This time, the chief bad guy is played by genre stalwart, Matthius Hues (Mission of Justice), making his big screen debut. Another excellent fighter, his showdown with Avedon is exciting stuff.
Speaking of genre stalwarts, NRNS 2 is packed full of them. Along with Avedon, Rothrock and Hues, Hwang Jang Lee (Secret Rivals) and Roy Horan (Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow) also put in appearances, with Horan also contributing to the screenplay. With these familiar faces and Yuen’s assured handling of the action, Seasonal Films (the producers of the NRNS series) were really able to show what they could with an American martial arts film. Add in some great locations, action scenes that are still fun to watch today and a good dollop of cheese, you have the best of the NRNS films. Highly recommended.
LAST RUN (2000)
Directed by: Anthony Hickox
Screenplay: Robert Syd Hopkins & Anthony Hopkins
Starring: Armand Assante, Jurgen Prochnow & Ornella Muti
The cold war thriller makes a pleasant if ultimately underwhelming return in Anthony Hickox’s slick though somewhat muddled action thriller. Hickox has always been an underappreciated director with genre blasts Full Eclipse and Federal Protection (also starring Assante) and cult horrors Waxwork and Lost in Time. Despite the often glowing reviews Last Run has received it pales in comparison to these other flicks though not through lack of trying.
Plot is somewhat confusing and occasionally meanders nowhere: something to do with Assante’s, who is on fine form, former government specialist coming out of retirement to do that inevitable ‘one last job.’ He must protect some kind of Eastern European official and get him to safety. This means Assante must recruit his old partners in crime, some who disappear during the mission with no explanation. The pace just seems off; never igniting like it usually does in many of Hickox’s other movies. He has a very distinctive style and glossy look that make the aforementioned films so enjoyable, but Last Run seems to be lacking this and despite good acting, never really engages in between the action.
The action, on the other hand, it what makes Last Run worthwhile. Fast moving, tense and featuring lots of firepower from guns fitted with huge silencers, the action is unique and always gripping. Flick has a surfeit of fast shootouts including a memorable and deftly shot shootout in a graveyard. The camera work is always fluid, giving the sense of momentum and mercifully not bogged down in close ups. Nice wide shots mean we get to see the stunts and action clearly. Special mention should also go to the fact the girls get in on the action as much as the guys, firing machine guns and diving out of harms way with skill. Always good to see the girls mixing it up in the action scenes.
So, not a bad a film but never as good as it ought to be or as entertaining as Hickox’s other work, which you should definitely check out if you get a chance. Still, catch Last Run for the game performances and the superior action if thrillers with a cold war flavour are your thing.
TIMECOP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION (2003)
Director: Stephen Boyum
Screenplay: Gary Scott Thompson
Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, John Beck and Mary Page Keller
Direct-to-video (DTV) sequels to successful original films are a hit and miss affair. Often rushed, using very little money and sometimes made years after the original, they end up as cheap knock-offs of the film that inspired them. They never really explore or expand on the concepts of the original, instead just re-hashing the first film on a smaller budget and with a lot less skill. This has unleashed a plague of sequels upon us; some good, some bad, and some almost ruining the reputation of the film that spawned them. Some cases in point: Kickboxer/The Prophecy, 4 sequels each; Bloodsport/Nemesis, 3 sequels each; Mimic/Sniper/Wild Things, 2 sequels each; The Hitcher, 1 sequel (and lets hope there are no more) and I hear even Single White Female has a sequel now. Which brings us to Timecop 2, the 2003 sequel to the original Van Damme masterpiece (there seems to be a theme with sequels to Van Damme films with the Kickboxer/Bloodsport/Cyborg/Universal Soldier/Timecop franchises racking up no less than 13 sequels between them).
Ryan Chan (Lee) works for the Time Enforcement Committee (T.E.C), a time travelling police force who prevent criminals from travelling to the past and altering the future. In a Nazi Germany set prologue, we see Chan and his fellow Timecop, Branson Miller (Griffith), stop a time altering crime. However, Miller has other plans and attempts to assassinate Hitler in order to stop him from committing the crimes he inevitably will. T.E.C does not allow the past to be altered so what crimes have been committed before the invention of time travel must stay that way. Chan intervenes to stop Miller but in the process kills his main squeeze, another Timecop. Suspended for 30 days, Chan uses the time travel device to hide out in the 1800’s where he expects one of Miller’s followers is up to no good. He is right and after stopping him, discovers Miller has a splinter group of Timecops who are jetting through time changing history. Chan is reinstated into the T.E.C and sets about chasing Miller. Throw in Chan’s tormented past (which Miller may or may not be responsible for), some energetic martial arts and a few deep ruminations (for a film called Timecop 2 anyway) about the consequences of time travel; you have a surprisingly decent direct-to-video sequel.
The first Timecop was actually pretty good and one of the Van Damme better vehicles. Directed by Peter (2010) Hyams, it had a decent budget, good action sequences, Mia Sara naked and the great Ron Silver. Timecop 2, though lacking in the naked parts (save Jason Scott Lee’s bare chest) and Ron Silver, retains most of the energy and likeability of the first film. Expanding on the whole time travelling concept, Timecop 2 attempts, and often succeeds, in exploring the benefits and consequences of time travel. Chan’s voice-overs and various conversations/arguments with other characters help to give more insight into the use and abuse of time travel. We even get to see the toll it takes on the cops as the T.E.C doctor (Keller) repeatedly argues that frequent time jumping is too stressful for the cops. This lifts the film up from the usual DTV sequel nonsense (not that I am saying time travel is a realistic concept) and gives the film a bit more substance in between all the token silly dialogue and time jumping shenanigans. The time travel concept is not merely used as a plot device for special effects but to show the consequences it has on the characters and their actions.
Though lacking a decent budget (it often looks like a TV movie) Timecop 2 is professionally made. Director Stephen Boyum (Slap Shot 2) keeps things moving at a rapid pace (78 mins to be exact) and though the sets, including the Wild West and an 80’s dance club, don’t always convince, Boyum builds enough suspense out of the situations that you hardly have time to notice. The fight scenes are effective but lack real style and impact. The camera gets in too close, diluting the full effect of the fight. The final confrontation between Lee and Griffith is nicely done though; with both actors going at it full tilt. There is a lot going on for a film only 78 mins long and add in all the jumping backwards and forwards in time, the story does tend to get a little convoluted in places.
Lee is likeable as Chan, though tends to overact a little. This is the case with many of the supporting characters, though Mary Page Keller (The Negotiator) as the Doc is a little more convincing. Thomas Ian Griffith comes off best as bad guy, Miller. He provides the right amount of menace without ever hamming it up and balances this well with the younger, innocent version of Miller he plays in one of the alternate timelines. Griffith is one of those actors who should have moved onto bigger things by now (ditto Gary Daniels). Making his name in low budget action flicks such as Excessive Force and Ulterior Moves (and the little seen Behind Enemy Lines, not the Owen Wilson one) he has appeared in the likes of John Carpenter’s Vampires and XXX.
Timecop 2 is a surprise DTV sequel that defies convention by being as good as its big budget predecessor. It’s a sci-fi movie that attempts to explore its science while at the same time providing some kick ass entertainment. Timecop 3 doesn’t seem like such a bad prospect. But please no more Kickboxer sequels.
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
FATAL MOVE (2008)
Written & Directed by: Dennis Law
Starring: Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Wu Jing & Kelly Chu
Hong Kong Category III action returns full force in the slick and suspenseful Fatal Move, a flick that sees some of the country's biggest stars on screen together. Cat III action is Hong Kong film's rating for extreme violence, gore and sexuality. No holds barred cinema that is not afraid to show the nastier side of life. Fatal Move may not have much sex on display but it certainly has a good share of unsettling violence and graphic gore in its portrayal of a mob family losing grip on their power and resorting to ever violent ways to regain it.
Sammo Hung is Lung the head, or big brother, of a powerful mob syndicate in Hong Kong. Along with his wife Soso (Chu) and troubled brother, Tung (Yam) he has ruled with an iron fist for years. But with the police closing in and a possible rat amongst his ranks, Lung's empire slowly begins to crumble and his trust of those closest to him dwindles. Violence escalates as the gang clashes with other gangs and the police become a force to be reckoned with, all leading to the ultra violent and melodramatic ending. The plot of Fatal Move is perhaps the weakest point. Not that it is too thin, more the opposite, in too much is going on. Lots of double crosses, assassins turning up and disappearing almost as quickly, corrupt police officers, brotherly love and a pace that doesn't do justice to all these elements. In several cases the drama comes off as stale, never really igniting, causing the viewer's mind to wander. Too many characters and famous faces pop up without really doing anything also adding to the confusion. What exactly was the point of Lam Suet's character? Then Madame Soso (a stunning Kelly Chu) who has been quietly in control most of the movie suddenly starts shooting a bunch of characters who have come from nowhere and rubs their blood all over her face. A complete 180 indeed. It's as if writer and director Dennis Law is trying to throw in everything he can think of in an attempt to make a gangster epic.
What the film gets wrong in pacing and storytelling it makes up with superb acting, riveting action and a heavy does of ultra violence. Hung, Yam and Chu all shine on the screen and Yam still proves he is the coolest dude out there despite playing a nasty character and wearing a bright white suit and pink tie. Hung is also good, pretty much playing the same role he did in SPL, obviously enjoying playing bad guys for a change. But it is Chu as Lady Boss Soso who is dynamite, a beautiful looking woman who you wouldn't cross if your life depended on it. Unfortunately stars like Wu Jing and Danny Lee don't fair so well. Those expecting another star making turn from Jing may disappointed as his part is nothing more than a glorified cameo. He's still good, especially in the action, but it's a small part and the same one he played in SPL. Lee is barely their at all and as one of the stars of The Killer, you would expect him to be put to more use.
The action on the other hand is always riveting, evenly spaced and based more around gunplay that martial arts duels. Though there are a few of those too. A contract hit featuring an assassin very closely resembling someone from SPL (Fatal Move just seems to name check this movie a lot, even reuniting the main cast), a raid on a police station and the Hung Vs Jing fight are all well crafted sequences. But it's the level of gore and blood that sets Fatal Move apart from other action movies. Limbs are severed, chopped off and ripped apart with aplomb, and frequently, and while the filmmakers opted for the CGI route with the blood and carnage it never detracts from the brutality of the violence. People are gunned down mercilessly, a woman is tortured graphically, and a man is stabbed in the neck repeatedly making for uncomfortable viewing and earning the film its Cat III rating. Not for the weak stomached.
Fatal Move is most certainly flawed and could have been a lot tighter and less meandering. Yet it still manages to be a worthwhile slice of gangster action that entertains if never really ignites. Slick production values, a great cast and some corking action make it worth a view. Just don't go excepting SPL (there's that film again) just because Hung, Yam and Wu Jing are reunited.
Directed by: Doug Liman
Screenplay: David S. Goyer & JimUhls
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, Jamie Bell & Samuel L. Jackson
Jumper is a good movie, better than some would have you believe, but a frustrating movie. In fact, it's more like half a movie. Never really getting going, despite some good action, and then ending just as it has got going. The idea of people being able to teleport is a novel idea, smartly realized through intricate special effects but perhaps not given its full potential. This is due in part to a story getting bogged down in too much tedious relationship stuff. David (Christensen) is a troubled kid who finds out he can teleport and runs away to perfect his new gift. Grown up he robs banks, travels the world a jump at a time and lives the good life. Yet all he really wants to do is hook up with the girl from his childhood, Millie (Bilson). He does but not before the Paladin's show up in the form of Roland (Jackson). They kill teleporters, or jumpers. Why? Because they just do. So David finds himself on the run all the while attempting to find the right way to tell Millie about his gift.
See, a pretty neat concept and one that leads to a series of exciting set pieces and visuals but not much else. Even Jackson, who is requisitely sinister, doesnâ€™t get enough screen time. David's jumper origin rushes by so quickly that we are barely 20 minutes in and we are already well into the Paladin chases Jumper plotline. All the cast do well, especially Bell as the feisty, full of fury Griffin, another Paladin, but they are let down by a sense of not much happening. A lot does, with David and Griffin jumping into and out of countries and war zones in the same conversation but the pacing seems off, nothing lasting for what seems more than a few seconds. This certainly gives the sense of the fast movement of jumping but little else. Liman's film also suffers from what many of his films do: a sense of narcissism. Characters we find it difficult to feel sorry for when they seem to have pretty decent lives. Well, maybe not Griffin as he has had a shit time.
Despite the feeling that a lot was cut out and the end is a blatant set up for a sequel, Jumper is still a good time. Liman's naturalistic camerawork and the performances he elicits from the cast give the film a more realistic edge and the jumper sequences are breathless. Trick editing, photography and subtle CGI blend seamlessly together meaning the action sequences often take place in several locations and continents at the same time. Clever stuff and will hopefully be further developed in a sequel. Just add on an extra 20 minutes or so, so we feel like we have seen a whole movie.
Sunday, 18 May 2008
Written & Directed by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Rhona Mitra, Adrian Lester, David O’Hara, Bob Hoskins & Malcolm McDowell
Neil Marshall returns with a veritable schmorgesboard of a movie, a film that name checks just about every genre going and every cool movie from the 70s and 80s. It’s a shame he has gone the route of fan boy crazy as making a “homage” movie is always a dubious prospect: too much name dropping and restyling of favourite scenes from classic movies. However, Marshall just manages to make the heady mix of Doomsday work, largely due to the infectious energy and that most films haven’t been this much fun in a long time.
So we have a virus that is killing people in Britain. The infected are all sent to Scotland and sealed in behind a giant wall and left to die. Thirty years later the virus reappears in London, the infection spreading fast. Chance would have it that the infected in Scotland seem to be getting better meaning there must be a cure for the virus. Dodgy government officials send in a team to extract the cure led by the sultry Sinclair (Mitra). Carnage, Mad Max car chases and medieval bonkers ensue. Did they just roast Sean Pertwee alive and eat him? Oh, yep, they did.
For it’s faults, and there are a few, it really is a waste of time to pick at them as Doomsday is all about fun. Gore soaked, action packed fun. It may not make a lick of sense (Where do those authentic medieval clothes come from? How do the bad guys fly from London to Scotland in a helicopter in the course of a car chase?) but when there is this much gore, action and verve thrown at the screen, we fans really should rejoice. What makes Doomsday work is its unrelenting velocity and that Marshall emerges as a talented action director with several barnstorming set pieces. The action is rough and ready and often soaked in blood with Marshall forgoing the CGI route to deliver down and dirty stunt work. The initial attack on Sinclair’s team and her fight with a medieval gladiator are standouts but it’s that car chase that excels. Slick stunt work, great sight gags and the sheer sense of speed make this a soon to be classic chase and it sure kicks the arse out of the supposed “car chase” movie, Death Proof.
The constant referencing and if we are honest, ripping off, of other movies gets a little tiring and in some ways it’s disappointing Marshall didn’t follow up his first two films with something more original. Dog Soldiers and The Descent were original and skilful blasts of genre fun while Doomsday is just merely fun. No bad thing for sure but this constant homaging by new directors is getting a little stale. Most films by John Carpenter and George Miller along with just about every Italian film from the 70s and 80s are name checked here. And I’m pretty sure the “If he touches me one more time, I’ll kill him” scene from The Last Boy Scout is referenced as well. This may just be one homage too far.
It’s the sheer audacity of Doomsday that works, never apologizing for the frantic carnage cavalcade it is. See it while you still can on the big screen as it will fry your brain, sizzle your eyeballs and give you a few laughs along the way. If only all British films were this much fun.
Special mention should also go to the musical interlude. A scene that comes out of nowhere, is absolutely bonkers, features little singing but mucho music, dancing and some foxy post apocalyptic women and is maddeningly entertaining. Worth seeing the flick just for this bit.
SUDDEN DEATH (1995)
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Screenplay: Gene Quintano
Starring: Jean Claude Van Damme, Dorian Haywood & Powers Boothe
An overlooked gem from Van Damme’s heyday, Sudden Death is a straight laced, action packed thriller that shoots into overtime and wins with an energetic mix of action, crazy stunts and knowing winks at the genre we all love. A carbon copy of Die Hard as a film can get, without actually being a Die Hard film, Sudden Death is nevertheless one of the better spin offs. Terrorists show up at an ice hockey game the Vice President is attending and set about killing folks and demanding all kind of crazy things. It’s then up to fireman Van Damme, whose own kids have got caught up in the mix, to stop them and well staged mayhem unfolds.
Sudden Death is a hoot. It may not be original but it has many things going for it that make it a Grade A action flick. Van Damme is on fine form getting to run, jump and kick his way through various bad guys in what has to be one of his biggest budget flicks. The action is slick and at times brutal, combining intense fire power with creative fights and stunt work. The pace never slackens and the action is well staged. It all gets a little ludicrous by the end with helicopters falling into the ice rink and Van Damme saving the deciding goal in the hockey game when he is supposed to be saving his kids. But it’s all pulled off with flair with Hyams slick photography giving a very polished look to proceedings.
But that’s not all. Sudden Death has one of the best villains action movies have seen. Powers Boothe (Rapid Fire) is seething with slimy evil as the ruthless leader of the terrorists. His put downs, sharp suit and the fact he shoots to kill first time make him a deliciously vile bad guy who with his pithy remarks elicits as many laughs as he does chills. He seems to be having fun and he certainly makes for a memorable bad guy. Special mention should also go to a great set piece: Van Damme Vs a giant penguin. Yep the muscles from Brussels faces off with a terrorist disguised as the hockey team’s mascot (a penguin) in a fight that is both hilarious and brutally bruising. A nod by the filmmakers to how ridiculous action films can be? Maybe, but still a great fight anyway.
Peter Hyams, who also directed Van Damme in the equally entertaining Timecop, keeps proceedings efficient and tight. Flick has a fairly violent edge to it as well, something that has since vanished from a lot of action films. While never overly gratuitous there are several shock moments when hostages are killed in cold blood which perhaps sits a little uneasy with the fun element of the film. Still, this is how they used to make them and this is still one of Van Damme’s best if not one of his most well known.
Saturday, 10 May 2008
IRON MAN (2008)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Screenplay: Mark Fergus & Hawk Otsby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Terence Howard & Gwyneth Paltrow
After the enormous success of Spiderman 1 & 2 (we’ll forget about 3), Batman Begins and even X-Men 2, could comic books movies really get any better? These films combined great stories, deft acting, breakneck action and a maturity not often seen in comic book movies. Well, the answer is yes and Iron Man can proudly join the aforementioned films (and possibly beat all of them) as one of the best comic book/blockbuster movies out there. A perfect combination of smarts, thrills and funnies, Iron Man is about as good as blockbusters get. Hyperbole maybe, but this film is what the big screen is all about.
Iron Man may not be as iconic as other Marvel characters such as Spiderman or Captain America but he is one of their best. A comic which featured a superhero who was not super but instead made himself into a hero out of scrap and iron. Tony Stark was one of the original anti heroes: a self made billionaire who was more interested in bedding the babes and the bottom of a bottle than he was in saving the world. However, things change when Stark (Downey Jr) is kidnapped by terrorists and forced to build a missile, that his company produces, so the terrorists can attack the West. Enslaved in a cave, miles from anywhere, Stark instead uses his technical knowledge to build a suit of armour to escape. Thus Iron Man is born and on his return home vows to stop the production of Stark weapons and creates a more high tech suit to battle evil. Not everyone takes to Stark’s new found respect for life, especially Obadiah Stane (Bridges), Stark’s business partner, who has plans to steal the designs of the Iron Man suit for himself.
Much darker in tone than expected, Iron Man excels in its mission to entertain but also give us characters we care about. The cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s long suffering secretary and possible love interest, Pepper Potts, and Terence Howard as his buddy and confidant, Jim Rhodes, elevate the material above comic book cliché’s, infusing the dialogue with charm and believability. Bridges is great as the menacing Obadiah Stane, a striking image with his bald head and big beard. He seems to be relishing playing such a bad character. But, as every other review has no doubt mentioned, this is Downey Jr’s show. And it is. He is Tony Stark. At first arrogant and money hungry, he then becomes more mellow and charming and it’s Downey’s skill as an actor that we come to care for someone who starts out as such an unlikable character. The cast gel perfectly, obviously delighted at the quality of the material and it’s great to see the actors getting their teeth into such a great comic book.
Actor turned director, Jon Favreau, uses an assured hand to guide all the elements and keep them together. For a blockbuster movie, there is an even and welcome balance of character and spectacle, the human scenes never outstaying their welcome and the action never dominating the story. There is also a nice comic edge with Downey Jr firing as many one liners as he does missiles and rocket boots. But don’t worry, the action is still there. CGI is blended almost perfectly with the practical based action with three spectacular set pieces showing Favreau has the requisite action chops. Iron Man’s initial escape with the Mark 1 suit (intense and gritty), Iron Man taking on a couple of fighter jets and the robot upon robot showdown are all flawless in their execution.
Obviously my enthusiasm for Iron Man may overshadow any niggles but there really isn’t anything to gripe about. And that’s no bad thing. Sometimes is just great to see a movie so well made and so much fun, that why gripe about it? Action, humour, soul and a great story: this is what cinema is all about and this is what Iron Man delivers.
Thursday, 8 May 2008
MISSION OF JUSTICE (1992)
Directed by: Steve Barnett
Written by: John Bryant Hedburg & George Saunders
Starring: Jeff Wincott, Brigitte Neilson and Matthias Hues
Mission of Justice was released in the heyday of American martial arts films and still holds up today as one of the best of its kind. Starring fight flick favourite, Jeff Wincott as a no-nonsense cop who quits the force because justice just isn’t being served, he comes up against a mysterious group calling themselves ‘The Peacekeepers’. Headed by Brigitte Neilson’s uber-vamp electoral hopeful, ‘The Peacekeepers’ are a cult like organization with a vigilante agenda to clean up the city. Yet this do-gooder facade hides a dirty secret that involves extortion, lies and even murder. Sensing ‘The Peacekeepers’ have something to do with the death of his old trainer and friend, Wincott infiltrates the group and becomes a one man army in the name of revenge.
Produced by Pierre David, the producer of many an American martial arts movie during the 90’s (including Bounty Tracker and Martial Law), Mission of Justice benefits from an abundance of strong action and a tough, solid central performance from Wincott. In fact, this is one of his best performances and he is especially good in the earlier scenes where his character has become jaded at the ineptitude of the police force. Director, Steve Barnett (Scanner Cop 2) gives these scenes a gritty edge that compliments the mood of the characters before evolving proceedings into a more comic book manner once Wincott joins ‘The Peacekeepers’. Yet despite the change of tone, Barnett still handles the story well and rams the picture full of no holds barred action. Choreographed by Jeff Pruitt (who also appears as peacekeeper, Sal) the fight scenes are bone-crunchingly impressive, especially the famous gauntlet scene. Wincott’s character must take on a surfeit of peacekeeper goons in order to gain a position amongst their ranks. Using kali sticks, he takes on fighter after fighter in a spectacular and sustained barrage of full contact fighting that perfectly displays Wincott’s skills as a martial artist and no doubt put him on the action movie map. It’s an impressive action sequence that still retains its impact today. The rest of the film is no slouch either, including a full on (and very painful looking) fight in a garage and top notch fighting from genre mainstay, Matthias Hues (Talons Of The Eagle) and women’s marital arts champion, Karen Sheperd (Righting Wrongs).
Unfortunately Brigitte Neilson doesn’t fair so well, coming across as a dull, foreign sounding automaton rather than a ruthless ruler of a deadly organization. A minor subplot involving a peacekeeper’s grandma doesn’t quite gel either, but other than these few quibbles, Mission of Justice is full-on, and action packed martial arts entertainment.
THE PATRIOT (1998)
Directed by: Dean Semler
Screenplay: M. Sussman & John Kingswell
Starring: Seagal, L.Q. Jones & Camilla Belle
After enduring so many of Seagal’s recent DVD output it’s actually a relief to view one of his older, decently made flicks. Now The Patriot is no great shakes but it’s certainly a lot more enjoyable than say Attack Force or Out for Kill. This is basically Seagal’s version of Outbreak where he plays a doctor (yes, a doctor!) who has to contend with a deadly virus set loose in a small Mid Western town. While attempting to find the cure he must also fight a nutty, overly patriotic Militia who set the virus (for certain barmy reasons) loose in the first place. So it’s the usual limb breaking, ball busting, and gun blazing Seagal action? Well, no. There is very little action in The Patriot, which is surprising for a Seagal flick. This, along with On Deadly Ground and Fire Down Below, was one of Seagal’s ‘message’ flicks, more concerned with the environment and native American musings than all out action. All fine and well, and good to see the tall one trying something different but, really, where is the action?
What it lacks in action, The Patriot makes up for in some lush scenic photography and a pace that never lags. The film is very well shot with some wonderful scenery on display and the camera is often moving giving the sense of momentum even when there is little action going on. The small dose of action featured is decent enough and somewhat gory and Seagal still manages to punch one dumb redneck through a wall: which is always a blessing. Seagal actually does well in some of the drama scenes featuring his onscreen daughter (Camilla Belle) but then goes all ludicrous in the ‘virus’ scenes when he has nothing but his ponytail and a fur collared coat to protect him, while everyone else is in biohazard suits. He may think that coat looks cool but it ain’t gonna protect him from a deadly virus.
Still The Patriot is an enjoyable, if very silly, hour and a half and one of the last films Seagal made before he sank into dodgy voiceovers, constant doubling, and Eastern European shot action film oblivion.
A BETTER WAY TO DIE (2000)
Director: Scott Wiper
Screenplay: Scott Wiper
Starring: Andre Braugher, Lou Diamond Phillips, Joe Pantoliano, Natasha Henstridge, Mirjana Jokovic & Scott Wiper
Ah the eighties action flick. It has a lot to answer for. Tough guys acting tough, burnt out cops, comic book villains, obligatory car chases and sex scenes, huge leaps in logic and huge, huge explosions (obligatory of course…. damn you Joel Silver). The eighties action flick existed in a heightened reality, where our hero can destroy as many buildings, vehicles and people as he likes and nobody bats an eyelid. That’s the best way to view A Better Way to Die: an over the top action film made by a star/writer/director who has seen one too many Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Seagal/Van Damme action flicks.
Our hero Boomer (Wiper) is a burnt out and slightly kooky (his obsession with having meals at a certain time is odd and never fully explained) Chicago cop. After the over familiar big bust goes wrong (i.e. everyone dies), Boomer decides to quit the force and drive across country to rekindle a romance with a former girlfriend (Henstridge) and start a new life. However, due to some mistaken identity (which is just too convoluted and contrived to go into here) Boomer is chased and harassed by an ever-increasing number of cops (including Philips), oddball hit men (Braugher), attractive immigrants (Jokovic) and even a wacky private investigator (Pantoliano). Of course, Boomer finds this all very exasperating as all he wants to do is meet up with his missus for the obligatory sex scene.
Basically, all this adds up to is an ever increasing amount of action clichés, with all rhyme and reason being thrown out of the window, to compensate for an overabundance of swearing, shooting and cardboard characters. Pantoliano’s off beat P.I. with his cool camper van is in the film all too briefly, serving only to kick-start the plot (shame, as he was the most fun character). Braugher’s hit man is on screen too little (despite top billing) and is so all over the place in his motivations that by the time he has a change of heart your patience may be wearing thin. The ever reliable Lou Diamond Philips has no more than a glorified cameo, though he is sinister enough in his role, bringing an extra edge to the proceedings. Henstridge, meanwhile, has been relegated to the worst of action clichés: window dressing.
Wiper is ok as the perpetually confused hero, but perhaps succeeds better behind the camera. As writer and director (how did he manage that and where did he come from??), the film is competently made. The visuals are slick and some of the action scenes are well staged (the shootout in the grocery store being most thrilling). Despite a hardboiled kookiness that works in the film's favour, the writing is strictly by the numbers. No characters are ever fleshed out, the love scenes don’t convince, and some of the plot twists are so absurd: it’s like Wiper was throwing everything he could think of into his script in hope of making it an original, twisty, turny thriller. Unfortunately, it ends up resembling any number of other decent action films, especially those of an 80’s flavour. Despite the amusing “Do you have to swear all the time…” opening scene, it’s a case of seen it all before.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to enjoy. As mentioned there is a certain hardboiled kookiness to it and Wiper’s direction is infectious. So if you like a good meat and potatoes action movie, you could do a lot worse than A Better way to Die: i.e. a recent Steven Seagal flick.