Sunday, 30 November 2008

Transporter 2



TRANSPORTER 2 (2005)

Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Jason Statham, Alessandro Gassman, Amber Valetta & Jason Flemying

Bubblegum action hits full force in a fast, fun and frivolous sequel to the hit, cult classic The Transporter. This time around Frank Martin (Statham) has a legitimate job, transporting the kid of a rich couple back and forth from school and various other activities. Being a rich couple, their kid is the target of some local (and also very rich) psychotics who kidnap the boy and use him to unleash a deadly virus. Frank being the ever professional he is, swears to get the kid back and does so in ever increasingly outlandish, violent and gravity defying ways.



Transporter 2 is slick action fun, cramming in more set pieces than most action films put together and affirming that Statham really is the new action kid on the block. He oozes star charisma, bulldozes his way through the bad guys and shows he is the closest thing we have to a bona fide action star since the glory days of the 1980s. Now this sequel has been criticized for jettisoning the grit of the original and pushing everything to comic book extremes, therefore making it inferior. In general, I would agree (though I would never call the original gritty) but Transporter 2 is still great fun and possibly even as good as its predecessor. It takes everything that was cool from the original (Statham, loads of whacked out action, that funny French guy) and just mixes it up a little with a bit more comedy, loads more ludicrous stunts and much more sun and sand. Shifting the action to Miami gives the flick a very glossy look and while Part 2 is essentially the same as Part 1, it forms its own identity with a slightly different style. While the French guy (Francois Berleand) is somewhat underused and badly shoehorned in this time (but still funny), director Leterrier still whips everything up into a fast moving, adrenaline surging froth all the while keeping the fun nature of the original.



The action is what this series is all about and this entry doesn’t disappoint. It varies from the brilliant and brutal to the downright ludicrous. On one end of the spectrum there are the tightly crafted fight scenes (the boat fight, the garage fight, the awesome hose fight), the glossy gunplay (the gunfight at the doctors), and loads of vehicular mayhem (the Audi chase, the Jet Ski bit). At the other end of the spectrum there is the complete barmy, from the mad finale set on a spiralling out of control jet, to a helicopter being blown up with handguns to that infamous bit with the bomb underneath the car. Now the film never attempts to be realistic (and the original certainly wasn’t either in terms of credible action physics) but this is all part of the fun. Many will hate the over-the-top nature but just as many will watch the Transporter flicks for this nature. Personally, I enjoy the hell out of the Transporter flicks and like all different kinds of action. If I want hard hitting, realistic action, I’ll watch a Bourne film and if I want stunt heavy craziness with a dash of creative martial arts, I’ll watch a Transporter flick. Though, yeah, the bit with the bomb under the car is maybe a little much even for me.

Still, great, action packed madness and any flick that manages to feature a sexy, lingerie wearing female assassin brandishing two high powered handguns is alright by me. Roll on Transporter 3.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Musketeer



THE MUSKETEER (2001)

Directed by: Peter Hyams
Screenplay: Gene Qunitano
Starring: Justin Chambers, Mena Suvari, Tim Roth & Stephen Rea

Hmmmm, The Musketeer. An interesting oddity at best, a pretty rubbish flick at worst. Now this ‘interpretation’ is by no means for the Alexandre Dumas fan club or those expecting a faithful page to screen transition of The Three Musketeers. In fact, the three musketeers barely make an appearance, making way for Justin Chamber’s know-it-all; I’ll do all the fighting D’artagan. Mix in a ton of, it has to be said: excellent, Hong Kong style action and then completely waste a cast that includes Suvari, Rea and the great Catherine Deveuve and you get the mish-mash version of a classic story. Not fondly remembered by many, The Musketeer is not a complete write-off but never quite gels with its hip, new, funky reinvention of a bunch of sword fighters protecting the Queen of France.



Now comparing it the literary classic is a waste of time (and best left to those who will have a field day ripping it apart and pointing out how the book never featured gravity defying martial arts flavoured sword fighting) as the flick is obviously trying to put a new spin on the well known story. Funking everything up a little and adding Hong Kong style action may have been a legitimate attempt to do something different but comes of more like some producers jumping on the kung fu popularity bandwagon and throwing it into the pot to get more teenagers to watch the flick. In a lot of ways it doesn’t work, as one will often think why are these French dudes in the 17th century busting out Once Upon a Time China (OUATIC) moves. Speaking of that film, the biggest crime The Musketeer makes is lifting the finale from OUATIC wholesale and using it as its own finale. That great fight in OUATIC with Jet Li jumping around ladders and using them as makeshift weapons, is copied almost frame for frame here as Justin Chambers and Tim Roth (well their stunt doubles no doubt) duke it out. Once again it’s a great action scene but feels stale as we already know it’s been done in a far superior movie.

However, if you can go with the 17th Century martial arts/stunt filled vibe, then there is something to enjoy about The Musketeer. The action is by Xin Xin Xiong (the tattooed bad ass from Tsui Hark’s The Blade and, wouldn’t you know it, OUATIC) and he and his team craft some exhilarating set pieces including a sword fight in a bar and a stunt packed horse and carriage chase. The direction is also crisp which is no surprise coming from Peter Hyams, though The Musketeer is no where as accomplished or as much fun as some of his other flicks such as 2010, Timecop and Sudden Death. So we have a load of decent Hong Kong styled action, a ho-hum retelling of a classic and stars who are either underused or never convince as the dashing heroes they need to be in a movie that can’t quite gel everything together. Having seen it a second time, I enjoyed it more than the first time around but if you want to see The Three Musketeers watch one of the umpteen other versions and if you simply want to watch cool Hong Kong kung fu action then watch, well, a cool Hong Kong kung fu flick, like OUATIC.



Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Mechanik



THE MECHANIK (2005)

Directed by: Dolph Lundgren
Screenplay: Bryan Edward Hill
Starring: Dolph Lundgren & Ben Cross

What’s the plan?”
Kill them all…”

Mr Lundgren’s second directorial offer is a no nonsense, tough as nails revenge flick as he goes hunting for those who killed his family. A former Russian Spetnatz now working as a mechanic, Nick Cherenko (Lundgren) gets a second chance to get the killers of his family when they kidnap the daughter of a rich business woman. Sent into deepest Russia to get the girl back, Cherenko has one thing on his mind: revenge. Teaming up with a plucky Brit (Cross) and his crew they nab the girl and set off for the border with some very nasty men on their trail. This of course leads to one epic, violent showdown.



Taking the reins of his movie career himself, Lundgren has switched to direction as well as starring and is delivering some of his best action movie work to date. The Mechanik (aka The Russian Specialist) is probably his grittiest work as a director yet. The story and set up are old hat but the execution is stylish, riveting and often very violent. As a man of few words, Cherenko tears through the screen, obliterating anyone who has anything to do with his family’s death and the kidnapping of the girl. Cross adds the human element as the chatty Brit but is never reduced to comedy sidekick, having to take up arms himself and avenge the death of someone he cares for. The gritty edge means violence is shown in all its ugliness and despite the slick camerawork, the flick has a down and dirty vibe as we know some very bad things are gonna happen to some very bad people.

The action is shot with verve all extended gunplay and shotgun action (a few fisticuffs thrown in here and there) and the final twenty minutes sees Cherenko and his crew hunting down the bad guys in a village in a tense and ballistic fashion. There could have perhaps been a bit more action and vengeance but it’s a noble attempt to add a bit more drama to the revenge flick formula, Lundgren giving us a chance to know the people we are following through this bloodbath. Overall, another top notch effort from star and director Lundgren and along with The Defender and Missionary Man, he is showing himself to be a quality action filmmaker. It’s also a great revenge flick.




Thursday, 20 November 2008

Never Back Down



NEVER BACK DOWN (2008)
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Screenplay: Chris Hauty
Starring: Sean Faris, Amber Heard & Dijmon Honsou

Hollywood strikes again, jumping on the bandwagon and rebranding it for the teen market. Never Back Down takes the current trend of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)/UFC style fighting and wraps it up in another ho-hum Karate Kid plot, throwing in loads of glossy camerawork and editing but not much MMA or much else for that matter. We’ve seen it a million times before: kid moves to new school; gets beat up; trains with older master (who has troubled past); becomes gifted fighter; beats up original kid who beat him up and wins the girl and love, respect and admiration of everyone around him. At least Never Back Down doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not but with very little fight action and way too many training montages, it’s certainly nothing to get excited about.




The film is certainly well made and the acting is decent as well but the main character played by Sean Faris just becomes an annoying, sulky so and so after a while, rather than the underdog we want to root for. The entire film is just too glossy for its own good, coming across more as an extended music video/Pepsi commercial than a feature film. Cliché is piled upon cliché from the struggles Faris has with his single parent mum, to his irritating, ridiculously haired ‘comedy’ sidekick to the oh so predictable finale and outcome. The film is so drab in its plotting and familiarity that the sun soaked visuals and bikini clad babes become boring after a while. Well, maybe not the bikini clad babes. The bright spots are leading lady Amber Heard (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) who shows she should be in better stuff than this and Faris’s relationship with his onscreen brother which is handled in a refreshingly mature manner.



The fight action is no great shakes either and there is very little of it. Over edited and too much tricksy camerawork ruin any fluidity or excitment the fights might have. If they had just been allowed to play out and shot in a style that lets us see what is happening then Never Back Down could have been a fun fight film. But as is de-rigour, posing and cutting the fight to a trendy rock song is the name of the game. Shame really, as Never Back Down would have been a good showcase for some MMA.

Not an unholy mess but not very good either, this is definitely for the teen crowd (and I suppose they need movies too) and anyone who loves MTV. Action and cinema fans should just go back and watch The Karate Kid, Kickboxer and, hell, even No Retreat No Surrender again instead.

True Vengeance



TRUE VENGEANCE (1997)

Directed by: David Worth
Written by: Kurt Johnstad
Starring: Daniel Berhardt, Beverly Johnson & Miles O’Keeffe

Flick opens with two snipers, heavily camoflauged up, stalking through the Columbian jungle. Sent to take out some major bad dude, Griffin (Bernhardt) hesitates as women and children become involved but his partner (O’Keeffe) doesn’t and guns down everyone before is himself shot by Griffin. Many years later, Griffin is a happy single father celebrating his young daughter’s birthday. But as is the nature of being a top class assassin his past comes back to haunt him, his daughter kidnapped by some evil Yakuza who want him to kill for them. Griffin, however, isn’t going to comply so easily and geared and ready for action sets out to destroy the Yakuza and get his kid back. Yep, its Commando rip-off number 137.




Despite the over familiar plot and standard set up for revenge, True Vengeance is actually one of the better Commando variations. There are a few sub plots thrown in here and there (cops on Griffin’s trail, O’Keeffe not really dead and back to kill Griffin) but it’s all really an excuse for lots of ass kicking and surprisingly well staged action. Apart from an uneventful motorcycle chase, the action scenes hit hard and frequently incorporating lots of gunplay, sword fights and some impressive martial arts action. The pace rarely lags meaning we are never too far away from an action scene whether it’s a raid on Griffin’s house, a shootout at a strip club or a hard hitting fight in a tattoo parlour. Shot well, never over edited and with loads and loads of bad guys getting killed, the action is what this movie is all about. Bernhardt is a whiz in the fight department and while the fights aren’t comparable to Hong Kong style fights, they are fluid in execution and feature some impressive moves and takedowns. In fact, True Vengeance is a proper action film delivering exactly what we want (loads of action) and frequently.



Bernhardt (Bloodsport 2) is a likeable hero if not the greatest actor in the world but spends most of his time kicking, butting heads and shooting guns which he does very well. O’Keeffe (Marked Man) is good, slimy fun complete with bad mid-90s ponytail and there is quality support from George Kee Cheung, Roger Yuan and Jonathan Lutz. Director Worth (Lady Dragon) keeps everything moving fast; the camera often whirling through scenes and throws in loads of cool slow motion into the action that the film never really has a chance to lag even when it becomes all kinds of silly come the last 15 minutes. Kudos to him for sticking to his guns and stuffing the flick full of cool action. The jungle scene that opens the film is also pretty cool.

The 1990s was awash with straight-to-video action flicks like this, often starring Jean Claude Van Damme knock-offs like Bernhardt (though he did go on to be in The Matrix Reloaded and starred in the surprisingly good Bloodsport 2) and True Vengeance is one of the best. Doesn’t break any new ground but does so with bones, tables and glass, and if you are at all disappointed with Segal’s recent direct-to-DVD output then check out this flick as this is how low budget action should be done.

Hypersonic



HYPERSONIC (2002)

Directed by: Philip Roth
Screenplay: Philip Roth & Sean Wells
Starring: Antonio Sabato Jr, Adam Baldwin & Amandah Reyne

Ace fighter pilots take part in an around the world race at the chance of winning $25 million dollars. Flying state of the art jets they race at high velocity attempting to dodge dangerous weather conditions, the risk of blacking out and smashing into each other. Brothers Grant and Kevin Levine (Sabato Jr & Michael Sutton) are one team taking part in the race trying to make up for a past race that resulted in a mid-air crash and the death of several people. On the ground, the race is being televised by the greedy Bannon (Baldwin) who in the need to boost ratings, ups the risks of the race placing the pilots lives in jeopardy.

Produced by low budget studio UFO (Unified Film Organization), Hypersonic is typical of many of their flicks: crammed with loads of CGI action and cheesy plotting. If you are into aviation action then Hypersonic will give you a kick as there are loads of planes zipping about, crashing into one another and generally blowing up. All realized with CGI, the aircraft action scenes are well constructed, often exciting and the CGI isn’t all that bad. It also lends a kind of sci-fi feel to the flick. The action is often ambitious with jets exploding mid-air and even racing through the streets of big cities. The arial scenes are exciting if never realistic and Hypersonic at least delivers full throttle high-flying action.

The acting and dialogue is serviceable for this type of flick with Baldwin being the best actor onboard. Things inevitably take on a cheesy and gung-ho approach as proceedings progress but, hey, that is the nature of these type of low rent action flicks. If you are not into seeing jets twist, turn and crash then Hypersonic is only going to disappoint as there is no hand-to-hand combat or gunplay. This is strictly for the aviation crowd. UFO has made some fun action flicks, often involving giant snakes or sharks or some other monstrosity, and Hypersonic is overall one of their average efforts. I suggest picking up one their giant shark movies, they’re always good.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Death and Life of Bobby Z



THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z (2007)

Directed by
: John Herzfeld
Screenplay: Bob Krakower & Allen Lawrence
Starring: Paul Walker, Laurence Fishburne, Olivia Wilde, Jason Flemying & Joaquin De Almeida

Bobby Z is dead. Sort of. The real Bobby Z, an infamous Californian drug dealer, is presumed dead. Enter Tim Kearny (Walker) the spitting image of Z and a three time screw up now holed up in a maximum security prison. With a biker gang baying for his blood both inside and outside the prison, Kearny is given a second chance at freedom if he poses as Bobby Z in order to infiltrate a notorious Mexican dug cartel and rescue the captured partner of cop Gruzsa (Fishburne). But as is the nature of such undertakings, things don’t go smoothly for Kearny/Z meaning he has to flee, kid in tow, with all manner of Mexican bad guys, biker dudes and shifty cops on his tale.



A sparky little action thriller that always entertains even though it never finds the right balance between comedy and serious, Bobby Z is given a boost by some game performances and some cracking action scenes. Director John Herzfeld (2 Days in the Valley and the underrated 15 Minutes) baths the action in sun drenched vistas and keeps the pace zipping along no matter how convoluted or ridiculous proceedings become. Kearny/Z’s predicament seems to take on ever increasingly unlikely turns, the hard edge the film starts with soon evaporating to make way for lots of bit characters, random plots twists and outlandish action. Based on a book by Don Winslow the screenwriters have obviously exercised a lot of story in order to meet the scant 90 minute run time. An extra 20 minutes or so would have been good for character development and a bit more time on the blossoming relationship between Kearny and the kid he has in tow. Flick would have been better sticking to a serious tone as it tends to fall apart in the more comedy/lighter scenes. However, when the action is onscreen and the tone more tense, Herzfeld gets it right meaning Bobby Z is an often entertaining, if quirky, thriller.

The action scenes are well crafted and often tense in execution and Walker certainly throws himself into the action. The fights are tough and tight, all blocks and take downs with a confrontation between a bunch of Mexican drug thugs in a beach house being a particularly intense and satisfying fight scene. In fact, things build to such an intense state in that scene the film almost blows it with the comedy-esque hi-jinks of the following scenes, the wandering tone diluting the serious action that has come before. Still, for the most part Bobby Z is undemanding, well crafted action entertainment with some fine performances from all the cast.

Queen's Messenger



QUEENS MESSENGER (2000)

Directed by: Mark Roper
Screenplay: Harry Alan Towers & Peter Jobin
Starring: Gary Daniels, Teresa Sherrer & David Westhead

Low budget James Bond type adventure that’s high on action but not much else. Lumbered with a by the numbers plot, lethargic action sequences and an alarming amount of unconvincing accents, this Gary Daniels vehicle never really had a chance. The constant referencing to his character being British (using well worn phrases such as crumpet when referencing a hot woman or 2-nil after killing two bad guys: yeah, cause us Brits talk like this all the time) becomes irritating and laughable. We know he’s British and that he’s a British secret agent/commando person, stop ramming it down our throats. Daniels is in fact British but the filmmakers have made him sound less so, his voice even dubbed on occasion. So they are making a British action movie about a British super commando but have made him sound less British than he usually does so he as has to use a bunch of stereotypical slogans and phrases to convince the international market he is British? Brilliant.

On top of all this the pace is really slow despite the makers packing in a lot of action. But apart from one nifty action scene near the end the stunts and gunplay never really ignite, which is surprising as director Mark Roper usually makes fun and lively low budget action films (Warhead, Operation Delta Force 3). Daniels has a couple of fun fights and the action is certainly ambitious in scope (not least a chase/duel between some armoured vehicles) but is put together in such a momentum deadening way the thrills just aren’t there. It’s a shame as Queen’s Messenger should have been a fun little action romp but is unfortunately another dull, Eastern European shot, let’s stop a bunch of terrorists blowing something up, direct to video affair that now no doubt clogs up various low rent cable channels.

Gary Daniels was always one of the better 1990s action stars it’s just Queen’s Messenger isn’t one of his better vehicles. Check out Cold Harvest, Recoil and Bloodmoon for some quality Daniels action entertainment.


Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Pure Danger



PURE DANGER (1996)

Directed by: C. Thomas Howell
Written by: Joseph John Barmettler & William Applegate Jr
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Terri Ann Linn, Marcus Chong & Leon

C. Thomas Howell stars in and directs the quirky action thriller, Pure Danger. Produced under the PM Entertainment banner, the story deals with paroled criminal, Johnny (Howell) and his girlfriend, Becky (Linn) making off with some stolen diamonds to live a better life. However, things don’t go smoothly as every gangster going is after said jewels and will stop at nothing, including much vehicular destruction, to get them.



Basically True Romance mixed with a little Reservoir Dogs and a good dollop of standard PM Entertainment car chase action, Pure Danger is a very hit and miss affair but, overall, entertaining. Howell juggles the role of director and star reasonably well (having done the same on another PM film, The Big Fall) but wears the hat of director more confidently. Creative camera angles, a fast pace and some exhilarating action help give the film a momentum all of its own. The dialogue is not as effective, the script peppered with sub-par Tarantino talk. The constant swearing and racial slurs eventually just seem lame and vulgar rather than witty dissections of the characters saying them. The acting is suitably over the top, though the comedy doesn’t always sit well with the bombastic action. The running gag of the twin henchman always playing games like Paper, Rock, Scissors is amusing, whereas the joke about one of the bad guys falling asleep during car chases just doesn’t work.

The photography by Ken Blakey is shot with a creative eye and there is a cool riff on the Reservoir Dogs torture scene. The action is of a high standard, including several gunfights and no less than 4 car chases. Handled by stunt co-ordinator, Spiro Razatos, the chases feature jaw dropping stunts with the finale cramming in enough car carnage for several films. With a neat twist ending, Pure Danger is a fun romp that fails in its aspiration to be a cool Taratinoesque (he has a lot to answer for) flick but succeeds in being a cool slice of action kookiness.



Monolith



MONOLITH (1993)

Directed by
: John Eyres
Screenplay: Stephen Lister
Starring: Bill Paxton, Lindsay Frost, Lou Gosset Jr and John Hurt.

If director John Eyres previous film, Project Shadowchaser, was a rip off of Die Hard and The Terminator then Monolith, his sci-fi follow up rips off Lethal Weapon and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, throwing in everything from buddy cop clichés, alien conspiracy’s, tormented flashbacks and painful comedy for its 93 minute running time.

Mismatched cops (is there any other kind?) Tucker (Paxton) and Flynn (Frost) are thrown together after they witness the slaying of a young child by a slightly demented Russian woman. After said demented Russian woman turns out to be a scientist working for the sinister suit Villanos (Hurt), Tucker and Flynn decide to investigate her claims of sinister going’s on and discover that the child may not be all that he seemed. So far so sinister. Throw in Lou Gosset Jr’s permanently irritated police commissioner (again, is there any other kind?) and hard to beat dialogue such as “ Fuck their A6 clearance”, and you have the smorgasbord of film genres and clichés that is Monolith.



Despite featuring some A-list talent and some decent production values, Monolith is still quite a mess and relies far too often on cliché to be anything really refreshing or exciting. First off, the characters Tucker and Flynn are right out of the school of bickering cop partners 101. They don’t get along, they shout a lot, they start to respect each other and finally they end up liking each other. However, this never stops them arguing, most often in scenes of life threatening risk. In fact, this is the film’s weakest aspect; any time any tension or excitement builds, it is completely diluted by the pair’s awful comic bickering. Perhaps director John Eyres was going for a gentle piss take of the buddy cop formula but just ends up falling into its trappings: unreal and annoying. (For a good piss take of the buddy cop formula check out Clint Eastwood’s wildly underrated action classic, The Rookie). To add cliché onto cliché, Tucker also comes with his own tormented past (let his family die), disrespect for authority (argues with everyone) and bad diet (chilli cheese and jalapeno hot dogs…for breakfast). A true tough cop if there ever was one.



Paxton and Frost try hard with their characters but are ultimately let down by bad dialogue and character motivations. The same with Lou Gosset Jr’s walking cliché of a police captain (he loves Tucker and Flynn really, even though he shouts at them a lot). John Hurt doesn’t fair much better as the obsessed Villanos and he wears the perpetual expression of “What the hell I am I doing in this?” In fact, the only character that shows any depth is the demented Russian scientist, unfortunately named Pavlova and played by Musetta Vander (Wild Wild West, Project Shadowchaser 3). She seems to be the only one concerned there is a body snatching alien on the loose and shows the right amount of fear and distress during moments of life threatening harm. Its good see that she realizes that the possible end of the world can’t be stopped by a few comedy quips. Oh wait, yes it can.



In addition to the formulaic cop stuff, there is the not highly original concept of body snatching aliens, which is represented by nothing more than some wavy space rays coming out victim’s mouths. It would have been more effective to have found out what the alien really was and why it was on earth. Which is never explained. Perhaps the budget didn’t cover the actual showing of the alien. This seems to be the case with many scenes as the action is too often not shown, instead resorting to too many close ups of the actor’s faces. When the special effects do kick in towards the end, they are unsurprisingly below par, but do have a certain low-tech charm.

It’s a shame Eyres and his crew didn’t have a bit more money to play with as there is an entertaining movie to be found under all the junk. If you get past all the clichés and dig the alien conspiracy vibe, then Monolith can be quite entertaining. It even opens with an exciting and well-staged car chase. While not the worst movie of its kind, Monolith just about passes as an entertaining B-movie (Eyres’ Project Shadowchaser 2: Night Siege is a far superior B-movie). It would be interesting to know how they got the likes of Paxton, Gosset and Hurt to star in this, but next time aliens try to take over mankind give the task of saving us to the character that actually cares i.e. the demented Russian woman/scientist.