Thursday, 15 January 2009
MARTIAL OUTLAW (1993)
Directed by: Kurt Anderson
Screenplay by: Thomas Ritz
Starring: Jeff Wincott & Gary Hudson
B-movie action star, Jeff Wincott, made a series of tough guy martial arts films throughout the 90s video kung fu boom. Titles such as Martial Law 2 (with Cynthia Rothrock) and Mission Of Justice catapulted Wincott to action man status. Perhaps the best of the bunch was Martial Outlaw. Produced by Pierre David (Deep Cover, Scanners 2 & 3), Martial Outlaw is nothing new in the story department but offers some solid direction, a good performance by Wincott and plenty of bang for your buck.
Wincott plays yet another hard-hitting cop (well, DEA agent this time), Kevin White, who has a penchant for kung fu. Hot on the trail of the Russian Mafia, White plants an informer within their ranks and waits for the opportune time to bust them. Following the Russians to LA, he meets up with his wayward cop brother, Jack (Hudson) who also has a thing for bone breaking and skull crushing. Except the two brother are opposite sides of the same coin: Kevin: good, Jack: bad. Cottoning on to Kevin’s case, Jack manipulates his way into both helping Kevin and the cops and then setting the Mafia against them. Set-up and out numbered, Kevin must fight not only the Russian Mafia, but his brother as well. Add in an alcoholic father, an estranged wife of Jack’s who kinda fancies Kevin, and a big muscle bound Russian you know our hero will have to fight come the finale, and you have yourself a pretty damn good martial arts/cop flick.
The predictable plotline, along with cheesy tough guy talk and a few dramatic scenes that don’t quite convince, do not stop Martial Outlaw being what it essentially is: a great action film. A moderate budget means there are some decent production values and camerawork and director Kurt Anderson (Open Fire) keeps proceedings moving at a brisk and brutal pace. The story is not completely ignored in favour of fisticuffs, meaning characters are fleshed out a little more than usual. Wincott gives a decent performance handling the dialogue as good as the fights (this is one of his best performances). Only a cartoon villain, Hudson’s occasional overacting (though he does well as coming across as a real shit) and the underdeveloped subplot of the brother’s alcoholic father (character actor Richard Jaeckel making one of his last screen appearances and looking very worse for ware) hinder what for the most part, is a well put together film.
Now to the main ingredient, and the real reason most people will watch this flick: the action. Wincott is a talented fighter but hasn’t always found the right vehicle to best showcase his skills. Yet he really shines here, in a serious of brutal fights. The best are a sustained fight in a restaurant and a free-for-all in a gymnasium. The former features more table-crushing, arm breaking and kicks to the face than several action films put together. Wincott is a gifted kicker and Hudson holds his own too, though is obviously better at punching than kicking, as he looks a bit wobbly on a few occasions. The gymnasium fight sees Wincott take on a selection of Russian heavies, which incorporates sticks, dumb bells and mucho kicking. Wincott’s fight on a theatre stage between two goons is also effective, with a little bit of wirework added for some extra oomph. In fact, all the action is well handled often crisp, brutal and well shot. Only the fight between Wincott and big Russian heavy, Sergei, disappoints, it being over all too soon. Taking a look at the credits (and some of us do watch them) it’s no wonder the action is so good. It’s a relative whose who of the stunt/fight world. Choreography and stunt coordinating is handled by Jeff Pruitt (Buffy, Bounty Tracker), with additional choreography and stunt work handled by Koichi Sakamoto (the martial arts-tastic Drive and Wicked Game) and Spiro Razatos (Rage, Bad Boys 2). Even Tsuyoshi Abe (Daredevil, Black Friday) and Al Leong (Die Hard, just about every action film made in the eighties) get in on the action and stunt work. Good pedigree indeed.
Great action, skilful direction and a likeable leading performance from Wincott make Martial Outlaw one of the best 90s American martial arts films. Tough, action packed and doesn’t out stay its welcome. What more could you ask for?