Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Walker Texas Ranger: One Riot, One Ranger


Directed by: Virgil W. Vogel
Written by: Louise McCarn
Starring: Chuck Norris, Clarence Gilyard Jr, Gailard Sartain, Marshal Teague

Good old Chuck. Not only did he fight Bruce Lee, went Missing in Action and headed up The Delta Force he was also freaking Walker: Texas Ranger. The long running 1990s action TV show saw the bearded one take his awesomeness to prime time television to dispense justice Southern style. Cheesy as all get up but action packed, Walker: Texas Ranger took everything that was amazing about Norris (his round-housing, his beard, his penchant for making everyone around him look like a wimpy dumbass) from his movies and served it up on a weekly basis. In Texas with a stetson.

One Riot, One Ranger was the very first time Norris stepped into Walker's tight jeans, a TV-movie pilot that is still surprisingly watchable. A little slicker and more punchy than the subsequent TV show, One Riot, One Ranger sets up Walker as the badass ranger he is (i.e. Norris being Norris) introduces him to his new partner (Gilyard Jr) who would remain with him throughout the TV series, his lady squeeze and various other characters who would also pop in and out of the series. In this surprisingly action packed pilot Walker goes up against a gang of bank robbers, led by the always awesome Marshall Teague (Roadhouse, US Seals 2). This all leads to a surprisingly well done and gun blazing finale where the robbers try to rob four banks at once. Woops, guess they didn't realise Walker was a Ranger in Texas and that robbing anything or committing any kind of crime in that state would end in failure and a roundhouse to the face. Which it does.

Norris gets a bit of acting in as well, where he gets a nice long monologue talking about what happened to his family, rides bulls (for some inexplicable reason), cracks wise and pretty much everyone around him thinks he is amazing and hangs on his every word. I imagine this is pretty much what it is like in Norris' real life. Also everyone, and I mean everyone, wears a stetson at some point (just so you know they are in Texas!). Well, not the bad guys, they're not allowed as they are, well, bad and wouldn't be given anything as cool as a stetson. Still, most of this film's budget must have gone on the hats.

The action is pretty good and there is a fair bit of it for a TV movie and while Walker: Texas Ranger is always open to ridicule it was often (for some reason I still can't quite fathom) oddly entertaining. One Riot, One Ranger was a pretty good start for the bearded Texan and was from a time when TV movies and their following TV shows weren't afraid to roundhouse people in the face in the name of entertainment. Take that CSI!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Wild Pair


Directed by: Beau Bridges
Screenplay: Joseph Gunn
Starring: Bubba Smith, Beau Bridges, Lloyd Bridges

Thank god for the 1980s mismatched buddy cop action film. They were a dime a dozen back then and even if they were naff (and quite often they were) they were always an easy watch and pretty much guaranteed a few laughs and a bit of action. The Wild Pair features perhaps the oddest and most unlikely action cop duo in Bubba "former NFL player and star of all the Police Academy films" Smith and Beau "brother of Jeff and the other acting son of Lloyd" Bridges. That's right, in 1987 these two finally teamed up for a mismatched buddy cop action flick and make for as unlikely duo as you would find.

Bridges is an FBI agent who gets teamed up with Smith's not so by-the-book cop as they go after a militant hate group led by Beau's real life father, Lloyd Bridges. They bicker, they do things differently, they have a police Captain who shouts at them a lot, they get in a car chase, they eventually become buddies and, somehow, they end up with a tank come the final action scene where things get blown up well good. Yeah, The Wild Pair is as generic as they come and the tone wildly sways from gentle comedy to violent action, it never finding the right balance between silly fun and hard edged action. Smith and Bridges are actually quite good and share chemistry. They elicit some laughs (mainly unintentional due to Smith's insistence on wearing knee high white socks in nearly every scene!!!) and while Smith was never gonna be a great actor he's actually kind of charming and fun.

There is some pretty cool action as well. The end shootout which inexplicably somehow manages to shoehorn in a tank (!) is full of Uzi blazing action, there's a decent obligatory car chase (with obligatory cars exploding for no reason) and there is even a shootout in a porno theatre (!) where Smith rips out a row of seats to use as a shield. 80s cheese at its best. The flick also has a fairly violent vibe to it which doesn't always sit well with the comedy and cheesy action, as I guess Bridges the director was trying to bring a bit of an edge to the flick.

A silly flick for sure and something seen a billion times in the action arena but a fun slice of 80s action cinema nevertheless and worth a watch if you like these kind of movies and can hunt down a copy.

Art of War 2: Betrayal


Directed by: Josef Rusnak
Screenplay: Keith Shaw & Jason Bourque
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Athena Karkanis, Winston Rekert, Lochlyn Munro

A somewhat belated sequel to one of Snipes' minor earlier hits The Art of War, which was an underrated twisty thriller that featured some blistering action and is worthy of a watch or two. Art of War 2 sees Snipes return to the role of super agent Neil Shaw and while the film isn't as bad as you may have heard it's also far from good. The initial idea and set up is pretty cool with Shaw returning to his super agent ways to investigate the death of his old sensei, a plot to assassinate some leading senators and all kinds of double crosses, shifty movie stars (!) and ridiculous handguns that seem to fire missiles.

But it's the execution that really lets Art of War 2 down. Instead of telling a straight-forward story with some easy to follow action scenes, the filmmakers seem to be intent on making everything as incomprehensible as possible. Well, the story isn't too hard to follow despite too many twists and turns for its own good but the photography and editing all but destroys what could have been a fun action film. No editing trick, filter or transition is left out as scenes are over-edited and stylised for no reason. The film is full of what is known as "Avid farts" as the film jump cuts, slo-mos and flash fades its way through the narrative. All this editing trickery adds nothing to proceedings, dilutes a lot of tension and unfortunately ruins many of the potentially good action scenes. Snipes is certainly a capable fighter and the film features a healthy dose of action sequences but whenever they start to get good badly positioned camera angles and over-editing nonsense rear their ugly heads. There are some solid hand-to-hand confrontations but the editing often gets in the way of enjoying the fight scenes.

Despite the makers incessant need to over edit everything and use a fair share of unflattering digital photography, Art of War 2 is passable thanks to Snipes. He gives a solid performance and the acting across the board is better than a lot of direct-to-DVD action sequels. Some of the action is still ok despite the editing, Snipes getting into a lot of brutal fights and there is a cool bit where he infiltrates a high tech building by pretending to be a pest control engineer.

Watchable but overall disappointing and another example of the increasingly growing trend of over-edited and cheaply made direct-to-DVD action films. Shame.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade

My new review of Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade at Far East Films

Click Here to read the review.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Mechanic


Directed by: Simon West
Screenplay: Lewis John Carlino & Richard Wenk
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn & Donald Sutherland

The original The Mechanic with Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent is a solid slice of 70's cool and tough guy swagger. An almost existential look at the life of a hitman and the relationship he forms with his young apprentice, it only really kicked into action gear come the second half. Michael Winner's film was much more concerned with the bond formed between the characters of Bronson and Vincent and the precision timed and often soulless life of a hitman, than it was with action heroics. Still a great film today but certainly open to a different interpretation and a remake overhaul, which is what we have here with the modern day Jason Statham remake.

This version, courtesy of Simon (Con Air) West, is certainly more action heavy but still provides a bit of blokey posturing and surrogate fatherly bonding to go along with all the bang and boom. Staham fills Bronson's shoes convincingly as the expert hitman who takes on Foster's (filling the Vincent role) trainee killer, the son of Staham's recent hit and former employee Donald Sutherland (proving very effective in his small role). Statham, the only real modern equivalent to the action stars of the 80s and 90s, continues his run of decent action vehicles (Death Race, Crank 1 & 2, The Expendables) with this solid and thoroughly entertaining remake of the Bronson original. Statham may not do anything radically different than he has done in all his other films (though he does hint at a tired and possibly damaged psyche from all his years of killing) but has the excellent Ben Foster to bounce hard boiled swagger off this time. Foster is ace as the possibly slightly unhinged wannabe hitman, who despite smoking and drinking just a bit too much to convince us how tough and edgy he is, holds his own against Statham. The two have good chemistry forming a convincing bond (and managing to, just, stay clear of the homoerotic tendency tough guy action flicks often slip into) and it's fun watching them go about dispatching bad guys in various creative ways before the inevitable and predictable climax.

While the trailers ramped up the action quotient, the flick actually takes it time getting to all the fisticuffs and gunfire but once it does, there is a fair share of it and it pretty much doesn't stop come the second half of the flick. While West can't quite get away from all this over-editing nonsense modern action films have found themselves in, the action is for the most part well staged and easy to follow. Set-pieces include a wicked gunfight come daring escape from a high rise building, the vehicular mayhem/firefight heavy finale and Foster's brutal confrontation with a formidable hitman foe where he uses every implement he can get his hands on to take out the giant. As mentioned the editing is a little tight on occasion but overall the action is crisp and full of old school bite.

While The Mechanic is nothing revolutionary and waters down the inventive opening and shocking ending of the original (though still manages a dialogue free opening hit: just 5 minutes instead of 15 this time around), it's still a good old fashioned, hard edged action film. It doesn't harm the original in anyway, makes for an entertaining modern interpretation and it's good to see straight forward, tough guy action films are still being made and released in cinemas.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Death Before Dishonor


Directed by: Terry Leonard
Written by: John Gatliff & Lawrence Kubik
Starring: Fred Dryer, Joanna Pacula, Sasha Mitchell, Paul Winfield

Typically gung-ho, middle eastern actioner from the 80s starring TV's Hunter, Fred Dryer, as a typically gung-ho marine. He's one of those types who is right about everything, is always fighting his incompetent authority figures, all his trainee marines think he is just swell and, by God, he loves his country. Stationed out in the Middle East, he leads a security detail assigned to an American Embassy. It's not long before some distinctly shifty terrorist types steal a cache of American weapons, take some hostages and blow up the Embassy. So what's Dryer to do. Well, go after the goddamn terrorists, ignore all other orders, take two wet behind the ears rookies along with him (so one can inevitably die!) and blow some shit up, military style.

Death Before Dishonor isn't bad (if you like 80s gung-ho military action films) but is just a little too average overall. A tad too serious to be taken as silly action nonsense but still containing a fair amount of cheese to stop it being taken as a serious military thriller. Fair play to the makers as they've at least tried to make a more serious action film even it fails in these ambitions. The flick is well made and nicely shot and they try to build up a bit of character and tension before all the machine gunning action. Unfortunately the bad guys are stereotypical Middle Eastern villains just waiting to be slain by the American hero and would perhaps be more at home in a James Bond flick. Dryer is alright, as the no-nonsense Gunnery Sergeant, adds a little personality to his gung-ho character and, of course, gets plenty of cheesy one liners ("This isn't your war." "It is now."). Future Kickboxer sequel star Sasha Mitchell makes an early and enthusiastic appearance as one of Dryer's soldiers and thankfully come the second half there is plenty of bombastic action.

While the film is not as action packed as one might expect, there are still some quality firefights all of which are tightly staged. The action, save for one ludicrous stunt in the final action scene, is never over-the-top and full of machine gun fire and shot gun blast with a requisite amount of explosions. The flick also features a couple of nasty torture scenes including a particularly harrowing one where a power drill is used to painful effect on someone's hand. In fact, Death Before Dishonor still packs a violent punch and while it isn't always as exciting as it should be, and often a little cheesy, it's still a mildly entertaining 80s military action film. If you like those sort of films.

Deadly Heroes


Directed by: Menahem Golan
Written by: Damien Lee & Gregory Lee
Starring: Michael Pare, Jan Michael Vincent, Claudette Mink & Billy Drago

You have to wonder if the people involved in making a film, especially those involved in the making of Deadly Heroes, ever stop and go, "Wait, is this really a good idea? I mean, it makes no sense and is, well, completely ridiculous." Now, that might be a redundant point to make when making a cheesy action film, especially one from the early 90s and directed by Menahem Golan, as "no sense" and "ridiculous" are two key ingredients for the enjoyment of a cheesy action film. Certainly two ingredients I believe are vital for enjoying countless "silly" action films from the 80s and 90s. But damn if Deadly Heroes aint just a little too much silliness. I mean, this film despite the most basic of premises and easy to follow plots, rarely makes any logical sense, features all kinds absurdity and exploitation nonsense (mainly thanks to the wonderfully deranged Billy Drago) and a tone all over the place as it shifts from deadly serious to wisecracking to Pare (and various other characters) berating his wife for being rubbish at rescuing him. Oh, and Jan Michael Vincent is in the flick as well. Though I'm not sure he was actually aware of this when he was making it!

Deadly Heroes is basically just a trashier (if you can imagine it) remake of Menahem Golan's earlier hit The Delta Force. A bunch of crazy terrorists take a bus load of civilians hostage with toy guns that fire real bullets. No, seriously. As to why they do and how these guns actually work, I've no idea and will probably cause brain meltdown if one thinks about it too much but needless to say the opening 15 minute action scene is played out with bright orange and yellow toy guns! Holding the civilians hostage they want their leader Jose Maria Carlos (Drago) freed. Which he promptly is and they make off with Pare's wife (for some inexplicable and convoluted reason). So, Pare then has to rescue his wife but not before getting caught himself, then escaping, then going back to rescue her again, this time with Jan Michael Vincent who by this point in the film actually seems to have sobered up!

Action movie 101 that despite all its insane cheesiness, washed up actors and a director who actually thinks he is making a serious film, is actually a lot of trashy fun. Drago (who's played this role in countless similar films) is just outright weird and loopy: even by his standards. Having kidnapped Pare's wife he seems to have fallen in love with her and spends most of the time going on about how exquisite her breasts are. Which they are but seeing Drago go on and on about in weird scene after weird scene is just, well, incredibly weird. Poor Jan Michael Vincent, obviously well into his heavy drinking stage, seems lost, hides behind his sunglasses most of the running time and seems to be reading his lines off various cue cards. Then, bizarrely, he seems to be quite with it come the final raid on Drago's base, all tooled up as a Navy Seal. Though he still can't quite perform a roundhouse kick! Pare is his usual affable self, seems to be the only one not drunk or on something, though does seem to be very critical and sexist to his poor kidnapped wife. Poor Claudette Mink, who plays Pare's wife, gets the rough deal here and respect to her for enduring and surviving all she's put through. Along with Pare's constant criticisms, she endures all kinds of weirdness (most of it directed at her breasts) from Drago, much I bet wasn't scripted.

Despite the run of the mill plot and constant ridiculousness, there is still plenty of action including some pretty impressive stunts featured in the opening bus chase. The final infiltration of Drago's hideout is also pretty cool (complete with mini-subs) and I even found myself quite enjoying the film by this point. There's so much more silliness and makes-no-sense scenes in Deadly Heroes but this review is long enough already. Not really a good film but as entertaining as any film featuring Michael Pare, a drunk Jan Michael Vincent, a very weird Billy Drago, and a big action scene featuring toy guns is every likely to be.