The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got.



Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

Second, it appears since my last trip to the blog, Photobucket has decided to charge for third party hosting, meaning none of my images are appearing anymore. That's simply an aesthetic issue, but still annoying.

Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Second in Command (2006)

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Van Damme, way more than Dolph or Rutger Hauer, is a difficult cast as an American serviceman. The other two have almost no accent, and what accent they have make their speech cooler. Van Damme, of course, has a thick accent, thus forcing screenwriters to come up elaborate explanations for why he's an American that doesn't sound like one. I'm not sure I understand why this is done. Why not just put him in the movie as an American with a French accent? It's not like the lack of continuity will take away some of the credibility of Van Damme's films, because they really don't have any credibility to begin with.

Second in Command is about a fictitious Eastern European country called Moldavia that is in turmoil. The benevolent, altruistic, democratically elected president is facing a coup at the hands of a brutal militia intent on installing a military dictatorship. Our government wants to prevent this coup, so we call in Van Damme. The militia lays siege to the US Embassy and it's up to Van Damme to protect the people, the embattled president, and the tenets of Democracy and Freedom, until the Marines show up with reinforcements. Along the way, he has to battle the Liberal News Media and Left Wing Big Government Bureaucracy, who hinder his attempt to vanquish the evil militia.

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This is a Right Wing propaganda film. It's not as funny as Red Scorpion, but yet isn't as brutally Right Wing as The Hunt For Eagle One movies. At the end of the movie, the militia feigns a retreat, and a liberal bureaucrat tells Van Damme they "Cut and Run". Only a few moments later, he's shot and killed by a Russian general, who the liberal thought was there to help the US, but instead was supporting the militia. Once a Commie, always a Commie.

This film smacked to me of the kind of film John Wayne would make during the Vietnam War. I know what you're thinking, and I thought it too: could a man with a French accent be this generation's John Wayne? At least in this film, yes, and it's a fantastic irony. I hadn't considered it before I saw Second in Command, but the only actor who compares to the late career of Wayne in terms of actually thinking he's the hero he depicts in his film, is Van Damme. I'm not talking about Stagecoach, I'm talking about the silly films he did much later on. It's like when you watch them, you feel like they're (Wayne and Van Damme) the only ones who don't realize how silly they look.

One issue I had with the film is one I probably only have because I have a degree in anthropology, and pursued an advanced degree in political science. Having studied the US involvement in Developing Nations, I see the naivety in this plot. The idea that the US would risk the lives of troops to protect a president of a failing country that has no strategic importance to us is ludicrous. Take it a step further to look at the actual political realities in the country, and the plot becomes even more idealistic: it would be more probable that the democratically elected president was put in power in a rigged election and the militia is popularly supported by a nation of people sick of starving while the fat cats live high on the hog off US aid. Then the militia installs a dictatorship that starts off nice, only to commit the same crimes the previous regime did. I know it's too much to expect a bad action film to be realistic, but it can't have it both ways and expect to be taken seriously as a form of political expression, while at the same time being wholly unrealistic.

The previous long paragraph works as a metaphor for the whole movie: long periods of useless elucidation breaking up lackluster moments of action. When the State Department tells Van Damme they're sending soldiers, instead of us taking their word for it, we have to see a bunch of scenes of military units communicating and mobilizing. There's also a lot of discussion about a plot that doesn't really exist. There are no twists, no ulterior motives, just a monolithic Good v. Evil paradigm. This can be forgiven, if the bad action is there, but it isn't, so I found my attention moving elsewhere.

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I'm totally unsure why Van Damme's in this film at all. He doesn't use his martial arts except for like two quick scenes. If you're not going to use his martial arts, then why have a man with a French accent play a US Military officer? Maybe he was the only one available who didn't have any qualms about the political nature of the film. It just made the film look sillier.

I was intrigued with the way this film dealt with the Liberal News Media. As opposed Hunt for Eagle One, where Mark Dacascos treats her with utter contempt and disgust, here, Van Damme is in love with her. He may decry her "stubbornness", and it is her fault that the militia knows the embassy's escape plan, but she's also very attractive. Van Damme keeps her at arm's length and gets what he needs out of her. She, in turn, softens her resolve when she sees how his way of doing things is the only way to succeed. In a great plot device, the Liberal News Media's weak willed demeanor prevents her from shooting the head baddie, which leaves us with a one-on-one showdown between him and Van Damme. It's one of the few times we see Van Damme flex his martial arts, again, one of many disappointing features of the movie.

The baddie was pretty cool. Considering it was hard for me to believe the president was the nice guy he said he was, and that the only really bad thing the bad guy did was blow up a bus full of innocent people, this film had the Destro effect. I was totally rooting for him to win. I didn't want him to kill US Marines, even if it was only a movie, but I would have settled for a retreat and maybe a solid ass kicking for Van Damme. In a movie with a simple Good v. Evil premise, the fact that the bad guy was the coolest character has to be maybe the most indicative example of how bad this movie is.

I'm sure there are Van Damme completists out there that haven't seen this, and will see it despite my warnings, and let me say to you that I fully understand. Just be ready, and make sure you rent a back up movie. There's plenty to make fun of in it, but with such a slow moving plot (even for an 86 minute run time), chances are you and your friends will lose interest, even if you're making fun of it. I'd say even if you're into Right Wing propaganda films, you'll have trouble making it through this one. It's so bad Dick Cheney will be asking if Countdown With Keith Olbermann is on.

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