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]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Midnight Ride (1990)

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This movie was suggested to me by my friend at Movies in the Attic. I liked the idea of a Hitcher remake with Mark Hamill as the baddie and Dudikoff as the hero. It's not available on DVD, so I had to scoop it used on Amazon.

Midnight Ride has Dudikoff as a cop in California whose wife needs a break from him because she thinks he loves his job more than her. While running from him, she picks up Mark Hamill. Funny thing is, Hamill's a psychotic killer, and he's taken a shine to her. His plan, after the killing spree, is to take her to his shrink, played by Robert Mitchum, so she can get some electroshock therapy. Now Dudikoff's not only chasing his wife to get her back, but to save her from Hamill.

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This isn't that bad. I'm kind of a cat who, when I'm looking for a Dudikoff flick, I want him beating the crap out of a lot of people, and I didn't get that here. This definitely isn't American Ninja meets The Hitcher, even though it should've been. Hamill was surprisingly good as a deranged killer, but Dudikoff was extremely poor as the average Joe cop that takes heroic risks, but can't kick mad ass the way he could in some of his other films. That was a huge issue for me, because Hamill holds Duds at gunpoint early on, and then ties him to the hood of a car and drives him around. What? Dudikoff can't let that happen, I don't care what kind of character he's playing, and certainly not to a Mark Hamill.

I think what made this worse was the back of the box, which told me "Michael Dudikoff's at the wheel. And all roads lead to action!" Forget the grammatical issues with separating "wheel" and "and" with a period instead of a comma, the line signifies to me Dudikoff kicking some ass. In one scene he's in a diner, and bikers are making fun of him. One of them needed to throw a punch, leading to him taking out like five of them. Instead, he just walked out and nothing happened. Hey, I'm all for a good suspense thriller, just don't tell me I'm getting a Dudikoff beatdownfest when I'm not.

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Michael Dudikoff is an interesting figure in the DTVC Hall of Fame. He's not the star Dolph, Van Damme, Seagal, and Lambert are. But for a lot of us, especially the cats who really cut their teeth in bad movies by watching action films of the late 80s early 90s, Dudikoff almost eclipses those other four. They were making mainstream films at that time (I guess not Dolph, but definitely the other three), while Dudikoff was earning a living in DTV. I think that's a good thing, in that when I review his films, the old guard feel like I'm meeting their bad movie needs; but also the new comers to bad movies can be given a road map to explore a real king in the industry that they may not know about.

Mark Hamill was pretty solid as the psycho. I mean, he was pretty creepy and scary, which is what you want. I'm not sure I get the new wave of horror films that go for gore over fear, yet at the same time think they're delivering fear, but this is the kind of movie they should look at when making the Saw 316 or whatever. There's one scene where Hamill offers a girl whose abusive boyfriend he just scared off a ride home. Dudikoff's wife already knows Hamill's a psycho killer, and she's trying to warn the girl. It was just really freaky knowing on that whole ride home that that girl was going to die, and a big part of it was how realistic they made it. I'm generally not a Mark Hamill guy, and I was really hoping for a Dudikoff beatdown of him that didn't happen; but he was good in this film.

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As I mentioned above, Robert Mitchum's in this picture. One of my all time favorite actors. Of all the genres he excelled in, I'd say his best were his Film Noirs. If you haven't seen Out of the Past with he and Kirk Douglas, you should. He's only in this at the very end, but he's perfect as Hamill's psychiatrist. He just spoke in this cool, monotone, and it brought me back to some of his older films.

If you're looking for a Dudikoff beatdownfest, like I was, you'll be sorely disappointed. But if you want a decent Hitcher remake, this works. Hamill's no Rutger Hauer, but he doesn't try to be, and he comes off pretty creepy in his own way. Dudikoff, though, was hard to watch considering he didn't deliver the bone-crushing action I'm used to from him, so on that end I can't give it a full recommendation. I'd say if you see it in a VHS bargain bin for a buck or two, go for it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100148/

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Marksman (2005)

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This film's been sitting in my Netflix queue for sometime now, and I finally bumped it up when I realized I hadn't reviewed a Wesley Snipes movie in a while. I think maybe part of me had pushed it down because I was so focused on getting movies with other stars up, and the previous Wesley Snipes films didn't exactly do it for me. Why sit through a notsomuch, when I can be entertained by a Nemesis or Stone Cold.

The Marksman is about some special military soldiers called painters that place tracking beacons in targets so planes can hit them with missiles. Snipes is one of them, and he's sent with a special forces unit to plant devices in a hijacked nuclear facility in Russia. But Snipes thinks things aren't what they appear, and he's right. Before he can get to the escape chopper, he sees the special forces betrayed and almost killed. Three are captured, and one hides out and finds Snipes, so they can go back in and save them. Emma Sands is working with the NSA, and she's the only person Snipes can trust. Luckily he doesn't rely on her fully, because by the time she realizes what's going on and who's behind it, the missile's in the air and ready to blow them up. Snipes has something up his sleeve, though.

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I don't know what to tell everyone. This was okay. But does okay cut it? Explosions? Sure, there were some. Car chases? Not really. Martial arts? Considering how good Snipes was in the Blade films, the few minutes here and there were pretty lackluster. Nice shootouts? They were okay, but pretty run-of-the-mill. Nothing like the graveyard shootout in Pistol Whipped. Am I being too harsh on Snipes? He was good, but the movie was pretty blah.

The Blade movies were so good. Sure, they were effin' ridiculous, but they were awesome too. Yes, this movie would've been enhanced by a Ron Perlman with a small bomb stuck on the back of his head. Yes, this movie would've been better if a previously incapacitated Snipes regained his strength and took out a slew of Eastern European foot soldiers to Crystal Method's "Name of the Game". Is it so wrong to find that kind of shit awesome? Why do I need slow moving scenes with weird jumpcuts and bad techno only to end in Snipes shooting someone and sneaking off and trying to contact Emma Sands? Give me a Dominic Purcell as Dracula saying in a deep voice with no irony whatsoever "I saw Christ die." Yes, I want to laugh out loud every once in a while.

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It's because of Blade, though, that I'm not giving up hope. He has a film coming soon called Gallowwalker, where he plays a gunman whose victims come back to life as zombies. That just sounds brilliant, doesn't it? This is the sixth Snipes film I've reviewed. Chaos, the one he did with Jason Statham, doesn't really count, because it was more a hidden gem that should've been a major release than a DTV actioner. Of the other four, my verdicts fluctuated between this wasn't bad to this didn't do it for me. This one's in that range as well. I just need that punch me in the face killer, and stylized military suspense thrillers with no identity won't get me there.

On initial viewing, I was like, wow, Emma Sands is hot for her age. Then I looked her up on imdb and saw that she's only two years older than Snipes. Oops. Is that still a compliment? She looks good for her age, but I thought she was older? Maybe I should stop while I'm ahead. She was able to parlay her success in this role to work on a BBC drama Doctors, and then a reoccurring part on General Hospital, on which she starred a long time ago with Demi Moore.

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Skip this. It's just not worth it. I've softly recommended a few Snipes DTV films-- you know, the classic "you could do worse" or "if there's nothing else, give it a try." I'm not even going the soft recommendation route. You got better things to watch with your time.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457090/

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But since I have an extra paragraph, why not discuss another film that came out on DVD recently, the new Friday the 13th. I don't know about you, but I grew up on the old ones. Sure, they were silly, but that's what made them so great. Jason was this supernatural killer that beat women in sleeping bags against trees and punched boxers' heads off, and that's how we liked it. Think of part four with Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover. Do horror movies get any better than that film? Four words: "No wa-hay, not to-ni-hight." With this in mind, my buddy and I rented the new one, and it sucked balls. First, they tried to make Jason realistic, like he was a real human being. Really? Real human beings that raised themselves after their moms were killed when they were ten have the capacity to build intricate tunnel systems under the ground wired with electricity? Really? Jason shooting an arrow through a man's head driving a speeding boat from 500 yards out is much more believable if we see that he won an archery tournament when he was ten? And that sleeping bag scene I talked about above, that's somehow better if the woman is instead hung upside down in it over a fire? In trying to make something silly from the 80s more "real", they came off even sillier. And not in a good way. Who comes up with this stupid shit?

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0758746/

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Automatic (1994)

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This movie comes up often on people's lists of best Gruner films. I saw it way back when it came out on video in the mid-90s, and I must confess, I don't remember it as well as I should. My brain is all a blur with myriad futuristic cyborg action thrillers, more often than not starring Olivier Gruner. It's a trend that went out in 90s, and maybe it'll come back in the 2010s.

Automatic takes place in the future, where a man has invented the pinnacle in home security: the Automatic. A bunch of androids that look like Olivier Gruner and kick ass like him too. Anyway, one of them working at the factory sees a major executive trying to rape a woman, and he steps in to prevent it. Problem is he accidentally kills the guy. Automatics aren't supposed to kill, but this one knows something's up when the inventor sends a hit squad headed by Jeff Kober to exterminate him. Now we've got Die Hard meets Blade Runner with a taste of Small Wonder and Cyborg 2 thrown in.

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This wasn't too bad. It was what it was: a low-budget sci-fi actioner with Olivier Gruner. It was fairly action packed, and Gruner got to flex his martial arts muscles, so that was good. The story was pretty run-of-the-mill, and it was hard to see what kind of obstacles Gruner was overcoming when every time he was shot he seemed to be able to heal himself. It's not like seeing Seagal as omnipotent and knowing no one can take him; with this film, they were trying to create tension with Kober's extermination squad, but what kind of tension is it if he can take a bullet and get up five minutes later. I guess the difference is a set of defined rules: in the Seagal film, the rules are simple, he kicks ass. Even if the rules are simple, I just want some.

Gruner was good. He's especially great at the beginning kicking ass in the advertisement for the Automatic. I didn't like this as much as The Circuits and Nemesis; nor Savate or Crooked either. That doesn't leave anything else as far as his films I've reviewed, but don't take that as an indictment of this picture. It was very entertaining. If anything, it says that Gruner had stellar resume to pick from, which is always a bonus.

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DTVC favorite Jeff Kober is here, but this is the first time he's had more than just a secondary baddie role (the other two we've covered with him are Desert Heat and One Man's Justice). For my money, he's a quintessential baddie who tends to get overlooked by film makers that stick him in the lesser baddie role. Even here he was the head baddie's hatchet man-- but that actually worked better than if he was the head baddie, just on how the movie worked out. Kober tends to live mostly on the TV drama and action series, and you'd probably recognize him more as That Guy from Buffy or Falcon Crest, depending on how old or young you are.

Speaking of TV, Marjean Holden, star of the hit syndicated series Beastmaster is in this as Kober's military cohort. If you remember, if I even mentioned it, and I don't remember if I did, she was supposedly in Nemesis, and I didn't spot her. Well I spotted her in this Gruner flick. If I had the time to do a blog on old syndicated TV shows, Beastmaster would feature prominently. It was no Highlander or Hercules-- in fact, it was utter ridiculous crap-- but it got me to the church on time when I was trying to sober up at 3AM so I could sleep without that bed spinning feeling. Remember when hit TV shows were syndicated, like Star Trek: The Next Generation? Now stupid broadcast TV shows like Navy NCIS and CSI: Des Moines are aired in their spots in this new trend of early weekly syndication. No good.

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Despite the low budget nature of this film, it had one thing a movie like it made today wouldn't have, namely a realistic look to it. There were no CGIs in this at all. Sure, a lot of it looked fake, but it looks fake when it's made by a computer too. Which looked more realistic, Star Wars IV or Star Wars I? That's why I like a lot of movies from the 90s more than today. Sometimes I think the computer generated images have removed a lot of the creativity from directing.

This isn't a bad deal. If you see it in a bargain bin, give it a whirl. It's only available on VHS, so if you're going to go out of your way to get it on Amazon, make sure you've seen Nemesis first, because it's a better use of your money.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109178/

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009)

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I've been looking forward to this for a while now. I was delayed quite a bit when the film was stuck in the Very Long Wait limbo in my Netflix queue. Last weekend I was at my local video store with some friends and found it, and decided to rent it. I think my friends weren't too impressed.

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is about a mega shark and giant octopus that have been frozen in glaciers for 15 million years or so. They're released when the military drops a sonar device into the water around them, cracking the glaciers. Debbie Gibson (Deborah if you're her or her agent) is an expert marine biologist, and she and a couple colleagues are brought in by Lorenzo Lamas to deal with them. The next hour or so involves a series of catastrophes and attempts to corral the animals, before they finally just decide to let the two kill each other.

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This is your run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi channel Saturday afternoon monster movie. That's it. There's plenty of ridiculousness: Lamas, a shark attacking a plane in mid-air, Gibson as a scientist. That definitely gives it a leg up on the average Sci-Fi channel movie, but does it warrant new release money? Definitely not. We got it for free because my buddy's wife works at the video store, so I can't complain much. I'd say either get it free too, or hope it ends up on Sci-Fi.

We're back to The Asylum again. I just don't know. I think the issue is, and I had this conversation with my buddy at Friends in the Attic, Nu Image and Millennium are the companies we think The Asylum should be. They're doing the work Golan Globus and Cannon did 15 to 20 years ago. The thing is, The Asylum have all these low-budget movies with silly rip-off names, and we think, "That's it." In reality, Direct Contact or Driven to Kill are it. Those are the DTV bad action movie titles we're used to. A cheesy CGI shark is cool, but Dolph beating the crap out of someone is cooler. Not only that, but you gotta blow shit up for real. Fake flames on a computer might save money, but it doesn't get me anywhere.

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I looked around on The Asylum's website. First, I read a statement they made about people asking for temporal refunds, essentially "can I have my 2 hours back?" They made a great point that first, their movies are only 90 minutes long, but second, they generally don't get any better after the first fifteen. My feeling is I waste my 90 minutes so you don't have to. If you read a review of an Asylum film, and it's bad, and you watch it anyway, that's your own fault. The second thing I read was how they got into this silly business. They started by distributing art house films, and found no money in it. Then they made War of the Worlds with C. Thomas Howell, and wanted to table it after they got word of Spielberg's project. Blockbuster said no, just send it to us anyway, and it was really successful. The rest is history.

There isn't much Lamas here to report. He doesn't fight anyone, he doesn't do any action hero kind of stuff. Maybe someone reading this is thinking "What, do you expect him to fight a giant octopus?" Yeah, okay, I'd like to see him fight a giant octopus. Is that so bad? I'm not sure if you saw Lamas on TMZ chilling with Bush 41 in Kennebunkport, ME, but he's actually performing in A Chorus Line two towns up from me in Ogunquit. I don't know how many readers of the blog live in the New England area, but maybe we should make a DTVC field trip...

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I noticed the film stars an actor named Michael Teh. I bring that up because Teh is my number one typo. I think I type "teh" more than "the". I believe I do that, because I type the "T" and "H" with the same finger, and the "E" with my left, so the natural motion is to go "right, left, right," as opposed to "right, right, left".

This isn't bad for what it is. If it's on Sci-Fi channel sometime, it's plenty worth giving it a looksee. If you see it on your video store shelves, I'd avoid it, especially at new release money. There are better ways to spend that cash, like say on Direct Contact.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1350498/

Martial Outlaw (1993)

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I've been meaning to get some Jeff Wincott up here for a while now, and Netflix's Watch Instantly had this among a couple others, so I went with it. The deciding factor when faced with a few Wincott options was the addition of Gary Hudson.

Martial Outlaw has Wincott as a DEA agent who comes home to LA on business, where he's forced to work with his older brother who's a beat cop in the LAPD. His brother, Gary Hudson, is hella jealous of him, despite having a hot wife, and he sees Wincott's operation as an opportunity. He signs on with the Russian mobsters Wincott's investigating and trying to bring down. Now Wincott's getting it from all sides, and it'll take all he's got to bring these guys down.

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This is pretty sweet. Wincott's the man, and the movie doesn't spare any opportunity for him to flex his martial arts muscles. In one scene he has to fight a bunch of dudes standing in a circle around him. I could've gone for more explosions and car chases, but the fight scenes were good enough that I couldn't complain too much. Hudson was solid, as was Stefanos Miltsakakis as the baddie's hatchet man. All in all, a very entertaining early 90s bad actioner.

I had a conversation with my friend at Movies in the Attic about the future of the DTV action star. With Dolph, Seagal, and Van Damme getting older, who's out there to step into those big shoes. I'd go one further and say, who's the next Jeff Wincott. Who is that thirtysomething martial artist from Toronto that can step in and do a ton of bad police action films. You could maybe see a Statham or Diesel dropping off the way Seagal and Van Damme did, turning to the DTV movie; kind of the way Wesley Snipes has. But where's the Wincott? The guy that only does DTV films.

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Jeff Wincott also underlies one of my biggest issues in running this blog. There are only so many hours in a day, and the unfortunate reality is I don't make any money from the site. As such, with limited time, it's people like Jeff Wincott who end up being left behind like Kirk Cameron. I don't want to do it, because Wincott was a big deal for me growing up, and it's certainly not something I do on purpose, it just happens. That's why it's important to make your suggestions if you want to see a certain actor or movie up.

But Martial Outlaw underscores the point that I want more Wincott up here too, and with guys like Dolph and Seagal having nearly exhausted filmographies, there should be more room for a Wincott. Many of his films aren't available through Netflix, so it may take some time to get them via VHS. I have Open Fire available on Watch Instantly, so maybe that's where I'll go next, before I get the Martial Laws on VHS.

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Getting off the Wincott subject, this film takes place in LA, and I just visited there a month ago. The reason I bring this up is this film uses the classic storyline of local boy leaves the small town he grew up in, makes good, and comes back to resentment. The only thing is, the small town he leaves is LA! I grew up an hour outside of Boston, and have been to many cities from London, to DC, to San Francisco, and LA felt big to me. Like really big. Maybe because it is really big. I don't know if they intended for the film to take place somewhere else, or maybe they just decided to go the postmodern route. In any case, it was a very interesting take.

This is a good time. If you find it cheap at your local video store or a bargain bin somewhere, go for it. And if you have Netflix Watch Instantly, this is a good deal. As far as I can tell, it's only available on Watch Instantly and VHS. I wish more movies like this were on there, like all the other movies I can only get on VHS.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107525/

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CyberTracker (1994)

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I thought I saw this a while ago on EncoreAction, but when I got it recently on Netflix, I found out I was wrong. I think it might have been Cyber-Tracker 2, but who knows. Those were the early days of digital cable, when that guide bar could be wrong at anytime, and channels like EncoreAction and ShowtimeXtreme had fluid programming line-ups that could change at a moment's notice. "What, this isn't Class of 1999, it's Gangland."

CyberTracker has Wilson as a CIA agent working security for a controversial senator promoting a new judicial system that's run by computers, and its sentences carried out by vicious cyborgs. Wilson uncovers some stuff he shouldn't, and now he's on the run. Sure, the CyberTrackers after him are tough, but Richard Norton's tougher, and he's pissed because he never liked Wilson in the first place. Wilson's only hope is to turn to a terrorist organization opposed to the senator and his computerized judicial system, and they're a bunch of kids who don't know what they're doing. Does it matter? Does Wilson ever really need back-up?

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This wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty ridiculous, but its ridiculousness was the kind of ridiculous that made me laugh, as opposed to make me angry, and that's always a good thing. The cyborgs could pull guns out of their legs, but like, they would appear and disappear when the cyborg put them near their legs. Later, we found out the cyborgs' skin was made out of some nuclear protoplasm that was described as "the perfect substance." So perfect, in fact, that Wilson could defeat one just by sticking a grenade through his perfect substance skin. We all know that was just another excuse for a huge explosion. And, at least as far as I go, I was fine with it.

This is the first Donny film we've done since mid-March's The Last Sentinel. Wow. A couple months off for a DTVC Hall of Famer, that's big. It's even bigger when you consider the size of his filmography. This is his thirteenth film, but I'd say it's one of his better ones. He has a solid end fight with Norton, which I think we were all waiting for. It wasn't as well choreographed as one might like, because it was more in the knock down drag um out style, as opposed to the technically correct. Wilson will be 55 in September, and he hasn't done anything since 2007's Sentinel. He doesn't even have anything listed as in production. I guess that's okay, because we still have like 15 or 16 more movies of his to review, but I'd like to see something new. He's a good three years younger than Seagal, and Seagal's still at it.

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Gotta love Richard Norton. Great accent, great pecs, and great martial arts. You wanna talk about old, Norton's 59. He actually is older than Seagal. This is the second film he's done with Wilson, the other being Redemption. In this one he actually has a major role, playing the senator's hatchet man, and he's good. His real best stuff is from the late 80s early 90s, and I've only begun to scratch the surface of it. Keep an eye out for Future Hunters, directed by the late Cirio H. Santiago, which will probably be the next film of Norton's I post.

Anyone watch Full House? Uncle Jesse's dad is the senator. I know, I spent the entire film trying to figure out who he was. I knew he played the dad of some Mediterranean sitcom character. I'll be honest, I never liked Full House. I watched it because all the other kids I knew watched it, but even at like 10, I knew it sucked ass. And people wonder why reality TV became so huge in this country. It's because out of all the sitcoms ever made, like five of them were actually entertaining. And that goes for all the TV dramas too. My roommates got rid of cable before I moved out recently, and we were stuck watching NCIS over the antenna. God, who writes crap like that? And who finds it entertaining?

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Speaking of opinions. I try my best to not allow my blog to be a soapbox. The key is to post my reviews of new and old DTV films and see what people think. Sure, I spout off opinions like I just did about the state of writing on TV, but these aren't volatile issues that will offend people or make people with differing views feel unwelcome. I say this, because CyberTracker brings up an issue regarding the opposition to the computerized judicial system. The government calls them terrorists, but the group themselves are the good guys. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, I guess they're saying. I'm going to stay away from it, because I don't want the blog to become a political forum. I have called out films in the past that I felt were too politically charged in one direction or the other; but I don't think that's what's going on here. They're just asking the question, who really is a terrorist?, and I'm saying I won't get into it.

This is good old fashioned human versus cyborg action, with D "the D" Dubs and Richard Norton thrown in. You'll get your money's worth if you rent it cheap or buy it cheap. I got it on Netflix, and wasn't disappointed. If you want something to make fun of, this is a good bet.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109515/

Direct Contact (2009)

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This was a long time coming. Longer than it should've been. First I tried watching it on Netflix's Watch Instantly, but the audio was a mess. Then I figured I'd wait till it came on DVD in the mail, but I don't live in an urban environment anymore, so Netflix doesn't get to me as fast as it once did. Finally, it arrived today, and I've watched it, and I'm reviewing it now.

Direct Contact has Dolph as a former Marine former gunrunner imprisoned in an Eastern European jail. Michael Pare comes and offers him a deal: his freedom and 200 grr, if he rescues a chick from a Russian warlord near the Black Sea. Before you say "hey, this sounds like The Russian Specialist", hold your horses. Things aren't what they appear, and Dolph has no idea who to trust. The girl was never really kidnapped, Pare's now chasing him in a military issue hummer and shooting explosives at him, and everywhere Dolph goes, he gets innocent bystanders killed.

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This is amazing. Vintage Dolph. Great one-liners, massive explosions, ridiculous car chases, and beautiful bar room brawls. The film starts with Dolph in a prison, and these guys are trying to get money out of him. He hands them a coin and says "It's all I got." The head guy spits in his food, and Dolph says "That's no way to start a friendship", leading to a big fight scene. The quintessential way to begin any Dolph movie. And it just hits its spots from there. The only thing this film did that was different from all other Lundgr-flicks, was it had Dolph shot in the right arm, not the left.

2009 might be the year of Dolph. imdb lists three other Dolph films slated for release this year, with Command Performance, Universal Soldiers: The Next Generation, and Icarus. I won't lie, he did show his age some, with his moves looking a little slower and more scripted than usual, but the movie more than made up for it. He just seems to get better with age. This film, maybe more than any he's ever done, really shows this sentiment he has that he's playing with the House's money. He's having as much fun making this movie as we have watching it. That's big, because we who watch these movies don't take them too seriously, so it's nice to know Dolph won't insult our intelligence by taking it too seriously either. At the same time, this isn't too tongue in cheek, which I think would ruin the film for us.

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Michael Pare is excellent. I thought this was the third film of his I reviewed, with BloodRayne II being one of the others, and 2004's Gargoyle being the other. Well, it turns out I never did Gargoyle. I could've sworn I did. I feel like I did. But it's not on there. My friend at Movies in the Attic has told me repeatedly that I need more Pare up here, and he's right. The guy is the man. He's more than just Eddie and the Cruisers or Trip Fontaine from Virgin Suicides: he's a grade A DTV action star. I am familiar with some of his other work, and I've always loved him, somehow he just managed to slip through the cracks. We'll fix that soon enough.

As you know, I always look up my movies on imdb before I review them, and this one had some interesting info. First, it takes library footage from a bunch of other DTV films, including Out for a Kill and Derailed, which have been reviewed here. Second, the film was released in Kuwait on 16 April 2009, which is almost two months before we got it here. Why do the Kuwaitis get first dibs? Finally, this dude named ztamir from Israel absolutely hated this movie. Generally I'm not a cat who says "he or she just doesn't get it", but man, ztamir doesn't get it. I have a feeling he or she read The Great Gatsby and was like "why did he die at the end?"

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McDonald's gets some mad product placement in this movie. I saw the Golden Arches at least three times that I could remember. McDonald's is my number one guilty pleasure, so, at least as far as I go, the movie made me want to get a Big Mac. I guess it doesn't take much for me to want a Big Mac. I was pissed the other night, because my buddy and I were walking back to his place after our soccer game, and the McDonald's on the way closed it's dining room after ten, and we got there at 10:05. Why the hell don't they have a drive thru type area for walkers? I think I saw one in Seattle or Portland, OR. It would be perfect.

This is must rent material. I saw it at my local video store, and believe me, it's worth new release money to get it. For the Dolph Completists out there, you need to buy it, and I'll be buying it soon enough. A perfect fit for any Dolph Fest.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1182609/

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Phase IV (2001)

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I found this on Netflix's Watch Instantly. I liked the idea of The Boz, but I put it on hold in order to do Stone Cold. Now that that's done, it's time for the next Boz pic, and this is it.

Phase IV has Dean Cain as a former Navy SEAL going back to college in his thirties to get back into football playing shape after a bad knee injury. He has a buddy that's framed for murder, and the guy comes to him for help before he's killed. Something's up with some pills and a pharmaceutical firm, and Cain's on the case as campus reporter. Brian Bosworth is a local detective working for the firm to keep their shady business a secret, and he gives Cain a hard time. Can Cain expose the truth before he becomes their next victim?

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This wasn't a bad film. It was more a Lifetime film disguised as an action pic with almost no women in it. Cain was surprisingly believable as the Navy SEAL, but part of that was that they didn't make him an unbeatable fighter that can take tons of dudes at once, but rather an experienced elite fighter that can handle himself better than most in sticky situations. I didn't like The Boz as a bad guy, but he worked. All that being said, there really wasn't anything special about this to merit a recommendation.

I hated the idea of The Boz as a bad guy. Why would you take the star of Stone Cold, and put him in a role where I can't root for him? I get why they had Dean Cain as the hero, and I don't think Bosworth would've worked in that role; and I'm not saying Bosworth wasn't good as a bad guy, it just wasn't any fun to watch him. For those Bosworth fans out there reading this, Phase IV is a bad way to get your fix.

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I liked Dean Cain here. I know, it sounds silly: Dean Cain, former Navy SEAL. But it works surprisingly well. They weren't going for a Dolph/Seagal type dominating figure that can take out ten guys at once. They were going for a more realistic Navy SEAL that could handle himself better than the average guy. He could fend off five guys at once, but only for so long. The problem with all of this is: I don't want a realistic Navy SEAL. I want fucking Dolph Lundgren beating the crap out of ten dudes at once. I'll settle for Jerry Trimble doing it, but it's what I want.

The crux of the plot is that this drug company has found the cure for AIDS, but kills it because they make more money forcing AIDS patients to live on a coctail of expensive pills that only mask the symptoms. It sounds like a brilliant yet diabolical idea in theory, but we're seeing with GM right now that the model doesn't work. GM decided if they made their cars breakdown sooner, people will buy a new car sooner, making them more money. That worked well, until the Japanese got into the American market, and people got past their fears of not buying American. Now GM's bankrupt, and their ads are pleading with us to believe them that Hondas and Toyotas suck. I guess what I'm saying is, if a drug company invented a cure for AIDS, it would behoove them to sell it and market it, because eventually another drug company will discover a cure too, and then they'll reap the rewards.

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This film was supposed to take place in Maine, but for me, growing up in Maine, I didn't recognize anything. It turns out it was filmed in Halifax. On imdb, they came up with all these gaffs that the film made giving away that it was filmed in Canada, like a random sign with measurements in metric. Really? How about the fact that Halifax is a much larger urban environment with skyscrapers and three lane one-way streets that no city in Maine has. Then there was the fictious New England University (there's a tiny school in Biddeford, Maine that's the University of New England), that was larger than any school in Maine. The biggest thing I noticed is how the film makers seem to think Maine has bigger things happening in it than it really does. Maine is a small town with a population around the size of the Bronx in New York. The average Mainer lives 45 minutes away from the nearest McDonald's. Believe me, I live here. Nothing's going on in this state!

This is a total skipper. Don't waste your time. It's fun, and Bosworth and Cain are cool, but for what it is-- a more violent Lifetime movie with no women in it-- there's just no point in taking 90 minutes out of your life to watch it. My advice, just watch Stone Cold again.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0289758/

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ice Cream Man (1995)

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This is a movie that I've been trying to get up for a long time. The problem is I've never actually seen the whole thing. It's always on Sci-Fi late at night, and I always fall asleep. Or someone has it, but we only see so much of it before we do something else. I finally decided to hunker down and make it happen, so here it is.

Ice Cream Man has veteran character actor Clint Howard leading a start studded cast, where he plays a psychotic ice cream man. The kids in town have a bad feeling about him, and when one of them sees him stuff their friend in the back of the van, they know there's trouble. Slowly the town believes them, but by then the death toll's grown pretty high. Ultimately it's up to the kids to take him down.

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This is pretty hilarious. It's meant to be a campy horror film, and it is. Clint Howard is perfectly cast, as you can well imagine. There's some pretty funny ice cream deaths, but not as many as you'd imagine. If I have one complaint, it's that it wasn't creative enough. You had a guy who's decapitated and has his head planted on an ice cream cone. In another, Howard throws a kid into his Kenmore freezer, and tells him "You're ice cream!" I have no idea what that even means, which I think makes it funnier. Maybe the best was the use of an eyeball for the marshmallow in a scoop of Rocky Road. Still, more people were just stabbed, which is pretty boring.

Really what makes this good, is that it's not as funny as the people who made it think it is. It's essentially another Catalina Caper. In the MST3K episode guide, they said Catalina Caper was one of the more challenging films they did, because they were making fun of a comedy. I think if you're a veteran bad movie guy, this is the kind of film you need to go for, just to see how much you really got. Can you pick apart a film that's intentionally supposed to be funny? On another note, I never thought I'd see this, but Mike Nelson's RiffTrax has taken on my all time favorite movie, Casablanca. I'm very curious.

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Clint Howard has a huge resume. In 1998 he won the lifetime achievement award at the MTV Movie Awards. Part of me thinks "how is this his first film on the site?"; but when I look at what he's done, a lot of it is mainstream stuff. He was in Frost/Nixon. I mean, it helps having Ron Howard for a brother. You think Ted Raimi could get into the Spiderman films if his brother wasn't Sam? But also, what that does is it limits his availability for this kind of bigger role in a DTV film.

There are a whole bunch of other people in this too. If I forget one, I'm sorry. You got the chick from Conan that was the baddie in Red Sonja (do you ever annoy your friends and call it Son-jah? I love doing that.). There's a chick from One Life to Live. Jan Michael Vincent and Lee Majors II play detectives. Olivia Hussey, who you may remember showed her amazing boobs in Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. Then there's the guy from An American Werewolf in London. Doug Llewelyn, court reporter from The People's Court, the old one with Judge Wapner, is in this as a grocery store manager. Finally, LA Dodgers great Steve Garvey plays one of the kids' fathers. Gotta love Steve Garvey.

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I must confess, I'm not much of an ice cream guy. I like it. My favorite flavor is Cherry Garcia. But I don't go crazy for it. Too much of it makes my stomach hurt immensely. Also, my neighborhood never had an ice cream man growing up. I guess we were too far out of the way, even though we had tons of kids around, and we were right near the highway. It's funny, because growing up my hometown, Kittery, Maine, was considered the boonies. We're like 50 miles north of Boston, right on the southern tip of the state on the New Hampshire border. When I went to college at UMaine, 15 minutes north of Bangor, and three hours north of Kittery, I learned that being within three miles as the crow flies from the nearest shopping mall was not the boonies.

This is definitely worth checking out. It's not as funny as it thinks it is, but it's funny enough. It's very gross, so if you have friends that're a little squeamish, you may want them to pass, or at least not have them eat Firecracker Sausages while you watch it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113376/

Into the Blue 2: The Reef (2009)

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This movie came across my radar when one of my roommates saw something on the Internet about it. Her exact words: "I found another dumb movie for your site, and it has that chick from that stupid show you watch in it." More on the second part later, but as far as the first, I was skeptical, but I was looking for maybe a Point Break or even better, a silly film with a lot of hot people in the vein of an old Ross Hagen film from the 60s.

Into the Blue 2 is about a couple who have a diving company in Oahu. They don't make much, but they have big dreams. Enter a rich British couple looking for something. That something is two large cargo containers with explosives in them that have fallen below to a reef. The couple get in deep with the Brits, only to have the Brits turn on them when the couple finds out what's in the containers. Now they have to use all their wits to get out of this situation alive.

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This was crap. I know what you're thinking "Duh, I could've told you that before you watched it." Yeah, but that's not the point. This could've actually been good. There were the pieces. The leading woman was actually not a bad actress. The problem is the writing was so bad she was stuck between being weak willed and the voice of reason. They should've dumped the guy and had her go it alone and just be strong throughout. The guy they hired as the heel was great too. You know you're movie's bad if the heel is endearing, and the two guys you want us to root for annoy the hell out of me.

The biggest issue was the plot. It was an attempt to merge a sleek, stylish, thriller with a Hitchcockian sense of ordinary people having their world turned upside-down by forces beyond their control, and how they deal with it. First off, they didn't deal with them well, until the baddies acted way out of character and allowed the two lead males to dominate them. It was like the writers wrote themselves into a corner. I love this idea that anyone who went to film school can be Hitchcock if he or she has seen North by Northwest and Rear Window 200 times. Maybe The Catalina Caper and Point Break were silly, but they were both fun too. The film makers could think about that when they make part 3.

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So what would I have done? As I was watching it, I realized I would've remade The Catalina Caper. It was almost the same premise: kids recruited under false pretenses to dive for lost valuables. Why not ham it up? The leading male would've made a great Lyle Waggoner, the leading woman his sister. The female Brit was a perfect Creepy Girl. You'd just need to hire someone like Eric Roberts or Dennis Hopper as the rich dad, and another to play the rich Greek. Think of how awesome that would've been.

The guy who played the heel is the guy from the Coors Light commercials that leaves his girlfriend to go "vent" with his buddy. I know, who'd've thunk it that he'd be good, but he was. He totally played up the dumb jock aspect, but in playing it up he added a level of silliness to it that made me like him, as opposed to thinking "wow, what a dumb jock.", which is what I think I was supposed to think. That's what happens when you combine bad writing with bad acting: the talent rises to the top. The writers inadvertently made the leading males the heels, and the actors themselves couldn't overcome that.

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Okay, so this is the big confession part of the blog. This is kind of a big deal here. I have a major guilty pleasure: The Hills. I know, I know, Shock, Horror, Gasp. Spit Take. Glass Breaking. I'll be honest, I have no idea why I like it. People say "Those people sound so stupid. Don't they annoy you?" They should. They do on other shows. They do when they sit next to me on the subway, or when I have to listen to them on their cell phones in the airport. Believe me, I'm not defending it, and I'm not defending myself either: I know it's silly, and I know it's silly as I watch it. Maybe that's why I like it, I don't know. I'm just saying this is a huge confession, and don't hate me for it. Anyway, Audrina from The Hills has a small part in this as the heel's girlfriend.

You should skip this. It's an amazing missed opportunity, but that's not gonna make you feel any better after you've wasted 90 minutes of your life. Maybe someone will take my advice for part 3, and it'll be better.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0865907/

White Tiger (1996)

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One of my readers, Elementary Beatbox Operator (who you can find in the Followers section of the blog), said that Gary Daniels should be in the DTVC Hall of Fame based on Bloodmoon and White Tiger alone. We've already reviewed the first one, so now it's time to take a look at the second.

White Tiger has Daniels as a DEA dude whose partner is killed in a bust gone bad. The killer, DTVC favorite Cary Tagawa. Now Daniels is out for blood. At the same time, Tagawa is trying to consolidate his power, and the Chinese mob is less than stoked. They apparently haven't seen Showdown in Little Tokyo or Bridge of Dragon, because they aren't big fans of him. This leads to a collision course with wackiness as all interested parties converge at the end of the film.

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This was pretty sweet. It was pretty much every Bloodfist movie after part III. I could've gone for some more fight scenes, but what we had was enough. That's because Gary choreographed his own stuff, and it was of a very high quality. I liked Tagawa as the head baddie, but it would've been nice if they had a solid second in command that Daniels could've really flexed against, maybe an action star from Hong Kong that doesn't speak great English. The car chases and explosions were pretty good, but in a Daniels film I'm going into it more for the martial arts, and I can't complain about what I got.

It's crazy. I was looking up Daniels on the site, and saw that this is only his sixth post. I didn't know I had so few Daniels films up. Of the the five previous ones, two of them, Retrograde and Submerged, have him in only a limited capacity. Not only that, but Bloodfist IV has him as a baddie, so he's barely in that as well, it's just that his final fight with Don "The Dragon" Wilson is so good, I feel like he wasn't entirely wasted like he was in the other two. I'm not sure if this film would be what gets him in the DTVC Hall of Fame, but Bloodmoon definitely is. Just the same, this film certainly won't keep him out.

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As I said above, we love Cary Tagawa here at the DTVC. He's a great baddie, of course, but when he's a good guy it works just as well. My younger siblings used to watch a show on the Disney channel where a kid who loved surfing was forced to move from Hawai'i with his parents to Vermont, and he left his awesome surfing grandfather behind. That awesome surfing grandfather was none other than Mr. Tagawa, and he was great. In this film he went from the classic mature, mysterious baddie, to a younger, more impetuous version, and again it worked. What didn't work was that he was playing a Chinese man. I guess he made a better one than David Carradine.

I mentioned above the Bloodfist paradigm. It's a paradigm that started after part III, which was a prison film, and continued through the last Wilson picture, part VIII. The idea is that the hero is all alone with no one, except for a hot woman, to turn to. He's usually a fugitive from justice, so law enforcement wants him; and then he's also being chased by a sophisticated crime syndicate with limitless resources. This film was pretty close to that. The crime syndicate wasn't so sophisticated, but they had resources; and Daniels was definitely wanted by the law. The woman was also hot, so they didn't miss there either. The paradigm actually predates the Bloodfists-- American Ninja is a great example-- but it was such a hallmark of that series that I've always associated it with it.

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This film was shot in Vancouver, like a lot of other ones, but this one was supposed to take place in Seattle, which was different-- usually they go for LA or NYC. I was lucky enough to visit Seattle a couple months ago, and I really liked it. Word on the street is it's even nicer in the summer. I've never been to Vancouver, but I've heard that's even nicer than Seattle. I'm curious to see if that's true or not. I do know that for me, San Francisco was nicer than Portland or Seattle, which goes against what everyone else has told me about the three cities, so maybe Vancouver's the worst one of all.

This is a good bad action film. I think it's worth a rental, but if you can, I'd either get it through Netflix, or take advantage of your local video store's two-for-one night. The Daniels versus Tagawa element is as sweet as you'd expect, and the martial arts are hot. There's also plenty to goof on and plenty of action. It just worked for me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118159/

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Circuit 2: The Final Punch (2002)

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I had planned on posting this later and putting up a different Gruner film, Automatic, in this spot. The issue wasn't with Gruner, but Lorenzo Lamas, who's also in the film. I didn't want to have too much Lamas in too short a span, and I was excited about the prospect of Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus. But that's stuck with the label "Very Long Wait" in my Netflix queue, and who knows when I'll get it up now.

The Circuit 2 takes place sometime after part one. Gruner is engaged to the hottie Australian reporter he had been hooking up with, and life looks good. But reporters in action movies always end up where they shouldn't, and Gruner's woman is caught investigating a prison fight ring. The guards and a beast of a prisoner work her over and leave her to die. Lamas, Gruner's woman's colleague at the paper, gets Gruner in at the prison, and he makes his way through the ranks to get the proof he needs against the warden.

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If the first one was silly, with Gruner punching bottles into the ground and whatnot, this one did it one better. The jail made no sense. If I'm a Californian, I'm less than stoked that my tax dollars are going to that place. Gruner came in as angry as he was in part one, but he replaced the punching bottles with a knit cap and cigarettes. The addition of Lamas was good, but I think I would've liked more. He's just above the cameo level. Gary Hudson was a solid addition as a prison guard, but nothing was done with him either.

This is good Gruner. It was nice watching him beat the crap out of person after person in that jail, but that's really all it was. There was nothing in the jail for him to overcome. All he had to do was show up and fight. His final fight with the baddie was poorly choreographed and went on forever. The problem was they had a dude who was just too big to make the fight look exciting on screen. Best of the Best 2 had the same problem, but they rectified it using sticks. A movie fight needs speed.

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Lamas is the resident Hall of Famer here, but it's certainly not his movie. He plays a newspaper editor trying to quit smoking, who occasionally ends up in situations where we see him fight. In one some thugs meet him at his car with a beef over an article he wrote, and he and Gruner beat the crap out of them. It sucks right now that Mega Shark is stuck in Netflix limbo. They need to get their shit together toot-sweet (tout de suite).

We've reviewed quite a few prison films here at the DTVC. The two best, as far as I'm concerned, are Live by the Fist and Bloodsport 4: The Dark Kumite. The first one was amazing because it had Jerry Trimble and George Takei. The second one was great because the premise was Ben Franklin running a fight ring in a New York that resembled Romania. This film was nowhere near as good as that. I'd put it right behind Bloodfist III. It wasn't as bad as In Hell, but how much of a compliment is that. This was essentially Bloodsport 4 without Ben Franklin, and had it featured him or another Founding Father (Framer), this paragraph would've been different.

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I think this film might have been afraid to use Gary Hudson. He started out so promising. Why he wasn't running the show as the head baddie is beyond me. I considered actually doing this entire post about Hudson, but I wasn't sure if I could write 8 paragraphs on him, or even five if you take out the opening, synopsis, and closing paragraphs. But I can do one, and that's what I'm going to do. He can't carry a film on his own like a Lamas or Gruner, but when you give him that secondary role as baddie or hero's partner, he's got it. We'll explore a film where he used better later on with Martial Law.

So this is a good deal. It's not Gruner's best, and it's scant on the Lamas, but it's serviceable. I wouldn't plan your night around it, but if it's on late at night or something, you could do a lot worse. If you've seen everything else by Gruner, give this one a try.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0321704/

Monday, June 1, 2009

Driven to Kill (2009)

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This is the new Seagal flick. I'm not sure if it was eagerly anticipated, but I was excited for it the week before it was released, so that's kinda fun. Really, I just wanted to get the bad taste of Against the Dark out of my mouth.

Driven to Kill has Seagal as a Russian mobster who comes home to Jersey to see his daughter get married. Well, she doesn't quite make it, because some Russian mob thugs get to her first, and now you've got yourself a paint-by-numbers revenge actioner. It's not a matter of if you die, but when, and how horribly.

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And it can get pretty horrible. How about a pistol barrel through your eye? Maybe a cart with an incendiary device and a bunch of sharp metal objects in it? With those options, getting my ephemeral artery slashed just doesn't seem so bad. This was brutal, yet not too brutal, in that there was plenty of good action in it as well. A guy gets shot in his earlobe, but that's it, they don't dwell on it and make us look at his mangled ear. I like that: be gross, but don't get caught up in it. We're here to watch Seagal kick major ass.

He's pretty good. You can see his age, but he still takes care of business. The Russian accent isn't as funny as it could be. He mails it in, and in some scenes he doesn't have it at all. Why even try if it's going to be like that. I'm fine with him speaking Ebonics. He's been spitting out movies at a pretty impressive clip over the past few years, and it looks like he may slow some. That's okay, he still has The Keeper coming out at some point this year, and I still have Belly of the Beast and Kill Switch from his back-catalog to review, so he'll still be a fixture at the DTVC.

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For the most part this is your run-of-the-mill revenge film, but it had a few things about it I liked. First, it was DTV, so paint-by-numbers can be easier to take if I'm not dropping $20 for a night at the movies on it. Second, Seagal is definitely Seagal. He's older, and he goes in more for weapons than hand-to-hand combat, but this is pretty good stuff. I'd rather see him in the revenge thriller than say Liam Neeson. Finally, there were some inspired gunfights. The best was in the ICU unit of the hospital. The plot can be crap if the action's there, and though I've seen better, the action was there enough.

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In JCVD, there was a joke made that could possibly be seen as a crack at Seagal. Van Damme is groaning over the schlock DTV fare that his career has become, and he decides to take a picture he had originally turned down because he has legal fees. When he goes back to his agent, the agent says "Steven took it. He agreed to cut his hair." Maybe I'm reading into things, but it seems like V-Diddy's saying "Seagal will act in anything for a paycheck." Though I may agree on some levels, when I look at the Van Damme pics where he's trying to do more than the average DTV actioner, the films fall flat on their face. In Hell, The Hard Corps, Second in Command, and Until Death just didn't do it for me the way Shepherd: Border Patrol did, and the latter film really was a return to what Van Damme does best. Pistol Whipped and The Foreigner were better than any of Van Damme's DTV films, in my opinion. As opposed to having directors that tried to emulate greats like Kurosawa, with those two you have people that are throwing up homages to them, and with the talent these directors and actors have, homages just work better.

That last paragraph was almost two paragraphs long, so I'm gonna call it a blog here. If you're a Seagal fan, you'll dig this. It's not must have stuff, but it works enough for what it is. Who knows how many more of these we'll have with Seagal getting up in age, but this model works well enough that I could see him doing it into his 60s.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1227177/