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.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Riot (1997)

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This is another flick that I had said I'd review some time ago, forgot about, then discovered as I was updating the archives so they'd have images that linked to larger versions of the original when you click on them that I had said in a comment that I would review it. I should make this clear to everyone who has ever made a request or suggestion that I said I'd get to then didn't: it's not on purpose, they just sometimes get lost in the shuffle, and if I do forget about one you wanted, don't hesitate to say something-- I won't take it personally.

Riot takes place in LA on Christmas Eve, and a riot has broken out after some kids were killed by the cops. In the wake of this riot, the British ambassador's daughter is kidnapped, and special forces dude Gary Daniels is sent into the war zone to get her out. As things shake out, Daniels realizes it's not simply a matter of a gang-banger seizing an opportunity for a quick payday, it goes much deeper. Doesn't it always, though? Suddenly, when we think the movie's almost over, it becomes an anti-Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland pro-UK pro-Protestant propaganda fest.

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I can see why a lot of people like this, and I did too-- for the most part. The action was there, Daniels was great, the problem for me was it suffered from the Ninja Gaiden II Syndome. If you remember Ninja Gaiden II, it seemed like it would never end. There were like three last bosses; you'd beat one, and either another would take his place, or he'd transform into some kind of demon or something. Anyway, Riot has that same issue. At about the hour mark, it looks like it's wrapping up: Daniels and the girl are near the end of the riot zone, the head baddies are there for the final confrontation, life is good. Then the girl cuts herself, Daniels decides he can't take her over the riot zone like that (why?), and he finds a house owned by the Cold Case guy. Even the final confrontation with the head baddie went on forever, with a fight in the street that ends up in a parking garage with Daniels riding on the hood of a car. I felt like I was at a party, and my ride home just would not leave, and he'd like get his coat on, or the conversation he's in will seem like it's run its course, only to have him sit or take his coat off again. This also became poorly disguised pro-UK pro-Irish Protestant propaganda, which irked me too, and I'll get into that later.

And that's too bad, because this really did have some top notch action in it. The scene with the helicopter dangling on the edge of the skyscraper was big budget action quality. That wasn't the only scene. The end in the parking garage was great-- too bad it didn't come sooner. If they cut the entire Cold Case guy's part, and made some of the other crap a little shorter, this could've been great. There were other areas where bad editing detracted from the action. There was a great homage to 1990: Bronx Warriors with guys on Rollerblades with hockey masks and hockey sticks attacking Daniels. It would've been great, if they had focused on the action and fighting, and not wasted five minutes of them skating and circling him. They did the same thing again when guys on dirt bikes attacked him. This isn't the X-Games, and even if it was, guys just doing wheelies on dirt bikes wouldn't be cool for that either. Yes, it got good when the guys on dirt bikes started crashing and getting set on fire, but the effect is dulled some by the whole Disney on Ice thing. This is an action film, don't waste my time, get those fuckers on the dirt bikes crashing and exploding as soon as possible.

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I think as far as Gary Daniels goes, he was good, and one of the many redeemable parts of the film. Again, with some better editing, this could've been a classic, and Daniels was a big reason why. I was looking through Netflix and imdb to see what the next Daniels film should be, and a lot of the ones I'd like to do aren't available through Netflix. To give you an idea of how ridiculous this has gotten, Bloodmoon, which I got from Netflix back in May, is no longer available. I don't really know what the rules are that govern renting movies, but is it really the worst thing in the world for them to make available films that are out of print? And what do they do with those DVDs if they aren't renting them out? Can we buy them? Regardless, it's frustrating, because Gary Daniels has a great filmography, and a good chunk of it is unavailable through Netflix, including ones that are available on DVD.

Sugar Ray Leonard is in this as Daniels' right hand man. He wasn't bad. In his fight scenes, he really only punched, but that was fine. I'm surprised he hasn't done much more, other than some TV shows and whatnot. He'd be great as a detective opposite someone like Daniels. I guess with the money he has from fighting he probably doesn't need to make low-budget DTV actioners.

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If rule number 1 of action films is don't let the plot detract from the action, rule number 2 is definitely: be careful when you get political with it. The review I saw of this on imdb suggested the film was racist. The reasoning behind this was that almost every black person on screen was a bad guy. I didn't see it like that. You could infer that, because all of the African American males are either bad guys or good guys that served in the military, that black men have only two options in society-- crime or the service-- but even then I'm not so sure that's racist as opposed to making a statement about the need to make better opportunities for people living in the inner city. What I did sense, though, was some definite pro-UK pro-Protestant Irish sentiment, which I didn't like. Especially galling was when the IRA terrorists were banging on people's doors in the riot zone looking for Daniels, because it called to mind for me the Irish Protestant practice of knocking on the doors of Irish Catholics and taking the men off to torture and kill them. If a movie's going to bring the IRA into a film and make them the baddies, they need to make sure they present both sides of that conflict, otherwise they're coming off as propaganda, which is what this film ended up being.

Sometimes movies just go too far, and this was one. It was too long, needed a lot of it trimmed, and devolved into anti-Irish Catholic propaganda. That was too bad, because Daniels was great, the action was big budget quality, and all of that was, for me at least, overshadowed by the shortcomings. These shortcomings may not be too much for other viewers, so if you're a Gary Daniels fan, you may still want to give it a try and disagree with me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117481/

3 comments:

  1. For me this was also a "Near Miss" (I'm gonna review a Gary Daniels PM binge) Riot for me would've been better (and I didn't care for the IRA because I just thought they were weak villains, and that they didn't make sense since this was the U.S) But I was more disappointed was that this film failed to take advantage of the premise, in which a special forces martial arts expert with his cop partner have to fight warring gangs and so on to save his love. I would've liked to see them take her for shits and giggles, and showcase Daniels and Leonard dropped in (Escape From New York style.) and having to battle a bunch of thugs, in other words a movie closer to movie Final Fight, so much can be done with a Riot as a backround and the filmmakers completely did nothing with the material. The action was good, the villains were weak and Sugar Ray Leonard disappeared far too fast. Indeed I also expected a bigger pay off near the finale but in terms it fell anti-climatic. It's really quite a missed opportunity.

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  2. You make an excellent point that I forgot about. When I saw the hockey gang, I thought we were getting something like Escape from New York or Bronx 1990. When he got to the chapel to rescue the girl so soon, though, it lost that element, and from there just ran off the rails. I really think it did that because it had to jam the IRA into it (like you said, they didn't fit), for those propaganda purposes.

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  3. personally didnt like this mainly due to the fact that i live in northern ireland. films badly show both sides of the conflict and becuase everbody has an opinion they can never show both sides

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