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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--Matt

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Damage (2009)

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This one kind of snuck by my radar, but our friend Sutekh over at Explosive Action brought it to my attention. We know I was less than stoked with The Stranger, seeing it as a lazy waste of an awesome Stone Cold Steve Austin, and was hoping for better things here. Let's see what happens.

Damage is part Hard Times (the Coburn/Bronson film, not the Dickens novel) part Lionheart, with Stone Cold Steve Austin as a parolee needing money to pay off the man he killed's daughter's heart transplant (in as contrived a situation possible, the wife gets him parolled and then implores him to get the money). He enters the underground fight game, but the weaselly dude who gets him in has all kinds of debts, so every time he thinks he has the cash, the weasel needs to pay off another crime boss. Anyway, that's pretty much it.

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Wow, this hurt-- bad. To give you an idea how bad, instead of doing a montage of them going around to get backers for Austin's fights, they made us sit through every agonizingly poorly written scene of that, and then montaged some of the fights. Really? That's what I want to see, Stone Cold Steve Austin in a flannel coat and black knit cap, trying to be all stoic and deep and down-to-Earth, talking to crime bosses. And the fight scenes weren't great either. Trading overly bloody punches is cool here and there, but I need something different, especially when I remember how well Stone Cold could fight in the WWE. Where are his wrestling moves? Punching a guy in the chest is a finishing blow? Are you serious? Three words: Stone Cold Stunner. There were a few good fights, a few good lines, and it looked like it had some promise in the beginning, but the people making it thought they could write stimulating dialog and could get away with boring us to death with minimal action, and that if they made it gratuitously bloody, we'd forget all of that. No dice. They needed to simplify this plot, cut out a lot of the crap, and ramp up the action.

This should in no way be an indictment on Stone Cold Steve Austin. I loved him in the WWE, and if anyone has the charisma, size, screen presence, and fighting ability to follow in the footsteps of DTV greats like Dolph and Seagal, it's definitely him. The Stranger was a little bit closer, in that at least they had some tongue-in-cheek moments like Austin speaking Spanish and destroying some Federales with a wooden chair so they couldn't torture him with the tools of ancient dentistry. This film, Damage, could have really worked. It worked with Hard Times, it worked with Lionheart, and it worked with Blood and Bone. But all of those films didn't forget who they were, or what kind of film they were making. You're not Jim Jarmusch, and Stone Cold Steve Austin isn't John Lurie or Tom Waits, and we're good with that. Minimize the backstory, make it less convoluted, and get after it in the fight scenes. And I'm not talking UFC-esque brawls. The UFC works in real life because it's real, but in a movie, the fighting has to be more theatrical. We need more Stone Cold and less Steve Austin. The guy can carry an action film, he just needs to be allowed to do it, and he wasn't here.

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This movie had two interesting, yet conflicting messages. There was one that was an indictment of the health insurance industry, because the girl needs $250,000 for a heart transplant-- though part of me wonders if that was an indictment, or rather something celebrated, that we don't just hand out heart transplants, you gotta earn that shit, not like in those pansy socialist European countries with their socialized medicine. Anyway, the second message, was much more irresponsible. They give a horribly inaccurate depiction of the parole system, painting it as derelict and unconcerned with what parolees were doing, meaning they could be out committing more crimes. This myth that parole is bad for society, and that it needs to be abolished, is a very dangerous one. Parole, when done as it's intended, is a much preferable way to releasing criminals back into society and keeping tabs on them, than just letting them free when their sentence is done. People misunderstand when a judge sentences someone with parole as an option, erroneously thinking they're being let out early, as opposed to using parole as an incentive to behave in prison; and by painting the parole system as one that couldn't care less what parolees are doing, when that's not always the case, it makes people more likely to support politicians who run on a "tough on crime" platform, when the truth is, they're voting for the opposite, because judges lose the tool of parole as an incentive for prisoners to reform in prison.

The brightest spot in Damage was the always hot Laura Vandervoort. I liked her better in Into the Blue 2: The Reef, where she had blond hair, but beggars can't be choosers. The thing with her is, she always has a look on her face that's very intelligent and understanding of what's happening around her, which worked out well in Into the Blue 2, because it fit her character, but in Damage, she had a few moments when her character wasn't supposed to be so smart or with it, but that look betrayed that element, and made it unnatural. That's one aspect of Into the Blue I liked better than Damage, the people who made that one weren't afraid to cast someone as hot as Vendervoort as the intelligent lead who figures things out and is a step ahead of everyone. Damage easily could've dumped the weasel guy, and had her play Austin's handler and get rid of the cheap rocker girl outfits-- hell they could've even made her a bad guy like Eamonn Walker in Blood and Bone. It just showed again how pedestrian this film was, and I love pedestrian when amps up the action, but I can't forgive it when it bores us to tears.

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I want to use this seventh paragraph to discuss a trend in recent DTV actioners that's slightly disconcerting: the move to more realistic UFC style fights instead of the theatrical martial arts filled ones we're used to seeing. I get that Austin probably doesn't know a lot of martial arts beyond wrestling, but what he does know is how to fight in a way that's entertaining. There's a reason why Hong Kong cinema works, it's pleasing on the eye. Sure, it might be ludicrous that one dude could kick the crap out of twenty baddies, but it's just a ludicrous that anyone could take the kinds of punishment demonstrated in these UFC style fighting movies and stay standing. The difference is, one looks awesome, and one looks clunky and hard to watch. Stone Cold Steve Austin trading punches and getting stitches sewn into his face by Laura Vandervoort is not as cool as Stone Cold Steve Austin riding in on his Harley, throwing a bunch of stuntmen around like Armor King in Tekken, and then having beers tossed to him from off camera.

All right, for a movie that hurt, I wrote plenty on it, so I better wrap it up here. I have faith that someone sometime will finally get it right with Mr. Austin. He's just too good to be wallowing in these lackluster films that don't properly utilize his talent, and Damage was certainly one of those.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1314177/

7 comments:

  1. I agree with your review! It got too serious at times, when it needed to have more bone-crunching fights.

    Hopefully Hunt To Kill with Stone Cold, Eric Roberts, and Gary Daniels is better.

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  2. That's a shame that this one isn't good as I have it on the shelf to watch still. That being said I remember that I liked The Stranger whereas you didn't think much of it, so perhaps I will see this differently.

    On the Steve Austin topic, I have his new flick Hunt to Kill in the post to me now so will review that shortly. It also has Eric Roberts and Gary Daniels in it again - quite a The Expendables reunion of sorts - and the trailer looks good. I also have Seagal's new one Born to Raise hell on the way.. and you can never have too many Seagal movies...

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  3. I'm a little frustrated, because Hunt to Kill is listed by Amazon and Red Box as out on November 9th, but Netflix is acting like they don't know when it'll be out, and I'm wondering if they just won't have it like they haven't had Dolph's The Killing machine yet either. I don't really know what the story is.

    And that new Seagal one was supposed to be released here on October 19th, and even Amazon doesn't have it on their website, let alone Amazon. It looks like you Aussies might have the scoop on us on that one.

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  4. We generaly get things very, very late so I import from the UK a lot. We haven't even got Command Performance or Direct Contact yet.

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  5. That makes more sense, because a lot of those DTV actioners shot in Bulgaria or Romania are released in Europe first. I believe one of the Dolph films was actually released in Kuwait before we got it in the States.

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  6. Well there's another UFC film coming up next month called Locked Down which features Kimbo Slice, Tony Schiena, Dwier Brown, and Vinnie Jones! Also another UFC film- Circle Of Pain was released a few months back, that one also has Schiena in addition to Dean Cain, you got any plans to check either of those films out?

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  7. I think you misunderstood me, it's not about how many UFC guys are in the movie, it's a style of fighting that employs more Superman punches, more straight ahead kicks, more grappling, and less of the Kung Fu derived, in the tradition of Hong Kong cinema fights we're used to.

    That said, I may do Locked Down, but not the week it comes out, because that same week the new Lost Boys is out, as is Hunt to Kill.

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