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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Killing Machine (2010)

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This was something of a long time coming. As far as I knew, it wasn't out here in the States, because Netflix had it buried in my "saved" queue. Then Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic commented that we had "slowed down" here at the DTVC, because we hadn't gotten to the new Dolph film, and I found out then that Amazon had it, but I didn't have the money to buy it. He said it was on RedBox, but their website didn't list it, and the one nearest me didn't have it. Anyway, a few weeks ago its status changed to "Available November 16, 2010", which is different from the usual "Released" on such and such date. (Hunt to Kill had a similar status). I guess we're saying better late than never, but it did suck that I had to wait because Netflix didn't have it the moment it came out for whatever reason.

The Killing Machine has the DTVC's greatest Hall of Famer, Dolph Lundgren, as Icarus, a former KGB hitman that comes to America for a new start, gets a wife and daughter, then finds out the Russian mob finds out who he is, and they make him do some hit jobs for them. This causes a strain on his marriage, so he shacks up with a total hottie. One thing leads to another-- as they always do when one is a hitman for the mob-- Dolph ends up on the mob's bad side, and needs to protect his family from their wrath.

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Man, as much as it pains me to say this, The Killing Machine didn't work for me. It had plenty of great points. Dolph turns in one of his best performances, I loved the Noir-ish feel of it, there were some other great characters, loved Bo Svenson, and the action, when it was there (and we could see it) was pretty stellar. The whole thing with the family, though, didn't fit. It felt like a Lifetime movie was crammed into a Le Samourai French Noir thriller/action flick. In the making of featurette, Dolph said he was intrigued by the idea of an assassin who is also a family man, and his attempt to marry the two lives. I like that he tried it, but in the end, I would've been better with his character having no family, a solitary assassin who runs afoul of his masters.

Dolph said in that same featurette that he wanted to go for a Noir theme, but then wanted to advance the genre somehow. I saw Noir in the storytelling, but not in the directing. Overly rapid jumpcuts, though not as bad as in some of those UFC actioners, was bad enough, but then the LSD cam with the trails on the screen, or the scratched DVD cam where the picture moved in fits and starts, was as far from Noir as I can imagine. When I think Noir, I think of long takes, wide takes, close takes, frames with curious or ironic elements combined. When I think of what Dolph said he was going for, I think of a Steven Seagal flick, The Foreigner, which really married Film Noir and DTV action perfectly. Plus you also had the Lifetime movie aspect with his wife and daughter. The wife was a great actress, but when I think Noir, I think Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, Rita Hayworth in Gilda, or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. I'm not saying the actress who played Dolph's wife wasn't capable of that kind of role, I'm saying her role as written was too Lifetime movie to fit a Noir-ish theme.

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Anyone who watches the NBA knows what I mean when I say the "Star Rule". In short, it means that star players get preferential treatment from the refs. It was originally known as the Jordan Rules. It definitely could be inferred that Dolph benefits from these star rules here at the DTVC, because I forgive things-- like the constant jumpcuts-- that I'd kill other films for. Let's understand this, Dolph is the Babe Ruth of DTV action. Without him there'd be no Direct to Video Connoisseur. Just his presence on-screen is awesome enough to make up for any poorly lit jumpcut laden action scene that I can't make heads or tails of. That being said, at the beginning and very end (actually the same scene shown twice), we get some amazing vintage Dolph action out of him, as he takes out Bo Svenson's thugs. And I admit freely that he turns in an excellent acting performance, to the point that even in the Lifetime movie scenes, I wasn't thinking about how little action there was, I was actually digging it. Still, I'd rather see him as the stoic Noir-ish assassin-- he looks great in a tailored suit-- than I would the Lifetime movie leading man.

Dolph gets a little introspective on us in The Killing Machine, at least it seems so. He sits with his character's daughter, who tells him how he's never around and how she wishes he didn't always have to go away for work. I think this is Dolph working out on-screen what it's been like to miss his family as he goes off to make these films, and maybe he's even sending a message to us fans that there is a human Dolph Lundgren who doesn't take out five guys at once and come out of ten-on-one gun fights with only a wound to his left shoulder. Usually, I'd dump on a film that cut out a potential action scene for something like this, but as I've said above, Dolph has earned this credit with us as an audience with all the great work he's done in the past, so I'm okay with it-- in fact, I liked it.

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Finally, Samantha Ferris played a great character, among many great characters in this film. She was a woman who commandeered some very masculine traits-- and even rocked suits-- but also really retained her femininity in the process. In the featurette, we found out her character was originally supposed to be a man, and some of that is retained in the dialog. But to say she was androgynous, or a butch lesbian, wouldn't really capture what she brought to the table. Unlike the character of Dolph's wife, that didn't fit the Noir aesthetic, this character not only embodied it, but she advanced it in exactly the way Dolph said he wanted to with the whole film.

So I don't know what to tell you. It's not horrible, it just suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Dolph's Film Noir mixed with Lifetime movie goes together like chocolate and Doritos: they're both good, but together they don't work as well. Also, I should point out, this is a pretty macabre Dolph. Early on, we see a guy get fish hooked pretty brutally, with his tongue hanging halfway down his face. It was a little ridiculous. Some of the other stuff was better, like when he sends a dude eye-first into the bar holding his weights on his bench press, but expect a a little more gore than you're used to with Dolph, maybe along the lines of Missionary Man. Anyway, I guess my final analysis is fun, but not that fun.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1261862/

22 comments:

  1. This film looks alright overall, it sounds like it's better then Missionary Man(which I found pretty dull for the most part) and Diamond Dogs(which looked pretty cheap and had a weak ending) but not as good as Command Performance or Direct Contact.

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  2. After seeing Dolph Lundgren with such action flicks that were a lot of fun (Direct Contact, Command Performance, Universal Soldier Regeneration and Expendables) This one was a huge disappointment. I mean the villains weren't threatening enough, The family scenes were utterly out of place, the action was mediocre. There was tons of blood but actual shootouts and fight sequences were predictable and one sided. There wasn't a plot element I didn't see coming and Bo Svenson was just wasted.

    I could've also done without the family in jeopardy as well as the getting back together elements. What is most disappointing about this flick was that it didn't get interesting until say the last 20 minutes and everything else was just predictable and routine. Samantha Ferris was good but ultimately wasted, indeed this was so lightweight as to be paperthin.

    As for Dolphage, considering how much he kicked ass in Expendables or for that matter how he had such loopy premises to work with, I gotta say that this falls flat. It's sort of like Hidden Assassin and Cover Up. Both films are okay but they came out during a time of when Punisher, I Come In Peace, Showdown In Little Tokyo and Universal Soldier came out. Hidden Assassin then came out around the time Men Of War, Silent Trigger, Peacekeeper Blackjack and Bridge Of Dragons were out. If this had come out in between say Storm Catcher and Hidden Agenda, things might've been forgiven and liked.

    Dolph Lundgren didn't have his heart in this movie and it shows.

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  3. Venom sums up my thoughts exactly and I place The Killing Machine on a similar pedastal; better than Missionary Man and Diamond Dogs but not as fun as Command Performance and Direct Contact. Still havent watched Direct Action yet, something I really need to rectify.

    Honestly the retitling in US, UK and Australian territories of the movie to The Killing Machine was stupid. It's original name Icarus is a far better title for slow burning assassin movie like this.

    I hope that The Skin Trade will have far more action in it.

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  4. I agree with Kenner on everything except one point, the part about Dolph's heart being in it. I don't know if you saw the behind the scenes featurette that came with the DVD, but he was pretty amped about this project, and he wasn't just saying that. He tried something that didn't quite work out, but it wasn't from lack of trying.

    I don't know if you can compare this one with his past films. Missionary Man and Diamond Dogs were more fun and less serious, but Dolph wasn't going out on a limb like he was with this one.

    I do agree with title change issue, because Killing Machine leads us to believe we're in for more of a straight ahead actioner, as opposed to Icarus, which is a more cerebral take, as you mentioned Sutekh. The only thing I can say is the distributors must not think we Americans would go for a cerebral title... and they may be right...

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  5. Oh boy, i'm busted. I gotta admit I never watch the featurettes or commentary unless it's something extremely good. Maybe then he overextended himself by doing too much at once. I do know that Dolph didn't have time to shoot such movie but it was just so underwritten, static and trying too hard to be a moody dark piece.

    Actually the Jeff Wincott movie of the same name is much better and has interesting elements, though it's not really an action flick.

    I didn't like Diamond Dogs at all, nor did I like Final Inquiry and Retrograde. But this was on par with Missionary Man as pretty uninspired and routine. Also with Diamond Dogs. Lundgren looked so silly in the buzzcut.

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  6. I'm pretty sure the producers stuffed around with the movie in post without Dolph's approval. There's been a long thread on this over at the Ultimate Dolph forum.

    Yes the new title does seem to talk down to the lowest common denominator. The guy that runs that Dolph forum had a bit of an alteraction with one of the promoters at Anchor Bay about the retitling. The response was as expected; target demographics, higher rate of unit sell-through, etc. etc.

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  7. The film you saw is just not Dolph's movie as he intended it, shot it and edited it. He had a lot of disagreements with the producers who went whenever they could to make this be more of a TV movie. First they didn't like his first script so they had it changed for this family man assassin, then totally re-edited it in a way that Lundgren totally disapproves (wanted to have his name removed from)...

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  8. All right, we'll start with you Kenner. The making-of featurette was really informative, even to the point where I can say that he wasn't overextended. They actually discussed his time management skills, and he even re-shot a scene indoors because outdoors you could see the actors' breath, and the scene was supposed to take place in LA (movie was shot in Vancouver). Let's say he was overextended with the scope of what he was trying to make, how's that?

    As far as Diamond Dogs and Retrograde, I totally get not being enamored with either, but I found both films really benefited from a group viewing, where you can really MST3K them. Retrograde in fact was the first film where I realized certain movies are affected by whether you watch it solo or with your pals.

    Now for Mr. Anonymous. Believe me, if anyone worships at the alter of Dolph, it's me, so if I thought i could get away with blaming this on producers, I would, but it just doesn't wash. First and foremost, in the featurette, Dolph says specifically that he liked the idea of an assassin who is also a family man, so that was all him, not the producers. Also, everyone interviewed in the featurette said how great it was that he was marrying those two concepts, that we needed the action and the humanity elements. i like that Dolph tried it, but it didn't work for me, and I don't see how that wasn't him. Second, I don't know in which country the producers would have been trying to turn this into a TV movie, but in the US, scenes of guys with their faces ripped open and their tongues hanging out don't make it on the air. I'd think if they were tinkering with his film to make it more of a "TV movie", that's the first place they'd go. I'm with Sutekh that changing the title was a big deal and shouldn't have been done; but as far as producers influencing the aspects you mentioned, the facts simply don't bear that out.

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  9. I don't know, I didn't see the behind the scene documentary, nor did I hear anything about this. I will say this, Dolph didn't do nearly as many interviews and promotional work as he did for Missionary Man, The Russian Specialist and (especially) Command Performance. But that could because he poured his heart into the Expendables.

    I do think Dolph wanting to take his name of the final product is a bit harsh, and a little bit of an exaggeration. For one thing Dolph Lundgren really does call the shots on a lot of his productions, and that was just when he was an actor. As for the Made For TV thing, the carnage level was too much and there were a lot of sex scenes.

    Only seeing the product I can see Dolph as maybe not being happy with the final product but then again I don't know.

    Another respected reviewer who reviewed this for IMDb (he runs www.unknownmovies.com ) did bring up how the producers didn't give him as much time as Lundgren wanted it, and apparently Lundgren wanted more graphic violence according to him, so this is something to remember.

    The fact of the matter is that it's just not a very good movie. And as much as I like Dolph, I think it's important to stay impartial and call it the way I see it.

    I find it relatively bizarre that we've talked more about the production then the movie itself.

    Whatever the case, the bottomline remains the film is a disappointment, and hopefully Lundgren resurfaces with another winner.

    As for Diamond Dogs and Retrograde, you're lucky to have friends who like to watch and laugh at bad movies, I unfortunately am stuck alone or with a girlfriend who just shakes her head at how awful such a movie is.

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  10. Good Review. Still have to watch it though, It's Dolph killing people violently! I agree about Retrograde being weak.

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  11. I get your "forest for the trees" argument, Kenner, in the fact that we're talking about what could've made this film bad more than that it was bad, but I think it's still necessary. First off, when you suggested the film was poor because Dolph's heart wasn't in it, I felt like that was an erroneous assumption, and his demeanor in the featurette certainly contradicted that assertion, so I wanted to point that out. Second, through Albert Pyun's contributions to some of our other comment threads, we've found that the "why" with a disappointing project can almost be as important as the disappointing project itself. We're all in agreement that this didn't work, but what could've made it better and what did we not see that could have made it worse? Finally, I agree about the impartiality-- which was something I brought up in the post-- but I also think Dolph deserves some credit for trying new things, the same way we give Pyun credit for that. Yes, ultimately, The Killing Machine was sauteed in wrong sauce, and I won't let it get away with that, but I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and kill it completely, when I thought it did have some redeeming qualities. I should point out too that you and I disagreed on The Foreigner, and in my mind, The Killing Machine was a more convoluted version of that.

    As far as my friends, we actually used to have a bi-annual Dolph Fest. My friends enjoying this kind of thing was a big reason why I started the blog in the first place. Retrograde was one that I watched alone, didn't like and wrote the review, then screened it for our Dolph fest, and we all had a lot of fun with it. In the interests of consistency, I didn't want to re-write the review, but it was a turning point in the way I've looked at every film since.

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  12. I have to admit to having a crush on Dolph when I was 5 and we first went to go see Rocky IV... I haven't seen the expendables yet. I bet he's still got a presence.

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  13. Oh, he's got presence. I'm a straight male, and I have to admit I have a crush on him too...

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  14. From what I read when he was in the middle of making this, Dolph was going for a kind of cross between Leon and A History of Violence, but working within the restrictions of DTV actioneers- it also came off to me like he was rushed with this one because he had to do the Expendables right after and in the middle of post-production. Sounds like it came out exactly how I thought it would: rushed, studio execs pandering to the lowest common denominator (Mecanik to Russian Specialist anyone?), and an overall big letdown. If it's anything like I've been reading in these comments (the Jill the Ripper, Hidden Assassin style Dolph), then I probably won't dig it as much as the punching guys through doors in ridiculously overblown fashion-Dolph, but who knows?

    Still, I will be renting this, just because Dolphmeister is the man. On a side note, screw that whole new thing where certain movies are delayed coming out to redbox and netflix by a month. I just happened upon Lost Boys 3 the other day and was surprised to learn it came out like a month ago. I had no idea. I don't see how that helps anybody (even the movie studios).

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  15. Well fortunately for me, my local Family Video stores don't have to wait a whole month to get new releases, in fact they had a sign proudly advertising that they had Predators avalible for rental and Redbox didn't.

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  16. I'm telling you, as far as the rushed thing, it wasn't like Dolph had all the time in the world, but he definitely didn't rush it. In that featurette, they show pretty clearly that he wanted to get this right, and he actually moves and re-shoots a scene from inside to outside because he thought the fact that the actors' breath was visible outside in a cold Vancouver night wouldn't wash for LA. I mean, if he was that rushed, he wouldn't have done that, he would have settled for the outdoor shot through gritted teeth.

    As far as the delayed releases, I think that might be through cable and satellite companies making contracts with them to get that first month exclusive to sell their ON Demand services. I agree though, I don't know that it helps everybody that much, because I don't even know that The Killing Machine was available ON Demand. It might also be big chains like BestBuy getting a head start too, I guess. There's more money in selling movies to people then renting them out. That's probably the biggest reason for the delay.

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  17. I can understand the logic behind "more money to be made selling movies to people than renting them out." I'm pretty sure that's the case (that and the fact that they can make 5 bucks @ Blockbuster for a night or two vs practically nothing @ RB), but it's ridiculous to me because I'm not the type of person who is going to buy a movie I've never seen before. I always thought NF and RB helped in that department because if you liked a movie enough you'd buy it- I guess people who are idiots, huge IMDB Steven Seagal fans or have lots of disposable income are fine blindly purchasing movies they've never seen, but for the rest of us, it's an annoyance.

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  18. You make an excellent point about how NF and RB work well to enhance DVD sales, as opposed to hinder them. I don't have the source, but there was a study done in Europe that demonstrated how bittorrent and other free download methods actually help record and movie sales-- and with NF and RB, the labels and distributors are actually making money by selling to those rental outlets for the higher cost that all rental stores pay. Yes, if we get The Killing Machine and it sucks, we probably won't buy it, but we probably won't buy it period if we have no idea what it's like.

    I should point out, though, that the higher cost of rentals at Blockbuster doesn't necessarily go back to the distributors. If Blockbuster is signing exclusive early rental rights, then yes, that would mean more money then they could get from NF or RB, but most of the $5 goes to employees and other overhead that NF and RB don't have as costs. Blockbuster's business model isn't tenable anymore-- hence their filing for bankruptcy-- and hopefully the major movie houses will see the benefit to making their films available to us through NF and RB as soon as possible.

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  19. I guess I'm that IMDB Seagal fan who buys movies sight unseen, haha. I imported his latest from the UK as it has no release date here. I also imported The Killing Machine from the UK about two months ago. Only this week is Australia finally playing catch up and offering it for rent, along with Direct Contact and Command Performance which went unreleased here. I had thought about getting a Quickflicks account (similar to Netflix for DVDs) but new releases that aren't huge cinema hits just take too long to come out here.. And I enjoy hunting for catalogue titles in used DVD shops too much.

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  20. If it's any consolation, Sutekh, he didn't put you in the "idiots" category hahaha, just kidding. You make a great point in explaining the availability factor for you in Australia, and it's probably something we should consider here, because even if we get a movie late, we still get it through Netflix or Red Box, so we're fortunate. I think what Elementary Beatbox was saying is, if they have to rely on people buying the films sight-unseen, are they really getting enough of those to merit delaying the release to outlets like Netflix or RedBox? Or, more importantly, do they get more doing it that way, than they would by getting it out to Netflix and RedBox first, and let that sell the movie for them? it's an interesting question, and maybe I;m biased because I want them on Netflix ASAP.

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  21. Watched this this afternoon. Not bad, though the family stuff did drag quite a bit. Vintage Dolph at the end though.

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