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.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Locked Down (2010)

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This film fell to me after a few above it on my Netflix queue weren't available. I was skeptical, because my previous experience with UFC movies hasn't been great; but Vinnie Jones and Bai Ling (Ling Bai?) gave me some hope. Let's see if I was right.

Locked Down is half Death Warrant half Undisputed II, as Tony Schiena plays our framed cop hero sent to prison and forced to fight in a prison fighting circuit run by a crime lord he put away a while back, played by Vinnie Jones. After your classic prison film cliche scenarios are out of the way-- from the chief guard beating our hero with a billy club, to the old prisoner that our hero is lucky enough to have as his cell mate that shows him the ropes (and suddenly becomes his trainer), to the near shanking in the laundry room-- we get our final showdown between Schiena and his man, while an internal affairs hottie investigates his case so she can clear his name. That's pretty much it.

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A big warning here to anyone with epilepsy. I'm not being facetious, this is a legitimate concern. There are so many half-a-second jumpcuts that it could cause a serious issue. I grew up with a girl who had epilepsy, and she said she wasn't supposed to play the Nintendo because it might induce an epileptic fit. Well, if the Nintendo could do it, this film could really do it. Also, if you're prone to seasickness, you might have trouble with this film too, because in the few spots we get a shot for more than a half-a-second, the camera is moving all over the place. I could go on about the non sequitur theater in the dialog, or the fight scenes that were good but not that good, or the fact that Bai Ling was almost wasted, and Vinnie Jones didn't have as much license to be cool either, but none of that matters as much because I just couldn't see anything! All right, maybe it matters, because this was your new classic get a bunch of buff tatted dudes in a room, slow down the footage for a second, crank up a Disturbed derivative song, then just watch the tatted dudes punch each other in 80 cuts; but I think this was even worse than that.

Igniame if tihs psot was wtitern eleirtny lkie tihs? How mcuh wluod taht scuk? Taht's waht it's lkie wnithcag tihs mvioe. If my bolg lkoeod lkie tihs, no one wloud raed it. It's fnitsrrutag, huh? The wlohe pniot of wniacthg a mvoie is to see it, rhgit?

I'll stop that, but you get the point. I listened to some of the commentary, and I got the sense that there was a genuine effort here to deliver a decent product, that they didn't think the audience was stupid, that they weren't using this constant cutting to prevent us from seeing their shortcomings as directors or fight choreographers, which makes the end result perhaps more puzzling. In another element they had in the fights, our view would be obstructed by other spectators, which I guess was meant to give us more of a feel of immediacy. In the commentary, they rued the fact that they couldn't find more extras for those scenes. Are you kidding? The whole reason we watch a movie, especially at home, is so we have an unobstructed view. I'm not watching Locked Down to see pieces of a fight around the head of some dude in front of me, and you're saying you wanted more heads in my way? Come on man. And at another point, they talked about the two tatted bad asses they had for a fight, and how cool that was. Sure, it would've been, if all the fights weren't two tatted bad asses, or if we had even been able to see it! If we had more traditional martial arts one-on-one battles-- that we could actually see too-- this change of pace with two huge tatted beasts would have been great. By that point though, we'd seen too much of it, and it came off as old hat.

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Films like this are notorious for non sequitur theater. Between the scripts that are rushed to completion, the dialog that ends up looking better on a quick read-through than it does when acted out, the actors that don't exactly have the pedigree to understand when this stuff sounds silly or doesn't fit and try to act through it anyway, to the quick shooting schedules that mandate keeping takes that really don't work just to make sure they had something. I get all of that, and so when some non sequitur theater rears its ugly head, I try not to be too harsh on it... but (there's always a but, huh?), there was one scene we were put through at the very beginning that was too much. Our hero has sex with his girl after a long time away undercover. The sex seems great, but after, she, apropos of nothing, turns on him and says he's never around and he doesn't care about her. Schiena, instead of saying "um, honey, did you take your medication?", he's like "what do you want me to do, it's my job..." and the whole thing becomes weirder and weirder as the acting and dialog becomes worse and worse. The thing is, none of it was necessary. He had no other love interest until the very last scene, so it's not like they needed to get her out of the way; plus, they had no need for the internal affairs character anyway, so she could have played his girlfriend from the start. Why did he need to be framed at all, if he's already an undercover cop, why not just send him in to take down the fighting ring? That one little wrinkle, that he was framed instead of sent in, was not enough to keep it from being a Death Warrant rip-off, so why not go all the way? The thing is, all of these issues would be forgivable if we just had some great action that we could actually see.

The music isn't bad, but I think maybe it's used too often as a crutch, and the director himself admits that he wanted the music to get the film through certain scenes. That's not the way to think about music in movies, though. You want there to be some conflict, that the two are bringing something that the other isn't to the table, in order to create one whole experience. What we got here, because the music was filling in too many gaps in the movie, was a series of glorified music videos. Imagine if Vinnie Jones smashing a guy's head in the car door in Snatch was done in the style of this film: Jones would toss the guy into the open car in slow motion, at the same time, we'd hear a driving guitar rift, followed by a rest, like da-duh, rest, da-duh, rest, da-duh; then Jones goes to the car door, the high-hat kicks in, and we see the top half of the door's window, moving to shut; then some guy kicks in with a noise like "bro!", and the music begins in earnest. From there, we're getting bombarded by images of Jones' face, the bottom half of the body hanging out of the car quivering with each impact, the hood of the car with blood splashing in it, a shaking air freshener (probably something ironic) hanging from the rear view mirror-- all in quick succession, all to a driving Disturbed derivative. I get that you want to showcase these bands and get them some exposure, but either you're making a movie, or you're making a music showcase, and if it's the latter just let us know, and we'll go somewhere else for our action movie.

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I love Vinnie Jones and Bai Ling. I also loved a lot of the UFC fighters in this, and Tony Schiena was kind of cool too. The thing is, none of the people on the cover, Vinnie Jones, Bai Ling, Rashad Evans, or Kimobo Slice, are in the film much at all. I get the thinking behind why Tony Schiena isn't on the cover, because he's not as well known, but why not make him known? At least put him on the cover with these guys. And as far as Bai Ling, she was a prison guard, and only had one hot scene with Vinnie Jones, and that was it. Anyone who saw Crank: High Voltage, knows how great Ling can be, and for this film not to even try beyond that one scene was a real disappointment. Jones was a little better, but it was really more the idea of Jones we were seeing, as opposed to him being Jones, if that makes sense? We accepted him as his character in the film, because of all we'd seen him in. Essentially, after Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, movies like this cast Jones knowing they don't need to build his character much-- he's like ready made Contadina crushed tomatoes, the question is, can you add the right ingredients and cook the dish properly to make the most of those crushed tomatoes?

And the answer is no, a resounding no. But that's not to say the film makers didn't have good intentions, or that they can't bring it the next time around. I think we'd all agree, no matter how postmodern our philosophies, that the one trait every movie needs to have, whether it's Ran, Koyaanisqatsi, Pulp Fiction, or One Man Force, is it needs to be visible. We need to be able to see it. I think that's kind of a big deal, and that's where this movie missed the mark. Hopefully next time around, they'll rectify that, and we'll be able to (literally) see what they can do.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1597033/

8 comments:

  1. Besides the non-stop editing, i still want to see this, to complete the list of all the "Punchfighting to the death" movies. Still have to see Never Surrender and Beatdown.

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  2. There's a trailer for Beatdown on the Locked Down DVD. I liked the Danny Trejo factor, but I might let you tackle that one and take a break from "punchfighting to the death" movies. Never Surrender I did review, and wasn't exactly nice about... I was very angry about the UFC talent bait-and-switch.

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  3. I think these TapOut movies are only slightly entertaining- they're much better than they appear to be @ first glance, but only just a bit- 'Beatdown' and the other movie with Kimbo Slice in it for ten seconds(can't remember, but you reviewed it awhile back) keep me interested enough from falling asleep, or that could be the mountain dew talking. I didn't know Bai Ling was in this one two- she was hot in the Crow and Gene Generation, but in that other Tap Out movie, her naked body just looks like a 12 year old boys- totally not attractive.

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  4. Kimbo had a short cameo in Blood and Bone, but that one wasn't really like one of these, it was actually a pretty decent Lionheart remake. You might be thinking of Circle of Pain, which I haven't gotten to yet, and may not now after what you told me about Bai Ling's part in it.

    As far as the Mountain Dew, that might be why these aren't working for me, because I go straight diesel black coffee, and that might be too much caffeine for this constant edits style of film. I feel like I want to grab the screen and yell "just show me one thing for more than one second!!!"

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  5. Circle Of Pain was pretty ridiculous but entertaining. ("It's kickoff time!"...then Frank Mir gets kicked in the face.) Beatdown is on my queue, it is creeping up to the top soon.

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  6. Yeah this film sounds like it's on the same level as the rather limp and unexciting Death Warrior, so i'll likely skip it, but you might be interested in checking out Circle Of Fury-it centers around MMA and has a similar plot to those "punchfighting" films but it dosen't actually have any UFC fighters, the actors in that film are all unknowns like Randy Spence, Christina Rose and Brandon Warfell.

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  7. Yeah, Circle of Pain's the one. Kimbo was in that for ten seconds as some football player who gets in a fight with the main actor. It wasn't too terrible, just a lot of these movies seem to have some strange, drawn out, dramatic scenes that just aren't in the actor's range. Like the Danny Trejo and Rudy Youngblood scenes in 'Beatdown' (filmed in my hometown of Austin). Or the opposite problem with dramatic actors as MMA- I'm supposed to buy Eric Balfour as a hardcore MMA fighter? Yeah!

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  8. I was considering giving up on this subgenre after being burned by it so much in the past, but what I think I'm going to do is an experiment, where I'll watch Circle of Pain and Beatdown while under the influence of Mountain Dew as opposed to my usual program of strong black coffee. We'll see if there's any difference in my reactions to them.

    The dramatic scenes I think are a part of the scenario I mentioned in the post, where the script is rushed, and what looks good on paper in a quick read-through doesn't translate, and then, as you say, they're way outside the actor's range, and we're forced to watch as it dies awkwardly on the vine. I must admit, though, seeing Eric Balfour in the trailer to Beatdown made it more intriguing. He was long understood to be the kiss of death to any new TV show, and now the industry is hoping he'll work in a bad 3-D invasion movie-- but as an MMA fighter, I can't even imagine. That's gotta be fantastic.

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