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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Friday, November 19, 2010

Martial Law II: Undercover (1992)

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A while back, I mentioned something to Kenner at Movies in the Attic about a potential Top 10 DTV Movies of the 90s post, which would definitely be a large undertaking, considering what a huge decade for DTV the 90s was. Anyway, I gave him something of a preliminary proposal of what I was thinking about, and he gave me a counter proposal, so-to-speak, of the films that he thought I missed, and Martial Law II was one of those films. I vaguely remembered it, and my vague memories tell me that all of these 1990s DTV actioners are awesome, so I didn't think much of it, but knew it was worth going over again if Kenner felt it deserved a mention like that. Anyway, I thought it would be necessary to do Martial Law before I reviewed its sequel, which I did a few weeks ago, and now, here we are with this one.

Martial Law II is something of a sequel, only instead of Chad McQueen, we have a too sweet Jeff Wincott and an equally awesome DTVC Hall of Famer Cynthia Rothrock. When Wincott's buddy dies of an apparent drunk driving accident, Wincott is suspicious, and his suspicions land him at a night club run by one of the greatest heels of all time, John Sears from 90210, making the step up to full-on baddie. They don't like Wincott snooping around and asking questions, and Sears' hatchetman, DTVC fave Evan Lurie, has it out with him, blowing Wincott's cover. That's why he has Rothrock, a kickass cop with a background in tending bar, infiltrate Sears' club and see what's up. At the same time, Wincott snoops at his police precinct, thinking some of his fellow cops are dirty, including his chief, Billy Drago. Can Wincott and Rothrock kick enough ass to prevail and get their dead buddy justice?

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Not only can they, but they can do it with ten kinds of awesome on top. This is just non-stop sweetness. This is what I'm talking about right here. Every fight was great, every actor turned in great performances, nothing was wasted, nothing was left on the table, and I left totally fulfilled. Wincott kills it, Rothrock is solid, you gotta love John Sears and Evan Lurie as your baddies, plus you have Billy Drago as a cleancut police chief, meaning his creepiness is a little more subtle; and Sherrie Rose, Leo Lee, and James Lew all play members of Sears' gang. As far as what made it awesome, I don't know where to begin. Each fight scene built on the one before it. They became progressively better. Plot exposition, when it was there, was short, well performed, and bled seamlessly into the action. There were other things I loved too, like the smooth jazz in the montages and other bumpers, some of which featured pretty rockin' sax solos; and perhaps one of the best uses of a shotgun ever in the denouement. This is as good as it gets.

We start where we always start, with the film's Hall of Famer(s), and for Martial Law II, that would be Cynthia Rothrock. You'd think with her being the one holdover from the original, she'd be the lead this time, but the film actually does work better with Wincott in that role, so I'm fine with it. They do do a better job giving her more and nicer looking fight scenes, so I liked that. Whereas in part one she was more like Chad McQueen's moral support, here she was a very capable and contributing partner, and provided the sensibility and levelheadedness in contrast to Wincott's fire and brash demeanor. I'm not sure where we'll go next with her, because we have so many options, being not even halfway through her 40+ film DTV oeuvre, but for right now, we'll bask in her awesomeness in Martial Law II.

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Now for Mr. Wincott. Everything you love about him is in full effect here, from the mean mug and the Bogie-esque snarl, to the Toronto/New York accent, to the great one-liners that are more sick attitude than toolishly clever, to the most important aspect, the great fighting. I mean, when you see the name "Jeff Wincott" in the opening credits, or on the box, this is what you're looking for, and when a film can deliver on it's top billed star like that, it just makes the whole movie watching experience so worth it. On a side note, I know I'm the Direct to Video connoisseur, but Mr. Wincott is currently in theaters in the new Denzel film, Unstoppable. Haven't seen it, so I don't know how big of a part he has.

We all love Evan Lurie here at the DTVC, and I was glad that he had a pretty sizable role. You just never know with him, because some film makers don't understand the awesomeness they have at their disposal when they cast him. We know, of course. Ever since I saw him in American Kickboxer 2, I've been hooked, and though he's never matched that stunning performance, in Martial Law II, at least he's solid. There's one Lurie film I've been trying to get for a while, called Guns and Lipstick, which also has DTVC Hall of Famer Wings Hauser, and another DTVC fave Joe Estevez. I found a copy of it at the local record store-- for $8 used! Are you serious? Amazon has it for $5, but when you throw in shipping, that ends up being $8 too. It's a shame.

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Okay, if you haven't guessed it, I'm a big Beverly Hills 90210 dude. I don't know why, but I've always gotten a kick out of it. Anyway, the major heel of the early college years, Keg House Frat leader John Sears, played by Paul Johansson, is the main baddie in Martial Law II. I was visiting a friend about a year ago, and she was watching One Tree Hill, and I saw him on there too, and was pretty excited. She told me he killed his brother or something. Once a heel, always a heel. In Martial Law, he moves up the ladder this one time to head baddie, and he does a great job. I guess if you're so good at playing the heel, it's probably not hard to turn the volume up a little more, right? It was cool though for me, to be able to meld my 90210 fandom and my DTV action fandom.

I think outside the US, this was released on DVD, but here I'm pretty sure it's strictly VHS. I'd go VHS if I were you anyway, simply for the nostalgia factor. I should point out, though, this isn't just a fun time, it's a total kickass time, and if you're not ready for this much awesome, you may want to pass and watch something more pedestrian-- say a crummy TapOut film. Otherwise, this what you came here for, get after it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104823/

19 comments:

  1. Great review for a non-deservingly obscure kick ass kung fu action flick. I gotta say I wasn't big on the first one, and when this sequel came out, I was hesitant but this was way, way, way better the original. Mainly due to Wincott, Chad McQueen was just a dull on screen fighter (see Firepower, or better yet don't.) as an actor he was okay I guess, but he just doesn't have Wincott's screen presence and intense martial artistry, like with Martial Law 2, you don't wonder why Rothrock is second billed, because Wincott sells it so well.

    Lastly if I have a little bit of a beef is how Rothrock is sidetracked and how Billy Drago's character is so sloppily handled. That aside this is up there as martial arts greats. 1991 was a great year for kung fu, Double Impact, Showdown In Little Tokyo, King Of The Kickboxers, Kickboxer 2, Out For Justice and of course this.

    I would argue that this movie so needs a DVD release, hell give us a two pack with Martial Law 1, or even better the Jeff Wincott Mission Of Justice (aka Martial Law III) Like I said, I enjoyed this film.

    Although I gotta say I liked Last Man Standing more, and The Killing Man was more intense. I'd definitely put this one on par with Martial Outlaw for sure. Also that's another one not available. Are they trying to keep this a secret?

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  2. Ahhh, nostalgia. Yet again, I'm 11 years old munching on Doritos (along with some mac n cheese, in my parent's basement, where I still live, of course), watching this along with some long forgotten Don Wilson movie (probably 'Blackbelt'). Great review.

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  3. I definitely have to see this one, though i'm surprised to learn that Wincott was in Unstoppable, as I saw that film and I didn't notice him in it, though another great film of Wincott's you should check out is Open Fire, which is basically Die Hard in a chemical plant, and speaking of One Tree Hill, Thomas Ian Griffith played the father of one of the main characters on that show.

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  4. Hahahaha, yes, we're all hitting the Mac N' Cheese in our parents' basements. I have to admit, though, my Unrivaled review is the most read of all time, so I guess I'll be wearing that comment thread for a long time...

    Obviously, I'm in agreement with everyone about loving this one, but I am curious, Mr. Kenner, what didn't you like about the handling of Drago's character? I actually dug it. I thought it was cool that he wasn't blatantly creepy, and it wasn't until his awkward sex scene with the hooker that I remembered that he was really Billy Drago. As you said, though, only a small beef, and overall, we agree that this kicked major ass.

    And Wincott, according to imdb, was in a One Tree Hill episode as well. I've had my eye on Mission of Justice for a while, but obviously, it took a back seat to getting this bad boy in the can. We'll see what happens in a few weeks, but this definitely won't be the last time we see him up here.

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  5. I'm prepared for you Matty, I rewatched the movie. It still holds up by the way, man, I miss the fight sequences of yesterday to today. I mean how is it that this stuff easily blows away the shaky cam crap of today? Audiences are just lame.

    Anyway to explain myself and it is a minor point, it isn't so much the appearance of Drago, or for that matter that he wasn't typecast, it was more the way the chief is handled, he basically is revealed to be not so straight and narrow and yet it doesn't really matter because he is so meaningless to the movie. His character doesn't really play that much of a role except for the standard tell Wincott/Rothrock to do it by the numbers and because he is the new boss employed. I don't know he felt tacked on, like Billy Drago agreed to sign on, and so they grafted him in a film that really had no place. Also because it is Billy Drago there was no surprise, indeed the only thing is that he isn't a bigger presence.

    Okay perfect example, his presence is like John Saxon in an Itallian movie, you think he plays a bigger part but he doesn't, and in fact he is grafted on to add star power. He just felt out of place, plus I thought Drago was wrong for the role. Someone like Bo Svenson would've worked better, I mean imagine Michael J. Pollard or Clint Howard in the same role and that's what you have with Billy Drago. Very, very minor flaw though.

    I have an observation- I think the reason Cynthia Rothrock never made it as big as others in the DTV realm, is because of her charisma and she just seems so nice as to be too likable. She is tough enough to convince you she can kick ass but yet she seems like a soccer mom type.

    I mean look at Sigourney Weaver from Aliens or Uma Thurman from Kill Bill Volume 1-2, i'm not saying Rothrock isn't a good star, she is, but when I watched Rothrock again, I noticed that she is so upbeat, always grinning and completely likable that you almost don't want to see her take hits when she beats up the bad guys. Rothrock's persona always seems like she would rather bring cookies to a kindergarten class, or speak at the local PTA on how to improve the schools.

    Sasha Mitchell from Kickboxer 2 was the same way, another style actor is Don "The Dragon" Wilson (though he isn't nearly as charismatic as Rothrock) and Treat Williams from the Substitute movies so I'm not saying such is gender related. I'm just saying that such particular type of action hero never seems to be popular with most crowds. Honestly I find such refreshing but that's just me.

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  6. Killer Review. Makes me want to buy it right away! Big fan of Wincott and Rothrock!

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  7. Before I address the Drago issue, let me say I was thinking the same thing about the shaky camera/extensively jumpcut laden DTV actioners of today. When you have talent, gimmicks only hinder, they don't enhance, the end product. You new DTV film makers could learn a lot from these older films, instead of rejecting them and thinking you're so much better than them.

    *SPOILER* *SPOILER* *SPOILER* *SPOILER*
    Warning, I'm about to give away some of the ending, so if you don't want to know, don't read further.

    As far as Drago, I can't agree with you that he was superfluous, or "grafted in." He was a crooked cop, but a crooked cop because he was smitten with one of John Sears' hookers. Sure, he did the classic "you need to do it by the book" (though not to Rothrock, she was in another precinct), but all chiefs did that in bad actioners. The reason he's doing it though, is because he doesn't want Wincott to find out that he and Dobbs are dirty. In fact, he sets up the entire end of the movie. How is that superfluous? If you had trouble with him as the chief, because he's usually not that kind of character, I can see that. For me it was more on the interesting side, than it was the doesn't work side, but that's a person opinion, so I can't argue that. I can argue your assertion that he was superfluous, though, because the facts don't bear that out.

    Now for Rothrock. I think her small size did more than her demeanor to stunt her stardom. I mean, I get what you're saying, but I have Fast Getaway, China O'Brien, Outside the Law (especially), and Guardian Angel as examples where she was as far from happy-go-lucky as you can get. Unless it's Bruce Lee or Jet Li, two stars who exude a heavy amount of natural charisma, size is a big deal in getting to that next level. Plus, how many huge names come from DTV? Usually, like Dolph, Van Damme, and Seagal, they end up in DTV, not the other way around. I think ultimately, though she could've been used more or better in some of her roles, she had a solid career.

    BTW Ty,if you buy this, you won't be disappointed-- in fact, you'll be awash in awesomeness.

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  8. Yeah but (Spoilers) there isn't even a payoff at the end, he just kills himself before Wincott can arrest him. It doesn't feel like he is really any type of importance outside of the fact that he's dirty. I mean you could easily write him out. In that it's a character that brings little to the table.

    Maybe it's just Drago's presence because I doubt I'd say the same about Michael Ironside or Lance Henriksen in the role.

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  9. *SPOILER* *SPOILER* *SPOILER* *SPOILER*

    I knew you'd bring up the suicide aspect, so we'll get to that in a second. First, back to Drago's part being potentially written out. Sure, you could write him out, you could write out most supporting parts in DTV movies, but Drago's role was pivotal in getting to the end scene. By that fact alone, he couldn't be superfluous or "grafted in".

    Now to the suicide. I thought it was good to have Drago as a different kind of crooked cop, one who got caught up by falling in love with a hooker, as opposed to someone like Dobbs, who was crooked just because he was greedy. The suicide is necessary to complete that, because Drago's hooker is murdered by John Sears and Evan Lurie, meaning he has nothing left to live for. Of course, he realizes that too late, after he has already condemned Wincott to death, and in return, his only way to make it right is to condemn himself as well. You could go the other route, that he was truly a coward, and though he was caught up in Sears' gang to have the hooker he loved, when forced to face his behavior in a court of law, he chose the easy way out and put a bullet in his brain. Either way, the suicide was the more natural way to go, better than a shootout.

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  10. By the way, I'm really not sure if I want to recommend you The Killing Man cause I can see you saying it was sauteed in the wrong sauce, but yet it really is sort of film noirish and indeed captivating without the action. I know you and I split on The Silencer as well. Let's see also Pray For Death, Best Of The Best 3 (Which I still find rather offensive for the opening sequence, I really don't like the way they kill the black preacher in the movie, made it so mean spirited) The Story Of Ricky (This could be to us what Blue Velvet was to Siskel and Ebert) and The Foreigner (a lot of Seagal and Van Damme's movies.) Basically i'm not sure how you guage the so bad it's good style movie, because I use Star ratings I still know not how to really review a so bad it's good movie. I mean I gave ROTOR a 1 star review, but I still think it's pricelessly funny. I honestly have no idea how to review American Kickboxer 2, Future War, Gymkata and so on.

    In anycase we tend to be on the same page usually, although I can see The Killing Man becoming one of our big disagreements (another would be the Dudikoff flick Quicksand which is also not an action flick) Indeed I liked it.

    I did like One Man's Justice and Phase IV as well. I also liked Spoiler which i'm not sure how you would go on such.

    Anyway a trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-8lygVWd-0

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  11. As I mentioned above, I think Mission of Justice will be the next Wincott film, but I do need to get The Killing Man. It's amazing how much one forgets a movie over time. 15-20 years is a long time, plus when you consider I was much younger then and didn't understand as much of what I was seeing. I feel like I remembered liking The Killing Man (as The Killing Machine, I believe), but that was so long ago, so who knows.

    I don't know that it's good to say I didn't like The Silencer, hence I won't like A,B, or C. I don't remember The Killing Man to be anything like that-- but of course, I don't remember it much at all. Now I'm curious to see it again too. Thanks for the trailer link.

    It should be noted too, that while we may have been in disagreement over Billy Drago's role in Martial Law II, overall, we both loved this bad boy, and fully recommend it.

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  12. The director of this film-Kurt Anderson also directed Open Fire, too bad I can't find a trailer for that one, I actually own that film and i'd be happy to send it to you, did you ever get that P.O. box?

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  13. Thanks man, but I wouldn't worry about it, there are some other Wincott films I'd like to get to first, and considering Wincott himself is lower on the priority list of DTV action stars, it could be months before I'd even think about reviewing it.

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  14. I don't think I've seen you do such an overwhelmingly positive review. This has gone right to the top of my list.

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  15. I thought that Lost Boys: The Thirst one was pretty overwhelmingly positive; but definitely, this film should be tops on your list.

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  16. Just picked up Mission Of Justice on Amazon. Looks like a winner: Matthias Hues Vs. Jeff Wincott!

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  17. Oh, it's a winner, I've been meaning to get to it myself, so I can't wait to read your review of it.

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  18. In a massive haul of VHS I got yesterday for thirty bucks both these movies where there, in their big box editions. I need to compile the list of what I scored because there's some Rothrock, Wincott, Bradley, Dacascos gems in there.

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  19. Let us know what you got, because that sounds pretty sweet. Also, I've been meaning to ask you, have you ever seen the Upside Down Show? It's on Nick Jr. here at like 11PM, and my nephew will watch it if he's up late. It's kind of trippy, but i figured because it's Australian you'd know about it.

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