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, April 5, 2011

The Expert (1995)

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A while back, our friend Kenner over at Movies in the Attic sent us this, along with a bunch of others. He's learning the hard way that it often takes me a little while to get to all my submissions, especially if it's something without any Hall of Famers to make it a priority. He's reviewed this one as well, a part of his Jeff Speakman Binge post, and you can click on that link to see what he thought.

The Expert has Jeff Speakman as a former special forces dude working as a consultant to the police department whose sister is murdered by a serial killer. The guy goes to jail, and then some such silliness occurs and it's not exactly certain whether or not he'll get the chair, or the classic cinematic ploy, the insanity defense, will rear it's ugly head and the guy will get away with murder (we'll get into this cinematic device later). After much foot dragging, in the final fifteen minutes Speakman decides to get his military gear together and go to the prison to exact his own justice, and not a moment too soon, because his sister's killer is planning a prison break.

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This was bad on two levels. First, because we're the DTVC, and we're looking at a Jeff Speakman flick, let's look at the action-- or lack thereof. And the thing is, the film promises some. Right at the beginning, we see, either Speakman or a stuntdouble, doing a forward facing repel. As an occasional ice climber and rock climber, I know how crazy that is. He looks like he's taking out some SWAT team guys, but we find out he's just training them. End scene, and end action for 45 minutes. Then we get another great scene, then we're done for another 20 minutes, then a small scene, and then the end, which really wasn't that good either. So bad on the action. But second, it was bad on the Lifetime movie front as well. It pretty much spends its nickel right away when it kills the sister off, but then takes forever to use what it spent. Either don't kill the sister off, have Speakman save her in the nick of time, and make the film a cat and mouse game as the killer gets out of jail and tries to kill her to get his revenge; or, kill the sister off as planned, but get right into Speakman's revenge. Why wait the entire film? All of this stuff that comprised the bulk of the film could be done in five minutes of dialog, then you can have Speakman get his stuff and kick some ass. Instead, nothing happens in the interim, and that's kind of the point of a movie, things need to happen.

And what this means, unfortunately, is that Speakman is wasted. He has a few really nice scenes, but by the end, it just wasn't working. Also, a lot of the fights had him wearing big coats, which made them harder to watch. Had this been a better Lifetime movie, the lack of fight scenes would've worked. I can think of two films off the top of my head that utilized the "psycho is trying to kill the girl hero must protect her" paradigm really well: Blackjack and Blackbelt. Then you could have Speakman constantly working. Maybe the better play would've been to get rid of the sister all together, and have the psycho target Elizabeth Gracen's character.

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That's right, I mentioned the beautiful Elizabeth Gracen, who actually celebrated her birthday recently, on April 3rd. I had no idea that she and I had birthdays so close. She plays a reporter in this, but her character is pretty much wasted by the complete lack of plot. She's like his love interest, but not, or kind of, and she gets a few more scenes as a reporter talking to James Brolin at his jail and stuff. In the paragraph above I mentioned her maybe playing the psycho's target, and Speakman protecting her, but based on how great she was in Highlander: The Series, a simple damsel in distress role probably wouldn't have suited her. Still, it would've been better than what we ended up with.

Yes, I said James Brolin. He plays the warden at the prison. He's also on the cover. Other great cameos include Ted Raimi, and the late Jim Varney. How do you not love Jim Varney in anything, right? His one great scene was one of the few shining moments of the film. Brolin was great too, he was just wasted, like everyone else, by the motionless plot. His tough-as-nails warden could've been great if they went with a Death Warrant theme with Speakman infiltrating the prison for an extended period to get his sister's killer, but with the way they went, it barely meant anything. Raimi has one scene, where he's trying to fix a copier, and the killer comes by and offers to help, which causes Raimi to leave, ending his contribution to the film.

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Above I mentioned the classic "insanity defense as a cinematic device". You know what I'm talking about, the portrayal in the movies of this binary system in our courts, where it's either someone is guilty of murder, and he or she goes to jail, or someone is guilty by reason of insanity, which means he or she spends six months in a mental hospital, deemed cured, and is then allowed back into society none the worse for wear. Who in the hell came up with that? The problem is, people believe these myths because they have no other basis of information to refute such asinine concepts, then they hear the insanity defense in real life, and immediately think someone is getting away with something.

All right, before I hop on my soapbox, it's time to wrap this up. You can get this through Amazon-- and clicking on the Amazon link through imdb gets you some great "how to" sex movie results mixed in-- but I'm not sure you'd want to. It's just a big ol' pile o' blah.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109760/

16 comments:

  1. Nice Review! That's unfortunate that The Expert is a dud. The cast is great though.

    Still want to see Deadly Outbreak (with Ron Silver) and Land Of The Free (with William Shatner as the villain) eventually.

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  2. Yes, those and Running Red too. Speakman's one who has been lost in the shuffle quite a bit, and maybe after one like this, I'll have to do one of those to make up for it.

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  3. This was OK at best, it's kind of like Steven Seagal in The Patriot, where they had to shoehorn a couple brief fight moments to justify his casting, when it's obvious the movie would've worked better (but not that much better) with someone not known for making movies where he kicks ass every 5 minutes or so. Same thing with Speakman here -- the whole movie screams "Bring the pain!" yet there's very little pain-bringing and ass-handing by the action lead.

    Supposedly William Lustig and Larry Cohen did uncredited directing/writing on this film, which intrigues me. Were they the original filmmakers, who then left (or got fired) early on, or were they brought in after the fact, to spice the original cut up? It makes The Expert even more frustrating in retrospect because the idea of a Lustig/Cohen joint starring the guy from The Perfect Weapon sounds like an awesome movie, which this movie isn't at all.

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  4. Sounds kinda weak, but i'll probably end up seeing it anyways just for the sake of completing Speakman's filmography. Ty, you should definitely watch Running Red, Deadly Outbreak and Land Of The Free, and Shatner makes a fine villain. To answer EFC's question, this film was changed from the script, originally the plot called for Speakman to break into Death Row to kill the serial killer or something like that, but for whatever reason that along with a bunch of other stuff got changed.

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  5. This is another VHS I got in that big ol' pile of tapes a few months back.. thought about watching it a few times and never did. Might wait even longer now. Thanks for the heads up as usual Matt.

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  6. EFC, that Lustig/Cohen connection intrigues me as well, because so much of this film was sauteed in wrong sauce, so it'd be interesting to know what they were responsible for-- if anything really.

    This was in he big pile, Sutekh? Obviously I'd say wait on it, especially if you have others that you know are good at your disposal.

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  7. I was just kinda skimming this review and then I saw the picture of Jim Varney so I immediately backed up and actually read it. I don't care how small his part is, I'll be watching this.

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  8. Once again, cause I hate your comment thing (This is the second time I'm writing.) The last one was more impassioned.

    I like The Expert, though this is definitely not along the lines of disagreement like The Story Of Ricky and Pray For Death. This is more of the whole Until Death, Universal Soldier Regeneration and uh well I can't think of another title at the moment.

    I liked the premise a lot. I think the idea of a vigilante action flick where the vigilante in question actually breaks into the prison to kill a serial killer that targeted his sister after he is spared the needle is an excellent premise. I think that the beginning opens strong, the climax is well done and overall he movie is well acted by actors Brolin, Varney, Datcher, Gracen and Shaner. I liked the subplot with the guy who didn't kill his wife and I liked Brolin's character a lot.

    However the thing that really let it down is Jeff Speakman. Jeff Speakman is a very dull actor, very low on any type of edge. Indeed I liked The Perfect Weapon (way more than this one) and I like this one and that's all that I like from Speakman. Deadly Outbreak, Scorpio One, Memorial Day, Land Of The Free and Running Red are all extremely boring movies that are indifferently made. Even having William Shatner and Ron Silver (always enjoyable actors, didn't make the movie work.) So that said Speakman was wrong for the role.

    Your whole noticing the action wasn't there is because Speakman just doesn't have charisma enough to pull it off. If it had Michael Dudikoff, Dolph Lundgren, Van Damme or of course someone like Charles Bronson, Chow Yun Fat or Jeff Wincott (who would've been perfect) the movie would've easily worked.

    Secondly, it would've been better had Speakman was a darker character, the movie has no qualms who's side the movie's side is on. But think how much more interesting it would've been if Speakman would've started the riot in a failed attempt to kill the killer, causing other innocent people to die or for that matter if he was sent to prison at the end.

    However the problem is they made it into an action flick, and in doing so you have the ambitious part dropped in favor of commercial violence which always felt shoehorned.

    In this approach the movie should've had Speakman hunting the serial killer for a couple reels and then deciding to kill him when he is spared the chair, this would provide confrontations between the hero and villain and it would provide more chases and fights. Of course when you change it around, you get the whole beating up the bar rednecks and a family that tries to break their relative out.

    Like I said, this is a movie I like a lot because I liked what Lustig was doing, I liked a lot of the elements and could've seen this as top drawer vigilante flick but it wasn't because Speakman is just too whiter than white.

    I mean Chuck Norris wouldn't work in the role either. Nor would Don The Dragon Wilson. However Speakman doesn't even have the charisma to work as a John Wayne level hero.

    Jeff Wincott would've been perfect in the role.

    So while I admire some things about it, I recommend it with reservation and I think my review indicated such.

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  9. I forgot, I like Street Knight better than this too. I also don't like this movie a lot. I liked it, but not a lot. I wouldn't say with reservation if such was the case.

    Kurt Russell as a lead would've really kicked ass at the role. Like I said...Speakman just not the right guy.

    I don't even think it's in the wrong sauce as you said, it's just that the recipe calls for beef and with Speakman you got chicken breast.

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  10. Oh yeah, the Jim Varney is so worth it. Look for him around the hour mark.

    Now, let's address your comments Mr. Kenner. I agree with you that the idea of a dude breaking into a prison and killing the guy who killed his sister because he thought the guy might be spared the chair is a good one. Here's the problem: that's not what The Expert was about. Oh yeah, on the cover, they want to tell us that's what it's about, and for some reason you're telling us that's what it's about too, but for over an hour of film time between when the sister is murdered and Speakman finally infiltrates the prison, we get a whole bunch of nothing, other than one great scene with Jim Varney. A whole bunch of nothing is not a movie about a guy breaking into a prison to kill the guy who murdered his sister. On top of that, that whole premise is blown anyway, because the murderer is planning a prison break, meaning Speakman's invading the prison is a net positive for everyone.

    It was Speakman's acting that torpedoed this film, it was the fact that absolutely nothing happens for roughly 60 minutes. Marlon Brando couldn't have made that kind of crap compelling.

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  11. Ooops, sorry guys, i actually enjoyed THE EXPERT. It's not one of Speakmans most action packed, but it looks like a solid CINEMA movie (it went straight to video in the UK) and i thought the villain was quite rare for a DTV movie (in that, he was actually creepy, and i wanted Speakman to kill him) I know the movie has some pacing issues, but i'd rate it a solid 7 out of 10.

    DEADLY OUTBREAK is chock full of action, but is essentially people running round a basement, that looks rather cheap.

    STREET KNIGHT is great stuff with some awesome fights(Christopher Neame helps it a lot) but it seemed like a step back after
    PERFECT WEAPON (which i think, should have catipulted Speakman to 'Seagal' like stardom)

    I still have PERFECT WEAPON and STREET KNIGHT on laserdisc, and a dutch import of DEADLY OUTBREAK (which has never had a dvd release here)

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  12. Laser discs are awesome. I could never afford the player, so I never had any. I was too young to see The Perfect Weapon in theaters, but I wanted to, and saw it not long after it came out on VHS. It never had a DVD release in this country as far as I know, but it's one I should do sometime, despite not being a DTV flick.

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  13. The only DVD of Perfect Weapon I'm aware of is a slightly grey-market Australian disc doing the rounds on eBay. It's full screen and the video quality pretty soft but hey, it's a DVD. If you've already got the VHS I wouldn't bother 'upgrading'.

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  14. That's what I figured. It would be nice if they put it on DVD here, but i don't see that happening, considering how little the film made here in the States.

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  15. Look I understand that the Boston Redsox are 0-5 and well the Tigers are only 2-3 so let's not get mean. :)

    Actually the premise is what happens in the film. Even if there is a long dry spell. Hunt To Kill which I just saw, is about a guy who guides bank robbers through the forests only to use the terrain to pick them off when they leave him for dead. Sure the movie has a big reel where nothing much happens but in the end that is what the film is about. Cover Up is about a Journalist probing a terrorist attack on an American Marine base in Israel and finding out that there is a compound that people want to use at the Good Friday ceremony. Once again nothing happens for reels and Cover Up is balder on action.

    The reason I say what I say about Speakman is because with movies like Quicksand, Jill The Ripper, Until Death, Spoiler and so on, The Expert was better than The Debt, Ticker and Redemption. My point is, in order to pull of the character driven action flick, which is what I believe The Expert was meant as, is difficult and depends on an interesting lead.

    Lastly I really can't go into it more cause I honestly only sorta like it. As opposed to say The Silencer with Dudikoff or Pray For Death and Story Of Ricky. I have no passion, All your points you raise is for the most part valid, like the squandering of such, how the action element gels and how politics is heavy handed.

    Now if you had said this about The Perfect Weapon...

    As for The Perfect Weapon, I think I bought a Region 0 copy of this. As I did for Street Knight and The Expert. I know this sounds like BS on my part but I'm not lying, I did the same with Angel Town which was released in Germany. I collect DVDs hence I shelled out the cash (13 bucks) I also have a copy of King Of The Kickboxers, Spike Of Bensonhurst (Known as Mafia Kid) and if they're pirated, they ironically included the FBI warnings. Plus they scanned the title on DVD and have a menu screen which for the most part i'm not certain of.

    I do have them in my DVD collection though, cause I never would've sent The Expert. I also sold my copy of The Perfect Weapon on Ebay.

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  16. I get what you're saying Kenner (and it does suck that the Sox can't win any games!), but it is important to distinguish between a film about a guy who breaks into a prison to avenge his sister's death, and a movie that at the very end includes a guy breaking into a prison to avenge his sister's death. The former suggests that a good chunk of the film is spent with Speakman in the prison fighting people and looking for the killer; and the latter is what actually happens: nothing, until the last 15 minutes. I think that's an important distinction.

    And I love that you have such a solid DVD collection, especially the Perfect Weapon. Mine has fallen off in recent years, but i still have a few gems...

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