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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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lethal (2005)

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Based on the Netflix description of this one, I thought I was going to get some sweet Frank Zagarino versus Lorenzo Lamas action. Maybe not that sweet, but sweet enough. Zagarino and Lamas can really mix it up if given a chance, right?

Lethal has Heather Marie Marsden as a mercenary who comes into possession of a weapon or the codes to activate a weapon or some such crap. It wasn't all that important to the people making the film, they were too worried about Marsden's past as an FBI trainee, her dad's untimely death on an FBI mission, and how FBI agent Frank Zagarino liked her dad. Also, there's some tool FBI agent that had a romantic past with Marsden that the film tediously inserts into the plot just to twist the knife even more. Oh yeah, and she has a teen sister she's taking care of, and Russian mob boss Lorenzo Lamas kidnaps her to get Marsden to give him the weapon or whatever.

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What do I always say is rule number 1 to a good action movie? Don't let the plot get in the way, and this movie breaks that rule in an excruciating way. Too much backstory, too much crap about Marsden's past, too many characters floating around that we really don't need, and in the end, it was all too heavy and weighed down whatever bonuses the film offered. On top of that, the action was often shot with Matrix-wannabe camera effects that caused vertigo in the best instances, and looked trite and gimmicky in the worst. This should've been streamlined: keep Marsden as the heroine, but make her a lone wolf, maybe Yojimbo-style, pitting Zagarino against Lamas, cut out the sister, the love interest, the backstory about the dad in the FBI, and just give us a taut, stylish action thriller. Is that so hard?

Rule 2 would be to avoid what I call The Destro Effect, essentially don't make the villain cooler than the heroes. Yes, Lamas's Russian accent was atrocious, but his baddie was great. This is the second time, after Blood Angels, that we've seen Lamas do a great turn as the bad guy, though in Blood Angels he was much more sinister, which controlled The Destro Effect. Here, he was just having so much fun with it, and with heroes that were either poorly written, too bogged down with baggage, or removed as heroes through plot twists, that a strong Lamas ended up stealing the show.

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Do I think Heather Marie Marsden can carry a DTV actioner? Absolutely, but not this one. Lethal made plenty of bad mistakes for any lead character in an action flick, but some were exacerbated because she's a woman. First, the baggage between the kid, the dad, and the love interest weighed her down too much. Second, she had only few decent action scenes, one at the beginning and a couple at the end when she and Lamas and Zags mixed it up, and in between all she did was fire guns-- and often the way she held them looked awkward. Third, her very first scene has her in her underwear as she's helping her sister get ready for school. What this did was create a sense of vulnerability that worked against her as a strong lead-- and the bad writing after prevented her from recovering that lost mojo. I get using her looks and sexuality as a way to disarm guys, but there were no bad guys around-- it was like we were voyeurs or peeping toms, and the whole point of the peeping tom is control and violating a woman's sense of herself, which does not a strong hero make. Not only that, but the one time they had her use her looks to seduce a man to get what she wants, it doesn't work, and she gets past the guard using another tactic, meaning that scene was totally useless and moved the plot nowhere. It wasn't Marsden's fault that she didn't work as the heroine, rather it was disappointing that she was given such poor material to work with. Besides, if they were really sold on Marsden as the lead, she wouldn't be taking a backseat to Lamas on the cover.

Zagarino is almost totally wasted. I don't know whose bright idea it was to give him a lesser part, and throw in some superfluous character as Marsden's romantic love interest. Get rid of that guy, and beef up Zag's part, and most importantly, give him a fight scene with Lamas. I'm telling you, the Yojimbo plot would've made this fantastic, could've provided the vehicle to showcase Marsden as the lead, given Zagarino a better part to showcase his martial arts, and kept Lamas as a great baddie without The Destro Effect.

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I shouldn't have been surprised that this movie committed another action movie sin, though one that ranks much further down the list than the couple we've discussed above. This one was the classic "baddie doesn't understand the concept of restraints on a prisoner" or in this case, the much worse "baddie forgets the concept of restraints on a prisoner", which then leads to what we in The Biz call Plot Convenience Theater. When Lamas first kidnaps Marsden's sister, she has her hands cuffed behind her back. Then, for some reason, for the final showdown, he brings her out to meet Marsden, completely unrestrained. Guess what happened next? Yep, the sister has the freedom, now that she's inexplicably unrestrained, to help her sister to defeat Lamas. When a movie is this sautéed in wrong sauce from top to bottom, crap like this is just par for the course.

This is available on DVD from either Netflix or Amazon, but I'm telling you to stay away. Marsden is hot, Lamas is excellent, but everything is just ten kinds of bad. Bad idea for a movie, made worse in the execution.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0366711/

5 comments:

  1. Well I'm glad you took a hit on this one. This was another $2 pickup for me that I've had staring at me on the shelf for ages now. I think it might stay there for a while longer.

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  2. Eh, this was alright, Heather and Lamas were pretty good(I have to ask, is Heather related to James Marsden?) so I found it tolerable enough, as far as Lamas films go, this one ranks near the bottom, but it's still a hell of alot better then those deadly dull Swordsman films.

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  3. Good review. Haven't seen this one. Always saw it around at our local video store.

    That is unfortunate that this is a dud. Lamas and Zagarino are a great team-up.

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  4. Let it stay there, you've got much better stuff to review on Explosive Action I'm sure. And yeah Ty, totally unfortunate this one is a dud, because Zags and Lamas could've been a good time.

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  5. Whatever happened to Lamas being an action hero, anyway? Bad Blood/Viper is still one of the very best DTV-actioners I've ever seen and Bounty Tracker had good moments (it would be really great, if not for those f'n kids...!). Then, after Black Dawn and Undercurrent (both more thrillers than action), there were no more action hero-roles for him. I wonder if it was a decision he made or if the industry was just in a slump?

    Zags has quite a few unreleased films, doesn't he? His directorial debut, Never Look Back, was apparently never released? And I've never seen releases of Airboss 2 and 3, either (probably no big loss there, I admit, but still - you'd think they'd come up with Airboss 1-4 compilation).

    As for this one, I agree with venom, this was alright. But I also agree with Matt, this could've been great. It sucks when people try to fix things which ain't broken.

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