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 7, 2011

Sworn to Justice (1996)

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If you look up Cynthia Rothrock on Netflix, you'll see a sea of green, as in most of her films have been relegated to the dreaded "Saved" section of the site, meaning they are currently-- and probably will always be-- unavailable. Somehow this one has slipped through the cracks though, and I was able to get it on DVD from them. How long that will last, I don't know.

Sworn to Justice has Rothrock as a psychiatrist working as a consultant for a law firm. She comes home from vacation to find robbers in her house that have already killed her sister and nephew who were staying at her place while she was out of town. She fights them off, jumps out of her apartment, hits her head on a tree, and finds she has ESP. Armed with her psychic powers and too sweet martial arts skills, she's out for revenge, and I'd hate to get in her way.

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I was torn on this one. On the one hand, it was a pretty big departure from the action flicks Rothrock usually does, where she's essentially a woman playing a man's part. Here she's a woman, wears a lot of hot outfits, and even has a love scene, which she's never done before. There were also some really nice fight scenes, and some really cool special appearances by Walter Koenig, Brad Dorif, and Mako-- plus Dawson's mom from Dawson's Creek. On the other hand, the plot fell off a bit and became bad Lifetime movie-esque. Brad Dourif's connection to the robbery that killed her family was a stretch, as was her best friend having an obsessive lesbian crush. There was also a sense that the intentions were good, but there was too much going on. They tried to go Jackie Chan martial arts comedy for one scene, but added a bunch of silly sound effects that made it too out of place and honestly kind of dumb-- which is too bad, because it was really choreographed well. Sometimes less is more-- though more fights and less plot would've been a better equation, because with a story like this, the more plot the more bad lifetime you get, and throwing in the martial arts scenes after that makes for a major identity crisis.

When I saw the Rothrock love scene, I was thinking "I don't remember seeing her in one of these before." As luck would have it, this came with a making of featurette, and in it she said she'd never done one before, so I was right. One the one hand I thought it was cool that she had a chance to do that, but on the other, I'm not sure I like the idea of any action star, male or female, doing the love scene. I was always of the opinion that in the male instance, it was one of the perks of the job-- love scene with the hot female lead, maybe two. In Van Damme's case, it was also a great moment to throw in the butt shot. I guess what I'm saying is, I like that she did it, and I like that her character could fall in love with a guy instead of just be one of the guys, but the love scene is a part of the action film that in general has to go.

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Also in the featurette, the director made a point that I've always kind of noticed before, that action films are closer to musicals in terms of pacing and the way characters express themselves. When you think of good musicals though-- and I know most of you reading this blog don't!-- we're never allowed to go too far between numbers. And maybe that's why I get on action movies so much for getting lost in the plot, because they think they're making an art house flick, as opposed to something more like a musical where the dance routines are replaced by major ass kicking. As I mentioned above, this film wasn't too bad on the ratio, the problem was just that the plot outside of the action was so borderline Lifetime movie that the difference between the two, the action and the plot, made for a major identity crisis.

Art Camacho was one of three fight choreographers in this. Rothrock asked that Douglas Kung be flown in from Hong Kong, plus Eric Lee did some as well. You'd think there'd be a too many cooks in the kitchen thing with that, but the opposite was true, because a lot of this stuff was really great. One thing I didn't get though, was that Ian Jacklin had a cameo as a chop shop guy, and he gets his ass kicked without fighting by the main baddie. Why would you do that? Why not have him get after it? In that same vein, Vince Murdocco was a member of the baddie's gang, and he did more acting than fighting? Again, why would you do that? Murdocco isn't an actor because he can act, he's an actor because he's a champion martial artist. With the kind of choreography talent they had, we should've had some cool shit with these two, and we got nothing.

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I wanted to finish this by discussing Rothrock's final thought in the featurette. She talked about how she wanted to be a role model for women everywhere and inspire them to take their own martial arts classes. It sounded like it was less for self-defense, and more about overall empowerment, but either way I think it's a solid message. Obviously not every woman is the kind of athlete she is, but the fact that she's out there at 5'5" doing all her own stunts is still pretty crazy, and she can sell that image of herself as a genuine one for other women to look at as more than just the girl who gets rescued by the hero-- or has to look like a man to be the hero.

I'm still kind of torn on this one. Definitely a must for Rothrock fans, because it is a very different kind of role for her, despite still being an action lead. The guest stars were great too, as were the fight scenes. It did have its drawbacks though, and I guess for me, I liked it in spite of that, but you may not. If anything, I'd get this through Netflix while you still can or another way that won't involve you making a huge financial investment.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117803/

8 comments:

  1. Huh. I kinda figured when you said "love scene" that this would head toward Lifetime-ville. But, that's a pretty awesome premise, anyway. I just wish it stayed more action-oriented.

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  2. While I certainly agree that a love scene has probably never made an action movie better and has almost always made it worse, I hope you're not even remotely suggesting that gratuitous female nudity should also be left out?

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  3. I've had this one in the queue for awhile. I didn't realize the premise was that corny. I must watch this. And I really could go for a Rothrock Love scene.

    Hopefully all her "green" movies go to instant alongside a lot of other green movies.

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  4. Saw this on Netflix ages ago.

    Definitely agree with your review. It was really close to being a decent action flick, but the Lifetime-type plot hurt the movie in the long run.

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  5. I actually didn't mind the Lifetime plot so much, I thought the lesbian-crush thing was handled really well, i'll admit the comical action scene did feel a bit out of place(though it was well doen otherwise) that scene felt it like it belonged in a Jackie Chan film. You'll certainly NEVER hear me complain about a love scene in an action film.

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  6. All right, a lot to get to, so I'll dive right in.

    It's action oriented enough, but the Lifetime mix with the action was what didn't work, and diminished the great action that was there.

    I think you might dig it Mr. Gable. It was close to really doing it, as Ty said, but I have a feeling the fact that it didn't work might be more your style.

    Okay, now for TJ and his nudity. First off, I should mention that a good portion of the early traffic to my site was based on nude scenes in the movies I reviewed. Part of it was just a mere mention that an actress took her clothes off triggered my page in search engines. The other thing is, I often only had nude or scantily clad shots of the women in the movies I was reviewing, because when I first started I didn't have any software to capture my own images, so I had to settle for ones people already posted that I could hotlink.

    Second, growing up in the late 80s early 90s, before the age of the Internet-- and later high-speed Internet-- nudity in bad movies was often our best bet, considering porn was often expensive or not readily available to kids under 18, and not everyone had Skin-a-max. It's an important aspect of the nostalgia that we can't overlook.

    Finally, let's distinguish between gratuitous female nudity in the DTV horror or comedy, versus the love scene in the DTV action film. In the horror or comedy, it's more like some seedy "casting agents" are sent out to bus stations in LA to convince all the girls coming in from small Midwestern towns that getting nude in their flick is the best chance at stardom, and naively they agree, only to be never heard of again, marry an investment broker from Van Nuys, and 20 years later her son's shitty little friends unearth the movie, much to her chagrin.

    That's not the action movie love scene. As opposed to the gratuitous boobs in the horror and comedy, which are meant for us guys, the action movie scene is like "hey, don't you guys wish you were as cool as me?", and often, some of these guys are so gross that's it's only a step below the idea of my parents getting after it as far as stuff I'd rather not see. Seriously, how much are we watching a Don "The Dragon" Wilson flick and thinking "man, I want to see him awkwardly making out Maria Ford."? We need action movies to be more like their horror and comedy counterparts.

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  7. "now for TJ and his nudity"

    MY nudity? Trust me, you would NOT want to see that! A brilliant sentence otherwise, though :)

    Sorry for the long rant, but female nudity is an extremely important subject which takes some explaining! I agree 95% with your thoughts. The other 5% is with older guys getting it on with young chicks. I mean, I'm in my thirties now, but when I'm in my fifties and sixties, I'll still be drooling over 20-somethings, so since we now have cougars, I think it's only fair we have older guys with young girls. This doesn't have to be in an action movie, of course, but it gives us men hope that even old age has more to offer in the women-department than ugly single mothers of five.

    Also, and I think we're on the same page here, even an action movie that doesn't have a lot of plot, often needs to have a few scenes where some guys meet and make plans. You know, scenes where we find out what's going on? The hero is looking for info on some punks or something like that? These are almost always boring scenes, but nearly always still necessary. So what I'm getting at here is, instead of these guys meeting at some apartment or a restaurant, why not use the old favorite, the strip club? We get to hear the necessary info, but the scene is not a total waste. And these girls would be professionals who do it for a living anyway, so no additional embarassement-factor for them there.

    I can understand why action guys want love scenes in their films and why producers put them in. An action movie is primarily a male fantasy where a guy is so tough and cool, he can kick anyone's butt and get any girl he wants. But having said that, I have to say I don't like love scenes in general, even when they offer quality nudity. Your example guy, Don Wilson, banged Athena Massey in Virtual Combat. Massey is a babe, but that scene did nothing for me. The previous scene, with just Massey nude in the virtual world... Although a very brief scene, that's a whole different story.

    So may I suggest a compromise? Get rid of the love scenes and replace them with, say, shower scenes with just the girl? I mean, I love to see Maria Ford naked, but I find erotic thrillers quite boring (and even there the guys are often gross). Perhaps you should put a vote on this subject on the main page or something? If a movie shows nudity, should it be in a scene with A) Don Wilson, B) Don Wilson and Athena Massey or C) Athena Massey? :)

    Finally, man, we certainly come from the same place. These kids today... Spoiled rotten, the bastards! To watch an early PM-trash with Hilton-Jacobs just because of the nudity and to have first encounters with actual adult entertainment on encrypted channels that showed that negative, distorted image... That was hardcore! Current youngsters don't even know what they're missing!

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  8. Oh, the distorted image, I hated that. I had friends with descramblers for channels like that, but it's still no where near what a high speed Internet connection can do. Kids have no idea how easy they have it.

    I think we're in agreement about the nudity thing as well. Shower scenes, strip clubs, I don't care, just have Wilson sitting off to the side watching them. Seagal is the king of the old dude young chick thing though. Unlike Van Damme and Dolph, who might be in their fifties but like to show off how fit they still are, Seagal is pretty much "I'm 60, I'm a movie star, I'm doing some love scenes in my sweatshirt and jeans because I can.", and I can get behind that-- I mean, if I can get away with that at 60, more power to me too, right?

    The initial point I wanted to make is actually kind of interesting now that we've come full circle-- essentially that the action movie love scene is the last thing Rothrock should want to be doing so her action movie can be just like one of the guys'-- because, out of all the action stars, she's probably the one we'd most want to see in one! Of course, you still have the dude in the scene, so we're back at square one...

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