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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

City of Fear (2001)

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I got this Gary Daniels flick with another of his recently, and I'm not sure why I went with this one over the other one, but I did. I'm a sucker for Canuxploitation flicks shot in Bulgaria I guess. Also, this is Daniels's 35th tag, putting him one behind Dolph for most all time by an actor. I do have four Dolph movies from the big screen I could go to if I needed to keep him ahead, but really, it's only a matter of time before Daniels catches him.

City of Fear is an action remake of The Third Man, an Orson Welles flick from the 40s. Daniels plays an American writer who is approached by some people from Bulgaria that inform him that his buddy is dead over there. So he goes, and finds out his buddy's death may not have been an accident. Now he's investigating, and every step brings him deeper into the web, and deeper into a series of fight scenes and chases. Not to mention, his buddy dated a hottie nightclub dancer, so that works.

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We've seen an attempt previously to do the Third Man paradigm, Blood Warriors, and like that one, this one was okay, but nothing spectacular. The problem is, The Third Man sounds like a better idea for an action film than it is in practice. To build the suspense in between the action scenes, you need really good actors, which, action actors often aren't that. What that means is we're left with a lot of fluff, and with the paint-by-numbers/ticking-off-all-the-boxes tone of the action-- the only thing we were missing was the exploding helicopter--, we're left with nothing special that's pretty take-it-or-leave-it. Can I get more cliches in one paragraph? Well, at the end of the day, I need to stay within myself as I write this review, because I have to look myself in the mirror afterwards. Like they say, it's not about the size of the reviewer in the fight, it's about the size of the fight in the reviewer.

What do we do with Gary Daniels here? Decent martial arts, but nothing special. Also, for some reason, he's playing an American, which makes no sense. Is that really necessary when his character is spending his entire time in Sofia? I never really got that, do they think us Yanks won't identify with someone from across the pond? He still doesn't sound very American. The biggest issue this movie had was that it was hamstrung by its Third Man plot, so it played out like a Bloodfist sequel, only with less action and more story, which worked to Daniels's detriment.

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City of Fear was a little ahead of the curve by shooting in Bulgaria, though only a few years later it would become a much more common B-movie destination. I wonder what it's like for the cast and crew of something like that. What kind of accommodations do they get? I follow Michael Jai White on Twitter, and he mentioned how hot the women were at the clubs while he was over there shooting recently. Was that a perk that got Daniels on board, or was he married by then? I wonder what things I'd want if I were over there... I'd probably stay out of the clubs though. I'm no Michael Jai White, I'd probably end up in a bathtub full of ice sans my kidneys.

As I said above, City of Fear did every bad action cliche in as much of a cover-all-the-bases manner as possible-- of course, except for the helicopter explosion, which was conspicuous in its absence. The worst of these is the at home surgery session. You know how it works, hero gets shot, or his woman gets shot, they go to some safe house, boil some water, heat some knives on the stove, and go to work. Here it felt so grafted on, when out of nowhere the woman gets stabbed in the leg, and Daniels takes her home and patches her up, then it goes into the next action mainstay, the love scene. After was even better, because she had her bandage wrapped around the outside of her jeans. I'm not kidding.

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Finally, check out that massive boom mic up there. That's not your run-of-the-mill black stick mic, that's like the size of a grapefruit. What is that, a throwback from the Iron Curtain days? It looks like it wants to eat Daniels's head. I think that's the way to go though if you going the boom mic route, make it a huge bastard. Or go the No Retreat No Surrender 3 route and just have a shitload of them.

With so many great Gary Daniels flicks out there, this is too lackluster and paint-by-numbers to recommend. This is available used or new on DVD, so maybe if you're a Gary Daniels completist. Otherwise, I'd stay away.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0193065/

9 comments:

  1. that hair of his is enough for me to stay away...

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  2. Great review! What a coincidence, we just watched this last week.

    We can't agree more with your take on it. This was a disappointment.

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  3. Yeah, this was one of the early Daniels ones I watched. Nothing special and not a lot of martial arts.

    One thing that does stick out is the blurb on the back of the DVD refers to Daniels character as "half wit reporter Steve Roberts". Always thought it was a bit baffling. Nothing in the film makes him out to be stupid or slow? I think it must have been written by someone with a poor grasp of English and was trying to get across how Daniels couldn't see some of the characters' true intentions.

    Also, good point, this was made in 1999 just as Bulgaria started becoming a big destination for DTV films (most likely prompted by Nu Image who bought a massive studio out there). What's your opinion on using Eastern European locations? I find them usually pretty drab and hate it when they try and pass it off as New York or some American city.

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  4. It's crazy how our movie viewing will overlap like that, but yeah, this didn't do much for me either.

    That's awesome "half-wit" reporter, because yeah, you're right, he's never portrayed as dumb, just in the dark about everything.

    As far as the Eastern European shot action film goes, I agree that I don't like them when they're passing for a US city. If it's shot in Bulgaria or Romania, then it should take place there. The other thing is, with the economy what it is in the US, there are a lot of cities here that could use that revenue too, places like Detroit, Cleveland, or New Orleans. I can see with Nu Image owning a studio over there that they'd want to make use of it, but it's also nice to see an action flick take place in Detroit, which has so many abandoned buildings it looks like one big studio lot. A movie provides so much business to the local economy.

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  5. Yeah, this definitely was not one of Daniels finer moments(though it still beats the hell out of Full Impact, American Streetfighter and Spoiler) pretty forgettable film overall. Anyways i'm fine with films being shot in Eastern Europe, but you can never pass them off as taking place in America, that only works with Canada really.

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  6. Sorry to hear that this was pretty "meh". I was instantly sold on Gary Daniels's hair alone, but after reading your review all the way through, I'll be staying away. I like Daniels but am far from a completist.

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  7. I've read the review and I'm still trying to deal with the horror of the idea of remaking The Third Man. And with Gary Daniels.

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  8. If you're into that hair, may I suggest Dolph in Pentathlon if you haven't already seen it?

    Yeah, I'm surprised too, and this is the second Third Man remake in the past couple months I've come across. They aren't exact remakes, more like they borrow the overall premise, but this one in particular wanted to pay homage to its Orson Welles roots, because it kept bringing up Citizen Kane.

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  9. Looks like A Night at the Roxbury found its third Butabi brother.

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