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.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Dragon Eyes (2012)
This was one of the films I was looking forward to checking out once I added the DVD feature back to my Netflix account. The cover looked pretty sweet with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Cung Le, and I knew from Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning that John Hyams could direct an action flick. I just wanted to see these guys get after it. Also, our friend at The Video Vacuum did this one too, so you can go there to see what he thinks.
Dragon Eyes has a Yojimbo paradigm, with Cung Le as our hero going into the town of St. Jude, which is overrun by two gangs, whom he tries to pit against each other. But then there's Peter Weller and his corrupt police force that is making money off the two gangs. Then there's a Russian gang that wants to step in and pick up the pieces after Le takes down the other two. Then there's scarecrow's brain. Oh yeah, and Van Damme is barely in it, playing Le's mentor and martial arts trainer in jail.
I didn't care for this. It had too many moving parts, too few fight scenes, and while some of the fights were good, others left a good amount to be desired. I mean, we have one where Le takes on three or four guys and handles them pretty well, and then another where a guy who weighs like 140 pounds soaking wet gets into a mini They Live style fight with Le that destroys his apartment. How does that make any sense? And this whole thing with the police force and the Russian gang was too much. Yojimbo is a very simple structure, and we've seen it done well so many times-- like in the original Django-- and I thought from the way it was starting that this is what we had going on; but then it spiraled out of control, and by the time we hit the 80 minute mark, the writer/s were scrambling to wrap things up, so we had an ending that was as abrupt as the rest of it was unwieldy. Overall, a disappointment.
We haven't done a flick from DTVC Hall of Famer Peter Weller in almost three years and over 350 posts, back when we celebrated our 500th and 501st with RoboCop and RoboCop 2. He was fantastic in this, one of the few bright points in the film. Over the top, equal parts sinister and clown, all that you'd want in a great action baddie. In fact, the film was suffering from a lack of anything happening for about twenty minutes or so, and he comes in and saves it from that. Unfortunately he was just keeping the film's head above water, and he could only do that for so long.
I have no idea what was going in with Jean-Claude Van Damme here. Really? The wise prison mentor? What, James Hong wasn't available? Seriously, he's too young for that, the wise mentor. He's still plenty young enough to have played Le's part. It just made the whole thing weird. Not to mention, we have the immense bait-and-switch from the fact that the cover is selling us this awesome actionfest starring Van Damme, Le, and directed by Hyams. To fire the movie up and get this, I don't know, it's like seeing some gimmicky "Seen on TV" thing that looks pretty sweet in the commercials, but you buy it, and it doesn't work. I guess I was ripped off again, huh? I'm really beginning to wonder if I can't go to the Better Business Bureau about these bait-and-switches in these DTV action movies. I mean, seriously, was there anything on that cover that says "Van Damme as the wise prison mentor"? I checked the Netflix description, and I saw nothing of the sort.
That isn't to take anything away from Cung Le, he was a very capable hero, and I think with a better story that wasn't so all over the place, he would've excelled. He had this great scene at the very beginning, where he goes to his car, and this local thug puts his hand on it, and Le says "Don't ever touch the car", and then a great fight ensues-- which had me thinking this was going to be that awesomefest, only to see the action diminish to nil for the next twenty minutes. I also think the amount of hits his character took was a great disservice to him as a hero. I go back to that one with the guy who was barely 140 pounds. He should destroy that guy, and it was a total back and forth. And he has this big showdown with the two gangs early on, and while he has some great fights with them, there's also this weird construct where some of the guys he fought in the first scene are now fighting for him, like he hypnotized them or something. Le was good, the movie was weird.
As I said above, we know from Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning what Hyams brings to the table, and I can't blame him for the story when he isn't listed with the screenplay credit-- and really, when you consider this is available new from Amazon for $5.97 already, this whole thing could've been sauteed in wrong sauce and we have no idea who to blame. One thing that annoyed me, and I feel like this is a Hyams call, was this constant need to freeze the film, make it a different color, and tell us who we were seeing on-screen, as if it told us anything at all. All that does is destroy the rhythm of the film. Telling us who someone is without any context or background whatsoever is a waste of time, and also a sign of weak writing. Characters introduce themselves organically through their actions. Do we need a freeze screen and Peter Weller's character name? Why, when all it is is his name. What's important to us is what he does, that's when he reveals himself to us, not through some gimmicky intro shot. And there were so many of them, it go to a point when I was like "Oh, it's an old man painting a wall, where's the freeze frame? Who is he?"
This has some decent fights, some decent action, but for me that is overshadowed by a story that can't stop itself, a weird construct that had Van Damme as the wise prison mentor, and an ending that just felt like "we need to end this now, it's gone on too long." Not to mention, while some of the fights were good, others made no sense. That's too bad, because Weller and Le were really good. Also too bad, because it's really cheap new.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1735862/