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.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Forced to Fight (2011)
We're looking here at a film with two DTVC Hall of Famers, Gary Daniels and Peter Weller. Who wouldn't want to see that? I was waiting for it to be released on DVD here in the States, and seemingly out of nowhere, it became available on Netflix Instant-- though still not on DVD. Hey, however we can get it right? And Netflix Instant is a lot easier than hoping someone will send me a VHS rip off an obscure Region 2 European tape with hard subs-- that's what I always say anyway.
Forced to Fight has Daniels as a former fighter whose brother, also a fighter, gets in deep with underground fight organizer Peter Weller. After Weller's goons beat up the brother, Daniels finds out the brother is into him for 60K, and it's now up to Daniels to make that money back by fighting. The problem is, the more he fights, the more of a jerk he becomes, and in the process he alienates his wife and son; not to mention, Weller is not one to be trusted, so it's only a matter of time before he doesn't keep his word to Daniels. Will he make it out alive?
Before I get into why this didn't work for me, and there are many reasons why, I want to first applaud this film for trying to do something new with the forced to fight paradigm. First, these aren't fights to the death, they're more like realistic-- but still illegal-- underground fights. Second, I like the idea that Daniels is only kind of forced to fight, i.e. that he's not kidnapped and held in a cell, just forced to fight in the sense that he's paying off his brother's debt. Further on that point, I liked that we had a hero that was fighting for more than just his life. I liked that he was fighting to see if he still had it, and that his hyper-competitive side was consuming him. All of this added some nuance that we don't usually see in movies like this.
The problem is, the execution was off. First and foremost, the whole construct of making Daniels a jerk was sauteed in wrong sauce. The idea is that we want to root for this guy, and when he calls his sensitive, young son "cry baby", that can't be unsaid with a simple apology. The Lionheart construct would've worked better here I think, by having it be his brother's wife and kid, by killing the brother off, and still having Daniels pay off the brother's debt. I'm going to get into the brother in the final paragraph because it has spoilers, but I think his character was totally off and caused a lot of confusion in how we were supposed to take the plot. The way the fights went too were off. He fights in a bunch, wins, then has to take dives for a while. Just have him train for a Weller hosted Battle Royale, with a few bar fights and whatnot thrown in to keep the action quotient up. Keep the nuance of him wanting to see if he's still got it, and of his competitive drive, but let everything play out a little more organically. Finally, the interactions between Daniels's character and his wife demonstrated the limitations of a plot like this when shown in the classic Alpha Male themed action movie. The wife is only there to provide a sense of his humanity, so when he turns on her in his jerk phase, it's him losing his humanity, and he only gets it back when he reunites with her-- as opposed to finding his humanity on his own, without the need of a female proxy. There's still that overarching sense that full humanity is a weakness, and real men only experience it through their relationships with women, thus allowing the women to be weak so they don't have to. One can only get so nuanced while still in the classic One Dimensional Alpha Male construct.
I don't want any of this to be an indictment on Daniels's performance, because it's not his fault the movie had inconsistencies, nor that it thought making him into a jerk that called his young son a "cry baby" would somehow work in an action movie. What I saw as a complete missed opportunity here was the thing they tried to tap into, but never quite got there on, and that was his sense of competitiveness combined with age. A lot of these action stars, Daniels included, had a life before movies as a professional sport fighter, and all of them have that competitiveness in them; but because most of them play former special forces agents, we never see that aspect explored, even though I'm sure they feel it as actors as much as they would if they were still competing. That was the part of Daniels's performance here that felt authentic, and unfortunately that was ruined by the jerk aspect. That's too bad, because I think if we had had more Lionheart, Daniels would've nailed it out of the park, and it would've been nice to see. Oh, and as an aside, he channels his inner Jean-Claude Van Damme in one scene with his training montage split. No bare buttcheeks though.
There was no doubt in Weller as a baddie, though his baddie character had it's moments of inconsistency as well. He kind of just rolled off the rails near the end, but Weller's so entertaining that it's still fun. His yelling is the best. No one yells like Weller does. He's also great at being disillusioned, which is an underrated baddie trait. I wonder how much of what he says in this is ad libbed, and how much was written. Some of the lines made no sense, and some of them, while still making no sense, sounded great because he was saying them. You can never have enough Peter Weller, that's a great rule to live by.
SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!
Back to the brother. After healing at Daniels's place while Daniels is out there fighting for him and turning into a jerk, the brother is kicked out by Daniels in a fit of jerkiness, and then goes to Peter Weller to see if he can settle things with him and let Daniels off the hook. Weller shoots and kills him. What? What was the point of having the brother throughout this whole thing if you're just going to kill him off anyway? Just kill him off to start with then. I don't understand what you're trying to do with him. Again, Lionheart was the way to go with this: kill brother off, have Daniels fight for brother's wife and kid, make Daniels a loner, add in aging athlete aspect. I don't see how hard any of this is.
END SPOILER!!! END SPOILER!!! END SPOILER!!!
This one is a disappointment, because it could've been so much, but ends up missing and missing in ways that ultimately doom it. That's too bad, because we had a great Weller, and a potential for the best acting Daniels we've ever seen. A message to all of you potential action film writers out there: don't make your lead hero a jerk who's verbally abusive to his young son.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1884312/