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. 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. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Forgotten Warrior (1986)

A while back I did an episode of the Comeuppance Reviews podcast where we discussed the films of one Ron Marchini. I had never seen any before, so I did the seven or so he made between '85 and '85, of which this is the second and the second of four movies featuring the same lead character, Steve Parrish. In addition to us and Comeuppance, When the Vietnam War Raged... in the Philippines, and The Gentleman's Blog to Midnite Cinema have also covered this. Now, without any further ado.

The Forgotten Warrior stars Ronald L. Marchini as a POW in Vietnam who, with along with two fellow soldiers (Mike Monty and Quincy "Quin" Frazier), makes a daring escape. Things get wild though when Frazier kills Monty, and then tries to kill Marchini to cover up the first killing, leaving him for dead at the bottom of a river. Marchini is nursed back to health by a kind villager, whom he marries and has a kid with, only to have Frazier come back to the jungle to finish Marchini off, but killing the wife instead. Bad move Frazier, as Marchini and his yellow shirt are now unleashed, and you're going down.


 

This might be one of those ones that's more fun than good, but I'll take that any day over just plain bad. Marchini delivers the action--in a bright yellow shirt that might as well be hunter safety orange--as he's wont to do, and at a cool 76 minutes, we seldom see any real lag time. We also see a lot of the usual standards, like the white soldier training the villagers to fight, which, in a film like this we'll manage when it's so fun, but in this case also comes with a bit of commentary because the white men, even Marchini, really only bring death and destruction to the locals. Fun 'Namsploitation with a side of nuance and commentary all in a 76-minute package? Sign me up.

This is the second Marchini film we've done here, the other being Omega Cop, and as I said in that review, all of the seven I watched for the pod episode on Comeuppance were fun. For a DTV action star, that's a string of success that I don't think we've ever seen. Usually there's a dud in there somewhere. I think to that extent Marchini understood what worked: shorter runtimes, action throughout, and heroes you can root for and baddies you want to see defeated. If it's that simple, why do we see so many instances of it not working?


 

The phenomenon of 'Namsploitation in the 80s and 90s was a trend the likes of which we may never see again in film. I think it starts with filmmakers wanting to remake Rambo, but then you add in the cheap production costs of the Philippines, and you have yourself a cinematic movement. From there you could just throw in whatever you want, whether it's Marchini with a bright yellow shirt and a samurai sword, or a screaming Reb Brown, or a shirtless Richard Norton; sprinkle in some exploding huts, massive machine gunfire, and one or more of Mike Monty, Vic Diaz, Jim Gaines, or Joe Mari Avellana, and you've got yourself a hit everywhere in the world except the US--though there is a good amount of us here who appreciate this kind of thing too.

We should get back to the yellow shirt, because it will be Marchini's hallmark in the next few films. I grew up in Maine with my dad and his friends who hunted, and they had a lot of hunter safety orange hats and coats so they wouldn't shoot each other while they were trying to kill deer. That's the idea in that scenario, "I want you to see me so you don't shoot me, because you're not hunting me." Here though, Marchini's character is the one under attack, so you'd think camouflage of some sort would be the way to go, but instead, it's bright yellow. In that sense it's almost like he's saying "I don't need no stinkin' camouflage to beat you guys." It would be like Reb Brown screaming to announce that he was in the area to the baddies looking for him.


 

As we're wont to do here at the DTVC, it's time for our Mike Monty appreciation paragraph. The Monty we got here was scarce, but I'll take my Monty however I can get it. I will say though, it is a cruel thing to do to the movie watcher to give us Monty at the beginning, then snatch him away so violently. If there's one thing I can fault this film for, that would be it. If you want to sprinkle your Monty in in small parts of the film, I get it, but giving us the impression that this might be a Monty-fest and then kill his character off that quickly is not nice.

But that is my only complaint with a film that was otherwise a great time. As of now you can get this on YouTube. We're still banging that drum for the Marchini Blu-Ray boxed set, but until that time, YouTube will do. And if you haven't yet, check out the Comeuppance Reviews podcast, not only for the Marchini episode, but for all of them!

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0291913

Saturday, February 20, 2021

24 Hours to Midnight (1985)

In our continuing mission to get all of Cynthia Rothrock's films on the site, we've been delving more into her earlier work, much of which was in Hong Kong, and much of which is now available to stream on YouTube; and that's how we ended up here with this film, though it actually wasn't made in Hong Kong, but rather made here in the US by Leo Fong. It also has the reputation of being Rothrock's first film role, which makes what it ended up being all that more fascinating. In addition to us, our friends at Cool Target have reviewed this, so you can go there to see what they thought. Now, without any further ado.

24 Hours to Midnight has Rothrock as a woman whose husband is murdered by drug kingpin White Powder Chan, played by Stack Pierce. She then metamorphosizes into a different woman, dons a ninja costume, and starts picking off his crew and everyone involved with him. At the same time, two cops are on the trail, trying to figure out who this mysterious figure who's doing their dirty work for them.Will they be able to stop "Rothrock's" murderous crime spree? Do they even want to?


 

You probably have a sense of where I'm going to go with this one. I'm watching it, and Rothrock is sobbing over the death of her husband, then we're in a hotel room, where this other woman has a ninja mask on, and after a moment I realize she's supposed to be Rothrock! We've heard of Fake Shemps, but this is another level. I tried to get a sense of what happened here, and best I could find out (via Wikipedia and a user review on IMDb by the person who said he cut the films together), Rothrock had a dispute with the producers and pulled out of the production. That footage was then shelved until they added in De'Ann Power, put her in a ninja suit, and had her be Rothrock's character. It's that kind of extreme gonzo approach to film making that we love here at the DTVC, but it was also exceedingly ludicrous that they would go to those lengths to do something with their old Rothrock footage. Where does that leave us then? I think as a quirk in Rothrock's career this is a fun deal. Definitely not something someone should choose if they're just starting with her films, but after you've seen 30 of them or so, this is fun for the novelty factor.

And we have done over 30 Rothrock films. This is number 36 to be exact. While according to IMDb she has some upcoming films in various stages of production, a lot of what we have left is her earlier stuff like this. Most of it was made in Hong Kong, and is really great; this on the other hand is really just here for the novelty of her having old footage paired with another woman in a ninja suit. I went to her YouTube to see if she had any backstory on this, and couldn't find anything--at least not in a title, she may have mentioned it in a video about something else. This certainly wouldn't make any Rothrock best of lists, but as we're trying to get all of her films on the site, something like this definitely has a place as a unique entry, in part because it's her first film, and in part because most of it isn't even her!


 

We've been exposed to the cinematic repurposings of Godfrey Ho, and I think that's where the mind goes first when we see something like this. Richard Harrison thought he was doing two ninja movies, and ended up in 20, right? The difference though is that Harrison was always Harrison, right? He may have been edited into other movies, but I don't think anyone else was pretending to be him in a ninja costume. Here we have this woman who definitely isn't Rothrock standing in as her, and we're supposed to accept that it's her when it so obviously isn't. It's a bait-and-switch the likes of which we've never really seen here before. We've seen where an actor is on the cover and then they're barely in the movie, but we've never seen that actor's character portrayed by someone else. Imagine Bruce Willis or Eric Roberts in a movie for five minutes of screen time, and then the rest of the film their part is played by someone in a costume that really isn't him? In a way, it's actually kind of fantastic to think about. Like we could make a new Batman movie with Bruce Willis as Bruce Wayne for like ten minutes of shooting that gets recycled throughout the film, and then have a stuntman like they did in Batman: Dead End portray the Caped Crusader. The idea is too amazing for words.

I looked, and I believe the only other Leo Fong film we've done was Fight to Win--which also starred Cynthia Rothrock, so it sounds like whatever issues Rothrock had were only with the producers and not Fong himself. I think what happens with him is his films are lower down the quality spectrum, so unless they have a name like Rothrock involved, I end up passing them over for Dolph or Seagal films. That in and of itself explains why they would go through the trouble to dig up old Rothrock footage and repurpose it in a movie she's no longer in so they can splash her picture on the cover and call it a "Rothrock film" (and, according to the reviewer on IMDb who told his story of having to get that footage, he said he hurt his back in the process and is still having issues with it). Without Rothrock, I'm probably not covering this, and other people probably aren't watching it.


 

Finally, we've been using this penultimate paragraph lately to spotlight supporting cast members who make these films what they are, and in that spirit, I felt it was necessary to give some shine to Stack Pierce, who plays White Powder Chan. He's a fantastic character actor who's done everything from B movies to big screen productions to network TV shows. Here he's a great baddie who, under normal circumstances, would be making the film a success, but in this case he's helping to paper over a massive hole in the wall in the form of a ninja woman who obviously isn't Cynthia Rothrock being passed off as her. Even a talent like Pierce can only do so much, and this probably was too much for him to overcome. Here's to you Stack Pierce, you were one of the great ones.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can stream this for free on YouTube, and I feel like that's the best way to go. We've seen a variety of bait-and-switches here at the DTVC, but none so audacious or hilarious. This is why we celebrate DTV films, and why you come here to discuss them, for film making quirks like this that you can't find anywhere else in the industry.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083509

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Down 'n Dirty (2000)

In my continuing efforts to get more Fred Williamson on the site, I across this one on Tubi and figured I'd give it a go. It has an extremely prodigious cast, which always helps, including 3 Hall of Famers, with Busey and Carradine joining the Hammer. In addition to us, our friends at Comeuppance have reviewed this, so you can see what they said (in fact, as I write this, they are one of only two critic reviews on IMDb). So, without any further ado.

Down 'n Dirty has Williamson reprising his role as Dakota "Dak" Smith, LAPD detective who knows how to get the job done and get the girl. When his partner is killed on a bust, something about it doesn't smell right. His boss, Charles Napier, thinks he needs to let it go, so he does, the credits roll, and we all live happily ever after--or Dak doesn't listen and he keeps digging, and when he digs, he ruffles feathers. But the heat he gets isn't anything he can't handle. When the corruption goes all the way to the top, it just means they have that much further to fall when Dak takes them down.


 

There are a lot of ways to go with this one, but for me, I'm looking at it as a Fred Williamson fan. On that score, this really delivers the goods. Williamson is in most scenes, and he delivers almost every time he's onscreen. When I see Williamson on the cover, that's all I need. From there, we do have a lot of smaller parts by bigger names: I think Busey and Carradine don't show until after the hour mark, Andrew Divoff comes in a bit after that, and Sam Jones only has one scene. Beverly Johnson, Bubba Smith, and Charles Napier have a little more time than that, but not much. Again, I'm okay with all of that if the Williamson delivers, and it does here. On the other hand, if Williamson alone doesn't make a movie for you, there's a lot in this to take issue with. It's pretty standard fare, not a huge amount of action, and the plot doesn't have a lot of suspense or intrigue in it. With that in mind, this is probably for Williamson fans only, and maybe a bit further down the list after you've seen some others first--but it does deliver for Williamson fans, that's for sure.

Our plan to get more Williamson on the site was derailed a bit by me having trouble getting posts by anyone on, and now I'm down to only 1 a week. Maybe a plan to do one Williamson every other month while I'm at this lower output is the way to go, but at the very least, I need to keep making him a priority. This is one of his own productions and he directs it, so a lot of times I'm not as tough on those because I appreciate what he's trying to do overall when he makes his own films. On top of that, his screen presence is so fantastic, I always love watching him get after it. We're now at 19 Williamson films on the site, and when I look at his IMDb bio, I'm seeing anywhere from 30-40 more that we could do, so we have a long way to go to exhaust his filmography. With me close to finishing up guys like Dolph and Seagal, there will be more room to get more Williamson on here, which I think we'll all be a lot better for.


 

Movies like this with a big cast are often gold for the DTVC, because one post can get a bunch of tags for people. It can be fool's gold though, because if the film doesn't deliver on those names, I'm left with a bad post on a film no one cares about. I think for a lot of years that's what plagued guys like Busey, Carradine, and Williamson, is they often did these kinds of movies where they had small cameos and got to have their names splashed across the cover, and I got to say I did a Busey film or a Carradine film. This was one of the rare occasions where the gamble paid off, because at least there was plenty of Williamson in the film, so the smaller Busey and Carradine roles were mitigated by that. I'll talk a bit more about the Busey, but the Carradine is a total sit-down role with him in (I think) two scenes in a limo barking out orders as the main baddie. Nice work if you can get it, right?

Now for the film's Abusive rating. This is a unique one, because we're rating based on quality over quantity--which is odd, because often the quality of the Busey is determined by the quantity. Anyway, I'm giving this a 5 on the Abusive Scale, because there isn't a lot of Busey, but what we got was a lot of fun. Look at that picture below: a woman at his place is about to go down on him, but while she's undoing his robe, he makes that face. What was that? Did she suddenly reveal she has spiked, metal teeth? Did Busey just remember he left the iron on? Did he realize forgot to tape Reba? Whatever the reason, it was pure Abusiveness, and that alone almost earned the entire 5 I gave this. Gary Busey is perhaps our greatest national treasure.


 

Finally, this movie has a pretty nice Williamson soundtrack, but I didn't realize how nice until I saw that The Dells were one it, as in "Stay in My Corner", "Oh What a Night", and "The Love We Had Stays on My Mind" The Dells. I looked into it some, and they actually performed on the Original Gangsters soundtrack as well, so Williamson had already worked with them. It's a very rare thing on our site that we get a group of that caliber performing on the soundtrack--it's rare that we do movies that even have soundtracks--so I wanted to spotlight it. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can stream this free on Tubi here in the States, and I think it's also available on Prime. For Williamson fans, I think it's a fun time; for people who aren't as big a fan of his, there may not be enough there--but seriously, who isn't a big fan of Williamson?

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0253056

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Riot (2015)

This was another of the myriad Dolph flicks that came out while I was on hiatus between 2015 and 2019. By my count Dolph did 16 films that our site could cover alone in that period, let alone all the TV, big screen movie, and foreign film work he did in that time. We still have a lot of catching up to do, and reviewing this film is another step in that direction. In addition to us, our friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance have covered this too, so you can go to their site to see what they thought. Now, without any further ado.

Riot is not to be confused with the Gary Daniels film of the same name (one of the famous Daniels "three Rs" of PM Entertainment). This one features Matthew Reese as that tried and true cop on the edge who gets himself arrested so he can infiltrate a prison to take down a major crime boss who runs it, played by Chuck Liddell. Inside, he finds unlikely allies in seemingly developmentally delayed janitor Dolph, who may not be as developmentally delayed as he's letting on; and an inmate on the lady's side of the prison, Danielle C. Ryan. As always, will he be able to survive inside long enough for the truth to get out?


 

I don't know that this is horrible, but I don't know that it's great either. Where does that leave us then? Paint-by-numbers prison actioner with a suspense plot that goes all the way to the top. Matthew Reese is the lead protagonist, but his face and name are nowhere near the cover. That means we're working uphill twice as hard to buy into him because we're going into this based on the cover looking for a Dolph v. Liddell prison romp, and once we realize that's not happening, we have to ease into the reality of the film, which is a movie we've seen many times before--and many times done better--with a guy in the lead that we're not expecting and not necessarily renting/streaming this for. With all that in mind, this film had a lot to overcome, and ultimately just couldn't get us there.

We're now at 58 for Dolph as we continue the march to the 60 Club. I haven't even updated the imaging for the 50 Club to include him and Daniels, and he's already eclipsing that. One thing that struck me about this is, not only how Dolph's presence overshadows everyone else's performance just by him being in the movie, but he doesn't do anything to go out of his way to command that presence, if you know what I mean. This isn't like a Seagal film, where he needs to be the lead in every scene he's in, even if someone else is supposed to be the lead of the film; on the contrary, I got a strong sense that he was trying to support Matthew Reese's work as the lead. To me, that's what makes Dolph stand above his other contemporaries like Seagal, he doesn't need the film to artificially reinforce for him that he's the man the way Seagal often does; Dolph just is the man, plain and simple.


 

On the site and in DTV action circles, we often talk about the next wave, especially considering how a lot of the old guard are getting older, so when we see someone like a Matthew Reese, the conversation naturally shifts in that direction. I saw on IMDb he has another film from this time, One Shot, which also has Kevin Sorbo, but that's about it. His martial arts were really solid, so there's that. In terms of screen presence, compared to someone like a Scott Adkins or Iko Uwais, he has a long way to go, and the thing is, guys like Adkins are doing three or four movies a year, so their screen presence is only getting better. I think the number one thing is, the prison yarn is not the best place to start when you're trying to build a CV. For one, the character always gets his ass kicked on the regular throughout the film by the guards, which doesn't help in building leading man bona fides; and the other thing is, they tend to be darker and grimmer, so there isn't as much room for personality. Avengement mitigated all of these things with the way they made that, but very few prison films are that inspired. If I'm a Matthew Reese, I'm thinking an actioner with Dolph Lundgren is a great opportunity, but the reality is a little different. You wonder if the better bet is a Romanian production of a Keoni Waxman directed Seagal flick, because those movies really showcased names like Byron Mann, Bren Foster, and Johnny Messner.

The low-hanging fruit would be to dump on Chuck Liddell and his Russian accent as the head baddie, but I'm actually going to applaud him trying something different as an actor since this is the career he's pivoting into. The issue again goes back to that cover and the way this was sold to us. Liddell is in a prison jump suit, looking like he's ready to get after it against Dolph. That's not a crime boss running his criminal operation out of a prison on the cover. That hurts Liddell, because when we first hear him with the affected Russian accent and realize he's not who we thought he was going to be, like Matthew Reese, he's working uphill.


 

When I look back on the 2010s for DTV flicks, I think it might be the worst decade ever, which is hard to say when we consider the 2000s weren't great either. I do have hope with the work Scott Adkins is doing with Jesse V. Johnson and Isaac Florentine, they may be bringing the 90s back; but a movie like this really gets to the heart of what's been wrong with the DTV action industry. First and foremost, I've already mentioned the cover a few times. If this had been a PM or Corman flick in 1994, Reese would have been front and center on the cover, and Lundgren and Liddell would have either just had their names listed, or smaller images of themselves below Reese. The scene where Reese gets himself arrested to get into the jail probably would have had a sweet car chase scene with flipping cars. The fights wouldn't have had frames taken out or quick edits, they would have been shot and action-directed by people who let the action breathe. It may have still been paint-by-numbers, but it would've have felt a lot more fun. PM and Corman weren't working on massive budgets either, so it's not like they had more resources than modern DTV makers. It feels like with Jesse V. Johnson and Isaac Florentine, they're going back to what made these movies work, and are putting an emphasis on that. It would be nice as we get into the 2020s if more directors took a page out of their 80s and 90s predecessors.

And with that, let's wrap this baby up. I think this can work as a 90-minute time killer, especially since it's currently available to stream on Netflix and Hoopla. Spending $3 for a rental may be pushing it though. For us of course it's all about the Dolph, and I think if you're a Dolph completist, there's a lot in here of value, just know you're not getting a Dolph flick per se, but rather a Matthew Reese flick.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4642044/

Saturday, January 30, 2021

To the Limit (1995)

A while back we had Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews on to discuss our favorite PM Entertainment films, and after that episode, I believe it was Richard Hawes of the DTV Digest who suggested we do a whole episode on Skyscraper. In talking with Ty and Brett about it, we thought it might be better instead to do both of her PM outings, Skyscraper and this one. That meant I've had this one in the can for a while, waiting for a moment to review it, which I'm doing now. In addition to us and Brett and Ty, our friend Simon at Explosive Action has done this as well, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought. Now, without any further ado. 

To the Limit is actually a sequel to Da Vinci's War, which is not a PM flick, but does return most of the cast, including Joey Travolta as the lead (whose name becomes "DaVinci" between films). Anyway, there's some CIA intrigue going on, and people who know too much are getting picked off. When Travolta is almost killed during his wedding and his bride-to-be dies, he wants revenge. At the same time, Anna Nicole Smith has all the info he needs to bring everyone down. Once they come together, it's game over for the baddies.


 

Here's the thing with this one: in true PM style we have four car chases and two helicopter explosions. That should be enough to get us there, right? Not so it turns out. First off, it's 98 minutes long. Doesn't sound too bad, but that's an extra ten minutes of plot exposition that bogged the film down. Even at 88 I think this would have had too many lulls to make it work. We have a great cast, and we have the action stats I listed above, but I think ultimately what kills this is, as a sequel, this was a passion project for the people involved. They were too attached to the characters and enjoyed having them banter and riff off each other; but for us watching the film without that same attachment, it doesn't work. How attached were they to the characters? Branscombe Richmond's character dies in the middle, and then reappears for a battle near the end. When comparing the two Anna Nicole Smith PM outings, while Skyscraper is an all-time great, this one just doesn't quite make it.

I tried to get a line on what happened through the tried and true IMDb trivia section, but this was all they had there: Joey Travolta's role of Frank DaVinci was originally offered to Robert Z'dar, but before shooting began Travolta decided to recast himself in the role due to his on-screen chemistry with Anna Nicole Smith. How does any of that make any sense? Travolta was supposed to be reprising a role from a previous film that he played... unless, this was never supposed to be a sequel. The three writing credits might explain that. Was this something that was many projects shoehorned into one, with some car chases and helicopter explosions slapped on to make it work? As I always try to say here, then where does that leave us? Unfortunately it leaves us saying "you're better off sticking with Skyscraper."


 

One thing we know about Skyscraper is that it took a lot of work to get Anna Nicole Smith across the finish line to make that movie, just because of how green she was. They mitigated it with a lot of edits and having her lean on the cast more. Here they mitigated it by using a kind of Third Man approach where she's missing for portions of the film and we don't know what she's up to. The thing with Skyscraper though, is it's 100% pure unabashed PM, which is why it works; this wasn't meant to be PM at all as far as I can tell, so it feels like PM grafted on some action to try to give it more punch, and all we ended up with was a slow mover with some car chases and helicopter explosions. These two films of hers together though stand as a quirk in the DTV universe, a novelty unto themselves, it's just that because Skyscraper went on to be so much more than that, I think we expect the same thing from To the Limit, when maybe being the quirk is good enough.

In 1995 we see the emergence of the CD-ROM in action films, replacing the old 3 and 1/2 floppy as the standard MacGuffin. I think '95 was when our family got our first computer, and it came with a CD-ROM full of crap sample programs that we were supposed to want to buy after trying them. It also had an encyclopedia or something. Anyway, this film does flip the MacGuffin idea on its ear a bit, and I don't want to give it away, but essentially the MacGuffin is used for more than just an object to be passed around between characters. It was an advancement in the technology that couldn't be done with a 3 and 1/2, that's for sure.


 

I'd like to use this penultimate paragraph to give some appreciation to the great Branscombe Richmond. Best known for his run on Renegade, if you look at his IMDb bio, he's actually had a better career after it that before it, which is fantastic. What was interesting here, is he played a good guy, and for most of his PM flicks he was more likely to be a baddie, and that was refreshing for me. This is now his ninth film on the DTVC, which may not sound like a lot, but for someone who did a lot of supporting work in the 90s, it's actually quite prodigious. Here's to you Branscombe Richmond, you're one of the great ones.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can get this on Tubi or Pluto, which means it's only an investment in your time at this point. Without using the term "connoisseur", if you're a huge fan of DTV flicks, or you're a PM completist, I think this is worth checking out; but not until after you've seen Skyscraper.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114683

Saturday, January 23, 2021

General Commander (2019)

This is one of the last Seagal films I need to see, so when I found out it was on Prime to stream for free, I had to jump at it. Did I have high expectations for it after what I'd seen of his other recent efforts? Probably not, but we need to get them all reviewed eventually on here, and since I'd seen it I needed to cover it. So, let's see how it was.

General Commander has Seagal as the leader of a special ops team who, in the process of carrying out a job, loses one of his men. He and his team want to go back in and get their revenge, but the US department head who makes those decisions won't greenlight it. Luckily Seagal has an old friend with big pockets who's willing to bankroll his team's revenge mission. Now it's a matter of getting the gang back together, finding the baddie, and taking him down. With an 86-minute runtime, they need to get after it quickly!


 

You'd think with that short of a runtime this would be quick and to the point, get in and get out, waste no time, make the most of every scene. Turns out, that wasn't how it happened. We have the opening action scene where the teammate gets killed, we have a brief scene in the middle where a guy tries to take out Seagal and he slap-chops then stabs him to death, and then we have some action near the end, but beyond that, a whole lot of nothing happens. I looked in the IMDb trivia and think I found out why: this wasn't supposed to be a movie, it was supposed to be a TV series about this crew pulling off 45-minute episode length jobs over nine-episode seasons. As we've seen over many years here at the DTVC, that trick never works. Throw in a Seagal who was making Attrition at the same time, so he was even less invested than he usually is, and we were stuck with a slog that just didn't work.

This is number 32 for Seagal on the site, and by my count we have 7 left, of which I've seen 6--the last one I'm waiting on is End of a Gun, which to this point still hasn't been included in any of my streaming packages. With films like this one, it's a labor of love. I don't even know how much I can blame this one on Seagal. A studio or whoever was trying to make something out of a TV series that didn't sell, so they packaged it into an 86-minute movie, and were able to get Seagal attached to it. Maybe it was Seagal going to some producers and saying "hey, I need another movie out there, what do you have?" and they were like "actually, you could play the person you've been playing for the last ten years in this part." Where does that leave us though?


 

To be honest, where it leaves us is, does it at least have some good action? If you look at external reviews on any of these newer Seagal flicks, that's the thing that divides the ones where reviewers forgive all the baggage that comes with these movies, and the ones where they don't. And that's where this one falls on the wrong side of that line. When I'm calculating 40+-minute stretches of no action, we're in trouble. Seagal can do all the Fake Shemps in reverse shots he wants, he can sit in a totally different location than the actor he's supposed to be in the same room as--hell, he can just sit and not stand at all--as long as there's solid action every 15 minutes or so. With Scott Adkins putting out high-octane actioners with Jesse V. Johnson and Isaac Florentine, the bar is higher now, and these ones with minimal action just don't cut it anymore.

When I think about how the plot of this film unfolded, to pull off more suspense and planning than action in an action film, it has to be amazing stuff, whereas action scenes every 10-15 minutes don't need to be perfect every time to work. One I can think of that did work was Sabotage, but in that one you're talking about Tony Todd giving a masterclass on how to be a great baddie, Mark Dacascos as a great lead, along with Carrie-Anne Moss and Graham Greene. I'm not saying this cast was horrible, but they weren't that level. Also, even though that film was more suspense based like this one, they never went a full 40 minutes like this one did with no action at all. 


 

One of the faces I recognized outside of Seagal's was this one, Byron Gibson, who has done a ton of films shot in Thailand and the Philippines. According to him IMDb bio, he was cast on a whim in a Jean-Claude Van Damme film in 2008, and that's been it from there. He plays the heavy a lot, which makes him perfect for these kinds of movies which are often shot in locations like Thailand and the Philippines. He should be like a modern Mike Monty or Jim Gaines, but I think the fact that he isn't gets to the heart of what's wrong with these modern Philippine/Thailand movies compared to their late 80s/early 90s counterparts. Those movies kept it simple, kept it fun, and didn't try to do too much. Also I think the Italian directors who did most of them, or Cirio H. Santiago, knew how to keep the film engaging. Hopefully some day Gibson will be the next Mike Monty. Someday.

And with that, let's wrap this one up. I think as a TV series of 9 45-minute episodes, this could work. As an 86-minute movie though there are just too many long stretches of no action. It's available on Prime which works in its favor, but I think you should exhaust some other actioners on your list first.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7043534

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Boyka: Undisputed aka Boyka: Undisputed IV (2016)

Scott Adkins is back, and back with a character he's become well-known for. It was sitting in my Netflix queue for a long time, and once I got back into doing the site again, I figured I'd make it happen. Of course, now it's no longer on Netflix, because, as we know, that's how Netflix gets down. In addition to us, our friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance and Mitch at the Video Vacuum have covered this, plus Bulletproof Action, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought as well. Now, without any further ado.

Boyka: Undisputed has Adkins back as the eponymous hero. He's making it happen in Eastern Europe as an MMA fighter, and he's ready to make the big time. That's until he accidentally kills his opponent in the ring. Now, right before his big break, he sneaks back into Russia to make amends with the fighter's wife, Alma. Turns out, her husband was into a local mob boss for a lot, and that debt reverted to her when he died. To pay it off, she's working as a waitress at his club at night--a club that just so happens to host fights as well. Boyka makes a deal with the mob boss to fight for him to pay off Alma's debt. The thing is, mob boss aren't good about keeping their deals.


 

This was really good. In terms of the Adkins films I've seen, I'm not sure where I'd rank it. Definitely after Avengement, probably after Savage Dog, but maybe above Accident Man? Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning? This takes the Boyka character to another level, as Adkins delves into him more and really flexes his acting chops; but by the same token, the action and fighting never suffers. It's like the filmmakers and Adkins know what we want from this movie, but then Adkins and the filmmakers also want to do something a bit more with it, and they're able to do both without sacrificing either. We seldom see that kind of mix in a movie, let alone a DTV production. 

Since I've been back from hiatus, we've seen some great Adkins, and as I mentioned above, this definitely is one of those. The action and fight scenes are the kind of high-octane stuff we love from him; at the same time, he acquits himself well in the dramatic scenes as well. He did an interview with our friend Jon from After Movie Diner for his Booth Talk podcast, and he told Jon that the common knock on action actors is that they can't act, which was something he wanted to prove wrong. I think that's part of how these guys all are, they're very competitive and very driven to succeed, and so even if we don't need them to be great at their dramatic scenes, the idea of not being good at something is such anathema to them that they need to be good at that too. For sure I can say in this one, at least in my opinion, he made it happen.


 

Isaac Florentine didn't direct this outing, but he did produce it, so I gave him the tag. According to the IMDb trivia, Florentine's wife passed away, which is really sad and explains why he was unable to direct. Stepping up for this one is Todor Chapkanov, who has had some second unit director credits on a lot of DTV flicks, including Boa vs. Python, which was the first film we ever reviewed here on the site. I think that second unit director experience works well here, because Todor seems to do this well in the style and feel of a Florentine film, which I really liked. In 2020, Florentine and Adkins put out Seized, which I haven't seen yet, but our friend Todd Gaines at Bulletproof Action reviewed it and said it was great, so I'll have to check it out--I mean, I would have to check it out anyway because I'll have to do all the Adkins DTV films eventually one way or the other.

The final fight in this is with Martyn Ford, and he is a beast of a man. 6'8", 300+ lbs. body builder, looks like Sagat from Street Fighter. The thing is, he has one fight at the beginning, and then we don't see him again until the end. It speaks to what this movie was about, Boyka's redemption, not the standard fight film where Boyka needs to train to overcome this extreme challenge. When you juxtapose that with the paint-by-numbers that was Kickboxer: Retaliation, you can see how this really did something different and made decisions that really were different in trying to pull that off. More movies should look at some of the choices that were made in Boyka and realize that they don't need to stick to the same old tropes when they're making their movies. You can take chances, and as you can see in this, the chances can work too.


 

Let's wrap this up by talking about how big Adkins's career could be in just the DTV action world alone. He's been putting out 4 or 5 movies a year for the last five years or so, and it doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime, as he had five this year alone, when a lot of stars don't have anything coming out. This is going to be his 17th on the site, and by my count, I have 18 more I need to do, some of which I've seen and just need to write the review on. But you can see, if he keeps on his current pace, he'll have another 15-20 in a few years that are eligible to review here too. Other than the backlog of Fred Williamson movies I need to catch up on, no one else has that kind of potential for films on our site. What will be fun, if that is the case, is we'll see the bulk of the progression of his career evolve in front of us throughout the time the site has existed, which is really cool.

And with that, it's time to end this post. You were able to get this through Netflix until they dumped it. I think now you may need to pay to rent it, which isn't horrible, but it would be nice if Tubi or another free streaming site could pick it up. I could say this about a lot of Adkins's 2010s catalog, which is too bad, because his action counterparts like Dolph and Seagal have a ton more of their films from this era available. 

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3344680