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] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance (2015)

During my time on hiatus, one of the greatest cult classics ever released a crowdfunded sequel, and when I came off of hiatus, I saw it as a priority to get it up as soon as possible. But then other things got in the way, as there were tons of other films that I needed to make happen in the meantime, so this ended up languishing in the hopper. Well, we're finally making it happen, so let's see if it was worth the wait. Also, our friends Mitch at the Video Vacuum and robotGEEK's Cult Cinema have looked at this, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought.

Samurai Cop 2 takes place about 25 years after the first one. Matt Karedas (Hannon) is called back into action after a Yakuza gang war ignites, and his old partner tracks a series of medallions at the crime scenes to Karedas's forgery (is that the right name for a place that makes things out of metal? Blacksmithery? Mintery?) All the while, there's a mysterious woman who's hooking up with Matt, Bai Ling is acting off the chain, Tommy Wiseau is there, and Joe Estevez and Mel Novak, oh my!

I don't know where to go with this. It's not like the last one where my hang-up over the Bacon Grease Fu made me question what was an otherwise great time. In fact, I had to watch this one twice, because I couldn't believe I didn't love it right away. How could I not like something where Joe is ordering kombucha on a plane? Or a film that has Mel Novak seemingly just to have him? Mel Novak is there for my benefit as a fan of these kinds of movies, and to not like this film felt a little ungrateful. But the issue is something Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews said on a podcast where I brought up this same issue: you can't manufacture a cult classic, and I feel like therein lies the rub. Take the Joe ordering kombucha on a plane scene. At the same time, we have the restaurant concierge from the first one wheeling out a drink cart, and then Bai Ling comes with the dial cranked up to 13, screaming and sending this floating ball into a mass of CGIs, causing a fight scene with more CGIs all over the place, and we're left with a sense that it's all too much. You had me at kombucha, you didn't need the rest.

By the same token, when I get to the credits and I see all of the people who donated getting a thank you from the filmmakers with all of their names listed, there's another part of me that appreciates everything they were trying for here. The best analogy I can come up with is the cheesesteak here in Philadelphia. I like mine with cheese wiz on it, but not all places that make them get how it should be done. Some just slather it on the bun like they're painting a barn, and I don't know that they're doing it that way to be dismissive--some are for sure--, I think they're doing it to be like "you like wiz? I got you man!" The really good ones treat the wiz like they would provolone or American, they put it on the shaved rib-eye while it's on the grill with the onions, so all three meld into something both unctuous, and disastrous for my arteries at the same time. I think this movie slathered on the wiz, instead of doing like they would one with provolone, and the result, despite the best of intentions, was too much. I think if they had played it straight a little more, and let the onions, wiz, and shaved rib-eye come together, that mess of grease, cheese wiz, meat, and carmelized onions on a roll still would have had the punch they wanted, it just wouldn't have felt like too much, so we would've gotten it down better.

Bai Ling is exactly what I'm talking about here. Bai Ling unleashed on 13 with the knob ripped off is too obvious and too much; but Bai Ling on 6, like she was in The Breed or Circle of Pain, and she elevates the material she's working with beyond its limitations, like the budget, but it's still something that we as an audience can still have a lot of fun with. The movie overall felt too much like an everything but the kitchen sink kind of deal, and maybe in some instances you need that, but for a Samurai Cop sequel, we don't need it. Hell, I think you rearrange the plot and make Bai Ling your queen baddie, again, let her play it straight, but still have fun with it. Bai Ling is someone who can pull that off.

I'm all for the classic, buy up everything at the local fetish store, cast some adult actresses, and load up on all the low-budget mainstays you can find--Julie Strain made a great career in films like that, but again, I come back to the fact that, as fun and low-budget as a lot of her movies were, they played it straight. Shane Ryan, Tommy Wiseau, and Lexi Belle can all work, but I think it becomes too much if it's let's be as goofy as possible and not care what happens. Part of what made The Room a cult classic on its own was the fact that Tommy Wiseau was playing it straight. I'm not saying not have fun with it, and I had fun with elements of this, it's just at a certain point this turns from being the funny kid in school to being the kid who jumps on his desk and you're just hoping the teacher will send him to the principal's office; and the thing is, I was pulling for this movie, and it pains me a bit to say it ventured into the latter territory for me.

That begs the question then, what would your Samurai Cop 2 have been? There's a part of me that thinks it should have been a scene by scene remake of part 1 with Bai Ling in Robert Z'Dar's part. Or at least a similar idea to part 1. Use Wiseau and Ryan if you need to, but make them bit parts, like guys Joe has to question for information--or maybe since Ryan does all those exploitation films, he could be the guy Ling has to sneak into the hospital to behead. Get a lot of that green screen and mysticism out of there, go bare bones like the first one, or like a classic AIP actioner. You can still be in on the joke and play it straight. And then maybe incorporate some of the goofiness of this. Maybe Wiseau is a goofball when they need to interrogate him. Maybe Bai Ling has one flip-out scene on her henchwomen--who can still be Gentlemen's Cinema actresses in outfits from the local fetish shop--in fact I think it's even better if they're there and you're playing it straight.

This is a tough no for me, which is different from a hard no, even though tough and hard can mean the same thing, in this case they don't. I wanted to like this, and at moments I did, but overall I think it was played too goofy, and playing it that way didn't work they way it should have. Right now you can stream it on Tubi, and I think that's the best way, that way you'll know if you like it enough to plunk down the cash for the DVD.

For more info:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Triple Threat (2019)

When I saw this was on Netflix, and I saw all the names involved, I had to make it happen. How could this not be good, right? Our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has also covered this, so you can go to his site to see what he said.

Triple Threat has Michael Jai White as a bad mercenary who leads a team, including Tiger Chen, Tony Jaa, and Michael Bisping, on a raid in a small Thai village to free their leader, Scott Adkins, from a secret service prison they were holding him in. In the process, Iko Uwais's girlfriend is killed, and he wants revenge. Also, White, Adkins, and Bisping turn on Jaa and Chen, so they want revenge too. Seems like a natural fit that Jaa and Chen would team up with Uwais, but Uwais doesn't trust them, so he gets them arrested, then busts them out at the same time White and Adkins go to bust them out. Oh, and a Chinese heiress and businesswoman gets involved, and Jaa and Chen have to protect her, and then the mercenaries are in trouble, because they were supposed to kill the heiress, and if they don't, they get killed. Through all that, will the good guys win?

Where do I go with this? It's 96 minutes long, which should be a good number, but with the prodigious cast where we want to let everyone shine, and still have a big, unfolding plot, there's not a lot of room for everything we need. There were some great fights, but some didn't quite give us what we needed. After Uwais and Chen get after it in an underground fight ring at the beginning, and Uwais joins Jaa and Chen at their place after, I was thinking this was going to be these three unleashed, chasing down the baddies for revenge, bar fights, outdoor market fights, fights wherever we can get them. When Uwais gets Jaa and Chen arrested though, we lose that, and while what we get wasn't bad, it ended up being something that was hard to fit everything in. Like Thanksgiving, I got the turkey, the stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, vegetables, maybe a stuffed acorn squash, then apple pie and pumpkin pie--next thing you know, you're full in 15 minutes and all of that ends up as leftovers, except with a movie, you can't have leftovers, you've only got those 96 minutes to make it work. As much as I hate to say it, I could've done this on turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes with gravy all over it. Leave the rest and let me take a nap after.

The thing is, revenge for killing Uwais's girlfriend and for trying to kill Jaa and Chen would have been enough to drive this movie as they went after Adkins and White. Either that, or this needed to be 130 minutes and done on a Fast and Furious movie scale to make it work. Just the same, for 96 minutes, if you just go fight scene to fight scene, it's not a bad deal. That early one between Chen and Uwais for example was great; and the one at the end where Jaa and Uwais go at Adkins was great too. I also liked how they used White's size to his advantage against Uwais, but I would have liked to have seen them go even further, maybe having Uwais go into an enclosed space like Jet Li did against Dolph in The Expendables and use White's size against him.

One of the things that happened while I was on hiatus, was Iko Uwais blew up, and I'm still catching up to where everyone else has been long before me. He's the youngest in the cast but more than holds his own and stands out among them as an equal, which is remarkable considering the talent involved here. After this I watched the Netflix TV show Wu Assassin, which suffered from the standard Netflix TV series issues: it was more like a 10-hour movie, meandered, and fleshed out and spent time on characters we didn't need, at the expense of more Uwais action. This was similar in the sense that we had too many characters, but as much as I wanted to see Uwais, I also wanted to see Jaa, Chen, White, Adkins, and Bisping more too, so, say, a 5 episode Netflix miniseries with this cast would have actually worked--assuming they didn't go all Netflix on it with too much plot, or course.

The thing about this cast is all of these are guys--apart from Bisping who I think needs a bit more work as a supporting character before he can carry his own lead--are the next wave of the DTV world. As the old guard are either in their late 50s, 60s, or in some cases pushing 70, someone needs to come in and carry the torch in the high octane action movies we love, and these guys are all it. In that sense, it almost is like having them all in one film is too much, because we want them all to be the leads, and the result is none of them end up being that. If you peeled off any two from this cast and put them in a buddy cop movie, 88 minutes, nice compact plot about a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, it would be a runway hit. Even something like Skin Trade that had White, Jaa, and Dolph worked really well, in that we got a good amount of all three. I think if this was supposed to be a showcase film for all six of these stars, maybe it needed less plot, and more of that showcase element, like what we got when Uwais fought Chen in the underground tournament.

This is one of five Scott Adkins that came out in 2019, the other four being the spectacular Avengement, Ip Man 4, Abduction, and Altar Rock. I joked on Twitter during Oscar night that he could have had his own category! And 2020 doesn't look like he's slowing down much, because he already has 4 in various forms of development for this year. Because he has so much out there, often my tendency is to grab something like this that has a bunch of other people in it, so I can get them all some of the spotlight on the site. It was the same mentality that caused me to focus on more of Fred Williamson's 90s and 2000s work over his great stuff from the 80s, because I was like "oh, this movie from 1996 also has Ice-T and Gary Busey in it, I've been meaning to get more of their films up too." It didn't work for Williamson, and I don't know that it works for Adkins. I'm going to stop stalling and get Avengement up next for him.

But right now we need to wrap this up. While it's on Netflix, I don't think it's the worst thing in the world to check this out, but I don't know that it's a buy or even a rent, which is too bad, because with this cast you'd think it'd be an instant classic. It might be a case of less is more, and probably the better thing to do is seek out the solo works from all of these guys instead.

For more info:

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Pound of Flesh (2015)

I needed to get some more Van Damme on the site, and this one was available On Demand from my cable company. I think it was one I was looking to do before my unplanned hiatus, but that could have been another Van Damme project coming out at that time, you never know. Either way, let's see how it ended up. Also, our friends Brett and Ty at Comeuppance Reviews looked at this one, so you can see what they thought too.

Pound of Flesh has Van Damme as a guy in town in the Philippines who saves a nice lady from her abusive boyfriend (the late Darren Shahlavi), and for his trouble, she slips him a mickey, and while he's out a surgeon slips in and steals his kidney--it's urban legend meets JCVD! Problem is, that kidney was meant for his niece, and if they don't get it back, she's dead. So Van Damme teams up with his estranged brother and local crime lord friend, Aki Aleong, to track down his missing organ. As they dig deeper, they find not all is what it seems. Can they get to the bottom of things and find that kidney before it's too late?

This had the makings of a great Van Damme actioner, but it never quite got there. Why you ask? First and foremost, we have a 104-minute run time with what was maybe at most 80 minutes of material--but probably better a 40-minute short film or syndicated TV show episode length. To pad out that extra time, we have this added piece with Van Damme and his estranged brother, which I think weighed the movie down. A better approach would have been he's just pissed someone stole his kidney and he wants it back because he's a crazy assassin guy. Make it more hubris than anything, and make him a one-man force unleashed on all the baddies--they stole the wrong man's kidney! Action is better when it's short and sweet, and this film went in a different direction with too many plot twists and added elements that we didn't need. The film does have its moments, so it's not a total waste--and I may not have put it as much of a disappointment as Black Water, but it still dragged, and still felt like a missed opportunity.

Van Damme is closing in on the 30 movies territory, but with the great big screen career, I don't think pushing him to milestones like that is as important as it would be for someone like Cynthia Rothrock or Don "The Dragon" Wilson. Just the same, I don't want to ignore his DTV work, because I think covering films like these is necessary. He's very different from Seagal or even Dolph in current DTV films. Van Damme is really invested, and it seems like he's also choosing projects that pique his interest. I don't know if he's the reason this went beyond what it should have been, but it's possible. I feel like if Van Damme took the baddie he played in The Expendables 2, and did that as a good guy in an 80-minute high octane actioner, it could be really exciting. I don't know that he's ever really done that before, but it would be nice to see.

When I said the film had its moments, that shot above is one. If this were a big screen movie in the mid-90s, this would have been the money shot in all the commercials. Classic Van Damme right there, and nice to see that he's still pushing himself and wants to go there twenty years later. That's why I can't kill this movie entirely, despite the fact that it was draggy and a bit long, he's fully invested and doing his part to make this work. Whether he's doing it for us, or doing it for himself to prove he still has it, it doesn't matter, it was exciting to see. By the same token, bringing back the old Van Damme buttcheeks may have been a bit much for people--not the "pound of flesh" they were expecting! I get it, I understand, but for me, the buttcheeks were part and parcel with the splits, and I was willing to take it for the nostalgia factor.

At the DTVC we talk about the ways in which a film can be derailed, and the two biggest are run time and letting the plot get in the way, and this film committed both sins. And the thing is, to consider dumping the brother character, who plays a big part, seems like a drastic cut to make the film; but the reality is, making Van Damme a crazed assassin character whose quest to retrieve his kidney is more hubris than anything works if it's 80 minutes and has fights or shootouts every 15 minutes. They don't even have to be all Van Damme. We could have Shahlavi do one with someone else. Looking at the split above, plus the Bible Fu Van Damme did in a scene at a Philippine nightclub, the action was there to carry 80 minutes of a hubris-filled quest to get his kidney back. Sometimes that's all we need.

This was one of Darren Shahlavi's last films, and I think the saddest thing about that is, not only that he was only 43 when he passed, but that you could see here how he was turning the corner in his career. Someone who was so great in Bloodmoon and should've been getting bigger roles for years, finally was, and it looked like it was only going to get better from there. He had the skill and presence to be up there with Adkins and Michael Jai White, not to mention stars like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais who are starting to be big from Asian markets; and there was going to be a lot of films made and a lot of roles for someone of Shahlavi's talents to showcase what he could do. Here's to you Mr. Shahlavi, you were one of the greats, and we will miss you.

On that somber note, let's wrap this up. While this had its moments, it's ultimately too long and gets too bogged down in its plot and many moving parts to fully work for me. Right now you can stream it through MoviePlex On Demand on cable, or if you have Stars, you can stream through that or their Amazon Prime service.

For more info:

Friday, April 10, 2020

Attrition (2018)

I saw this was available on Showtime On Demand, and considering my free trial of Showtime was almost up, I rushed to get it in, only to forget to cancel after the free trial and now am just paying for it anyway. Regardless, it's in the can, and after watching a bunch of Seagal flicks to prepare myself for my guest spot on Ty and Brett's Comeuppance Reviews Podcast where we each had our top 5 and bottom 5, I felt like this may have been the best of the bunch that haven't been reviewed yet, so why not start here, especially since this is his birthday post. The question is, with Seagal, does best of the bunch mean it's even any good?

Attrition has Seagal as a former special forces soldier who has seen a lot of bad stuff and is now living in an undisclosed area of Asia between China and Thailand, working as an acupuncture doctor in a small town and perfecting his Kung Fu. When a girl with special powers is kidnapped by a local gangster Qmom (played by Kang Yu), her family asks Seagal for help, so he calls in his old special forces team, plus his Kung Fu brother (played by Siu-Wong Fan), and they go to take him down. Qmom won't know what hit him.

In terms of recent Seagal, this is up there as one of his best. Not enough to make the top 5 I gave Ty and Brett, but definitely compared with the rest of his 2010s stuff, this is much better. According to imdb, this is a Seagal passion project, and I think that plays a big part, because it's good to have an invested Seagal not only doing his reverse shots, but also wanting to make sure he's doing everything he can to make this movie a success. Beyond that, we have some real martial arts talents in this, like Siu-Wong Fan, Kang Yu, and Cha-Lee Yoon--the fight between Fan and Yoon at the end is particularly spectacular. Now it does have its goofy moments, like I couldn't make out what was going on when a child in the village comes to Seagal for help when his father wants to kill himself, and when Seagal goes they're all just screaming and crying at each other, but when I get the kind of fights I got in this, I'll take it.

As a fellow Aries, knowing Seagal's birthday was coming soon, but I initially didn't want to wait until then to get this movie up, but I decided to wait and post it on his birthday instead of doing early celebration. I believe since the blog started in 2007, the year of his birth has changed from 1951 to 1952, which might be one of the most Seagal-y-ist things ever. The thing is, we joke about him doing movies where he doesn't do his reverse shots, doesn't come in later to record his over-dubbing, etc., but you can see with a film like Attrition that the passion is still there to do good work. It looks like his output has slowed some, because he was averaging about two films a years in the 2010s, and has nothing slated for release yet in 2020, so we'll see what this next decade has in store. At the very least, he'll give me some time to catch up on the backlog of movies I've watched and get reviews up for them!

We last saw Siu-Wong Fan in The Story of Riki. It was a bit of an infamous review here at the DTVC, because I thought it was too much, and everyone else was thinking "too much? Isn't a movie like this exactly what the DTVC was made for?" Anyway, Fan brings it in this. He's balls to the wall 100%, and I think he helps prop up the film in ways Seagal can't, which gives it an overall even feeling. Most of his career is in Hong Kong films, so for us to do more of his films it would probably come in another Hong Kong series like I did back in 2010, but at least we're able to see him again in this, and perhaps in the future he'll do more US DTV-release type films as well.

This film was also written by Seagal, and as such, there are some uneven moments, like when he and Fan are with their Kung Fu master, and the Kung Fu master kind of by the way mentions that he's also Fan's father. It was about as organic as a TV Dinner, but the reality is, sometimes a TV Dinner is just what the doctor ordered. I think that's the thing, we don't need Seagal to be perfect, just invested, and if he's invested, we can overlook any flaws. And then we all have a party and listen to him play music at the end.

Look who it is! Beatdown, aka Rudy Youngblood. I think it's been Beatdown since we last saw him. He's barely in this at all, which is too bad, because I thought he was good in Beatdown and would have like more of him here. According to imdb, he hasn't been too busy in the past ten years, so this may be the last we see of him for a while. If that's the case, we'll keep our ear to the ground, but Godspeed Mr. Youngblood, we wish you all the best, and we'll see you when we see you.

And on that note, it's a good time to wrap this up. Unfortunately it looks like Showtime is the only place to stream this, so if you don't have Showtime as part of your cable or streaming package, you'll have to pay to rent this. I'm not sure I would give this the $4 rental stamp of approval, but if you do have Showtime, this is definitely worth checking out--and who knows, maybe it's worth a splurge on his birthday!

For more info:

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1988)

This is one I'd meaning to do for a while now, strictly for the Pyun factor, but it wasn't an easy find. Recently though it popped up on Multiplex On Demand, so I figured I'd better make it happen, especially since it has been a long time since we'd done a Pyun joint. Let's see how it went.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is technically a sequel to Alien from L.A., except it's not. We follow Crystina (Nicola Cowper), a nanny from England who is hired and sent to Hawai'i to care for a rock star's dog. At the same time, a trio of siblings (Paul Carafotes, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, and Jaclyn Bernstein) are heading out to investigate a cave near a volcano. When the carrier containing the dog ends up in their jeep, Crystina has to follow them, and ends up exploring the cave with them. That cave leads to a tunnel that takes them to Alien from L.A.'s lost city of Atlantis, where the people there are trying to recreate Kathy Ireland. Will they escape, or be trapped there forever?

The imdb page for this movie says this in its trivia section: "Director Albert Pyun hated how the studio took his film from him and spliced it with another film to just to have it released. Because of this he has disowned it and his name doesn't appear on any official releases." That's not entirely true, because he lists it on his site, Albert Pyun movies, but beyond that, it is listed as a Rusty Lemorande film, despite Lemorande saying he only directed the first 8 minutes--and Lemorande commented on the imdb and said that he had shot another movie that was supposed to be this, and of which 8 minutes was used. What do we do with all that information then? How do we make sense of this film, the same way we wonder how we make sense of his Urban Trilogy, which Pyun had to cobble together after a crate of film reels was lost by Air France, yet are still out there in the ether for us to consume. And like those Urban Trilogy films, this movie feels cobbled together, especially when we get into the Alien from LA territory and we don't know how we got there or how we're getting back out in the short time we have left. In that sense, I think this is really about Pyun completists.

And in that vein, there are elements that work, in particular the cyber punk elements that he brought over from Alien from LA. If anything, Atlantis is stylish and has the feel of an 80s music video--you almost expect Simon Le Bon to swoop in wearing torn clothing and paint on his face, saying cool, nonsensical things in his English accent. But before that, we're watching what can best be described as a wannabe Goonies kids romp without the Feldman, and we're not really sure where it's going until it hits Leftturnsville and we're on the set of the "Wild Boys" video shoot. And you want to say, "well, you should have done this" or "tried that," but when we're talking about two movies cobbled together, none of that matters. It feels like two movies cobbled together because it is! If Cannon and Golan-Globus were trying to fulfill contractual obligations, is this worth it? Maybe, because it's still being shown on cable On Demand and people like me are watching it.

The issues Pyun had with making Cyborg are well-documented, and fortunately now we have his edit of the film so we can compare the two, but that was another issue with Cannon, right after this film here. I don't know if those issues overlapped at all too, considering it's all around the same time, but it looks like those were the last two films he did for Cannon--and his first film after these two was the ultimate middle finger film, Deceit. As I mentioned though, you do still see Pyun elements that you can recognize, like these cyber-punk characters in Atlantis. It feels very Radioactive Dreams or Vicious Lips, but also you can see how this evolves as we hit Nemesis and Omega Doom. A lot of his stuff from the past 10 years or so has been released entirely by him, which, on the one had can make it difficult to find it, but on the other, he has the control he needs, and with situations like these I can understand why he'd want that.

This goes back to something that I've learned in doing this site over the past 13 years. I always had this idea that each movie was the filmmaker's vision. Good or bad, this was their attempt to make a movie. But in talking Pyun about his experiences, and also other filmmakers like Jason Horton (who did the fantastic Trap), is that that's not always the case. There are so many ways a film is taken from a director; or situations like one Jason Horton described in the film Deceitful, where he was called in to make a film out of an idea that had gone through many revisions. On the one hand, I think it gives us more license to pan a film if we see issues with it; but on the other, we can pan the film in a general sense, without sticking it to one person--though maybe here we blame Cannon for what happened.

One of the bright spots in the film was the dog, which for me I think always works as long as the dog is well-treated, as he was here. I'm not saying I like a full on dog movie like Beethoven or Air Bud, but one where a good dog is part of the cast. I like cats too, but I feel like a cat moseying around in the background, cleaning a paw, maybe getting into something, works better for me, whereas I like the dog in the cast, taking naps, barking occasionally, and just acting cute. What's great too here, is we had Jaclyn Bernstein as the kid, and when the crew goes into the cave, she leaves, but the dog stays. More filmmakers should make that call when deciding between kids or dogs: dogs always work better.

And with that, I think it's time to wrap this up. For me this really is for Pyun completists. He doesn't have his name on it, and it's not entirely his film, because it's cobbled together from two movies. It's a fascinating anomaly from a great director who's a bit of an anomaly on the DTV scene. Right now you can stream it through Multiplex On Demand, or if you have Starz as part of your Amazon Prime package, you can stream it on there.

For more info:

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Assassin X aka The Chemist (2016)

When I came back from hiatus, I was looking at Dolph Lundgren and Gary Daniels's numbers, and started to think about who else had 40+ and 30+ movies reviewed on the DTVC, and from there gave that status a special recognition with the 40 and 30 Clubs. Kind of like how there's the baseball Hall of Fame, but also players in the 500 and 600 home run club. Anyway, I had Art Camacho just below 40, and was going to use this film to celebrate him joining the 40 Club--until I checked again and found 3 movies he was in that hadn't been tagged yet, putting him already above that milestone. I guess instead it's just an Art Camacho celebration, which is well-deserved as well.

Assassin X has DTVC Hall of Famer Oliver Gruner as a well-paid assassin who uses poisons to avoid any hand-to-hand combat. When it's time to kill a young woman he's taken a fancy to though, he turns on his employers, led by Patrick KilPatrick. Now the bounty is on his head, the hunter has become the hunted--but this prey strikes back!

I saw on imdb that this film won awards, and while I can see why, I also ran into the issue where the shaky cam was so pervasive that I needed Dramamine. That kind of shocked me a bit, because one of the awards this won was for Camacho's fight choreography, so why distort something so great behind a mess of shaky cam and quick edit effects? One thing I've learned over time is that that may not have even been Camacho's call, meaning we don't know who to blame for my nausea. I think without it, this really would have worked in that slimmed-down stylized actioner format, especially with someone like Gruner in the lead, and with Camacho's fight choreography. The other issue is the film's runtime. 102 versus 90 minutes doesn't seem like a big difference, but in movie terms it is, especially in a film like this where the added minutes run contrary to the slimmed-down stylized actioner tone. Overall though, I feel like the good outweighs the bad here, and especially appreciate that this wasn't just cobbled together and shot on the quick in Michigan or Baton Rouge to try and get it on Red Box and Prime as soon as possible; Camacho and the rest of the cast and crew involved are invested in trying to make something great, and it paid off in the awards the film won--and for me makes me want to judge it with the respect it deserves, even if parts of it didn't work for me.

This is no longer the post I had planned it be in celebrating Camacho's entrance into the 40 Club. Before writing this I discovered that he was an inaugural member along with Dolph, Daniels, and Albert Pyun, I had just missed a few films that he had worked on as either stuntman or fight choreographer. Just the same, he is someone whose DTV work deserves to be celebrated just because of the scope and influence he's had over the years. I was looking at his directing work, and he did one of my all time favorite PM Entertainment flicks, Recoil. I'm not expecting every film he does to be Recoil, but there are some elements in that that this didn't have that may have helped it work better. First, no shaky cam; second, a shorter runtime with more action--Recoil hits the ground running and instantly grabs us and won't let go. This film was ambitious in different ways from Recoil, and I appreciate the attempt, it just wasn't the home run Recoil was for me.

It's good to see Gruner back on the DTVC. Yes, he had a small cameo in Showdown in Manilla, but seeing him here as the lead reminds us why that cameo he, Rothrock, and Wilson had was so sauteed in wrong sauce. It's just fun to watch him kicking ass, and between scenes, be the coolest guy in the room. One thing I realized when I was going over his imdb bio to see what other films of his I could do in the future, was that I had totally forgotten to do Sector 4: Extraction, which was written by friend of the site Richard Pierce. He had asked me to review it right before I went on hiatus, and I lost track of it. For that Richard, I'm really sorry, but hopefully we'll get to it soon!

Martin Kove is the film's other Hall of Famer, and like many roles for him, he's not in this too much. On the other hand, he's in this much more than he's been in some other stuff we've seen that credits him. He unfortunately has the distinction of being one of the Hall of Famers with the fewest tags, yet maybe has the biggest filmography, so we have a lot of places we can go to get more of his films up on the DTVC, the issue is finding the ones where he has a bigger role--and I'd settle for a role as big as the one he had here!

Finally, when we see Gruner make his first kill, he has a dog with him that he needs to get rid of, so he just gives it to a child. Very irresponsible pet guardianship I'd say. You adopt a dog to get your hit, then pawn it off on some kid? What if the kid can't keep him? The parents drop the poor fella off at a shelter, then what? You hope he gets adopted again, but there's no guarantee. What if it's a kill shelter? So you've just killed an innocent dog just because you need to get close enough to poison your target? That's the hero we're rooting for? A dog killer? It's little details like that that can make or break a movie. Hopefully in the next Gruner/Camacho collaboration, we'll have a little more respect for our furry companions who aren't able to advocate for themselves.

And with that, let's wrap this up. For a Camacho celebration film, this may not have been his best--I reserve that honor for Recoil--but I think it's an earnest attempt to work outside the box and do something a little different in the action genre. The fact that it's available to stream for free on Tubi means you're only investing your time, which is still very valuable, but at least you're not out as much if you end up disappointed.

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