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, December 19, 2020

Chain of Command (2015)

With this post, we're inducting Michael Jai White into the DTVC Hall of Fame. I think like most, it's something that's long overdue, but we're making it happen now. I was hoping to find something a bit better as a film to post for this, but with me running into issues getting posts up, and having already had this in the can, I figured it was better to do it now than delay any further.

Chain of Command is not the Dudikoff film from the mid-90s, but rather a modern tale with White as a special forces vet who has come home, only to find his brother murdered. Not only that, but the brother was into some stuff. Now White has to play detective and track down who did this, but as he digs, the people involved push back. When those people discover that White isn't your average war vet brother, they send in their own big guns, Stone Cold Steve Austin, who plays a military assassin. What exactly could be worth all this trouble to kill in order to cover it up? Who knows, but the reality is they picked the wrong man to push back against.


This has a very low-budget feel to it, which I wasn't expecting. When you look at that cover, there's an expectation of a certain level of DTV quality. It begs the question then of how White and Austin got involved, because I imagine that got the film's budget up, and got it a distribution deal with Lionsgate--and then with Lionsgate, that's probably where that nice cover came from. It does have its moments, especially with White's martial arts, but also Austin has a great presence, and the third face on the cover, Max Ryan, is good in this as well. It was just hard to get past the limitations of what I was seeing onscreen.

I think one reason why we hadn't put Michael Jai White in the Hall of Fame sooner, is he kind of gets lumped in with Scott Adkins and some of the younger stars as part of the new wave, so there's a sense that there are older stars who need to get in first. The reality is, White is closer in age to Mark Dacascos than he is Adkins, and White is older than Van Damme or Daniels were when they were inducted. Thinking of it like that, this is more overdue than it is that we have others who need to get in first. The one thing I love about White is how he merges the technical aspects of fighting with the theatrical. He knows how to put on a show, but do it in a way that lets us in the audience know that he's also an expert practitioner. He is one of the best to do it, and its good that we can take this first step to honor his great work. This is his 17th film on the site, so the next step for him is getting him into the 30 Club.

The other name underpinning this film is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and unfortunately this is another one where we don't get so much Stone Cold. I liked his character in this, he's very menacing and dangerous, but we still haven't had that real Stone Cold character, the one that really allows Austin's natural charisma that won over WWE audiences to shine through. They could have used that to take his baddie up a notch, and made the showdown with White next level. That may have also mitigated the film's other issues more, and maybe then you don't see as many bad IMDb reviews killing it for the budget.

From a Lionsgate or other distributor standpoint, the key is to get people to stream the movie, and the cover they created is very effective at doing that. How am I to know it's not something of the quality of The Hard Way with White and Luke Goss, and directed by Keoni Waxman? It could almost be like "I just watched The Hard Way, what else is out there? Oh, let me check this out..." and then the opening scene tells you you aren't there anymore. The thing is, we seldom see action done on this lower scale anymore because it is so expensive, and this has the look of a low-budget indie horror film. So then if you're Michael Jai White or Stone Cold Steve Austin, you look at this after and think "this is forever on my CV. What do I do with this?"


The director is Kevin Carraway, who doesn't have a lot of credits, but one he does have is one we've done here, 7 Below, with Ving Rhames and Val Kilmer. That movie doesn't look anything like this in terms of quality and production, so my hunch is, his name was able to get names like White and Austin, which in turn got Lionsgate in on the distribution side, and then something--or maybe a bunch of somethings--went wrong, and here we are. I don't know what you do with that if you're anyone involved. Maybe you get an IMDb account and place your own user review to let us in on what happened.

And with that, it's time to wrap this one up. The film itself is a bit of a Siren song, especially with that cover; but the main thrust of this post, the induction of Michael Jai White into the Hall of Fame, is the most important thing here, and shouldn't be overshadowed by how good or bad this movie is. If you're looking to get into Michael Jai White's films, you can click on his tag and see what else we've got here. My favorite is Black Dynamite.

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Saturday, December 5, 2020

Skin Traffik aka Hitman in London (2015)

This is it, Gary Daniels, with this post, joins Dolph Lundgren in our most exclusive of DTVC clubs, the 50 Club. That's right, this is the 50th film we've reviewed that has Daniels in it, and only Dolph has more on here. It's an amazing and well-deserved honor for him as one of the best to do it. In addition to this review, we also did a podcast with Simon of Explosive Action, so you can check that out as well for more Daniels discussion. Now, without any further ado.

Skin Traffik has Daniels as a hitman who, in carrying out a job, accidentally kills the mark's pregnant daughter. Distraught, he goes dark in a bad neighborhood of London. As luck would have it, a bad brothel run by some bad Russians is in that same neighborhood, and he needs to sort those guys out and free the women, one of whom is Dominique Swain, and she enlists Daniels to help him find her sister. At the same time, Daniels's old boss, Eric Roberts, isn't happy he went dark, and in working with the angry people running the brothel, tries to take Daniels out.


This one isn't bad. From the description, it sounds like your typical hitman redemption by saving white slave victim who marries him and they live happily ever after, but that ain't this. Dominique Swain brings more nuance to that role, and I could also tell Daniels appreciated that this gave him more to work with than that standard tired trope. On top of that, his action scenes were top notch--I'd say some of his best, except he has so many great ones that he's set such a high standard on his own, so we'll stick with "great" to describe them. On top of that, while the massive cast individually isn't in the film much, they all do a great job in their small parts to enhance everything else about this that's good. I think this just works.

Again, Daniels is joining our most exclusive of clubs here at the DTVC. From a pure actor/star standpoint, there may not be many others who can catch him in tags and reach this club. Art Camacho at 46 would be next, but those are mostly behind the camera credits. Same with production companies like PM and Canon. Cynthia Rothrock is at 35, but I don't know if there are 15 more movies to do for the site for her. Don "The Dragon" Wilson is at 34, and I'm cracking some of his early stuff that barely has him in them, but same thing, are there 16 more? Perhaps it would be someone like Fred Williamson, who only has 18 so far but has a bunch out there that we need to do. It could be years before he gets there though. The fact that we don't have another actor outside of Dolph and Daniels in the 40 Club, let alone the 50 Club, should give you an idea of how big of a deal this is, and again, it's well-deserved.


From a performance standpoint, say what you want about this movie, Daniels brings it. Yes, some of his tags come from early PM films where he didn't have a big part, but most are like this, where he doesn't short-change us on the action. I think that's what I've always appreciated about Daniels, when it comes to action and martial arts scenes, he gives us what we've come for. I do think there was also a part of him that liked the idea of this being not your usual hitman redemption story, because he seemed to lean into that aspect. In that sense, I think this was a good one to look at for a post like this to honor his entry into the 50 Club. If you're looking for more Daniels to explore, I have a Letterboxd list where I rank them, which may be easier than clicking his name on the tags and browsing through 50 movies.

This film has a really prodigious cast, including Eric Roberts, who many think would have been the one with the most tags on here. He's only at 11 though. Obviously, with over 600 credits, he could be another contender to get to 50 and beyond, but because a lot of his roles are like this, a small supporting character, one to two locations, mostly sitting and talking by himself, how many of those do I want to tackle if they don't have a big name like Daniels attached? That's the thing though, he's done so many of these with DTVC Hall of Famers, it is possible that he could get to 50 just by the sheer volume of these roles.


Of the many others in this, one I really enjoyed was Michael Madsen. It was a very Michael Madsen-esque performance, which is all you can ask for when you see his name on the tin. He has a scene with Eric Roberts that may or may not have been shot with him, which is the kind of thing I love in a film like this. Jeff Fahey has a small part at the end that I also really enjoyed. Finally, the fact that they cast Dominique Swain in the part of the victim of white slavery was a really good choice. She added some harshness to a part that in a lot of action films is glamorized and there strictly for the hero to rescue and marry after. No one would have missed a beat if they'd just cast an Eastern European fashion model and called it good, but the fact that they didn't elevated this above the usual trope--which again I think was why Daniels went for this part too.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. You can stream this for free on Tubi right now, and I think it's worth a look. It's not perfect, but the action is there, and Daniels doesn't mail it in. What more can you ask for? Also, check out the podcast Simon and I did on this film. There are links on the left, or you can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

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