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, December 4, 2021

Crackerjack (1994)

We're over 1100 films in here at the DTVC, and we're just now getting to this 90s gem. I'm not sure why that is, but the fact that all three of these are on Tubi gave me the impetus to finally make it happen. This is also one of those ones I call "completing the triangle," because our friends at Comeuppance Reviews and The Video Vacuum have covered this, so by me doing it I'm now completing the triangle on it. Maybe I should do a tag for films that all three of us have done...

Crackerjack has Thomas Ian Griffith as Jack Wild, a Chicago cop who's constantly on the edge, especially after his family is murdered in a car bombing, leading his fellow officers to dub him "Crackerjack." When his brother and sister in-law convince him to join them at a resort in the Rocky Mountains, things are looking up, as he meets beautiful activities director Nastassja Kinski, and she's into him. Unfortunately he suffers the ultimate cramp in his style when Christopher Plummer and his terrorist gang take over the resort and hold everyone hostage. Now to get that second date with Kinski, Griffith needs to take out all these baddies and save the day. Will he make it happen?


 

15-year-old me likes calling this "ass-Crackerjack," but it's not that bad, and I think beyond that, it's maybe gotten better in the past 27 years; by the same token, it is still a Die Hard rip-off, right down to the Classically-trained English actor playing a German terrorist leader. I really liked Plummer's baddie though, he brought the same higher quality Rickman did in Die Hard, which enhanced the film. I also liked Griffith's fly in the ointment character--a Crackerjack prize, so to speak, but one you don't want to find--he's a solid action lead and shows it here. Those elements, combined with Kinski as a great female lead, elevate this beyond the standard Die Hard rip-off, and then when you factor in the 90s nostalgia and practical effects, this holds up much better and is a more fun time killer than the DTV actioners we've seen released 20-25 years later.

I discovered as I was writing this that Thomas Ian Griffith didn't have a tag yet, and the only other film of his we've reviewed here was Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision, back on May 21st, 2007. I don't know why that is, because I like Thomas Ian Griffith, and I imagine when I did Timecop 2 I expected Griffith to be a mainstay. In looking at that review, I saw in the comments in 2011 Ty from Comeuppance said they were going to do a Griffith week, and I said then that I had some films myself in the queue to watch, and must not have gotten around to them. In looking at his career, he was tapped with Excessive Force to be the next Seagal, and I think this film was supposed to be a continuation of that, but when Excessive Force didn't have the success expected, Crackerjack may have suffered as a result and ended up here with us. I was looking up his IMDb bio, and it seems like a lot of his 90s stuff isn't available on streaming, so I'll have to track it down on YouTube or other places first. Hopefully it won't be another 15 years before we see him again on here--he at least has the tag now.


 

When this came out in 1994, if I'm remembering right, there was no "Die Hard in a [blank]" category of movies, we just called this a Die Hard ripoff. It's fascinating that there have been so many Die Hard ripoffs since then that it almost has its own action sub-genre, and this now holds up as one of the better ones in that sub-genre. Is that a good or a bad thing though? The Die Hard ripoff seems to be an easy go to for low-budget actioners, because it takes place in one location, making production cheaper; and from a writing standpoint the paradigm is already in place, you just need to fill in the template. It's a cynical approach to filmmaking that feels like it has no respect for its audience, and I do feel like we get some of that here. They pull so much from Die Hard that it feels more like a remake, the way The Fast and the Furious was a remake of Point Break without saying it. Again, I think where this is better than the myriad other Die Hard ripoffs is it has a better cast and better performances, and I did like the action we got; but it is still a ripoff.

And as I mentioned above, Christopher Plummer was one of those great performances. I think there's a sense that an actor of his caliber in a movie like this is slumming it, but Plummer came from that real professional acting tradition, where actors worked, and if you look at his IMDb bio, he was working right up until the end. Around this time, he was in Wolf and Delores Claiborne, a narrator for the TV cartoon Madeline, and was in the TV movie Harrison Burgeron. That makes this seem like another job in that mix, but he delivers the kind of professional performance you expect when you see his name on the tin. This isn't the way we see volume acting anymore, it's more "how many one-location parts can Eric Roberts fit in this year?" or "how many films will Bruce Willis sleepwalk through?" I think this is another way this film excels past its modern counterparts, because it isn't as common for the Christopher Plummers of later generations to give these kinds of performances in these films.


 

Like the candy, Thomas Ian Griffith was the hidden prize for the baddies, and in that sense he really lived up to his name. I realized in watching this that I hadn't had Cracker Jacks in years, but I still like the idea of getting a small toy prize along with my snack. It would be great if my bag of Doritos had a small plastic animal buried somewhere inside, so when the MSG and sodium make me light-headed and the calories harden my arteries, and I can enjoy how cute this small plastic animal is and feel better about my life, despite having just crushed a whole bag of Doritos at 42 years old. Or maybe at the bottom of a beef jerky bag, there could be a small plastic bull, so I could understand that there was a real being who gave his life so I could enjoy this sweet jerky-chew. Why did this not catch on beyond the Cracker Jack model?  

And with that, let's wrap this up. Here in the US this is available for free on Tubi, also IMDb TV, Plex, and Crackle. Since it's free then, this is a fun nostalgic romp that's worth the 90 minutes of your time. Hopefully more of Griffith's 90s DTV output will appear on these streaming services soon too.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109494

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Hard Vice (1994)

With this being National Native American Heritage Month here in the US, I wanted to spotlight Branscombe Richmond, the actor of Native American ancestry who has the most tags on our site, so I found this potential gem on YouTube. Interestingly enough, none of the usual suspects have covered this yet on their sites, though some have rated and/or reviewed it on Letterboxd, so you can go there to see what they thought in addition to us.

Hard Vice (or "Hored Voyce" here in Philly), is a Joey Travolta directed and written vehicle that stars Sam Jones as jerk cop assigned to a vice case where a lady of the evening is offing her Johns. He's forced to work with vice cops Shannon Tweed, Miguel A. Nunez, and Tom Fridley. After some initial friction, they start to work well together, but as they dig deeper, will they like what they find? While this is going on, they cross paths with local crime lord Branscombe Richmond. How does he fit into all of this? Does he even at all? All of this leads to a bonkers ending that you'll never see coming.


 

Which of course leads us to a dilemma: how do we discuss this bonkers ending without giving it all away? We'll put a spoiler alert in the last paragraph and discuss it there. Before we get to that bonkers ending, we have something here that doesn't know what it wants to be, erotic thriller or hard boiled 90s actioner, and ultimately ends up being neither. I enjoyed a lot of the performances though, Sam Jones is sufficiently Sam Jones enough; Shannon Tweed is exactly the no-nonsense get it done cop that the shot of her on the cover indicates we're getting, and also in true Tweed style isn't diminished at all by any nude scenes she might have; and then Nunez and Fridley are great in supporting roles with them. The Richmond part is interesting, because I got the sense Travolta was introducing him here to put him in a second movie with the rest of the cast, the problem is his part feels like something that doesn't fit with the rest of the story, and kind of distracts from the proceedings, even if he does a great job with the part he has. This is pretty much that 90s premium cable late-nite banger that does well in a pinch when you have a bout of insomnia at 2am, but I don't know that it's something worth seeking out on its own.

In this film, Richmond is playing a Latin American gangster, which is one of many ethnicities he's played as an actor. The way Lorenzo Lamas said Reno Raines in Renegade was his Rocky, I think Richmond's Bobby Sixkiller was his best-known role as well, and that show wouldn't have been what it was without him. What's interesting here is, despite having a smaller acting part, he was also a second unit director, which was a role he had in another Joey Travolta film, Da Vinci's War. What I discovered is Richmond has also done a lot of stunt work too, some of which I hadn't credited before, including in films like Cobra and Road House, so I've added those in, getting him up to 13 tags, which makes this his 14th. While he may not quite have the CV to make it into the Hall of Fame, he's still one of the all-time DTV greats, and I think well-worth spotlight any time of the year, not just this month, so we'll see if we run into more of his movies in the near future.


 

Other than an almost blink and you miss it part in the Williamson flick Down n' Dirty, we haven't really seen Sam Jones since we've been back from hiatus, so it was good to get one of his films up again as well. He doesn't get to do a lot of the Sam Jones we enjoy though. In his opening scene, a perp is trying to escape in a pick-up truck, and Jones shoots at the gas tank, causing the truck to erupt into flames with the perp in it. Unfortunately the Jones we get through the rest of the film doesn't match that intensity. I think maybe I could've used less of him as a jerk early on, and more of him beating up baddies and blowing shit up. I think with Jones that's where the film's identity crisis hurt the most, because he spent more time going over paperwork than chasing down suspects while the film tried to figure out if it was an action movie or an erotic thriller. It reminded me a bit of the Wings Hauser PM movie Living to Die, where Wings got all of the things right that this film got wrong, and the result was Jones was left out to dry a bit.

This is our first time seeing Shannon Tweed on here in over ten years, when we did Steele Justice for Martin Kove's DTVC Hall of Fame induction post. I don't know how we went that long without more Tweed. I think the problem is we don't do enough of the erotic thriller on here, despite the fact that that was one of the genres that most got me into DTV movies, but because of that, we don't see Tweed as much as we should. It's a shame, because she really was a stalwart of the DTV world, so she should have more reviews, but one thing I've noticed is, a lot of her great 90s stuff isn't available to stream, and due to the adult content, often isn't on YouTube either. I think it's time some of these Blu-ray companies that are putting out DTV and cult action and horror flicks started looking at erotic thrillers too.


 

**********SPOILER ALERT************SPOILER ALERT************SPOILER ALERT***
As I mentioned above, the ending to this film is bonkers. What happens is, the killer is revealed, and they take Shannon Tweed hostage and run up to the roof of the Las Vegas hotel they're in, where Sam Jones confronts them, and a police helicopter is hovering overhead. The killer fires a handgun up at the helicopter, blowing it up; then Jones, his character a former baseball player, throws a baseball at the killer, knocking them off the roof of the building. What are we doing here with all this? Exploding helicopters? Baseballs thrown at killers, knocking them off roofs? One the one hand, we joke "no wonder Hard Vice 2 never came out," but on the other, I'm left wondering what kind of bonkers awaited us had that sequel been made? And what would it have been called, Harder Vice?
**********SPOILER ALERT************SPOILER ALERT************SPOILER ALERT***

And with that, let's wrap this up. Currently, you can get this on Plex and YouTube. I think this is more a good time killer when you're battling insomnia that you'd just run into while flipping through the dial than something worth seeking out; by the same token, there's an earnestness to the proceedings here from everyone involved, including Branscombe Richmond, who we're spotlighting in this post, that I think elevates this beyond the churn and burn approach to DTV films we've seen in the last ten years or so.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109987

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Seized (2020)

I was doing a search of Scott Adkins on my cable box to see if anything new was available, and sure enough, it was this bad boy, now streaming on Netflix after only being available to rent for the past year here in the States. It looked like it could be good, but with all the Adkins streaming for free that I still had to watch, I couldn't justify paying to rent it until I'd exhausted those first. In addition to us, our friend Todd Gaines at Bulletproof Action has covered this, so you can go there to see what he thought. Now, without any further ado.

Seized has Adkins as a former special forces guy trying to live a quiet life in Mexico, which just never seems to work for these former special forces guys, and sure enough, a big drug cartel head, Mario Van Peebles, kidnaps his son and forces him to take out Van Peebles's competition. The question is, can this paint-by-numbers plot that we've all seen plenty of times before be elevated above it's paint-by-numbers-ness by Adkins, Van Peebles, Isaac Florentine's direction, and DTVC 40 Club member Art Camacho's fight choreography?


 

And really that was the only intrigue in the film once we understood what the plot was going to be, and I think I can give this a yes... kinda. The action sequences are everything you'd want with Adkins in the lead, Florentine directing, and Camacho choreographing. There's one near the end where Adkins has his hands taped behind him that's particularly inspired. By the same token, we've seen this film plenty of times before--I mean just the same year Adkins had Legacy of Lies, where he was ex-special forces being forced to work for the baddies, only it was is daughter that was kidnapped; and then Debt Collectors he wasn't ex-special forces, but we had the same construct, this time with he and Louis Mandylor's boss as the one kidnapped. Yes, this movie may have done better to mitigate the issues that come with this construct, but I think we still have "the son was kidnapped at the 13-minute mark, what are we going to do for plot for the next 75 minutes beyond 'give me my son back!' 'I will if you do this job for me!'?" I guess a few sweet Adkins action scenes isn't a bad way to pass the time though.

This is twenty for Adkins here on the DTVC, and I think if anything, this one solidifies him as the man right now. I also really loved that Florentine decided to allow Adkins to be a Brit, which he seldom does. Hopefully in future collaborations Florentine sees how much better that is, and, other than the Boyka movies, he goes with it. Out of his 2020 films, as of this writing I still haven't seen Dead Reckoning, but I've heard bad things, so I feel safe in saying I think this was my favorite of those. In fact, I think if I put all of his films from 2018-2020 together, this might be third for me after Avengement and Accident Man. On the one hand, that's great that this is third among 13 or so films for me; but on the other, this had its flaws, and there is a sense in looking at all the others from those three years that there is an issue of quantity above quality. I went back through some similar stars, like Dolph and Seagal, and really, other than Ron L. Marchini's unmatched run of 7 fun movies in a row, no one can put out a bunch of films and not have duds mixed in, so I think in Adkins's case, maybe the fact that he's able to pump out as many as he can and not have as many duds as other stars is the thing to hang his hat on? That and his too sweet actions scenes in this film.


 

Before I saw that this was available on Netflix, my next Mario Van Peebles film was going to be The Exterminator 2, which I watched some time ago for the Robert Ginty episode of the podcast I did with Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews, so that's still coming, but I decided to bump this up in the review queue. What I appreciated here is, this is exactly the kind of baddie an actor of Mario Van Peebles's stature could have mailed in, because we've seen it myriad times here from other people--Bruce Willis?...--but because he didn't it added a level of quality to the film beyond your standard DTV yarn about a former special forces guy whose child is kidnapped and the guy is forced to do bad things. I think that, along with the other factors I mentioned above made this a fun time; it does feel weird though, doesn't it, to be applauding someone for doing their job and not mailing it in? I guess that's where we're at in the modern DTV world, but I think it's also testament to who Van Peebles is as a consummate professional.

We're already at paragraph six, and I'm finally getting to the film's one Hall of Famer and 40 Club Member, Art Camacho. This is film 47 here, so he's closing in on the hallowed territory of the 50 Club, which currently only has two members in Dolph and Gary Daniels. As I mentioned above, here he's involved in the film as fight choreographer, and the work is exemplary--again another element that elevates this beyond a plot we've seen so many times before. The question then is, is the 50 Club on the table for him? If you follow his Instagram page, he posts a lot of great behind the scenes stuff from what he's working on, including some R. Ellis Frazier joints; plus we have some PM Entertainment flicks that he worked on that we still have to review, so I imagine 50 is around the corner for him, it's just a matter of when we're able to make it all happen.


 

Speaking of R. Ellis Frazier--who was executive producer of this--I decided to spotlight one of Frazier's mainstays, Luis Gatica, who played one of the rival cartel heads. I generally watch an R. Ellis Frazier film for whoever the main lead is, like Dolph or Gary Daniels, but Gatica always turns in a solid, professional performance that brings a depth to whatever role he's playing that helps overcome any shortcomings the production he's on might have in terms of budget and resources. Had this not been directed by Isaac Florentine or starring Adkins and Van Peebles, Gatica probably would have been Van Peebles's part in an R. Ellis Frazier-directed version of the movie, so seeing him as a smaller baddie role in a way felt like we were wasting his talents; at the same time though, that skill of providing depth to whatever role he's playing took this small part and made it something more than "Cartel Leader no. 4." I'm sure as long as R. Ellis Frazier is making movies, Gatica will be working in them, so I know this won't be the last time we see him. Here's to you Mr. Gatica, you're one of the great ones.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of my writing this, Seized is available on Netflix, but who knows how long they'll keep it up for, so get in while the gettin's good. If you remember last week, Larceny has gone MIA since Netflix decided to take it down, so you never know with them. And also if you remember last week, I was contemplating dumping my Netflix subscription because of how they dump movies. They must've been listening. "We can't lose Matt as a subscriber! Let's put Seized up and see if that keeps him for another month." All right guys, you've got another month out of me...

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7221772

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Larceny (2017)

With Dolph's birthday this past week, I figured we'd catch up with the big fella and review another one of his films that's been sitting in the hopper. This was one I caught on Netflix a long time ago that's no longer there--one of those I'm glad I grabbed the images I needed before it was gone kind of deals. In addition to us, our buddy Mitch at the Video Vacuum has covered this as well, so you can go to his site to see what he thought.

Larceny is another R. Ellis Frazier crime yarn that takes place in Mexico, only this time, instead of Gary Daniels or Luke Goss, he's got our main man Dolph in the lead. Dolph and his crew have a heist planned: rob one of the biggest drug dealers in Mexico, whose money is being kept in a vault in a prison. So Dolph gets himself arrested, his crew sneak in, and then they grab the cash and try to break back out. Problem is, as always, things aren't what they seem. Can the Dolph-inator pull this one off? And how many R. Ellis Frazier mainstays will we see before he does?


 

This wasn't horrible. The thing that ultimately was its undoing though was, yet again, it only had about 43 minutes of story that it stretched into 90. I feel like I'm saying this every week, "this movie would have been a great episode of a syndicated action show." The thing is here, not much happens in the middle, and when not much is happening, it feels like padding for the sake of a 90-minute runtime. Also, on the IMDb we have a "(rewrite)" credit, and as we know, whenever a script gets a rewrite, we tend to get uneveness and issues with the pacing. Dolph is still Dolph though, and he's in enough scenes that he can carry the film to some extent; and I also liked Jocelyn Osorio as a part of Dolph's crew/love interest, though for some reason she has a shoehorned-in damsel in distress routine at the end of the film that made no sense except as a byproduct of a rewrite. I think ultimately this ends up as another one of these Dolph 2010s DTV flicks that's not as bad as some, but not as good as others.

This is our 61st Dolph flick on the week that he turned 64. I don't know that anyone on the DTVC has as many films as their age. Gary Daniels turned 58 this year, so he's close at 52 films. Right now we have four Dolph DTV films left to review--one of which though is Sharknado 5, and when I reviewed Sharknado 3 in 2020, it ended up with the fewest views of any review I've posted since I've come back from hiatus, so I think we'll leave that for last, as people seem to be Sharknadoed out--plus he has some new ones coming out soon, so 65 by 65 is almost a foregone conclusion as long as I'm still making posts. There was a part of me in watching this that felt like this could have been one of his late 90s/early 2000s films, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but it had a bit of that feel to it. The problem is, a lot of those movies had a really fun quality to them that this lacked, and I think a big part of that was the middle where not much was happening. Dolph can usually prop that kind of thing up by just being Dolph, but sometimes it's even too much for him.


 

We've seen our share of R. Ellis Frazier films here, whether he's writing, directing, producing, or all three. Most of his movies are made in Mexico, they have a stable of core actors that he always uses, then stars sprinkled in like Dolph or Daniels, and smaller supporting roles for other stars like Corbin Bernsen or Louis Mandylor. There's a sense with these supporting roles that it's whoever has time between films that can make it down there. There's an earnestness to the whole process that I appreciate, as that's kind of the DTV spirit we look for; but I wish the stories themselves had a little more to them. They feel like your standard 2010s DTV storylines that we see in countless Tubi offerings: pulling off a heist but something goes wrong; guy stuck in Mexico and doesn't know what to do to get out of a bad situation; white guy in Mexico trying to piece together a crime and seemingly gets nowhere until he doesn't. He has another film with Gary Daniels coming, Repeater, plus I still need to review a previous Daniels collaboration, Misfire, so this won't be the last we see of Frazier. Maybe he needs to get a tag on soon...

Speaking of getting tags, we're up to 7 on Louis Mandylor, of which this is the fourth since we've been back from hiatus. I think a big part of it is he works with Jesse V. Johnson, and we can't not review his movies. According to IMDb, this isn't the last time he worked with Frazier either. What I like about him doing all these films is, sometimes he has small Eric Roberts-esque roles, like in this movie, but others he plays a main baddie or hero, like in the Debt Collector movies or Mercenary. It'll be interesting to see how many more of his films we get here on the site, but if he keeps working at this clip, I imagine quite a few.


 


One thing I haven't explored on here yet, is how this film falls for what I'm terming the "Prison Film Trap." I've been seeing it more and more, especially lately. The Prison Film Trap is the idea that a prison is a great place to set a film, but when you get into making it, it turns out not so much. That's because, in one location like that, it's hard to have continuous action. It starts to become repetitive, which ultimately felled this film here. A prison is a perfect place to set a video game, as you can really play with that space to have things happen. In a movie, the novelty wears off soon, and you're left with a sense of "we get it, let's get on with it." Riot is another recent example where it went wrong. Avengement worked, but it worked because it mitigated the prison aspect by having a lot of action outside the prison mixed in. I wonder if all these filmmakers watched Death Warrant and thought, "that looks easy!" I was trying to think of another prison movie that I liked, and the only one I could think of was Bloodfist IV, which had Ben Franklin running a Dark Kumite. I guess that's the recipe for success then.

And with that, let's wrap this up. This wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. I went on IMDb to see where you can find it now that Netflix dumped it, and I can't find it anywhere here in the States, not even on DVD. Netflix was the original distributor for the US, which may explain it, but also is scary to think they can cut a film and, because they had the distribution rights, that's it, no one else gets it. Hopefully it'll get back out there, maybe on Tubi, but it's also a bit unnerving that a movie from 2017 with Dolph in it has just disappeared, at least here in the US--according to IMDb it did get DVD releases in most other places, though Australia looks like they're in the same boat we're in. Netflix just seems more insidious by the day. Maybe I need to watch the remaining movies in my queue and finally cut my subscription...

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4797160

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Alternate (2000)

We finish the month of October with the last of our 2021 Hall of Fame inductees, Ice-T and Sam Firstenberg. With that in mind, what better film to cover than one that starred Ice-T and was directed by Firstenberg? Well, I guess we'll see how good a film it was before we say. In addition to us, our friends at Comeuppance, Exploding Helicopter, and Cool Target have covered this, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought.

The Alternate has Bryan Genesse as a CIA agent tasked with an interesting job: stage a kidnapping of the president to help boost the prez's poll numbers ahead of the upcoming election. He forms a team, including maverick former CIA guy Eric Roberts, they succeed in taking their target, only to have Genesse decide he'd rather make this a real kidnapping. Now only Eric Roberts can stop him, with his only assistance in the form of a Michael Madsen on a phone on the ground who is really only there to smoke and look cool for the camera.


 

Does it sound Die Hard-y? It does, doesn't it? The thing is though, it's a slimmed-down lite Die Hard. Shorter run time, not as many baddies to manage, smaller location, and fewer explosions. I think this film might have been a fun DTV actioner, the problem is, it fell into the trap a lot of modern DTV flicks do: it only had enough material for an episode of a syndicated TV show. This was especially rough when we get to the end, where it seems like our hero and the baddie are having their final showdown, but the slider bar is telling me there's 17 minutes left. How can this be? False endings of course. Oh, we thought Roberts had killed Genesse? There's still 15 minutes left, time for Genesse to pop back in again. It's like the cinematic equivalent of using a larger font and greater line-spacing to make that high school paper seem longer. By the same token, an episode of a syndicated TV show wouldn't have had the prodigious cast this had. So where does that leave us? Maybe our friend Will at Exploding Helicopter said it best: "What you get here is more Try Hard than Die Hard."

Last year when I had Jon Cross of the After Movie Diner (which just celebrated 10 years!) and Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures on to talk Fred Williamson, he mentioned having Ice-T in our Hall of Fame, and when he said it, there was a sense of "yeah, why isn't he in the Hall of Fame?" He's got pretty solid numbers (this is his 16th film on the site), has worked with a lot of the greats--Pyun, Firstenberg, Olen Ray, Williamson, Wynorski, and Camacho--, and it seems like no matter how good or bad the film is, he brings it. In this film, I found out in Marco Siedelmann's Stories from the Trenches that despite Ice-T only being in this for a short time, because his character was a CIA agent, he felt he needed to cut his hair. That kind of commitment takes a film like this, and elevates it simply from his appearance. I can't think of a better reason why he should be in the Hall of Fame.


 

Our other inductee, taking the director spot for 2021, is Sam Firstenberg. We know his rap sheet: Ninjas, American Ninjas, Dancing Ninja, Cyborg Cops, and Delta Forces. He helmed some of the greatest DTV flicks ever. I think with this one, you can see his skills in the way the film was put together, it seems more competent than your usual DTV fare; by the same token, you can see the limitations in both time and budget that prevented him from making this what he really wanted it to be. In Marco's book, he both said he really liked this film, and admitted to those limitations. I get that on both scores too. This feels a little more serious than an American Ninja 2, Cyborg Cop 2, or Breakin' 2... Electric Boogaloo; but, I can't let this film think it's so much better than those other movies, because the terrorists were taking out the CIA agents by blowing laced toothpick through straws because they could get them through security. Watching Eric Roberts and Bryan Genesse blowing through straws and then CIA agents grabbing at their necks and falling over isn't too far away on the silliness scale from Ninja III. Overall, this film is better, not worse, for Firstenberg's direction, and that tends to always be the case with his films, which is why he's being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

I already have the something for the seventh paragraph, so it's actually this sixth one I wasn't sure about. One idea was extolling the virtues of the one set Michael Madsen role. Maybe he's mailing it in, but it was a lot of fun watching him do it. The sunglasses, cigarettes, and gravelly voice always work. Another was the fact that this was supposed to be called The Replacement, but Ty from Comeuppance surmised--I think correctly--that the big screen Keanu Reeves film The Replacements came out the same year, so perhaps that's why they changed the name--though they didn't change Eric Roberts at the end saying "call me the replacement..." Or maybe it was the fact that Bryan Genesse wrote this, which is a fun fact, and I don't think it was a horrible effort, but it also makes me wonder if he or anyone else work-shopped the laced toothpicks shot out of straws idea. 


 

Finally, the president in this film is played by John Beck. I've lost track of how many times we've done a film that featured someone playing the president, but I believe this is the first mustachioed one. It made me wonder: when was the last time we had a mustachioed president here in the US? My guess was Teddy Roosevelt, and I was close--it was Taft right after him. In fact, we haven't had many 'Stache Prezes in US history. Most opted for no facial hair--I think Lincoln was the first with his non-'stache beard. Chester A. Arthur had a 'stache prior to becoming president, but as far as I can tell, in office he only had that mustache that connected to his sideburns, which in my mind is still a form of beard and doesn't count. That would make Grover Cleveland the first, and Harrison after him had a beard, so that makes Cleveland the second as well. From there we just have Roosevelt and Taft, and that's it--and not only that, Taft was the last prez to sport any facial hair. What that tells me is the entire premise of this film is off: why would the first mustachioed president since Taft be losing in the polls? That's less believable than the straw-toothpick darts. Just the slogan "Four More Years of the 'Stache" would win it, there'd be no need for all this Genesse tomfoolery to make him look better.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Here in the States you can currently get this on Tubi. While I say 90 minutes on Tubi is a good deal, this one feels like closer to 100, so keep that in mind. On the other hand, you have a great cast directed by Firstenberg, so that mitigates those issues somewhat. Congratulations again to Ice-T and Sam Firstenberg for being the last two of our 2021 Hall of Fame inductees. We'll see who gets inducted next year at this time!

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0203835

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Shootfighter II (1996)

As we continue with our October Hall of Fame inductions, joining Julie Strain in the class of 2021 is the one and only Bolo Yeung. In trying to find a good induction post, I was originally going to go with the first Shootfighter, until I realized I'd already seen and reviewed it! I guess with over 1100 reviews over 14 years, I'll forget some, but I feel like Shootfighter shouldn't have been one of those. Anyway, I settled on the sequel, which was on YouTube. In addition to us, our friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance have done this one, so you can go to their site to see what they thought.

Shootfighter II takes place after part one. A mysterious man named Lance (Joe Son) has his own shootfighting ring in Miami, and after a San Francisco cop's son is killed in it, he enlists our guys from part one (Yeung, William Zabka, and Michael Bernardo) to go undercover to take it down. The cop also gets another fighter named Shark (Brett Baxter Clark) to help infiltrate them, which causes some tension because he's a bit older--a Boomer vs Gen X vibe in the late 90s. When it's revealed that Lance is Yeung's brother, all bets are off, leading to a massive climactic fight at the end.


 

This definitely does the trick for 90s action. It doesn't quite hit the notes part one did for me (which is strange that I can say that considering I didn't even remember watching it until I saw my review, but that's neither here nor there), but it was still a lot of fun. Evil fighting ring? Check. "Rich people" in 90s fashions waving money around and yelling at the fights? Check. Baddie in double-breasted suits and a ponytail? Check. One of our heroes with a too-sweet man mane? Check. William Zabka? Check. And of course Bolo Yeung unleashed at the end? Check. This is the 90s VHS video store banger you came for, only now you can watch it on YouTube and don't need to worry about rewinding or late fees.

Bolo Yeung probably should have been in the Hall of Fame sooner, but I think the thing was I hadn't done a lot of movies with him in them, and some of the ones I had done had him with a smaller part. On the other hand, he was such a staple of late 80s/early 90s DTV action, and the Shootfighter movies were a great example of that. The other thing about Yeung is he was one of the great bridge stars, at least for me. We all remembered him in Bloodsport and Double Impact, and then seeing his name on the cover of a DTV flick at the video store, my buddies and I would have to watch it. That was one of the ways we learned that the DTV world even existed, and Bolo played a big part in that. What's great here is how unleashed he is at the end. It's just pure Bolo taking out baddies. Truly one of the all-time greats, and probably should have been inducted sooner.


 

The last time we saw William Zabka on here, it was 2011's Cross, which was chock full of other B- and C-list stars, of which Zabka would have been on the lower end in terms of recognizability (which I don't think is a word). Fast forward to 2021, and he's by far the biggest name in that cast or this cast, even bigger than that film's star, Brian Austen Green. A big-time Netflix hit series will do that for you, but it's been great to see as someone who's been a fan of Zabka for a long time. Here, of course, he's not the Zabka he is now yet, 25 years ago it was just Karate Kid name recognition, combined with Bolo Yeung's, that makes us want to rent this movie when we see it in the video store. I wonder if the new success will lead to more DTV opportunities for him now. I looked on IMDb, and he hasn't done much other than Cobra Kai since that took off, so maybe it's just a matter of time before the roles come.

One thing that makes a film from 1996 better in 2021 than it was in 1996, is the nostalgia factor, which this film definitely has, especially in Michael Bernardo and Brett Baxter Clark. Bernardo's man mane is absolutely fantastic, and what is that shirt he's wearing? You could see him in a Charles and Eddie- or Club Nouveau-style 90s pop band giving us his best overly affected wannabe soul singer voice on an upbeat slightly reggae infused Donnie Hathaway or Bill Withers cover. And then Brett Baxter Clark, probably best known to DTVC readers as part of Kahn's gang in Star Trek II or in the Andy Sidaris classic Malibu Express, here he could have been the hunky yet suspicious supporting guest part in a Murder, She Wrote of Matlock episode, the guy we think could have done it, but we find out didn't, despite having plenty of other sketchy things going on. Throw Zabka in there, who's 31-playing-25 with his post Chessking outfits, and the villainous Joe San in his oversized double-breasted suits, and it doesn't get much better.


 

Finally, this movie touches on what is ultimately the major design flaw in the sport of Shootfighting: you're killing off your product, so to speak. Part of how the guys are able to infiltrate Joe Son's shootfighting ring is he needs more fighters, because every night his number of fighters is always cut in half. The thing is, we have this sense that Joe Son is very successful, because he has all number of people on his payroll, from his own guards, to a guy who runs drawbridge, to a helicopter pilot--not only that, he has a limo outfitted with something installed that makes the back seat airtight and then deploys a sleeping gas through its ventilation system. None of these things are cheap, yet somehow he manages to make all of this money off a shootfighting ring where his best and most popular fighters are always one bad night away from being gone, forcing him to sell new fighters to his rich fan base. Imagine if the NBA had worked like that? Once Michael Jordan lost in the '86 playoffs he's dead? Or would they have beaten the Celtics because Larry Bird would have been killed after the C's lost to the Lakers the year before? But wait, the Lakers lost to the Celtics the year before that, so then would that have meant Magic Johnson died first? I guess we can all feel lucky that the NBA doesn't work on the shootfighting construct.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Unfortunately right now YouTube is the only way to go, which is bad because the film also features a "B n' B" love scene--boobs n' butt--so it has an age restriction, which I found out means if I try to watch it through the YouTube app on my cable box, I have to do this convoluted process where I need to start the film on my phone app, then link it to my TV with a code, which then allows me to watch on my TV with the age restriction. At 42 years old, it feels like a bit much, so hopefully someone out there will pick it up on a streaming site like Tubi. Also, congratulations again on Bolo Yeung's induction to the DTVC Hall of Fame. It's much-deserved and long overdue.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114433

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Atomic Eden (2015)

After seeing how great Mike Möller was in Ultimate Justice, I was excited to see what else he had for us, and found this on Tubi. Throw in The Hammer, who I'm always saying I need to do more of on the site; and then Lamas tacked on in some way, and this seemed like a no-brainer. As we know though, it's often the no-brainers that turn into the not-so-good ones. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have looked at this as well, so you can see what they thought as well.

Atomic Eden has Williamson a private military contractor who's been hired for a big job retrieving an item in Chernobyl, so he needs to round up his old crew and go in there to make it happen. As is often the case though, things aren't what they seem, as a bunch of men in white hazmat suits and gas masks descend on them, and now they need to do everything they can to fight their way out. Will they make it out alive? And exactly what is this device that they're risking their lives to retrieve? Is it worth all this trouble? And how does Lorenzo Lamas figure into all this?



Man, that's a great question, right? Is it worth it? I can ask the same thing about this movie. I mentioned that I was watching it to Ty from Comeuppance, and he asked, based off the name "is it a space slog?" I responded "no, it's a one location slog." I think that unfortunately sums it up. There were some pacing issues, especially with this device where the film starts at the 20-minute mark where they get ambushed in Chernobyl, and then goes back to Williamson rounding up his crew. That was clunky and caused me to lose interest a bit. Then we have the crew interacting with each other, which was also clunky. Then the action starts, and it's mostly the crew getting picked off like the cast of a horror movie. I don't know, I like that device in a horror movie, but action movies are not meant to be "Last Girl"-type constructs. Beyond all that though, We got a good amount of Williamson, and he was great in that good amount of him; I like Möller's fight scenes, which were fantastic again--and well-choreographed by him; and I liked his pairing with Hazuki Kato. To some extent, the movie might have been better if it were just those three kicking ass and taking names, rather then adding in a bunch of characters who are just there to be developed then killed off.

This is the space reserved for our requisite "we had planned on doing more Williamson on the site, and we've been woefully derelict in fulfilling that promise" paragraph, but when I looked I saw that the last Williamson was Jackson Bolt in June, and with the last one before that being Down 'n Dirty in February, it seems like we're doing a new Williamson every four months. When you compare that to Dolph, who's about one every three months, and Seagal is actually where Williamson, averaging about one every four months, I guess that means I have been doing more Williamson on here. And what I liked about this one was how much Williamson we got. It seems like a lot of his newer ones have less of him in them, and I can't blame him for that considering he's done plenty of great ones and he's in his 80s now; but here at 75, he could still get after it, which may bode well for some of the other DTVC Hall of Famers out there that are over 60.


Someone who isn't pushing 60, Mike Möller, who showed up again with some really fantastic fight scenes. The problem here was we had so much else going on with all the other characters, that we didn't get as much of him as we'd have wanted. His stuff is absolutely electric, you could put him up there with guys like Iko Uwais, the problem I think is Uwais speaks fluent English, which allows him to carry the non-action scenes off better. I don't know if we'll get Möller on that level, and it looks like after Ultimate Justice he went back to strictly German films. I feel like with the proliferation of action films being shot and produced by guys like Jesse V. Johnson, Ross Boyask, and Daniel Zirilli, there has to be a place for Möller in at least one of them. We need more of this guy!

The Lamas extra was an interesting twist. I had no idea he was in it until his name came up in the credits. It was a nice surprise, since we hadn't seen Lamas in over a year, when we did Gladiator Cop, which was really just him in edited footage from The Swordsman. This is now 35 for him, and out of all the actors in the 30 Club, he's probably best poised to get into the 40 Club. I have one in the can that I've seen already, Bordercross, which was taken off of Tubi before I could get images of it; and then I saw a few others are available on Tubi as well that I could make happen. We haven't moved anyone into the 40 Club since Cannon went in, so it'll be interesting if Lamas is that one.


 

 

Finally, this film used baddies in gas masks to allow them to have only a few stunt actors be as many as possible. A great trick for stretching the budget, and beyond that, I personally enjoy that approach: it's like this mass of endless, faceless killers coming to get them. I guess that added to the "Final Girl" horror element we had here, but I liked it better from the standpoint of the bad guys than from a plot device with all the heroes getting picked off one-by-one. I get too that it probably sounds inconsistent. How can I like one thing and not the other? My response is, "how can I not?"

And with that, let's wrap this up. Free on Tubi isn't the worst deal, but because of a lot of the extraneous character development and unevenly paced plot, the 90 minutes feels closer to 120, which hurts. I think if you're looking for more Williamson, and want to see what Mike Möller can do, this might do the trick for you though.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2974726

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Corbin Nash (2018)

This was recommended to us in August of 2020 on our Facebook page by one of our readers, Kevin Hazell, and it's a little embarrassing that I'm just now getting around to the review. I had planned to do it as part of a move to get more horror on the site overall, and if you look back to what I've reviewed over the past year, you can see how well that's gone--I've done just two horror films since October of 2020, Welcome to Willits and Zombeavers. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have covered this as well, so you can head over there to see what they thought.

Corbin Nash has Dean Jagger as the film's eponymous hero, a NYC cop who finds out from an old family friend, Rutger Hauer, that his parents were vampire hunters who were killed out in LA. So Nash goes out there, gets work as an LAPD detective, and starts investigating a series of mysterious missing persons cases. He gets too close and finds himself caught and held prisoner in some kind of human kennel, where he's fed bad food and forced to fight for the enjoyment of a group of evil vampires, among them DTVC favorite Corey Feldman. Will he make it out alive? And if he does, can he stop these vampires?


 

This is one of those ones where I don't know where to go with it. It's much darker than I prefer my horror, especially with the idea of the evil vampire kennel. By the same token, I liked a lot of the performances, and I liked the action elements. Where does that leave us then? I don't know how to explain what I think is wrong with the film without spoiling it, so as you're reading, if you don't want to go any further, skip down to the next paragraph. The thing is, Nash never really figures out how to beat the vampires, he just gets turned into a vampire by them when they try to kill him, and now imbued with vampire powers, he's strong enough to take them out. It's like Justice League just waiting for Superman to come in and save the day. It would have been nice if, at the very least, he figured his own way out of the kennel. Ultimately though there was enough good in this that I could appreciate it, and maybe with a movie like this, that's not a bad deal.

Normally, we start with the film's Hall of Famer, but in this case, for me the standout was Corey Feldman. He played an evil, transgender vampire, and he completely immersed himself in that role. From the DTV angle, Feldman in that role would be enough of a novelty to make it worth watching, but the fact that he nailed it as well as he did was something else entirely. He elevates the movie beyond simply that DTV level, especially with all the other names in this to help prop it up. At the same time, as I was looking up his filmography on IMDb, I saw something called "Corey Feldman, feat Snoop Dogg: Go 4 It (Video Short)" for the same year Corbin Nash came out. What was this? I had no idea Corey Feldman had a music career, or that he performed this song on the Today show in 2016. Wonders never cease. In terms of what I think of the song? I suggest checking it out for yourself...



Now for our film's one Hall of Famer, Rutger Hauer. We last saw him in 2014, when we did the film Blood of Heroes, which I did as part of the Drunk on VHS podcast. He has a very small part here, only in the beginning, when he's introduced to our eponymous hero through another DTVC favorite, Bruce Davison, who also has smaller part. This was the last film released before Hauer left us in 2019, with the other films he shot before then released posthumously. In addition to them, we had Malcolm McDowell as the "Blind Prophet," whose character is exactly as his name says. He sits on a bench in LA, and the main character talks to him from time to time. All of these guys are as good as you'd want them to be, but there is a sense that, with Hauer and Davison we want more of them, and with McDowell we want more of a character than just the standard blind wise man. With DTV sometimes you take what you can get.

Getting back to the fact that this is only the third horror film I've done in the last year, I looked at some other major DTV genres to see how that compares to them. I've done four Sci-Fi films, two documentaries, and four comedies--of which, two were Welcome to Willits and Zombeavers, so that covers our two horror films, and also means this is the first non-comedy horror film I've done since I did the screener Coven of Evil in September of 2020. I want to say here that my plan is to do more horror in the future, but I said the same thing last year, and look how that turned out. When I first started the blog in 2007, horror was expected to be a big part of what we were doing, but I noticed early on that action films were the ones getting the most traction, and it wasn't so much that I leaned into that to get more people to the site, it was more like I'd get comments saying "oh, this was good but did you see X from this person?", and then I'd watch and review X, which led to more people commenting on X saying "have you seen Y yet?" or "I think Z was even better by them," so then I'd watch and review Y and Z too, and things grew from there. I also think the horror review ecosystem is much larger than the action film one, so my reviews of action films don't have the competition that the horror ones do. An interesting side note to this though: the 1991 horror film Mom is one of our most-read posts, and when I went to its IMDb page, I saw we were only one of 12 critic reviews listed, which is a common number for us when it comes to action movies, but rare for horror. 


 

Finally, this film also has Courtney Gaines in it. That's important, because it marks a reunion with his costar from The 'Burbs, Corey Feldman. Thinking back 36 years to when that movie came out, it made total sense that not only would it be in the theaters, but that it would be a box office hit. Nowadays, could you ever see a film like that making it to the theater? It would a Netflix original, with maybe a limited theatrical release, but beyond that, it would only exist on Netflix, and in order to see it, we'd have to shell out $13 or whatever a month, as opposed to what we did back then where someone bought it on VHS, and we always had it. Yes, you can get The 'Burbs on Blu-ray for $5, but what about the new movie out there like The 'Burbs that's looking to be made now? Netflix will gobble it up, add some big stars, and give it a social media campaign that makes us think everyone who's anyone is watching it, keep it on their streaming site until they decide they don't want it anymore, and then, long after the faux social media buzz has worn off, it disappears, and we barely remember it ever happened; as opposed to The 'Burbs, where people of a certain age all know and remember it.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can currently stream Corbin Nash on Tubi here in the US, which I think is a good deal. There were aspects of it I didn't like, and it's definitely on the darker side for me, but there were also some performances worth seeing, especially Feldman's.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2948160

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Day of the Warrior (1996)

It's October, and you know what that means here at the DTVC: Hall of Fame inductions! It seems like we were just doing these, which sounds about right since I fell behind on them last year and they went into early 2021. Anyway, our first inductee is the great Julie Strain, becoming only the second woman in our DTVC Hall of Fame. This is also our 1100th post at the DTVC, so what better way to mark that milestone than by celebrating Julie Strain and her work. For more on her and the Andy Sidaris films, you can go to the DTVC Podcast episode that Mitch from the Video Vacuum and I did last year.

Day of the Warrior is the penultimate film in Andy Sidaris's LETHAL Ladies films. In this one, a former agent (WCW great Buff Bagwell) has broken off to form a crime syndicate, and he knows where all the undercover agents are, so he's looking to take them out, one by one. That means agent Willow Black (Strain) needs to let all of them know before his men can get to them, and then have them join her in taking the Warrior down. Will they be able to stop him before his nefarious evil schemes come to fruition? Only time and gratuitous hot tub and airplane landing scenes will tell.


 

For me, this is one of my favorites of the LETHAL Ladies series. It has all the elements that you want in a Sidaris film--especially in these late entries--plus you have the great Buff Bagwell! Julie Strain is great as well, as she turns from a villain to a hero, and continues to enhance this series after joining in Fit to Kill. The film adds in a bit more overt camp than the previous entries, and I think bigger than going from villain to hero, Strain navigates that pivot even better. Beyond that, we had great supporting performances, including Julie K. Smith, Gerald Okamura (which we'll get into later), Sidaris mainstay Rodrigo Obregon, and the great Ted Prior. This is what 90s DTV should be, just a fun, 90-minute ride.

While we don't have a lot of Strain's movies here on the DTVC (this is only her fourth), I felt like if anyone belonged in the DTVC Hall of Fame, it's her, especially with her great resume, and it's more on us to catch up and review more of her films. I think one of the problems is our site has become more action-oriented, and she didn't do as many action films, especially beyond the Sidaris movies, so the rest of her oeuvre tends to fall off our radar. What makes her so great, especially in these LETHAL Ladies movies, is, while they have a lot of TNA and women in little to no clothing, the women have a lot of agency, and Strain was one of the best at marrying sexy with agency. In the DTV world, where racy covers can be the difference between a rental and someone moving down the aisle, Strain could make impression as well as anyone, but, similar to others in the LETHAL Ladies series like Dona Speir and Julie K. Smith, while the sexy gets us in the door, we then get the strong female leads that mainstream Hollywood has always been reluctant to create. Here's to you Julie Strain, you were one of the greatest.


 

After Strain, the other great name in this is Marcus "Buff" Bagwell. He proves yet again how great professional wrestlers can be in action movies. The presence is there to match Julie Strain's, which is important if they were moving her from villain to hero, they need a baddie to work on her level. I looked on his IMDb, and he did the sequel to this, LETHAL Ladies: Return to Savage Beach, and then has a couple small parts in a film called Terror Tract and an episode of Charmed, and that's it. How did that happen? He was one of my favorites when my buddies and I watched Monday Night Nitro in the late 90s. I see that he floated around after WWE bought WCW, doing some TNA wrestling as well, then dropping down to more indies; but at his age, he could do more DTV stuff. Maybe not as an action lead, but supporting roles? Then eventually move into bigger roles like this one? I need more Buff Bagwell.

We've seen a lot of great Gerald Okamura scenes in our time here at the DTVC, but Elvis Impersonator is by far the best. It just doesn't get much better than that. And then, while he's doing his Elvis impersonation, Julie Strain is there in the lounge in a red gown yucking it up as he's singing, making the whole thing even better. I would say, in terms of Las Vegas casino scenes, it would be behind only Mick Fleetwood taking one between the eyes from Robert Patrick in Zero Tolerance for me. If I knew that every time I went to Vegas I'd see Gerald Okamura as an Elvis Impersonator, I'd probably move out there.


 

Usually I tell you how you can find something in the last paragraph, but I wanted to do it here to continue my rant about how streaming services dump films from their library. Last year I was able to do a marathon of all 11 of the LETHAL Ladies movies on Tubi. When I went to grab images for this review, I discovered that they were gone, and to see them on Prime I had to subscribe to the Full Moon channel. What? Luckily this is on YouTube, but look at the quality of YouTube screens? I'm not saying it's at the level of Metallica and what they did to Napster in the late 90s, but Full Moon pulling these off of Tubi is pretty bad. These should be free and great for everyone. If you don't do it for us, do it for the kids.

And with that, let's wrap this up. This is one of the most fun of the LETHAL Ladies movies for me, though you really can't go wrong with any of them. In particular, newly inducted Hall of Famer Julie Strain does a great job. If you haven't seen this, definitely check it out on YouTube--and hopefully soon Full Moon puts these back on Tubi.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116039

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Kill 'Em All (2017)

I saw this was free on Tubi, and I had to make it happen. For a while, a lot of Van Damme's DTV stuff was harder to get on free streaming services, so I wanted to take advantage of a time when one like this was. Now it looks like a lot of them, including this one, are available again, so the rush to make it happen may not have been warranted, but you never know with streaming services, and at least it's been watched, so now I'm reviewing it. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have covered this, so you can go there to see what they thought.

Kill 'Em All has Van Damme as a mysterious man who we find on the verge of death, probably having gone through a horrible ordeal. We also have Autumn Reeser as an emergency room nurse being interrogated by the FBI about a shootout that happened at her hospital. What does she know about this mysterious Van Damme guy in black? As she tells them what she knows, we get to see the film in flashbacks--her flashbacks, but flashbacks nonetheless. What is this Van Damme guy up to? What are his motives? What do the Serbian mafia have to do with it all? I guess we need to sit back for 90 minutes and wait to find out.


 

This is one of those ones that isn't horrible, but the storytelling device I mentioned above gets in the way a bit. I liked what they were trying to do, but from a movie standpoint, I always find that jumping back and forth to be disruptive. Beyond that, there was a great cast: beyond Van Damme and Reeser, we had DTVC favorite Daniel Bernhardt; big picture stalwarts Peter Stormare and Maria Conchita Alonso; and someone we haven't seen since we reviewed 2002's painfest Whacked! in 2008, Paul Sampson. On top of that, the action is pretty good, but we're also saddled with this construct of Van Damme's character having a concussion that, like the classic leg wound, is an issue when it is, but isn't when it isn't, if you know what I mean. By 2017's DTV standards, this isn't bad, and if you're a Van Damme fan, a free stream isn't a bad deal to make it happen.

Mr. Van Damme is closing in on his 61st birthday in a few weeks. 12 years ago, when we covered JCVD, I mentioned then that in that film he was complaining how he was almost 50 years old and he couldn't do those one-shot scenes anymore. By the same token, he was in Pound of Flesh seven years later at 55 showing off his trademark flexibility and trademark buttcheeks. In that latter film, like this one, he's playing someone younger than himself, someone born in the early 70s instead of early 60s. I kind of get it here though, as he needed to be the right age to fit with the unrest in Eastern Europe that his character was born out of. From an action standpoint, he's good here, but it felt like a lot of his fights were him dominating--especially his one with Bernhardt, which I'll get to later. It's like the Seagal problem, where he can never lose, only at least here the fights have more choreography and Van Damme isn't spending the whole film sitting. Maybe we should take our small victories when we get them.


 

Speaking of that Bernhardt fight. My issue was, it wasn't a good "these guys both know how to fight" fight, it had Van Damme dominating, so it didn't really show off what Bernhardt could do, or really give us the payoff we're looking for when we're pitting Van Damme and Bernhardt against each other from the start. It wasn't as bad as Seagal and Byron Mann in A Dangerous Man, but bad enough. As far as Bernhardt, this is now his second film on here since we've come back from hiatus, the other being Santa's Summer House, and while he had more martial arts and action in this film, I think his part in Santa's Summer House gave him more to work with. He was one when we started the blog that we had pegged as a future Hall of Famer, especially with his work in the Bloodport sequels; but then he tailed off, and we even recognized it then, in the late 2000s, that he was doing more smaller parts in big budget films--or even smaller parts in DTV films that had bigger names in them. This was more than that here, but to some extent it also followed the trend a bit too. I wonder if the main issue was, once JCVD fell into the DTV world, the parts for Bernhardt dried up. A similar thing happened to Gary Daniels, and he went a different route, getting leads in lower budget fare in places like Thailand--even doing faith-based films. How can we knock it though when Bernhardt is getting parts in big films like the John Wick franchise?

I want to get back to the storytelling device used here. For me, as someone who enjoys writing novels in my spare time, I can see how this may have looked good on paper--though even trying to map it out as a novel, it still feels like it would come off as something that would hurt the momentum of the plot to go back and forth like that, so imagining it in an action film is worse. They attempted to mitigate that by making the interactions between Reeser and her interrogators, Stormare and Alonso, more tense, but I feel like a storytelling device shouldn't need to be mitigated. Beyond that, I get that there's a bit of a Rashomon element here, as we're getting the story from the viewpoint of what Reeser wants her interrogators to know, but when we think of Rashomon, we don't see this kind of back and forth approach, each story in that is delivered individually. Action is a tricky thing, and I think we see just how tricky with all of the attempts we've witnessed over the years to reinvent the wheel with it.


 

This is another one that has Van Damme's son, Kris, in it, which I always like seeing. It seems like Van Damme kicks his ass a lot, which I kind of also get too--you need to pay your dues in this industry before you get to be the lead--look at Frank Grillo, who's finally getting those parts now. By the same token, there's a sense, whether it's Kris or his daughter Bianca, that Van Damme is passing this business down to his kids. That feels more authentic than just "your dad's Van Damme so he's going to get you into the movies," if that makes sense. According to IMDb, Kris hasn't done a film since 2018, but hopefully we'll see more of him in the future, especially getting his ass kicked by his dad in movies like this.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, this is free to stream on Tubi, Crackle, and Plex here in the US. I think that's the way to go, especially if you're a Van Damme fan. Beyond that though, the storytelling style of going back and forth with flashbacks was disruptive, and makes it hard to recommend if you have to pay for it.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5767628/

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!