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, March 20, 2021

The Underground (1997)

I first caught wind of this when our friend Jon Cross from the After Movie Diner and Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures (the latter of which has a new album out that you should grab on Bandcamp now!) brought it up when he was on the Jeff Speakman episode of the podcast. I figured I had to see it, so he got me a copy, and here we are. In addition to us, there are only 4 other critic reviews on IMDb, but one is from our good friends Ty and Brett from Comeuppance (in one of their first reviews ever!), so you can go there to see what they thought. Now, without any further ado.

The Underground is a PM flick starring Jeff Fahey as a cop who, with his partner, are investigating the killings of hip hop artists in the LA area. When his partner is killed, Fahey is a cop on the edge, ready to bring these guys down no matter the cost. The twist: the killers aren't rival rappers, they're a disco group called the Las Vegas Disco Express, and they're upset that a former band mate has sampled one of their songs and isn't paying them. Lucky for Vanilla Ice Bowie and Queen were much nicer about that.


Where do we start on this one? This is the PM you came for. Is it one of their best? Maybe not, but it definitely lives up to that logo on the screen. In classic PM style, we have action that builds on itself, bringing us to the scene depicted on the cover where Fahey is riding on the hood of a car in pursuit of the baddie, played by the inimitable Gregory Scott Cummins. We also have the "plucked from the headlines" approach, in this case the violence that was happening between rival rappers, but with the twist that it's actually not rappers committing the crimes at all, and I think that bled into a commentary that was popular among older people at that time, that rap would go the way of Disco eventually--which as we know never happened. Throw in the fact that the film was a take on 48 Hours when Fahey gets his new partner, and you have the makings of a solid PM flick.

PM is technically the film's one Hall of Famer, so we should start with them. We tend to think of them as more of an early 90s phenomenon, but this late 90s period produced some real gems of theirs--in fact my top two PM films, Recoil and The Sweeper come from this time. It's almost like there are two competing vibes with these though: PM is really hitting their stride, but also PM is on the way out, and that duality is only enhanced I think by the idea that we as the viewer feel the same way about movies like these as a whole. We may never get a decade like the 90s for DTV action ever again, especially with the way the market is trending, and I think this film typifies how great the 90s were, because it's probably not going to make any top 10 or even top 20 or 30 lists, but I would take the Pepsi Challenge with it over most of what we've seen in the decades after. As of this posting I haven't done a top DTV films of the 10s, but I did do one for the 00s, and based off that list, I think I would put this in at number 7 after Pistol Whipped. I mean, think of that, a film that I wouldn't even put at 30 for the 90s, I would have 7th best for the 00s. But that shows you how deep and entertaining the 90s were for DTV action. 


We haven't done a lot of Fahey here on the site, so to say this is his best that we've done isn't saying too much, but his work in these late-era PM flicks is fantastic stuff, and probably something I need to do more of. He may not have the martial arts ability of a Gary Daniels, but he more than makes up for it in screen presence. The whole cop on the edge thing works for him, with the popped collars, the angry looks, and the slick lines. In looking at his IMDb bio, it seems like it's more the brooding detective type in a seductive thriller that he's cast as as opposed to the cop on the edge, and I get that: the former takes much less work and much less toll on the body. I'm a fan of both, so I'll take it either way.

Before this I hadn't tagged Gregory Scott Cummins, so I took care of that with this review. If you're curious, we've done six of his films before this (I thought it was seven, but it turns out I haven't reviewed the Concorde/New Horizons classic Blood Ties yet). In films like this, he works as that baddie in a can type, where you don't need to use any plot exposition to build him up, we just know he's bad. According to IMDb, he has his MFA in acting, which would explain how he can do that so well. In a 90-minute PM action flick, where we want to get in and get out with as many helicopter explosions and car flips as possible, a guy like Cummins who can come in and be a baddie with no extra work around him is very valuable, and something we sometimes take for granted.


Finally, this is our first Brion James film in almost ten years! How does a legend like that go so long without a film? I think the reason is he passed in 1999, and since I've been back from hiatus, I've been trying to split the difference between getting caught up on the 2010s films I missed, and the 80s and 90s films we still hadn't done, like this one, and that meant poor Brion was left out in the cold. On a recent podcast episode with Ty and Brett from Comeuppance, I pronounced his first name "bry-ON", which was the silly way my friends and I said it, and didn't even realize I was saying it that way to them, it's become so ingrained in me. Here's to you Brion (bry-ON), you were one of the greats.

So with that, let's wrap this up. This is worth checking out if you see it on a streaming service or it pops up on cable. As far as I can tell though, none of the major streamers carry it, and it's not on YouTube. For my money, Tubi should have the entire PM catalog available to stream, but for some reason they only have like maybe half? That needs to change. Either way, this is worth a watch if you get a chance to see it.

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