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While attempting to flee from the FBI, the criminal Frank Dallio kills Detective McKenna's wife, Rachel. McKenna himself is shot in the face by the professional killer Lyle Mason, who dies in a car crash shortly thereafter. The FBI persuades McKenna to undergo facial surgery and take the place of Lyle Mason in order to find Dallio and a valuable microchip. Written by
Iris Kessin <Kessie@t-online.de>
"No ammo, no booze, no broads - gentlemen, this man needs our help"
MASK OF DEATH is a well-made thriller from Lorenzo Lamas' career as a staple player of the golden days of direct-to-video action fare. It's basically a remake of Chuck Norris' THE Hit-man, and I'm surprised to say that the Lamas flick is the superior effort of this sort of storyline. With that said, it's not a fantastic action film, and that's what brings down my rating: if I could value low-budget storytelling over fistfights, this one would have a four-star rating, but as it stands, MASK OF DEATH is missing the one crucial element to my idea of a good mid-90s action flick.
The story: After his wife is killed in a criminal deal gone wrong, Officer McKenna (Lamas) is declared dead but instead undergoes plastic surgery to disguise himself as a hit-man killed in action. Going undercover, McKenna infiltrates the dangerous underworld to bring a cruel mobster (Conrad Dunn) to justice.
The script is penned by a writer with little apparent experience (R.C. Rossenfier) and by high standards probably isn't all that special, but I like how it goes more into the mindset of Lamas and the ethical problems he faces in this situation than the aforementioned Norris picture. Lorenzo Lamas isn't a fantastic actor but he makes the most of this role while staying within the macho archetype. There are some surprisingly well-staged parts here, like the interrogation scene in the middle of the film. Additionally, I appreciate the casting of part-time action lady Rae Dawn Chong as McKenna's ex-partner: it's not a fantastic role, but it allows her to play a tougher character than she usually gets to, one who gets into fistfights and car chases and crashes.
As that last line indicates, the film is far from action-free but, it's too little and too impersonal for my tastes. There's a speedboat chase, two car chases, one shootout that Lamas is barely a part of, one bad hand-to-hand fight, and an instance wherein Rae Chong fends off an assassin with a towel, a jar of paint, and a wrench. Most of this passes as fairly big-budget stuff and would be at home in many a Hollywood feature, but it's just not what I'm after. There is plenty of opportunity for more karate and stylish gunfighting, but apparently the film was geared towards generic action to tide over the ultimately good story. It's disappointing and keeps the film from attain a four-star rating, but I don't think everyone will be bothered by it as much as me.
Basically, Lamas fans - especially those of his TV show - can feel free to check this one out, and potential fans who want to acquaint themselves with Lorenzo via a slightly sophisticated vehicle might as well seek it out too, but everyone else ought to settle for happening upon it on TV someday.
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