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Weak as an Action Movie, Terrific as a Campy Cult Movie
Bryan Genesse's charms aren't dissimilar to his more mainstream meatheaded counterparts Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Seagal etc. He's got the necessary brawn and martial arts finesse and surprising watchability despite having very little appeal. What makes or breaks the vehicles he stars in are first and foremost the writer and director.
Unfortunately for Genesse, he doesn't have the collaboration of solid directors like Peter Hyams ("Timecop") or Ringo Lam ("Maximum Risk," "Replicant"). His best film that I've seen is "Human Timebomb," where the real points are earned with the balls-out action sequences that are undeniably fun even when they have the lowest of production values. That director, Mark Roper, shows skill at giving B-movie productions big, well-constructed sequences, but God help him if the script has too much dialogue.
Yossi Wein, who served as cinematographer for Genesse's "Cold Harvest" and "Traitor's Heart", tries to bring similar sensibilities to the 2002 Nu Image flick "Death Train". It starts off with a slam-bang train heist sequence that finds all in top form. From the first ten minutes, Wein shows skill at keeping the action coherent and at least marginally expensive-looking. Genesse doesn't need to bring much more than brawn in this one, and keeps the cringe-worthy wisecracks to a minimum in comparison to his other performances anyway.
Unfortunately, there is not much more to be found after the competent opener besides loads of camp and unintentional humor. The villain Weaver, played by Bentley Mitchum, is anything but threatening, only memorable for some downright weird lines. There is way too much talking and not enough challenging complications to keep the film moving after the beginning. In fact, Genesse seems to be doing pointless acrobatic maneuvers along the train cars for most of the second act, which Wein unwisely uses to supplement action. When the action does come, it is usually pretty sloppy like a shootout in the cafeteria car that plays more like an amateur action scene staged by third graders.
Things do come together somewhat in the end, with a decently-choreographed showdown between Genesse and Mitchum (if you ignore one extremely lazy somersault by Genesse). However, the resolution has some bizarre details that should not be given away, because they are probably the biggest laughs one will have in the whole movie.
Camp value seems to be the most redeeming factor about this B-movie, and in that department it consistently delivers. If it could have delivered some good action among the camp, it would have been in better form. But, as any B-movie buffs knows well, asking for both is asking for too much.
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