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Ides of March (2000)
Not worth the effort to see this.
Thomas Kane (or is it Cane?) (Daniels) is a hit-man. He works on sort of a "board of directors" of other hit men and hitwomen. These hitpeople are overseen by their boss, a guy named Raymond (Cheung). It's Raymond's job to keep people like Uncle (Madsen) and Johnny (Fralick), among others, in line. Kane gets out of line when he begins double-dealing: he takes money from his intended victims as payment for sparing their lives. When the organization finds out about this, they get mad and send all their employees after Kane, thus making him the ULTIMATE TARGET. The only problem is, his wife Jody (Denier) and his daughter didn't know about his profession and now they're on the run from the baddies. Holing up in yet another dusty ol' town, Kane prepares to take on the dangerous people he once worked with. But will he be successful? We hate to be the bearer of bad news. I mean, we really, really do. It pains us to report that, after fifteen years of waiting to see this quasi-unreleased movie, we found that it was a disappointment. We understand that it was plagued with production problems and was swept under the rug, along with a lot of DTV product of that time (and a decent chunk of Michael Madsen's career), becoming another casualty of the low-budget DTV downturn of the late 90's/early 2000's. It was around this time that the DTV bubble went bust, and items like Ultimate Target make it easy to see why. Not only is it a Tarantino Slog (a term we coined), but, at this point in time, it's safe to say that it's also a Guy Ritchie slog. Let's just say it hasn't withstood the test of time.
We were truly excited to see one of our favorite actors, Gary Daniels, team up with Michael Madsen. Even the (unnecessary?) narration from Daniels's character is helped along by his mellifluous voice. This is countered by Madsen's gravelly voice, which is ALMOST enough to keep the movie afloat, but the only problem is that we hear way too much of their voices. In true Tarantino Slog style, this movie is extremely talky. We needed less talk, more rock. Characters gratuitously eat/talk about breakfast cereal, reminding you instantly of Eric Stoltz's character in Pulp Fiction. There's a ton of other yak-yak, and when we finally get to see some fight scenes, they are pulled and stretched in varying combos of slow motion and fast motion. As we have stated before, we really hate fast motion. Another thing we hate, bathroom humor, is also, sadly, here. Maybe the characters talked about everything else there is to talk about and finally reached the bathroom. Not good. Another strike.
On the bright side, Daniels is good in the movie and tries against all odds to make everything work. Even when what surrounds him is weak, Daniels always remains watchable. The pairing with Madsen didn't live up to its full potential, but Daniels was reunited with his old Deadly Target (1994)/Fistof the North Star (1995)/White Tiger (1996) co-star George Cheung. We have always admired Cheung and his impressive resume. But this whole outing doesn't FEEL right. Almost like it wasn't fully completed, which perhaps it wasn't. It's all very similar to the comparable Double Tap (1997). In that particular T-Slog, Stephen Rea is the hit-man, and the rest of the cast jabberjaws on about a bunch of needless topics. Please consult that review for a more in-depth analysis of the aforementioned Tarantino Slog.
In the end, Ultimate Target (AKA Ides of March, not to be confused with the Ryan Gosling movie of the same name, though it would have been cool to see Gary Daniels in Gosling's role) proves definitively that characters walking in slow motion either with or without sunglasses is not enough to make a complete film. 2000 was just about he moment when the shorthand replaced the substance. Much like Hostile Intent's beloved Pastebucket McWoo, the last thing we as viewers see, if you stick it out all the way to the END of the end credits, is this, and we quote: "2001 Giants Entertinment". Yes, that's right. They misspelled "Entertainment". And doesn't that say it all, really?
Contra Conspiracy (1990)
This is no Deadly Prey
When film director Duncan Savage (Michael Williams, in his only credited role to date) takes his crew out to the California desert to shoot a low-budget movie, everything seems to be going according to plan. He even takes his daughter Kiersty (Vicki Stephenson, also her only role) along so she can see for herself the behind-the-scenes magic of movie-making. Sure, there are the normal hiccups along the way, but nothing any of the experienced crew can't handle. That is, until they run afoul of some baddies. Maybe the location scout should have known, but it seems the film crew has set up shop way too near the base of a gaggle of paramilitary nutjobs. When the two cross paths, a massacre ensues. Kiersty survives, and ends up being debriefed by a trio of government suits. As Kiersty recounts the tale of how she and a few other crew members survived in the nearby forest, we see how it all played out. This includes how they fended off a psycho named Hillary (Bahner, not the one you think). But what, exactly, is the CONTRA CONSPIRACY? Contra Conspiracy (no "the"), is another pre-PM Pepin and Merhi production under their City Lights banner. All the names we're so used to seeing in the credits are present and accounted for, from Charles Kanganis, the writer, to Addison Randall, a producer, to John Gonzalez, who did music, to name just a few. Anyone familiar with City Lights or PM will recognize not just these names, but also the style of what they're watching. Contra Conspiracy starts off being pretty interesting and different, however. The first two thirds or so is a little more unorthodox, but then it settles into a fairly run of the mill wilderness slog.
Still, it's better than Skinheads (1989), because Skinheads had so much more potential, and then squandered it on a standard "running away in the woods" plot. While he's hardly a threat to Chuck Connors, Blake Bahner, Spyder himself, should be used to being in disappointing product - Blackbelt II (1989) anyone? Not a ton happens in this movie, so it runs out of any of the steam it built up initially at about the hour mark.
The paramilitary guys range from meatheady thugs to the classic "weak link" who feels bad for the film crew. Going for them, however, is the fact that they have a camouflage car. Sure, it's the desert and the car is painted classic green cameo, but hey...it may be a gigantic 1984 Buick, but it's painted cameo, so you WON'T SEE IT COMING. Pretty genius. But the good guys have plenty of tricks up their sleeves as well. In order to put the baddies off their trail, the special effects guy sprays fake blood all over the forest. The only problem: the bucket is emblazoned with, in large letters, the words "MOVIE BLOOD". You'd think it would just say "Blood". We assume they know they're working on a movie.
Sure, there's an effects-test blow up, and a car chase (a CAMOUFLAGE car chase) around the desert, but this is no Deadly Prey (1987). There are some interesting elements, but it's far from a must-see. Plus, it left the biggest question unanswered: what's the conspiracy behind up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, select start? The movie was copyrighted 1988. Maybe it knows something we don't.
Pretty much standard Seagal muck.
A man known only as The Boss (Jones) is some sort of crime lord but also has a kill room where he tortures and murders the captive victims of his insane rages. When one girl, Nadia (Stetcu) escapes The Boss, she ends up crossing paths with a hired Killer - said to be "the only guy who can do the job" - named John (Seagal). John, a rotund man of girth, teams up with an actual Martial Artist named Chi (Mann) so they can both fight the baddies that are after them - some for political reasons, some for personal ones. After a lot of violence and bloodshed, the final confrontation occurs: The Boss vs. John. Who will feel the ABSOLUTION? Absolution is proof that they are indeed still making Steven Seagal movies. Maybe it's not that difficult to head off to Romania for a while and, armed with a computer that can do CGI bullet hits and editing software that can speed up fights and take away frames, come back with something that you can release to DVD. Presumably Seagal himself doesn't have to appear that long on the set, as he has other people do his ADR, his stuntwork, and even his dialogue scenes, as stand-ins, well, stand in for him. Many times this is very obvious that Seagal is not actually there listening to the dialogue said by other people. Usually his stand-ins look like Hollywood producer Robert Evans or Roy Orbison. So now you'll know what to look for. It's possible some of the stand-ins even have glasses or blonde hair, that's how little they care to make it match. (That's a joke, but very close to the truth).
Just exactly why Seagal doesn't do these fundamentals of filmmaking remains unexplained. Is he some sort of Hollywood royalty that thinks he is above doing these things? Better question: what does this free up time for him to actually DO? What is so important to him that he can't really even appear in his own movies, but for a bare minimum? When did he get so lazy? Why is he running away from himself? (Stay tuned until the last paragraph for a potential answer).
We're not really sure who is watching these Seagal movies (besides us, obviously, but we have a website about direct-to-video action movies - what's everyone else's excuse?) - and, if people are watching them, are they taking them seriously? Are they meant to be taken seriously in the first place? Judging by Seagal's narration about him being a bad man in search of absolution, whatever that may mean, we think the answer may be yes, interestingly. Maybe the foreign markets eat these things up, we don't know. Thankfully, when Seagal is talking (and not someone else talking for him), he doesn't lapse into a random Cajun accent too much, but you never know when it will strike. It's like a cobra. A Cajun cobra.
Smartly, the filmmakers brought a solid actor and quite good Martial Artist named Byron Mann to pick up Seagal's considerable slack. The movie could have starred Mann and been perfectly fine, if a bit junky. However, the two of them walk away slowly from an explosion, so, maybe there was some bonding there. Fan favorite Vinnie Jones as the uncreatively named "The Boss" (Seagal's name is "John" in the movie so the writers get zero points for creativity in naming the characters) is really at his worst here. Not him, per se, it's not his fault, but the role is weak. But the guy likes to keep working, so, lord bless him. But as a pseudo-Saw-type monster/crime boss, Jones doesn't shine like he should. It could've been anyone wearing that apron in that green-tinted room.
Seagal is a victim of his own choices in life. He is where he is because of no one but himself. He wanted to place more emphasis on being some sort of blues-playing Buddha than on doing what he does best. He should consider being less lazy and arrogant and instead put some energy into what he puts out there with his name on it. If he were to reverse course and do that, we might really have something going forward. But as it stands, this is pretty much standard Seagal muck.
Arnie Action All the Way!
U.S. Marshal John Kruger (Arnie, who is credited simply as "Eraser" in the end credits) is...an eraser, a man who works for WITSEC, or "Witness Security", erasing the identities of people in the Witness Relocation Program so baddies won't find them and kill them. No one is better than Kruger at what he does, but he faces his toughest challenge yet when he's assigned to protect Lee Cullen (Williams), a woman on the run. After working with the FBI on a sting operation involving illegal gunrunning - especially as it relates to a high-tech new EMP gun - now all sorts of bad guys are after her, from corrupt U.S. bureaucrats to the Russian Mafia. (Not to be confused with Roma Maffia, who's in the movie). Kruger's rival is his former compatriot DeGuerin (Caan), who is a formidable nemesis, but Kruger's got plenty of tricks up his sleeve besides erasing people, as we'll clearly see. Will DeGuerin and the other baddies get ERASED...permanently? Eraser is probably one of the last, best Arnold movies. It's a fitting way to unofficially wrap up the "Golden Age" of his career of the 80's and 90's, because the movie is pure Hollywood ridiculous action in true Schwarzenegger style. It truly is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, a genre unto itself, if that makes any sense. You pretty much have to love it. It's nice to see a younger, thinner, more agile Arnie, along with his unmistakable voice. Of course, he gets many classic one-liners to cap off many sequences. The fact that Kruger is supposed to be a U.S. Marshal, but becomes an unkillable superhero who for all intents and purposes can fly and survive grievous injuries with ease, is an oversight of the best kind, something the audience has to go with and couldn't do without, unless they wanted a much less entertaining movie.
The whole thing is very 90's, with classic computers, including the very-new "Internet", and some now-vintage cell phones. The technology even helps Kruger with his job, stating on the screen "Prepare to Erase". But whether tiny budget or huge budget, action movies of the day had one thing in common: people after "the disc", in this case what appears to be some more hot technology, Minidisc. Someone always wants that darn disc. But you KNOW the action isn't taking place in the present time because James Caan smokes indoors in government buildings. That's the ultimate no-no. Only a true bad guy would do that.
Besides Caan, we also have Vanessa Williams, who confronts James Cromwell, stating to him that at the Cyrez Corporation, "treason is part of the corporate strategy!" - which sounds like a perfect ad tagline for them. Williams has had a long and storied career, but is only really relevant to fans of this site as co-star of Under the Gun (1988) with Sam Jones. So, between this and that, her action pedigree is surprising and pretty respectable. While we often joke about the star singing the end credits song (like we've done for Jerry Trimble, etc.), in this case, Williams actually does, because this is a Hollywood production, after all, and they can get high-caliber talent. There is another rockin' tune that plays after the movie, which we suspect is Trevor Rabin's "Caught a Train", but we're not sure. As far as the soundtrack itself, there are those wailin' guitar squeals heard often, which we liked because we thought it was a throwback to the 80's.
Watch out for a cameo from Sven-Ole Thorsen towards the end of the movie, uncredited, as a Russian thug. Evidently, he and Arnie are buddies. Arnie should have advised him against being in Fatal Combat (1997). Another familiar face for us who turned up briefly was Patrick Kilpatrick, which helped to seal Eraser's connection to other action movies of the day. We also liked seeing James Coburn, if it was a pretty small role, but in a movie filled with actors with distinctive voices (i.e. Arnold and Caan), he stood out. Pastorelli added energy as Arnold's sidekick, and full marks go to one Andy Romano, who played Undersecretary of Defense Daniel Harper. Romano is one of those character actors that has been in tons of stuff, but gets little acclaim or recognition. We try to celebrate these people, especially when they shine, and here he certainly does as one of DeGuerin's partners in crime.
If what we've read is true, Eraser was a troubled production with many problems along the road to completion. It's one of those situations where there are many writers and people have to be brought in to do tons of rewrites. Maybe it's because some Law & Order people started the script, or heavyweights like Frank Darabont and even John Milius came in to polish things up, but, from a viewer's perspective, you really can't tell. Nor should you. The whole thing is improbable enough - any behind the scenes flaws are papered over invisibly to us. Eraser is classic, big-budget, Arnie Action All the Way - call us old-fashioned, but we really enjoyed it.
Pretty darn juvenile
When last we heard from Anthony Scott (Stuart), he defeated his arch-rival Quino and rode off into the sunset (well, lotus-positioned off into the sunset if you want to get specific). Now living in Miami, Florida, Scott is somehow accepted into college. He makes friends with an enthusiastic guy named Luke Morris (Haynes), who looks, by turns, like either a young Rick Santorum sans the sweatervest or a young Marc Summers sans the crippling OCD. Anthony soon runs afoul of a group of college bullies - COLLEGE BULLIES - called The Tigers, led by a guy named...Dick (Alan). Once Anthony starts seeing Dick's #1 chick, Patty (Baxter), Dick gets mad and wants to take his bullying to the next level. Anthony refuses to fight Dick outside of an officially-sanctioned bout, so they take to the stage of the college to have it out. After Dick is bested in the match, he gets really mad and calls in the original head of The Tigers, a sort of "Bully patient zero" named Mark Sanders (Prior). Because Sanders is so tough, Master Kimura (Watanabe) flies to America from rural Asia for the first time ever. But will it be enough for Anthony to be victorious? Our old buddy Anthony Scott returns in this unnecessary sequel that is, possibly, stupider than the first entry. For a movie that doesn't need to exist, extending the running time to a punishing 97 minutes is simply taxing the goodwill of the audience a bit TOO much. Anthony Scott is still not likable, thereby erasing any chance for the sequel to improve upon what came before and justify its existence. He does get beat up a lot though, and other characters are constantly hoping to "teach him a lesson". As referenced in the first film, we know Anthony Scott is true-blue American (with the mismatched voice of a 67-year-old American to prove it) because when he gets hungry, he requests, and we quote, "Hot dogs, hamburgers, or rib food." RIB FOOD? What in the name of Larry Ludman is THAT? We may never know...
But his buddy Luke subsists solely on champagne and caviar, presumably fitting the definition of what people from other countries think Americans eat and drink every day. Luke warns Anthony against taking rides from strangers by saying "Haven't you seen that movie The Hitcher?", which we thought was an interesting reference, and he describes The Tigers as a "gang of delinquent Karate fanatics". Said fanatics are so badass, they hang out at the local ice cream shoppe (and it IS a shoppe) and plot their evil deeds under Ben & Jerry's banners. Their malevolent attitudes drip off them like so much Chunky Monkey.
For both the matches with Dick and Sanders, a simple stage like you'd see in any school gym is used. Not a ring. It's also announced on the radio and the DJ looks like a young Johnny Depp. IMPORTANT NOTE: there is not just one, but TWO chicken mascots at the first bout. At the second match-up, people in horse suits and tiger suits also are seen. This is the most puzzling development since rib food. What the HELL is going on? Unfortunately, none of this sustains or justifies a 97 minute running time. This movie is just too damn long.
For a glimpse into the acid-washed late-80's and to see a young Amy Lynn Baxter, Karate Warrior 2 could almost suffice...but the songs by a band named Glasswork aren't as good as the Simon Boswell score of the original, and Ted Prior in a non-AIP role could have been more prominent. Adding more insult to injury, fan favorite Jeff Moldovan did stunts but did not appear in front of the camera. He's also credited as Jeff "Maldovan" - whether that's a misspelling or intentional to help himself avoid being associated with this is not known. It all ends on a freeze frame, which is normally a good thing, but the frame it freezes on is just odd and doesn't chime with the rest of what we've just seen. But, then again, maybe that's appropriate, as none of it made much sense to begin with. And not in a good way.
Perhaps all this, plus the fact that it's all pretty darn juvenile, is what prevented it from ever securing a U.S. release. It seems only Italy and Japan have ever (officially) had the pleasure. Well, we're here to announce that the rest of the world isn't missing all that much. And the two chicken mascots never even fight, which would have been awesome.
Il ragazzo dal kimono d'oro (1987)
Our main character Anthony, is very whiny and not too likable.
Anthony Scott (Stuart) is an American teen who goes to the Philippines to visit his father, Paul (Martin) (credited, in classic 'lost in translation' style, as "Anthony father"), a journalist currently living there. After a lot of bonding time with Anthony father, Anthony runs afoul of local gangster Quino (Enrico Torralba), who also happens to be a Karate master. Quino and his thugs are even involved in a protection racket with the store owned by the father of Anthony's love interest, Maria (Jannelle Barretto). Eventually, Quino beats up Anthony and leaves him in the forest. He is then found, and nursed back to health, by reclusive monk Kimura (Watanabe). Master Kimura also goes through great pains to teach Anthony Martial Arts (mainly because Anthony complains and resists most of the time) - but will he learn the "Dragon Blow" in time for the big tournament - the face-off with Quino? Find out, at some point...
Karate Warrior is a very earnest and straight-ahead film that seems like it's simultaneously trying to be like the Karate Kid movies and at the same time trying NOT to be like them. One of the main problems is that our hero (?), Anthony, is very whiny and not too likable. Only the gaffes provided by the unintentionally funny dubbing give him any likability. He does have a classic 80's "Cool" look, but that's about it. (Maybe it was the "hair stilist", another misspelled credit, who helped him look so cool).
When Anthony arrives in Manila, after getting a ride from the time-honored Wacky Taxi Driver, a bunch of punks beat him up and steal his Walkman. Not a good start. He was only asking around trying to find where his dad lives, a town apparently called Los Banos (if my high school Spanish is correct, doesn't that mean "The Bathrooms"?), but he quickly runs into arch-baddie Quino, not to be confused with Kimo or Beano. Why his dad didn't pick him up at the airport, like he did when his mom Julia (Agren) arrived, we don't know. Maybe that's why they were estranged from each other.
After a motorbike chase and Anthony gets beat up by Quino, we go into the extensive forest training sequence we've seen many, many times before. Master Kimura yells at Anthony to RELAX NOW! That seems kind of counterintuitive, but maybe it's all part of Kimura's plan to deal with this whiny brat. There is no pounding, inspirational song during the training, which would have helped a lot, but the Simon Boswell music overall is catchy and stands out as being good. Also, we should mention that at this point Anthony hasn't been wearing a shirt for a decent chunk of the movie's running time. How can you have a protracted, shirtless training program and no song? That being said, the "Ha-do-ken"-type move, the Dragon Blow, is very cool and the movie should have gone more in that direction. Presumably the audience hopes Anthony will figure out how to use said blow at The Battle of the Karate Champions, the big tournament in town, which does look very well-attended. They also have fireworks after people get beat to a pulp.
Director Fabrizio De Angelis, AKA our good old pal Larry Ludman, turns in a kind of workmanlike product here. It could have used more action and less whining - the whole thing is so darn slow. Sidestepping some of the clichés might have been nice too, but we can't ask for a miracle. Released on Imperial Video back in the VHS days, this does seem to fit with a lot of their other output. But they did not release Karate Warrior 2, or any of the many other Karate Warrior sequels...we wonder why
Black Force (1975)
A classic example of bellbottom-Fu!
When a guy on the streets of New York is mugged and a priceless artistic artifact stolen, the whole underworld begins buzzing. A gangster named Z (Schwartz) wants this precious statue, as does a woman named Felicia (Filson). Thankfully, a team of black-belted Martial Arts experts are on the scene to stop the artifact from getting into the wrong hands: Eric (Malachi Lee), Billy (Judie Soriano), Jason (Wat-Son, whose real name is Watson but presumably he hyphenated it to look more Asian?), and our personal hero Warhawk Tanzania as Adam. When you have a name as awesome as WARHAWK TANZANIA isn't it a bit of a letdown naming him, simply and boringly, "Adam"? Kind of a step down if you ask us. Anyway, what ensues is a bunch of wonderful incoherency as warring factions vie for the statue. Who will get it? The bad guys or the BLACK FORCE? Travel back in time to the freewheeling 70's as you boogie on down to funktown in this unconstrained, uncontrived, yet unintelligible outing. The temptation is to label this as "Blaxploitation", but really, this movie defies all labels and is a planet all to itself. That being said, it's very much in the vein of fan favorite Death Promise (1977) (though nowhere near as good), and fellow - and only other - Warhawk vehicle Gang Wars (1976). Even Wilfredo Roldan from that film reappears here, continuing the through-line. It's all about grimy NYC streets, funk on the soundtrack (from a band called Life, USA), and montage after montage that seems like it was edited by people who were distracted by Watergate.
But you have to remember that this was during the Kung-Fu craze of the 70's, and material like this made a lot more sense back then, presumably. Bruce Lee was king and everybody was Kung-Fu fightii-iin. So it follows that you'd get a bunch of non-actors and semi-pro's together and put their Dan or belt level on the screen along with their credit. Seemingly everyone is listed that way. We practically know the skill level of the best boy grip for godsakes. Or best boy Kung-Fu grip, as it were. We're even informed via an on-screen title card before the movie that "no trick photography was used" and high-speed cameras were on hand to capture all the action. And this was decades before CGI trickery and quick cuts. Such was the reverence for the craft at the time. The problem, if it is indeed a problem, is that because of their focus on the Martial Arts, literally every other facet of the movie suffered. The result is a disjointed, incomprehensible mishmash of scenes of our heroes "hitting the streets", with a bunch of post-dubbed dialogue that is unhearable because the music drowns it out. The only thing louder than the music are the shirts the characters are wearing. The fight scenes have no pretext before they spring up, and what dialogue you can hear is classic jive talk. You have to love it. Or maybe you don't, it's entirely up to you. We found it entertaining for most of the running time.
Tailor-made for drive-in's, Black Force was from a different time, when even the priests had very wide collars, even the baddest bad guy had a walrus 'stache, and Martial Artists took their loud exhaling VERY seriously. There's even a "greatest hits" segment at the end where we can see all the moves yet again. At least the music is good quality during all this madness. Besides, you know a movie is going to be good when a credit appears beforehand stating "Produced by Landfall Systems, Inc." Apparently this wasn't produced by a human being, but maybe a laundromat or something. Seeing as we also have a movie on the site called Whiteforce (1988), we figured we'd be fair and balanced.
Released on VHS with an unrelated guy on the box cover, the same company actually released Black Force 2 - a retitling of another film that came out two years BEFORE the original Black Force! Maybe the fans were just clamoring for more during the video store era of the 80's. For a classic example of bellbottom-Fu - with no regard given whatsoever for coherent consistency - look no further than Black Force. And why don't guys keep their afro-picks in their hair anymore.
The Hunted (2003)
It feels like you've seen a lot of this before...
Aaron Hallam (Del Toro) is a Kosovo veteran and also an unstoppable killing machine. When the mentally unstable Hallam returns home to Oregon, he continues his killing spree. This grabs the attention of FBI Special Agent Abby Durrell (Nielsen), who wants to stop him. As it turns out, this particular unhinged maniac was trained by a survival expert and knife maestro named L.T. Bonham (Jones). He's not lieutenant Bonham, he's L.T. Bonham, as he does point out he never was actually in the military, he just used his expertise to train the recruits. Feeling guilty that his star student is now on the rampage, Bonham comes out of retirement to do one last track, which inevitably leads into the final teacher-versus-student knife fight...but who really is THE HUNTED? Maybe we'll all find out together...
It's First Blood (1982) meets The Fugitive (1993) meets White Ghost (1988) as Tommy Lee Jones puts on his grizzled hat once again. This was towards the beginning of what came to be known as the GeriAction trend in Hollywood, where an older generation of actors - within a certain range, mind you - wanted to try a few last punches and kicks before they kicked off this mortal coil. Everyone from Clint Eastwood to Liam Neeson to Sean Penn have tried it lately with varying degrees of success. As anyone who reads this site knows, we almost always root for the older guys. We hate young punks and we cheer when they lose. All that being said, I think it's fair to expect more of the great director William Friedkin than what we get here. It's all so simple, paint-by-numbers, one-dimensional even. Some guy is on the loose and Tommy Lee Jones is "Hunting" him. Is it wrong to want just a bit more meat on the bone than that? It feels like you've seen a lot of this before - just the images of Tommy Lee Jones in front of a waterfall will remind you of the aforementioned Fugitive. And a former military man with a knife that the authorities are chasing in the Pacific Northwest wilderness should bring to mind a certain Stallone movie series that we all know and love. They had enough time for the clichés we've all seen before, but somehow they couldn't find the time for some character development or human drama. They even fell back on the tired "Vietnam vet goes crazy" scenario, which could certainly be argued is insensitive, if not insulting. But we may not have noticed if that hadn't been done so many times before. The only difference is now it's Kosovo, not Vietnam. We would think that by 2003 Hollywood would have used up every last drop of that trope, but no, apparently not.
This is one time that we can think of that we can't necessarily sign off on approving an 88-minute running time, like we usually do. Evidently there was more character development left on the cutting room floor. While we appreciate the sentiment to try to make the movie lean and mean, a couple more dialogue scenes that might have fleshed out the characters or explained their motivations would have gone a long way. It would have helped the audience care more about the Bonham-Hallam relationship, which would have increased the suspense. The filmmakers also seemed ambivalent about Connie Nielsen's character - they should have given her more screen time or axed her altogether. As it stands, she's just kinda there. We would have opted for more Nielsen, as her run on Law & Order: SVU were some of the best episodes of that series to date. The Hunted could have used a tough female, Dani Beck-like character.
Looking at the movie a mere twelve years later (TWELVE years have passed since this came out? Maybe it's not so mere after all), it's hard to believe it got a theater release. If this was released today it would go DTV or on-demand, almost certainly. While it does contain the appropriate amount of action and violence - we even get some classic Tommy Lee Jones-Fu, or, to be more accurate, a Filipino fighting style called Sayoc Kali - it's hard to shake the feeling something is missing here. Perhaps we should hire L.T. Bonham to hunt it down...but then we'd be right back to where we started, wouldn't we?
Nato per combattere (1989)
God bless Bruno Mattei and all his hut-exploding ilk!
Sam Wood (Huff) is a Vietnam War vet who is still chillin' in 'Nam because he "feels more free there". When a female reporter named Maryline (not a typo) Kane (Stavin) approaches him about being in a news package about returning to Vietnam, he reluctantly accepts. It soon transpires that the whole thing about being on TV was just a ruse to get Wood to go back behind enemy lines to rescue Maryline's father, who is still a prisoner of war at the Lu Tan prison camp. She sought him out because he's a one-man army with a surprisingly positive attitude. His motto of "It can be done!" is downright infectious. But rescuing dear old dad isn't going to be a walk in the Philippine park. He has to contend with super-evil arch-baddie Duan Loc (Pochath), his toady Bross (Puppo), and a never-ending stream of tan-outfitted, triangular-hat-wearing troops...who bring new meaning to the term 'cannon fodder'! Will Sam and Maryline be the new Sam and Diane? Or will he prove once and for all that he is BORN TO FIGHT? Man, Bruno Mattei was sure on a roll in the late '80s. To think that this one man, in this one short span of time, turned loose on the world Strike Commando (1987), Double Target (1987), Cop Game (1988), Robowar (1988), Strike Commando 2 (1988), and the movie up for discussion today, is just insane. Sure, he may have recycled a bit of footage here and there, but who's counting exploding huts? And this is just ONE guy! Never mind all the many others churning out video store-era gems at the time. Yeah, this never came out on VHS in the U.S., but you get our point.
Both Huff and Mary Stavin return from Strike Commando 2, and while there is some standard bickering between them, this is truly Huff at his best and coolest. As some sort of lost-in-translation-from-the-original-Italian cross between Indiana Jones and Sonny Crockett - when he's not channeling Clint Eastwood with his low-slung cowboy hat and cigar stub - he drinks snake venom at a bar and massacres countless people with his machine guns and grenades. He has a lot of funny lines, mainly after he kills some baddies: "Shut up!", "Shove it!", "You started it!", etc., though it could be forgiven if it seems like his dialogue was written by one of those push-button insult machines of the time. Still, this is the Huff you want, unlike The Bad Pack (1997), which was disappointing Huff.
Werner Pochath is notable as the evil baddie named Duan Loc, who has an 'Evil German' accent. Helpfully, he cries, "Sam Wood isn't like other people. He thinks he's inWINCEable! He was born to fight!" It's also handy to know there are massive battalions of Viet Cong soldiers still on the attack in 1989. The hotel assault scene is a movie highlight, as is the climax, with a mega-kill count and exploding huts galore. It's amazing the jungles of the Philippines were able to survive after all that was blown up there. But it's all for our entertainment, and even with the repeated footage (both dialogue scenes and blow-up scenes), it all adds up to a golden age of filmmaking never to be repeated. We should really treasure the output of this time and place.
The soundtrack by Al Festa certainly won't be confused for John Williams anytime soon, no matter how hard he tries. We certainly preferred the non-ripoff synthesizer themes. That's what these movies are all about. Blow-ups, shooting, and the craziness in between. You gotta love it.
God bless Bruno Mattei and all his hut-exploding ilk. The reverberations from the explosions that they created are still being felt today.
Southern Comfort (1981)
It never loses its power to entertain
In 1973, a regiment of the Louisiana National Guard travel out to the remote bayou for a routine training mission. The men, including Spencer (Carradine), Hardin (Boothe), Reece (Ward), Poole (Coyote), and Cribbs (Carter) have differing attitudes towards life and their situation. It all seems simple enough, but when they accidentally draw the ire of some local Cajun folk, the crafty Cajuns start killing them off one by one as punishment for their perceived incursion into their territory. Not to mention their capture of a local man, simply known as Trapper (James). Now trying to survive with limited resources in a harsh and unfamiliar environment, our National Guardsmen literally have to fight their own war at home. Who will die, who will survive, and who will live to find out the true meaning of SOUTHERN COMFORT? Only the genius of the great Walter Hill could take elements of the Wilderness Horror subgenre, the war movie, the Western, the suspense thriller, and the Asian-style "Heroic Bloodshed" film, and tie it all together with allegorical and metaphorical themes and undercurrents, all the while on the surface allowing it to appear to be a Deliverance/Most Dangerous Game-style survival outing. Strictly speaking, this isn't a straight-up action movie, though it certainly has those elements, but Hill's style, especially with this movie, was so imitated and duplicated in the years following this, we just had to include it here for being the benchmark that it is. Just watch any Cirio Santiago-directed jungle slog or any Italian war film shot in the Philippines (i.e. Eye of the Eagle III or Dogtags, respectively) and you'll see what we mean. The influence of Southern Comfort reverberated throughout the video store era of the 80's/early 90's and beyond, and it's easy to see why. There's a certain disturbing quality to it, especially in the final third. And as much as we enjoyed Hunter's Blood (1986), that film can't really compete with the staying power of Southern Comfort, because there's so much more depth here, despite the surface similarities. Or perhaps it's the presence of Joey Travolta. One or the other.
The cast is killer, the Louisiana locations are both picturesque and unsettling (captured gorgeously by cinematographer Andrew Laszlo), and the Ry Cooder score is the icing on the cake. The cumulative effect of the clever writing, brilliant direction, the great cast, strange yet pretty locations and the top-notch score is powerfully effective. You can't ask for much more. If we have one minor quibble, it's that the 105-minute running time might have been able to be trimmed down a tad. But everything else is in the "win" column for this fine film.
In high school English class, we learned about the four main drivers of narrative conflict. These are: Man against man, man against society, man against nature and man against self. Southern Comfort is one of the few movies that articulately expresses ALL of the four conflicts. But one of the other themes - and a constant in the work of Walter Hill - particularly stood out: the nature of masculinity. What does it mean to be "a man"? Is there a type of man that is "best"? One that is more effective? Does losing at a certain conflict make you "less of a man"? All these questions and many more are lurking just beneath the surface.
Hill also shows that not all the Vietnam-era action happened in Vietnam. This provides a point of difference that is worth noting. There's some un-PC dialogue we all love and enjoy, and much like The Thing (1982), there are almost no women in the entire movie. The Shout Factory DVD/Blu-Ray combo is the package to buy - the movie looks brilliant and there is an insightful documentary included as well.
Southern Comfort is much more than a "man's movie" - it cleverly explores themes that are damn near primordial in mankind. But it never loses its power to entertain, which is what good storytelling is all about. We strongly recommend it.