Monday, March 8, 2010

PM/Jeff Speakman Collaboration

Land Of The Free (1998) ½*

Cast: Jeff Speakman, William Shatner, Chris Lemmon, John Furey, Lisa Darr

Directed by Jerry Jameson

Jeff Speakman and William Shatner star in what is no doubt the worst movies of their careers, an extremely lifeless and predictable man hunt styled action flick where Jeff Speakman and his family are targeted by corrupt politician William Shatner due to Speakman’s knowledge of corruption and as you can imagine the film is just painful to sit through, a type of movie you don’t watch so much as you endure. Indeed Land Of The Free is such an annoyingly banal standard issue action flick that it fades into background noise. Even the promise of entertainment in the performance of Shatner is lost due to the fact that the film isn’t made with enough energy to be even lousy in a fun way. Land Of The Free is the worst type of movie a writer fears, the type that can kill one’s will to write. In fact this film is bad enough to kill one’s will to live. It should be noted that the action sequences are extremely boring and derivative and that Jeff Speakman doesn’t even do any martial arts. Land Of The Free is just a painful movie, I mean absolutely painful to endure, the movie just keeps going around in predictable circles and you just sit back wishing that someone would either put  you or the film out of its misery. I don’t want to sound like I’m making it sound funny, this filmhurts to watch. It’s dreary, incompetent and made with the all the flair of a dying tapeworm. Indeed you don’t know what true freedom is, until you see the end credits.

Running Red (1999) *

Cast: Jeff Speakman, Angie Everhart, Stanley Kamel

Directed by Jerry P. Jacobs

Jeff Speakman stars as a Russian soldier who defected (Speakman thankfully doesn’t even attempt a Russian accent) only to be pulled back into the world of espionage when people of his past threaten him and his wife (Everhart) in a mindless and mundane conspiracy flavored action flick. The action sequences are actually few and far between, in that you only have the big fight sequence at the end and in the beginning and everything else is just filler for dreary nothingness this film calls a story. The climax rips off the action sequence from Red Heat in that it takes the actual footage and uses it, but aside from the humor of seeing the filmmakers fail in their attempt to cover their tracks, Running Red is the anti-thesis of entertainment. Indeed you wonder when you see a movie this dreary, in that you can tell it failed to interest the two lead actors as well as how much the movie is bored with itself, you wonder why they even bothered committing this to celluloid. Indeed Running Red on all levels has been done before and almost always better.  Without any real action or indeed any attempt to make the film interesting fans of Jeff Speakman can only be disappointed with this dud, while others will be bored to tears.

Gary Daniels/PM collaborations

Firepower (1993) * 1/2

Cast:Chad McQueen, Gary Daniels, The Ultimate Warrior (Jim Hellwig), Alisha Das

Directed by Richard Pepin

Gary Daniels plays second fiddle to Chad McQueen, in a futuristic hellhole in which two cops go to a lawless part of the U.S and compete in to the death cage matches, there is also some nonsense about a fake AIDs vaccine and so forth but it’s all a bunch of gibberish. The fight sequences are sometimes enjoyable and The Ultimate Warrior makes for a great villain but aside from that Firepower is a disappointment. Despite the laborious set up of a wasteland future the movie doesn’t take advantage of its futuristic premise (probably out of budget restrictions) and the film is so half hearted and underwritten that McQueen’s family is completely forgotten about until the final reel which provides convenient vengeance motivation and a way to have McQueen get the new love interest. Firepower is very sloppily made, once again the story is utterly nonsensical as you wonder how the bad guys would make much profit of a false vaccine and why the cops would care enough to stop the bad guys. Firepower isn’t then written to be science fiction but rather as a kung fu flick which is jampacked full fight sequences and gladiator fights and in this regard Firepower is even more disappointing because the fight sequences while adequate are completely unexciting. The climax in particular is a letdown as Daniels is far more polished than McQueen and therefore the big fight between the Ultimate Warrior and Daniels is more exciting than the fight sequence between McQueen/Ultimate Warrior showdown despite the vengeance angle. Indeed only some unexpected gore and an admittedly cool decapitation sequence keeps this one from being a total waste. Indeed a far better title for dud would’ve been backfire.

Deadly Target (1994) * 1/2

Cast:Gary Daniels, Ken McLeod, Byron Mann

Directed by Charla Driver

Sort of semi-remake of Showdown In Little Tokyo in concept, in which a Caucasian cop from Hong Kong comes to the U.S to battle triads and avenge his brother while teaming up with a Eurasian partner (McLeod who looks uncannily like Brandon Lee) and in the mean time falls in love with an Asian casino worker. Showdown In Little Tokyo was a pretty stupid movie with some good action but a film that felt incredibly disappointing due to the talent involved. Deadly Target is even worse as the bad guys lack any menace, the heroes are even more invincible and the love angle is horrendously dull. (At least Showdown didn’t waste time with subplots.) What makes matters even worse is that the film doesn’t even work as guilty pleasure kung fu, because these fight sequences are poorly staged and are derivative of better movies. For instance I counted numerous steals from American Ninja, Double Impact, Tango And Cash and numerous others. Indeed the only entertainment in this brain-dead martial arts time waster is picking out what movie it’s ripping off. Deadly Target then is as uninspired as its title and unless you’re a serious Gary Daniels or PM fan, one would do well to steer clear of this dud.

Epicenter (2000) * * *

Cast: Gary Daniels, Traci Lords, Jeff Fahey

Directed by Richard Pepin

Daniels and Lords face natural disasters as well as a slew of Russian mobsters trying to wipe them both out, as Daniels knows a code for some type of stealth bombers that he sells for 15 million dollars and Lords knows this and changes a code to keep him from getting access to his account, along the way Daniels and Lords have to save her daughter who is wandering around the earthquake devastated L.A with the bad guys in hot pursuit. Epicenter doesn’t really work as an action flick, indeed there is stock footage used (though disguised fairly well) but for some reason where as stock footage tends to bother me, I didn’t care this time. In fact the film works in spite of itself. There is a lot of energy and while Daniels and Lords are pretty terrible (as is the story) this works as a campy disaster flick. Indeed you pretty much know what you’re getting and the film is about what you would expect. The film is still fairly entertaining in a brain dead kind of way, I don’t know it’s hard to review a movie like this, especially one of such little quality but the movie is so entertaining for the wrong reasons. Indeed take the casting of Gary Daniels playing a computer expert, also take the ineptitude of how Daniels doesn’t even do any martial arts. Yet the film looks pretty good, in fact I wasn’t bored and for low budget disaster schlock Epicenter hits the same right notes that those 70s disaster flicks camp classics hit and for those with low expectations, one can find a lot to enjoy here.

Retrograde (2004) *

Cast:Dolph Lundgren, Gary Daniels, Silvia De Santis

Directed by Christopher Kulikowski

Dolph Lundgren stars as a soldier from the future who goes back in time to contain a plague that will destroy mankind in the future, in the mean time he has to find such virus, explain to scientists what it is and defend it against bad guys from the future wanting to keep the future the way it is? Retrograde is easily one of the dullest films Dolph Lundgren has ever made. The production values are low (though the film is somewhat well photographed) the action sequences are lame, Dolph Lundgren and Gary Daniels seem bored and the film is utterly lifeless. Indeed to express how disappointing this movie is, note how Dolph Lundgren and Gary Daniels don’t even fight each other in this movie, even worse is that Daniels doesn’t have but one fight sequence and Dolph only has maybe 3 or 4. These fight sequences couldn’t be more flatly choreographed as Lundgren stands and shoots at things with stuntmen occasionally pretending to get hit and fall a couple feet in length. What is all the more disappointing is that this is produced by Joesph Merhi the guy behind all the PM movies including such greats as The Sweeper, Last Man Standing and Rage three films that worked because everyone involved wanted to make it good. However Retrograde is a disaster by comparison, indeed Dolph Lundgren cannot hide his contempt for the film and Daniels meanwhile barely has much of a character. Retrograde is a truly abominable action flick in that it combined the efforts of PM producer Joseph Merhi, Dolph Lundgren and Gary Daniels and yet all they could come up with, was this embarrassment.

PM/Lorenzo Lamas Collaborations

C.I.A:Code Name Alexia (1992) *1/2

Cast: Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, O.J Simpson ,Alex Cord

Directed by Joseph Merhi

CIA agent Lorenzo Lamas captures and reprograms mercenary Alexia (Kinmont) to help him take down a gang of terrorists after some type of microchip, along helping our hero is cop O.J Simpson (before the trial of the decade) and to ensure Kinmont’s resolve, Lamas and Co kidnap Kinmont’s daughter what takes place is the usual James Bond rip off but on a much lower level. CIA was somewhat popular due to the O.J Simpson trial and while this ensured that this mindless and dreary action flick flew off the shelves, it wasn’t worth the while. O.J Simpson is easily the best actor here which is pretty sad but despite the negativity towards Simpson, he was merely a lame actor as opposed to sheer awfulness which describes Lamas and Kinmont’s acting here. What is most bizarre is that at the time of this movie, Lamas and Kinmont were married and yet they had no chemistry. CIA is a very slow and unexciting spy movie, indeed it lacks the type of intrigue that one must need to make such a movie work. A final observation is the direction of Merhi, while Merhi crafted three of the very best straight to video action flicks of the 90s (Rage, Last Man Standing and The Sweeper) when it comes to a spy film he seems lost and doesn’t know how to put together a coherent plot with character development. It doesn’t help Lamas and Kinmont are extremely dull actors, but without the plot or indeed the scope for action the film just dwindles when it should crackle. However I don’t fault Merhi for the failure of CIA, because you can see in his directing that he has an eye for action and that he’s just the wrong man for the job. Indeed the spy film is hard to pull off and although Merhi gives it all, the main problem is that his characters are uninteresting and the action is too infrequent. I also think that had two better actors had been chosen, the gray area of Lamas’ character might’ve added some much needed to depth, but Lamas is just not the right guy for such a job. All in all CIA is an extremely weak rip off of James Bond movies and reserved only for die hard Lamas/Kinmont/Simpson fans. Merhi thankfully rebounded with Rage which far exceeds this dud.

C.I.A II: Target Alexia (1994) *1/2

Cast: Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, John Savage

Directed by Lorenzo Lamas

The same mixture as before although this time at least John Savage is there to make this not quite as boring as the original. Once again terrorists threaten our country and Lamas and Kinmont go into action to fight against Savage who is also Kinmont’s former lover, like the first film it is dreary, unimaginative and dull but John Savage at least provides some relief from the film’s interminable tedium. John Savage is a genuinely good actor who for some reason never had a career he should’ve had in Hollywood, indeed he deserves better than being ridiculous villains in Lorenzo Lamas movies. However the enigma one ponders given the look of legit parts in various big projects, if Savage is not unlike his Deer Hunter co-star Christopher Walken, in that he just likes to work no matter the quality, it has to be because I can’t imagine what would lead an actor of Savage’s status to think this and Red Scorpion 2 are worthwhile of his talents. Savage as you can guess is the film’s only redeeming quality as his presence blows Lamas and Kinmont out of the water. Indeed even in roles where Savage’s heart isn’t in it, he’s better than Lamas on his best day. As for CIA II, Lamas’ directing is somewhat competent but he has no idea on how to film interesting scenes of dialogue nor does he know how to make the action more than just semi-competent. CIA II is pretty poor stuff all around but if you really like Lorenzo Lamas, John Savage and Kathleen Kinmont there maybe something for you here, but I assure this won’t be the highlight of their careers.

Final Impact (1992) *1/2

Cast:Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, Mike Worth, Jeff Langton

Directed by Joseph Merhi, Stephen Smoke

Lorenzo Lamas goes the Mr. Myiagi route in an attempt to avenge his brutal defeat at the hands of viscous kickboxer Langton in a dull rip off of Kickboxer 2 and Best Of The Best. Indeed it is in that formula in which a mentor trains a kickboxer to avenge his niece, of course where as Sasha Mitchell is a decent enough actor with charisma, Lorenzo Lamas is just grimy looking and unappealing. Actually of the two films Kickboxer 2 is by far your better bet, mainly because this film screws up the premise and makes a complete boring mishmash of clichéd training montages and dull fight sequences. Actually Lorenzo Lamas only has one fight sequence as he plays the mentor to Mike Worth, and Lamas’ character is so unlikable that he loses his fight and dies before he can see his student kick ass in the ring. Indeed the biggest problem I had with Final Impact is the same problem I had with American Kickboxer 1 (which was actually better) in that the hero was unlikable, the film spent too much time on the uninspired subplots (such as Lamas’ jealousy over Kinmont and Worth) and the overall fact that the film isn’t sure if it’s about Lamas’ version of The Karate Kid or if it’s his version of Kickboxer 2, whatever the case the overall final product doesn’t work and the film doesn’t have enough action in the fight arena. Even more disappointing is that these action sequences are tremendously unexciting.
Hologram Man (1995) *

Cast: Joe Lara, Evan Lurie, Michael Nouri, John Amos, William Sanderson, Arabella Holzbog, Tommy “Tiny” Lister

Directed by Richard Pepin

Unintentionally hilarious premise is brought to life in one of the dumbest movies ever made. The film kicks off in a totalitarian government (of course) ruled by corporations and such rebellion has taken root as a gang of terrorists led by Evan Lurie battle for what are in fact legit freedoms that are in no way criminal. Anyway in the process Lurie is captured and turned into a computer hologram, but when up for parole he escapes in Hologram form wrecking havoc on the city and now Joe Lara has to stop him. Hologram Man is completely ridiculous, indeed the form Lurie takes isn’t a hologram so much as a virtual reality program (actually he’s not that either but that’s the closest explanation) As fellow critic Moria pointed out all a hologram is, is a 3D image projection. However that didn’t bother me, what did was just how badly made, boringly paced and ineptly scripted Hologram Man was. The biggest flaw is that Richard Pepin is a boringly static director, where as Joseph Merhi films the action with a creative burst of energy that is often times spectacular, Pepin films cheap shootouts in which people just stand around and fire at one another, and no spin or anything is put on the variation to make such exciting. What is even worse is that Joe Lara is a painfully dull hero who rips off Lorenzo Lamas and his attempt at acting like he is questioning his would-be change in morality is truly laughable. Evan Lurie and Michael Nouri are okay I guess but this film is absurd, the action unexciting and the movie completely boring. Indeed the worst part of it all is that the hologram is apparently so invincible but Joe Lara doesn’t let the terrorists convert Lurie’s hologram form into his body, which is ridiculous since then he would be less powerful. Of course logic and common sense is wasted on thinking about such utterly mindless junk. Indeed this film seeks to want to have our hero (and us the audience) question the intentions of the good guys but such ideas fail to take hold when the film revolves around 3D photo slides fighting it out for the fate of the world. Silly, moronic and unexciting, Hologram Man is a complete dud and one of the very worst from PM.
Out For Blood (1993) * * *

Cast: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Shari Shattuck,Michael Delano, Ken McLeod, Aki Aleong, Todd Curtis

PM continues the winning formula in one of The Dragon’s better action entries in which Don is cast as a lawyer who takes to the night as “Karate Man” a vigilante who beats up on drug dealers and embarrasses the local police by single handedly stopping the drug flow, however after awhile the bad guys and police start targeting the Karate Man and now The Dragon doesn’t know who to trust especially when his new love interest seems to be in with the drug lords. Out For Blood is a fairly entertaining variation on Death Wish, of course a nice touch is that said vigilante is also a lawyer , another one is the fact that the vengeance is done in kung fu style, so that while the shoot outs are well staged the best thing about this film is actual one on one fight sequences which are plentiful and expertly choreographed. Indeed this film doesn’t have that many car chases (which is PM’s calling card) but it should be noted that the Jet climax as well as the final one on one between McLeod and The Dragon in legitimately exciting. Indeed Out For Blood is another winner from PM and the only flaw one can really think of is the needless padding between The Dragon and Shattuck, in a love angle which provides nothing to the story and tends to get in the way of the film’s momentum. It should also be noted that while this is one of The Dragon’s better film it also features one of his better performances. Overall Out For Blood can be seen as the early sign of what was to come in Rage, The Sweeper and Last Man Standing, as while this has some of the flaws of the dreary martial arts/action movies such as Deadly Bet, CIA and Final Impact, you can clearly see that PM started to establish their own particular style and in Out For Blood such style works fairly well.
Recoil (1998) * * *

Cast:Gary Daniels, Gregory McKinney, Robin Curtis, Kelly McCarty

Directed by Art Camacho

Gary Daniels stars in a Death Wish inspired revenge film that finds Daniels marked for death by the mob (After accidently killing the mobster’s son) to retaliate the mobsters send their assassins and goons to put Daniels on ice, however when they succeed in killing Daniels’ family, Daniels seeks vengeance in the coldest way possible, while his ex-police partner (McKinney) tells him to do it by the book. Recoil is a better than average Gary Daniels movie (and a decent straight to video action flick) but it’s not quite on the level of Rage, The Sweeper and Last Man Standing. The biggest reason is the casting of Gary Daniels. While Gary Daniels has some natural screen presence and sharp martial artistry he is just too clean cut to really look like he could get revenge in the meanest way. A far better actor for this movie would’ve been Dolph Lundgren or Jeff Wincott, someone far grittier and while Recoil works as what it’s sold as, I found that the leading man was just too goody-goody to sell the concept. That aside the action sequences are well staged (although the motorcycle chase in the beginning needed to be edited down) and as usual PM puts in the usual kitchen sink approach at action but ultimately the film needed that emotional center that Howell and Wincott brought to their roles in The Sweeper and Last Man Standing. Also what I found somewhat strange was the lack of martial arts sequences, which you think would’ve been frequent due to the presence of Gary Daniels. Also of note is that the best performance is from McKinney who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Another plus is that the mobsters are also well played and indeed you connect with their revenge plight more so than Daniels, which I’m fairly sure is not the intention. However as sheer action Recoil works and while I do so with reservations, I still recommend it.

Last Man Standing (1995)
* * *1/2

Cast: Jeff Wincott, Jillian McWhirter, Jonathan Banks, Jonathan Fuller

Directed by Joseph Merhi

Jeff Wincott stars as a gritty killing machine cop (Indeed you can bet that all heroes in PM movies are in fact killing machines) who looks for vengeance on the mobsters that killed his partner, of course what he finds is a ring of crooked cops and in doing so, he is framed and marked for death, with his wife in tow, Wincott decides not to take this lying down and in his one man crusade of vengeance he obliterates the bad guys by the hundreds. That actually isn’t an estimate as Jeff Wincott goes on such a rampage that he racks up a body count bigger than Charles Bronson in Death Wish 3 and 4 combined. Once again this PM movie is what you would expect, nothing but a static pretext to set up a body count but what sets this one apart from others is Wincott’s charisma. Indeed he can easily play a movie cop because his grizzled face and mean demeanor often effortlessly conveys the rage and sociopathic tendencies that make his character a straight up anti-hero. Complimenting him nicely is McWhirter who comes off as somewhat strong willed but also with a sense of humor that keeps Wincott’s character from imploding. However while character development is superior to most action flicks, let’s not kid ourselves, in that the selling point is the action sequences. Of all the PM movies, Last Man Standing in my opinion has the best action sequences. The hotel sequence that opens the film is thrilling as is the climax and also utilizing Wincott’s martial artistry is another plus. The shootouts almost rival John Woo (almost but not quite) while the fight sequences are truly impressive as you can tell a lot of stuntmen got hurt bringing this movie to life. As usual the car chases are also well staged and very suspenseful and the creativity such as the motorcycle stunt diving into an armored car and then holding on to the chain while firing the gun is thrilling stuff. In other words this is one of the best straight to video action flicks ever made and PM in many ways deserves to be spoken in the same breath as the Shaw Brothers, because few movie companies could make lower budgeted action flicks far better than bigger budgeted movies of the time. Indeed this Last Man Standing blows the dull Bruce Willis film of the same name out of the water. This is also Jeff Wincott’s best movie to date and Martial Law 2, Martial Outlaw and Killing Man were no slouches either. Overall though you can tell those who made Last Man Standing had fun making it, that the actors enjoyed showing up to do the action chores and that everyone was taking it to the limit and that special care to make this movie one of the best of its kind, ultimately pays off.
The Sweeper(1996)  
  * * *1/2

Cast: C.Thomas Howell, Jeff Fahey, Ed Lauter, Janet Gunn

Directed by Joseph Merhi

Howell stars as a hot shot killing machine cop who has just wiped out the ninth suspect in his attempt to arrest, however such makes him eligible to join Justice Incorporated, a vigilante task force that wipes out bad guys that fall through the cracks, however when said gang might be responsible for Howell’s tragic past (His family was wiped out by anonymous gun runners) Howell turns his guns on his employers in a most satisfying and exciting action flick. The Sweeper is also among the best straight to video action flicks ever made. I think what makes the PM movies so much fun, is that they take a fairly unoriginal premise (in this case The Star Chamber is the movie being ripped off) and they punctuate said story with so much action that you never think that you might’ve seen it all before. Also what PM movies tend to do is put new novel touches on action sequences in that while one can see numerous exciting car chases, one can see their signature style yet kitchen sink attempt to provide a viewer with action that they've not seen, at least not quite like this. Indeed the climax in particular has Howell doing battle with bad guys while holding on to the wing of an Air Plane, or a car chase that involves picking up bottles of propane spilling out everywhere to which numerous fireballs are ignited. Some would argue that these films are merely mindless and trading in only on special effects on action but I believe that is what the point of action is. However what makes The Sweeper even better than the usual product is C. Thomas Howell’s charisma who is clearly having fun in his role but also manages the more sensitive scenes such as his interaction with his wife that give his character an interesting edge. Indeed he plays it enough to be tongue in cheek but yet actually creates a strong character that is likable and easy to root for. Also balancing him out is the always great Ed Lauter who plays a character not unlike his character in Death Wish 3. The Sweeper then is not the type of movie that will be studied by film classes for decades to come, but for the action fan, The Sweeper is a diamond in the rough.
Riot (1996) * *1/2

Cast: Gary Daniels, Sugar Ray Leonard, Patrick Kilpatrick, Charles Napier, Paige Rowland

Directed by Joseph Merhi

English killing machine Gary Daniels joins forces with Sugar Ray Leonard to do battle with I.R.A terrorists who have triggered an American riot to kidnap the daughter (Rowland) of an English ambassador (or something) In which Daniels doesn’t need much of an excuse to get involved as said hostage is also his girlfriend. Riot starts out with a great premise that it then  completely louses up,  in that Riot didn’t need IRA terrorists, because as far as schlock premises go, this film would’ve been much more fun as a straight ahead rip off of Escape From New York than as a mediocre rethread of Delta Force. Indeed the first 20 minutes or so Riot holds much promise and is a lot of fun but then the IRA get involved and the schlock charm is traded in for clichéd monologues about the cause, while Daniels and Rowland dodge random thugs while running away from Kilpatrick and his IRA goons. I think the gang members as well as the chaos that goes down during a riot is a far more interesting set of backdrop then the overused IRA but what's even more disappointing is that Riot doesn't even know how to use the IRA terrorists.  Indeed  it turns out the riot is started by the IRA in a plot to ransom the English ambassador and yet they don't even really have a plan and their ability to cause a riot stretches credibility, but what kills Riot is that  it  is so disappointingly routine. The movie does have some good action sequences but because the villains are so one-note and Daniels so invincible it never comes off as exciting as it should and I for one found this predictable and bland. Indeed they squandered a great premise all for mediocre results.
Rage (1995)
* * *1/2

Cast: Gary Daniels, Kenneth Tigar, Jillian McWhirter, Peter Jason, Mark Metcalf

Directed by Joseph Merhi

PM movies made some of the best straight to video action flicks in the 1990s, and this is probably their best effort and when you see the movie you’ll know why I gave this such a high rating. The film opens with Daniels as a elementary school teacher who lectures his class that cannibalism is not normal after a grade school tyke tells the class that people do eat each other in real life, naming Jeffrey Dahmer, it is a good moment because Daniels actually sells it as a teacher. It is a cute moment and showcases the type of humor that coincides with the level of high stakes action. Indeed the reason I find Rage to be so much fun is that Joseph Merhi directs the action for maximum excitement but he also makes the fight sequences also suspenseful. Indeed the sequence where Daniels is hanging off a building is extremely suspenseful and it’s only a shame that such didn’t happen towards the ending as the action while suspenseful and action packed fails to match the suspense level. Gary Daniels isn’t known for quality projects as he’s always reminded me of a Dolph Lundgren clone, but here he’s more at home playing an everyday type and given his looks, somewhat slender frame and softer voice he makes for quite a convincing everyday man that wakes up to find government goons injecting him with serums and then running away from the bad guys and trading blows. It’s a very well made movie and the action sequences are so good they make up for any of the problems the underwritten script and clichéd cloak and dagger conspiracy angles that make up the plot line. Indeed it’s all about action and Rage delivers what it promises and in a way that far exceeds expectations. Indeed it makes one wonder how Michael Bay can’t accomplish the same despite having more of a budget at his disposal. Rage is one of the best straight to video action movies ever made and it deserves to have a bigger cult following.

Highlander (The Series)

Highlander (1986) 
* * *1/2

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Beatie Edney

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Lambert stars as a mild mannered New Yorker (from Scotland, though his French accent would indicate otherwise) who harbors a secret, in which he has been alive for the last 500 or so years and that the time of the gathering has come in which immortals of his ilk battle in a immortal combat in which an immortal can only be killed by decapitation and the prize for winning such immortal combat is the knowledge of everything including the ability to read minds as well as the ability to live a normal life and have children. Highlander leaves a lot unexplained, in particular is what makes an immortal, why they are compelled to fight each other throughout the years and why decapitation is the only way to put an immortal on ice. However Highlander works out of sheer momentum. Highlander has excellent pacing, great action sequences, a great Queen soundtrack and a lot of fun training montages with great chemistry between Lambert and Connery. Indeed Highlander has such a wonderful look, an intriguing idea (no matter how unexplained) and energy to spare. Highlander then is a (cult) classic because it is such a bizarre movie made with so much flair. Also it must be noted are the performances of Lambert, Connery and Brown. Indeed Lambert while not a great actor, does have lots of charisma which helps the story out (you really can’t ask for a better cynical hero) while Brown provides appropriate menace to what could’ve easily been the most ridiculous bad guy, indeed with his Mad Max-like presence Brown gives the evil immortal a larger than life feel that overall keeps the momentum going. However the best performance of all is from Connery who makes a great mentor, and holds his own fairly well in the action sequences. Indeed without Connery the film would’ve probably been a failure (an interesting failure but still a failure) but because the training montage works, the action sequences are so great and so much feels at stake Highlander succeeds. Indeed you take away the sword and sorcery and you have the blue print Shaw Brothers kung fu movie, as the formula is the same but this in my opinion is a good thing. Another plus is Mulcahy’s style and scope which makes the action memorable and well worth seeing. However like all good things, Hollywood made sequels and all of them have been failures, indeed it was ironic how the catchphrase “There can be only one” became true of  this series, as this is the only one worth seeing.

Highlander 2: Renegade Version (1991) * * 

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, John C. McGinley

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Highlander 2 the renegade version is probably the best sequel of the bunch (Not saying much) but it’s still a highly disappointing movie. Indeed while Mulcahy tries hard to patch up what went wrong, he doesn’t succeed because it’s blatantly obvious that any back story doesn’t work as it contradicts the whole ending of part 1. Continuity is of course not this series’ strength and while Highlander 2: Renegade somewhat salvages what was wrong with the Quickening, the main problem is that the film is wholly unnecessary. That said there is some merit that can be found, for one the look of the film is fantastic. The sword fights are well choreographed and once again Lambert and Connery work well (even if Connery is playing it by the numbers) Also Madsen is hot and the best love interest in the series. Indeed the one thing that gets Renegade into passable territory is in fact the depth between Lambert and Madsen that provides some genuine warmth to a movie that feels artificial. Which is precisely the problem, the future looks cool, the special effects are decent and the fight sequences are well put together but where as I was engrossed in Lambert’s plight in the first, with this one I could care less. Things aren’t helped by Michael Ironside, a typically great actor who overdoes it. Indeed had Ironside played it in a stoic and mean spirited way (which is the type of villain Ironside excels at) you might have had some stakes being played, unfortunately he becomes unbearable in his hammy antics. The train massacre in particular is just plain silly. The film also fails to give a credible reason on why Connery is able to come back but once again the movie would’ve been worse without Connery so I appreciate them doing so, although one figures they could’ve used him in flashback mode or something. Regardless of the patch up Mulcahy still has turned a terrible movie into mediocrity. I think what really worked against this franchise is that the first one didn't leave itself open for a sequel, so any attempt at such is going to come off as uninspired and forced. There is also some nonsense about a shield and a corporation but once again it’s in the background for the immortal combat and it doesn’t gel. Indeed Highlander 2 in general just doesn’t gel.

Highlander 3:The Final Dimension (1994) *

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Kara Unger, Mako

Directed by Andy Morahan

So, it turns out that there was one immortal left who has been in suspended animation who battles Lambert in a (deadly dull) fight to be the best. This time Lambert has an adopted son, who is put in peril and Van Peebles can morph as he is a sorcerer and despite some interesting ideas the film is too cheaply made and boring to work. Actually Highlander 3 might’ve worked had Russell Mulcahy directed it, as his scope and visceral directing would’ve been energetic enough to make the concept work. Once again it might’ve worked. However in the hands of the dull Morahan such just doesn’t. Highlander 3 is made with complete indifference. The swordfights are okay but lack the spark from the first and once again we could care less who wins because we don’t care enough about the plot to care. It’s bizarre in that this sequel is the only one in the Highlander canon that makes sense, as it does in fact work in continuity but unfortunately the film just doesn’t have the right director for the job. Indeed the biggest flaw is just how cheap the movie looks and how badly paced this film is. Meanwhile Lambert looks utterly bored with the material, while Van Peebles is laughable in his attempt at creating swaggering menace. Highlander 3 is a very boring movie and that ultimately is its biggest crime.

Highlander: Endgame (2000) * *

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Adrian Paul, Bruce Payne, Donnie Yen, Edge, Lisa Barbuscia, Beatie Edney, Jim Byrnes

Directed by Douglas Aarnikoski

Another sequel that (surprise, surprise) contradicts everything that came before it. The story though this time is different than usual as Lambert and Paul figure which one of them needs to die in order for them to have enough quickenings (I guess this would be points, which are now tracked on computer) to stand a chance against a cheating immortal (Payne) who has the most and ergo is systematically torturing Lambert by killing his loved ones. Actually Highlander Endgame sort of works, indeed I was sort of into the movie and into Lambert’s plight. Payne is the best villain since The Kurgan, there is a sense of revenge that fuels the movie and likewise the film sets up everything to formula but in a consistent and watchable way. Then the film carries on with Adrian Paul killing of Lambert to take on Payne and right there it became dull, as Paul and Payne aren’t set up as the enemies, a far better film would’ve had Lambert decapitating Paul and then getting vengeance and it all would’ve worked as a prequel. Of course by doing it this way, the film became contradictory to the first and ergo it doesn't work. The fight sequences are actually better than usual, Lambert does surprisingly well in mentoring Paul in the flashbacks and of course Lambert sells the grizzled burned out hero, Paul though is terrible (as expected) and it just loses momentum by having him the focus of the story. Payne is once again a good villain, as is Donnie Yen but the film just doesn’t work due to the stupidity of killing Lambert off. I know Paul was the heir to the series for future sequels, but he was obviously no spring chicken and at this point did anyone really want another sequel and if you were to make a sequel you could always make it predate Endgame. The film is pretty much what you would expect from such a series sequel and this time there is a surreal energy to it all but it’s just another needless sequel made by filmmakers who should’ve left well enough alone, or at the very least showed consistency.

Highlander: The Source (2007) ½*

Cast: Adrian Paul, Jim Byrnes, Christian Solimento, Thekla Reuten

Directed by Brett Leonard

Highlander :The Source is hands down one of the most incompetently made movies ever made, indeed it is but one of the worst movies ever made as well but overall this disastrous outing isn’t just a disgrace to the first but also to even The Quickening version, which is pretty sad. The film this time deals around immortals finding the one responsible for immortal combat which is “The Guardian” the gate keeper or something. The film doesn’t make any sense which I pretty much expected but what I wasn’t expecting is just how badly made and completely inept this film is. Where as the others in this uninspired series (the first aside) at least had some surreal moments of ambitious energy as well as usually watchable fight sequences, this film has lame choreography that wouldn’t pass muster in an Ator movie. The film of course is all witless gibberish that never builds any momentum (especially since it makes so little sense) while the villain in question overacts in such a matter that he makes Ironside and Van Peebles seem like Clancy Brown from the first. Indeed the biggest problem is the character of The Guardian because he can move around fast and stuff and yet he remains easily the weakest and stupidest villain. There are some numerous sequences that set up pointless exposition to set up a would-be threat but the film is so indifferent to the would-be battles and even more inept at simple mise-en-scene in that the movie is just ugly to look at and embarrassing to watch. The Source as it is, is completely lifeless and dull so it’s not even funny to mock. It’s just chintzy, lazy and unwatchable. Paul who is half the actor Lambert was (and Lambert was no De Niro) seems disinterested as if his heart isn’t in it, and he gives a performance that expresses the contempt he has for this movie , though I doubt it’s as much contempt as I have for The Source. This movie is just horrible. I don't want to stress just how incompetent this garbage is, but also how boring it is, in that it is pure torture to sit through and even fans of this series (if any are left) will be disgusted at how horrid this movie is.

Universal Soldier (The Series)

Universal Soldier (1992) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker, Ed O’Ross, Jerry Orbach

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Roland Emmerich makes his American debut which is still his best movie years later. The movie rips off The Terminator along with Robocop, but Universal Soldier works in the same light that the Bloodsports, Kickboxers and Punishers worked in. Mainly in the action element and the fact that it works solely because it just gives us one big fight sequence between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. The story revolving around reanimated soldiers killed in Vietnam is an afterthought, as we aren’t sure if Van Damme and Lundgren are zombies or androids, and the action sequences are quite spectacular and really that’s why anyone goes to these movies. So while Universal Soldier can’t over cover come its campiness and exploitive carnage, Universal Soldier wears its badge with honor which is a good thing while Emmerich maintains a level of agreeable energy throughout, mainly in concentrating more on the one on one fight between the stars. Indeed it’s hard to go wrong when the rain soaked finale finds Lundgren and Van Damme throwing each other through walls and using a wood chipper to settle the matter.

Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Jai White, Bill Goldberg, Kiana Tom,Xander Berekely

Directed by Mic Rodgers

Jean-Claude Van Damme returns as Luc now apparently converted back to human (which isn’t even paid lip service to) fights a new army of Universal Soldiers led by Michael Jai White and Bill Goldberg after the computer that monitors them finds out about the U.N’s plan to cut the program. This largely pointless sequel fails miserably because the zip and zany camp that made the original so fun, is instead replaced by merely mindless action with horrendous metal played over the fighting. Meanwhile this attempt on Van Damme’s part to save his career comes up short mainly because this flaccid endeavor is so obviously a cash-grab. Even worse the fact The Return is directed with no style, energy or even aptitude. The action here in particular while frequent, is badly staged, shoddily directed and utterly lame in scope. In other words you’re better off watching the original.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) * * *

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei “The Pit-bull” Arlovski

Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren return in this belated but moderately enjoyable sequel that finds Van Damme being brought back into the Universal Soldier program to prevent a nuclear meltdown that terrorists are planning to unleash, and are  armed with new generation Universal Soldiers(Called NGU) , the terrorists also have kidnapped the children of the Russian president and so for reasons unknown the American government (well actually Van Damme is in Switzerland) brings Van Damme back to which he breaches the stranglehold to battle not only the NGU resident bad ass (Arlovski) but a cloned version of his old enemy from U.S 1 (Lundgren) The biggest problem here is that the plot often gets in the way of the action and the documentary approach while visually interesting isn't always feasible with a story surrounding super zombie soldiers that bash each other through walls. Regeneration does in fact work in a low expectations way, in particular the fight sequences in the climax are in very well choreographed and exciting. Indeed the best fight is between Van Damme and Lundgren, which is disappointing since it comes before the Van Damme/Arlovski showdown. It should be noted that Arlovski works fairly well as the emotionless bad guy, but the problem with the film is that it doesn’t have a larger than life villain. In particular Lundgren is in his Rocky IV mode (which is effective) but with nobody behind him the stakes aren’t raised as much as they could’ve been. Meanwhile Van Damme handles some good scenes of dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress, as well as wrestling with his burnout but overall the film’s biggest problem is that the lack of a truly great villain (Lundgren isn't there until the final half and Arlovski is under the employ of someone). Indeed the terrorists are wiped out by Lundgren, and Lundgren kills off the bad guy scientist too quickly,  as the scientist is appropriately smarmy, in other words we lose what could’ve been a great threat. That said I still recommend watching Regeneration, the action is intense, the movie’s directing while not always workable with the material is interesting and overall while I would’ve liked more done with the premise, Regeneration delivers on what it promises, mainly lots of mindless action and a big final fight showdown between three great martial artists. It’s not as good as the first movie, but it still surpasses all the sequels and really it's a lot better than it any right to be.