Monday, May 31, 2010

Jeff Speakman Binge

The Perfect Weapon (1991) * * *

Cast:Jeff Speakman, John Dye, James Hong, Mako, Professor Toru Tanaka, Mariska Hargitay, Beau Starr, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

Directed by Mark DiSalle

Speakman stars as a martial arts expert who looks to avenge the death of his Korean mentor who was killed by the Korean mafia (led by Hong and carried out by the awesome Tanaka) in this fairly enjoyable kung fu effort that features some great martial arts sequences and contains a better story than usual that makes up for the dull and uncharismatic Jeff Speakman. Let’s be perfectly candid, Jeff Speakman doesn’t live up to the Schwarzenggers and Stallones, but he still seems less credible to the likes of martial arts stars that include Van Damme, Seagal,Norris, Lundgren and Dudikoff. Indeed one is hard pressed to wonder who the better actor is between Jeff Speakman and Lorenzo Lamas. Speakman wins out by a slight margin but man, is does this guy lack charisma. Indeed what makes such worse is that Speakman is supposedly Paramount’s answer to counteract the said listed action stars but while this vehicle is enjoyable, Speakman is a big time detractor to what could’ve been a great kung fu movie. The Perfect Weapon features excellent action sequences that make this worth the price of recommendation as the fight sequences are well staged and frequent enough to make this movie worthwhile but the truth remains that this studio production could’ve been better with a better star. Indeed Speakman is so lame as a hero that he manages to come off as not only not bad-ass enough, but not nearly tough enough to sell the audience of his worth as he is supposed to be all tough with tons of anger but he ends up coming off as a pouty teenager out for attention. It also doesn’t help that his character spends half of the film going after the wrong guy and trying to kill such bad guy before going on the right track as you would’ve figured one would want to be sure before killing someone. That said you can’t ask for much better production values then what you got here and as dopey and bland as Speakman is at least he can fight which is his only redeeming factor. The Perfect Weapon is enjoyable as kung fu actioners go and worth seeing for the Speakman shakedowns as well as the excellent cast that includes genre favorites Mako and Tanaka, but this could’ve been so much more and the reason the film is only decent instead of a classic is because of the lack of charisma of failed star Jeff Speakman. Indeed it stands to reason that this film would remain his best to date as only his next two movies were even remotely watchable. Paramount needed a star that could compete with the Van Dammes, Seagals, Norris’, Lundgrens and Dudikoffs but they settled on an actor that was on par with Olivier Gruner, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and David Bradley.

Street Knight (1993) * * *

Cast:Jeff Speakman, Christopher Neame, Jennifer Gatti, Bernie Casey

Directed by Albert Magnoli

Speakman stars in another enjoyable kung fu-fest which works despite his presence, Street Knight finds him as an ex-SWAT cop who works as a mechanic who finds himself the only one that stands between an all around drug war between Latino and Black gangs in which an uneasy truce has been formed, of course Speakman finds out that White gun dealers (and ex-cops) want to provoke a war so they can make money off the weapons deals. Once again Street Knight is an enjoyable movie worth seeing, despite the dull star who is an even worse actor than Don “The Dragon” Wilson but slightly better than Lorenzo Lamas. Once again the material elevates the dull Speakman to better than average status which makes one wonder if Speakman can even move his facial expressions. Once again we get involved in the chaos of the story because of so much momentum and action going on but it’s not the charisma of Speakman that sells this,  it's the action that is good if a tad derivative of Steven Seagal. Once again this is all fine and dandy as  decent kung fu movies go, but Street Knight  would be more distinctive and enjoyable if it had a better star than Jeff Speakman.   Indeed if not for the fight sequence where Speakman beats henchman down with a wrench this wouldn’t be recommended. Speakman romancing Gatti almost derails the film completely and almost always breaks up the momentum of the action. Still Speakman does beat up guys with two big wrenches and that this is one of the better Cannon movies from the 90s. 

The Expert (1995) * * *

Cast: Jeff Speakman, James Brolin, Alex Datcher, Elizabeth Gracen, Michael Shaner, Jim Varney

Directed by Rick Avery

Jeff Speakman stars as a SWAT officer who breaks into the prison to execute the murderer of his sister, after said criminal's death penalty is overturned in a movie that features some strong moments but is ultimately only decent because Speakman just doesn't work in the role.  Basically you watch the movie and enjoy such but one wishes a better actor was the lead.  The Expert features a great premise with lots of potential but ultimately such is floundered away by using such a story on such a lame actor. In this caseJeff Speakman  gives a typically wooden performance.  Once again a (very) good script would’ve been better used to the talents of Fred Williamson, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, but in the hands of Jeff Speakman we feel only so-so stakes being played as the usual right wing politics are played in a well directed and fast paced way. Indeed this story would’ve been a four-star movie in the likes of a better star as Speakman is just too dull in the lead to really showcase pain and suffering. Meanwhile Shaner is excellent in a Ted Bundy-ish role, Indeed his performance makes us wonder about the death penalty and whether we should agree with those who say we should kill those that we kill. In fact the whole cast is far better than Speakman which gets the viewer involved in the character's plight. Indeed Brolin, Shaner and Varney are so well suited to their roles that one wonders why they weren't given more screen time and how a far better actor (like Kurt Russell) would’ve been better in the lead role. Indeed while the action is good one can’t help but see how much better The Expert would be with a better star who could do justice to the revenge angle. Plus the questions The Expert tries to ask is killed by having our hero being so blank. That said I always find politics (right or left) fascinating in my action movies,  for example I enjoyed the politics of movies like Angel Town and Bloodfist III as such always gives the movie a watchable edge but this premise is let down mainly because Speakman isn’t brutal or  Everyday-man enough to sell the lead . To be fair Speakman is no worse than he ever is, it’s just that we need  is a hero who you see as being pushed to the limit and who registers sympathy and likability despite his plight. Speakman just can’t pull it off. In other words The Expert is a good movie but it didn't reach its potential.
Blackbelt (1992) * * *

Cast:Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Matthias Hues, Dierdre Imershein, Richard Beymer

Directed by Charles Phillip Moore, Rick Jacobson

Matthias Hues and his imposing screen presence is the show in this violent cross between The Last Dragon and The Bodyguard as The Dragon is brought in to protect rising singer Shanna (Imershein) from killer kickboxer John Sweet (Hues) and mobsters who want her to sign an extension on her contract so they can make money of her. Blackbelt then is a pretty silly effort with only great villains and some amped up fight sequences to make it worth seeing. The story is certainly a mess as plot holes are a plenty. For instance the whole aspect of Mobster Beymer wanting to kill the Pop-star for the insurance as such would be at the most 80 thousand dollars, given the fact said singer has only just started to get big. Another aspect of the film is the pop star herself. The pop star is hands down one of the most slutty characters we’ve seen as she pretty much humps anything that moves,  in fact it's even hinted that she may have been with her engaged gal-pal.  (Maybe I just have a sick mind)  Honestly though I wouldn't put it past the pop star's character.  Indeed the way she tries to seduce the Dragon makes her come off as a hoe. I'm not saying Imershein is that way in real life but her character makes Kelly Bundy seem like a nun. Indeed she's also manipulative as well, as she has sex with her protector of course after telling The Dragon it’s over with her manager boyfriend, which clearly it isn’t which then starts fight between The Dragon and the Manager which one wonders if the pop star didn't do on purpose just for kicks.  Also she clearly jerks the Dragon around and is clearly with her manager until Hues intervenes. Obviously this pop star  became the pre-cursor to today's pop stars. Why she gets mad at The Dragon for cleaning out her ex’s clock (and in a clear case of  self defense.) isn't even explained.  Leading The Dragon to quit.  This stuff even if it isn't necessary make the movie more interesting than the usual Dragon bash fest.   Also among that  is a huge goof  which finds Hues cutting off his finger and then somehow magically growing such back for his big showdown with The Dragon, indeed we even see his finger grip a sword in the dojo climax. There are also some other things that don’t make sense, mainly why Matthias Hues’ motivation for stalking the pop star is because his mother was also a pop star who he had an incestuous affair with (?!) and the pop star in peril  was also molested by her father. What is most surprising about such is that none of this even ties into the plot as it really could be just a psychopath kickboxer with no back story and such would’ve been the same. Indeed this whole movie is just weird on so many levels, on how it has enough plot for three kickboxing movies ( at least 13 Don The Dragon Wilson movies) and yet I still enjoyed this. The production values aren’t too bad for a Corman kung fu epic and I liked seeing Richard Beymer and Matthias Hues tear up the scenery. The fight sequences are also the selling point and these happen frequently enough and are well staged so one never gets bored with the movie. Certainly Blackbelt features a messy plot and lead characters that are just plain bizarrely written, but this works in making Blackbelt more fun than most Dragon efforts and I also appreciated the upping of carnage as clearly this is probably The Dragon’s most blood thirsty movie to date. Movies like Blackbelt are worth seeing for fans of B.(ad) movies because it delivers what it promises and even more with chunks of unintentional hilarity. Blackbelt then is a must for kung fu fans and yes, this is head and shoulders above most of The Dragon’s efforts. I mean mainly for the cast, as where else are you gonna see The Dragon take on Tony from West Side Story. So yes it's a decent Don "The Dragon" Wilson movie. Take that anyway you want...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death

Fist Of Fear, Touch Of Death (1980) 0*

Cast: "Bruce Lee" (Stock footage),  Fred Williamson, Bill Louie, Ron Van Clief, Aaron Banks, Adolph Caesar

Directed by Matthew Mallinson

They really don't get any worse than this.  I mean if there is a movie out there worse in terms of quality, cheapness and absurdity I for sure will give up movies all together for this movie is an abomination to the eyes of a viewer.  The plot if one really wants to know (and trust me there really isn't much of one)  surrounds the "fascinating" evening that will take place as a martial arts tournament is taken place to find a successor to Bruce Lee.   What makes things even more ridiculous is that the stars of the film such as Fred Williamson, Van Clief and Caesar (near the end) openly say what all the viewers are thinking in how such a tournament is completely ridiculous.  It's almost as if the director heard a tournament was taking place, got his hands on some Bruce Lee stock footage and then somehow got some martial artists and got Fred Williamson and Adolph Caesar and threw it together into this jumble of crap.   Williamson and Caesar are decent actors but there is no way they can save this movie,  indeed one gets the impression that Bruce Lee and Fred Williamson team up to fight bad guys (which would sort of be cool)  but this waste of time is a huge lesson in exploitation.   There are some laughs mainly how they refer to Lee's Jeet Kune Do style as "Karate"  which is a Japanese style but that isn't even the half of it as we learn Lee's grandfather was a samurai.  I can't even explain how mind bogglingly awful Fist Of Fear Touch Of Death is. There just aren't enough words in the English language.

 The worst part is how it insults the intelligence of the viewer who has even mildly enjoyed a Bruce Lee movie. We hear Bruce Lee's grandpa was a samurai.(The fact that samurais were from Japan and Bruce Lee is Chinese not withstanding) Just adds to the overall stupidity. Oh and then we get footage of Bruce Lee explaining to his mother that he beats people up because of his tradition of his samurai grandfather, what makes this movie so unbelievably bad is that this footage is shot like a soap opera and is then spliced in with a bad samurai movie. Actually I take that back the samurai movie maybe indeed good but taken in this direction it just shows adds up to the overall futile surroundings. Williamson is wasted, the tournament footage is lackluster and the Bill Louie cameo is just unbelievably stupid. This is without a doubt the worst movie I've ever seen and one that I'm pretty sure will be the worst in a lifetime of bad movies watched.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Robocop (1987) * * * *

Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Dan O’Herlihy,Robert DoQui, Felton Perry

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

One of the all time best sci-fi/action hybrids of all time still holds up real well. Robocop details the story of a fatally wounded police officer who is turned into a cyborg police unit who single handedly fights crime however Robocop remembers parts of his past and sets out to find out who killed him when he was human all while big business yuppies compete to solve Detroit’s crime problem. Robocop really is as awesome as you've heard, you really have the best comic-book captured on film, you have excellent action sequences, hilarious satire and a lot of character driven humanity that make Robocop actually somewhat touching. People often go back and forth as to whether Robocop or The Terminator and T2 are better but I’m more than content with saying that these films are equally excellent and different films. The Terminator had a compelling love story and time travel can’t overcome destiny message that drove the action, this one has satire and a message of humanity and tragedy (almost Shakespeare like) that drives the action. Peter Weller deserves the most credit for making Robocop work so well in the sequences where there is just reflection. One particular scene that is distinctive in its tragic hero is the way Robocop goes back to his house and starts to remember his past life and family, this sequence gives Robocop an emotional angle that few films ever have. Another good scene is the one where Robocop and his former partner (Allen) right before the climax kicks in, to which Robocop asks about his family and to which he says “I can feel them, but I can’t remember them.” This might sound depressing but that isn’t describing the hilarious jabs at the media, corporate big business and the excitement found in the action sequences. Indeed this actually shares a lot in common with Death Wish 1, for the way it balances the sadness of the main character (though in Death Wish, the hero is starts to deal with his grief through violence) and the way media handles it. Much of Robocop works due to the excellent directing of Verhoeven a director that often uses the action and carnage to make a comedic or actual point. It’s a one of a kind film that deserves to be remembered as one of the very best classics of the genre. Robocop is that film that doesn’t come along everyday and it’s not only worth seeing, it’s a priority.

Robocop 2 (1990) * * *

Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Felton Perry,Tom Noonan, Gabriel Damon, Stephen Lee,Robert DoQui

Directed by Irvin Kershner

Robocop 2 is of course not up to the level of Robocop 1, but it is good on its own merits. Indeed Robocop 2’s satire is far sharper than the first. (The commercials are just overall far funnier, and Robocop 1 was no slouch) The action is about on par, the atmosphere feels grimier and more mean spirited which is an asset and the special effects are better. So why Robocop 2 isn’t quite as good as the first one is simple. It lacks the character driven tragic hero aspect that provided the first one with emotion and heart. This sequel has a few moments of such, like when Robocop confronts his former wife, to which he realizes he can’t offer her a real relationship. Another excellent scene finds Robocop comforting a dying teen drug dealer (Damon) to which the kid says “I’m gonna die, you know this feeling right? It really sucks!” to which Robocop replies “yes.” Had there been more sequences like this, Robocop 2 would’ve been a sequel that lived up to its predecessor. However the sequel merely works as sci-fi action. I don’t want to imply that Robocop 2 is terrible, rather it just lacks the heroic bloodshed angle that makes the difference between classic and decent. Robocop 2 though does benefit from great villains, as well as a really exciting climax and weirdly enough Robocop 2 even gets you to care about the villains as all characters are human, Despicable perhaps, but human and with three dimensional personalities. Robocop 2 than also suffers from trying to do too much as there is enough material here to warrant four more more sequels, so cramming it all together is what damages the appeal of such movie. This is one of those movies that probably has a longer cut that is more inherently satisfying. Overall Robocop 2 is worth seeing and I think fans of the first will find a lot to like, Just know that it isn’t on the same level as the first and you’ll be alright. The satire though is sharper than part 1.

Robocop 3 (1993) *

Cast: Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Felton Perry,Rip Torn, Jill Hennesey, Mako, John Castle, CCH Pounder, Remy Ryan, Robert DoQui

Directed by Fred Dekker

This pointless and awesomely dull sequel finds Robocop joining a rebel underground to fight back against the OCP army who are throwing the poor out of their homes, while also fighting a robotic ninja. Robocop 3 isn’t just terrible, it is an abomination. Robocop 3 for one is PG-13 and so such is watered down for children despite the fact that Robocop 1-2 were both violent movies that worked because said violence set up a comic-book like futuristic atmosphere. This movie is so hokey and dull that even a rip off like say Nemesis is way better than such. Robocop 3 is just painful to watch, say what you will about Robocop 2, but at least the climax as well as the action delivered on all accounts and was on par with the action style. Robocop 2 might’ve been missing the heart but it had the satire (that was even better than 1), the action and it gave Robocop something to do. Indeed this sequel finds Robocop sitting around out of action. The only positive thing I can say is that maybe the idea could've worked with an R rated approach and with a bigger budget (And some energy) Robocop 3 might’ve been able to have been made into something decent out of the idea. Admittedly the idea of Robocop going underground to protect people from the OCP fascist army is fairly inspired, just too bad there wasn’t enough energy or in fact carnage to make such a premise work on film. The worst thing about Robocop 3 is the uninspired feeling to everything, none of the actors that returned seem all that enthused (Allen only agreed to be in such if they killed her character off) and star Peter Weller didn’t even show up. All of this dooms Robocop 3 as it becomes quite obvious nobody here wanted to make anything special. This was a sequel made to cash paychecks and it shows. I literally can’t really find much else nice to say, as if I rattled off the problems with Robocop 3 it would sound like a laundry list. Mainly the jetpack thing is lame, the robot ninjas are lame (especially compared to the two robot enemies in 1-2) , the film just seems murky rather than atmospheric and the film is just plain dull. Overall it was sort of sad to see Robocop go out on such a horrendous note.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Avenging Force (1986) * * *1/2

Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, John P. Ryan, James Booth, Bill Wallace, Karl Johnson

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Dudikoff stars as Matt Hunter, “The most promising man the secret service ever had” who fights to protect a Black senator Larry Richards (James) from Pentangle,a gang of white supremacists who when not involved in racist exploits, like to hunt people in the bayou, in what is one of the most underrated action flicks of the 80s. Avenging Force is one of the most hard hitting films of the genre that is sort of like Southern Comfort in its premise except with a more take no prisoners approach which overall takes the viewer by surprise with just how far this film goes in spectacle and action, and while a lot of the time the film is over the top the film never fails to be suspenseful and exciting. Avenging Force was not at all what fans of American Ninja expected, as Avenging Force was mean spirited (often shockingly so) and extremely well put together. There is no doubt that this is the best film that both Firstenberg and Dudikoff ever made. The film is merely just a solid action flick for the first and second reel but then when Pentangle attacks and finishes Steve James and his family off (in a rather shocking sequence) the film then earns that something extra as Dudikoff finds himself hunted in the bayou. These contain some of the best action sequences from the 1980s (which overall make it the best overall) that recall Peckinpath in terms of suspense and grittiness. The truth of the matter is that Avenging Force is an underrated classic (that thankfully is a cult classic) that deserves the DVD treatment. If anything else Avenging Force represents one of the very best from Cannon films and the best film to date from Dudikoff, James and Firstenberg. Indeed as fun as the American Ninja (1-2) films are one can’t help but wish that Firstenberg had made a couple sequels to this. All in all this is a diamond in the rough and well worth hunting down. Indeed why this isn’t on DVD is a crime.

Riverbend (1989) * *1/2

Cast: Steve James, Margaret Avery, Tony Frank, Alex Morris

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Steve James stars as Black Vietnam vet facing court martial who helps an oppressed black town fight back against a corrupt White bigots led by the town's sheriff (Frank) and mayor in a blaxploitation film that was made 15 years or so too late, that despite the odds is watchable but still an interesting failure due to the questionable politics and the overall messy way things are wrapped up. While I can’t recommend this film, I must praise both the performances of Steve James and Tony Frank. Steve James was one of those actors in the genre that doesn’t seem to have gotten the recognition he deserved (Indeed he was always the best thing about a bad movie like American Ninja 3 or Bloodfist 5) and here he makes for an admirable presence, handling the physical action roles perfectly and having the charisma that exceeds even Fred Williamson (and that’s high praise) but this film pretty much gives him not many bad guys to fight and the politics are a little too extreme even for my tastes. For instance while prejudiced things go on in such a town, I don’t think the ideal solution is to lock up ALL whites in a church regardless of the politics (Including a white guy who fights for equal rights). However despite the politics the film never runs with such to become fascinating as it is derailed by the court martial subplot which detracts from the enjoyment here. However while the film doesn’t quite work, it does have an excellent villain in Tony Frank who makes for a surprisingly human racist and who makes his imposing threat real. The real problem here is that Steve James ends up fighting the Army who is sent in after he takes hostages, when a better movie would have had him fighting Tony Frank and his band of racists. Indeed had this been Steve James and Co. Fighting racists, this film would’ve been a surefire recommendation but because it is concerned too much with politics and questionable ones at best, Riverbend ends up being a good try and nothing more.

American Samurai (1992) * *1/2

Cast: David Bradley, Mark Dacascos, Valarie Trapp, Rex Ryon, John Fujioka

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

David Bradley stars as journalist and closet samurai (?) who enters a brutal tournament to fight his stepbrother (Dacascos) who has stolen his sacred sword (Dacascos is ticked off his biological father gave the sword to Bradley (an orphan taken in by the family) than him) and so much combat ensues in which weapons dispatch competitors in especially gory ways. American Samurai is a near miss mainly due to the two leads. Dacascos is hammy and far too over the top in the role as the villain (He certainly is no Bolo Yeung) while Bradley is extremely wooden and dull in the lead. So while American Samurai has some well done action and a few exciting moments here and there, it just doesn’t work as the film doesn’t even generate the minimal human interest that a martial arts films has to do. The film’s only bright spot in terms of characters come from Valarie Trapp and Rex Ryon who are well suited to their roles and are likable despite the fact that the film’s ridiculous screenplay gives them little to do. American Samurai then is a  mediocre effort, a failed attempt to turn this into the next American Ninja, but while that had far more ambition and more creativity, American Samurai just has battle arena carnage and dull characters. A forgettable effort for sure, but fans of Bradley and Dacascos might enjoy the mindless antics here.

Cyborg Cop (1993) * *

Cast: David Bradley, John Rhys-Davies, Alonna Shaw, Todd Jensen

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

David Bradley stars as Jack Ryan (Hunt For Red October this is not) a DEA agent who looks to save his brother from terrorists (Davies in a decent performance as usual) who has turned said brother into a cyborg and to which Bradley finds a squeeze in reporter (Shaw) and finds that beating these bad guys will be difficult. Cyborg Cop is a competent effort and is never dull for a second, the only problem is that is that it’s so routine when it should be better than it is. Bradley is okay in the role (Way better than he was in American Ninja 3-5 and American Samurai) but he isn’t action as much as he should be. The only real life of this film (aside from the action) comes from the subplot between Bradley and Shaw who make for a surprisingly likable couple. Indeed it isn’t much as this film doesn’t even stand up to the better B.movies that exploit this material in far more interesting ways but Cyborg Cop is painless to sit through and does provide some fun even if all of it is done in a completely by the numbers way.

Cyborg Soldier (1994) *

Cast: David Bradley, Morgan Hunter, Jill Pierce

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

This time DEA agent Jack Ryan (Bradley again) fights back against a terrorist (Hunter) he killed who has been automated and who now threatens the world as we know it. Basically this is Universal Soldier again only without the sense of humor, freshness or even the energy that made such work. Cyborg Soldier has some action (mainly the beginning and ending) but such becomes overkill as we get tired of the action as the film has literally nothing to offer outside of that. Meanwhile the mad scientist plot as well as the plot-holes which never even attempts to answer why scientists would want to turn such a loose cannon terrorist into a cyborg is never explained. Indeed this film is all firepower without any ambition, humor or quality to make such enjoyable. In fact the film is just so mindless and inert in terms of ideas that the film just becomes tedious. Also it should be noted that Bradley is completely boring and unlikable here and this time there is no redeeming subplot to bail out the tedium. In fact the action isn’t even up to par.

Quicksand (2003) * * *

Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Brooke Theiss, Richard Kind, Dan Hedaya, Douglas Weston

Dudikoff fares well in a suspense movie that casts the ex-American Ninja as a Military psychiatrist who investigates a seemingly open and shut case involving Randi (Theiss of Nightmare On Elm Street 4 fame) who redefines the term "damaged goods" as we learn that she may or may not have had an incestuous affair and when her father dies, she is the #1 suspect, however there is other stuff involving meds that cause suicide among those that take them and Dudikoff finds himself in a world where he doesn’t know who to trust. Unlike say Jill The Ripper, Quicksand actually works as Dudikoff fares well in such a role. Quicksand isn’t really an action flick and for fans expecting Ninja hijinks and mindless action will certainly be disappointed, but for those that stick with it, will find a solid little suspenser that has its share of narrative twists and turns that make this compulsively watchable. Indeed I was surprised at how much I was engrossed in Dudikoff and Theiss’ relationship which makes up the film’s selling point. The action sequences that are there (as you cannot make a Michael Dudikoff movie without such) are well staged (with a well done car chase being the highlight) but it’s overall the story and the surprisingly sharp acting that keeps you compelled. Indeed the ending is suspenseful not because we see Dudikoff take on the bad guys but because he is far removed from the American Ninja character we associate with him. Quicksand then isn’t as good as Firstenberg and Dudikoff’s other collaborations but it’s entertaining all the same and Dudikoff proves himself to be a decent actor. However it must be noted that the overblown music score is terrible and the biggest flaw in an otherwise decent film.

Pray For Death

Pray For Death (1986)
* * *1/2

Cast: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei-Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Kosugi stars in what is probably the best U.S ninja film to date (This one still isn’t as fun as Five Element Ninjas) as a businessman and closet ninja who dispenses his deadly skills when mobsters kill his wife and threaten his kids over some type of priceless necklace. Pray For Death is really the best U.S ninja film of the 80s as it features excellent choreography and a really well done revenge subplot that has us rooting for Kosugi. Indeed this film is even more fun than the American Ninja series (1-2) as well as Kosugi’s Enter The Ninja and Revenge Of The Ninja mainly due to how personal the action feels. Pray For Death not only works as Ninja hokum but actually works as more as Pray For Death has its moments in political statement in saying how violent American cities are, Of course such is Reagan paranoia but it does filter well with the rest of the action and because the revenge angle works so well, we find ourselves engrossed in Kosugi’s quest for revenge. Indeed real stakes are being played and like the equally enjoyable Avenging Force (also written by Booth) the bad guys mean business and the action sequences are tough and brutal in a way to indicate seriousness this genre rarely has. However Pray For Death works mainly because it just keeps coming with the action. Pray For Death then isn’t just a good kung fu film but rather a good action movie overall that is well worth seeing. Indeed one can safely say this is Sho Kosugi’s best film to date and deserves a more prolific DVD release and an overall rediscovery as this film should be heralded as one of the best in the martial arts genre, too bad the title is so bad as it detracts from an otherwise well made and thrilling martial arts flick.

Street Fighter series

Street Fighter (1994) *1/2

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming Na, Kylie Minogue Wes Studi, Damian Chapa, Byron Mann, Roshan Seth, Grand L. Bush, Simon Callow

Directed by Steven E. de Souza

Street Fighter is a tragedy for many reasons. The biggest reason is that the actors are pretty decent and yet despite their efforts the film just stinks. The biggest problem is the comic tone which is lame and the action sequences that are watered down. Indeed Van Damme isn’t actually too bad as Guile (Belgian accent aside) and Raul Julia (in his final role) is actually great, as is Na and Studi. The truth is that the film is a case of lame comedy overcoming the actors at hand. Also the film isn’t nearly as fun as the addictive video game. In terms of faithfulness, the film does detract from the video game as Ryu (Mann) is the hero of the game and not Guile (Van Damme) but whatever the case, this film is just plain tedious. Part of the problem is adapting this to little kids and hence the action is family friendly and lame as far as Van Damme movies go. Indeed this film is a disappointment for not only fans of the video game but also for fans of Van Damme as he doesn’t have a lot to do. Indeed even the fight sequences are fairly lame, which you think would be the selling point of such a movie. Indeed Street Fighter is downright dull on so many fronts that you wonder how director de Souza  takes such a good idea and turns it into such a crushing bore. Indeed if it not for Raul Julia’s flamboyant performance as well as the other cast giving it their all, this film would be a total waste of time. As it is, the film is still a strictly sub-par effort that is a failure by any standard.

Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li (2009) *

Cast: Kristin Kreuk, Chris Klein, Neal McDonough , Robin Shou

Directed by Andrzei Bartkowiak

This time this film (which is more of a reboot than sequel) finds Kreuk looking to avenge her father from M. Bison (McDonough) in a really terrible movie that is somehow even worse than the first. Look the original is a very bad movie but if you were to put this one next to the first, I bet many people would find the first to be not only superior but to be a 4-star movie by comparison. Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li is just an embarrassment. Starting with Chris Klein’s woeful performance and with how dull this film is. I really don’t know what to say outside of saying that this film is awful. The Story is full of clich├ęs, the fight sequences are lame and the film is miscast all across the board. Seriously this is one of the all time worst video game adaptations and you have to wonder why they bothered with Chun Li , when Ryu is the hero of this video game series. Robin Shou meanwhile still seems to struggle to find anything worthwhile of his talents (his last decent movie was the first Mortal Kombat) while Klien’s laughable performance will have people changing their tunes about the 1994 debacle, that movie while bad, had the redeeming value in Raul Julia's great performance, this ridiculous and dull film doesn’t even have that and is somehow even duller than the first.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Live Action Anime Adaptations

Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky (1991)   * * * *

Cast: Fan Siu-Wong, Mei Sheng Fan, Ka-Kui Ho, Yukari Oshima, Phillip Kwok

Directed by Ngai Kai Lam

The Story Of Ricky is simply put one of the all time greats in the Kung Fu movie genre. I don’t like to throw around four star ratings but if there is a movie that deserves the ultimate rating, it is The Story Of Ricky which is the ultimate gore epic. The story is some half-assed fable about Ricky a super powered kung fu expert who takes on the gang of four (one of them a gay kung fu expert who runs opium and is played by a woman) as well as two sadistic wardens (Fan and Ho, one who has a hook for a hand and keeps mints in his glass eyeball and the other who morphs into a Godzilla version of himself) while staying in the corporate prisons of 2001 A.D. The Story Of Ricky is just great fun all around. The film could perhaps be taken as a sheer camp fest but the only problem is that with the whole Hong Kong film genre, I’m pretty sure this was done as tongue in cheek fun, hence a lot of the laughs are intentional. Also the film hits a nerve (or tendon) with the sheer over the top nature of the violence, heads are crushed, meat grinders are used to convert people and limbs into hamburger, people strangle one another with their intestines and most importantly the movie’s soundtrack, dubbing and style of fight sequences all are done like 70s Kung Fu movies. This then leaves the gore effects that is sometimes hilariously fake but no matter the case still add to the experience of the film. Also let it be said a lot of the gore effects are pretty decently done (Ricky Vs Silly Lung for instance) Indeed this is a very entertaining movie, the kind that you wish they would make more of. The film also must be praised for the zany sense of humor and the added goofiness that make the movie so enjoyable, for instance as soon as an eyeball is knocked from the socket, vultures fly quickly to devour such literally seconds after the eye hits the ground. It’s moments like that as well as the surreal climax which make this one of the all time best kung fu movies of all time. The Story Of Ricky is then in its own way , some kind of wonderful genius.

Crying Freeman (1995) * *1/2

Cast: Mark Dacascos, Julie Condra, Rae Dawn Chong, Mako, Tcheky Karyo, Byron Mann,Yoko Shimata

Directed by Christophe Gans

The second movie in our binge of Anime movies adapted to the big screen is Crying Freeman, a visually stylish film but empty and lackluster on all levels. Dacascos stars as a weepy assassin (literally because he cries every time he kills someone) who ends up falling for the artist (Condra) he is assigned to kill, meanwhile the Yakuza and such get involved in a film that seems to try too hard to create the world of the Crying Freeman. The biggest problem with said movie is that Condra and Dacascos’ complete lack of chemistry. Indeed this is the part we are supposed to believe in most but while Dacascos and Condra apparently got along very well (As they got married and have been since 1998) they really don’t have any erotic chemistry as their love story is flat and dreary, which also kills any momentum the film might have. The action too is infrequent and only adequate when it should be outstanding. I think is the same sentiment with the film, For it is fairly faithful to the Anime in mood and story but yet it just doesn’t work because the two leads lack any chemistry, indeed the supporting characters involving Chong, Karyo, Mako and Shimata are far more compelling and interesting than the love story that supposedly drives the movie. Crying Freeman then isn’t terrible, but it is fairly disappointing and certainly a missed opportunity.

Fist Of The North Star (1995) * *1/2

Cast: Gary Daniels, Costas Mandylor, Chris Penn, Malcolm McDowell, Downtown Julie Brown, Clint Howard, Isako Wishio

Directed by Tony Randel

Fist Of The North Star’s fairly incomprehensible plot details around two rival kung fu schools that can never fight, to which Mandylor breaks the rules and badly beats Daniels to which Daniels wanders around sulking around for vengeance or something like that. Honestly this movie makes no sense whatsoever but works in a surreal WTF way. For instance narrations are explained over and over again and yet the result is the same mainly ridiculous nonsense that is merely an excuse to see bizarre things happen to various actors in a burned out apocalypse world. North Star would be a full-fledged recommendation, if Gary Daniels weren’t such a boring lead, where as Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren have larger than life presence as heroes, the role of Kenshiro could’ve certainly used that. Daniels though is merely boring and looks rather ungainly and un-kept which detracts from his heroic plight. Worst of all is that he clearly has no sense of humor or indeed a sense of style to make the concept work. Even more surprisingly is how his martial artistry is underused and that these sequences are merely decent as opposed to mind blowing. The whole film does look great, as Hellbound:Hellraiser 2’s director Tony Randel knows how to build mood (Indeed if Randel directed Crying Freeman, they might’ve had something) and the sets, lighting and overall look are distinctive. Indeed the directing in the gore sequences as well as the action is crisply directed. Another plus that makes the movie sort of fun is the late great Chris Penn, playing Bondage-Face, a bad guy who is easily the most enjoyable character in the entire movie. However when you strip away the film’s stylish sets, the nifty directing and the kung fu battles, the truth of the matter is that this is all just one big mess of a movie that lacks a coherent whole and that doesn’t have really any plot to drive it from point A to B. Worst of all though is Gary Daniels, a humorless lead that couldn’t be any duller as a hero.
Chain Of Command (2000) *

Cast: Patrick Muldoon, Roy Scheider, Michael Biehn, Maria Conchita Alonzo, Ric Young, Phillip Tan

Directed by John Terlesky

Scheider plays the President (for the hundredth time or so in undoubtedly the worst movie to date to cast him as such) who is compromised when he meets with a Taiwanese businessman who wants the briefcase with nuclear launch codes to destroy China. Enter Muldoon who plays the secret service agent who will save the day by basically standing still and shooting an AK47. Chain Of Command is really pushing it, even for fans of the cast. Michael Biehn in particular is wasted as a bad guy who isn’t given any motivation as to why he would help the Taiwanese terrorists. Scheider really though gets it the worst as this was the guy who killed the shark in Jaws and he’s reduced to a role in which he basically cowers and is held hostage. Plus the film clearly hates him for his womanizing ways which add up to nothing in said film. Sure he was in peril in the vastly superior Peacekeeper (check index) but he was given a lot more to do, as he was in Executive Power as he actually was allowed to fight alongside the good guys. Here though Scheider is utterly useless and one wonders why they hired Scheider if they weren’t going to use him. Of course what hurts the film also is the casting of Patrick Muldoon. Muldoon of Starship Troopers fame is far too young to convince one as being a killing machine standing between terrorists and nuclear destruction, Muldoon is of course no Dolph Lundgren or Mike Madsen but one was nostalgic for Lorenzo Lamas. Indeed part of the problem is that he seems too much like a teenager which is what is often the problem as he is apparently the one man that stands between the terrorists and Armageddon. Overall the most unforgivable problem is that Chain Of Command is just plain boring, with too many sequences of static suspense scenes and a climax that is just a complete mess. Chain Of Command than is a very ridiculous effort taken on its own plot threads but with the lack of action and lack of any real freshness to the exhausted material, Chain Of Command is just a deadly dull rip off.