It's kill or be killed in this all out action thriller!
Cartel is a by-the-numbers actioner done extremely well. Ever since I saw the (very early) review on The Direct to Video Connoisseur I knew this one would be for me but it's taken me a year to track down a copy. It really is great that there are other action movie blogs out there that review the best and worst of 80's and 90's bad-action (that's a legitimate sub-genre as far as I'm concerned), simultaneously bringing to light great films from a better time in cinema, but also taking a hit on the films that just don't cut the mustard (Olivier Gruner's Extreme Honor was taken off my list thanks to this review). I hope in that regard that Explosive Action is also fulfilling a greater purpose.
Enough of that. Cartel sees Miles O'Keeffe (Ator the Invincible!) as helicopter pilot for hire Chuck Taylor. In this instance he was hired to transport what he thought were medical supplies, but upon landing his chopper is raided by the feds and the packages are found to be carrying cocaine (of course). The awaiting cartel see the bust and come in all guns blazing beginning with an uzi on a motorbike and ending with a car chase and fight onboard Chuck's own ride. Cartel leader Tony King (Don Stroud; Twisted Justice, King of the Kickboxers) is arrested along with Chuck, however King's number two guy Rivera (action bad-guy go to man Gregory Scott Cummins; Stone Cold, Caged Fury, Action U.S.A., Cliffhanger) manages to escape.
With Chuck serving time for narcotics possession alongside Tony King they have to get along, but it isn't easy. King insists that Chuck work for him and he will arrange an early release through his contacts. Chuck refuses the deal and as a result, King sends his goons Rivera and co. to kill his family; his sister is raped and murdered, her son shot and his own wife nearly killed. When she recovers she follows the cartel trying to get information on their actions and reports to Chuck who forms a plan to escape from prison, take out King and his goons, destroying the cartel and gaining his vengeance.
The action scenes are what stands out and they are very good. We get many machine gun shootouts, a few prison beatings and shivs - corrupt guard included - car and helicopter chases, cars smashing through walls, a shootout in an underground car park, and a car crash with an explosion so good we are shown it in slow motion three times from different angles ala Executive Target. Cartel isn't as completely over the top with action as that movie but it's consistent and with purpose. Some of the gun violence is pretty brutal with blood gushes and painful shots to the bone.
There's also a few scenes in Cartel that are hilarious. The whole photo-shoot with Chuck's sister is a laugh riot as she poses with the camera trying to make computers and cereal appear sexy. There's a brilliant montage of 'happier time' memories, like pushing children on swings, as Chuck reads a letter from his girlfriend in prison. Chuck even manages a one liner; he drops a guy off a building and says "Enjoy your flight!". Arnold would be proud.
One small thing that could be considered a negative is the rape and murder of Chuck's sister. It's a pretty callous scene that goes on for a while with lot's of screaming and the slimy antagonists enjoying it too much. It was actually a bit of an uncomfortable watch which brought the roller-coaster action ride to close to being 'real drama' - something none of us want. It does at least create a realistic reason for Chuck to break out of prison and avenge her death as it wasn't a pleasant one at all. The only other thing that annoyed me was Chuck's girlfriend Donna (Crystal Carson) who used up all of the non-action scenes begging Chuck not to do anything rash, not to take the law into his own hands, blah. Thank god he didn't listen to her or he'd still be in prison today.
O'Keeffe is a solid action star, and his portrayal of Chuck is cool and calm. It looks like there are a few more movies of his that would be worth my time. Zero Tolerance with Robert Partrick is one that is sitting on the shelf awaiting a review so I will get to that one in due course. One I'd love to get a hold of is Liberty & Bash, a buddy-cop flick with O'Keeffe playing "Liberty" and Lou Ferrigno playing Bash! Don Stroud is a great mob boss type villain who totally gets his deserved comeuppance in a great finale scene at a shipping yard. Gregory Scott Cummins is always good in these roles, the slimy second banana with a switchblade; a total joy to watch.
Once again IMDB ratings demonstrate just how untrustworthy they can be. Cartel currently stands at 2.8 out of ten; that's an extremely poor rating. To put it into perspective, the piece of shit Future Fear sits at 2.6. These two movies aren't even on the same field; hell they aren't even playing the same game. Cartel is a solid 5 movie, no question - but for fans of bad action (and that's you, loyal blog reader) Cartel ranks around an 8. Solid action, very little needless plot exposition and a bit of humour to spice it all up. Even the slightly longer runtime for a movie like this doesn't hurt it. Great fun and well worth hunting down however you can.
This DVD release from JL Entertainment is an odd one. It's a Region 4 NTSC disc that appears to be a direct port, even including the opening ident, from the out of print Region 1 Simitar release. All they did was slap an Australian ratings advice on the front so I'd say the legitimacy of the release is up for question. Still, there is nothing technically wrong and the full-screen picture looks fine and the sound clear, so I'm just thankful that they bothered. Runtime around 100 minutes, complete with the worst DVD menu in history.
A random DVD store for $9.95. You will only find this in smaller stores and eBay; major chains certainly won't carry this title.
One of the laziest trailers I've ever seen!