Monday, August 13, 2018

S.W.A.T.: Under Siege (2017)

Swat under siege poster

Tagline:

When the Drug War Hits Home… the Tables are Turned.

Movie Review:

Swat under siege 1

I’ve not bothered watching the first two SWAT films yet. The first was a big budget cinema release with Samuel Jackson, Colin Farrel and Michele Rodriguez. The second, S.W.A.T.: Firefight has Robert Patrick in it. This is the third film, Under Siege - not released to the Steven Seagal film, though I wouldn’t have objected to Sensei Seagal showing up to sit in a chair and eat a carrot in this one either.

It’s the Fourth of July and Travis Hall (Sam Jaeger) is woken on his day off to go on an important mission. With his team assembled and some DEA guys in tow, our SWAT guys and girls go to the docks to intercept a shipping container of stolen contraband. But the straight forward, walk in walk out operation is not as promised, with bad guys aplenty trying to take the team out. A man is downed and a huge explosion from a missile launcher takes out a few more. And the plot thickens more when the contents of the shipping container was not drugs and weapons, it was a man strung up by his arms with torture equipment beside him. Returning out mystery guy to the SWAT compound, he goes only by the name Scorpion (Michael Jai White) and he promises that the FBI agents coming to get him for the billion dollar secrets he has in his head will not be real FBI agents. Surely enough he is correct and Travis has to fight them off, but that’s not all the returned team have to worry about with the private army of rich terrorist Lars Cohagen (Matthew Marsden) at their doors demanding they release the Scorpion to them, or face a final assault.

Swat under siege 2

This wasn’t too bad for an Assault on Precinct 13 direct-to-video riff. Pretty decent action overall, though it did have some issues. Positive things first; I quite liked Sam Jaeger as Travis Hall. He was believable as the leader of an elite team of soldiers and had an imposing enough physique to pass muster. Perhaps not quite John Cena in The Marine, but maybe an older Mike Mizanin from The Marine 3-5. That’s probably way off the mark but you might get where I am going with this. He gets pissed and swears at the Inspector about not using her gut instinct, notices when fake FBI guys are carrying the wrong sidearm, and never gets wounded in action. He’s a family man and just wants to get the job done and celebrate the holiday. I like Travis.

Jai White isn’t top billing but he has a lot of screen time. It’s not bait-and-switch territory here thankfully. His character of Scorpion is played cool, a bit like a black ops version of Morpheus. He speaks monotone with little emotion, almost robotic in delivery, arching back to his early days in Universal Soldier: The Return (tangent - I’d pay to see Jai White as a Terminator) though thankfully this little DTV action film is miles more entertaining than that thing. Scorpion is the character we feel most invested in as his backstory is not clear and never fully revealed. At any moment he could turn on the team, and that plays as an advantage to the film. We also get two really solid, classic Jai White multi-guy beatdowns similar to the street fights he has in Blood & Bone. People just lining up to get smashed!

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The action is genuine and pretty consistent with only moments of regrouping and rethinking strategy. Being SWAT it’s mainly machine gun battles, though there’s a few bonuses like snipers on rooftops and a dude with a missile launcher. The best weapon to show up was a Predator-style mini-gun and it wrecks the havoc you expect it would. Great stuff. Other than guns, we get a few fist fights, the aforementioned martial arts fights from Jai White, some one-on-one knife fights and beatdowns and a whole lot of stealthy around corners looking through sights and making military hand gestures. So we aren’t let down in the all important action department. The plot also advances with a few "can we trust him/who is the mole” points, one of which did keep me guessing until the end, so that’s a positive.

Adrianne Palicki (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Ellen Dwyer is okay, though I didn’t really buy her as the chief Inspector of this newly commissioned compound. Her character seemed too wet behind the ears for such a role. Traditionally we’d have had a grizzled Captain in this role, chewing a cigar and complaining that he was three days from retirement. Or a no-shit-taking, genuinely imposing officer like Callahan from Police Academy. I found it a bit hard to believe the team would take orders from her. That’s not to say she’s redundant; she holds her own with a weapon and holds her own in the fights, she just doesn’t seem commanding material.

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And then there’s our Big Bad, the international terrorist Lars Cohagen, probably one of the weakest top bosses I’ve seen in recent years next to the guy in the Robocop reboot. His private jet and his lavender shirt don’t convince me, nor does his supposedly imposing and threatening demeanour that allows him to control his computer hacker associate. That’s not to say Marsden is not good at bad-assery (check him out leading the post-apocalyptic film Bounty Killer), this part was just not suited to him. I also got no sense of scale for his organisation; it’s just him, the perpetually smirking sidekick Simone (Monique Ganderton) and a contracted keyboard warrior that does his bidding. Of course he has a bunch of hired soldiers in polished black SUVs, but they never feel like they are “his” if you follow me. 

The other minor quibble I had with the film: everyone is too pretty. Now don’t laugh, but when I want to see SWAT guys and girls kicking arse I don’t want them to look like they’ve come out of a Pantene commercial. Slight exaggeration maybe, but the team of Chu, Hooks, York, Phoenix etc. don’t look like they’ve seen a day of combat in their lives, which is not what I want from supposedly “the baddest motherfuckers on Earth”, as Travis calls them in a pep talk. Some of them live, some of them die, but you aren’t ever really sold on them. They aren’t made from the same stuff as Frost, Hicks and Vasquez from Aliens, that’s for sure. I wish I had more to say about them but.. I really don’t. With the possible exception of Jefferson - she is a little bit of a badass and takes no crap with her shotgun “Not on my watch, motherfucker!".

Our IT guys on both sides look like cliche IT guys (one bearded and bigger, and one that looks like he hasn’t seen sun in a year and lives off instant noodles, both able to hack the planet). Why would such a small SWAT Training compound of a handful of members and a lead Inspector warrant a full time IT guy with the system setup he has anyway?  

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It may sound like I’m being negative towards the film. It was one of those films I can pick apart the pieces but when stuck back together I can still have a good time, with a couple of genuine “Hah! Awesome” out loud moments as a bonus. Jaeger was solid as our main SWAT dude Travis and Jai White was great as usual. It moved swiftly at under 90 minutes, has bloody squibs (though mostly CG) and has no prior knowledge requirements from the previous two films in the franchise before going in. Worth a watch, just don’t pay top dollar.

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Highlight:

Pinned down in the corridors of the complex, the team are about to get it from six combatant soldiers when Jai White appears with a minigun, says “Duck.” and takes the whole lot out with a satisfying grin on his face. 

Trailer:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cage (1989)

Cage poster

Tagline:

Only the winner gets out alive.

Movie Review:

Cage 1
Billy and Scott, hanging out since 1969!

You push play and find yourself in Vietnam, 1969. Intense POV shots take you through the jungle as the sounds begin to come to life; bullets are whizzing by, Reb Brown is screaming, voices become clearer from all sides, then the explosions start! Man, now THAT'S how you start a movie! A group of four guys are trying to make it to their landing zone but the enemy is seemingly everywhere. They get where they're supposed to be but the chopper is late! Holding out as best as they can four become three, and then two... It's only Bill and Scott (Ferrigno and Brown) left standing as the helicopter sets down. Bill throws a fallen soldier over his shoulder and heads for relative safety as Scott tries to find an opening. He finds it, but just as he reaches out the bullets hit him. My, this is exciting, isn't it? Bill reaches out and grabs hold of his friend as they start to take off. He's got a good grip since he's strapped himself to the pilot's seat but just then... A bullet catches him in the temple! He hangs on, they get away, but their lives will be forever changed. THIS IS ALL BEFORE THE OPENING CREDITS! 

Cage 2
Billy needs that bullet like he needs a hole in the... Oh.

Recovery is a long and arduous process for the both of them, especially Billy. He's suffered serious brain damage and is left with the mind of a child. It becomes clear that Scott will be by his side, no matter what, helping him as much as he can to get healthy and learn to live life again. It feels like Scott figures every minute of the life he now gets to live is thanks to Billy and so there isn't anything he won't do for the man that gave him that second chance. Together, they make up the action movie equivalent of Bert and Ernie. Let's jump ahead to Los Angeles, 1989. Scott owns a bar frequented by vets and Billy helps out. Scott is equal parts friend, guardian, big brother, etc. It's also now that we're introduced to some shady shenanigans happening elsewhere in town. Illegal underground death matches fought in a cage and overseen by Yin (Shigeta), the local leader of the Tongs (Chinese Mafia).  

Cage 3
Ear today! Gone Tomorrow!

Back at the bar we learn through exposition that the guys are having money troubles and things are starting to get serious. Then, an 80's gang walks in and starts trouble, that is, they give trouble a shot before our heroes kick the living snot out of 'em. Scott still has the skills to kill and Billy doesn't take kindly to people messing with his best friend. While all of this is going on two guys, Tony and Mario, who stopped in to drown their sorrows after landing themselves a healthy debt with Yin see what's going on and start getting some ideas. The initial offer to fight is of course dismissed but guys like that, they don't take no so easily. They hire the punks that caught the earlier beat-down to burn up the bar forcing the financial stress angle. That happens, but somebody was inside when the place went up...

Cage 4
This guy's batty!

Cage 5
Their bar is the town's hot spot!

It turns out that Tony and Mario owe money to other dangerous people already and time is running out for them. So, they wait for a chance to get Billy alone and, with the story that Scott wants them to look after him, they manage to lure him away. They see Billy as their only way out of trouble and are hell-bent on tricking him into fighting in order to make that fast money. Finding his friend gone, Scott turns to the police who are, predictably, no help at all. He won't stand for that, not at all, and essentially goes on a rampage while tracking Billy down! He leaves a significant amount of fire and bullets in his wake while closing in on the secret location of the next match. 

Cage 6
Apple turnover anybody?

Cage 7
Reb Brown! Equal opportunity destroyer!

All this covers the first half or so of the movie. There's a lot more going on as well; a strange woman with a camera, a mysterious cop who hangs around but makes no moves, secret identities, other fights, etc. Truth is, there's a lot to discuss! I've decided to let most of it go so as not to ruin the enjoyment for any potential fans. CAGE gives you a lot of movie for your money, and that's terrific. Not to mention the car chases, splattery squibs, brutal battles to the death, and more! Solid action for sure but what might surprise many is Ferrigno's turn as the child-like Billy.

Everybody is great, there are no complaints, but Lou truly stands out. I have a weakness for stuff like this. What can I say? I'm a sensitive guy! You feel for Billy, you care what happens to him. It's a fantastic performance and it's a memorable one. Reb is no joke either! Really, everybody flies high in CAGE. There's always something interesting happening so it's an absolute blast to watch from start to finish! I have to give an honorable mention to Al Ruscio as Costello. In his first five minute scene he packs in enough outrageous political incorrectness for three or four different movies. And he often left me laughing before he was done. CAGE is highly recommended!

Cage 8
And she's buying the stairway to heaven....

Notes:

  • This movie would seem to be a loose remake of Heart of Dragon, a Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung Hong Kong movie from 1985. 
  • Cameo: Look for 80's wrestling personality Queen Kong in the 'pool hall/hangout' scene. 
  • Cameo: Look for Danny Trejo in a uncredited part as a gangster named Danny. 
  • Cameo: Look for Matthias Hues as the Italian fighter.
  • The actor who played Yin's champion fighter, Chang, was played by Tiger Chung Lee. He had a wrestling background as well. This was his last role until 2012.
  • Director Lang Elliot was not known for action when he made this movie. He had plenty of experience working on Tim Conway and Don Knotts films though!
  • There is a sequel, CAGE II, which reunites Lou and Reb and also adds Shannon Lee and Leo Fong!
  • Pictures displayed are definitely a low-budget endeavor and are meant only to indicate content and are in NO WAY meant to reflect the quality of the presentation.
Reviewed by Xtro the Mutilator

Cage 9

Billy! Don't be a hero!

Trailer:

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Ultimate Weapon (1998)

The ultimate weapon 

Tagline:

No Fear. No Rules. No Equal.

Movie Review:

The ultimate weapon 1

I’ve been doing this blog (on and off, let’s be fair) since 2011. So how have I made it this far without a Hulk Hogan film amongst the ranks? That was something I was determined to fix with The Ultimate Weapon!

Ben Cutter aka Hardball (Hulk Hogan) is an ex soldier, now contract mercenary for hire. He is given a job along with newbie Dean (Carl Marotte, The Park is Mine) aka Cobra (named Cobra because that was his dad’s callsign… Cobra) to be the strike force that takes out an illegal gun runners fortress, codename: Shamrock (a name that should have been a dead giveaway, but I digress). After laying waste to the compound, the UN weapons recovery team helicopter in to clean up. Cutter is not convinced they are actually UN (thick Irish accents a dead giveaway of IRA ties, I guess), so following his instincts blows the absolute shit out of the compound from the safe distance of the (now stolen) helicopter, giving us the first tremendous explosions of the movie. This action has a ripple effect: the wealthy IRA buyer of the guns, McBride (Daniel Pilon, Scanners III) is angry and wants revenge, determines that Cutter’s daughter Mary Kate (Cynthia Preston) is the weak spot so kidnaps her, luring Cutter into his trap of revenge.

The ultimate weapon 2

This was a great time. No messing around here, no overly complex plots. Just a solid late 90s body count movie with an of-the-time-appropriate stolen flash drive subplot (though I would have also accepted CD ROM, or better yet, Minidiscs posing as data storage) with a side dish of unsatisfied wife and daughter. The Ultimate Weapon knows what it is and embraces it, at least as far as TV movies can go with these things. It starts off as a commando movie, has a befriend-and-protect estranged daughter second act, and an escape and revenge third act. The acting across the board is passable (even Hogan, he’s just in full 80’s Arnie mode and it’s actually pretty good) and being late 90s we haven’t hit shaky-cam DTV era yet. We get a blazing first act, a slower but more methodical second act and a nice wrap up in the third. All you really need in this kind of film.

Starting off first, Ben Cutter is a badass. The first scene we see him in he’s in a Canadian Tuxedo - denim waistcoat, open to reveal bare chest, and denim jeans - and it’s a marvellous thing. Although not sporting a mullet in the movie, he metaphorically is wearing one. That’s after being roused awake from an entirely slow-motion jungle scene from, presumably, his Vietnam war days where he’s running away from an engaging enemy with a little girl under his arms. He loses his grip, she rolls down a gently hill screaming and he wakes up in denim, in a haystack. Brilliant. Hogan spends most of the film shooting people and looking imposing, though we do get a few shows of brute force you’d expect from a former wrestler. A classy scene in a bar shows Hogan roundhouse kick a guy through a pile of chairs, and then throw another guy over his head into a table. In every case that he is halted with a gun to his face, he manages to get out of it by either a sneaky punch or from the help of his along-for-the-ride partner Cobra. 

The ultimate weapon 3

Our bad guy McBride is the rich businessman in mansion type, who has many legitimate businesses but one or two illegitimate ones as well. The kind of guy that has men in black just standing around his mansion guarding his Fabergé egg. We even have a scene of him fencing some shmo that works for him. His ploy to get to Cutter involves threatening (sexually) his daughter to draw him out (which it does) and we get a scene of him being strung up in a shooting range designed to test new guns on pig carcasses. That’s a new one for me, but it didn’t scare our boy Cutter. He breaks free, dispatches the goons and gets on about saving the day. 

Speaking of the daughter, Mary Kate, we find her working in a tittle bar. Yes there are boobs in this film, no they were not hers. You have to feel sorry a little for Cutter in this scene, forced to watch his daughter dance sexily for paying drunks. And he may be the absent father of twenty years, but geez she would just not give him a break until the last fifteen minutes of this film when he went missing. A lot of teenage angst in that girl. Honestly the second act of the film with its slower pace, marriage proposals and focus on daddy issues could have spoiled this film, but there’s enough mullets and guns to keep it moving at a fair pace.

The ultimate weapon 4

One of the things I love about 90’s films “computer hacking” and this film doesn’t leave me wanting in that department. Not only does McBride wear a ‘flash drive’ around his neck (in 1998 no less!) but he stores important illegal information on it under the filename.. SECRET_FILE.DOC. I laughed so hard as our heroes attempted to decrypt the file and that name showed on the screen. Seriously, I love this stuff. 

Now being made for TV the bloodletting was toned down but that’s not to say it wasn’t a solid action film. Plenty of foes were dispatched, especially in the first act, and over the top RPG explosions, machine gun firefights, flipped cars, the works. And there are a few minor gibs at critical points so it’s not all bloodless. It feels like a proper film, just with a slight haze of midday movie to the whole thing - but don’t read into that too much. If you like 90’s action from PM Entertainment or Nu Image then you will enjoy The Ultimate Weapon. The soundtrack of synth rock with wailing guitar solos also earns it an extra point in my book.

Note: the runtime of this UK disc was bang on 90 minutes, but Amazon and IMDB both list the runtime as 110. I don’t know if US VHS or DVDs could possibly be longer so I’m chalking that up to misprint that was repeated as fact.

The ultimate weapon 5

The ultimate weapon 6

Highlight:

The final scene in the movie shows one of McBride’s goons crash his car into the side of a bar, when inside McBride himself is standing on a landmine. A slow motion crash followed by a satisfying, humungous explosion and fade to black.

Trailer:

Saturday, July 21, 2018

China Salesman aka Zhong guo tui xiao yuan (2017)

China salesman poster

Tagline:

Fighting the war to connect the nation.

Movie Review:

china-salesman-1

I had heard things about this film upfront. I’m not naive when it comes to this kind of film anymore. I know when I see Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson on the cover together, that if - and that’s a big if - the two get to brawl together, it will be for two minutes and then we will see the two stars sitting in chairs on and off throughout the film whilst Third Billing But Actually Main Star Guy takes 90% of the screen time. I went into the film expecting this. What did I get? Read on.

Yan Jian (Dong-xue Li, Brotherhood of Blades), a young Chinese IT engineer in North Africa and helping his company to win a bid for installing a new mobile phone network in the recently war-torn nation. The winning bid will own the rights to control the communication between the south and the north of the continent. French spy Michael (Cloivs Foulin) works for a rival phone company but he also hired the best mercenary in Africa, Lauder (Steven Seagal) and former General Kabbah (Mike Tyson) to help him win. Yan has discovered their conspiracy, and along with his invention that will ensure faster 3G connectivity for all, the full force and forces of the rival company are after him. The plot is utterly ridiculous, but I can’t bring myself to completely blame the writers as apparently this is based on a true story. Rival phone companies actually having a war in Africa over 3G versus CDMA technology is a thing that apparently happened. And China was the one to save the day. There is literal flag waving in the movie.

china-salesman-2

Let’s get the important thing out of the way first. Yes, Seagal and Tyson fight. And.. it’s pretty damn good, at least when taken at face value. It takes less than ten minutes of the runtime for it to happen and less than fifteen for it to end, but it is exactly the kind of fight I’d want to see between these two. Tyson heavy on the punches, Seagal heavy on the avoidance tactics and his patented slap-fu. The reason for the fight though? Tyson didn’t want to drink whiskey because of religious reasons, so Seagal served him up a gallon of piss. Yup. Actual piss. So Tyson beats the living shit out of Seagal’s henchmen, then the room, and then Seagal (I was impressed with that knockout, as ol' Steve usually doesn’t allow his characters to lose). Forget the fact that as we learn later in the film, these two are on the same side. Tyson rounds out the scene with the line; “Motherfucker, YOU drink piss!”. They could have run the credits at this point and made the best short action film in years. But alas, we have another 105 minutes to go.

The bulk of the film is political drama between Yan and his company, he rival phone company represented by the deranged Michael, and supposed neutral adjudicator Susanna (Janicke Askevold) who ends up helping Yan at the same time as saying his company is shit. Michael as a vile frenchman is equally awful as it is hilarious, straight out of James Bond Evil Bad-guy world. Then we are filled up with boardroom meetings, sabotage of technical equipment, then HOLY SHIT CIVIL WAR, FUCKEN TANKS, BATTLE HORSES then Mike Tyson spying through telescope, Seagal slapping his secretary’s arse, drive to phone tower to install transmitter HOLY SHIT THE LOCALS ARE KILLING A BABY GIRL RESCUE HER actually it was a circumcision and you’ve offended their faith and now IT guy has been strung up by his feet WE’RE TRAPPED IN A SANDSTORM... This is the strangest movie about telecommunications ever made.

china-salesman-3

The best performance in the film is from Dong-xue Li who tries his best with the material he’s given. He can at least act, with the exception of his fall from the radio tower which should take three seconds but takes twenty and is hilariously overdone. As for Seagal and Tyson’s remainder of the film (I know that’s why you are here); Tyson gets in on the action but mostly it’s driving a tank. No, it’s not as cool as it sounds. He does shoot missiles at a helicopter which IS cool, but misses. Christ he’s a bad actor, really. Not B-action star bad, just BAD. I’ve seen a less wooden performance from a tree. Seagal does a lot of what he does lots of these days - sitting in chairs. He is absent for the entire second act, but I’m sure he was sitting in a chair then too.

I spent a lot of this film with my mouth wide open just astonished at what I was seeing - not for good reasons mind you. The combination of what seems to be an absolutely huge budget with really quite beautiful sets and scenery, likely financed directly by the Chinese Government, contrasted with the quality of script and the bulk of the acting. They were so far apart I just couldn’t believe it. You know in a B-action movie the acting can be ropey and you accept it, but this is that kind of acting you get when both "non-English as a first language” speakers combine with "English as a first language but we better dumb it down for the Chinese audience” speakers butt heads. Top that off with the already suspect acting ability of Tyson and.. this is painful to watch. Scenes change gears so abruptly it feels like something was left on the cutting room floor. One moment Yan Jian is being arrested for drinking alcohol he thought was goats milk (yes, truly) and literally three seconds later Tyson ambushes the building and blows it half up, along with the people inside. Okay? Did that actually happen in this “true story”?

china-salesman-4

So, Scott Adkins (billed as Scotty Adkins) has executive producer credits on this mess? What the hell was he doing? I love the guy’s work (seriously, everybody go see Savage Dog right now) but he shouldn’t have put his name to this propaganda film. Maybe he just produced the epic fight between our poster hogs? I’ll let myself believe that.

Did I hate this movie then? No. It’s too ridiculous to hate and the opening fight is boss. If they shaved 30 minutes off it (this thing drags through 110 minutes), it could have been loads better. As it is, it’s more often than not unintentionally hilarious what with the bonkers scenes and remedial English. In the final act, Mike Tyson gives a heartfelt monologue complete with tears, but he’s doing that whilst holding detonators in his hand. And when he said “No more war, we must bring peeth” I completely lost it. For a far better Chinese production mixed with Western actors, check out Wolf Warrior 2.

China Salesman movie was written and directed by Tan Bing and it is his only credit on IMDB. I wouldn’t be surprised if it remained that way.

Addendum: it’s worth noting that about a quarter of the film’s runtime is in Mandarin with English subtitles.

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Highlight:

As you can probably guess, the best and most traditional part of the film is the Seagal vs Tyson fight at the ten minute mark. It’s pretty epic actually, with Tyson throwing strong punches, Seagal throwing barrels and Tyson punching through them, half a bar being destroyed.. good times. Shame about the rest of the film.

Trailer:

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