Monday, July 30, 2018

The Ultimate Weapon (1998)

The ultimate weapon 

Tagline:

No Fear. No Rules. No Equal.

Movie Review:

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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”?

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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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