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!

Swat under siege 3

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.

Swat under siege 4

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?  

Swat under siege 5

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.

Swat under siege 6

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:

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