Saturday, March 16, 2024

Command Performance (2009)

Command Performance (2009)


This show could be deadly.


Command Performance - Official Trailer 0-26 screenshot

Dolph Lundgren is Joe, the drummer of a rock band called CMF about to play support for a popstar called Venus (Melissa Molinaro). The two artists are playing a special command performance for the Russian President under strict security. While CMF is playing, men disguised as cooks and waiters kill the backdoor guards and sneak in, bringing crates of weapons with them.

At the height of Venus' set and whilst Joe is backstage, the team of assassins blast in killing most of the security and storm the stage, taking not only Venus hostage but the American ambassador and the President himself. Joe emerges to witness the filming of the first execution and formulates a plan - play a wild guitar solo then use his Fender as a mallet! Joe teams up with one of the surviving Russian security team and the fight back begins.

Command Performance - Official Trailer 0-6 screenshot

Command Performance - Official Trailer 0-29 screenshot

"Dying is easy. Rock and roll is hard."

Command Performance is Die Hard in an Arena, basically. It has some really fun scenes and lines, like Dolph sticking a knife into someone's brain and quipping "watch the hair, dude". The film doesn't shy from the violence, with squibs aplenty, machine gun slaughter, throats ripped out, AK-47 rifle butt bludgeoning and old fashioned beatdowns. Dolph is the man as Joe, tattooed and badass with a history in biker gangs that makes him gun shy (until he isn't).

Melissa Molinaro is believable as Venus, in that I can’t stand her. That’s the point though, at least at the beginning; she’s a brat with too much money. Most of the other characters are non-descript; Hristo Shopov’s President is certainly no Putin, though you can tell that is what they were aiming for. I did like the character of Oleg Kazov, played by the late Dave Legeno, who is responsible for twelve kills to Dolph’s ten. He’s damn ruthless and quite the joy to watch. Frequent Dolph collaborator James Chalke as Vladimir also gets his hands dirty quite a bit.

Command Performance - Official Trailer 1-0 screenshot

Fun fact, one of the president's daughters is Lundgren's own daughter, Ida. She was a good little actress (better than some of the adult extras) and has only since appeared in her dad's most recent Direction, Castle Falls, much older of course.

Dolph is a solid director, solid drummer, and Command Performance is a solid action film. I always have fun watching this one; it's tightly paced, has some fun dialogue and absolutely brings the violence. Dolph had a string of solid action films around this time – Direct Contact, Missionary Man, The Mechanik, Icarus aka The Killing Machine – and they are all worth watching. But Command Performance might just be the best.

Command Performance - Official Trailer 0-47 screenshot


Saturday, March 9, 2024

Space Wars: Quest for the Deepstar (2022)


Death is reversible, but at what cost?



In 2980, death is reversible using a blue liquid called Essence. Space scavengers Kip Corman (Michael Pare) and his daughter Taylor (Sarah French) seek to bring back Kip's deceased wife by transplanting her essence into a cyborg body. After a scavenge transaction goes bad, the pair flee leaving them on the run from the evil Elnora. Running on fumes, the duo decide to embark on one last adventure which is when they encounter a scientist who holds the key to finding the legendary Deepstar - a lost ship supposedly full of treasure. Soon Kip and Taylor realize that they aren't the only ones searching for it as Dykstra (Olivier Gruner) and his rag-tag team of space pirates give them chase.

So, what does the hunt for the Deepstar have to do with mysterious blue liquids and dead wives? Kip and his daughter are flat broke, that’s what, and they hope that whatever is in the Deepstar can pay off their debts to Jabba the- I mean, fund the resurrection of Kip’s dear wife and Taylor’s mother. The opening monologue of the film briefed us on the future-year and the Essence and how it’s infused with a cyborg body, but I have many questions on the mechanics: how long after death do you have before you can extract the blue goo? Is it like brain death; get them within the first six minutes or it’s a big bust? What state is dear mother in when in the vial of liquid – is she sentient like a brain in a jar, or just in a dream state? These answers require a sequel, or more preferably, a prequel: Space Wars – The Essence of Life (email me to discuss purchasing this title).


If Kip is our Han Solo, than Dykstra is our Greedo. Gruner is great in the role and has a suitable array of henchman and henchwomen to assist him. On top of both of them is the evil Elnora played by Sadie Katz. She is peak Star Trek villain and chews up and spits out her dialogue with glee. Her character is ruthless and happily dispatches her own underlings to make a point (and because they can just be resurrected anyway, I guess).

On the side of the good guys is Jackie, a stowaway that Kip and Taylor pick up on their journey who happens to know the location of the Deepstar. Unfortunately Dykstra knows this too, which is why he’s giving the team chase. Much of the film is either Dykstra or Elnora gaining the upper hand on Kip and Taylor, but as you would expect, he finds a way out each time.



Let’s talk about the action. We have Pare as the good guy and more to the point we have Gruner as the bad guy. So, do they fight? Well if you are looking for an all out brawl between them, you won’t get that. Gruner does roundhouse an alien on a desert planet which was cool, and there are a couple of tussles in the film – Taylor actually gets a good punch up in – but this is really more a sci-fi adventure than explosive action. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t expect Angel Town. What you do get is lots of space battles!

Which leads me onto the effects. I was actually pretty impressed with the CG effects in the film, for the most part. Lot’s of stylish looking ships and space battles, colourful laser bolts and gigantic alien monsters. The quality reminded me of an episode of Stargate SG1 or Battlestar Galactica the reboot. If SyFy Channel were still making stuff like this, it would look on par I think. Where it falls down compared to those shows is when reality mixes with the CG. There can be rough greenscreen edges around people at times, or a lack of depth when they stand in front of a CG backdrop. It’s a minor thing really and the production works around this as best it can, particularly by utilising strong lighting. We even get a couple of old school aliens in rubber masks moments that I wish were seen a bit more.



I have to mention the pre-opening credits scene in the film, as it is such a fun setup. Kip is about to be executed in an elaborate way by an over the top cartoon character bad guy who is surrounded by scantily clad women with guns. Of course he escapes in an seat-of-your-pants fashion but I had to applaud the execution method used, and the glee on the executioners face. It really set the tone of the film for me as ‘comic book’ but not in a dark, depressing DC universe way. Everything is so brightly coloured in Space Wars.

You know what this film reminded me of? Space Chase, from 1990. I am probably one of four people who has seen that classic but the similarities are there, mostly because it all stems from Flash Gordon and of course a certain famous George Lucas film that isn’t American Graffiti. I don’t know why I’ve never reviewed Space Chase, but I should do that at some point.

As for Space Wars, this is a good time. It’s 90 minutes of space opera’ing and space adventuring, with plenty of lasers shot, fists fought and acting over’ed. Sure, some of the lines don’t land well (“I killed my mum. Now I’ll kill yours!”) but the air of fun in the film never dissipates. This air of fun can be seen in the bloopers feature on the DVD – the cast and crew are all having a great time, and the obvious budgetary constraints are shown in this reel with sets falling over and costumes failing the actors.

Space Wars feels like a passion project for Director Garo Setian and clearly the cast enjoy working with him, as many of them were involved in his previous picture, Automation. Recommended Sunday afternoon viewing.




Sunday, March 3, 2024

Cyborg Cop II (1994)

Cyborg Cop II (1994)


You thought he was dead… You were wrong. Dead Wrong.



Let’s skip the plot and start off with the action, because holy shit, what an explosive opening scene! Terrorists being machine gunned from a jeep by other terrorists, falling off buildings in slow motion and otherwise being squibbed. This feels very much like the opening of The Expendables 2. Did Stallone watch Cyborg Cop 2? I bet he at least read the cheat sheet.

Topless narcotics production line, again! And barely after the opening credits roll. Firstenberg really knows how to give the punters what they want. Ten cop cars from the DEA show up, aided by Jack (David Bradley) on his motorbike, to take out the leader Strix (Frank Notaro, Merchant of Death). Jack shoots up the room guns akimbo and captures Strix, but his partner is killed. Strix is sentenced to death but "escapes" death row with help from a government agency called the Anti Terrorist Group (ATG). When Jack finds out, he has revenge on his mind.


It seems the cyborg development line is still going. It even looks like the same set as the first film, but the armaments of the units are vastly improved. And lo and behold, Strix has been reborn a cyborg known as Spartacus. Putting a psychotic bad guy into a metal casing, where have we seen that before? Hell, even the opening titles looked like Robocop 2, so this should come as no surprise.

Then comes the most obvious plot device in this film. The cyborgs are controlled by a wrist band - whomever has the band, has the power. When the chief scientist gets jiggy with his secretary in the lab, the band falls off only to be claimed by Spartacus who now commands a squad of cyborgs and takes over Universal Soldier-style! Gotta say, they look a bit cheaper this time. Rubber chests that just look like shirts, and ridiculously over the top mechanical hands. On the plus side, Spartacus has much more personality than the cyborgs in the first film; similar to Zagarino's cyborg in Shadowchaser II. Though I've never heard a cyborg say "son of a bitch" so much.


Jack eventually tracks down the cyborgs and we get a great scene demonstrating their Minigun and rocket launching hands. Not only that but cop cars get launched, a petrol station explodes and Jack gets launched across the street like a water balloon. Sam Firstenberg strikes again!

Jack takes a welding torch to one of the 'borgs and screws with its brain so much it starts talking like the cyborg in Bruno Mattei's Robowar! (“ON TARGET ON TARGET RECEIVE RECEIVE.”) That made me smile. For the final fight with Spartacus, Jack teams up with the attractive CEO of the ATG and jointly infiltrates the lab to put an end to the experiment. Strix goes down yelling "you son of a bitch" until finally fried with electricity. Shocking!

Cyborg Cop 2 is just as good as the first film. David Bradley kicks arse yet again, and Firstenberg blows everything up. Good times.




Sunday, February 25, 2024

Cyborg Cop (1993)

Cyborg Cop (1993)


Programmed to kill… He is Unstoppable.



In an abandoned warehouse shootout in a hostage situation, DEA agent Jack Ryan (David Bradley, American Samurai, Operation Delta Force) kills the bad guy using forbidden techniques leaving him disgraced and unemployed.

His brother Phillip (Todd Jensen, Operation Delta Force, Ninja) is on a drug bust mission that sees John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as robotic scientist Kessel with his remote control kamikaze model planes that explode on contact. The mission goes bad with most of Phillips' team killed in massive explosions, Kessel picking Phillip for his next experiment. Jack receives a microtape from Phillip saying he's in trouble, which sets Jack on a rescue mission to the Caribbean.


Jack meets hot stuff reporter Cathy (Alonna Shaw, Double Impact) who gets tied up in his adventure whilst evading local authorities. Can Jack find his brother before he's turned into a CYBORG COP?

"Watch your ass, Jack. This ain't Cleveland, man!"

GIF credit:

This one is lots of fun. Bradley in a leather jacket gets to use his impressive kickboxing skills a few times, shoving one dude through a car window and kicking more than one in their respective joy departments. There's some seriously heavy artillery on display as well, with as much messy automatic gunfire, dynamite and squibs as the best Canon film - this is a Sam Firstenberg (American Ninja, Avenging Force) film after all. There's even a sweet car chase to Beverly Hillbillies music.


But the best action is the final infiltration of Kessel's base. Bradley is really on fire in this one; it might even be his best. So much brutal machine gun action, and close up shotguns to the face. No questions, no chances, just blammin’. He also rides a mean motorcycle just like Lorenzo Lamas.

Speaking of impressive, Shaw's assets make an appearance at the hour mark after her repeated flirting with Bradley. There's even a drug lab where all the women workers are topless (for some reason). I guess Firstenberg is just a fan of the mammary.


John Rhys-Davies is absolutely chewing the scenery in Cyborg Cop in his Hawaiian shirt, barking at people or conversely offering them tea. Obviously he’s having a great time being the bad guy. He's also trying something with his accent but I can't pick what. Maybe going for a Caribbean flair? Either way, 95% of what comes through is Pure Davies.

The cyborgs in the film may not be up to James Cameron's standard, but they are definitely Great Value. The operation scene where the limbs are replaced is pretty effective, as are the demonstrations of their strength. The pasty-white makeup not so much, but I got a good laugh out of Robo-Phillip saying "BACK. IN. ACTION."

I can't believe Cyborg Cop has been relegated to cheap full-screen DVDs from dollar stores. I demand a three disc deluxe Blu-ray set of Cyborg Cop!






Sunday, February 18, 2024

Kill Switch (2008)

Kill Switch (2008)


His Rules. His Way. No Exceptions.



Jacob (Steven Seagal with a Southern accent) is a homicide detective with a troubled childhood who lets his fists do the talking. In the explosive opening scene he ejects a bomber out the window of a fourth story window and wisecracks over smooth blues guitar. His wisecracks are hard to hear as we are well into the Mumbling Seagal era, but you get the gist.

Meanwhile a psychotic serial killer is punishing then murdering prostitutes, as confirmed by coroner Isaac Hayes (a bizarre casting) and leaving ciphers of astrological symbols with the bodies. Jacob employs his patented interview style by first causing a prolonged and bloody bar fight. The action is unfortunately shaky and zoomed in to make the stunt double less obvious, given his wig is worse than Seagal's.


The FBI get involved in the case and Agent Frankie Miller (Holly Dignard) doesn't appreciate the way Jacob works. I mean the dude slap-fu's his way through innocent patrons at a nightclub to get to our perp at the other side, then shoots up everything in his path and he STILL gets away. The two do eventually combine forces when the case gets more complicated with perhaps more than one killer being involved.

I quite like this for the most part. The action is fast and violent (if too zoomed), even sadistic at times. Seagal might be stunt-doubled quite a bit but there at least looks like effort put in by all parties, and for Steve it's playing to his strengths of close combat. The way he takes out one guy with a hammer is pretty glorious. Add in some twists and you have a low rent but entertaining thriller that's more than just for Seagalogists only.

And this makes me consider some things.. are the best DTV Seagal films from the pre-Donut Beard era uniformly? 2012's Maximum Conviction marks the end of clean-shaven Seagal. 2013's Force of Execution ushers in the circular face fungus. Now I am not one to take IMDB ratings too literally, but the trend definitely kicks off there. For me personally, I start to enjoy the films less as "solid action film" and more "fun, despite Seagal, who makes it hilarious". Just some observations on a Sunday morning...




Image sources: IMDB


Saturday, February 3, 2024

Air Strike (2003)

Air Strike (2003)


The Spirit of This Country will Not be Defeated.


Air Strike - Official Trailer 0-19 screenshot

They don't mess around with preamble in Air Strike: the mission is briefed at minute one and stock footage of helicopters are flying over enemy territory at minute five. At the launch of the first missile, the first guitar riff kicks in and the first bad guy soldiers with accents are annihilated. Huge explosions and chants of USA abound! The mission was a success but one chopper was destroyed and three soldiers killed. The Colonel needs to find fitting replacements.

Meet Captain Garrett (Robert Rusler), brother of one of the dead soldiers, and Lieutenant "Charlie" - a WOMAN (plot twist) the daughter of the General with a chip on her shoulder. They are deployed on foot into the holdup of Ivan the Terrible, the local drug dealer, with orders to bring him back dead or alive but the mission is a bust. Drinking their sorrows at a bar, a bomb goes off and takes out another of their team.

Air Strike - Official Trailer 0-37 screenshot (1)

This came out two years after 9/11 so we are well and truly still in that mindset, though the film takes place in a made-up eastern European country called Petrovia. The explosion at the bar is brutal and surprisingly gory and adds another catalyst to wipe out Ivan, though he makes it difficult. On a scout mission, Captain Garrett is shot down and captured. Time for a rescue mission. HOOAH!

The bad guy is called Ivan the Terrible and is a walking cliché. Also he is sometimes dubbed and it's pretty hilarious; like when Seagal is dubbed in his films from the same period. He has quality lines like "I'm going to fuck you to death!' when playing chicken with two helicopters. His first officer is called Chicago, which is nearly as funny. Neither actually have a great deal to do in the film; it's all about the good guys and the size of the explosions!

Air Strike - Official Trailer 1-11 screenshot

This was directed by David Worth – director of many action films, most notably Kickboxer – so there's plenty of action in the movie, though about a third of it is stock footage of helicopters firing missiles as seen through command control monitors. Some of the chopper scenes look made for the film, others are lifted from 1990's Fire Birds, and there's also pretty rough looking CG choppers - a real mixed bag.

Thankfully the excessive quantity of real explosions (seriously half of Petrovia is blown up), guns akimbo machine gun action and even martial arts make up for a few ropey choppers. There's gallons of bravado and military one-liners to keep you entertained, plus of course added sexual tension because Charlie is... A WOMAN. The best part is one man killing machine Garret going apeshit with a machete on Petrovian scum.


Air Strike - Official Trailer 0-48 screenshot


Friday, January 26, 2024

The Cutter (2005)

The Cutter (2005)


The Past Holds the Key.



A girl is kidnapped and a two million ransom demanded from the mother. Who's going to rescue her? P.I. Chuck Norris! But he's too late and she's dead. Chuck beats himself up, by which I mean a boxing bag. He's like 65 at the time of filming and still punching strong.

Meanwhile an Archaeological dig in Egypt turns into a fatal heist of rare gemstones when Daniel Bernhardt murders the crew and takes the gems to the States to shop around for an exclusive diamond specialist. He finds Isaac Teller and forces him to cut an impossible design. His niece Elizabeth hires P.I. Chuck to find him but he's attacked by a fake electrician in a ponytail and then tased, and shot at and constantly - Bernhardt clearly means business.


This is a good time. Chuck's Russian accent in his first scene is hilarious: think Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds ("Bonjourno."). He's badass in a stunt-doubles kind of way though, throwing a guy out the window then saying "I needed some air". Later he deadpan says "I'm as serious as a heart attack" and I laughed out loud.

Bernhardt is fun as the master of disguises and really quite ruthless. He has a good fight with Chuck on a bus and this time it's poor Chuck who goes out the window, but Chuck comes back with a vengeance in a second fight with kickboxing roundhouses. Of course Chuck has a stunt double but it’s tastefully done. Bernhardt has like five or six completely different disguises in the film and it’s great to see him pop up with fake beards and the like.


Speaking of cutters, I tell you what should have been cut: that early 2000s Bourne Identity style quick-action cutaways with rapid zooms. It's enough to give you a headache. Chuck is in a fun car chase where he's the pursuer but it's difficult to follow due to the way its shot. Pretty much any shootout is the same. Some of the Seagal from the same period (which The Cutter feels very much like) suffered similarly.

This only runs 85 minutes and despite the complaints in cinematographic choices, it's never dull. Chuck will never win awards for acting ability but he is still a presence on screen and fun to watch. This was Chuck’s final starring role (a cameo in Expendables 2 aside) but as of the time of writing, Chuck is back in Agent Recon!