Wednesday, July 20, 2011

American Tigers (1996)

The Dirty Dozen definitely played a centric part in creating the 'guys-on-a-mission' sub-genre. Whether it be in war films or action films with no warzone in sight, the formula has been one used with varying success.

If Gun-For-Hire film American Tigers has anything to teach us, it's that if you want to make sure that your Dirty Dozen-style a surefire success, just copy The Dirty Dozen word-for-word, there's no such thing as copyright!

OK, it's not as bad as that, but it's not that good either. American Tigers primarily follows the plot of Dirty Dozen, albeit updated for modern times. Sergeant-Major Michael Ransom (Sam J Jones) is a former war-hero, now in charge of ordering executions for military-prisoners. He's approached by General Clay (Joe Estevez), who tells him of a terrorist cell located in suburban AMERICA that desires to topple the current government of AMERICA and instill it's own AMERICAN government that they feel will better meet the needs of the AMERICAN people! (This movie might just be slightly over the top in it's American-ism!) Ransom balks at the idea until he finds out that its leader is none other than his arch-enemy Colonel Riley Hooker!

And yes, you read right, Sgt-Major Ransom is played by none other than Flash Gordon himself, Sam J Jones! So, has fifteen years and the advantage of actually talking with his own voice improved on his acting skill? Yes actually (I'll get to his performance later). Ransom is ordered to form a clandestine commando unit out of the death-row military inmates who he would otherwise order shot. Ransom finds the men he wants and forms them up, talking to them in group and separately, all the while making sure that they know what the cost of any kind of disobedience or insubordination will lead to.

This dirty-half-bakers-dozen is comprised of men like Pvt. Cody, who accidentally ran over a baby while escaping from the place he just held-up, Pvt. Dettman, a bulking Russian who killed a man with a single punch over six bucks, to Pvt. Gomez, who killed his wife after suspecting her infidelity, only realizing after the fact hat she was holding down a second job to keep the family afloat, to Pvt. Rancich who set fire to his commanding officers house, not realizing that the officer's wife was in there, to Pvt. Matsuda who stabbed a woman to death over forty times and forgot to leave the scene of the crime, to Pvt. Mills who got stoned, hacked three men to death and went back to sleep in his barracks, covered in blood, to Pvt. Wallace (it's never revealed what he did). Sam J Jones gets to have a lot of fun in the scene where he exposes everyone's criminal acts and their stupid mistakes, while nearly saying Lee Marvin same scene in Dirty Dozen verbatim! (To the movie's credit, it's really only in this scene where it rips of Dirty Dozen word-for-word.)

This terrorist cell is a particularly FEARSOME one, being that it's comprised of a HORRIFYINGLY LARGE ARMY of...16 men. And their base of operations you ask? A single small boat. I get the feeling that AMERICA can handle the NWO threats of these particular terrorists!

It's about now that I should get into famous martial-artist Cynthia Rothrock's five-minute starring role in the film. She only appears shortly  but man are her scenes worth it. They start with Ransom calling Cynthia Rothrock (she's playing herself in this film). He asks her, and I quote "I'm gonna need you're special skills again". You read that right, Cynthia Rothrock, in her spare time helps the AMERICAN military fight evil with her super-martial-arts-skills! Ransom gets her to train his men, who are out of shape due to ages in the slammer. You read that right as well, this is a film where a terrorist cell is combated by a military unit trained by Cynthia Rothrock and led by Flash Gordon! How could this film have failed!?

Oh , yeah, it's a Dirty Dozen rip-off, so it's required to be filled with nearly 90 minutes worth of may think I'm joking throwing that number out there like that-I'm not! This film goes for 97 minutes and nearly ninety minutes worth is made up of training sequences and such! The Dirty Dozen could afford to not have anything happen for a while because not only was the setting much more interesting, not only was the training actually interesting, but because it went for two-and-a-half-hours! Its final battle scene was about half-an-hour long! American Tigers tries to cram that plot into a 90-minute movie, resulting in a small action setpiece that's a third shorter than its counterpart!

So, after Ransom's unit wins a competition with a Navy-SEAL unit who were also chosen for the mission, they finally, FINALLY get ready for the final assault on Riley Hooker and his henchmen. Helping them is the biker friend-and former comrade-in-arms-of Ransom, Dan Storm (Don Gibb). While one or two of the AMERICAN TIGERS are killed, the operation is a massive success, culminating in the termination of Riley Hooker (well, his corpse at least) and his terrorist buddies (their corpses as well) in a massive...hilariously bad CGI explosion! (Gotta love the planks of wood seen flying from the 'explosion', given the ship is completely metal!)

So that was American Tigers. It wasn't too terrible of a movie. The acting ranged from good and fun to watch with Flash Gordon and Cynthia Rothrock, to average with most of the American Tigers unit, to terrible with Riley Hooker. Todd Curtis's performance in the film as Hooker is hilariously wooden, especially since as the film's main villain, he's given several evil speeches, all of which he recites with the enthusiasm of a block of wood. The only thing close to action before the finale is the opening, which features what may be one of the worst car chases recorded on film. The movie does have several fight scenes during the competition segment, but they get boring really fast, especially as we're treated to having to watch ALL SEVEN of the American Tigers fight! ALL SEVEN! One huge negative to the film are the scenes were Ransom and Dan talk in a bar. Why are these scene so horrible? because they showcase some of the unsexiest strippers that I've ever seen on film! Another weird aspect to the film is it's morality. When the movie is over, the (five or so, it's hard to tell when one of the American Tigers just vanishes from the film, never to be spoken of again or even acknowledged-General Clay reads of the numbers of living and dead Tigers, it's 2-4! Someone's missing!) surviving Tigers are pardoned from their crimes. Does anyone else get the feeling that having people who have hacked people into tomato-soup or committed arson might not be the kind of people you want running around free on the streets. Another stuffed up bit of morality is with the rival Navy SEALS group, who are portrayed as villains purely because the plot says so, even though not only are they fully qualified for the job and were trained for it for weeks and not days, but they aren't a group of cutthroat murderers picked from death row!

All in all, American Tigers, while not a good movie, isn't entirely bad either. It skirts the narrow line of boredom dangerously but thankfully never quite tips over. The acting is fun, good and bad and the story is watchable yet very, very stupid (Riley Hooker is against AMERICA letting in any immigrants (whether they be the oft-complained against Muslims or accepted Italians), yet his 'crack' terrorist cell is comprised mostly of American ethnic minorities (Hooker even addresses this nonsensically at some point, saying that his cell is comprised of Cambodians, Libyans and such, what he says however makes no sense with his stated agenda and leads to nothing!)). So if you're ever in the mood for a Dirty-Dozen knock-off, give American Tigers a watch if you want, but if otherwise, skip it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gunmen (1993)

In the list of movie collaborations one would never suspect to be real, a buddy action movie with Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles would probably rank high on the list.

Having previously appeared in Highlander III: The Final Dimension (in which van Peebles had taken a serious dose of overacting juice, as is required for playing a villain in a Highlander film (see: Michael Ironside in Highlander II: The Quickening and Bruce Payne in Highlander: Endgame)), Christopher 'Connor MacLeod' Lambert and van Peebles reunited for Gunmen.

Set in South America, Boa Vista, Gunman centres on $400 million that has been stolen from drug lord Loomis (Patrick Stewart) by Carl Servigo, an employee of Loomis's. Carl is captured and tortured to death by hired heavy Armor O'Malley ('comedian' Denis Leary) and his goons Maria (Brenda Bakke) and Java (James Chalke) before he can break his brother Dani (Lambert) out of prison. The dubious honour of breaking Dani out of jail rests on DEA agent Cole Parker (van Peebles), who takes Dani to the DEA outpost to get information on the whereabouts of the $400 million. The money was stashed by Carl on a boat, which Dani knows the location of, but nothing else, and Cole knows the name of.

Dani escapes Cole's custody and flees, winding up in a bar with a woman credited by the film as 'orgasmic hooker', which gives you an idea at where Christopher Lambert's other talents really lie. Soon recaptured, the inn is raided by Armor and his trigger-happy men, who, through the film, display an unnatural keenness in filling as many bullets as humanly possible into who they're supposed to bring in alive. Dani and Cole escape and flee into the wilderness of a nearby jungle/rainforest, where they trade hilarious banter with each other ("The boat's called the USS Nunya, Nunya damn business") and Dani continues showing his habit of eating bugs (that's one way of getting rid of flies!).

While Mario ruminates on stock bird sound effects ("What is that fuckin' thing man, I mean, you hear that thing in every Tarzan movie, Is it big? Does it bite you? Should we be runnin' from that shit?"), Armor and his men move into the forest, leaving Dani and Cole to either get killed, or wade through the river filled with spiny-penis-biting-fish. The two 'crazy gringos' eventually escape from Armor and his trigger-happy men (who probably wiped out an entire ecosystem in this scene) by jumping of a cliff into rapids! That is a plan I can totally see working!

After meeting up with arms dealer Bennett (Sally Kirkland)-and Dani learning that laser sighting is for wimps ("for fools who can't even aim"), Dani and Parker wind into the city and go to an all-black nightclub, filled with several singers cameoing, from Christopher Williams to Dr. Dre. Cole's 'bitch' is is forced to stay outside, while Cole goes inside to look for a pilot. He finds Izzy, who's the black equivalent of Murdock from The A-Team. As soon as they leave the club however, they are captured by Armor and co.

While Cole is imprisoned at Armor's estate, Armor and goons helicopter dunk Dani through the ocean until he gives in and tells them the location of the boat. Armor's goon Java however, has betrayed his boss to Loomis, who Armor told that Dani and Cole died over the cliff in a bid to get all of the money to himself.

While Cole escapes and hightails it out of the estate, Armor and goons return to the estate, finding it a bloodbath. Dani jumps out of the helicopter while Armor is distracted and lands in a river right as Cole runs by. The two escape while Armor goes back to Loomis and buys his guards out. The guards bury Loomis alive (as he did to his cheating wife at the start of the film. "Do you think I'm overreacting?" he wondered). And there is something that most genre fans will revel in in this scene. One of Loomis's guards looks awfully familiar.

Vladinho from Pumaman!

With everyone converging on the location of the money, it becomes increasingly apparent that this film is clearly not happening in any reality we know. Logic in this reality has it that getting shot in the leg is not only a basically harmless wound, but if shot in the leg, in the next scene, you'll be able to calmly talk to and help the guy who just shot you with no apparent sign of injury. Dani knocks Cole unconscious and leaves him to go after the money alone. While Dani is fighting-and soon captured by-Armor's goons, Cole is approached by a crooked DEA agent. Cole sees through the agent's deception and responds by triple-kicking him out of a window!

Cole saves Dani and a big shootout erupts between the two factions at a marina, until all that's left is Cole, Dani, Armor and Maria. When Cole and Dani find the boat-named The Killer, they try to sail it and escape. This involves the severing of the mooring lines, which Dani does with his pistol, hilariously wasting all of its bullets!

Armor and Maria find the boat before the two can escape and they each go after Cole and Dani. And Armor shows a severe case of villainous stupidity. With Armor talking while Cole is knocked to the ground, the scene goes like this, "*menacing and insulting speech about your murdered cop father*"..."COME HERE MOTHERFUCKER!!!!"
Lesson Learned: Don't EVER fuck with Mario van Peebles!

Dani, in the the meanwhile, manages to fire a speargun into sexual psycho Maria's shoulder, which, going by this movie's injury statistics, I just assumed that if you'd give her a first aid kit and she'd be back into the battle in no time. Cole and Dani get off the boat just in time before it explodes, killing Armor just as he delivers a hilarious exit line.

And what happened to the money you ask?

Poor guys in these movies can never catch a break can they?

So that was Gunmen, one of the great forgotten action gems of the 90's! This movie was a blast (hold on while I shoo away the bad-pun-police from my door) to watch from beginning to end! The action scenes were great, the scenery is awesome, the soundtrack is fun, and the story is entertaining as hell. As for the acting, Lambert and van Peebles are great and have great buddy chemistry between them. Denis Leary is fantastic as the film's psycho villain, and he plays a REAL villain to boot, not some present day 'politically correct' villain-the character of Armor is the kind of guy who will casually execute a man in front of his wife and kid, then shoot the grieving wife! Patrick Stewart has only about ten minutes of screen time as drug baron Loomis, but he's fun in his role. The rest of the acting is fine throughout.

So, to summarise, anyone who loves action movies or is a fan of Christopher Lambert and Mario van Peebles should find and watch Gunmen ASAP!

And of course, being a film with Christopher Lambert, the hilariously distinctive Lambert laugh is heard several times throughout!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Caboblanco-Where Legends Are Born (1980)

'Maybe you've heard of Caboblanco. Then, maybe you haven't. It's a remote fishing village of the coast of Peru and when I first got there, it certainly hadn't found it's way onto any map that I knew of. Nevertheless this is the edge of the world where legends are born!'

That's how Caboblanco starts off, hearing Simon MacCorkindale's super British accent narrating while you realize that the DVD of Caboblanco doesn't have a menu!

Unfairly maligned on it's 1980 release, Caboblanco is a movie where the great action god Charles Bronson is given room to act, with barely any scenes devoted to him dispensing Bronson-Style-Justice (TM) to hapless thugs. That's not to say that the movie is devoid of Bronson-Style-Justice, but I'll get to that later.

The film centres around Frenchwoman Marie, who arrives in the remote Peruvian fishing village of Caboblanco and is almost immediately harassed by the local police chief Terredo (Fernando Rey). She finds comfort in the local inn run by American expatriate Giff Hoyt (Bronson), who tells her of the island and of Beckdorf (Jason Robards), a former Nazi, holed up in his heavily fortified compound, who practically runs the island, with a stranglehold on the police's actions. It's Beckdorf who was also responsible for the attack and destruction of a ship's diving sub looking for the wreck of the sunken ship, The Brittany. The Captain of this ship is the film's narrator, Lewis Clarkson (played by the great and sadly recently deceased Simon MacCorkindale), who, outraged at the unwillingness of the police to class the case as anything but an accident-at-sea, carries out his own investigations against the scheming Beckdorf.

As for this sunken ship, The Brittany, it's rumored to have treasure sunken along with it, treasure that Beckdorf will stop at nothing to prevent from getting into anyone else's hands. However, Beckdorf doesn't know the location of The Brittany...Giff might though!

The film was heavily criticized by critics for being 'an appalling rehash of Casablanca', 'a witless spoof' and 'indescribably inept'. Having actually seen Caboblanco, I'm actually qualified to give an opinion on it. It's a good film, it has a great score by famous film composer Jerry Goldsmith, and it has as much to do with Casablanca as Caligula does. The two films share a similar title and slightly similar some places...slightly, that's it. The acting is top-notch as well, which is hardly surprising, given the fame and expertise of those involved. The Direction by J. Lee Thompson is also very good, with some awesomely filmed shots here and there.

As for that Bronson-Style-Justice I mentioned before, there are only two real scenes of it in the movie but DAYUM are they Brutal! Look what Bronson did to this poor guy!

There's also another Bronson dishing of death (which I won't spoil) that's not only brutal but very out of place with its violence compared to the rest of the movie!

The locale looks beautiful, all filmed on location in Mexico (not in Caboblanco though-I don't know why that is). 

One big negative to the movie though is the film quality, though this is not the film's fault. The film's quality is what you'd get if you recorded a movie from TV onto a video, left it sitting in a cabinet accumulating dust for thirty odd years, then transferred the movie to DVD as is with zero re-mastering. It doesn't totally take you out of the movie, but it is distracting to see Simon MacCorkindale with what look like a fatally severe case of sunburn!

All in all, Caboblanco is a much better film than critics gave it credit for-it's entertaining, thoughtful and has plenty of great acting!

So the moral of the story here is don't critically deride films for no good reason, especially if they star Charles Bronson, or else THIS will happen!!