Sunday, January 31, 2021

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

The 60s might not have been all golf and badminton, as they say, but for all the strife going on at the time, the period was also never short of fun. This is best evidenced with AIP's Beach Party series, which released its 5th entry after only 2 short years! These movies would eventually run their course a few films later, but at this point they were still strong outings, holding plenty of popularity.

A new fad is all the rage on the beach, as pop starlet Sugar Kane's latest publicity stunt ignites an interest in skydiving. Both Frankie and DeeDee express interest, to the other's chagrin, while jealousy abounds in various ways. Meanwhile, motor-sickle rider Eric von Zipper has his eye set on the lovely Sugar...

Beach Blanket Bingo is a ball of fun! Silly, and not to be taken seriously, it's a movie that entertains on just about all levels. It's full of good innocent cheer, plenty of sexiness, great humour

The first main story concerns the skydiving scene, and there's plenty to enjoy. The two skydivers/pilots have an amusingly dysfunctional relationship, with the girl being a man-eating tiger. It's surprising that for once Frankie isn't the lothario in the situation! She gets some hilarious scenes, like when she tears off her clothes mid-flight to make her boyfriend jealous. Thankfully this all ends in a satisfying way, with minimal awkwardness.

The second big story is all about Sugar Kane, with a sneaky publicity man trying to create plenty of drama, and the Rat Pack biker gang setting their own eyes on the singer. The two stories intersect a little, but are mostly pretty separate, each even getting their own climaxes. Though there is a halfhearted attempt to tie the skydiving into the big chase scene at the end, in a way that didn't entirely make sense. But at least it's enjoyable.

An important subplot features comic relief Bonehead (sometimes known as Deadhead) in a bigger/an expanded role here, and it's surprisingly sweet. The presence of a mermaid is strange, but not too out of place in the setting, and isn't laid on too thickly. While dopey, Bonehead is a likeable character. He may be dumb, but he ain't stupid!

My only issue with the stories in the film is that there are a lot! They're all great, but the movie does have a little trouble juggling everything. It does good enough at everything, and nothing is really shortchanged, but you can still tell things would've been more free and comfortable if the parachuting and Sugar Kane stories had've been separate movies.

Eric von Zipper is the highlight of the movie. He's so goofy and loveable. His cohorts, the Rats and Mice are adorable too. Their catchphrases and recurring gags are in full force here. I love their automated movements, like how Alberta/Puss mechanically applies Pool chalk to Eric's cue, not realising she's splattering it all over his hands. Eric's goal is to find his idol, who he thinks he's found in Sugar Kane. It's a bummer that things don't go his way, because Sugar actually digs him, and likes his whole kidnapping scheme. She thinks it's marvy!

The main villain here (in the last 15 minutes, at least) is South Dakota Slim, who goes from being a patron at von Zipper's club to being the only kidnapper Sugar isn't happy about, intending to slice her to pieces on an old-timey sawmill! I don't care what North Dakota Pete says, the worst he ever did was try and feed someone to a tiger, so where does he get off saying Slim is the Baby of the family? The jealous Mice briefly help him to get rid of Sugar, but true to form, they may want revenge, but they don't approve of Slim's scheme to saw her in half. Thy don't think it's nice.

The actors here are plentiful, really packing the film to the gills. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello deliver fun duelling performances. Series regulars Jody McRae, John Ashley, and Deborah Walley all do fun jobs, with the former getting a more meaty and sensitive performance, while the latter two play totally different characters as the two pilots.

Harvey Lembeck is great as usual as Eric von Zipper, with his Rat Pack being a great accompaniment. Linda Evans is fine as Sugar Kane, while Marta Kristen is good as mermaid Lorelei. Comic actor Paul Lynde gets a great role here, equal parts smarmy and sarcastic.

Don Rickles is fun as usual, as he appears for yet another role. In a standout scene, he breaks character in a way and does a comedy routine, lovingly roasting the characters/cast members, including a hilarious jab at Frankie and Dee Dee's ages. It's great to watch, and the reactions from all the other actors are probably genuine here.

The Beach Party's respect for classic Hollywood continues, with Buster Keaton getting a nice role, and silent cinema influencing a lot of the humour. This is most evident in the last act, which is one big silent film themed adventure, with a big chase, sped-up slapstick antics, and a Perils of Pauline style damsel and deathtrap.

There's an abundance of fun songs to enjoy in Beach Blanket Bingo. They're simple disposable 60s fluff, which is to say they're short, sweet, and may not be masterpieces or anything, but are still very enjoyable. There are no bad performances or tunes, and the best for me were the opening track, the 60s ballad It Only Hurts When I Cry, the fun (and delightfully building) duet I Think, You Think, and Eric von Zipper and his Rat Pack singing all about them rotten soifers.

Beach Blanket Bingo is one of the best in the series, and is a great example of lighthearted 60s cinema, the surfer subculture, as well as what teens in general were getting up to at the time. I think back to my own teenage years and I wish I could've done the things they did! But then again, I'm still younger than all the actors playing the teens here, so I guess it's not too late!...

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Drop Dead Fred (1991)

Lizzie Cronin is a meek and subservient young woman. Perpetually browbeated by her mother, her marriage has just ended after her husband had an affair. Returning home, she rediscovers her old music box, and after untaping the thing, her old imaginary friend comes flying out. As a child, everyone around Lizzie knew about the mischievous and destructive Drop Dead Fred, and now that he's free, he's determined to have fun, and teach the grown-up Lizzie a thing or two...

Originally released to critical dismissal, Drop Dead Fred has always had its fans, and built up a [cult following] as the years have gone by. Regarded by critics as just lowbrow trash, I feel the movie is better than that. Whether or not you find it to be = or obnoxious and grating depends on the person (and your tolerance for Rik Mayall)

The tone of the movie is goofy and irreverent, and on those terms the movie is a success, delivering laughs and amusing setpieces. But besides all that, there's another reason it's resonated with people over the years, and I think that's down to its relateable and adult themes, which the movie presents in a very frank way. It doesn't sugarcoat everything, showing a = portrayal of   . Lizzie is a woman who grew up in a borderline abusive household, with a mother so oppressive that she basically sought to turn her daughter into a good little robot to marry off, and is furious at any perceived 'failure', such as divorce, losing her job, or 'daring' to be insolent. Because of this, the destructive Fred was actually a blessing for the girl, allowing her some fun and = when she was young. Something she has to remember again if she wants to break out of her rut.

The titular character delivers many of the film's laughs and =, as he sashays across
One potential drawback is that he miiiight just be a tad too psychotic for some viewers, with some of his pranks being particularly crazy. One example being the sinking of the houseboat. But at least that's one of the most whimsical scenes of the movie. Plus, Janie's rant to Fred afterwards is great. The only moment  felt went too far was making Lizzie attack the violinist

Lizzie is a good protagonist. Pathetic in some ways, enough to make you yell at the screen. But also likeable, and has enough spirit buried within her that you wanna see her break out of her current situation. Her friend Janie is a fun companion. Levelheaded to a degree, but absolutely loony in other ways. Also if you think about it she's probably no better than Lizzie's asshole ex! On that note, the film really succeeds in portraying him as an absolute lowdown scumbag. He along with her mother are the film's true villains, and she's given some interesting dimension by the end, and I really like the resolution to that story, with her = [outburst] earning advice from Lizzie, but not altering her own decision. Last up is supporting character and love interest Mickey, whose taste in women might be questionable if he views that date with Lizzie as a success, but he's a good dude, and you root for them as a couple.

The moment that I and many others find the most impactful is the ending, which features a surprising change from Fred, and really makes you wonder what all the deal with these 'imaginary' people is all about. It's really great stuff. I think part of what makes this film work so much is that it has such an edge to it that it makes this heartfelt resolution all the more impactful. If the whole movie had've been safe and cheesy, this conclusion probably wouldn't have had any weight to it, but because it holds no punches throughout, it makes it truly effective and cathartic.

The actors all do great. Phoebe Cates, normally playing self-assured and sexy ladies, is great as the very childlike and 'pathetic' Lizzie. Rik Mayall is the complete opposite as Fred. He's clearly having a ball as he chews through the scenery and runs amok. I especially admire his serious turn at the end. He really is the heart and soul of this movie. The rest of the cast do well, including an amusingly batty Carrie Fisher.

The music here is zany and fun. fitting a storybook feel. The effects are amusing too. They can get a bit fake at times. Whether or not this was intentional or not is up for debate (and I'm not prepared to insult the special effects team by making the wrong guess), but they earn a laugh regardless. Or a scream. Seeing Rik Mayall with a pancake head might inspire more terror than mirth.

Drop Dead Fred may not appeal to everyone, but it's worth checking out, and certainly worthy of time and respect...


Cemetery Man (1994)

Francesco Dellamorte is the gravedigger of the Buffalora cemetery. It's your typical small town graveyard, except for the fact that the dead rise every night. Francesco wearily puts them down, his life in a rut until the arrival of a beautiful woman. He falls in wild passionate love, but the woman's untimely death plunges him into despondency. But then she keeps showing up, alive and well. Francesco's grasp on reality begins to slip, and he undergoes a strange odyssey, where the dead live and the living die...

Cemetery Man came during a time when the horror genre really wasn't doing well. The classical Italian boom had long since petered out, and the only stuff coming out of America at the time was the wave of teen horror with the likes of Scream, or I Know What You Did Last Summer. Not to criticise those too harshly, since they are good movies with plenty of fans, but they're not really my cup of tea, and they seemed to represent a downturn for the genre. Horror had become a wasteland (hell, most cinema was at this time! Bloody '90s...), and they seemed to be all that populated it. But even in the darkest times, no matter where you look, you'll always find something!

A semi adaption of the popular horror comic Dylan Dog, and another book written by author Tiziano Sclavi, Cemetery Man is a mix of many genres. It's a scary story, but told in a very wry and at times hilarious way, and with romance too (although hardly normal romance!). We have a world-weary protagonist who regards the dead rising as a bureaucratic inconvenience, the mentally disabled sweetheart Gnaghi, Francesco's constant companion, and a cast filled with other memorable players. There's the image-obsessed mayor, his rebellious yet kind daughter, whose undead romance with Gnaghi is genuinely sweet! The old lady frequently shopping at the cemetery for her grave is a nice human addition, while Inspector Straniero is a hilariously gung-ho yet oblivious policeman. Franco is the hero's only friend, so it seems, and never really adds much, though this seems to be the point. Still, we coulda seen more of him. And last up is She, the mysterious woman who plagues Francesco, whose whims and desires change as constantly as her life, while she always remains nameless.

There are countless memorable scenes here, my favourite in particular being Francesco's visit to the hospital. Barmy, violent, and hilarious, they greatly add to the movie's surreal nature. You're never sure what's really happening. Everything? Nothing? Half-and-half? It's very effective, leaving you wanting more in the best way.

While otherwise a fantastic  movie, Cemetery Man has a few problems, some minor, some not so much. First up it is a little too long. Never boring or overlong, but there are a few scenes that I could've happily seen the back off with not much missed. One in particular is the death of She's third form, which felt a bit mean-spirited, and almost out-of-place, dare I say? It didn't feel as loopy and detached from reality as the other murders, and was a bit uncomfortable. And unnecessary too, since simply walking away and leaving her where she is would be enough torment for Francesco.

I also feel the movie's length and/or pacing gets in the way of She's returns. The movie is chugging along perfectly well, yet it's been 40 minutes since She died, and only now does she come back alive and well! So much time passes that it kinda blunts the feeling/impact, and you almost forget she was even there.

Cemetery Man is a fascinating movie, that has been carefully crafted like a big tapestry. Its artistic themes are reinforced by the original Italian title Dellamorte Dellamore, Of Death, of Love. This is a highly allegorical tale, with multiple ways to view it.

To look at one, there's the romantic angle. Much is made of Francesco about how amazing his love with She is, yet when you look at it, it's pretty weak! When they first meet, it's only her looks that make Francesco fall for her, and she couldn't begin to give a shit about him. It's only when he mentions an ossuary that he gets her attention (she loves ossuaries!). From then on the relationship immediately turns to sex, and then a constant cycle of her dying or totally screwing Francesco over, all through a series of events that may or may not be happening. It's a fascinating look into Francesco's psyche, and what he considers love!

Then we come to the reality of Francesco's wold, and what the fantastic ending means for this. I've read many different interpretations, including a very interesting one with Franco, which really justifies his seemingly random presence, and gives him reason to be here. There is also Francesco's relationship with Gnaghi, and the reversal it takes by the end. If the whole movie is taking place somehow within his mind, Is Francesco perhaps a representation of the darker side of his psyche and Gnaghi perhaps good and pure? And after the chaotic events of the film, he gains control, throwing the gun away as Francesco accepts his life and finds peace? Who knows!

Cemetery Man is a hilarious film. From the visual humour, to the witty and batty dialogue, there's lots to enjoy.
Spoken by the obsessive girlfriend of a zombie biker-"It's none of your business. I'll be eaten by whomever I please!"
On Romance: "This will never work. I'm alive and you're dead." "I'm not prejudiced, my love."
On friendship: "What are you doing stealing my murders? What kind of fucking friend do you call yourself?"
Francesco also has many interesting and dry observations-"At a certain point you realise you know more dead people than living.".

The score in Cemetery Man is great. We've got a neat main theme, lots of tracks that range from spooky to cosy, and all help in building the mood of each scene. I especially liked this one tune that recurs throughout, before eventually given lyrics by Valentina's sweetly singing severed head.

You've got some nice licensed songs here too, including one hell of a surprise! These last few years I've watched hundreds of Turkish movies and listened to hundreds of songs, making me somewhat of an expert. So I have an instant ear for Turkish songs no westerner has ever heard. So colour me surprised when I suddenly hear Hadi Bakalım in a Western movie!! It fits the scene perfectly, as we see a feverish amount of zombies all lining up by Francesco's door to be shot. The movie and this musical choice really complement each-other!

The cast here are wonderful. The very actor who inspired Dylan Dog's appearance, Rupert Everett is the perfect fit for the character, nailing his weariness perfectly, and looking suitably gaunt and wiry, despite clearly being a musclebound hunk whenever he takes his shirt off (which is often). François Hadji-Lazaro is great as Gnaghi, playing the character with much depth and sympathy, and never coming off like a caricature. A problem that can arise when making movies is that things can be subjective. In this case, how do you find 'the most beautiful woman' ever? It's a thankless task, as many might disagree on what constitutes beauty. Thankfully Cemetery Man truly succeeds, as Anna Falchi is a stunning and ethereal beauty. And that's not even mentioning when she has her kit off! The rest of the actors all do fun jobs, and round off the movie well.

The effects are another high point. There are zombies in many stages of decay, each looking cool, and some are very creative. The gore is spectacular, and used very well. Best of all is the representation of Death. One of the most elaborate on film, he really cuts an impressive figure.

The direction by Michele Soavi is wonderful, with countless shots looking like paintings. The whole movie is one big work of art. Especially impressive are the visuals of the ending, which look stunning and make you wonder how it was done.

To finish, Cemetery Man is a genuine classic, and masterpiece of Italian cinema, horror or otherwise! I highly recommend it, and it's bound to entertain you, frighten you, and make you think...

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Double Trouble (1984)

By 1984, Italian duo Terence Hill and Bud Spencer were nearing the end of their creative partnership, after over a decade of great films. Thankfully this proved no reason for the quality to slip, as Double Trouble is considered by many to be one of their best!...

Two random men, musician Greg Wonder and stunt pilot Elliot Vance, are recruited by a company specialising in doubles. It's arranged that the pair will impersonate two extremely wealthy Brazilian socialites, whose lives are in danger, for which they'll be paid $1 million each. They have fun living it up, but much to the horror of their 'twins', Greg and Elliot have no intention of keeping a low profile, and make a spectacle of themselves all over town in order to ferret out their attackers...

Double Trouble is a hilarious showcase of the classic duo's talents. It seems almost inevitable that comedy actors eventually do a double-centred film, and even action stars like Jean-Claude van Damme couldn't get enough of the concept. Here it's a perfect driving force for the movie. It's great seeing Hill and Spencer as two toffee-nosed elites who've never thrown a punch in their lives, and the movie never shortchanges us with this, taking every opportunity to get a joke out of the concept. Never too little or too much.

The action is reliably enjoyable, as always. There are plenty of punches thrown, chairs broken, objects thrown into, and much more. The fights are evenly spaced, with the highlights being the bar fight early on, and the climax, where the two 'twins' get caught up in the action together, with the goons chasing and punching out a scared and defenceless snob one minute, then getting their asses kicked by seemingly the same man the very next second. It's a creative final fight with many great moments.

The cast here is  Greg and Elliot (who are almost never referred to by those names, and may as well have been called Terence and Bud) are likeable and funloving leads. They spar a bit, and often want to have a punch-up with each-other, but generally don't mind the other's company. Meanwhile, cousins Antonio and Bastiano Joao Coimbra de la Coronilla y Azevedo are not only absurdly named, but also polar opposites of the other duo. Prim, effete, and smelling as fancy as they speak, they're hilarious to watch.

The household are great, and manage to be fun, sexy, and visually distinctive (not all at the same time though). I wished they'd appeared more! One thing's for sure, the two cousins had better step up their game if they wanna keep these guys in their employ after all the fun they had with Greg and Elliot! The staff at the Doubles company are pretty fun too, in their small roles.

The antagonists are a colourful bunch. You have gangsters, crooked shrinks, ruthless mercenaries, and more. I like how these movies would build up these big fearsome villains...only to immediately dress them down, getting embarrassed and knocked out with ease. It's a great message to send, to never be afraid of these assholes who act and talk tough, but fold like a house of cards.

As for the main villain, their identity is revealed in a great twist that I wasn't expecting! And here I thought the obvious culprit would end up being another party. I just wish their motive had been explored a little more, since it's all brought up and resolved in these last 5 minutes. But what we get is fine, so I'm not complaining too much.

Double Trouble is never short on laughs, from visual humour, to great jokes, and the big setpieces. One great example is when the heroes get out of a sticky situation by attracting the attention of the police, who are amusingly American, sending in half a dozen armed squad cars after a single rude gesture.

The ending itself is a hoot, closing with some hilarious dialogue, and fun music to make you move and shake.

The effects here work really well. It always looks like there are two Terences and Buds, the actors sharing the screen with themselves flawlessly. The film is never lazy with this either, often going out of its way to feature both pairs onscreen at the same time.

Double Trouble helps and is helped by the lovely scenery of Brazil. The country is on display for the whole movie, from the landmarks and natural hotspots, the regular nightlife, to the raucous soccer matches, and of course Carnivale and the sexy senoritas (who can really shake their asses)! It also shows off the broad diversity of the country too. The country here doesn't look the [cleanest], but it looks fun and friendly, which is the best impression a film can give when presenting a foreign nation.

The acting here is all fun. Some performances are cheesier than others, and the dub actors occasionally sound like odd fits, but this is never in a bad way. The real standouts here are the two leads. Not only do they do predictably fun jobs as the main duo, but they are just as good as the two rich cousins, playing radically against type. Best of all, Hill and Spencer are so good with their mannerisms that we're able to tell which couple are which, even in the scenes where they're dressed identically.

The direction by Enzo Barboni (E.B. Clucher) is top-notch. He would never do a slapdash job just because he was making a silly comedy, but would infuse as much talent as he could, resulting in some gorgeous looking pictures. There are moments in Double Trouble that look   There are also great  on display. For example, there's a scene where we watch Bud and Terence in the middle of a crowd, but due to the blocking, and contrasting visuals (plus a few other fancy terms I don't know the names of), we can plainly see them among these dozens.

The soundtrack here is really something special! The main theme, What's Going On In Brazil is one I have slight mixed feelings about. On one hand it is a nice song with fun lyrics and a good melody, but I dunno, I think it's just sung a little too softly for me. However, despite me only having seen this movie a couple of times ever, the song has always remained ingrained in my head, so it certainly does something right! This is especially true of all the rescorings throughout. Not only are they great, and very varied, but they also sound every bit as lively and festive as I wanted. The rest of the score is just as good. Even the muzak is funky and relaxing.

Double Trouble is one of the best films this duo ever made, and well worth a watch for enthusiasts and casual fans alike.

Odds and Evens (1978)

I've always been a huge fan of Italian comic stars Terence Hill and Bud Spencer's output, though there was one entry that I remember not enjoying much-Odds and Evens. As the years have gone by I've been worried I'd given it a bad rap. Maybe I wasn't in the best mood when I saw the film, or misjudged it in some other way. Because of this (and because it's been ages since I have it a rewatch in general), I've been eager to check it out again, and give a final verdict!...

Lietenant Johnny Firpo, a dedicated sailor and athlete, is given an assignment by his superiors to locate and dismantle a massive gambling operation. To this end he pesters big and grouchy truck driver Charlie for unknown reasons. Just as he's ready to annihilate this blue-eyed pest, he discovers they are long-lost brothers. Through some manipulation and persuasion, the duo team up to bring the fight to the crooks at large...

Odds and Evens is a mixed bag of a film. By no means bad, it's got plenty to like, and these two leads are always fun. The movie itself falters in a few ways for me however. The first is that it's a crushing 2 hours, and focuses heavily on gambling, which is a subject I'm hardly interested in. In other words, if you love gambling, you will adore this movie, but if you couldn't give a toss, you will rue that runtime! No individual scene is boring, but add them together and it can be interminable.

The other big problem with the film is that it's a little confusing. Terence is a sports player who's also in the Navy, and is hired as a special investigator. He's instructed to team up with a man who by a complete coincidence turns out to be not only the same guy he met earlier that day, but his long lost twin brother! And both of them are also the sons of a famous grifter. It's a lot to take in!

The movie never really lets up from this either. It's only an hour in that we finally realise Johnny and Charlie are brothers (and I'm still mystified at how they didn't know each-other at first), and for that first hour I was increasingly unclear on what the plot actually was, beyond the basics of smashing up a gambling ring.

What's interesting about Odds and Evens is just how much of it is taken up by the conflict between Bud and Terence! Usually that's the first 10-20 minutes, with sprinklings throughout, but the plot comes into gear, like the duo teaming up to avenge their dune buggy, become cops, stop pirates, etc. But here they don't team up for the greater good until around an hour in. Even then the criminal plot is never given that much focus. It's always there, but feels more like an afterthought at times, only really coming back into play in the last act.

The comedy is a high point here. From clever wordplay, to amusing situations, there are many laughs to be had, including Johnny's novel way of getting extra drinks, and a certain disguise Charlie dons.

The characters here are your typical leads from Bud and Terence. Fun loving meets grumpy, making a great combination as usual. Although Johnny started pissing me off when he bet Charlie's truck in a match without him knowing, then steals it! The whole time during my first viewing of Odds and Evens, I was wondering where the dolphins were and were they ok!

I also don't understand why he didn't just approach Bud first thing and say "Hi, I'm a special investigator and I need your help to bust a major gambling ring. You in?". I bet he would've had an immediate ally, especially since Charlie has an axe to grind with this particular crime boss. It's strange that he instead spends a whole hour subtly tricking him into gambling against his will and generally making his life miserable, when such an easy alternative could have been achieved.

The villains are likewise your typical goons. Nefarious, filled with false bravado, and always up for a fight no matter how many times they get knocked down. As for the main antagonist, he's nothing special. When he does finally show up, he's just a random dude, and never really leaves much of an impression, least of all as a gambler. For all the ominous ways people talk about him, all we see of his gambling skills is getting trounced by Johnny, before getting the crap kicked out of him.

The fights are another highlight in Odds and Evens. All the familiar and enjoyable tropes are back again, with plenty to keep things fresh. As always we see the two heroes battling gangsters in a diner, in the process probably causing more damage than the baddies (but at least they always pay it back!). The pub demolition near the end is a bit hard to watch though, since it's Bud doing all the damage, to an innocent bar, just because he's pissed off! It looks great, but I wish it was under different circumstances.

Lastly there's the climax. It has a hilariously inventive beginning, then continues with much excitement. The heroes deliver a fantastic beatdown, using everything but the kitchen sink to defeat their enemies. And there's so much broken glass too! It's easy to see how these films inspired Jackie Chan!

The score, by Oliver Onions, is a nice one. The main theme (an instrumental this time) has a strange sound to it, mainly from the instruments its played on, but it sounds good, and I liked the rescorings throughout.

Odds and Evens isn't a bad film, and it's got a lot of funny moments, but it also feels like two films slapped together, suffering as a result. I wouldn't recommend it as your first outing with Terence and Bud, but certainly check it out if you're a fan...

Kounterfeit (1996)

The movie Kounterfetit (bafflingly spelled in German) is one that I've always had an interesting association with. There was this mid-90s action film Gunmen that starred Highlander stars Christopher Lambert and Mario van Peebles. In the same place I found that DVD, I also discovered Kounterfeit, starring fellow series alumni Bruce Payne! Just him though, but still, it counts! Although, as it turns out this does have another Highlander actress, in the form of Elizabeth Gracen! So whaddya know...

Nightclub owner Frankie is best friends with small time hood Hopscotch (Hop for short), who thinks he's found his next big break. He's acting as a go-between for a counterfeit exchange involving $4 million dollars. Frankie is skeptical about the deal, and this is proven correct when two of the criminals start a shootout. Frankie manages to get them first, but not before they kill an associate, who turns out to be an undercover cop. While Frankie and Hop figure out what to do with their newfound riches, the officer's sister Colleen tries tracking down her brother's murderer. All the while, the homicidal owners of the money plot to get it back...

Things get off to a surprisingly quick start in Kounterfeit. After the prologue, Hop already has the counterfeit, and the deal with the counterfeiters has already been arranged. It's all a bit sudden, but I can't complain. Nothing wrong with brevity. We get good introductions to all the characters, and nothing is overly complicated.

The two storylines intersect well, remaining distant yet connected for the first two thirds, before coming together for the last Everything happens believably too, with minimal frustration. We totally get why Colleen would think Frankie is bad, and luckily this image is quickly dispelled once she talks to him about it. She doesn't spend the rest of the movie refusing to believe him, but instead takes him at his word.

Kounterfeit focuses predominately on a pair of sympathetic criminals, who break the law, but aren't assholes about it. This ambiguity stretches to the police in the film, who are shown to be violent and corrupt assholes. But the criminal life of the heroes isn't presented as all hunky dory either, as the quest for the money results in much tragedy, including death.

I also find it interesting how the interactions between hero and baddie change, and we go from anonymous violence to public intimidation, as the villain's game changes out of necessity.

There are a few reveals here, and while it can get ridiculous to a degree (X is revealed to be working for Y, who shoots them, then Y turns out to be working for Z, who shoots them, etc.), they're all effective moments, and make sense within the plot. Event though you'll probably work them out easily enough (the film hardly has a big cast, and none are superfluous, credit where credit's due), I won't spoil the latter two. I will get into the first though, as it's simultaneously the most important, yet most inconsequential. Hop's brother turns out to be the first goon, yet we barely get to know him, and his demeanour after his identity is revealed is really pathetic. He turns from an older and assured guy to suddenly becoming a sycophantic wimp. It's not that I dislike the change, but it just comes a bit out of nowhere, and didn't really gel with what we'd seen before.

The movie gets extremely heavy-handed at one point, with Hop going on about how all the things he'd like to do with that money, but how none of it is really important when compared with settling down, and how he's reconnected with an old flame who still digs him. It shouldn't be a surprise to you that he is immediately killed. As for that, it's inevitable, and necessary for the plot, but it is a real downer, and I kinda wish they'd found a way around it. However, the scene with Frankie burying Hop is great stuff! It's poignant and emotional, with Bruce Payne giving a memorable monologue.

The action in Kounterfeit is a mixed bag. Some of it is pretty good, but many scenes are absolutely ridiculous! Some examples are Frankie's breakout from captivity, where his hands just magically untie and he immediately finds a submachine gun, ending the scene in 5 seconds flat. Then there's his gunfight with the first goon, who fires half a dozen shots at him point blank, yet misses every one, all while Frankie just calmly marches forward, firing both his guns (never hitting anything either).

The inciting incident at the beginning has issues too. On rewatch, things do happen as described, but it all happens so fast and Frankie is so quick to get out his guns and blast everything in all directions that at first I thought he was the one who shot the cop! He said to Colleen that he didn't kill her brother and I was like "The hell you didn't, you mowed down everyone!".

The rest of the movie's not short on other cheesy moments either, such as Frankie carrying Colleen up to his room, where an array of candles are already lit. The funniest part however comes when we see Bruce's hair untied, and he looks like a Disney princess! It's both amazing and hilarious. Kudos to the man for having such dazzling hair!

The acting here is a high point. Bruce Payne delivers an interesting performance as the lead, playing it as a mix of big silent 'brute', and thoughtful and noble hero. And best of all, him speaking in an American accent doesn't harm his performance. You wouldn't even know he was British!. Andrew Hawkes is mostly pretty good as Hop, though his goofy nature can get a bit overboard sometimes. Hilary Swank is sometimes almost clunky with certain lines, but otherwise quite good, especially for an early role. She carries the emotion of her side of the story well.

Corbin Bernsen (who gets third billing and a shot on the poster, despite a relatively small role) is alright though doesn't leave much of an impression, Rob Stewart fares better as the antagonistic Vic, and an unexpected Michael Gross is good! I like his part in the ending, where he can be more intimidating than the defacto villain despite his demeanour not changing (precisely because his demeanour doesn't change). And lastly, Elizabeth Gracen is the second Highlander performer in the movie, and opposite from Payne she's a Yank who was putting on a British accent for that series. She does well, though disappears halfway through.

The music here is your typical 90s alternative rock. It's alright stuff. Nothing special, but not irritating either.

Lastly, something I really appreciate about Kounterfeit is that it's a mid-to-late 90s crime flick that's not trying to ape Tarantino! Who knows, maybe the script came naturally that way, or maybe this was a conscious effort to not copy someone else's coattails  In any case, I'm glad. It means the movie can stand on its own two feet, without feeling like a pale imitation.

Overall, this is a surprisingly good little movie! I sought it out for the actors and hoped it'd be good, and was not disappointed. I especially recommend it for those familiar with Bruce Payne, and seeing the man's versatility...