I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Vern’s DTV Triple Header: LUNDGREN vs. SNIPES/STATHAM vs. SOME DUDE FROM TV I NEVER HEARD OF!!!

I try to watch alot of DTV movies, but I don’t always succeed. Most of you have probaly never watched them, and you may assume that they are very good and enjoyable, and capable of adding meaning to one’s life. However, this is almost never the case. In the world of DTV filmmaking it seems pretty clear that nobody gives a shit. Most of them are trying to just reach 90 minutes and throw the shit on a shelf. You could argue that more effort goes into pornography, since some poor girl has to take it in the ass. That’s elbow grease.

So this is an unusual couple of days because I’ve managed to watch a bunch of DTVs and all of them were actually okay. So okay, in fact, that I was able to watch them in two or less sittings. In this world that’s almost a miracle. Either that or I have somehow increased my attention span overnight.

But what about the DTV viewer on the go who only has time to watch one of the three? Which one should they watch – which one was the MOST okay? Good question.

The candidates:

MISSIONARY MAN by Dolph Lundgren
CHAOS with Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes
ROCKAWAY starring various

MISSIONARY MAN

Missionary ManWhile our Ain’t It Cool pal Sylvester Stallone was off directing and starring in RAMBO, he may not have realized his old opponent Ivan Drago was busy directing and starring in MISSIONARY MAN. This is actually Dolph Lundgren’s fourth film as a director (with a fifth in the works) so he’s only a couple behind Stallone.

MISSIONARY MAN is one of those small action movies that takes place in the present but thinks it’s a western. A gang of bullies controls the town, murders people who won’t play along, everybody’s afraid to do anything. Also it’s real quiet and windy. But then Dolph Lundgren drifts into town, and I would like you to guess what sort of transportation he arrives on.

  1. Honda Accord
  2. some type of FlexCar
  3. those shoes kids have now with the wheels in them
  4. a motorcycle, because it’s like a horse and also represents that he’s a loner because it’s designed for one person, also it requires more balance than a four-wheeled vehicle so perhaps represents his physical prowess, I don’t know
  5. dragon

The answer is D of course. D as in Dolph. And it is explicitly stated by one of the characters that he’s a guy who travels around helping people. But in the tradition of BILLY JACK and ON DEADLY GROUND he minds his own business until some rednecks are beating up a Native American man. So he beats them up, then he goes to a funeral and delivers a sermon. The Meat Loaf-looking bad guy Reno calls him “our mystery man – the biker with the fuckin’ Bible.”

There’s alot of mentions that Dolph was friends with the dead man, J.J., who was killed for interfering with Reno’s plans to build a casino. I’m not sure it’s true, though. We do know that someone has betrayed him, because he has bullet scars on his back. Later we may or may not find out how his fight here ties in with his revenge. There’s no way to really know.

I think Dolph overdid the digital washout of the colors, but otherwise it looks pretty good. It was really shot in Texas for once, not some fake California or South Africa version of Texas. The setting is fleshed out pretty good and the tributes to Native American culture are not as condescending as they could be. Of course, there is a wise man who declares that Dolph is an eagle (just like Seagal was a bear in ON DEADLY GROUND and Laughlin was a rattlesnake in BILLY JACK). Also there’s a funny part where the wise man talks about 4 being a sacred number, then it cuts to some kids riding a 4-wheeler.

The action is okay, not great. He throws a baseball bat at a guy, shoots up a truck and a bar, announces that he’s going to break a man’s nose with his knee before he does it, etc. I like the part where he makes a western style hangman’s noose on a fire escape. What really stands out in this movie, though, is Dolph. Guys like Stallone and Seagal get shit-talked for showing their age, gaining weight, slowing down. I don’t think that’s fair but if you’re gonna get on them for that then maybe you should get behind Dolph Lundgren. This guy has that Clint Eastwood thing where he just looks more interesting as he gets older. He still has the size, the stature, the blond hair, the square jaw, but he has more lines on his face. In fact, I thought he looked phony painted up to be grizzled in THE PUNISHER, but now I think he could pull it off.

He’s also charismatic when he’s not playing those meathead Russian roles like ROCKY IV or RED SCORPION, but he knows enough to write his character without too much dialogue. Making him obsessed with the Bible (but not an evangelist) is a pretty obvious badass juxtaposition, but it works. When he’s not fighting he’s sitting quietly by himself enjoying some Tequila and browsing the good book through reading glasses.

John Enos III has a good presence as an asshole biker who shows up as a lead villain late in the movie. I recognized him from a shitty movie called POINT DOOM (written by David “The Demon” DeFalco) but he was better in this one.

Overall a pretty watchable movie. I liked it. Starts out slow but gets better. Dolph is a competent director and avoids Avid farts and other sins of the shitty DTV style. I hope he keeps directing and perfects his chops until they are powerful enough to kill Apollo Creed.

CHAOS

ChaosSpeaking of David DeFalco, this is not a remake of his original motion picture story CHAOS. Lionsgate is releasing a Canadian/UK coproduction cops and robbers thriller made in 2005. It’s been aging gracefully in a wine cellar somewhere and now it’s ready to go.

Jason Statham plays a disgraced cop who has to partner with the goodie two-shoes Ryan Phillipe to try to catch bank robber Wesley Snipes. I know, I was excited too, but I should warn you that it’s not really a Snipes vs. Statham action movie. Snipes disappears for alot of the movie and when they fight it’s just by exchanging gun shots. Statham does do a little martial arts, and Snipes does get to beat the shit out of Phillipe, but there’s no Transporter vs. Blade hand-to-hand.

Both of them are fine, though. Snipes is a little too goofy at the beginning, he talks too much and alot of it’s distorted to hide his identity over the phone so you don’t even get to hear his voice half the time. But for the second half of the movie he gets to be cool again, he wears a suit and a fedora like he’s his sax player character from MO’ BETTER BLUES back for revenge. Or like he forgot it was the “Bad” video he was in and was thinking it was “Smooth Criminal.” He’s kind of a playful, arrogant villain like he played in DEMOLITION MAN, but without the blond hair.

This was obviously intended for a theatrical release. The production values are much higher than your usual DTV, and plus it’s Ryan Phillipe, who was in the theatrical CRUEL INTENTIONS PART 1, but not the DTV parts 2 and 3. It couldn’t make it to theaters though because of that Wesley Snipes curse, or the blacklist from him suing New Line, or whatever it is that keeps the poor bastard from ever being on a big screen where he belongs. But not seeing this one in theaters is no big loss. It’s not terrible but nobody would remember it by the time they got home from the theater. At least now they can watch it and already be home so they will remember it at home for a short period of time.

By the way, Statham is very believable as a rule-breaking Seattle cop. We are known for our well-dressed English badass cops. The movie was obviously shot in Vancouver though. At least they had more establishing shots than in HOLLOW MAN 2. And they knew to have Phillipe refer to University of Washington as “U-dub.”

This is one of the better Seattle-based movies I’ve seen lately, since nobody was fucked to death by a horse in it.

ROCKAWAY

RockawayI’m not even sure why I thought I should try watching this one, but it wasn’t a bad decision. It has no recognizable stars and looks cheaper than the other two. It’s a completely generic premise, and the lead has less presence than one of Wesley Snipes’s fingers, and maybe Dolph Lundgren’s hand. (Left.)

But somehow this was a pretty enjoyable movie. Some dude who looks kind of like Timothy Olyphant (Nicholas Gonzalez) plays Trane, an American soldier in Afghanistan who gets sent home because his wife and kid were murdered. He comes back, lives on a beach, still wears his fatigues and dog tags most of the time, and gets revenge.

In this one it’s not casino moguls in bolo ties who run the town, it’s a Hispanic drug gang led by a guy named Juju (Mario Cimarro). These guys are played mostly be actors who seem to be comedians (with somewhat amusing improvised dialogue). Trane prays to the Virgin Mary to forgive him for the asskicking he’s about to do and a candle magically lights, maybe offering Her endorsement. (Later there’s a bit of supernatural overtones, not too much though, just enough to be unusual.)

Of course Trane has to work his way up the ladder of the drug gang to kill the people responsible for killing his family. I was settled in for a slow picking off one-by-one of these guys but I was surprised how quickly he got to Juju. He pretty much just storms in and starts grabbing people by the face. But Juju convinces him to spare his life so he can bring him to the people he works for, The Russians.

I think the best scene in the movie is when Trane meets with Ivan (UFC fighter Oleg Taktarov), the Russian enforcer. (Of course his name is Ivan. The boss is named Sergei. I don’t think they have a Yuri in this one. I don’t understand why there’s only 3 or 4 names for all Russian characters in American movies. What’s wrong with Oleg? Why can’t this guy be Oleg?) Ivan is a beefy, scary looking dude with piercing blue eyes. He sees Trane’s dog tags and says, “You served?”

“Afghanistan,” Trane says.

“Me too,” says the Russian.

I thought that was a nice touch, implying a bond between these two because both of them fought their own messy wars in Afghanistan. It still seems a little phony that he buys Trane’s story that he’s gonna give him a bunch of heroin he stole from NATO impound, so it’s nice when it turns out Ivan’s not that stupid. As soon as Trane steps out the door he says, “If he has any heroin find it, then kill him.”

It’s become pretty standard for action movie characters to have been in Afghanistan, just like they used to be Vietnam vets. But usually they don’t add any detail to make it current, they just use it as shorthand for “he knows how to kick ass.” In this one they do make it pretty specific. Not just in little references (like some corrupt cops asking him why he never caught bin Laden) but in the whole theme of the movie. He flashes back to a conversation he had in Afghanistan about why the Taliban keep fighting, and he seems to sort of channel that fearlessness in his revenge. And here he is outnumbered and outgunned by these Russian gangsters – invaders of his homeland – and he keeps fighting his own little guerilla war. He’s like a mujahadeen. Shit, he’s RED DAWN!

There’s some pretty good violence. He shoots a guy in the dick. He beats a guy to death with a pool ball. He takes some serious damage too, for example he gets both of his eyes stabbed. So that makes the final showdown pretty challenging. Didn’t expect that.

The directors are called the Crook Brothers, they’ve done a couple other movies including some horror picture called SALVAGE. I haven’t seen their other ones so I don’t know how this compares, but it’s pretty well done. I do think they could improve a little stylistically, because there’s too many show offy wipes and split screens (especially bad because they use a whooshy sound effect) and I wish they used less digital effects in the action scenes. Blowing up a melon in a wig is always gonna be more gruesome than doing a digital head explosion.

Also, I think they should’ve made their hero a little more stoic. He has some funny ways of taunting his enemies, but his acting is always more effective when he’s not talking. He looks pretty intent on killing people, that part is convincing, but when he’s reading lines he’s pretty wooden and bland.

Anyway, surprisingly enjoyable. This is a good sign for DTV action movies in 2008.

So which one wins the coveted “most okay DTV movie out of these three” award? It’s a close call. CHAOS is definitely out of the running. It’s the slickest of the three, maybe the most passable for mainstream moviewatchers because of its crowd scenes and phony USUAL SUSPECTS style twist ending. But it should be better. It doesn’t at all live up to the potential of a movie with those two guys in the cast. (Let’s forget about Phillipe – the less said about him driving a commandeered motorcycle wearing a half helmet the better.)

I’m leaning toward ROCKAWAY, because that was a big surprise, I kind of picked it out at random and what are the chances that’s gonna end up being enjoyable? Also I think you could make an argument that it is just ever so slightly more original in its content than MISSIONARY MAN is. By a tiny bit. Not that either is gonna reinvent cinema. In my opinion.

But then there’s Dolph. Dolph does not succumb to the temptations of digital editing and his action is analog. If he wants a small explosion, he uses a small explosive device, not a computer. Kind of ironic considering Ivan Drago was using all those computers to work out when Rocky was pulling a log through the snow or whatever. As a director, Dolph pulls a log through the snow. And it’s good to see a good old fashioned action star vehicle Bible themed asskicking revenge thriller in this age.

This is what we need. That’s why Dolph is the most okay DTV director/co-writer/star of 2008 so far, congratulations bud. I would like to see Missionary Man travelling around helping some people some more. Although it wouldn’t be the same without some revenge mixed in with the help. But I bet Dolph could figure out a way.

thanks,

Vern

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/35248

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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 2008 at 3:36 am and is filed under Action, AICN, Drama, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Vern’s DTV Triple Header: LUNDGREN vs. SNIPES/STATHAM vs. SOME DUDE FROM TV I NEVER HEARD OF!!!”

  1. dolph seems to avoid avid-farts. i can imagine there is some producers asking for some cool modern editing tehniques in background.

    the film that world waits: Submerged 2

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