I don’t know if you guys remember this, but one time I reviewed a horror movie called CHAOS, and the director of the movie challenged me to a wrestling match in the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks. The director was David DeFalco, a some-time independent circuit wrestler, director of the movie THE BACKLOT MURDERS, and guy who played Marquis De Sade in THE EXOTIC HOUSE OF WAX under the name “Bobby Young.” He was known for wearing spiked collars and Marilyn Manson style contacts and yelling things like “I’m a demon! I’m the king of violence!” during Q&As for his movie. The official CHAOS websight boasted that he had been banned from the 24 Hour Fitness gym chain. I guess after that he had to start working out at the L.A. County Morgue – that’s where the DVD extras show him flexing his muscles and yelling wrestling promo style taunts to Roger Ebert. So I was pretty excited to see his new one.
WRONG SIDE OF TOWN is not horror, it’s a B-or-lower action movie more along the lines of POINT DOOM (a terrible Richard Grieco movie that DeFalco wrote and appeared in). It belongs to the new subgenre of DTV action movies starring lesser known WWE stars*, a sister-genre of the DTV action movies starring guys from UFC. It stars Rob Van Dam (named for his slight resemblance to Jean-Claude, I assume) as Bobby Kalinowsky, a former Navy SEAL who is in the wrong place (i.e. side of town) at the wrong time and ends up in the crosshairs of a drug dealer or something. A club owner anyway. A guy who wears suits and has henchmen.
Bobby has to get across town when everybody’s trying to kill him, like in THE WARRIORS. Also his daughter gets kidnapped. At one point he explains his predicament as, “A neighbor invited Donna and I to a club and we got into some trouble.” That would also be a good title.
Rob Van Dam is… A NEIGHBOR INVITED DONNA AND I TO A CLUB… AND WE GOT INTO SOME TROUBLE!
See, the couple who just moved in next door invite them to dinner at this club, The Mayan. When the ladies go to the bathroom and the neighbor gets back before Donna, Bobby immediately jumps up and runs to help, as if this is a sure sign of trouble. He happens to be right, because the coked out co-owner of the club, left in charge for only an hour, tried to hit on Donna and is now pinning her down in a backroom trying to rape her. Bobby tosses him around, the creep pulls out a knife, accidentally falls onto it and dies.
Now the club owner guy has made sure everybody in town (at least on this side) is trying to kill Bobby. Luckily he has some skills. “As far as trained killers go,” we’re told, “this guy’s the elite of the elite.” He can get the cops to leave him alone just by pulling out the “Special Services” ID card that he keeps loose in his pocket, although he doesn’t try that trick until the second time he’s in an interrogation room. He’s believably tough and does some pretty good stunts, but doesn’t have the grace of the “elite of the elite,” more like the stiff movements of a guy who’s injured every body part known to science in the ring. But he tries to use his wits to get out of messes, not just brawn, and he knows how to do self bullet removal and what not. He’s surprisingly worldly for a dude with that shaved-on-the-sides/ponytail hair cut and an ugly Ed Hardy type t-shirt with a sequin cross over his heart.
This is not what most people would call “a good or above average movie.” There’s not even trace amounts of imagination in it, most of the acting is bad, the dialogue is stiff and lazy (when they need somewhere to meet they just call it “the abandoned pier by the bridge.” What the fuck is an abandoned pier anyway? How do you know a boat’s not gonna show up?) And with the exception of one fight which I’ll get to later none of the action is very well choreographed or staged. I also gotta say that as much as I didn’t like CHAOS there was something to be said for the rawness of it, and the lack of music. Now that DeFalco’s making a movie with a sense of humor he’s got a cheesier look and slathers the thing in shitty metal and rap songs that just pile on top of the scenes instead of work with them.
But I’m glad I chose not to spend the four or five years since CHAOS training to face The Demon in the ring in case I had to negatively review his next movie, because the truth is I got a kick out of WRONG SIDE OF TOWN and would recommend it to others who enjoy DTV action for the not necessarily intentional quirks that make them a little more charming and funny than their higher budget counterparts. You can no longer say something like this is “good for DTV” because it’s so clearly obliterated on every artistic or spiritual level by UNDISPUTED II, BLOOD AND BONE, NINJA or of course UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION. But it’s some goofy shit that made me smile, starting with its James Bond style opening credits (when was the last time you saw a movie where a silhouetted woman actually lip synchs the theme song?)
The script is made up almost entirely of recycled materials, the oldest cliches possible (the old Navy buddy who he saved the life of who now saves him and says they’re “even”, etc.) but some of them aren’t all the way thought through, and that makes for some good entertainment. For example, when Bobby finally gets to the right side of town his wife tells him they kidnapped his daughter and, “They said they were gonna kill her if you didn’t come rescue her!” That’s their demand. Not “give us a million dollars” or “promise to leave town” or even “turn yourself in,” but “come rescue her.”
Another good one is when some thugs seeking the bounty on his head have him at gunpoint and he tricks them by saying, “You shoot me you lose the money and the diamonds.” He tells them a phony story about the boss being after him because he has diamonds in his sock. Although skeptical about his claim they at least accept the logic that if they shot him it would be impossible to then take diamonds out of his sock.
And I wouldn’t dream of giving away the big twist at the end. Okay, I’ll give it away. Turns out that the brother of the club owner who was killed was actually… his son. So that’s the true reason why he was so mad. It wasn’t because his brother was killed, it was his son, but he pretended they were brothers. That changes everything, right? You almost want to go back to watch it from the beginning to see if there were any hints. A real mindblower.
Most people wouldn’t care about this, but I appreciate that it has a few subtle tweaks on action movie business as usual. The hero’s wife looks more normal than usual, and is at least in her mid-thirties. They save the hot twentysomething to play the daughter. Although Ja Rule is in the movie briefly there’s not a wisecracking or streetwise black sidekick – in fact it’s a nerdy black architect sidekick. He doesn’t jump around acting scared like Martin Lawrence, though he later lays in bed and talks about wishing he had done more to help. It’s not the usual minstrel show shit. After escaping some street thugs he says, “We’ve come a long way from slavery to Obama. You need to stop using the n-word. It’s disrespectful.”
I honestly think whatever charm is in the movie actually comes from DeFalco. Even though I think he overreacted to me calling him a “dipshit” in my review, I do think it’s cool that there’s a guy like him out there who straddles the worlds of wrestling, horror conventions, movies about “pit fighters” and softcore porn. Because of that unusual background he seems to be able to flush alot of interesting weirdos out of the fringes of L.A. (even though this one was filmed in Baton Rouge). Here he’s got this goofy looking wrestler trying to be a square family man, getting chased by a motley crew of rappers, wrestlers, bodybuilders, dudes with mohawks and blue hair, a guy who looks like Ric Flair without muscles, bouncer types with ZZ Top beards, and even DeFalco himself leading a gang who attack Bobby at a gas station. When he goes to ask an old friend for a favor he finds him sitting in a club next to Stormy Daniels with her tits casually hanging out. This is a world where you can be walking down the street and suddenly a guy with a skeleton bandana over his face drives by on a motorcycle and whips you with a chain. You beat him up, steal his motorcycle and luckily already own a helmet. This is my reality, Roger Ebert.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice though is that they cast the wrong guy in the lead. Nothing against Van Dam (well, maybe against his haircut). He seems like a charming guy in the interviews on the disc, but in the movie has a typical retired NFL player level of movie star charisma. But there’s another wrestler I wasn’t familiar with, Dave Batista, who plays his old friend Big Ronnie, and that guy is great! He’s monstrously tall, has an interesting face and a strong screen presence, and of course is only in a supporting role. And it almost seems like the movie figures out he’s the more interesting one because Big Ronnie ends up having a longer and more involved fight at the climax than Bobby. A henchman who spent the rest of the movie standing around in sunglasses looking like Sticky Fingaz suddenly turns out to be a great martial artist – he’s played by Marrese Crump, the movie’s fight trainer (whose only other credit on IMDb is a GI Joe fan film). Crump and Batista have a long martial arts battle and knife fight while Van Dam just knocks the main villain over and snaps his neck in about 5 seconds.
Big Ronnie also gets the best shot in the movie, when he abandons Bobby to be killed (partly because he’s mad that he never invites him out to dinner) and then you see him in vivid color in the foreground stopping and thinking about it before changing his mind and deciding to save him.
Wait a minute – I just went to get the cover art and realized the cover has Batista in the foreground, five times bigger than Van Dam, with his name at the top in a much bigger font. Van Dam, the actual star of the movie, is standing in the background on equal footing with Ja Rule, who just has a cameo. Now I feel bad for the guy. Sorry Van Dam. At least he gets his name ahead of Omarion from YOU GOT SERVED (I’m not sure who he played in the movie). And they spelled Batista’s name wrong. I guess it all evens out.
The extras unfortunately don’t have much of Dave the Demon, you see him on set but there are no interviews, commentaries or visits to morgues. This is not the movie that opens the Doorway to True Evil that he talked about back in the CHAOS days. But for a shitty wrestler movie it’s pretty watchable – I definitely enjoyed it more than some of the official WWE Films releases like THE CONDEMNED and THE MARINE. I hope he continues in this direction but lets his freak flag fly even higher, and maybe then everybody will stand up and pledge allegiance to it.
Also, let’s get this Batista guy in some more movies. In real life his badass juxtaposition is that he collects metal lunchboxes:
*By this I guess I mean anybody less mainstream popular than Stone Cold Steve Austin. From reading Wikipedia it’s clear that Van Dam is a superstar in wrestling, but I figure since I didn’t really know who he was exactly then nobody who doesn’t watch wrestling ever heard of him. I might have seen him before though when I watched wrestling in the ’80s because it says he was an audience plant who got paid $100 to kiss the foot of “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.