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

The Butcher

tn_butcherThere are plenty of things wrong with the 2009 DTV crime movie THE BUTCHER. It’s made entirely of cliches. The filmatism is sometimes awkward and crude. It’s longer and more repetitive than necessary. There’s not much of a sense of danger, because the hero keeps getting in shootouts where all he does is hit everybody while they miss him. He keeps leaving his girl in the car, defenseless, and nobody ever notices her. And the things that are bad aren’t funny-bad.

So this is DTV through and through, but the things I liked about it won the fight with the things I didn’t. And the main thing I liked was Eric Roberts.

mp_butcherRoberts plays Merle, the ol’ boxer turned aging mob enforcer who the boss thinks is losing his touch because he decided to let some guys go with a threat. A younger guy in the gang tries to set him up for a robbery of one of their rivals. He gets away with some of the loot and tries to plan his retirement while navigating threats from all the involved parties.

Robert Davi (R-Hollywood) plays his boss, Murdoch. Keith David plays his old bookie friend. Michael Ironside makes an appearance, plus Vernon Wells, Jerry Trimble and Duane Whitaker. And good ol’ Geoffrey Lewis has some nice scenes as the guy at the gun shop (an important neighborhood business when you’re in the Butcher’s line of work). I’m surprised they didn’t get Danny Trejo or Lance Henriksen in there, but oh well. The presence of all these beloved veterans brings some gravity to the movie’s main theme of people starting to think they’re too old to do what they wanted to do with their lives, that they’ve let it slip away. And now they’re trying to figure out if they’re fucked or if there’s some move they can pull to change their fate.

For Merle that move is to take off with the money, and he makes the romantic gesture of inviting the waitress he always flirts with to go with him. She’s already discussed with him her depression about her dead end life, and you can see both fear and mischief on her face as she decides to say yes because she’d always regret saying no. Even though she’s the female lead she’s mostly a blank, but it almost works better that way because it makes you fear for her. You have no idea if she understands what she’s getting herself into. For a long time it’s unclear how scared she is or how much she wants a do-over on her decision.

It’s weird, but Eric Roberts really reminded me of George Clooney in this one. He’s a real charmer with a gentle smile, a knack for smooth talking and a confidence that he knows what he’s doing. It was cool seeing him in DARK KNIGHT, but this convinces me he’s got a THE WRESTLER-sized comeback role in his future. (In fact, didn’t Mickey Rourke pretty much say that in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes or somewhere?)

When Merle decides to make his move he finally cashes in his chips and buys his “babies,” the two gold-plated .45s that Geoffrey Lewis usually lets him look at when he comes in to the shop. Lewis has a look of awe on his face, an almost worshipful excitement that “You’re gonna do it, aren’t you? You’re gonna go out with a bang!” The guns are so perfect they make a vibrating metal sound when you fire them, same as unsheathing a Hatori Honzo sword.

He looks cool with those things strapped to him, especially driving in his badass black Charger. Sometimes I was more afraid for the car than for him, didn’t want to see that thing get the Swiss cheese treatment.

You know how you know Merle is old school? Because his name is Merle. Also at one point the movie uses the song “Tramp”, and I thought that was another good symbol for Merle’s O.G. status, because that song is sampled in several beloved ’90s hip hop anthems including “Jump Around” by House of Pain, “Protect Ya Neck” by Wu-Tang and “How I Could Just Kill a Man” by Cypress Hill. Merle doesn’t listen to those songs, he listens to the source, because he’s a veteran. But upon further inspection I realized that the version that was sampled in those songs was the original by Lowell Fulsom, but the one in the movie is the more famous cover by Otis Redding that came out a couple months after Fulsom’s. So I’m not sure what that symbolizes. Probly something deep.

This might be too much corny cliche bullshit for some of you, but some of it worked for me. I especially liked seeing Lewis playing another great action movie best-friend. I also liked the old-friend talk between Merle and Murdoch even after they’ve shot each other. There’s a moment where Merle is bleeding from a gunshot wound and he’s trying to shake it off, then he just spits on the floor. That’s one I haven’t seen before but it seems right. And the one thing that didn’t seem predictable is that at the end (SPOILER) you find out he did all this because he hated that nickname, The Butcher. That’s a nice touch. The hero is haunted by the title of his own movie.

The filmatism is very classical in style, but unfortunately there’s alot of greenscreen driving shots because of the low budget. Too bad because otherwise it’s a raw ’70s feel, not at all the cheesy trying-too-hard-to-be-modern style that most DTV action adopts.

The director is Jesse V. Johnson, a stuntman going back to TOTAL RECALL, but since ’98 he’s been directing low budget movies like PIT FIGHTER and GREENSTREET HOOLIGANS 2. I know one of you told me I should check some of these out. Let me know which ones are the best.

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 Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 at 1:58 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. 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.

20 Responses to “The Butcher”

  1. I don’t know. As much as I would love to see a huge comeback of Eric Roberts, I think he will suffer the same fate as Rutger Hauer in 2005. (Remember when Rutger suddenly popped up in films like Sin City or Batman Begins, but then disappeared into DTV land again?)

  2. Maybe this movie is like that Steven Segal movie, URBAN JUSTICE or whatever, in which it has a good premise that was badly executed because it’s a DTV movie made with sub-par talent. Except Eric Roberts.

    And yes, Eric Roberts is due a comeback. Maybe his stardom is inversely proportional to his sister Julia Roberts.

  3. caruso_stalker217

    March 31st, 2010 at 3:32 am

    Eric Roberts is a man-god. He fucking *made* DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE.

  4. Jesse Johnson is becoming a very decent dtv director. When you mentioned the cast, I was beginning to wonder
    if this might be one of his – he usually works with Kieth David. Bokeem Woodbine is another actor he’s worked with on numerous films.He also directed The Last Sentinel, a sci-fi actioner starring Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Battlestar Galactica’s Katie Sackhoff. It’s got some good ideas but hampered
    by being too low budget (ie, too much time either running around or sitting around doing nothing).

    “The Fifth Commandment” is better. Starring Rick Yune (badguy ninja in Ninja Assassin and also in the first Fast and Furious movie)
    as a hitman who relents on his latest job because his estranged brother is his target’s bodyguard. Film also stars Roger Yuan, who you’ll know from his work on Black Dynamite.

    Eric roberts – been a fan of his ever since Best of the Best! Quite liked The Ambulance too, but mostly he ends up playing the bad-guy.

  5. Yes , he’s always playing the bad guys , maybe is the way he looks , but I think he’s perfect for characters like this Merle. I can already say that some elements look really cheesy ( like the golden guns , I always find it weird and unprofessional when the guns are gold plated like in Face Off , but in that movie Cage was mega-acting an over the top character , more fitting than in this movie ) but I will see this when I can find it , Eric Roberts is deserving a comeback and I like the setup , plus it looks like there’s a decent soundtrack.

    Good to see this after the 2 farting chipmunks movies , a return to badass canon if you will , and I hope , Vern , you will find the time to review Daybreakers and The Crazies. And now a tricky question , since we’re talking about a Romero remake : will you review Survival of the Dead ? I know you’re a little burned out on zombies after Diary , but I remember reading a positive review of it on Fangoria online and I’m sure looking forward to it .

  6. The Crazies is excellent horror film-making. I loved almost every minute of it. Plus, Timothy Olyphant. I think I heard some people around here are fond of him.

    And speaking of Survival of the Dead, the trailer just got out yesterday so for those who haven’t stumbled upon it…..

    http://www.slashfilm.com/2010/03/30/red-band-horror-bloody-trailers-for-survival-of-the-dead-and-rec-2/

    the clip is about half-way down, I really like the two families battling it out theme ala the Hatfield-McCoy family feud. Definitely looks better than Diary.

  7. It’s good, not great. The fact that it’s set on a small island means you’re not getting hordes of zombies.
    There are some good set-pieces (the whole ferry bit is excellent) and the main characters are more
    interesting and likeable than in Diary.

  8. Thank you guys , I see that The Crazies is getting a bunch of good reviews and I’m already looking forward to it, I like the original ( I don’t love it , but I like it) , I just don’t know when it will be released over here . And it’s good to hear that the new Romero is better then the last one. Overall , I liked Diary , but I agree that it is the weakest entry in this old running and old school saga , and I think it’s a good idea to set the new movie on an island because the island is always considered the safest place to reach during a zombie apocalypse .Well , with the exception of Shaun of the Dead : apparently , in that reality , the safest place is the pub.

  9. Eric Roberts bests the best of the best that there is.

  10. Speaking of Eric Roberts The Expendables trailer just hit the net and both Bruce and Arnie are in the trailer.

    http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1808411960/video/18909047

  11. Jareth Cutestory

    March 31st, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    And somewhere in the world, AB King is giddy with glee.

  12. Mikeoutwest is right about The Fifth Commandment. That’s a pretty good one. Pit Fighter is a lot of fun, too, I think.

    Don’t expect top-notch action out of either of those, though.

  13. oleg lives.

  14. Survival was disappointing.

    The island concept intrigued me to begin with, but some strange ideas with water depth and (spoiler) climbing silent zombies (end spoiler) made me think that even Romero was running out of places to take his tales.

    Hoping it would pick up on the island i stuck it out and to be honest apart from a couple of scenes including why you should let people finish what they are saying and a coda for a life long hatred. The lack of a budget (limiting ideas, relative to previous movies being motived by a lack of budget). A strange ‘vegetarian’ turn for the zedheads also left me unfullfilled and this coming from someone who thought Diary wasn’t the complete disaster some made it out to.

    I thought it put across the idea of people trying to show the end of the world to people whose world was ending and how stupid the whole modern media uniting the world theory is. When regardless of the situation people are still in it for themselves and will ignore a serious threat if they can get some cash or get one up on there fellow man.

    Oh, not watched an Eric Roberts movie in an age, but unless he is doing his squeaky voiced turn he deserves better, perhaps Julia will move to DTV and Eric will get a chance to shine again.

  15. I’ll check this out as soon as it makes it way to the UK. I think you should review The Best Of The Best for some Eric Roberts greatness.

    And Vern – you really know your Hip-Hop…

  16. That EXPENDABLES trailer was fun.

  17. Hey Vern, I’m the guy that recommended Johnson’s flicks awhile back, figuring you would enjoy them as I did. As for the other films of his I’ve seen and dug (The Butcher being the first), are ‘The 5th Commandment’ and ‘Charlie Valentine’. The former is about a hitman with a heart of gold played by Rick Yune and the later about an aging gangster (played by Raymond J. Barry), on the run from his former associates. As a bonus, Keith David appears in both.

    I haven’t watched ‘Green Street 2’ or ‘Pit Fighter’, yet. However, I did see ‘The Last Sentinel’ with Don the Dragon, but I wasn’t crazy about it.

    Also, I feel I have to ‘harp’ on you once again to check out ‘Fatal Contact’ with Jacky Wu. It’s good times and I’m 99% sure you’ll dig it.

    P.S. Just wanna say it’s really cool that you not only read our posts, but actually take the time to respond and consider our recommendations. Not a lot of popular reviewers do that. Happy Trails ~Rant

  18. Fatal Contact feels like a movie that just got over a really bad breakup and can’t quite get its head in the game. It’s 85% feeling sorry for itself and 15% fighting. That 15% is really awesome, but I don’t think it makes up for all the relentless moping.

    I’ll admit that the ending is pretty hilarious. Probably not on purpose, though.

  19. Well cut trailer for THE EXPANDABLES. I can see the 80s nostalgic boys going completly gay on it.

  20. The original Paul

    November 8th, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I think the spambots have finally lost the plot.

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