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

Best of the Best 2

tn_bestofthebest2americanyakuzaawardI almost didn’t bother trying out the sequel, but I’m so glad I did. It turns out 1993’s BEST OF THE BEST 2 is an unheralded gem of the ’80s style American b-action movies. It’s such a huge leap in entertainment value from BEST OF THE BEST that I couldn’t even believe it. I guess this is a spoiler for the next couple reviews, but not only does BEST OF THE BEST 2 best BEST OF THE BEST, but BEST OF THE BEST 2 is the best of the BEST OF THE BESTs, too.

mp_bestofthebest2Director Robert Radler is back, so are Eric Roberts as Alex Grady, Phillip Rhee as Tommy Lee (the karate man, not the blow job receiving drummer) and Chris Penn as Travis Brickley. Even Kane Hodder and Eddie Bunker, who had bit parts in the first one, return for new bit parts. Also making a victory lap is the trademark BEST OF THE BEST approach to manly melodrama. But instead of another sports drama they turned this into a full-on action movie with guns, explosions, revenge, a larger than life villain and way more enjoyable absurdity than part one.

No mention of what happened to the other best of the bests like Sonny Grasso and Virgil. But the three aforementioned most memorable characters from part 1 stuck together and opened a karate school in Las Vegas, teaching kids including Grady’s son, still played by the same kid. In the tradition of part 1 there’s a nice lesson here as the son fails his black belt test (he can’t break a brick with his fist) and Roberts makes a tearful speech about how proud he is for how well the kid handled his disappointment and how that’s what makes him a man.

Meanwhile Travis is still kind of an asshole, and his more honorable partners don’t know that he’s been taking part in a secret gladiator-themed underground fighting competition hosted by Wayne Newton. (Newton’s character has a name in the credits but I never noticed them saying it in the movie and assumed he was playing himself.) It’s a club called The Coliseum where rich people in formal clothes bet on the fights, and the owner/champion is 6’5″ Mr. Universe Ralf Moeller (GLADIATOR, SCORPION KING) as Brakus. The DVD extras repeatedly claim that it was his first movie, but he had already been in CYBORG and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. Those are better known movies, but this is a way better role. That’s clear in his very first scene when one of his security guards sets off the metal detector. In his thick accent he scolds, “What did I say about guns? Warriors fight here. Get rid of it!”

I think you can guess what happens to Travis when he fights Brakus, so Alex and Tommy karate their way into the Coliseum club and start asking questions. Wayne Newton tries to play it cool and deny everything, but when Alex spots the hulking Brakus across the room he gets a hunch and asks “Did you kill Travis Brickley?” If Brakus had a lawyer present he’d be advised not to comment or to pretend not to know who Travis was, but without that advice he simply brags “Easily.”

We thought they were the best of the best because they could’ve but chose not to defeat the Korean national team, but it turns out Alex and Tommy are still not quite the best of the best, because they’re not ready to beat Brakus. They get some shots in though and get away. Brakus wants Alex and his son killed, but wants Tommy left alive for him to defeat in gladiatorial combat. Why? Because Tommy scratched his face. Brakus angrily stares at the cut in a mirror, plotting his revenge. So we got two sides here who want revenge on each other but in my opinion the good guys have a better thing to avenge (death of friend) than the bad guys (small cut on cheek).

So our heroes go on the run, followed by colorful hitmen including the big bald guy from DARKMAN. They hide out with Tommy’s adoptive grandmother, and this is when we learn that he was raised by Native Americans. But he’s upset to find out that his estranged alcoholic brother is back home. It’s none other than Sonny Landham (PREDATOR), giving a Mickey Rourkian performance, drunkenly picking a fight before revealing that (and I’m realizing now this is a pretty huge coincidence) the “car accident” that he always blamed for ruining his life was no car accident at all, but in fact a fight with Brakus that caused car-accident-worthy injuries.

Landham says that he’s one of three people in the world that can teach our boys to defeat Brakus. The fact that this is mentioned without explanation of why there are three people with this knowledge or who the other two are is an example of how god damn spectacular this movie is. I love it. Anyway, the point is there are training montages, stick fighting, and a sweat lodge scene where Landham guilts Roberts into not giving up by saying “Brakus would stay.” I’d like that to become a common saying to try to pressure somebody to stay out late or whatever. Or those guys on the street who are always trying to get me to stop and talk to them about saving the children or the environment, if they said “Brakus would stay” I’d have no choice but to listen to their shpiel.

I would also like to note that Landham pronounces “Brakus” more like “Barakus.” Mr. T could also have made a good villain in this, but not as good as Ralf Moeller. He seems like a real prick, he’s physically menacing and his vanity makes him funny. It’s like somebody combined Schwarzenegger’s DNA with Lundgren’s and then raised the clone to be evil. This is definitely the best role I’ve seen Moeller in. He’s usually just a big dude and not very memorable.

Because it’s a true action movie there are more types of violence than in part 1, and since they’re fighting outside of the ring there are a couple Seagal-style gorey bone-breaks – at least one of them more graphic than even Seagal does. In the Coliseum fights the choreography is much better than in part 1, with more variety since the competitors usually represent a certain style like American boxing or muay thai. This came out in ’93, same year as the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, so that type of idea must’ve just been in the air.

Of course, Roberts and Penn still aren’t entirely convincing as martial arts masters. Penn especially cracks me up when he keeps doing the same shadow boxing moves over and over before his match starts. But like in part 1 the actual martial artist Rhee does most of the fighting, and he seems improved (and buffed up) since we last saw him.

My favorite thing in the original BEST OF THE BEST was the corny-beyond-belief-but-right-up-my-alley ending. If you haven’t seen it don’t read this, but if you have let me refresh your memory: Tommy has just about defeated the eye-patch wearing Korean Dae Han, who killed his brother in competition years ago. He’s about to kick Dae Han into oblivion, but Alex and James Earl Jones yell for him not to do it because they know it would kill Dae Han, and killing is even worse than losing. So Tommy holds back, and because of it loses the competition for everybody. But as the Korean team is being declared the winner Dae Han recognizes the profound gesture of forgiveness and not only gives his medal to Tommy but publicly apologizes for killing his brother and offers himself as a new brother.

Part 2 hints at a similar “I need time to change” ending (SPOILER: instead it goes for a WAY OF THE DRAGON you-can’t-say-I-didn’t-warn-you neck-break). Still, it delivers big time on the manly emotion by having Dae Han show up at Travis’s funeral and later follow through on his promise of brotherhood by helping Tommy and Alex fight Brakus and his men. For the bad guy from part 1 to back the hero in part 2, no questions asked, got the male bonding part of my brain tingling. Also, let’s face it, eye patches are cool.

I already used this term loosely in the last review, but I thought about it and I think a pair like Tommy and Dae Han would have to be called “fight brothers.” It’s like Seagal and Cupcake in ON DEADLY GROUND, or Clint and miscellaneous in ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN – after they’ve fought they for some reason have an unbreakable bond stronger than blood relation. Not a bad cliche. The world has too much fighting and not enough fight brothers.

In ’93 this type of picture was heading toward the door and being replaced by slicker, more expensive studio action movies. This was the year that Brandon Lee died and Andrew Davis traded Steven Seagal movies for Harrison Ford and a best picture nomination with THE FUGITIVE. John Woo was still pulpy ’cause he did HARD TARGET, but Clint was classin it up in IN THE LINE OF FIRE. LAST ACTION HERO and ROBOCOP 3 rushed along the death of the ’80s approach to action. But somehow BEST OF THE BEST 2 got through, and it’s an absolutely topnotch example of its genre, one of those fun movies with a perfect balance of awesome and ridiculous. It has conviction, emotion, a little intentional humor, a little unintentional, some good fights and explosions, a wide variety of gruesome violence, some unexpected weird touches, a great villain, a scene-stealing mentor, an admirable philosophy of forgiveness and multi-culturalism. I highly recommend this picture even if you skip part 1 (although watching it will make the Dae Han business more impressive).

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, July 28th, 2010 at 1:26 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, 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.

43 Responses to “Best of the Best 2”

  1. Vern I’m shocked you didn’t go for the most obvious pun: “this is the Best of the BEST OF THE BEST!!!”

  2. I have never seen the first one, but this movie is awesome. I heard that Eric Roberts only consented to make it because he felt bad about how much the first one sucked and felt he owed it to the audience to do better. I think this is the model Nic Cage is following with his upcoming GHOST RIDER sequel.

  3. I got no idea if and how successful this movie was at its theatrical run in Germany, but I remember that one theatre here where I lived, promoted the shit out of it, because of Ralph Möller. He grew up in this area (and I heard from others you can even still meet him from time to at at the Gym!) and is the most famous of our local celebrities. (I think I already mentioned it, but other local celebrities include Leonardo DiCaprio’s Grandma [R.I.P.] and Matthias Hues, the alien from “I Come In Peace”/”Dark Angel”. [Also Klaus Wennemann, from “Das Boot” lived and is now buried here and on his funeral a few years ago, popular popsinger and Boot-Co-Star Herbert Grönemeyer beat up a paparazzi with a little help of Jürgen Prochnow.])

  4. Brakus instantly became one of my favorite bad guys ever when he explained that he was mad because the cut on his cheek “ruined his perfection.” which means that the guy has made a living as a fighter and never even
    been scratched before. He wants to kill Phillip Rhee because he’s the first guy that even managed to lay a hand on him. Bad ass.

    I think Ralph Mueller deserves a spot in the Action Film Supporting Actor Hall of Fame right between to CHT and Richard Norton.

  5. Great review Vern, but Brakus would have already finished and posted his reviews of BOTB 3 & 4 by now.

  6. Charles, harsh!

    Vern, I’ll take your word for it and give this one a try. But I’m not watching the first one! Even if it does have james earl jones in it.

  7. Mr. Majestyk – and you’re sure it has absolutely nothing to do with his recent problems with the IRS, right?

    Fact is if Nic Cage wanted to make amends for all the stinkers he’s been in recently…shit he would have to remake/do sequels to them all. SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is getting raped in theatres for a good reason.

    Nic dude, we can be with ya man, you can be a damn good actor. Shit you got an Oscar. But you really are pulling a late 60s/early 70s Peter Sellers in seemingly just not giving a fuck outside of the paycheck. You’re better than that. Dammit you did ADAPTATION mother fucker. Quit being Lois Lane and be Superman!

    Like you almost was at one point.

  8. Gotta disagree on this one sorry Vern. This was good for what it was (straight-to-DVD tosh), but I did think #1 was more entertaining. Great bad guy in #2 though. We can be united in our love(?) for Ralf Moeller. But having said that… yeah, he’s badass. But he doesn’t have a tenth of the personality of Eamonn Holmes in “Blood and Bone”.

    And on that subject, its gotta be said, none of the “Best of the best” films hold a candle to “Blood and Bone” or “Universal Soldier: Regeneration”.

  9. RRA: For camp historians of the future, the Cage Oeuvre will be a treasure trove to rival the collected works of Joe Eszterhas and Harold Robbins. They will envy us for living in an era when the very history of ridiculousness was being rewritten one CGI-addled mega-travesty at a time.

  10. RRA – Appropriately (given what he’s appearing in now) Nic Cage would have to travel to Hades and back, literally, to make amends for all the stinkers he’s done. Although he’s still nowhere near as infamous as Rob de Nero. It says something that “Kick Ass”, which IMO wasn’t half as bad as Vern’s review indicated nor half as good as some of the AICN guys said, was probably Cage’s best film for a while. To be fair, Bad Lieutenant was supposed to be pretty good; but there’s a reason I didn’t go to see “Astro Boy”, “Knowing” or “Bangkok Dangerous”.

    I’m trying to think of the last really great Nic Cage film that I’ve seen. “Adaptation” and “Matchstick Men”, I guess (weirdly, I loved both of those movies until their final acts, where they just lost it for me.) Which came out first of those two?

  11. Paul, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL UNDYING MEME is more than pretty good. It’s a transcendental black comedy badass mega-acting mind-fuck arthouse apocalypse that can actually make you a better person. It single-handedly turned me from a Cage hater into a Cage apologist.

  12. Yeah I have to admit I actually forgot about BAD LIEUTENANT, which was good. I guess its because it kinda lost in that whole run of dogs he did, its easy to forget about it.

    Whether you liked them as an actor or not, I always like to think guys like Clooney or DiCaprio or Damon, you know they always try to attach themselves to something hopefully decent or worthwhile, and not just anything. Doesn’t mean those pictures always are watchable, but shit I like to believe they care about their supposed brand-name value.

    Of course Cage isn’t those guys. He isn’t as beloved by Hollywood as them or for that matter respected (alot his fault, but regardless) by critics and his bread & money comes from it seems usually dumb (usually lousy) action adventures for the whole trailer park family to enjoy.

    A good contrast was the other big movie that opened on the same weekend as SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, you know that umm dream movie that Leo did.

  13. Nic Cage is great because the show never really stops. He’ll play up how weird he is, but really he’s no weirder than any dude with a million dollars and fame to spare. I give the man credit for always seeming to be in on the joke, but smart enough to fuck with people about where the joke actually starts and ends.

    Hence he dominates the topic in a Best of the Best 2 thread. Cage just beat you at the game.

  14. Best Of The Best 2: The Rest Of The Best.

  15. Mr. Majestyk – You were a Cage hater? I would have figured that as a lover of the ridiculous you would have always been one of his biggest supporters.

    Also, where did you hear Eric Roberts ripping on the first BEST OF THE BEST? I’d be kind of surprised if he thought it sucked because he seems like a pretty smart guy and would therefore know it doesn’t suck.

    Also also, who is this Harold Robbins you refer to? Anyone who can be mentioned in the same breath as Eszterhas and Cage is someone I need to be paying attention to. And, while we’re on the subject, if you know anyone else who can be mentioned in that same breath, or even one or two breaths later, please let me know.

  16. Verbal Hooligan

    July 28th, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Vern- WHOO-HOO! You sound like exactly how I felt after seeing it for the first time. I thought you’d like it even more than BOTB. It’s a cheesy/craptacular feast for the senses. And Nicholas Worth, who I would argue is better known as Bruno from Wes Cravens SWAMP THING, is the big bald guy from DARKMAN. May he rest in peace.

  17. THE WEATHER MAN was a solid film. It will go down as the last sane Nicolas Cage performance of his career, now that he is full-time with the bug eyes and woop-woops.

    Anyway, how about that Eric Roberts? No mention of how disgusting his long hair was in the first BOTB? Ick. Who started that trend in 90s anyway? Half-men the world over took up the long hair deal, which as we all know, led to the ponytailed stepdad your mom let sneak into your life.

    As far as this sequel is concerned (Robers cut his hair for the role), I remember as a kid being shocked that they axed Chris Penn in the first reel. I mean, that was a main character right there. Who would wave the wand of racism in the series from now on?

    For some ungodly reason, I was down with Chris Penn as a 10-year-old and thought of him as my favorite actor. I have no idea why or how this came to be (THE WILD LIFE? RUMBLE FISH? Subconscious familiarity with those suffering from substance abuse problems?). Anyway, the switch from the first films ROCKY-like story to full blown action was confusing for me, so I retained little memory of this (and probably ejected the VHS and put on BLOODSPORT or something).

  18. Watching this movie now, I think that Eric Roberts is the basis for every John Romita Jr. character ever. Yep, even the girls.

  19. KUMITE! KUMITE! KUMITE!

    whoops wrong movie (I kid, I kid)

  20. This really should have been called the Second Best of the Second Best.

  21. Vern, you know now anytime someone recommends you to review a movie, they are gonna use what I will call ‘The Brakus Gambit’ on you…

  22. BEST OF THE BEST 2: BEST OF THE BESTER?

  23. I wish Vern would review Never Ending Story and Jurassic Park

    Brakus would do it

  24. Remember seeing this in the cinemas and been dumbstruck with how different it was from the first, the quick demise of Chris Penn (that was a big ass hat he wore) and at the somersault kicks, which while not new looked cool (for about 5 minutes)

    Hadn’t seen it again until recently and although it seems excessive the little touches still make it a cut above most of today’s action movies. Things like fights you can work out what is going on, a bad guy who seems to not realise he is a stereotype, Meg Foster’s crazy eyes (what is the deal with them ?)

    To be honest the site of Sonny Landham heaving his guts will probably disturb me forever, but i did like how the Korean team turn up for the finale and help maintain the thread of honour amongst the fighters (would Brakus have been victorious if he had honour, rather than his slanted view as a Gladiator ?)

  25. How can we talk about Ralph Moeller without mentioning this.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVjeheaFfsM

    (If you don’t really wanna know how it sounds when the worst of German and Dutch Techno scene work together, you better skip right to 1:50)

  26. Jareth Cutestory

    July 29th, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Jake: Harold Robbins was a popular novelist. Many of his books were adapted into films. He was considered a playboy and shameless self-promoter.

    Vern: Brakus would stay and watch THE WIRE.

  27. Jake: To continue what Jareth started, Robbins was known for writing the kind of three-inch-thick trashy sex novels that housewives read at the beach. Whenever they got turned into movies, the result was one of those overwrought melodramas starring underqualified starlets that populate all those Worst Movies Ever books.

    As for the Cage thing, I guess “hater” is a strong word. I always appreciated his mega-acting in stuff like Vampire’s Kiss and Raising Arizona, but for the past ten or 15 years he was in a lot of mainstream movies that I didn’t think merited his particular brand of ridiculousness. Plus, I never bought him as a credible action hero, which was a problem, considering he had a new action movie out every three months. Then BL:POCNO (and to a lesser extent, THE WICKER MAN) showed me that Cage was sort of like Wayne Newton: It doesn’t matter what venue he’s performing in or who’s backing him up—he IS the show. I’ve since grown to appreciate the virulent strain of madness with which he infects the family-friendly pap that pays his bills. He’s become a reason to see a movie I would never see otherwise, just to check out what lunacy he’s up to now.

  28. Jareth Cutestory

    July 29th, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Jake: To provide an example for Majestyk’s description, Robbins was responsible for the novel that Elvis’ KING CREOLE was based on. Also, there was an amusing line in one of the STAR TREK movies where Kirk mentions that humans in the 20th Century all talked like Robbins’ prose.

    Majestyk: What do you think of WILD AT HEART? Apart from RAISING ARIZONA, I’ve always thought it was the best marriage of a film’s tone and themes to Cage’s mega acting. The whole cast rose to mega mode in that one.

  29. WILD AT HEART is great. That’s the kind of thing Cage’s skill set is designed for.

  30. Mr. Majestyk – Okay, now it makes more sense. The problem is there are two kinds of people who rip on Cage. Those who dislike his mega-acting and those who think he has squandered all his talent/weirdness on mediocre films. I thought you were suggesting you were the former.

    Are there any Robbins adaptations you recommend?

  31. Jake: No, not really. I’m not particularly into that style of ridiculousness. I prefer my bad movies to be in genres that I like, and I’m not a fan of tawdry melodrama. Though I hear Pia Zadora’s two Robbins adapatations (BUTTERFLY and THE LONELY LADY) are pretty hilarious.

  32. Soon to be replacing the famous meme “What would Jesus do?” we have: “What would Brakus do?”

    Personally I think he’d review “Juggernaut”. But that’s just me…

  33. Paul – you ought to watch ‘Knowing’…there is a scene towards the end where Cage does a bit of mega-acting (he sees something that blows his mind…but I don’t wanna spoil it for you) that had me and my buddys in grips of laughter for about 15 minutes solid. Worth it for that 1 scene.

  34. Knowing now what I know, I wouldn’t have rented KNOWING.

  35. Brakus wouldn’t talk about Nic Cage in a Best of the Best of the Bests review.

    That kind of thing would obviously ruin his perfection.

  36. This is another example of how this website has improved my life:
    ***”I almost didn’t bother trying out the sequel, but I’m so glad I did. It turns out 1993’s BEST OF THE BEST 2 is an unheralded gem of the ’80s style American b-action movies. It’s such a huge leap in entertainment value from BEST OF THE BEST that I couldn’t even believe it.”***

    Yep.

    If it weren’t for Vern, I never would have tried Best of the Best 2 myself. Awesome film. Brakus is badass. I love how Dae Han and Eric Roberts et al invade and storm Wayne Newton’s security guys for the climax, and then Eric Roberts just sort of stands there awkwardly cheerleading his buddy Rhee for the last couple minutes of The Big Fight.

    I’ll be watching this again with buddies while I wait for AMERICAN YAKUZA to appear in my mailbox.

  37. Good, I knew I wasn’t the only one who would love it. I hope I didn’t steer you wrong with AMERICAN YAKUZA. It might not be the best comparison to BEST OF THE BEST 2. They’re not the same kind of tone, but they’re both movies I picked up without any expectation, were surprised how good they were and couldn’t find much evidence of a following for them.

  38. Sharktopus. Tonight.

  39. It’s funny Vern that you gave this movie The American Yakuza Award for Under-Recognized B Action Excellence because it was written by Max Strom and John Allen Nelson, the same guys who wrote… wait for it… American Yakuza! I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on that, but no worries. (Nelson is also the James Spadery looking cop from Killer Klowns from Outer Space.)

    I just saw Best of the Best 2 for the first time tonight and boy was I impressed. I like the first flick a lot but this one upped the ante. I mean any time you’ve got Roberts, Moeller, Landham, AND Wayne Newton, it’s a recipe for awesomeness. As much as I liked Brakus, I have to say it was the scenes with Landham that were my favorite. He seemed like Powers Boothe on steroids. Great flick

  40. That’s weird, I usually do look up the writers… not sure how I missed that, but it’s a nice coincidence. I’m glad you liked it too. This is a real keeper. And I agree, Landham steals the show.

  41. I loved this movie just because of how corny it is.. Classic.
    However, you forgot to mention the best part, when Sonny gets shot and goes out like a gangsta, managing to crawl over the car and stab another bad guy before kicking the bucket himself.

    My brother and I love this flick, and the Brakus thing has reached a new level between the two of us.
    We drove my gf nuts when he came to visit for a week, because Brakus would do everything..
    for example, we went out to dinner and she said “I don’t want you guys getting wasted”.. the natural response would be:
    Brakus would get wasted.
    Such good fun that movie has provided us with :)

  42. Finally saw it, finally saw who this “Brakus” person was you guys speak of….and yeah, it’s a classic- required viewing. I’ll argue right now it’s the most successful genre-bending sequel after Aliens. (Yes, better than Rambo II or Chronicles of Riddick) Witness:

    -Great, coherent fights.
    -The heroes absolutely DESTROY some dudes but they’re still nice guys and try not to kill anyone. Roberts and Rhee have great chemistry and seem like old friends.
    -Chris Penn isn’t neutered from the first one, he’s still an asshole. The “comeuppance” we wanted him to get in the first one, he finally gets, but now we don’t like it. Genius.
    -The kid never comes back to break the bricks, b/c that would be cliche.
    -Meg Foster doesn’t turn on Eric Roberts b/c that would be cliche
    -“You guys ready to mess up your clothes?” “How about you?” “It’s a rental. Let’s DO IT”
    -a guy gets killed via The Rude Awakening
    -That theme song at the end, with lyrics about flying high and dreams, it’s glorious.

    This movie makes me 1) really want that Redbelt sequel Vern keeps talking about to happen or 2) really want Eric Roberts and Rhee to reteam for a sequel.

  43. Hi ,

    Do you know the title of the amérindian music , around 56 or 57 minute , of this movie ?
    When they are under the tent , Tommy Lee ( Phillip Rhee ) have visions of Brakus ,
    the old native indian is singing …

    Thank you

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