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

Sinners and Saints

tn_sinnersHey, remember Leon from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS? Of course not, nobody does. He’s the guy that doesn’t really get to do anything, or come back in any sequels for a second chance. He’s played by Johnny Strong, the lead in this movie. Strong also wrote and performed the songs, so this must be a passion project for him. He plays one of these Over the Edge Cops, you know. Going Too Far, because of various troubles (son died, wife left him, also war and Katrina vet). At first I was suspicious of Strong as a leading man, but he pulls it off. He’s pretty good.

Johnny’s a street crimes cop in New Orleans sent to help out homicide with a string of brutal burnt-alive executions. By coincidence the whole thing centers around his old friend Colin (Sean Patrick Flanery), who he knew was in some kind of trouble, but he didn’t know it was gonna be this. I guess since Johnny’s on thin ice with internal affairs anyway he doesn’t bother recusing himself from the case.

mp_sinnersAlot of recent DTV movies have been filmed in New Orleans because of the tax breaks, but this is the rare one that really needs it for the theme of the movie. I noticed a hint of left wing politics in director William Kaufman’s THE HIT LIST, where a screwed-over war veteran snaps after watching an anti-gay marriage editorial on cable. Here it’s even stronger. This is a movie for these times – Bush is gone, but the effects of his era still linger. Parts of New Orleans are still a hellscape of dilapidated, spray-painted, abandoned homes. Soldiers and mercenaries are back home from Bush’s wars, but hardly back to civilian life. They’re fighting over evidence of their war crimes – “evil, evil stuff” Flanery says (although the tape we see later is standard shootings and not the fucked up Abu Ghraib type shit his description conjures in your mind).

Costas Mandylor (with a big scar on his face) is the heavy, and I was happy to see Bas Rutten, one of my favorite MMA personalities, in a rare movie role as one of his henchmen. At first it seems like he’s just gonna be wasted as a standard Bald Guy With Accent Standing Behind Bad Guy, but toward the end he gets to be real mean and do a small amount of pummeling. Strong actually slams Bas (yeah, right) and then does some moves on knife-wielding guys that suggest either Rutten helped with the choreography or Johnny’s seen his self defense video. I’m still waiting for the role that takes advantage of Rutten’s craziness and sense of humor, but this is better than nothing.

Method Man (credited under the silly pseudonym “Clifford ‘Method Man’ Smith”) has a small but excellent role as a feared gang leader. He has a freaky Two Face type disfigurement and gets to seethe with anger, reminding me of the scary pre-deodorant-commercials-with-Redman Method Man of the early Wu-Tang records. Good for him – he gets alot of roles, but usually not very good ones.

Tom Berenger plays the chief, who actually gives him sincere advice instead of yelling at him. The chief shakes his head in disgust at a Picayune headline that says “Baghdad on the Bayou.” I’m glad he didn’t see the opening credits, which intercut footage from the war with footage from the flood. These characters are still at war – even the cop who’s not a veteran might as well be after what he goes through. At the end there’s a typical situation where Johnny could take the bad guy in, but is about to shoot him instead. Just when you expect the straight-laced partner to say “Don’t do it!” he says, “Finish him!” like it’s MORTAL KOMBAT. Afterward he’s shaken, and Johnny gives him PTSD advice.

I prefer THE HIT LIST for its great premise and the tight structure it lends itself to, but Kaufman is definitely one to look out for. This is a pretty standard type of cop thriller but with a strong mood and texture that make it work as an explanation of its time and place. Even as DTV movies start to improve you can’t really say that about most of them.

Anyway, I figure Johnny Strong is ready for his FAST AND THE FURIOUS sequel.

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 Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 at 11:22 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Sinners and Saints”

  1. Really, really liked this one. On a superficial level it borrows a lot from Lethal Weapon (lone cop on the edge is transfered to homicide and given a black, middle class partner (not near retirement though), and after an intense shootout is invited to dinner to meet his loving wife and kids, and it turns out the bad-guys are ex-special forces mercs, etc). I thought Johnny Strong was very good. One of my favourite scenes is when he goes to the crime scene and meets his partner for the first time. He’s taken up to the roof where some guys were tortured to death and we see him come into the door frame, and he hesitates for a couple of seconds as he takes in the carnage. He’d already read the report, but seeing it still stops him in his tracks.

  2. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never really understood why people seemed to want to personally blame Bush for Katrina, I mean last time I checked the President doe not have the power to control the weather right?

    I guess part of the controversy stemmed from the way FEMA handled it, but again, what exactly did they do wrong? FEMA is not run by Superman, basically New Orleans is a city built in a giant hole and it was inevitable that a bad hurricane was going to hit it

    it just seems like we as Americans not only have to find a scapegoat for every thing that goes wrong, even natural disasters, but that we also have to turn every single thing into a political issue, again even natural disasters that no one is in control of

  3. Forget The Hitlist.

    Do yourself a favour and watch Ben Wheatley’s

    ‘The Kill List’

    Thank me, will you.

  4. Kill List is highly overrated. It’s disturbing and well acted, but the third act ruins everything. This is the kind of story that seems to be going somewhere, weird shit is happening, tension is building and you can’t wait until you find out what the fuck is going on. Then the conclusion arrives and not only does it not answer any of the 100 questions you had, it it gives you a 100 more. Roll credits. It just made me angry.

    Have heard a lot of positive things about Saints And Sinners on here, think it’s time to track it down and check it out.

  5. Griff,

    The controversy was due to the fact that Bush appointed a guy to FEMA who had no experience with anything, who was there because he knew a guy who knew a guy. And yes, New Orleans is built in a hole, but FEMA was built to respond to emergencies and through Bush’s neglect completely dropped the ball. Nobody hold Bush responsible for the hurricane, but if you recall the city basically drowned for 3 days before a response was organized – that’s absolutely unacceptable when when when we have a huge, money-sucking federal agency specifically made to handle these types of situations.

  6. Griff: The most salient criticism of Bush regarding the Katrina situation is that his administration was ideologically opposed to a strong federal role in disaster relief.

    FEMA was once an effective and highly respected agency that was basically gutted and starved under the Bush government. This list of organizations that were willing to provide assistance in funding and resources to FEMA as the scale of Katrina’s approaching threat became apparent, but who were rebuffed by the agency under Bush’s orders, is pretty staggering stuff to read.

  7. Daveboy, Jareth Cutestory – I honestly didn’t know most of that stuff, thanks for the info…

    I just got the impression at the time that a lot of people were just mad at Bush in general and anything bad that happened stuck to him by proxy, but now I see there’s more to the story than that, I did not have the internet back in 2005 and I’ve never been one to watch much news, so….

    you do have to agree though that almost everything in America is political these days, the car you drive, the food you eat, the God you worship, heck even the entertainment you watch is political to a lesser degree

  8. If you’re ever in the mood for some of that political entertainment, Spike Lee’s WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE is pretty incredible stuff, regardless of your feelings about Lee. Way better and more terrifying than Roland Emerich.

  9. isn’t that the documentary where people claim that they think the levees were intentionally blown up with explosives to flood the poor black neighborhoods and save the richer white neighborhoods?

    yeaaaaaah, I don’t know about that….

  10. It’s a 256 minute documentary and it’s surprisingly nuanced for a Spike Lee joint. Lots of different perspectives are included, some nutty, some heartbreaking.

    But I’m sure your characterization of the film will play well among the Rick Santorum crowd.

  11. Jareth – I have not seen the movie, that’s just what I heard, forgive me if I’m wrong ok?

  12. Griff, the movie is not arguing that the levees were blown up, but showing that some people believed that. The fact that you could be watching Pokemon and thinking people were being unfair to Bush while thousands of poor people believed their government was deliberately trying to flush them down the toilet to get them out of the way shows the kind of disparity going on in our seemingly unified country.

    Anyway I did see Kill List, thanks for recommending it everybody, I’m not sure if I’m gonna review it or not though.

  13. And thus did Paul’s Curse of the Juggernaut take its next victim.

  14. Leaving all the political mumbletypeg (I had written ‘mumbojumbo’ originally but it spell-checked into ‘mumbletypeg’, so I left it) to you fellas, SINNERS AND SAINTS looks pretty badass. I’ve dug Johnny Strong since he played one of those superbadass snipers in BLACKHAWK DOWN, the 2 guys who went in to save the chopper pilot, were killed and later awarded the Medal of Honor. Of course his turn as Leon in F&F didn’t hurt.

    Anyway, judging by the trailer it looks like this flick has got some really awesome shootouts and whatnot. Vern, I know you’re more into the hand-to-hand (or sword-to-sword) combat, but I love me a good shootout. The trailer seemed to have a Micheal Mann kind of vibe to it (at least action-wise), with the really loud gunshots, dudes who actually look like they know what they’re doing, no bullshit CGI and guys getting thrown across the room by a pistol.

    Speaking of good shootouts, you guys as psyched as I am for ACT OF VALOR? I’m choosing to, again, avoid all the political mumbletypeg and just enjoy it as an action movie with Navy SEALS, which hopefully is better than NAVY SEALS, though I kind of like that movie.

  15. Griff, I think my response to you came off my harsh than I meant it with that Pokemon comment. I didn’t mean it as an insult but just an example of how we can live our lives completely sheltered from the knowledge of horrible things that are going on even in our own country. And if you see it in the context of the movie you’ll probly understand why they might believe that conspiracy theory.

    anyway, I apologize if I sounded like an asshole there.

  16. Griff,

    I read your comment:

    “you do have to agree though that almost everything in America is political these days, the car you drive, the food you eat, the God you worship, heck even the entertainment you watch is political to a lesser degree”

    Actually what has happened is (to oversimplify) the intersection of the natural tribalism that runs in all human beings intersecting with a particular dangerous period in American media ownership. The reality is that huge, powerful media corporations now control a massive amount of what you see and hear. One of these particular corporations has a ideology and they hire people who will, to put it bluntly, pretty much do or say anything to have that ideological agenda forwarded.

    I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist; I’m not. But it’s a reality that when you have a serially misinformed segment of the population mixed in with the natural tribalism of human beings in a country as diverse as American that you will have tension. Particularly when said country literally had codified and institutionalized racism in the lifetime of many of it’s citizens. What you are seeing right now is not “politics”; it’s the dying gasp of a particular demographic that only survives because it serves the interest of the monied and powerful elite.

  17. Vern – yeah I have to admit that kind of hurt my feelings (believe me, I had long given up Pokemon by 2005), but thank you for apologizing

    I didn’t mean to come off as pro-Bush in any way, I have never been a fan of the guy, especially by 2005, I just thought at the time that it was strange to turn a natural disaster into a political thing, but I guess I was wrong

    but I wont deny that I was pretty naive before I had the internet, I never payed too much attention to politics, but in my early teenage years I had a lot of family problems going on that distracted me, once I had the internet and read up more on what was going on in the world I got stronger opinions on things

    honestly, I kind of regret even bringing the subject up, I’m sorry guys

  18. Bringing up Katrina just reminds me of the hilarious “holy shit” face Mike Myers flashed right after Kanye West said Bush hated black people. Myers tried to be as professional as possible after it happened, but that first second after the words left Kanye’s mouth…

  19. So … who was Leon in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS? Is he in the scene where Paul Walker orders a tuna fish sandwich (“the same every day”) from Jordana Brewster? Why wasn’t Leon in any of the other movies? Did he die? Is he okay? Will he be back for FA6T?

    These are the important questions.

  20. Bob Vila – S&S does carry a bit of a Michael Mann vibe, especially with the action scenes shot at night towards the end. Good melding of action and score, too.

    Also – hell yes, totally stoked for Act of Valor!

  21. DocZ, it was my understanding that Leon had gone straight after the traumatic events of the first film and took over the sandwich shop when Jordana left to follow Paul Walker and Vinny Deez.

    That said, did they even bring Leon on their sweet hijacking raids? I mean what the fuck. He hangs with them, works the radios at their streetraces (what a chump job that is), has a matching silly fluorescent car and everything, but when its time to steal a truck full of DVD players they leave him behind. I wonder if they even told him they were going on a mission, or if they just all kinda snuck out and when Leon woke up he wondered where everyone went and got sad because he knew that he wasn’t really a part of the group. Man, I feel awful for Leon now. At least someone gave him his own movie.

    Oh and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osfEQTR-45M

    NOW I’M IN YOUR FACE.

  22. wabalicious monkeynuts

    February 9th, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Sinners and Saints is an excellent film, saw it a while ago and loved it, absolutely similar to the first Lethal Weapon, as MikeOutWest says, but good enough to stand by itself. I watched The Kill List with a couple of people and was the only one who didn’t hate it. Very strange, and i wish hadn’t read a couple of reviews of it, which compared it to a few other films not from the hitman-thriller genre; it kinda spoiled the ending because i was expecting something like what happened at the climax after reading the reviews.

  23. Caught this at Actionfest tonight, with Johnny Strong, Tom Berenger, and the director Will Kaufman – it started off a bit rough and cliched, but by the end I was hooked. Crisp, clear action sequences, thunderous shootouts and some great hand-to-hand and knife fighting scenes thrown in there. Like others have mentioned, it borrows a few too many pages from Lethal Weapon 1 (including the final coda at Murtaugh’s house, not to mention there’s a shootout in a nightclub that spills out onto the street where the heroes chase and catch up to a car on foot.) But hey, steal from the best, right?

    Strong in real life seems very eccentric, but in a good way. He did do the score(!) for the movie and sings the song over the end credits. (And it’s pretty good too) Plus he even designed the knives used in the movie. I definitely sense some Seagal-ian vibes from him; that he’s an artist who takes what he does very seriously and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him.

    On a final note: one “complaint” could be that the villains are constantly talked up as being “professionals” who don’t waste shots and are the best of the best, but Strong dispatches them early and often with relative ease. I think it’s a testament to his performance that he makes all of this believable.

  24. Vern’s recent mention of one of his “favorite tropes, the decorative-sword-that-happens-to-be-on-the-wall-when-you-need-one“, reminded me of SINNERS & SAINTS, which I feel more people should see.
    Very enjoyable movie, and the moment where it really won me over was indeed the scene where somebody grabs a decorative blade that’s mounted on the wall and uses it to fuck some people up.

    Like neal & Vern say, S&S borrows action beats/tropes from other films, but it does all of those action tropes better than virtually all other dtv action films. The sword-on-the-wall thing is a perfect example, b/c yes it’s a conveniently located blade to help someone in a fight scene, but S&S sets it up in a clever manner and in a way that contributes & makes sense in terms of background story & development of the character who owns that blade. It’s not random and it’s not a video game-y power-up item. And it’s a genuine surprise when someone grabs that blade. And he has to punch some glass in order to grab it. So you see, it’s an action trope, but S&S makes it its own and confidently deploys & improves upon the trope, cranks up to 11.
    It’s awesome. The set-up, the excitement of seeing him arm himself in a room with a fallen Bas Rutten and several other bad guys, the “uh oh he’s about to stab somebody” vibe of the moment, the whole goddamn thing is awesome, I liked it in my opinion.

    When you also consider the movie’s

    atmosphere,

    the awesome music,

    the poignant New Orleans setting (real city neighborhoods; no dtv cheapie bullshit empty lots),

    the not-bad mystery narrative (holy shit, a dtv action movie where I actually care about the plot start to finish?!?),

    and the action scenes
    (Instead of disjointed shooting & running & shooting & blood sprays, S&S goes the extra mile to establish shootout geography, to display realistic weapons handling, to make the painful stuff look like it really hurts, and to de-randomize the pacing of the action),

    you’ve got yourself a minor miracle here.

  25. Saw Kaufmans latest DAYLIGHT´S END last night. It was a very solid generic postapocalyptic action film, with decent production values and acting. However slightly hampered by the generic CGI-violence.

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