So once again we have survived.

Perfect Target

Daniel Bernhardt is a Swiss martial artist and model who appeared in a Versace commercial with Jean-Claude Van Damme, then was hired to play the lead in the BLOODSPORT sequels. So it’s only natural that in 1997 he inherited Van Damme’s frequent collaborator Sheldon Lettich, who had already directed LIONHEART and DOUBLE IMPACT (plus the great Mark Dacascos capoeria-‘n-teaching movie ONLY THE STRONG). But I’m sorry to say the substitute is not as good as the real thing.
The movie begins promisingly with the proud sport of cockfighting. Bernhardt’s character David Benson is sitting in the front, enjoying the bout. Later on at the bar he gets into a scuffle which, not surprisingly, moves across the room and finds its way to the cockfighting ring.

Do you see what’s happening? This is what these competitive fighters are – they’re trained beasts, thrown into a little pen to peck each other apart. As Benson works his way through the sleazy fighting circuit in these Mexican bars, he’ll eventually realize that not everyone has his best interest in–

wait, what? This isn’t a fighting movie? Oh. Never mind. There’s just cockfighting and then there’s a bar fight, two consecutive occurrences that can be seen to have parallels but that are not being compared as any type of statement. It’s just a coincidence. This is about mercenaries.

Brian Thompson (who I think of as a giant Peter Dinklage – is that weird?) and Robert Englund are guys who hire Benson to lead a team of mercenaries in protecting a progressive new leader in a fictional South American country, I forget what it’s called, but it’s not Val Verde.

When the mercs are all being introduced to him I saw this guy on the right:

and I was pretty excited that Steve Guttenberg was in the movie. But that only lasted for part of the scene before I realized that’s some other guy. Benson knew it wasn’t Guttenberg so he’s not disappointed, but he is pretty bummed when a government agent named Ramirez (Jim Pirri) shows up and demands to be part of the security team. Benson is an outlaw, a cockfighting fan, he doesn’t like feds.

Benson doesn’t think the new presidente (Mario Ivan Martinez) should even make the speech for safety reasons, but the man is a reformer disgusted by the previous regime’s corruption and mansions, so he strongly believes he has to be accessible to the people. Bad idea, because it turns out it’s the ol’ “hired to protect politician but really you’re gonna be blamed for the assassination” routine.

Tip for action movie characters: if you’re on security detail and they ask you to go up into the clock tower with a sniper rifle there is a possibility they’re gonna set you up.

During the betrayal scene there’s a little moment I like when this guy Mason, who had worked with Benson before in Honduras, is gonna shoot at him and says, “Sorry buddy.” He seems like he’s sincere, he really does feel bad about it. But not bad enough about it that he doesn’t do it and take the money. Pretty mercenary, even for a mercenary. Interestingly, the actor who played Mason, Bob Koherr, went on to direct a ton of TV episodes and, more famously, the movie PULP FICTION. Seriously, check IMDb.

So of course Benson and Ramirez are forced to go on the run together. It’s supposed to be one of those mismatched pairs where they hate each other but begrudgingly learn to respect each other, but neither of them really command the screen or have chemistry with the other. You know what? Hold on.

Yeah, no, that guy directed PLUMP FICTION. That didn’t seem right that he would’ve done PULP FICTION. I’m glad I double-checked that.

So our buddy team ends up at an encampment of guerillas led by Ramirez’s sister (Dara Tomanovich), and they all work together to try to overthrow Isabela Santiago Casillas (Julieta Rosen), the evil wife who planned the assassination so she could take over.

One of the best parts – so maybe skip this if you’re gonna watch it – is when the two reluctant partners come to an impasse and decide they have to throw down their guns (well, only the one guy seems to have one on him) and have it out. It could be described as a knock-down-drag-out fight, but it’s in water so it’s more of a splash-down-splish-out fight or something. Or a rub-a-dub-tussle. At about the point where I wondered if they would try to go as long as THEY LIVE they suddenly stop, hands on each other’s throats, to listen to a sound…

…it’s gunfire in the distance. It turns out that while they were busy punching and tackling each other the whole village got massacred and the woman they were kinda fighting over was taken hostage. SYMBOLISM. You gotta work together, people! Don’t be divided and conquered!

At the climax they’ve got a real good variation on the ol’ “villain is recorded admitting how evil they are” cliche. In this one, Senora Presidenta is giving a live televised speech when guerillas attack her mansion, and she’s too stupid to realize that the camera crew leaves all their equipment on when they flee. Bernhardt ends up fighting Thompson in front of the camera, so the oppressed citizens of this South American country sit in their living rooms and in bars watching two white dudes fight over the future of their country. They stay seated, and at least one dude continues drinking his beer. It’s a pretty good fight, because at one point Bernhardt uses the camera to head butt Thompson.

I wish I could report that this was the great forgotten Sheldon Lettich classic, especially because of the great symbolism in that climactic fight. But honestly this doesn’t deserve to be on the same shelf with LIONHEART and ONLY THE STRONG. The leads are pretty weak, and the more interesting people in the cast like Robert Englund don’t really get to do much. But at least it picks up toward the end. I’ve seen worse.


note: the DVD transfer is 4:3 anyway so if you want to see it and the VHS is cheaper you might as well get that
second note: special thanks to Vlad M. for making me aware of this one

 

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, June 12th, 2012 at 1:13 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 skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

40 Responses to “Perfect Target”

  1. There already exists “a giant Peter Dinklage.” His name is Tom “Manhunter” Noonan.

    Brian Thompson looks more like a regular sized Paco Christian Prieto, of slow motion pool fighting fame in LIONHEART and playground capoeira/drug-dealing infamy in ONLY THE STRONG, if Prieto lost his tan and underwent plastic surgery from a cerebral palsy patient.

    Again, all my references to Brian “can only be stopped by Buffy Summers with a rocket launcher or Marion Cobra Cobretti or a nuclear bomb” Thompson come with the disclaimer that he please not beat me up if he is displeased with my descriptions.

  2. Sheldon Lettich likes those water fights, huh?

    He must have been influenced by HEARTBREAK RIDGE. Clint & his influence has given more to badass action movies than we perhaps have credited him thus far.

    Or was there a more filmatistically influential water fight pre-1986, other than some sleazy jungle pond girlfights in a few of those old Roger Corman & Filipino & Australian exploitation cheapies?

  3. A Peter Dinklage reference, does that mean you’re finally watching Game of Thrones? I guess Dinklage has done other stuff you could know him from, but he’s certainly never been on my radar before Thrones.

  4. Influential water fights pre-1986? How about Top Secret! from 1984? I bet that influenced a lot of important films, such as the water fight in Mindhunters (2004).

  5. Uh oh, Mike A. is a man after my heart. Just watched MINDHUNTERS for the jillionth time today during lunch. But that’s a brilliant fight that occurs all underwater (other than 2 hands & wrists). We could go back at least to THUNDERBALL (1965) for full submersion fighting.

    Important to distinguish that you can’t do fisticuffs & kickboxing if the water is above thigh level. Unless you’re a zombie fighting a shark, of course.

  6. Knox Harrington

    June 12th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Thompson looks like a buff Philip Seymour Hoffman in that picture.

  7. Does he play a semi-normal person in this? I think I’ve only seen one film where he’s just a normal (sorta) dude. A vhs horror, where they go in people’s dreams. Mind-something or other.

    You should review NEMESIS 1 & 2. It stars a female version of him.

  8. Honest question: do we really need a replacement for Jean Claude Van Damme? Do we need a second Jean Claude Van Damme?

  9. Biomechanical bellend

    June 13th, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Thompson would’ve been a great Judge Dredd, Dat Chin!

  10. Vern, I envy you for getting to see this one as it’s not available at all where I am. And thanks for the shout out!

    Sometime ago I was hoping that Bernhardt would get a career outside of “playing Van Damme in movies where they cannot afford Van Damme”. I was basing this on his awesome turn in Matrix 2 where he kicked major ass (if I remember correctly).

    Unfortunately, the guy turned out to not go very far beyond that and he’s also a bit of an asshole (there’s all sorts of info around the web about how he messed up a new Lettich written sequel to BloodSport that was supposed to have Van Damme return to that series, Bernhardt basically wanted to star and direct that new BloodSport and eventually the whole thing got shut down entirely, thus the recently announced remake of BloodSport that will ignore Van Damme AND Bernhardt’s lesser sequels).

    He kind of killed his own career and is now making ULTRA low budget crap. Meh, always thought that it would have been cool that instead of Van Damme playing twins in so many movies that maybe the producers would have gotten Bernhardt to play the brother, that could have been interesting, but somehow I think those days are LONG gone!

    Funnily enough, a long time ago when the whole brothers thing was a hip in action movies, it was funny how easy that would have been to do for Van Damme as there’s 2 guys that could have been hired to play Van Damme’s brothers:
    1) Daniel Bernhardt who basically built a career from looking like Van Damme, but the man also has martial arts skills. Pic: http://images.wikia.com/matrix/images/4/4e/Johnson.jpg
    and
    2) Todd Senofonte, who actually was Van Damme’s stunt double in a lot of his movies. This dude also looks like Van Damme and has martial arts skills. Here’s a pic of the dude: http://i64.servimg.com/u/f64/13/64/55/33/img29610.jpg

    So, Van Damme, Senofonte and Bernhardt in a movie about three brothers that can kick ass sounded cool like 15-20 years ago. Ah, the silliness of youth!

    Lettich might not a cinematic genius, but you can’t argue with the man’s portfolio:
    -co-wrote Rambo III
    -wrote BloodSport
    -shadow edited Cyborg with Van Damme – Pyun’s original cut was kind of terrible and Van Damme brought Lettich on board and they worked together on the re-edit.
    -Wrote and directed Double Impact
    -Wrote and directed Lionheart
    -Wrote Legionnaire and wanted to direct it, but was back-stabbed by Peter MacDonald who replaced the original ending that Lettich had wrote where Van Damme’s character gets back to France

    Sure, his more recent work on The Order and The Hard Corps isn’t that good, but they’re still very entertaining movies where the producers messed with the production.

    On The Order he wasn’t able to get Charlton Heston for the “dad of Van Damme’s character” part and didn’t get enough budget for the ending/final action.

    On The Hard Corps he didn’t get an extra 2 days to shoot the much needed action scenes he wanted, plus was screwed in casting by fate itself (DMX was set to play the villain, but then he got arrested).

    Funny story about Lettich, before The Hard Corps ended up as a Van Damme movie, Lettich actually offered it to Seagal who refused to do it only because Lettich was friends with Van Damme. Kind of explains why Seagal is fat, it’s not weight, it’s his ego! Hehe.

    He’s overall a nice guy and he’s currently working on a sort of family oriented action movie to take place in Russia and which will be about a cop and his dog working on the Russian subway system and apparently the movie will be called Metro Dog. Doesn’t sound great, but who knows?

  11. OH, and Lettich is an actual ex-Marine spent around 4 years in the army and served in Vietnam. It’s on his imdb page, but the dude actually confirmed it himself.

    On IMDB it says:
    After graduation from high school he spent nearly four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as a radio operator in South Vietnam with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and later with the elite 1st Force Reconnaissance Company based at Camp Pendleton, California.

    So, he’s not just some random hack.

  12. Another quick note, for Rambo III, Lettich was handpicked by Stallone based on a screenplay he had written about the Vietnam war. That screenplay never got turned into a movie (if I remember my facts correctly), but it was the reason for Stallone asking him to come work on Rambo III.

  13. Asimov: We don’t need a second Van Damme, we already have that in Double Impact, Replicant and Maximum Risk. We could obviously use a third and fourth Van Damme.

  14. That’s flirting with disaster, though, Vern. Don’t give those Scottish sheep cloneologists ideas.

    As TIMECOP instructed us,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D01mdGW9-Zg
    the same matter can not occupy the same space at the same time. Obliteration and bad mid-1990s CGI results, a time-space continuum explosion/implosion that is manageable if it’s just 2 of the same people, a chance I’m willing to take if we continue with 1 spare JCVD double on this earth.

    But if 3 or 4 JCVDs somehow collided, the subsequent warping of energy & mass would make a mockery of our hydrogen bombs; it would equal the effects of 100 exploding stars and 1000 black holes together, a force & anti-force that only Stephen Hawking and maybe Peter Hyams can currently comprehend.

  15. I don’t know, perhaps if past JCVD combined with present JCVD they’d combine into a living being with the enthusiasm and ability of the younger with the grizzled face and improved acting of today’s model which would make the perfect action star.

  16. I like the idea of an action movie where the star plays like 5 or 6 brothers instead of just 2 identical twins like in DOUBLE IMPACT & TWIN DRAGONS. Whoever does it first would be the Eddie Murphy of action. Actually, I hope Eddie Murphy is not reading this. I wouldn’t want to give him any ideas.

  17. Mouth, you so need to watch the spanish SF movie CRONOCRIMES (TIMECRIMES).

  18. He’s right. TIMECRIMES is pretty solid. I like it because it subscribes to my favorite theory of time travel narrative (the one used by TERMINATOR 1) which is that you can’t go back in time and change anything, because your time travel adventure would have already happened by the time you got into the time machine in the first place, so all you’re doing is causing what had already happened to happen. Most time travel stories employ the “Sound of Thunder” approach used by T2 and the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies, but I prefer the one where paradoxes and alternate timelines are not possible because the time travelers were already a part of history before time travel was even invented.

  19. Ok, if too much Van Damme can risk a massive destruction of the fabric of the universe, if we mix in a bit of Peter Weller, will it stabilize?

    marlow, no, please, no young Van Dame!! His more weathered face looks he has now gives him a more sympathetic look. When he was young he had a total douchebag look to him. Aging game him a more sympathrtic look. And this goes triple for Dolph Ludgrin. I couldn’t stand this two guys in the 80s and 90s, nowdays i think Ludgrin is quite a cool fella.

    I think somebody should make a sequel to Rocky IV. You know, focused on what happened to Ivan Danko after the events of Rocky IV and where he is now. A sort of ROCKY BALBOA but about Ivan Danko. He would had been disgracd by the Party after his defeat, and nowdays he would probalby be a bouncer in some nightclub owned by a low tier russian mafiosi. Or he could be the bar owner himself, and always plagued with the mob on all sides, and forced into some seedy underground boxing despiste his age. And suffering from the steroid shit he was forced to take when he was a prize poster boy fighter for the regime, and having a sort of drug dependency because of that. It would be rip for story potential. Hell, he could even had emigrated to the States, like so many russians did after the fall of the Soviet Union.

  20. Holy shit that is a great idea.

    Dolph Lundgren is…

    DRAGO

    Summer 2013

    He must break you.

  21. Mr. Majestyk, yeah, and something tells me that if time travel was ever a reality, it would be like that. The universe would accomodate the time traveling itself to avoid paradoxes. As in, there are no time travel paradoxes because the universe already is as it is taking into account the time travel.

    The major problem to the paralel universe popping up just because somebody did a time travel is just where all the matter that made the new universe came from? Stuff is made of existing stuff. Nothing is created or destroyed, everything is transformed. New universes can’t pop out of nothingness.

    But i don’t think time travel will ever be a reality, even if wormholes could become a reality… which is extremely doubtful. We are safe from pesting time travelers fucking around.

  22. Ludgren himself could direct it, he’s a competent director and has directed most of his own movies since the early 2000s.

  23. Way ahead of y’all chaps. You think I’m going to walk around this Earth for the last 2 years without having already seen TIMECRIMES? Jesus, that’s amateur.

    Very fun, engaging movie, good nudity at the beginning, scary plots, and one of the strangest villain/protagonists in any movie I can remember — he’s somehow both totally benevolent and dangerously violent.

    I seem to recall the dvd had the director’s short film on there, too, but I can’t remember if it was good. Excellent, an excuse to rewatch…

  24. asimovlives, I like the Drago idea. Have you seen the arm wrestling documentary PULLING JOHN? I could see Drago training in his basement the way the Russian arm wrestler trains in that film.

  25. Mouth, high fives!

  26. Charles, can’t say i have. I’m ot much of a watcher of documentaries, though i have seen some good ones. And yes, PUMPING IRON.

  27. ot = not

  28. I’m ahead of you on the PULLING JOHN front, too. In January, I posted here
    http://outlawvern.com/2012/01/29/potpourris-dead-the-final-nightmare/#comment-2203005

    **In conclusion, I watched 2 very good documentaries recently:
    BUS 174, a pre-ELITE SQUADs Jose Padilha joint that finds a new angle with which enrage your ‘fuck tha police’ mentality if you have one. I also recommend the dvd’s extra features, which are informative and enlightening, not just for the making of the film but for discovering the multilingualism & clear-headed intelligence of Padilha.
    &
    PULLING JOHN, which is easily the best movie about professional arm-wrestling ever made. Surprisingly emotional movie, and my emotions while watching it are mixed, fluid, overlapping, contradictory, but somehow very strong & pure, like watching the end of ROCKY and being simultaneously pissed off at the outcome but uplifted by the outcome. Also, PULLING JOHN’s interjectory animated Taoist fable sequence is sublime.**

  29. Wow f…. awsome! Let´s drink to that!

  30. I am sooooo drunk and i am going to be drunkere. And i am spanking my monkey.

  31. A drunken norseman! Beware!

  32. Sorry guys, but I didn’t write those two last entries. Someone’s been using my login, and tried to be funny I suppose. Probably someone at my workplace. I’m still sober, and I’m gonna kick that guys ass tomorrow.

  33. Jareth Cutestory

    June 14th, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Don’t worry, pegsman, none of us were fooled: we know that no true Norseman could go from proposing a drink at 5:10 AM to being drunk and exposing his genitals by 5:16 AM.

    But you’ll understand if I’m reluctant to shake your hand if we ever meet.

  34. Mouth, I agree with your assessment of PULLING JOHN, it is a great film. The three central characters are all so different and engaging. I also really like the father of the young American contender, his bar is like a sanctuary to arm wrestling. I could watch a documentary about that guy alone.

  35. I think it’s pretty great that a movie called PULLING JOHN is mixed up in a conversation about masturbation.

    Speaking of arm wrestling, a couple of weeks ago my favorite metal bar was running an old VHS of the 1989 women’s topless arm wrestling championships. The level of competition and jiggling on display was really inspiring. And lest you think it was pure exploitation, I should mention that it was refereed by the villain from OVER THE TOP. That’s how you know it’s legit.

  36. Mr. M, that sounds awesome!

  37. Honestly, it got a little old after the first couple hours. As you are no doubt aware, topless women’s arm wrestling is a really crowded field (especially in its late 80s golden age, when giants walked the earth), so I wish they’d kind of culled the herd a bit before taping the championships.

  38. “A Peter Dinklage reference, does that mean you’re finally watching Game of Thrones?”
    or he’s familiar with THRESHOLD, because it had Carla Gugino in it.

  39. Or FIND ME GUILTY, which was reviewed here already.

  40. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    June 15th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Wow Vern, I’m glad you say you’ve “seen worse” at the end, because you make this one sound like one of the worst movies I could imagine.

    On a matter of personal opinion: I would like to see a moratorium on South American crime or drug lords in low-budget movies, at least until somebody finds a way to make them less cliche’d. They don’t even work in high-budget ones (look at “The Expendables”), let alone low-budget ones (“Submerged”), and this film doesn’t sound like an exception to the rule. But mostly I just don’t find them very interesting characters. What did Seagal’s character really add to “Machete”? The opening scene is kind of awesome, and the protracted death is great, but between them it’s just a lot of expository video-conferencing.

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