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

Raze

tn_razeOne thing that would really help with the class tensions in the world would be if the rich people would stop betting on so many fucking death matches. I don’t even care if the combatants entered the competition by choice (like in BEST OF THE BEST 2) or if they were kidnapped (like in this). Whatever the context, fancy dressed motherfuckers lustily cheering for bloody death in the ring, cage or arena sends the wrong message about the value of the working man’s life. These fighters, there’s usually one or two greedy ones, one or two assholes, but for the most part they’re just human beings in a bad spot. They gotta feed their family or pay back some money so they don’t lose the dojo or the mob doesn’t kill them or whatever. Or in this one they’ve all been abducted along with their kids and moms and stuff who the bosses are threatening to kill if these ladies fail to fight to the death. You gotta have some respect for their situation and cool down with all the gleeful cheering and high-fiving, you know?

RAZE seems influenced by HOSTEL – victims locked in a dingy, windowless sanctum for the entertainment of rich sickos. Instead of being there to be tortured it’s the ol’ “they’re watching the live feed” as the fighters, all women, are forced to beat each other to death. The killing with bare hands is not 100% believable, especially from the girls who’ve never fought before. But it’s not pretty. It’s repeated head-bashings, strangulation, neck snaps, thumbs in eye sockets. Pretty brutal. The actors and stunt women acquit themselves well, but it’s rare that a shot shows more than one hit without cutting, and that’s a problem.

If I’d recognized Rachel Nichols (GI JOE 1, P2) I might’ve (spoiler) fallen for the sort of Janet Leigh in PSYCHO/Drew Barrymore in SCREAM type of move they do with her. But as I expected this is really a vehicle for Zoe Bell, the great KILL BILL stunt double and DEATH PROOF star. She plays her ex-military character Sabrina as a classic Plissken-esque badass until the script makes her break down and cry in a pretty effective self doubt scene. The best performance is by her DEATH PROOF co-star Tracy Thoms, maybe the wisest of the Razers, who has a genuinely moving scenmp_razee where she (spoiler #2) sacrifices herself so the other fighter can have a chance at living. When she turns her back and there’s a cross tattoo on her neck that might be a little too much, but I’ll allow it. It’s harder to be Christ-like when there’s no nails for anybody to pound into you!

The whole operation is enforced by beefy bodyguards, but run by Doug Jones (PAN’S LABYRINTH, McDonalds) as sort of a cult leader who talks a bunch of mumbo jumbo like he’s bringing everybody enlightenment. Sherilynn Fenn plays his wife, doing a solid rendition of the ol’ “It’s creepy because she’s acting all nice but what she’s doing is evil” routine.

This the feature debut for director Josh C. Waller, but he did a David Morse vehicle called McCANICK that also has Rachel Nichols and Tracy Thoms and that also came out on video today. He seems to be pretty entrenched in the modern world of low budget indies that make the production value of the Roger Corman and Cannon days seem like an impossible dream. Those motherfuckers used to go out into a jungle and blow stuff up! They had access to helicopters and shit! Can you imagine a low budget filmmaker today figuring out how to hire a helicopter pilot? Fuck no! Too much trouble. They just write around it. All helicopter-free action scenarios, unless it’s a fake looking CG helicopter in like two shots.

RAZE is kinda more like CUBE than, say, a BLOODFIST movie, because aside from some brief flashbacks it’s pretty much confined to this small space, a small concept to match a small budget. But it doesn’t come off as well as CUBE because it’s not as clever of a gimmick. We’ve seen this death match idea a whole bunch of times before, in cheap movies that still had more production value and variety to the imagery. Are today’s low budget filmatists just lazy?

I don’t know. That’s fine, they gotta make do with what they can get. Simplicity can be an advantage. My problem with RAZE is that it’s just a bummer. Of course you know I have a love of the underground fighting tournament format, and I’m able to enjoy it in both its generic form and in interesting variations. But the main idea behind the genre, obviously, is that it’s fun to watch people fight. You want to see some good choreography, some surprising moves, some colorful fighting styles, some assholes that get what’s coming to them, some underdog victories, hopefully a variety of interesting fight locations. The only one of these things RAZE emphasizes is having an asshole character, and to be honest I already forgot what happened to her.

Also, there’s not a character with a ridiculous snake tattoo or an awesome headband or anything like that. They all wear the same drab grey sweatpants and white tank tops. Because of it’s dark, man. Life is shit, etc.

Let me put it this way: one of the few memorable moves, a head smashed against a bumpy brick wall and then dragged all the way down, happens to an innocent girl who has no chance of survival. You’ve already been wincing since the beginning of the fight. The characters are sketched pretty minimalistically, but to whatever extent you have sympathy for them you want them to not have to fight at all. They’re victims, being forced to beat each other to death to save their loved ones. There’s no joy in any of the fights, only misery for both parties. All three, including the audience.

So forget fighting tournaments, does it work as sort of a slasher movie? For me, no. In a slasher movie you have to have a chance of getting away, and you have to get pretty close. The thrill of the chase and the skin of the teeth factor: getting away, or getting caught, but just barely. Instead of that it’s scene after scene of two women in a small room bashing each other, with only one of two possible outcomes. There are scenes in the middle that suggest the potential of the women working together and rising up for an exciting climax, but don’t hold your breath. We’re still waiting for that great post-DEATH PROOF Zoe Bell vehicle, and the best they’ve given her so far feels more like a so-called torture porn than a fight movie. But her day will come.

acr_raze

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, May 20th, 2014 at 12:23 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.

22 Responses to “Raze”

  1. You pretty much nailed it, Vern. I saw this in a theater with Ms. Bell in attendance, and I was trying to find good things to focus on. The cast did what they could but were let down by their behind-the-scenes counterparts. What a dreary, mean-spirited, slog.

  2. yeah this is basically exactly how i felt about this movie. a depressing slog that wasn’t well crafted or interesting enough to have the gravitas to be a worthwhile depressingly slog.

  3. I think this one got way too high a rating on the Action Comprehensibility Rating. It wasn’t just the quick cuts, there were the poorly-framed shots and the boring choreography, too.

    I ended up fast-forwarding through most of the fights. Then, I fast-forwarded through the dialogue because that was terrible, too. Then, the movie was over, and I had a headache. Why the hell did I rent this? I knew it was going to be a piece of shit.

  4. Dear Vern,

    Please post some no-baggage reviews of parts 5 and 6 of Star Wars some time soon, before it falls off your plate. I know that Lucas didn’t direct those ones, but my understanding is that he gave them his blessing.

    Don’t be like Orson Welles and leave half-finished projects all over the earth. Well, don’t be like him in that regard, anyway.

    Your loyal fan,
    Curt

    PS, seriously, I’ve been checking this site at least once a day for the last 5 days, hoping.

  5. The Original Paul

    May 20th, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Good review of what sounds like a pretty bad film. A shame, I’ve also been a Zoe Bell fan since “Death Proof”. I’d like her to have a better starring role than the one you describe here.

    “We’ve seen this death match idea a whole bunch of times before, in cheap movies that still had more production value and variety to the imagery.”

    Hmm. Let me think about that one for a sec.

    I can name dozens upon dozens of tournament movies (I can think of five starring JCVD alone, plus stuff like “Blood and Bone”, “Enter the Dragon”, etc; plus of course pretty much everything you listed in the “Super Kumite”.) But the only actual DEATH-match movie I can think of offhand is “Running Man”, and that hardly counts as “cheap”. I guess there’s things like “Surviving the Game” as well, but both that and “Running Man” are more of a “hunter/hunted” movie than a “death match” one. Then there’s “The Tournament” or “The Hunger Games” or “Battle Royale” or their ilk, but none of those except arguably “The Tournament” are low-budget, and none really focus on one-on-one “death matches”. I can also think of movies that have death matches IN them, but where they’re fairly peripheral to the main plot – “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” for example.

    Anyway… after that long rather rambling paragraph… I can’t honestly think of a single movie that fits that description Vern. Maybe this is just a sub-genre that I haven’t come across, or maybe I’m being too picky by not including something like “The Tournament” or “Beyond Thunderdome”, but still… can you give some examples of good low-budget “death match” movies?

  6. You must have had much better things to do during the early nineties, Original Paul. I don’t know about good “death match” movies but there were certainly truckloads of them. Off the top of my head we have IMMORTAL COMBAT(with Roddy Piper and Sonny Chiba), FIREPOWER(the Pepin-Merhi joint with Chad McQueen, Gary Daniels, and the late Ultimate Warrior), BEST OF THE BEST 2, DEATH MATCH(duh), and BLOODFIST II, CAGE(with Lou Ferrigno), and TC 2000. Going into the 2000s, I suppose IN HELL would fit the bill.

  7. Curt – oh shit, they made more after Lucas left? I’ll see if I can find them.

    Seriously though bud, I’m working on part 5, just throwing on a couple other reviews in-between to give me time to do a good job.

  8. Am I the only one who is kinda disturbed by how some (And I really mean just some, as in very few!) feminist critics try to twist this movie into a female empowerment movie? Okay, I’m sure the movie ends with one or more women taking bloody revenge on the guy(s) who put them into the situation, but still, isn’t this usually the kind of movie that gets critizised for being an “all male violent fantasy” or something? I know that women don’t seem to have much choice when it comes to picking a good, truly feminist (In the most positive meaning of this word.) action movie, but…I don’t know. (And I really only bring this topic up, because I know you are cool enough to not turn the possible discussion into something very ugly. Seriously, I wouldn’t talk about it anywhere else!)

  9. Feminist criticism is a mixed bag, just like anything else in life. Some cheer women taking bloody revenge on the male pigs. Others say that she’s just adopting male behavior, which is doing nothing to break down the power dynamic men have and build up the female side of things. Personally, having never been kidnapped and forced to fight to the death, I couldn’t say whether it was the ultimate in female empowerment or not.

    I understand both sides of the argument. I would be tempted to see this movie as a step forward for women in action movies. That has nothing to do with the actual movie, though. It’s all about the star and that it’s an action movie featuring women. I like to think that it’s a positive step. I just wish it didn’t sound like such a shitty movie.

  10. The Original Paul

    May 21st, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    AI T – in all fairness, in 1990 I was ten years old. My parents were lenient with this stuff (I grew up watching “The Thing” and “Total Recall” after all) but I don’t think they’d have wanted me to get into low-budget “deathmatch” films at that age!

    Majestyk:

    “Having never been kidnapped and forced to fight to the death, I couldn’t say whether it was the ultimate in female empowerment or not.”

    Me neither, although I’ve come close… I went to Welsh camp. (To learn the language, that is.)

    CJ: As someone who’s actually studied feminist criticism, I would have to say that there’s a shedload more to it than just “representation politics”. It’s frequently a little frustrating seeing how often people, especially on the Interwebs, seem to reduce it to just that. At its heart it’s about looking at a piece of work specifically in terms of its male-female relations and seeing if any more insight can be gleaned about it. (The classic example I recall from my college days was “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, which is ostensibly about a man lured by a monstrous female beast, but actually could quite reasonably be said to be about a guy who has sex with a woman then panics and skips out on her. The idea being to look at it from the female’s point of view, not just that of the man whose point of view the poem is told from.) What I’m getting at here is that it’s NOT just trying to judge how much “female empowerment” there is in a particular text or subject matter.

    But hey, this is the kind of thing that frustrates me… over the last two and a half years, I’ve seen four movies (four!) out of over a hundred, excluding documentaries, that I can honestly say had main active female characters that were portrayed realistically and without being overtly “idealised” as a specific gender role. (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”, “Before Midnight”, “The Pact”, and “In A World”, if you’re interested. And each one of them was great. And yes, I include the lead from “The Pact”, because even though she’s very much a “horror heroine”, she’s constantly pushing the plot forward, trying to find out what’s happened to her sister, and keep those she loves safe. Active female character, people!) There’s a reason why I said I wanted to see more movies like “In A World”!

    Anyway… I’m getting the distinct impression that “Raze” is not going to join that list. If I see it (which in all fairness I probably won’t, given what Vern and others have said about it.)

  11. I didn’t say anything about this movie.

  12. Maggie — 100% agree with you. The pro-feminist message here isn’t that women are being shown as killers, per se, it’s just still sadly unusual to even find a movie with a mostly female cast. IMHO, anytime a woman can get a decent role in a movie (and not just be the whiny wife or girlfriend, but an active participant in the plot) it’s a step in the right direction, even if they’re playing villains or traditionally male roles. Women’s depictions in film aren’t really lacking in good role models, they’re lacking in diversity. We need more roles that show there are lots of different ways of being for women, just like there are for men.

  13. I’ll take being mistaken for Mr. Majestyk as a compliment, since we’re in the written form here and I usually admire his words. Might be a different story if it was in person. It would entirely depend on how pretty Majestyk is.

  14. That’s why I had mixed feelings about Bell’s crying scene. On one hand, they’re giving her a more dimensional character. On the other hand, it feels like they’re afraid to have a female character who’s just a badass and doesn’t have to deal with motherhood and emotions and shit. At least they don’t make her cook.

  15. The Original Paul

    May 21st, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Whoops. Sorry Mr M. And Maggie.

    Words are not my strong point today it seems.

  16. The Original Paul

    May 21st, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Vern – now come on, that’s just over-analyzing it. Look at the reaction to the famous five-minute scene of Wesley Snipes sobbing his heart out in “Blade” that had so many critics enraptured. Or that scene in “Total Recall” where Arnie has a complete breakdown of confidence and has to be emotionally massaged and consoled by the Johnny Cab – surely everyone’s favorite scene in the film. Now try to imagine a world where those scenes didn’t even exist. Wouldn’t it be a much harsher world?

    But seriously… I don’t think we need more “badass” female characters and I don’t think we need more varied ones, although I certainly WANTto see both. What we *need* is characters, who are female, who are written in such a way that their characters drive the plot forward in the same way that their male contemporaries do. And not just idealised “action girls” (although even these can be weirdly passive. Has it ever struck you that both Pamela Anderson in “Barb Wire” and Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” both have very little agency in their own stories – at least the film version of THG?)

  17. The Original Paul

    May 21st, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Although come to think of it that last example doesn’t hold water… it’s Katniss herself who volunteers to enter the Hunger Games in the first place, out of her love for her sister.

    At other times she’s definitely more reactive, but this is a lot more agency than I gave her credit for at least.

  18. Maggie, I hate to brag. But you could do worse.

  19. For genuine real-life female badassery I highly recommend the film WADJDA from 2012, the first Saudi film ever shot in Saudi Arabia and directed by a woman. Yes, that´s right. She had to direct the film from inside a van, for reasons that are unfortunately obvious. But she directs better than most men makes film even when stuck in a cramped stinking van. It is a pretty great film about how a 12-year old girl subverts an entire culture by going her own way. Pretty bad-ass, especially in such an oppressive environment as Saudi arabia. As a film it´s not something that will immediatley explode in your face perhaps,it´s a slowburner kind of arthouse drama, but the more I thought about it the more I noticed how much I liked it. As the first saudi film I ever saw, it´s ironic that it´s made by a woman with more balls than most men.

  20. I like female empowerment in the exploitation/horror realm. Movies like TEETH, where the put-upon heroine discovers nature has provided protection, a vagina with teeth. A Penis Fly-Trap. An obvious and crude setup, sure, but it gets to attempt black comedy, horror and something to think about. Like, don’t have sex with a woman with teeth in her vagina. Ever.

  21. metal platform bed frame

  22. animalramirez1976

    January 11th, 2015 at 12:48 am

    I guess I’m the only who kind of liked this movie, which was just on Showtime (Shotime?). I thought it worked as a study of normal people reacting when trapped in a truly hopeless situation, which may be unappealing subject matter to a lot of people (apparently so). There are tropes from action and horror movies that might make it more appealing. A lot of them have been mentioned here: colorful characters, different fighting styles, elaborate choreography, thwarted escapes, stuff like that. I wonder if Zoe had emptied both clips into that crowd of rich fucks people would’ve liked it better. But that would cut against the kind of picture they’re making here, where the characters are normal and react realistically. I guess its just not for everyone.

    In fact, the the stuff I like the least were the weird villains, Doug Jones and Sheryl Fenn, as well as the whole justification that it’s all done for the entertainment of rich people, which is a cliche that never needs to be explored again. That’s right: I would’ve liked this better if they had been stuck in this situation with no explanation whatsoever and no contact with the outside world except the completely unsympathetic guards.

    I really disagree with the contention that the characters are undeveloped. It is true that they don’t have backstories or colorful bits of characterization, but their behavior is quite varied. Some act rationally, some go crazy (in different ways). Some are determined to survive, others clearly expect to be killed. One woman despairs so completely she is “unsalvageable” and has to be shot like a dog. One relishes in the situation. Some bond emotionally, others do so reluctantly, others are completely cold. Some rely on fighting skills, others animal fury, others emotional manipulation to survive.

    I don’t know why I’m writing so much about a movie I think is just on the good side of “okay”, but I guess you bullies have inspired my love of the underdog. Also, I’m surprised no one has mentioned the death by sand suffocation. I thought that was a pretty creative death. Haven’t seen that since that Humphrey Bogart film “Sahara”.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>