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

Falcon Rising

tn_falconrisingI don’t think FALCON RISING is a new b-action classic like BLOOD AND BONE or UNDISPUTED II. It’s not as imaginative or expertly executed as those. But it is something I love that the world doesn’t get enough of these days: a solid meat and potatoes action movie molded entirely around the badassness of a martial artist, the great Michael Jai White.

Career-wise, MJW has diversified more than his golden age predecessors like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal (who he fought in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN and EXIT WOUNDS, respectively). He’s supplemented his many action credits with Tyler Perry movies and sitcoms (WHY DID I GET MARRIED 1-TOO, For Better or Worse) and with creating and writing BLACK DYNAMITE (both the movie and the animated series, soon in its second season). But one look at his cartoonishly inflated muscles or at one of his flying kicks and it’s clear that he was meant for an endless series of action vehicles, even if that’s not what Hollywood (or Sofia, or whoever) thinks they’re supposed to be making in this era.

It’s even a joke in the movie: U.S. Consulate Old Friend Neal McDonough meets up with him again and quips “I see you’ve stopped working out.” There’s more than one part where I laughed just seeing MJW walk around in public, much like I do with Blade or The Punisher. Like the scene where he walks into a club and you see the bouncer size him up as he walks past. He would make anyone feel inferior.

The main poster is better looking and more professional, but this kinda captures it, you know?
The main poster is better and more professional looking, but I like this ’cause it kinda captures that Falcon vibe, you know?

White plays suicidal PSTD suffering ex-Marine John Chapman, who we aren’t told until the very last scene is also code named “Falcon.” When his social worker sister (introducing Laila Ali) turns up beaten nearly to death in Rio (Puerto Rico) he flies in and of course starts his own investigation. It goes a little slower than you might hope as he gets the lay of the land from good cop Katarina Da’Silva (a lady who looks like Jasmine Guy [Millie Ruperto]) and bad cop Thiago Santo (a guy who looks like Willem Dafoe [Jimmy Navarro]) and learns why life in a favela is more complicated than he assumes.

Uh oh, I hope Tyler Perry doesn’t watch this. I’m not sure he’d appreciate that the one character who talks a big game about Christianity is the one who least exemplifies it. Falcon tells him God is just an excuse for people to kill people and (SPOILER) stabs the motherfucker with his own crucifix.

Falcon is not one of these always-two-steps-ahead-of-everybody type of heroes. In fact there’s at least two scenes where he figures something out a scene too late with a flashback and a stupid look on his face. In at least one case his slowness is intentionally funny: he beats the hell out of a bunch of guys, finds out they’re on his side and has to apologize.

It’s just the right tone.  It’s got humor without being jokey, and seriousness without being bleak. A couple times MJW is doing emotional moments that I swear he would do as a joke in a BLACK DYNAMITE movie. This includes some laughable dialogue and also a shot of him coming out of a building cradling a little girl in his giant arms after he rescued her from sex traffickers. You know he knows it’s corny but he’s still willing to do it sincerely.

There’s room for many beloved action movie tropes: the burnt out hero who lives alone in squalor, the training montage where he punches holes through a wall, the severe beating in a restroom, the discovery of Yakuza in unexpected places, the villain who talks about preferring his sword to guns, the organized duel to settle a dispute, and my personal favorite, the HARD TO KILL style “badass happens to be in liquor store during robbery” scene, in which he gets to be even more fearless than Seagal because he has literally just come from playing Russian Roulette so he might even prefer the guy blow his head off.

A less welcome cliche is the frequent Avid fart war flashbacks to show his trauma. I don’t think they add much to the very effective moments where he casually checks for car bombs under a vehicle or reacts quickly to a car backfiring. They should’ve trusted in the power of implication in their storytelling. Yeah, I know, they did the same thing in FIRST BLOOD, but that was different. The after effects of combat are the main theme of that movie, and also Stallone had a mustache in those flashbacks. It was novel.

One great treat for the b-action connoisseur: when we meet lead detective Santo we might notice that his less talkative partner is Lateef Crowder, the capoeira expert who fought Tony Jaa in THE PROTECTOR and Scott Adkins in UNDISPUTED III. So we know that’s going somewhere. The fights have a little more jitter than I prefer but you do see multiple moves between cuts and choreographer Larnell Stovall (NEVER BACK DOWN 2, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING) has concocted some great scenarios and moves. Falcon’s style uniquely combines martial arts and gun play instead of separating them. I don’t remember seeing anybody else do a flying kick to a guy’s head and then shoot a second guy while still in the air.

still_falconrisingAt the end we have three very different villains for him to fight and surprisingly they all attack him at the same time. His handling of a Yakuza swordmaster (Masashi Odate, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, THE LAST SAMURAI) best shows his methods: here’s a guy with an elegant, ancient sword… uh… I guess I’ll pick up these pipes off the ground and use them as tonfa. And he makes it work.

I know there are tons of us who love this type of movie, the trouble is how to make it a profitable business model in a post Blockbuster-will-automatically-buy-such-and-such-amount-of-copies world. Even the big guys like Arnold aren’t making money on the big screen, and how much money can the little guys make when many of their viewers prefer just pirating the shit? The producers of FALCON are giving it a shot: it’s now rising on VOD and playing actual theaters in a few select cities. I saw it on its one screen in Seattle, the Sundance Cinemas, one of these pricier food and alcohol theaters. Unfortunately nobody else was at the 4:35 show, so it didn’t benefit from the rowdy crowd it deserves. But the theatrical release did manage to get it more reviews than most DTV/VOD action. Plenty of positive ones, too.

“Pretty falcon enjoyable” would be a good headline by the way guys.

I don’t know if they bit off more than they can swallow, but they intend this as a series. They set up Falcon to have missions in exotic locations (suggestion: Puerto Rico, but filmed in Brazil). The second one is supposed to be called FLIGHT OF THE FALCON and have him chasing stolen nuclear material in Southeast Asia. I hope we’ll see associate producer and original announced director Isaac Florentine do one at some point. He’s a man who knows how to sequel, and it’s about time for an UNDISPUTED II reunion. This one ended up being directed by Ernie Barbarash (ASSASSINATION GAMES).

I like that they left open the promise of McDonough’s character eventually getting to loosen the tie and save Falcon’s ass, or for Ali to heal up enough to punch somebody. Otherwise it doesn’t seem like a story as worthy of returning to as some of White’s other ones, but maybe they can add a little hot sauce in the next one. There’s plenty of room to add onto his character, for example being in Iraq doesn’t really explain his martial arts skills. We could definitely find out more of his backstory when an old master gets killed or kidnapped or turns evil or whatever.

But I liked Falcon at the beginning when he was depressed and crazy. I think we’re supposed to assume that getting back into action means he has a purpose now, means he’ll stop downing Jack Daniels and pointing guns at his chin. That clerk at the liquor store knew him by name, he’s gonna wonder what happened to him. Nowhere near part 4 and already ready to marry Renee Russo, it seems like. That could be a mistake.

But I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. We’ll see what happens in part 2. I hope.

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 Monday, September 8th, 2014 at 11:32 am 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.

28 Responses to “Falcon Rising”

  1. Nicely done, Vern. Your review seems in line with the other I’ve read, which are largely positive on MJW but less so for the story. Seattle has all the luck getting MJW movies, I saw BLADE DYNAMITE in your fair city when my mini-vacation just happened to coincide with its opening weekend. Surely there must have been a better venue for this than the Sundance? I can picture Vern fitting in as well there as Bud Spencer in a French restaurant.
    Now I have to buck up and get this movie through an on-demand service.

  2. I’m taking myself to see this tomorrow morning for my birthday matinee in the one theater it’s showing at in New York. I’m glad to hear that it’s worth it.

  3. I don’t understand the introducing Laila Ali credit.

  4. Mr. Majestyk – Where is it showing? I just got back home recently after an excursion out of town that was too slow for my taste. I saw GHOSTBUSTERS last week down at Lincoln Square which was a great “welcome back” type of deal for me. Now I’d love to follow it up with a new MJW joint some type this weekend. I got a lot of catching up to do. I JUST found out that we finally got an Alamo Drafthouse out in Yonkers.

  5. It’s playing at the AMC on 42nd. Which is convenient for me for two reasons: 1. It’s one of the only theaters around that offers matinees; and 2. It’s three blocks from my bar. The birthday gods have smiled on me this year.

  6. The Original Paul

    September 8th, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Chances of me seeing this one in the cinema if it comes here: 75-80%, based on Vern’s review.

    Chances of it actually coming to a cinema near me: maybe 5%?

    Well “The Guest” and that new Nicole Kidman movie are out at least, they’re supposed to be good. But Nicole Kidman is no Michael Jai White.

  7. Mr. Majestyk – Thanks. All The AMC’s I’ve been to in the city have offered matinee prices not just that one. Abeit it before 12:30 PM but same principle applies whether it’s 86th st or the lower east side. The one thing I DO like about that particular AMC in Times Square though is that every Sunday at 2PM they show a classic movie. I got to see a lot of movies that were before my time but I always wanted to see on the big screen that way (Ie: THE GODFATHER & THE FRENCH CONNECTION).

  8. By a coincidence, I worked with Millie Ruperto on a drama back in 2008. She’s a delight.

  9. Now I really want to see Nicole Kidman in a role meant for Michael Jai White. Except that she gets enough work and the world needs to see more of him. Still. It’d be kinda awesome.

  10. I’d rather see Michael Jai White in a role meant for Nicole Kidman. Like that one where she pees on Zac Ephron. Nothing against that guy (he was funny in NEIGHBORS) but that scene would have a whole different vibe.

  11. I think Lee Daniels would have enthusiastically approved of MJW peeing on Zach Efron.

  12. I would buy two copies of this on Blu Ray if MJW’s legs were as comically disproportionate in the actual movie as they are on that poster.

  13. Sternshein – I just quoted how she’s credited in the movie. I assume that means it’s her first film role or first non-cameo film role or something, even though we’ve been technically introduced to her through boxing or Ali family picnics.

  14. Really looking forward to seeing this. White’s career bums me out a bit because he’s the one guy doing these types of movies that I really feel should be a star. I know everyone says things like Scott Adkins should be the next Batman and yeah that would be cool, but I don’t think Adkins has what it takes be be a real star, as opposed to a DTV star. MJW totally does. I can’t believe the Blood and Bone director hasn’t made another film yet. I still think that’s the best DTV action movie. The action scenes aren’t as good as what Florentine or Hyams directed, but overall it is the most complete film, and MJW is as capable as anybody. Falcon Rising looks really solid and I know I’ll like it, but going by your review it doesn’t seem like a knockout. Not sure how big his part is in Skin Trade but that looks like a promising film.

  15. Want to MJW at his funniest? Track down “Thick as Thieves” from 1999. Not only do I LOVE that movie, but his character, Pointy Williams, is brilliant. He has the fucking best delivery of lines that I still quote to this day. You also have Andre Braugher, Richard Edson and Bruce Greenwood all respectively funny. Alec Baldwin and Rebecca DeMorney headlined, but MJW and the supporting cast steal the show.

  16. And it’s where he hooked up with BLACK DYNAMITE director Scott Sanders.

    http://www.outlawvern.com/2009/05/26/thick-as-thieves/

  17. I just learned that MJW is 46 years old already (holy crap) really hoping he gets a lot of these in before he gets too old for good fight scenes. I mean, we already wasted the last five years since that awesome Black Dynamite / Blood & Bone double punch by having him star in mostly mediocre to bad stuff. Falcon’s final fight against Capoeira Guy, Brazilian Dennis Reynolds and someone I was pretty sure was Fiendish Dr. Wu until I IMDB’d him was so great, exactly the kind of thing I want from a MJW vehicle.

    I really hope by the time he and Terry Crews turn 60 the world will be ready for a buddy cop movie about two huge funny charismatic black guys who are both too old for this shit.

  18. Or I guess I’d settle for him showing up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine as Terry’s cousin or something.

  19. I don’t want to know what Brazilian Dennis Reynolds’ D.E.N.N.I.S. system entails.

  20. I hope he gets more to do with his recurring role in ARROW as Bronze Tiger.

  21. I thought it seemed like they were setting up him & the other mercenaries for their own misfits/antihero series. Has that been nixed?

  22. I never heard anything about a spinoff, but I’ve thought it could be cool. I’d expect them to appear in season 3 though given how the flashback portion this year’s focused on that Government agency.

  23. When MJW does his flashback/training montage he hits a wall so hard that there is blood. In the scene afterwards his hands look fine, I can totally believe that it was actually the wall bleeding.

  24. So Ernie Barbarash has co-written the screenplay for the upcoming film Addicted. Huh. I didn’t see him as the job for hire screenwriter type.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LErjzY_wKI

  25. This movie is now available for streaming on Netflix.

  26. Thanks Sternshein. I was hoping they would add this film.

  27. “dual steel… Pure….it can cut through anything…………..like a milkman” I really don’t get this quote by Odate, but sure made me laugh!

  28. Thank you for telling me who the lady cop looked like. That was bugging me the whole time I was watching it.

    Pretty good movie and great fight at the end. I had the same reaction when he dropkicked one guy while shooting another guy – awesome! I would love to be able to watch this in a theater and I agree with the poster above – I don’t understand why MJW is not the biggest star in the world.

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