Riot (1996)

RIOT (1996) is a Gary Daniels movie from director Joseph Merhi (L.A. CRACKDOWN, L.A. HEAT, L.A. VICE) that I decided to watch now because I heard it takes place on Christmas Eve. Daniels (between HAWK’S VENGEANCE and POCKET NINJAS) stars as Major Shane Alcott, an S.A.S. guy who brings his many karate tournament trophies with him to America, where he’s working with his friend Major Williams (Sugar Ray Leonard in his feature film acting debut) to train American soldiers.

This year Santa brought us a riot. A few Black protesters chant “No justice, no peace” as a crowd of white guys in flannel shirts and backwards baseball hats run around smashing cars and windows with bats and setting cop cars on fire. This comes from Canada’s b-action factory PM Entertainment, so it’s quite a stuntfest on a soundstage city block decked in Christmas lights. Merhi cuts that together with what I believe is real footage of various fires during the LA riots, accompanied by a laid back, saxophone heavy “O, Come, All Ye Faithful” by Teresa Tudury.

Throughout the movie a strangely calm and thoughtful reporter named Harry Johansen (Kenneth Tigar, PHANTASM II, LETHAL WEAPON 2) talks to us live from the scene, and he’s the one who explains that this was sparked by the deaths of three innocent teenagers “that the police had mistaken for gang members.” It’s funny to see this guy taking his time, trying to talk poetically and express humanity and positivity not that many years after movies like PREDATOR 2, NATURAL BORN KILLERS and TO DIE FOR pushed the sleaziness of TV news. Maybe Canadian TV was different.

Meanwhile, a limo containing two blonde models, Anna Lisa (Paige Rowland, who also played “Hostess” in THE GLIMMER MAN that year) and Amy (Anastasia Sakelaris, ALIEN AVENGERS I and II) gets stuck in traffic. They’re watching Harry Johansen on the limo TV when an uzi-wielding muscleman named Blaze (Mongo Brownlee, “Massage Parlor Gangster #1,” TRUE VENGEANCE, “Henchman #3,” BULWORTH) gets in and kidnaps them on behalf of Leon “Shyboy” Hughes (Dex Elliott Sanders, STRANGE DAYS) and the 3rd Street Crips. We’ll soon learn that Shane wanted to marry Anna Lisa when he got back from a deployment, but she didn’t wait for him. Her dad (Ron Barker, BRADDOCK: MISSING IN ACTION III) is an ambassador, so he and Agent Devaney (Charles Napier, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, MANIAC COP 2, FROGTOWN II, NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS) recruit him to deliver two million dollars in ransom into the riot-torn city.

Alcott is introduced weightlifting and kickboxing while listening to “Deck the Halls,” as we all do at this time of year. We see his kind side when two dipshit neighbor kids Johnny (Ramsey Krull, “Newsboy,” CASPER MEETS WENDY) and Sue (Kendra Krull, THE OTHER SISTER) set off a fire alarm by baking a frozen pizza still in the box. Their parents are stuck in riot traffic so he brings them to his place and gives them some sort of Chinese noodles, which he serves with full glasses of milk and orange juice.

Those kids aren’t mentioned again, but I bet they remember this Christmas Eve vividly. Both the riots and the meal.

Shane then goes to have a beer with Major Williams, which of course is an excuse for the hallowed action tradition of the big bar brawl unrelated to the main plot. A racist and homophobic softball team blame Major Williams and “the brothers” for their beloved 6 pm Tuesday game being cancelled. So Williams and Shane “close the place” by tipping a pool table up against the exit and fight them to the tune of “Santa’s Ghetto Run” by L.O.G., a rap song that interpolates “Joy to the World.”

When it’s time for the main plot, Williams (who is a helicopter pilot) drops Shane off in “No Man’s Land,” but Shyboy very specifically instructed the ambassador to “have one motherfucker – that’s one man” deliver the money, so Shane has to go alone. Soon he gets attacked by a hockey-themed gang on rollerblades. They have multiple goalies and one ref. I thought at first that this was trying to be kind of an ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK meets THE WARRIORS kind of scene, but I looked it up and it turns out this happens all the time in Canada.

Shane makes it to the church where the handoff will take place. “Just call me Santa Claus,” he says, holding up the case of money.

“Well ho ho ho, motherfucker,” says Blaze.

Shyboy is the type of gangster who will wear a tie, vest and leather trenchcoat during a riot. Image before function. To his credit though he still fires a bazooka at them. First he makes a big speech at the pulpit about how has mama wanted him to be a preacher. “God, he’ll give you salvation. But he don’t give you no Mercedes.” Not a complicated individual.

Since Anna Lisa calls out “Shane!” when she sees him, Shyboy realizes that they know each other and thinks that’s a weakness. But Shane continues to refer to her as “the girl.” Action heroes love to yell to action villains about letting “the girl” go. I don’t know why. Anyway they shoot Amy, which sucks, but at least he only has to run around holding hands with one person now.

Back at home, Williams convinces Devaney to look the other way while he flies back in (wasn’t he going to do that anyway?) but ten seconds after he picks them up Shyboy blows up the helicopter and they dangle over the edge of the building. Williams is yelling “Don’t let me fall!” and Shyboy is on the ground yelling “C’mon baby, c’mon!” and Shane drops him and screams as Shyboy celebrates.

But not for long because two seconds lter some Irish guys in black berets and trenchcoats show up. Shyboy is actually working for IRA terrorist Bryan O’Flaherty (Patrick Kilpatrick, who also had BEASTMASTER III: THE EYE OF BRAXUS, ERASER and LAST MAN STANDING that year). O’Flaherty says “We mustn’t let color come between us” and “You’re a man whose people have been put upon by an outside force for centuries,” but then machine guns them all and becomes the heavy for the rest of the movie. Both of them are blandly stereotypical villains in my opinion, but this switch is kind of interesting because the movie obviously alludes to the racial tensions in post-Rodney-King-verdict America, and then switches to English and Irish people who hate each other. An unusual choice, at least.

Anna Lisa gets wounded and Shane convinces a nice family called the Bakers to shelter them. Actually Fred (Thom Barry, CONGO, STEEL, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D) turns them away with a rifle, but his wife Charelle (Darwyn Carson, “Secretary,” UNCOMMON VALOR) lets them in and a sexy/jazzy version of “Silent Night” by Andy Suzuki plays. Room in the manger after all.

I have a problem with this movie and hopefully it’s not a hangup you share. The score by Jim Halfpenny (BIKINI SUMMER II, LITTLE BIGFOOT 2: THE JOURNEY HOME) is the kind where it’s keyboards but instead of leaning into the artificiality of the instrument it very unconvincingly tries to imitate a real orchestra doing a generic action movie score. To me it makes everything seem cheesy and cheap at all times, which is a shame because I can imagine liking it way more if it just sounded like HARD TO KILL’s electro-drums and guitar riffs or something.

Yes, everything about the story and characters is basic and plodding. But being a PM Entertainment joint the action really does get unleashed on several occasions. The more straightforward fights aren’t that exciting (though I appreciate that he uses a nut-punch – let’s call it a nutcracker – in the wobbly-camera stairwell fight against Blaze). But there are a bunch of scenes that just go buck wild with the fire, explosions and vehicle crashes. There’s the scene where a bunch of motorcycles drive into a building lobby and fight him, doing gratuitous wheelies, magical jumps and being ejected to fly through multiple sheets of glass. He runs outside, Tarzan-swings on a pennant banner to kick a guy, punches a guy doing a wheelie (your mistake was doing a wheelie, dipshit), somersaults, hits a guy with a piece of wood, another guy with a car door, runs up a car and flips over a guy, lights a guy on fire, the guy drives around and does donuts while on fire, and chases him like at the end of THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT when she got chased by the burning truck. Fire bad. Movies good.

Shane gets chased by a car in a parking garage and he really looks like he’s running faster than they can drive. Jumps up and hangs on the rafters to swing over the car. Batman stuff. The sequence ends in a truly spectacular stunt where two cars drive off the parking garage, shooting sparks everywhere, and he falls down holding onto some kind of cord – their take on the DIE HARD fire hose jump. There’s a part where a stuntman is bungeeing down as one car hits the street and another explodes. All in one shot together. Amazing.

When the movie ends, the very first credit is for stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos. Of course! I should’ve known. A master of car mayhem from MANIAC COP through the FAST movies. Some of the other credited stunt performers include Rick Avery (director of THE EXPERT starring Jeff Speakman), Lauro Chartrand (director of BORN TO RAISE HELL starring Steven Seagal), Jeff Dashnaw (stunt coordinator for many Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino movies, including obth halves of GRINDHOUSE), Darrin Prescott (stunt coordinator of JOHN WICK) and Chad Stahelski (director of JOHN WICK). So it’s fair to say they had a pretty strong team here.

Many of the action movies of this type sort of fizzle out. And admittedly this one putters a little as it’s trying to get its momentum going. But when it’s Shane vs. O’Flaherty and the boys it turns into snowballing mayhem that just keeps getting better and better. Then he wins, leaves some cash under the Bakers’ Christmas tree and walks away with “the girl” as our favorite TV journalist opines that “The lessons of that first Christmas are as relevant now as they ever were before… as dawn breaks over this healing city, the words from that manger 2,000 years ago still echo in our ear: ‘Peace on earth, good will toward men.’ Merry Christmas, everyone.”

We never got any justice for the three children killed by police, or even said one sympathetic word about them, and we blamed it all on Black gangs, and also threw proponents of Irish independence under the bus, but hey – it’s Christmas!

I wouldn’t say this is good enough to go in my regular holiday rotation, but it’s a fun time for b-action fans and it has enough traditional Christmas songs, Christmas lights and occasional swings at holiday-appropriate thematics that you won’t forget what time of year it is.

Screenwriters William Applegate Jr. and Joseph John Barmettler had written SKYSCRAPER starring Anna Nicole Smith together, and many others separately. In 2012 Applegate directed an episode of Dr. Phil (unless IMDb is confused). Barmettler directed TIME BARBARIANS and WITCHCRAFT 8: SALEM’S GHOST.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 20th, 2023 at 4:25 pm and is filed under Reviews, Action. 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.

6 Responses to “Riot (1996)”

  1. That sounds indeed like fun, so of course it’s neither streaming or available on physical media over here. Also while looking it up I learned that the German title is LETHAL CHRISTMAS, which works both as cash-in on, of course, LETHAL WEAPON, but also THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, which was released here as TÖDLICHE WEIHNACHTEN (Deadly/Lethal Christmas).

    I wonder how many modern Synth-orchester scores we had in recent years, that we weren’t able to recognize as such. Through the years I came across a few VSTs that sounded incredibly realistic to my ears. Although of course I can imagine a real musician would be able to instantly hear the difference.

  2. I remember watching this about a decade back, wish I’d kept my DVD now. (I remember Rage being pretty good too?) Ah well. The way the city basically turns into a Mad Max wasteland with knock-off Warriors-esque gangs is pretty goofy, but it’s for the best – I don’t think PM Entertainment were best suited to tackle racism and civil disorder.

  3. @CJ, if it’s of any consolation this does appear to be on YouTube.

    I’m honestly surprised none of the boutique BluRay labels have mined the PM Entertainment catalogue. I’d love to upgrade my RAGE DVD and add RECOIL to the collection. I can’t imagine I’m alone there.

  4. “ Action heroes love to yell to action villains about letting ‘the girl’ go.”

    I have long thought about compiling a list of stock lines of dialogue that show up again and again. I didn’t get very far but I figured “What about the girl?” would be in the top five.

    I’ve got this in my stack of Christmas movies but wasn’t sure I was going to get to it this year. This review makes it sound a lot better than lI thought it would be. I should have trusted the Canadian Dragon.

    Another good Yuletide actioner I came across this season is COLD STEEL, a sleazy little 1987 cop-on-the-edge revenge thriller starring some generic honkey but with a supporting cast that includes Sharon Stone, Adam Ant, and Jonathan Banks, doing his usual psycho thing. It’s directed by Mario Puzo’s daughter and has an absolutely bananas car chase in the middle, courtesy of ACTION USA’s John Stewart, that ends up destroying a racetrack. It’s unique in the Yuletide action subgenre because, while it does begin with a murder on Christmas Eve, most of the movie takes place the week after Christmas, when the decorations are still up but the festivities are over, giving it a melancholy air. As you are well aware, 1987 was an unusually fine vintage for the action genre and this one fits in nicely with its contemporaries.

  5. Seasons greetings! Whoah – a xmas action flick I never heard of! Must check it out.

    So, I finally finished that thing where I watched Christmas movies every day for a year.
    I’ve spent what seems like forever wrestling everything i got into something suitable to publish as a book, scouting for publishers now.
    I have so much stuff that I had to edit out that it seems a waste, so what the hell, I’m just gonna blog it all out there in its flabbiest festive form on the internet. Coming soon…

  6. ‘Kendra Kull’ is a pretty amazing name. Her IMDb page says her nickname is Kinner(?)

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>