L.A. Wars (1994)

L.A. Wars (1994)- * * *

Directed by: Tony Kandah and Martin Morris

Starring: Vince Murdocco, Rodrigo Obregon, Kerri Kasem, A.J. Stephans, Mary Zilba, and Johnny Venocur

Raul Guzman (Obregon) is a drug lord and snappy dresser who wants to be the ultimate gangster in the L.A. area. Sure, he has assassin Rosa (Kasem) on his side, as well as many other goons, and he has a penchant for brutal killings, but there’s a big obstacle on his way to the top. The area is controlled by the Italian mob, more specifically Carlo Giovani (Stephans). While he is a mobster, he is genteel and old-school compared to the more violent Guzman. Giovani has a bodyguard for his beloved daughter Carla (Zilba) named Vinnie Scoletti (Venocur), but he’s a psycho and madly in love with her. Carla doesn’t return his affections. When a former supercop and now superdude Jake Quinn (Murdocco) saves her life during an attempted kidnapping, Giovani hires him to now watch his daughter. Naturally, the two fall in love and the stakes become high. Especially because Quinn was promised his much-wanted badge back if he infiltrates the Giovani family and puts an end to the L.A. WARS. Is Quinn in over his head? Will the killings continue? Could Jake Quinn be any cooler? Find out today…

L.A. Wars is Vince Murdocco at his absolute best. If you’ve never seen any Murdocco, start here. Imagine if Zack Morris was an L.A. cop with an attitude problem. Jake Quinn has such a problem with authority, he lost his badge and is now a bouncer at Boardner’s Bar. No one tells Jake Quinn how to run his life. If they do, they’ll either get a smart-aleck response, or be elbowed and kneed mercilessly. Or both. He wears high-waisted pants so he can kick people more easily, and he’s a regular at Victorio’s Pizza. You have to love Jake Quinn. 

This movie delivers the goods for fans of 90’s DTV action movies. If you’re reading this right now, we assume that’s you. It has all our favorite stuff; everything that’s wanted or needed in a movie of this type is here: A BYC (Black Yelling Chief), a COTE (Cop On The Edge), a drug deal gone wrong, lots and lots of people get shot, more people get beat up, cars explode, there’s a ton of gratuitous violence, nudity, and bad language, there are drive-by shootings, one of the main Martial Arts baddies looks like a white Ice-T, Jake Quinn puts on his revenge outfit at the end, and there’s a final warehouse fight. WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR? We would say it has every cliché in the book, but that sounds too negative. For lack of a better word, we would say it has every TROPE in the book. It has every ingredient necessary to make a satisfying watch. There’s no way the formula used in L.A. Wars could fail. And it doesn’t.

This might be because the great and criminally-unheralded Addison Randall was the co-writer. Randall knows what’s up. He knows the score. We’re constantly talking about how much we love Randall’s writing, directing, and acting. He doesn’t get the attention he deserves in the movie-fan community. For all the talk of filmmakers from the current cult underground darling to the mainstream Hollywood people, no one ever seems to give Randall his props. Hopefully that will change in the coming years as movies such as L.A. Wars become more available on formats such as Amazon Prime. If you’re out there, Mr. Randall, contact us. We’d love to set up an interview.

Randall co-wrote the movie with co-director Tony Kandah, who has one other writing credit. Guess what it is. Just take a freakin’ guess. Well, it’s none other than Ballistica (2009), made fifteen years later. Kandah must wait for a truly great concept to come into his brain, and only then does he proceed to make the movie. Based on his only two writing credits to date, we must be talking about another unsung hero. Though, to be fair, not as much of one as Addison Randall, but still. Kandah must be an interesting guy to talk to as well. Another mystery is why Kandah needed a co-director, and one whose sole other credit besides L.A. Wars is the 1977 TV movie Alice Cooper and Friends. It doesn’t make much sense to us, but it must be another one of those Hollywood mysteries.

L.A. Wars is a ton of fun, and what 90’s DTV action is all about. We absolutely recommend it!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Critical Mass (2001)

Critical Mass (2001)- *1\2

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray

Starring: Treat Williams, Lori Loughlin, Andrew Prine, David "Shark" Fralick and Udo Kier

Mike Jeffers (Treat) is a humble security guard at the San Miguel nuclear power plant. When the self-serving, vain Senator Cook (Prine) and his press secretary, Janine (Loughlin) arrive at the plant with a camera crew in tow for a tour of the plant, Jeffers is put in charge of said tour. There’s only one problem with the Senator’s jaunt – the arrival of a gang of international terrorists led by Samson (Kier) and his second in command, Rand (Fralick). They threaten to blow up the plant if their demands aren’t met. Naturally, that means Jeffers and Janine have to try, against all odds, to save the day. With no help from Washington, our heroes are alone in the face of overwhelming odds. Will they triumph, or will all of the sheer stupidity on show reach CRITICAL MASS?

Another day, another “DieHardInA” movie. These Die Hard (1988) knockoffs are so common in the DTV world, even ones set at nuclear power plants are a cottage industry unto themselves. For a more complete list of them, please see our Sudden Death (1995) review. This particular run-through of the classic Die Hard scenario is probably most similar to Deadly Outbreak (1995) and the Jerry Trimble outing Stranglehold (1994). It even borrows (?) the plot device of having a politician visit the facility before it’s taken hold of by the baddies. While we’re not entirely sure if director Fred Olen Ray saw Stranglehold, he’s certainly not afraid of borrowing ideas. Or footage.

It seemed to be common practice, starting in the early 2000’s as DTV movies started to go downhill, for filmmakers to borrow footage from other movies, particularly the bigger setpieces the lower budget versions couldn’t afford. It happened in Rangers (2000), it happened in Gale Force (2002), it happened in Extreme Limits (2000), and now it’s happening here. Anyone who has seen Terminator 2 (1991) or Universal Soldier (1992) will know when those scenes are intermixed with the more recently-shot stuff. Samson and his fellow baddies even steal their nuclear material from Cyberdyne Systems. Did they have to get permission to use that name? Isn’t that copyrighted material? Nevertheless, old footage of people shooting guns and blowing up stuff is interpolated with new footage of people shooting guns and blowing up stuff. Think of Fred Olen Ray as a bartender and here he’s making a cinematic Shandy. 

We love Udo Kier (or Udo Dirkschneider, or anyone named Udo), and he does his best, but of course he plays the typical Eurotrash baddie with an accent that means he’s evil. Just as Christopher Plummer did in Crackerjack (1994) or as pretty much any baddie has in any Die Hard knockoff. So that cliché remains unchanged. As has the “he’s just the security guard!” cliché, modified from Under Siege (1992) and its “he’s just the chef!” line of thinking.

Besides Critical Mass’s stubborn and out-and-out refusal to come up with any remotely original ideas, the main problem, really, is that it is repetitive and very, very dumb. Halfway through the movie you feel like you’ve been watching it for four hours because you’ve seen this type of movie so many times before in your life. It just starts to pile on at about that point. Even the great and mighty Treat Williams can’t salvage things. No one’s bigger Treat fans than us. He’s charming, likable, and a very capable hero. He’s even from the great state of Connecticut. But despite all that, Critical Mass’s monolithic wall of stupidity is just too all-encompassing for even Treat to surmount. 

We were happy to see Lori Loughlin on board, and this is certainly a departure from Full House, and the other character actors are quite good, but come on…ANOTHER “DieHardInA”? We would say to the filmmakers churning out this crud: Give us, as viewers, a little more credit. Don’t you think we’re tired of the same-old same-old? Don’t you think we can handle something a little more challenging; something with a tad bit of originality? Are we really supposed to be going back to the same old slop again and again? On the bright side, though, the key to Samson’s world domination and nuclear supremacy looks like the inanimate carbon rod from that episode of The Simpsons.

Sadly, despite the actors that are on board who put forth their best, Critical Mass is a dud. It’s a prime example that DTV was out of its glory days of the 80’s and 90’s and had entered its period of doldrums.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett