7/30/2011

The Violent Breed (1984)

The Violent Breed (1984)-* *1\2

Directed by: Fernando Di Leo

Starring: Harrison Muller Jr., Carole Andre, Danika La Loggia, Woody Strode, and Henry Silva










Back when they were all in ‘Nam together, Mike Martin (Muller Jr.), Kirk Cooper (Silva) and Polo (Strode) were the best of buddies and they always looked out for each other: saving children, rescuing hostages and even pulling bullets out of each others’ bodies.  This team of soldiers worked together well, with their expertise being in surprise attacks. To the shock of Mike and Kirk, Polo willingly stays behind in ‘Nam.

Years later, both Mike and Kirk are CIA agents. It turns out that Polo is one of southeast Asia’s worst offenders when it comes to drugs and arms smuggling. He’s working with the Russians, the Mafia, everybody. So Kirk sends Mike to Bangkok to find his old compatriot Polo and stop his evil doings. While there, he meets a hooker with a heart of gold, thanks to the “comic relief” French madam (La Loggia), and they take on Polo’s army (yes, he commands his own army) of goons. And what is Mike’s girlfriend Sharon (Andre) up to? Dare you try to find out?

The Violent Breed is your classic jungle/exploding huts shoot ‘em up with constant gunfire and explosions. After a while, it all gets pretty numbing. Muller is the glib, wisecracking hero who always seems to land on his feet. While he fights the baddies, his Harrison-fu is on full display. Silva and Strode, both great actors, could have done much more with their meager roles.



 Director Fernando Di Leo has done considerably better work than this in his career, and everything in this film seems to drag on and on. Perhaps he was just trying to fit in to the then-current Italian action boom, but this one falls pretty flat. You’d have to be a pretty big Harrison Muller Jr. fan to try to track this one down. Seeing as we’ve reviewed FOUR of his movies to date, Comeuppance Reviews seems to be your one-stop Harrison Muller Jr. shop. Who else can claim that?

Seemingly a continuation of The Final Executioner (1984) formula (both have Muller and Strode), and again released by Cannon/MGM in those cool big boxes on VHS (as was its predecessor), The Violent Breed, despite its promising name, is middle-of-the-road action at best.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

7/27/2011

The Final Executioner (1984)

The Final Executioner (1984)-* *1\2

Directed by: Romolo Guerrieri

Starring: Harrison Muller Jr., Marina Costa, Renato Miracco, Karl Zinny, Cinzia Bonfantini, William Mang, and Woody Strode











Surely anyone reading this site is familiar with Italian post-apocalyptic movies, and The Final Executioner certainly falls into that sub-genre, but it is a decidedly second (or perhaps even third)-tier entry. Just imagine 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) or The New Barbarians (1982) crossed with The Most Dangerous Game (1932) with a dash of The Rules of the Game (1939).

After the nuclear apocalypse, a class system developed. A privileged, non-contaminated upper class, and the radiation-contaminated masses. Presumably to do double duty as a really entertaining sport as well as cleanse the population of “undesirables”, the rich invented a game: “The Hunt”, where they let loose the unwashed masses and shoot them for fun. The upper, hunting classes consist of  Edra (Costa), Louis (Miracco), Evan (Zinny), Melvin (?) and the flashy, mercenary-style hunter Erasmus (Muller). One day, a disgruntled member of the underclass decides to fight back. After the baddies kill his wife (Bonfantini), Alan (Mang) becomes intent on revenge against the hunters. Being an intellectual and having no fighting background, Sam (Strode), a former New York City cop, extensively trains Alan in the warrior arts. Will Alan and/or Sam wreak vengeance upon those snobby “hunters”?

The director, Romolo Guerrieri, was a journeyman-type director, having worked in many different genres over his long career, delivering product to keep pace with the varying trends in Italian cinema. You’d think someone with his filmmaking experience would have noticed the weird, sluggish pace and nonsensicality of what he was directing. Perhaps he DID notice this, so he gave the film a lot of exploitative elements, plenty of sex, nudity, constant violence, shooting, chases, blow-ups and even rape. Amazingly, this film is still boring. It just goes to show, if you have zero character development, the audience cannot become interested no matter how much sleaze and violence you throw at them.


Thankfully, this does have most of the hallmarks of the Italian post-nuke world we’ve come to know and love: absurd dubbing, motorcycles and cars with crazy, “futuristic” appliances on them, unbelievably wacky costumes and the like. Interestingly, this also has a comment on the Italian class system, using the apocalyptic wasteland as a backdrop for it. Perhaps the filmmakers had Salo (1975) in mind, but the end product is junky and uninspiring.

But it does have a nice electronic score, and it is worth noting that the movie is called The Final Executioner, and there is a scene with a flamethrower, recalling the two Exterminator movies. Could that be a coincidence?

Released by Cannon, the VHS in the U.S. was put on shelves featuring the memorable silver big box. If you’re looking for a good example of Italian post-apocalypse movies, this is not a good example to start off with, but the presences of Harrison Muller Jr. and Woody Strode are among its redeeming qualities.

Comeuppance Review: Brett and Ty

7/25/2011

The Last Of The Finest (1990)

The Last Of The Finest (1990)-* * *

Directed by: John Mackenzie

Starring: Brian Dennehy, Joe Pantoliano, Jeff Fahey, Michael Gwynne, Guy Boyd, Deborra-Lee Furness, and Bill Paxton











For those viewers out there that are sick of having just ONE cop on the edge, here we have FOUR - Daly (Dennehy), Gross (Pantoliano), Hojo (Paxton) and Rodriguez (Fahey). They are four lifelong buddies and they fight the war on drugs for the LAPD, with a little football against the DEA team in their leisure time. When the team of four is suspended for doing things their own way (the right way), they decide to go after the baddies themselves, the main culprits being the sinister Norringer (Boyd) and the slimeball Reece (Gwynne). When one of the team is murdered, the remaining three not only go rogue, but now they’re out for revenge - but department corruption from their higher-ups and a stash of 22 million dollars complicates matters. The conspiracy thickens when politicians grandstanding about the then-current events in Nicaragua get involved.  What will become of the...LAST OF THE  FINEST?

Last of the Finest is an extremely underrated and under-appreciated film. It’s a movie about the camaraderie and the brotherhood of the four main leads. And what killer leads they are - Dennehy is very real and likable as the world-weary Daly, Jeff Fahey is perfect as Rodriguez, Pantoliano is the somewhat nerdy but reliable Gross, and Paxton as Hojo is spot-on as well. Interestingly, it’s like The Shield before the Shield, as these guys are a sort of strike team as well, and even some plot points in this film bear striking similarities to ones on the first few seasons of The Shield. Could that be a coincidence?  Regardless, to have these four actors come together like this is truly a gift. For that reason alone, this movie should be more well known.


Most of the budget probably went to the top-flight actors on display, and there are some classic cop movie/TV show cliches, but they’re likable and inoffensive cliches. In fact, they pretty much have to be there so I don’t fault the movie at all, especially a movie of this quality, which is higher than a lot of the dreck you’ll find elsewhere out there (including on this site).

But it’s also a very human story with some good realism, especially the idea that these are good cops doing impossibly hard work in extremely dangerous situations, but the top brass and the pencil-pushers have no clue what goes on in the real world, but they’re always telling the cops on the ground what to do. That conflict drives a lot of the film (but not all of it). It seems very relevant, and it also makes for an exciting, interesting and highly watchable film.

The only question now is - when are we getting a DVD release?

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

7/23/2011

Golden Needles (1974)

Golden Needles (1974)-* *

Directed by: Robert Clouse

Starring: Joe Don Baker, Jim Kelly, Elisabeth Ashley, Ann Southern, Roy Chiao and Burgess Meredith













There is a statue that everyone is after, because inside it are the golden needles - acupuncture needles that, if placed in exactly the right spots on the body, can turn any man into a superman (according to the poster’s tagline, they can rule the world). Since Felicity (Ashley) isn’t willing to buy it for 250,000 dollars, she hires Dan (Baker), an adventurer based out of Hong Kong, to get it for her. He agrees, and brings on board his friend Jeff (Kelly) to help him out. But it’s not going to be easy, because everyone from Lin Toa (Chiao) to eccentric millionaire Winters (Meredith) is hot on the trail of this mysterious statue as well. Every trick in the book is used to obtain the statue, including inexplicable teams of guys in gold protective suits with flamethrowers torching where they think it is. Will Dan and Jeff prevail?

Man, we’re really getting tired of these PG-rated actioners. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that rating, but you can’t really pull out all the stops. While there are some fights and some intrigue, and even some mild torture (inflicted on legendary actress Ann Sothern of all people), the film lacks drive and is filled with...well...filler.


For example, Jim Kelly is painfully underused here. He doesn’t show up until 47 minutes in, and does one very brief fight. Even the end credits say “Jim Kelly’s Fight Sequence Choreographed By Himself." Fight SEQUENCE? This really shouldn’t be in the singular. There should have been multiple Jim Kelly fight sequences. But we are treated to some Joe Don Baker-Fu, and it’s nice to see him looking so young, and, by his standards, vigorous.

While the film is shot very well and has a nice Lalo Schifrin score, and does have a cast of familiar faces, it’s really hard to overcome the slow pace. It would be perfect for a young kid who wants to see an action-type film, but it seems a kid would be bored by much of the proceedings. So the film is caught in a bind. Yes, it was directed by Robert Clouse, who has a lot of famous films to his credit, but Golden Needles was not released on VHS (at least not in America) during the heyday of the video store, so it never had a chance to become a cult classic. Not that it definitely would have, but it never even got a fighting chance. This happened a lot with AIP (American International Pictures, not Action International) movies. I don’t know if it was rights issues or just bad business practices, but a lot of their movies didn’t get the attention they deserved during the VHS era. This was just one of those casualties, it seems.


And, in the final analysis, despite the presence of Burgess Meredith and his awesome bowties, Golden Needles is Saturday afternoon stuff which left a lot to be desired and, sadly, is ultimately unsuccessful. It’s not without some merits, and we’ve seen much, MUCH worse, but ultimately it did not deliver the goods.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

7/21/2011

Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)

Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)-* * *

Directed by: Sam Firstenberg

Starring: Lucinda Dickey, Adolfo 'Shabba-Doo' Quinones, Michael 'Boogaloo Shrimp' Chambers, Peter MacLean, and Ice-T











Kelly, Turbo and Ozone are back in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, the only breakdancing-based sequel in movie history. This time around, a community center named Miracles is at stake. A nefarious land developer, Douglas (MacLean), wants to bulldoze the beloved property to make room for a shopping center. The kids can save it, but they must raise the proper amount of money. And there’s only one way to do that: dance, dance, dance! Do you know of another way?

All the same colorful costumes and funky tunes return this time around as well, as does Ice-T, wearing one of the best outfits of his career in the first scene he appears in. We also find out that Kelly comes from a wealthy family, and, when she gets the opportunity to star on the stage in Paris, or help out Miracles, what will she decide?


 For this Breakin’ film, the directorial reins were handed over to Sam Firstenberg, the Cannon mainstay and director of many action films, including Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and American Ninja (1985). Under his watch, this film becomes more of a traditional musical, with clearly-defined “numbers” wherein setpieces are set aside for that purpose, then the action of the film goes back to normal. Luckily, this leads to insane and very funny scenarios, not the least of which are the killer opening scene and the hospital scene. Coming off Turbo’s “broom dance” in the first film, we here have him doing a very impressive, pre-Lionel Richie dance on the ceiling. Is it now to be inferred by the viewer that Turbo has magic powers? He’s certainly more of a human cartoon than ever before, enhanced by his Woody Woodpecker-like mischief, which he is definitely aware of, and it even gets him into trouble during the infamous “I stole your lunch” sequence.


 Ozone is still dealing with his anger issues, although the viewers’ hearts will be warmed with the increased screen time of cute little kid Hot Dog. This movie is more fantastical than the first Breakin’ (1984) film, and the decision to step away from realism shows that the filmmakers wanted to change things up and not do the same thing twice. It has a more clearly defined plot than the original installment, and any fan of upbeat, fun, silly entertainment should love it.

For fans of musicals and 80’s nostalgia alike, this is a sequel that is definitely worthy and makes a great back-to-back double feature with the original Breakin'.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

7/18/2011

Cartel (1990)

Cartel (1990)-* * *

Directed by: John Stewart

Starring: Miles O'Keefe, Don Stroud, Crystal Carson, Gregory Scott Cummins, and William Smith












Chuck Taylor (O’Keeffe) is a plane courier (not inventor of Converse sneakers), flying solo and delivering packages. One day, he unwittingly carries a shipment of cocaine across the Mexico border into California. Even though he’s innocent, he gets sent behind bars. The evil drug lord behind the bust is one Tony “The King” King (Stroud). He is also captured and sent to the big house, and then a prison movie scenario begins. King escapes, and Taylor follows. After King sends some goons, led by Rivera (Cummins) to terrorize Taylor’s family, he goes on a rampage of revenge to kill all the baddies involved.

Getting off to quite a rockin’ start, we see Miles O’Keeffe cruisin’ in his plane, wearing his aviator shades while the very Foreigner-like theme song, “Flying Blind” by Kenwood Hall pumps on the soundtrack. Because this is from the makers of the classic Action U.S.A. (1989), there are plenty of back-to-back action scenes and impressive stunts. It then goes to a prison scenario, with an underused William Smith, who really barks his few lines. There’s also a prisoner who looks exactly like Mr. Bean.

What’s great about Miles O’Keeffe is his unapologetic emotionlessness. He proudly can stand in the hall of wooden actors alongside Michael Pare and Don “The Dragon” Wilson, but with O’Keeffe it just seems like he doesn’t try to hide his expressionless acting in any way. And he says as little as possible. So a lot of the fun of Cartel, and other Miles outings, is his acting style.

Interestingly, one of the Martial Arts choreographers on the film was Isaac Florentine, later to be a well-known DTV director in his own right. You can see the roots of how he learned his craft by watching Cartel.

It is a tad on the long side, and even though it is filled with action and stunts, it’s not quite as good as Action USA, but very few things are, so don’t take that as an insult. It still has a similar vibe, and Cartel is well worth checking out.

Check out our buddies, Direct To Video Connoisseurs' and Explosive Action's take on it too.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

7/15/2011

Rolf (1984)

Rolf (1984)-* * *

AKA: The Last Mercenary

Directed by: Mario Siciliano

Starring: Tony Marsina and Ketty Nichols


“I tend to lead the life I’ve chosen."








Rolf (Marsina) is a fairly troubled loner working as an airplane courier in (what we think is) Tunisia. He’s trying to forge a relationship with Joanna (Nichols) but things are always going between smooth and rocky. When gangsters want him to carry a shipment of drugs, he is conflicted, because his mother died of a drug overdose. The gangsters beat him up and assault Joanna. Rolf then has no choice but to go into the jungle and get revenge. Rest assured, huts will explode and guns will go “pew pew”! Will Rolf come out victorious?

If you’re going to name a movie after a man’s name, Rolf is one of the better names you can name it. With its silly dubbing, absurd situations, good pace and killer music (by Fabio Frizzi - the Modern Talking-like title song is sung by one Chris J. King), Rolf comes out a winner. For example, after he is attacked by the gangsters, Rolf summons the power of worms and leeches to heal him. Presumably he has Dr. Doolittle-like powers? And the main bad guy is so evil he literally uses children for target practice. When Rolf’s hands are injured, it recalls not just fellow Italian production Django (1966), but also none other than Jesus himself. Far from a dude with a “shirtless shirt” and high pants, the filmmakers secretly tried to make Rolf a new hero for our times.

Try to imagine a crazy Italian cross between Cartel (1990), Heated Vengeance (1985) and Best Revenge (1982), but better. And the main song repeats over and over again as in Laser Mission (1989) and White Fire (1984). Luckily it is catchy and enjoyable. We were lucky to see this movie, as it doesn’t seem to have gotten a wide release, but the version on the “Mercs” DVD box set leaves a LOT to be desired. It looks like a simple dub directly from an old VHS - and the VHS has tracking problems! There are even glitches burned into the DVD. Wasn’t anyone monitoring this stuff? Again, we were lucky to see it, but Rolf deserves better.

Tony Marsina really Rolfs it up in this simple, but crazy and down-and-dirty revenge thriller. We recommend it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

7/13/2011

Breakin' (1984)

Breakin' (1984)-* * *

Directed by: Joel Silberg

Starring: Lucina Dickey, Adolfo 'Shabba-Doo' Quinones, Michael 'Boogaloo Shrimp' Chambers, Ben Lokey, Christopher McDonald, Ice-T, and Jean-Claude Van Damme












Those of you who read this site regularly know that, aside from the usual action fare, we will review a classic 80’s dance movie from time to time. Well, they don’t get any more classic than Breakin’, a gem of a movie that is well known for good reason.

Kelly Bennett (Dickey) is a waitress who is an aspiring dancer. Strictly by chance, she witnesses the street dancing of Ozone (Quinones) and his buddy Turbo (Chambers) and her life is changed forever. She befriends the two, and just in the nick of time. A dance crew comprised of two men and one woman, the Electro Rock crew, has challenged them to a dance-off. But Ozone and Turbo must teach Kelly, now dubbed Special K, the ways of Breakin’.

Now shed of her formal dance training, she goes to her agent James (McDonald) for his support. He is reluctant at first, but once he sees TKO, as they are now called (“Turbo, Kelly and Ozone”, get it?), he is won over. Plus a potential love rivalry between James, Ozone, and Kelly’s former dance instructor Franco (Lokey) is making Kelly’s life even more complicated, as is Ozone’s hot temper and his loyalty to “the streets”. Will TKO pop and lock their way to fame?



Breakin’ is nothing more than infectious, irresistible fun. It’s filled with charm and 80’s nostalgia, thanks to the music and clothing. There’s plenty of creativity on display in the dance moves and the outfits. Plus it’s positive. It really celebrates friendship and the can-do spirit. It comes from a time when battles were fought on the dance floor with moves, not on the streets with weapons. They truly don’t make ‘em like this anymore. That’s why people gravitate to movies like this today. Because they are not making any more of them.

Interestingly, because this is a Cannon film, a young Van Damme can be seen in a crowd scene clapping along to the beat and smiling away. Naturally, he’s wearing a black wrestling singlet for no reason. He’s not listed in the credits, but it’s clearly him. Ice-T makes an appearance as the “Rap Talker” at the club Radiotron. His role would be highlighted a bit more in the follow-up film. Plus, this brings into focus that this movie isn’t that far of a departure from the action films we normally watch. A Cannon movie featuring Van Damme, Christopher McDonald and Ice-T is pretty much par for the course for us. But instead of fight scenes, there are dance scenes, and the training sequences are to learn dance moves, not fighting moves. Two sides of a coin I tell ya.



To compare this to some other movies we have on the site, Ben Lokey as Franco is very Roy Kieffer-like as the dance instructor, recalling Dance or Die (1987), the whole clash of “high” and “low” cultures aspect is also explored in Knights of the City (1985), and, while the soundtrack is good and vitally important, we felt the soundtrack to Body Rock (1984) was better because it had more memorable songs.

Director Joel Silberg went on to direct Rappin’ (1985) as well as Lambada (1990), so we know where his head is at. He did not go on to direct the Breakin’ sequel however. But after Breakin’ ends, there is a big on-screen announcement: “Coming Soon: Electric Boogaloo: The Dance Sensation of Tomorrow”. So they knew then that there would be a sequel. There’s just too much energy to be contained in one movie.

It’s colorful, fun, funny, and even heartwarming. What’s not to like? Anyone who hasn’t already seen Breakin’ definitely should.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

7/10/2011

Overkill (1996)

Overkill (1996)-*1\2

Directed by: Dean Raphael Ferrandini

Starring: Aaron Norris, Kenneth Moskow, Pamela Dickerson, David Rowe, and Michael Nouri













Jack Hazard (Norris) is a Cop On The Edge who is sent down to San Carlos (actually Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), presumably because his name is too awesome for the LAPD. All Hazard wants to do is just relax and be shirtless for a while, but he runs into the nerdy Steiner (Moskow) who has, as seems to be very common in this time period, a computer disc. What’s on the disc you ask? All the dirt on an unscrupulous, evil land developer named Lloyd Wheeler (Nouri), of course. Naturally, Wheeler sends Hazard and Steiner into the “Jungle of the Shadow People” so he can hunt them down and kill them. But Hazard has a few tricks up his sleeve for Wheeler and his gang of baddies.

Aaron Norris...yes...AARON Norris here makes his bid along with relatives Chuck and Mike to be another action hero. And just in time too, as I was starting to worry that the world was running short on Norrises. He’s an odd-looking man, a sort of cross between David Heavener and Don Swayze. He’s the perfect star for those who find the work of Lorenzo Lamas too intellectually challenging. His line readings are beyond wooden, they’re petrified, much like the trees of the jungle the movie takes place in. He’s yet another goofy meathead, perfect for this movie however, which is yet another “Most Dangerous Game” retread. By 1996 they really should have known better.

Perhaps that was the prevailing feeling on the set of Overkill, (which doesn’t really live up to its name by the way, nor does the promise of the name “Jack Hazard” get fulfilled), as Michael Nouri was probably only involved so he could go to a warm, sunny location, sleepwalk through a one-dimensional role and get a nice check. You can’t really blame him, but Aaron has even less energy than Chuck Norris, he doesn’t talk much, and when he does, his performance can best be described as shirtless and mulleted. So he’s not bringing the energy level up too high.

Of course, there are the classic cliches and silly lines as well. This was director Ferrandini’s only directorial effort to date, and he’s much more well known as a stuntman, having a long and rich career in that field. He’s done stuntwork for Comeuppance classics such as Breakin’ (1984), Zero Tolerance (1994), Hologram Man (1995), and Invasion USA (1985), among other Chuck vehicles. With time, his directorial abilities may have improved, but I guess we’ll never know. Much of the movie is too dark to see, and needed more light. The plot is something we’ve all seen before and the audience must try way too hard to get invested, and at a certain point it’s just a lost cause. The movie needed some pep. Interestingly, the plot is similar to another Norris vehicle, Mike’s Death Ring (1992).

By 1996, the music for these movies was just not as good as it used to be, and the movie has no memorable song. There is a song, “Paradise”, by the perplexingly-named “Food for Feet”, but come on. The days of Steve Butler and “Always on my Mind” were clearly long gone by now.

Overkill is stupid and has an unbelievably lame ending. Our standards for movies like this are very low, but Overkill still did not meet those already rock-bottom standards. Overkill is “Hazard”ous to your health.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

7/09/2011

Crackerjack (1994)

Crackerjack (1994)-* * *

Directed by: Michael Mazo

Starring: Thomas Ian Griffith, Nastassja Kinski, Lisa Bunting, George Touliatos, Frank Cassini, Richard Sali, and Christopher Plummer











 

It’s Die Hard (1988) in a hotel! Following in the tradition of “It’s Die Hard in a ______________” (you fill in the blank) movies, Crackerjack has been said to be something of a cross between Die Hard and Cliffhanger (1993), but really it’s much closer to the John McClane side of things.  Thomas Ian Griffith stars as the awesomely-named Jack Wild, a Chicago Cop On The Edge. Does this seem at all familiar yet? His concerned family believes that he is too on the edge for his own good, so his brother Mike Wild (Sali), and his wife and baby all go to the rocky mountains. Why they thought that was a good location remains unknown.

While at a remote mountain hotel, a sinister plot to steal millions of dollars worth of diamonds is spearheaded by the nefarious Ivan Getz (Plummer) and his band of vaguely-European goons. Then they’re going to cause an avalanche to destroy the hotel, again with no rational explanation. Will the unmitigated power of Jack Wild stop the baddies, and romance “Activities Director” K.C. (Kinski) along the way? Just you wait and see!


Actually this movie is not bad at all. It’s professionally made, entertaining, and is able to propel itself along on cliche-power alone. It’s one of the better T.I.G movies we’ve seen to date. He has a great entrance and the movie suffers when he’s not onscreen. T.I.G. is able to win over the audience with his charm, not to mention his fighting ability, and he carries the movie well. You genuinely like Jack Wild. When the classic 90’s baddies are holding the hotel guests hostage and shooting a lot of people and blowing things up, you root for Wild. You can’t ask for more in a movie like this. You’d be surprised how often filmmakers fail at this formula. Luckily, that did not happen here.

As far as Christopher Plummer is concerned, the only question you’ll have is, “why?” How did they get an actor of his caliber to appear in this type of product? I guess it wouldn’t be the first time, as he was in an AIP movie (Firehead, 1991), so this is gold in comparison. An actor’s gotta eat, and they probably told him this was his chance to outdo Alan Rickman, so he went for it. His acting style here seems to be “whisper a lot to seem intense and wear various types of eyewear”. We also felt Robert Davi could have played this role.


Oddly, there are not one, but two Crackerjack sequels, with different actors as different characters in the lead role. Was this movie that successful? We had no idea it made enough money to spawn sequels.  But such is life, and at least this first (and only “true” Crackerjack movie for the fans...just kidding) has plenty of entertaining violence to pass the time. That being said, things ramped up considerably when Crackerjack 2 came on the scene.

Shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Crackerjack might be one of the more watchable Die Hard knockoffs around.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


7/07/2011

Ulterior Motives (1993)

Ulterior Motives (1993)-*1\2

AKA: The Japan Connection

Directed by: James Becket

Starring: Thomas Ian Griffith, Mary Page Keller, Ken Howard, James Lew, and M.C. Gainey








Erica (Keller) is a reporter trying to get to the truth about an American selling secret aerospace/military aircraft schematics to Japanese rivals. For help, she goes to private investigator Jack Blaylock (Griffith), a man who speaks fluent Japanese, has an array of SpyTech-type devices, and knows martial arts. What are the true motivations of Malcolm Carter (Howard)? We won’t say what politician he looks like, but let’s just say he “shot someone in the face”. When it turns out the Yakuza is involved, all hell breaks loose in the form of restrained fight sequences and plot twists and turns. Will Erica and Jack find the truth?

The tagline on the British VHS goes as follows: “You’ve Seen Seagal and Van Damme. Now...Meet the New Contender”. And, yes, in the heat of the early-to-mid 90’s action boom, various “new contenders” were trotted out: Jeff Speakman, Richard Norton, Gary Daniels, and now Thomas Ian Griffith. Some from that list are more successful than others. But the problem with Griffith, besides his odd hair, is that he has no personality (outside of his winning smile, of course). With such stiff competition back in the day, it must have proved impossible for Griffith to compete with the action names of the time with no hooks of his own. Nothing sets him apart. It seems Ulterior Motives is an attempt to tone down the action elements and highlight the drama/thriller/romance/espionage themes. Reasonable people can argue whether this was successful, but usually muting the violence, action and stunts is NOT a good idea for the fans.


The movie has an odd, snoozy pace, and the characters could have used a bit more depth. The length and pacing issues should have been remedied by some snappy editing and better music. Or ANY music. Strangely, there is a lack of music in most scenes, and the music there is happens to be subtle and incidental. Some more driving themes would have, and should have been there to quicken the pace. And there’s another problem. There is no big, main, evil baddie. Yes, there is an antagonist, but he’s a “secret”, so there’s no real tension regarding the hero, Blaylock, wanting to kill him. As we saw in China O’Brien (1990), lack of a sinister bad guy is hugely detrimental to the action movie formula.

We appreciate the attempt to be “different”, but it’s pointless to be different for different’s sake, especially if the outcome doesn’t deliver the goods. Ulterior Motives should have been a Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991), but instead it’s a Liberty and Bash (1989). We’re sorry if that analogy made no sense. Just see Showdown in Little Tokyo.


Ulterior Motives (a very telling title, really) needed more action and less jibber-jabber. For a much more satisfying T.I.G. (as we call him) vehicle, check out Excessive Force (1993).

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

7/04/2011

Excessive Force (1993)

Excessive Force (1993)-* * *

Directed by: Jon Hess

Starring: Thomas Ian Griffith, Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd, Charlotte Lewis, W. Earl Brown, Burt Young and James Earl Jones











Terry McCain (Griffith) is a Chicago cop who is pretty much on the edge. A member of the Tactical Narcotics Unit, he’s obsessed with taking down the slick mobster drug dealer Sal DiMarco, who, like John Gotti, seems to be made of “Teflon” and always manages to avoid jail time. During a shootout with the DiMarco mob, three million dollars in a suitcase goes missing. Naturally, DiMarco wants it back, and he assumes McCain and his team are behind the missing loot. So now the mobsters are after the cops, and McCain and his girlfriend (Lewis) must go on the run. Luckily Police Chief Devlin (Henriksen) has given McCain a wide berth to go off on his own (not necessarily “rogue”) and catch/punch/kick/kill the baddies. After some mild twists and turns in the plot, we see who is the true dispenser of EXCESSIVE FORCE.

The good news is, this is a movie that lives up to its title. There’s some hilariously, unnecessarily brutal violence, as if the writer (T.I.G. himself, interestingly enough) felt he HAD to live up to the title. Like he thought, “well, I already spent all day coming up with this title, better make sure the movie has an excessive amount of force”. Well played, Mr. Ian Griffith. Well played.


The real reason to watch this movie isn't Thomas Ian Griffith's constant roundhouse and jump kicks, but the killer cast! For starters, what is James Earl Jones doing here? This might make an action movie first: a Shakespearean actor on hand to play Jazz with Thomas Ian Griffith! Terry McCain is a pretty in-the-pocket Jazz pianist, just so you know. (McCain also has an earring, so you know he’s cool, long, greasy hair , resembles Christian TV evangelist Joel Osteen and might be a member of the Trenchcoat Mafia. Research is still being done).


 Then we have Lance Henriksen, doing his best as Devlin, Tony Todd as Frankie, again, struggling against some potential mediocrity and coming out quite well, the awesome Burt Young doing what he does best  - being Burt Young. The movie could have used more Burt. The presence of Charlotte Lewis as the model Anna Gilmour was appreciated. And of course all the lesser-known names in the cast performed admirably as well. Additionally, the Martial Arts Technical Advisor on the film was Benny “The Jet” Urquidez. Sadly he doesn’t appear on screen. So you have a much better than average cast for this sort of thing, which is nice, and they help to sell the more inane aspects of the plot without you even realizing it, because that’s what good actors do. And, yes, this movie is riddled with cliches, but for the most part they are the FUN cliches you want (You mean Terry McCain‘s use of excessive force is always getting him in trouble? No way!). Amazingly enough, this movie went to the theater! It never would today. Maybe the cast is part of the reason why.


But the movie is enjoyable, if not groundbreaking, and, yes, much of the brutality is fairly unwarranted, but this is EXCESSIVE FORCE people! While not nearly as violent as, say, Wardogs (1986), perhaps Griffith felt he went too far and didn’t want to be pigeonholed, so the follow-up, Ulterior Motives (1993), is less impactful. ‘Motives does not consistently and strongly follow up Excessive Force properly and a lot of steam was taken out of the T.I.G. train. That might explain why he isn’t really a household name, even among action movie fans.

For a fun beat/shoot ‘em up, try Excessive Force.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

7/02/2011

Sacred Cargo (1995)

Sacred Cargo (1995)-* *1\2

Directed by: Aleksandr Buravsky

Starring: Chris Penn, Anna Karin, Aleksandr Yatsko J.T. Walsh, and Martin Sheen












Vince Kanevsky (Penn) is an all-American dude who likes to drink, gamble and get into the occasional barfight. His brother could not be more different - he’s Father Andrew Kanevsky (Sheen), a priest with a kindly nature. When Andrew hears that back in the “old country”, St. Petersburg, Russia, a neo-Nazi group is terrorizing Catholics, he and Vince go there to see if they can help. Once in Russia, the intrigue begins as Andrew is kidnapped by the evil Oleg (Yatsko) and Vince, now a fish out of water in this strange land, must fend for himself and get to the truth. Once meeting up with mysterious monk Father Stanislav (Walsh), he realizes that the “sacred cargo” we’ve heard so much about is hundreds of millions of dollars of stolen jewels and “icons”. With the help of Sasha (Karin), Vince winds his way through all the twists and turns to help save his brother, the stolen loot, and the Catholic church.

The casting of Chris Penn and Martin Sheen as brothers is very weird. Sure, they’re “the original odd couple”, but Sheen’s presence in the film is minimal. Sacred Cargo, as a whole, could have used more Sheen, but Chris Penn barely saves the movie with his “everyman” presence and good acting. He’s an action star we can all relate to - he’s not the best looking guy, he’s a little pudgy, and he doesn’t always perfectly execute his fighting moves, but he’s heroic and gets the girl, even if, naturally, he seems a little confused.

It seems most people are not aware that this movie exists, even though it features Martin Sheen. Chris Penn shows his range somewhat here, in an atypical action-based role. But the film, with its religious themes, serious, dour tone and bleak cinematography, is closer to a drama/thriller with some action elements.


And we can’t forget about J.T. Walsh, who brings his menacing acting chops wherever he goes. The three leads are fine in the acting department...others in the film not so much. The first half of the film especially shows its low-budget roots, but once the plot kicks in while everyone is in Russia, the streets and architecture there give the film some good production value.

Featuring not one, but FOUR songs by Gorky Park - “Bang” is not one of them but the super-catchy “Moscow Calling” is - Sacred Cargo is certainly not a bad movie, but it can best be described as an oddity on the filmography of everyone involved.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett