Black Ice (1992)

Black Ice (1992)-*1\2

Directed by: Neill Fearnley

Starring: Michael Nouri, Joanna Pacula, and Michael Ironside

Ben Shorr (Nouri) is a destitute cab driver with plenty of debts. He’s an aspiring author eking out a living. One night, Vanessa (Pacula) gets in his cab. Due to some political intrigue, she’s on the run from the murderous Quinn (Ironside). She tells Ben to drive her from Detroit to Seattle using “only the back roads” and she’ll give him thousands of dollars for his effort. Naturally, the worldly Belgian woman and the low-class shmoe forge an uneasy relationship, while dodging Quinn and getting into a few scrapes. Will they make it?

Equal parts 90’s Skinemax “erotic thriller” and supposed “neo-noir”, seemingly very influenced by the show Taxicab Confessions, Black Ice is serviceable, but nothing more. Its look screams “CANADA!” even though the plot takes great pains to prove otherwise. (It was, indeed, shot in Canada).

Michael Nouri, sporting some utterly ridiculous long hair, is not particularly likable as the motormouthed Ben. That’s an impediment to the movie. However, he does put in an energetic performance, much more so than he did in Overkill (1996). We also felt Michael Ontkean could have played this role. Interestingly, there’s a shot early on in the film of Nouri at a typewriter, with a rotary dial phone and a cigarette. Those three things alone would not be seen in a film today, much less all together. Strictly for preservation reasons alone, we felt that was the best shot of the movie.

Michael Ironside does what he does best - be sinister. He plays almost the exact same role here as he does in Watchers. Joanna Pacula provides the eye candy, and we can certainly sympathize with her having to put up with Ben, who frankly can get kind of annoying.

Aside from the prerequisite barfight, there isn’t a lot of action. Not that there’s necessarily supposed to be in a movie like this - but it certainly would have picked things up more. Where some scenes are needlessly talky, they could have put in an action scene of some kind. Sadly, they did not choose that route.

While it’s nice to see the three leads doing their thing, Black Ice is just a bit too bland to warrant a screaming recommendation.

NOTE: The VHS was released in both a rated and unrated version.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Lockdown (1990)

Lockdown (1990)-* *

Directed by: Frank Harris

Starring: Chris DeRose, Chuck Jeffreys, Joe Estevez, Mike Farrell, Gary Kolpakoff, and Richard Lynch

Ron Taylor (DeRose) and his partner Maguire (Jeffreys) are detectives in southern California. Using a San Jose chop shop, Valley Auto Dealers, as cover, a new criminal mastermind is causing all sorts of havoc: Garrett (Lynch) is a ruthless killer and car enthusiast who uses his intimidating presence to get what he wants. When he frames Taylor for murder, Taylor is sent to prison, separating him from his wife Monica (Kaitan) and his young daughter. Maguire is pulling out all the stops to try to clear his partner, but now Taylor must survive on the inside. Shanks (Kalpakoff) is the jailhouse baddie, but Taylor makes friends with his cellmate Dieter (Estevez). Will Taylor get revenge and clear his good name?

This is the fourth Frank Harris movie we’ve reviewed, and while it may be one of the more decent ones, it still has plenty of cliches, is kind of on the slow side, and suffers from many of the common trappings of low budget movies, such as some stodgy acting and editing. But that being said, this is a fairly solid, if dumb, prison movie/cop actioner.

We think Harris may have even used some of the same cop extras he did in Killpoint (1984). DeRose makes an okay mulleted, fairly meathead-y hero, and Chuck Jeffreys out-Eddie Murphy’s Eddie Murphy. We always like seeing him. Of course, Taylor’s cellmate is none other than Joe Estevez (how would you like to walk into your cell and see that?) - actually, this is the best Joe Estevez performance we’ve seen to date. But the real star of the show is Richard Lynch, who makes an excellent bad guy. He does a great job as the charmingly evil mastermind (as he usually does). As great as Lynch is here, it’s not enough to overcome some of the slower aspects of this movie.

Actually, the fact that the main hero is trapped behind bars hampers the movie. It needed more action, and if the main hero is in prison, it can’t really be a full-throttle revenge movie. While the filmmakers were probably trying for something a little different, they painted themselves into a corner with that scenario.

So despite the fact that the warden is like a corrupt Santa Claus, the prison sequences are a bit dull (the warden should have been played by Cameron Mitchell). Lockdown is similar in structure to Cartel (1990), but Cartel is the better movie.

Lockdown isn’t really that bad, especially for its drive-in style, and it does have some standout moments, especially the song by Seymour Duncan and Friends (with vocals by Gregory Hansen).  So it’s kind of a mixed bag.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Best Of The Best 4: Without Warning (1998)

Best Of The Best 4: Without Warning (1998)-* * *

Directed by: Phillip Rhee

Starring: Phillip Rhee, Ernie Hudson, Jessica Huang, Chris Lemmon, Paul Gleason, Art LaFleur, Sven-Ole Thorsen, David "Shark" Fralick and Tobin Bell

Tommy Lee is back! Not the Motley Crue drummer of course (in the press he’s always Rocker Tommy Lee, and he’s called that so often he should just legally change his first name to Rocker) - It’s Phillip Rhee, and this time he teaches martial arts to police officers. He has a young daughter, Stephanie (Jessica Huang), and life seems good.  All this ends when a gang of Russian-type mobsters, working out of an abandoned warehouse (where else?), begins a large counterfeiting operation. The details of this illegal activity are on a disc, and Tommy inadvertently ends up with it.

Now on the bad side of criminal mastermind Slava (Bell), as well as his many goons, including Boris (Thorsen), he entrusts Stephanie to a priest (Gleason), so he can go off on his own and fight the baddies. But while he has some friends on the force, notably Jarvis (Lemmon), he also butts heads with the hard-line Detective Gresko (Hudson). Can Tommy Lee stop the counterfeiting agents, rescue his friends and daughter from imminent doom, and clear his own name in the process?

Some people might think about the Best of the Best series, “there are FOUR of them?” While it may seem puzzling and hard to justify, this fourth entry in the series was solid fun and worth seeing. Phillip Rhee is a very talented guy - he stars in the film, he directed it, co-wrote it, and he’s a gifted martial artist and worked on the choreography. He’s also likable. Rhee does seem to have well-rounded skills, and because of this, his name should be more well-known outside of die-hard action circles. He’s so badass, he doesn’t turn off his lights at night using a lightswitch like a sucker, he JUMPKICKS his lights off.

Supporting him is an impressive array of B-movie names. Tobin Bell puts in an understated, low-key villain performance, which was a welcome change from the frothing-at-the-mouth baddies we usually see. He pulls off a tricky balance - be subtle but not be boring. He does a great job, and, interestingly, there’s some pre-Saw torture he’s involved with. Coincidence? Or did the makers of the unending Saw franchise see this movie and picture him as the ultimate torturer? And speaking of people who probably saw this movie, there’s an American Beauty (1999)-like fantasy sequence one year before that film. Is it possible the American Beauty people saw this movie and thought, “If we rip this off, no one will know, because we don’t share any of the same audience”?

Hudson plays the BYD (instead of Black Yelling Chief, here he’s a detective) and there’s even a fight scene between him and Rhee where Hudson attempts some Hudson-Fu on him. Chris Lemmon’s not in it that much and resembles Joe Piscopo. It’s no Firehead (1991) for him. Paul Gleason, Art LaFleur and Sven-Ole Thorsen round out the cast of familiar faces, and someone who’s been turning up a lot lately, David “Shark” Fralick (Deadly Reckoning, 1998, Executive Target, 1997 Inside Edge, 1992) is on board as well.

A highlight of the movie is a combination stickfighting/fencing fight scene. We don’t believe we’ve ever seen that before. While the movie falls prey to a cliche we see often “We’ve got to get the disc!” - a movie about a disc - Best of the Best 4 has a lot to offer in the pure entertainment department. Regardless of how you feel about the other Best of the Best movies, you should see this one if you love that implausibly-plotted-but-who-cares-let’s-have-fun action style pioneered in the 80’s.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Best Of The Best 3: No Turning Back (1995)

Best Of The Best 3: No Turning Back (1995)-* * *

Directed by: Phillip Rhee

Starring: Phillip Rhee, Christopher McDonald, Gina Gershon, Dee Wallace-Stone, and R. Lee Ermey

There’s some bad stuff goin’ down in the small town of Liberty (either Indiana or Ohio, we’re not entirely sure, but it’s a rural burg and that’s all the viewers need to know, apparently). White supremacists are taking over the formerly-peaceful town, led by the hate-filled preacher Brian (an uncredited Ermey). Just as their evil empire is growing, none other than Tommy Lee (the drummer from Motley Crue) (just kidding, it’s Phillip Rhee of course) rolls into town to visit his sister who just happens to live in this town, and her husband Jack (McDonald). Jack also happens to be the sheriff, but is powerless to stop the hate-filled mobs. Lee finds he must use his fists and his feet not only to defeat the stupid racists, but to defend choir director Margo (Gershon). Will Tommy Lee beat the neo-Nazis and ride off into the sunset?

To Best of the Best 3’s credit, it has an extremely professional look, with very good production values.  This was Phillip Rhee’s first directorial effort, and it seems like he had been building up to this for a while, because he does a very competent job, with a lot of interesting shots and as mentioned, the technical aspects are very good.  Plus, with its themes about racism, it was at least trying not to be the same old dumb meathead movie. It made an effort to make you think, which is more than you can say about some of this movie’s competitors (or other entries in the series, for that matter).

Like China O’Brien (1990), the “rural action movie” angle is used, and, like Substitute 4 (2001), the “white power” angle is used. Interestingly enough, the director of Substitute 4 is Robert Radler, the director of Best of the Best 2 (1993). There’s even some Jackie Chan-like martial arts, as evidenced by the scene in which Rhee fights some baddies in a clown outfit. You truly haven’t lived until you’ve seen thugs get kicked by a man with giant shoes.

As we’ve seen in everything from American Ninja (1985) to terrorist training videos, the army of bad guys have their own training camp, complete with, you guessed it, monkey bars. Exactly how these monkey bars would help someone defeat Tommy Lee in a fight is not known. And the head Nazi guy wouldn’t even come close to challenging Lee in a fight. He only holds his own for a long time because that’s what a lot of final bad guys do. A lot of action movies fall into that cliche: Although the main baddie may have no martial arts or combat training whatsoever, when the hero faces off against him in a fight, after handily defeating hundreds of goons, NOW the final fight is actually a challenge for the hero. It’s just silly, but you can’t really help it.

If you have Netflix streaming, you should view Best of the Best 3 that way, as the quality is excellent and it’s in widescreen. The movie has never looked better.

So grab a Like soda and cheer for Phillip Rhee, Christopher McDonald and Gina Gershon in a truly hard hitting tale of racism.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Best Of The Best 2 (1993)

Best Of The Best 2 (1993)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Robert Radler

Starring: Eric Roberts, Phillip Rhee, Chris Penn, Sonny Landham, Ralf Moeller, Meg Foster, Simon Rhee, and Wayne Newton

Now here’s a classic! In this lovably absurd sequel to Best of the Best (1989), illegal, underground Punchfighting matches are taking place in a secret club called The Coliseum. The front is a Las Vegas dance club called The Stock Exchange, but behind the scenes, “Gladiator Fights” are taking place (remember, at this time, the TV show American Gladiators was huge). Specifically, fighters dress up in absurd outfits and pummel each other to death. The star of the show is the arrogant, powerful and unbeatable soulless automaton Brakus (Moeller).

When the likable Travis Brickley (Penn) dies at the hands of the nefarious Brakus, only fellow fighter Alex Grady, his young son, inexplicably named Walter (Gross), and of course Tommy Lee (Rhee) can get to the bottom of this illegal Punchfighting operation. To do this, they head out to the desert so James (Landham) can help them train. Oh, and one more thing...WAYNE NEWTON is the head of this evil hydra.

Only in the early 90’s could a mix of utter silliness and brutal violence come together like this. Not only that, but we feel this movie was instrumental in promoting the Punchfighting genre. The Best of the Best series was surprisingly popular in video stores and on cable channels, and many people first got their taste of Punchfighting because of them. So for that, they deserve a lot of credit. Additionally, this was a time in which filmmakers felt that they should get quality actors and teach them to fight, instead of the other way around. That they should get Eric Roberts and Chris Penn, instead of any old meathead. And at least here, the formula works great.

And when we think “action movies” we immediately think “Wayne Newton”. Newton is a showbiz professional and gives his all here, and he, for whatever reason, really seems to care. he gives an energetic, big performance, and his presence sets the movie apart and makes it really enjoyable.  And while it’s great to see Chris Penn, Wayne Newton, Walter the kid (who looks more like a 35 year-old stunted adult), who loves his Tetris, and Eric Roberts, complete with his tomato apron, AND Phillip Rhee, Sonny Lanham, Meg Foster and Nicholas Worth, lest we forget....BRAKUS?

The writers of this movie must really be proud that they came up with the name Brakus, because it is said a minimum of 36 times throughout the movie. Ralf Moeller plays the classic German baddie, and a lot of Best of the Best 2 is lifted from Rocky IV (1985). The invincible Teutonic muscleman is the antagonist, and our heroes must go out into the wilderness to train to beat him (why are Phillip Rhee’s relatives Indians for some reason?), and of course the parallels between Apollo Creed and Travis Brickley.

There are many funny bits, Eric Roberts seems tipsy (if not drunk) throughout the movie, and all is well and good, but even as lovable as it is, it is a bit overlong. If the movie had been chopped down by about 10-15 minutes, we’d be dealing with an even bigger classic. But this is one David and Goliath tale that can certainly withstand multiple viewings.

Featuring the memorable title song by Mark Free, Best of the Best 2 just narrowly makes it into the ranks of a must-see.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Sniper 3 (2004)

Sniper 3 (2004)-* *1\2

Directed by: P.J. Pesce

Starring: Tom Berenger and Byron Mann

Beckett’s back! Yay? This time around, Beckett (Berenger, of course) is summoned to back to Vietnam to kill some terrorists. He teams up with a local cop to clean up Ho Chi Minh City, but as his mission is getting underway, he realizes a former ‘Nam buddy had stayed behind and now is his nemesis. Beckett will now have to grapple with demons from his past, his current alcoholism, and a sort of culture shock to dust off his old sniping skills. Can he do it?

Okay, okay, we get it. Thomas Beckett. He’s a sniper. He’s the best. Why on God’s green earth there needs to be THREE movies to tell us this cannot possibly be explained. There’s no possible way anyone demanded another Sniper movie after the lackluster Sniper 2 (2002). Now there’s even a fourth one, but Berenger had the good sense to steer clear. But Billy Zane returns, so it’s not a total loss. However,  the movie at hand today is not Sniper: Reloaded (2010), it’s part three of the Berenger trilogy.  But the problem is, there are only so many ways you can snipe. There are only so many times you can say “One shot, one kill” before it starts to lose all meaning.

We see what they were trying to do here. They were trying to bring it back to a more dark, serious and human level after a mediocre part 2, exactly what happened with the Universal Soldier series. Part two of that was lame, but Regeneration redeemed itself by dispensing with the stupidity and going for the jugular. While Sniper 3 appears to be following that formula, the results are not the same. While we appreciated Beckett calling the city “Saigon” and reminiscing about his past, and his struggles with alcohol, somehow it’s just getting harder and harder to care. Not that there aren’t some cool moments, such as the scene at the nightclub. But if there must be a Sniper 3, they should have gone in a grittier direction and stuck with it, not just give Beckett yet another temporary partner and call it a day. But because it’s a DTV film of the 2000’s, there’s plenty of techno on the soundtrack. Due to the presence of Vietnam vet Thomas Beckett, a new genre is formed: “Beckno”.

The four Sniper movies made to date have four different directors. Coincidence? Perhaps no director has come back because after they finish directing it, they feel they’ve taken a movie about sniping as far as they can and feel no need to return. Apparently that rule doesn’t apply to the viewing public. The people behind the Sniper series seem to think there’s an endless appetite for this out there. While Sniper 3 is not a bad movie by any means, it’s unnecessary on top of unnecessary. Even the presence of the great Tom Berenger can’t save it from feeling like a retread. It’s hard to get very enthusiastic about a third Sniper movie. To date, the best one remains the first one.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Sniper 2 (2002)

Sniper 2 (2002)-* *

Directed by: Craig R. Baxley

Starring: Tom Berenger and Bokeem Woodbine

“We’re the ones that unscrew the problems the diplomats make”.

Thomas Beckett (Berenger) is called back into action because not only was he “The Best”, but he’s still “The Best” all these years later. He thought he left his sniping days behind, now that he’s taking yahoos on hunting trips. But the government offers him anything he wants to go to Serbia and assassinate Valstoria, an official who has been behind some sort of ethnic cleansing. Sensing a trick, because if the government is offering him anything, they think he won’t return alive, Beckett simply asks for a restoration of his rank. So they team up Master Gunnery Sergeant Beckett with a prisoner, Cole (Woodbine), who has a chance to earn his freedom if he backs up Beckett on this mission. But as we know, Beckett has a history of losing partners. Can they execute their mission...and their target?

It’s easy to think this installment in the Sniper series was made sometime in the 90’s, right after the first movie. It seems very 90’s. But surprisingly, it was released in 2002. Seeing as the first Sniper was released in 1993, why the filmmakers thought that fans were clamoring for a new Sniper vehicle nine years after the fact remains a mystery. And thus, Sniper 2 does have a “this never needed to be made” kind of feeling throughout. They probably thought it would be worthwhile to have Beckett talk about such things as al-Qaida and Guantanamo Bay, and say things like “Freedom isn’t free”, thus dating the proceedings to the Bush administration. By comparison, the first Sniper movie has more of a timeless feel, not dating to any one era.

It seems like a Nu-Image movie, and it was shot in Hungary instead of Bulgaria. Not helping matters is the awful CGI, which was worse - if such a thing is possible - in 2002 than it is today. So points have to be detracted for that. Come on, that’s a betrayal of everything Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett stands for! He shouldn’t have to tolerate CGI stupidity. It should be only the real deal for him. He has enough problems as it is (there’s some good continuity from the first movie regarding his injuries from torture he suffered). Woodbine, as the backup this time around, makes a worthy foil for Beckett, and he has a very distinctive voice. He should really do voice-overs and cartoons and such. His voice carries his performance here.

Director Baxley, who we’re normally a fan of, because of Action Jackson (1988), I Come In Peace (1990) and Stone Cold (1991), seems to be taking kind of a paycheck assignment here. He’s a competent director, and that shows, but he should have brought the same verve he brought to the aforementioned three movies to this one. He should have made Beckett be able to stand alongside Jackson , Jack Caine, and John Stone as some of his more memorable men of action. Berenger does do his normal high-quality job, but something seems to be missing.

As it stands, Sniper 2 is okay. For a movie that doesn’t need to exist, it’s decent. It’s not offensively bad, it’s just a bit dull and unnecessary. It’s good that it isn’t jokey, and we appreciate that, but there’s no need to run out and see this.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Sniper (1993)

Sniper (1993)-* * *

Directed by: Luis Llosa

Starring: Tom Berenger, Billy Zane, and J.T. Walsh

Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett is “The Best”. The best at being a sniper, that is. He’s a hardcore, dedicated Marine who gives his all to his craft. He’s truly turned sniping into an art. Beckett is stationed in the jungles of Panama, and his mission is to eliminate a rebel leader, as well as his drug lord financier. Beckett is infamous because his “spotters” all end up getting shot, but his latest one is one Richard Miller (Zane), a government flack who was an Olympic marksman. Miller is green and Beckett has to show him the ropes. But after spending some time in the jungle, Miller gets cocky and he challenges Beckett often.  Not only do they still have to execute their mission, but there is also an evil sniper trying to out-snipe them, and he may or may not be a traitorous American. Will Beckett and Miller live to snipe another day?

While, plotwise, Sniper may be a fairly standard “El Presidente” movie, it can also probably stand as the ultimate sniper movie. That may seem obvious, but this movie goes into many of the ins and outs of the sniper’s creed. It can best be boiled down to one line: “One shot. One kill. No exceptions.” The pace of the movie follows suit, as Beckett explains there is a lot of waiting and setup before he can take his shot. The movie mirrors that. But there’s plenty of jungle-based machine gun shooting as well. Sniper was a Hollywood movie that was released to theaters, so it has high production values and a somewhat classy feel.

Director Llosa also directed Hour of the Assassin (1987), which is pretty similar to this. But while that one starred Erik Estrada, now we have Berenger and Zane. Berenger is completely believable as Beckett. He’s really a great actor, you never once doubt that Beckett is authentic. He carries not only this movie, but the next two sequels as well. Why exactly there are a total of FOUR Sniper movies to date is unknown, but like Steve Guttenberg after the first three Police Academy movies, he realized it was time to bail. Billy Zane is Miller, the guy who has no confirmed kills but is still trying to assert his authority and so is in something of a moral quandary. He does a good job at that as well. J.T. Walsh was in one scene. We would have liked to have seen more Walsh.

And while Sniper could have been a lot dumber, it’s really not that dumb. Thankfully, there are no stupid jokes and corny humor either. We really appreciated that. This easily could have devolved into a Mercenary 2 (1999)-type slog. On the technical front, there are the high tech bullet and reticule effects which were perfect for their time and predate The Matrix (1999). They seemed designed specifically for teenagers of the 90’s to go “Woah.” in true Joey Lawrence fashion. Speaking of the 90’s, Beckett speaks about “feeling the rush”, which is a very 90’s thing to say. Clearly, killing someone from a long distance makes you thirsty for Mountain Dew. Note that Beckett does not talk about “feeling the rush” in the sequels, which were filmed in the 2000’s.

Of the three Sniper movies we’ve seen, this first one is the best one. If jungle action floats your boat, you could sure do a lot worse than this initial Sniper offering.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Maddening (1996)

The Maddening (1996)-* *

Directed by: Danny Huston

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson, Mia Sara, Josh Mostel, Brian Wimmer, and William Hickey

It’s “Burtsploitation” at its finest as the legendary Reynolds plays an evil psycho in a DTV thriller.

Roy Scudder (the Burtster) and his wife Georgina (Dickinson) live in a creepy old house somewhere in the backwoods of Florida. For their own twisted psychological ends, they kidnap Cassie Osbourne (Sara) and her young daughter Samantha (Buglewicz) and force them to become members of their family. While they’re trying to escape their clutches, Cassie’s husband  David (Wimmer) and police inspector Chicky Ross (Mostel) are also trying to get to the bottom of their disappearance. Will they escape with their lives...or will their attempts just be MADDENING?

Trying out the “Old Dark House” scenario with some Psycho (1960)-like moves on a very low budget, The Maddening really is just a standard, dumb hostage drama but with a few “creepy” shots and musical stings. It should have been more of an out-and-out horror movie with a higher kill count, and what further sinks the notion of horror-ness is some stupid humor. Typified by, among other things, the “comical” fat detective that is always eating and even has stereotypical tuba music playing when he walks. Last time we checked, that’s not what horror fans want to see.

What they DO want to see, obviously, is Burt Reynolds. He has some sort of Southern, perhaps Cajun accent that comes and goes, and the absurd toupee he wears looks like a squirrel glued to his head. But for menacing glares, you can’t do much better than the U.S. VHS cover. This may have been made in the 90’s, but it’s no Malone (1987). The rest of the movie has an odd, stilted vibe.

While the movie has a reasonably professional air to it, due largely - probably - to famous Danny Huston as director - it’s kind of hard to imagine anyone being really SCARED by The Maddening. Unless you’re a kid, but then why would you be seeing The Maddening? Unless your parents rented it and you happened to see it...see, this could go on forever. It’s the type of thing that keeps you up at night, We tell ya.

The Maddening is an oddity that only could have happened in the 90’s. It has some big names in a scenario that wavers between unintentional “laffs” and scenes of child abuse. Burt fans surely would want to see him in a rare bad guy role, but the end result of it all is pretty ridiculous.

Also check our buddy, The Video Vacuum's review!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Heat (1986)

Heat (1986)-* *

Directed by: Dick Richards

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Karen Young, Neill Barry, Peter MacNicol, and Howard Hesseman

Nick “Mex” Escalante (Reynolds) is a Las Vegas-based gambler and bodyguard that kind of just drifts through life, going from adventure to adventure - whether it be getting revenge for the rape of his friend Holly (Young) or teaching new acquaintance Cyrus Kinnick (MacNicol) how to defend himself. He just wants to scrape together enough money to move to Venice, but all of his enemies, especially his latest one, Danny DeMarco (Barry) - want to prevent this from happening.

This was the beginning of Burt’s “Not Caring” period. Probably due to circumstances in his personal life, what was probably perceived at the time as just a droll performance, is actually how Burt carried out most of his work from here on in. This movie not only has a slow pace and is talky when there should be action, it seems less like an action movie and more of a rambling drama. The fact that Robert Altman was originally slated to direct makes a lot of sense.

The few action scenes there are happen to be absolutely priceless - they’re very funny. But their humor, whether intentional or not, does not match the tone of the rest of the film. In between the action bits, there are long stretches where, boringly, nothing really goes on. What a wasted opportunity. The DeMarco crime family should have sent more goons after Burt and he can dispatch them in his own inimitable way. But no, it’s him and Peter MacNicol talking about life. Can’t they do that on their own time? There isn’t even one car chase for crying out loud.

On the positive side, there is a lot of pre-political correctness dialogue, and the soundtrack is drenched in classic sax (just like the Wings Hauser Las Vegas movie Living To Die, 1990). And, of course, Howard Hesseman is involved. And if you can’t get enough of the magnetism of Burt Reynolds (not caring), Heat should satisfy that need. Keep in mind this was the BEGINNING of his Not Caring period. Compared to later outings, he still had a little bit of “care” left in him.

Heat is not exactly a must see, but in the action sequences, we actually rewound a few parts. So if you find it cheap somewhere (very cheap) get it. Otherwise, eh.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Stick (1985)

Stick (1985)-* *1\2

Directed by: Burt Reynolds

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Charles Durning, George Segal, Candice Bergen, and Dar Robinson

Burt Reynolds plays Ernest “Stick” Stickley. We should just stop the plot description right there. But we’ll go on - Stick is an ex-con who gets out of jail and ends up working as a chauffeur for a mega-wealthy dude (Segal) and living at his mansion in the Miami area. While he’s trying to romance Kyle (Bergen) as well as forge a relationship with his daughter after his prison stay, nefarious drug dealers and gangsters are after Stick, led by the flamboyant Chucky (Durning) and his remorseless hit man Moke (Robinson). Will Stick Stickley stick to the law-abiding side of life?

This was the last movie Burt made before his Not Caring period (discussed in our Heat review). Because he still cared (after all, he directed the movie and co-wrote the theme song “I Don’t Think I’m Ready For You” sung by Anne Murray), his demeanor is actually pleasant to watch and he seems to be enjoying himself reasonably enough, by Burt standards. He gets many personas in the movie - from the “Indiana Burt” of the beginning with his bomber jacket, fedora and beard to the “James Bond Burt” of later on, with “Casual Burt” in the middle, complete with pink Members Only jacket. (We’re not entirely convinced that it isn’t a woman’s jacket).

But the real star of the show is Charles Durning as Chucky. In a role like no other we’ve seen Durning interpret, he plays a Rip Taylor-like villain complete with loud shirts and bizarre makeup. Durning steals the movie, but George Segal gives him a run for his money with his big, boisterous role as Barry.

While Burt is as laconic as ever in front of the camera, he does a good, competent job behind it, clearly influenced by the popularity of Miami Vice. But the movie is a lengthy production with a very mainstream look. It needed more grit. It also should have been shorter and snappier. Elmore Leonard usually does good work but 52 Pick-Up (1986) remains his best.

Clearly the Nickelodeon character Stick Stickley was influenced by Burt Reynolds.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Shakedown (1988)

Shakedown (1988)-* * *

AKA: Blue Jean Cop

Directed by: James Glickenhaus

Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Brooks, Antonio Fargas, John C. McGinley, and Sam Elliot

 When drug dealer Michael Jones (Brooks) shoots a corrupt cop in New York’s Central Park one night, it falls on idealistic, Jimi Hendrix-loving attorney Roland Dalton (Weller) to defend him. But things get far more complicated when Dalton must team up with an undercover, unorthodox cop, Richie Marks (Elliott) to get to the truth behind all the corrupt cops, drug dealers, thugs and goons. And in a plot device later used, interestingly enough, in Night Of The Wilding (1990), the prosecutor on the Jones case is Roland’s former girlfriend.

What’s great about Shakedown is that it is not mindless. It has real characters in realistic settings. You grow to appreciate both Dalton and Marks. It’s a legal drama but it is filled with action as well - the legal side represented by Peter Weller and the action side by Sam Elliott, who should have appeared in more movies like this. Weller makes plenty of funny faces along with his more normal interpretation of Dalton, the baby boomer attorney.  Another name, Antonio Fargas shows up,  but the fairly fast pace doesn’t allow for him to stay around long.  Richard Brooks would later be on the other side of the law on Law & Order.

Another noteworthy aspect of this movie is its excellent New York City locations. A lot of  scenes were filmed on the famed 42nd street, right before the city was cleaned up. There are plenty of movie marquees on show, everything from X-rated material to movies like The Hidden (1987) and Fatal Beauty, 1987 (also starring Elliott). You can see the famous Lyric theater, among others. As part of Marks’ undercover work, he hides out in a theater watching the Glickenhaus movie The Soldier, 1982 (which you can also see posters for in the lobby). It’s great to see all this stuff. We’re very glad it was preserved here, intentionally or not.

The seamy, New York, 80’s atmosphere, along with the quality stunts, largely good acting combined with a story about adults (no stupid kids are involved) puts Shakedown way above the pack.

Featuring the tune “Lookin’ For Love” by Nikki Ryder, Shakedown is well worth seeking out.

Also check out the write-ups of Shakedown by: Direct To Video Connoisseur and Explosive Action!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


A Better Way To Die (2000)

A Better Way To Die (2000)-*1\2

Directed by: Scott Wiper

Starring: Scott Wiper, Natasha Henstridge, Wayne Duvall, B'Nard Lewis, Carmen Argenziano, Joe Pantoliano, and Lou Diamond Phillips

"Some things are worth living for..."

Boomer (Wiper) is a young Chicago cop that gets mixed up in a war between federal agents, such as Dexter (Phillips), and shady gangsters and criminals, such as Cleveland (Braugher) who want a special computer chip. Apparently this chip contains sensitive information that leads all the way to the top. So Boomer ends up on a road trip of sorts, dodging dangers at every turn, and meeting wacky characters such as Flash (Pantoliano, not Jeff Kutash). All he wants to do is propose to his beautiful girlfriend Kelly (which is probably a decent idea considering it is puzzling why a woman of this caliber is with this dork in the first place)...but, as they say, life has other plans...

It seems, since the 2000’s, the term “Direct to Video” is synonymous with this type of production - a not-quite-movie-theater-quality, run of the mill, post-Tarantino crime thriller that relies more on cursing in the dialogue than on good ideas. This is a shame, DTV used to encompass all sorts of things, not the least of which was punchfighting movies. But, alas, this relatively new form of entertainment has paved the way for such personalities as Scott Wiper, a man whose career would not exist were it not for the miracle of DTV productions.

Despite the good cast, don’t be fooled. This is some sort of vanity project for the aforementioned Mr. Wiper. Just because he wrote The Last Marshal (1999), now he feels he’s entitled to write, direct and star in his own project, leaving the real stars in the background. Well, you’re no Scott Glenn, sir. (Note snarky attitude). Lou Diamond Phillips and Wiper should have switched roles. But we’re left with the unlikable (or unWipable) Wiper, who appears to be some sort of irritating cross between Edward Burns and Ben Affleck.

At the outset, it appears we’re in for a low-budget, gritty crime drama that’s at least striving for some measure of quality. Sadly, the “irony” sets in and we realize we’re in sub-Boondock Saints (1999) territory once again. Of course, why that movie has a gigantic following and was even re-released back into the theaters (an unheard-of move) while A Better Way to Die and its ilk are unnoticed by these same “fanatics” is unknown.

This movie is not impressive, although the (unfortunately) supporting cast tries their best. Henstridge has never looked better, but that’s not nearly enough to save this dud. Regrettably, a Better Way to Die is a waste of the talents of LDP, Braugher, Pantoliano, Henstridge and Sweet Lou (B’Nard Lewis). Avoid.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty