The Way Of The Dragon (1972)

The Way Of The Dragon (1972)- * * *

AKA: Return Of The Dragon

Directed by: Bruce Lee

Starring: Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris

Tang Lung (Bruce) is a Chinese native and something of a wide-eyed innocent when he comes to the big European city of Rome to help his relatives, who run a restaurant in the Eternal City. But a big problem arises when gangsters declare that they want the restaurant and the property it’s on for themselves.  

Initially Lung’s family are helpless and confused about what to do next, then they find out that Lung is a Kung Fu master. Lung staves off the gangsters by fighting wave after wave of thugs and baddies sent by the higher-ups in the nefarious syndicate. For a while, the restaurant seems secure. But then the bad guys bring out the big guns by calling in Colt (Chuck), an American Martial Arts master who flies to Rome with the sole reason of defeating Lung in a fight. The climax of the movie sees the two titans have it out in the legendary Colosseum. Who will emerge victorious?

The Way of the Dragon (or Return of the Dragon, as it was marketed after the success of Enter the Dragon), was a Golden Harvest production written and directed by Bruce Lee, and he also co-produced, starred in, and of course was credited as Action Director and Martial Arts Instructor on the film. Bruce’s talent was immense and seemed to be growing at this point in his career; unfortunately for the world, he passed away the next year after the release of this film. 

Of course, this led to many producers trying to fill the void left by the legend and his huge popularity, leading to such names as Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Dragon Lee, and our personal favorite, Bruce Rhee. Just to name a few. But for our purposes here at Comeuppance, it was nice to actually see a BRUCE LEE film, as opposed to some of the movies that appeared in his wake. It puts things into perspective when you can go back and see the originator, instead of one of the imitators.

Don’t get us wrong, many of the movies featuring the “imitators” are fun in their own right and certainly have their charms, but there’s nothing like an actual Bruce Lee film, and, sadly, there aren’t that many of them to choose from. Here, though, starting from the cool, Spaghetti Western-style animated opening titles sequence, we go into a very 70’s world: big cars, big collars, pea soup-colored home decor, and of course Bruce Lee was still alive. 

Maybe someday we’ll be able to go back to the 70’s. Of course, it was also a time when a young Chuck Norris, sans facial hair (but with plenty of hair everywhere else, as Bruce humorously points out during their fight scene), was just coming on the movie scene. Chuck doesn’t appear until about an hour into the movie, as he’s the baddies’ “secret weapon” brought in to bring Bruce down, but, like Slaughter in San Francisco (1974), Chuck plays a villain with limited screen time. He had yet to establish himself as a hero, and of course when he comes up against Bruce Lee, the fur’s gonna fly!

The movie does get off to something of a slow start, and the pacing is kind of odd, especially by today’s standards, but really there’s no shortage of Bruce action. It was a time when terms like “Kung Fu” and “Nunchucks” were brand new in the American (and the non-Asian world’s?) lexicon, so that was interesting to see. The dubbing is...unfortunate, but typical for productions of this time and place. 

That’s how it is on the Inter-Vid VHS, and it’s unlikely to be any better on many of this movie’s other releases. A widescreen, subtitled, remastered DVD would be awesome, but it’s probably an impossibility, because of the way the movie was shot. The only other real complaint we have is that it’s kind of repetitive, plot-wise, but that’s a minor quibble, we’re just grateful this film exists in the first place. It would be fascinating to think what Bruce would be doing if he was around today.

There’s a really good chance he’d be making DTV movies with the action stars of our day like Scott Adkins and Gary Daniels, among others. Or perhaps he’d be making movies in Hong Kong with Jet Li and Donnie Yen. Or maybe both, there’s no way of knowing. But Return of the Dragon remains an important part of the Bruce legacy.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Code Of Silence (1985)

Code Of Silence (1985)-* * *

Directed by: Andrew Davis

Starring: Chuck Norris, Dennis Farina, Ralph Foody, Joe Guzaldo, and Henry Silva

 Eddie Cusack (Chuck) is a Chicago cop under attack on all fronts. The Italian mob hates him because he and his partner Det. Dorato (Farina) got involved in a drug deal they were doing with the Colombian cartel, led by the evil Comacho (Silva). Now the Colombians are after his blood as well. And even members of his own department are after him because his honesty and integrity forces him to break the “code of silence” when a fellow cop Cragie (Foody) shoots an unarmed teenager and plants a gun on him. And his young, new partner that he didn’t initially want, Kopalas (Guzaldo) is cracking under the strain. But Cusack does have a dependable ally in all this mess: a prototype police robot named Prowler. Will Cusack and Prowler win the day? Find out today!

Code Of Silence is a classic 80’s adult cop drama. It’s also one of Chuck’s best. The makers of this movie were smart: they crafted a vehicle for Chuck that plays to all of his strengths. (Though this seems to be somewhat accidental, as Chuck wasn’t the first choice for the role of Cusack). Here, Chuck is the strong, silent type: a rock of relative calm in the sea of chaos around him. He’s not “wooden”, he’s quiet, reserved, even contemplative. Someone finally decided that Chuck could be in a serious-minded, non-goofy movie, and not only does it completely work, but it’s a highlight in his career. 

Stallone perhaps could have played the Eddie Cusack role, and truly this is Chuck’s Nighthawks (1981). They both grew beards and wore sweaters to prove they could make gritty, realistic fare for grown-ups. Smartly, the makers of Code Of Silence saved all the action for the final third, which makes total sense. 

Now, in today’s ADD-afflicted culture, someone somewhere decided movies have to have Vin Diesel or The Rock doing some sort of cartoonish, silly CGI car stunt in front of a green screen in the first seconds of a movie (or trailer) in order to satisfy an audience of dummies. By contrast, Code Of Silence’s pace is slow and deliberate, and thank goodness for that. It hearkens back to a time when action movies were MOVIES, not glorified video games. With the passing of time, Code Of Silence looks better than ever.

Some of our most-loved cliches are on board as well, such as the WYC (White Yelling Chief), the copious sax on the soundtrack, and, in a 2-for-1, the abandoned warehouse in an abandoned shipyard. And, proving definitively it was the glorious 80’s, Chuck has a Rubik’s cube. The great Henry Silva makes a worthy enemy for The Chuckster, and Dennis Farina is a great buddy for him to have. And Ralph Foody is the original foodie. Director Davis went on to work with Seagal on his vehicles Above The Law (1988) and Under Siege (1992), but don’t hold that against him. Code Of Silence is a winner all around.

Sadly, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, but at least we have gems like Code Of Silence to remember that quality used to come to the movie theater. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning (2012)

Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning (2012)- * * *1\2

Directed by: John Hyams

Starring: Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Andrei Orlovsky, and Dolph Lundgren

 "Under their own command..."

John (Adkins) has suffered a horrendous family tragedy, and former UniSol Luc Devereaux (Van Damme) is now the target of his quest for revenge. Not helping the already volatile and complex situation is an out-of-control maniac on the rampage named Magnus (Orlovski, who was so unforgettable as “The Freak” in the previous installment of this series) who is tracking John’s every move. Meanwhile, our old buddy Andrew Scott (Lundgren) has assembled an army of disaffected former UniSols and is acting as their leader. 

Their aim is to form a militia-style separatist group in an attempt to be free from their former masters, the government. (this was a genius plot development as a potential direction to take the series, in our opinion). But that’s just the beginning: as John travels through the treacherous world in his quest for answers, he won’t just have to fight for his life, he’ll have to question the very nature of reality itself. Now that’s a concept for an action movie. Will Luc or Andrew finally face their DAY OF RECKONING? Or will it be John? Find out today!

There are many praiseworthy things about Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. Probably the most obvious is that it is an action movie with a difference. Its weird and somewhat nonlinear structure sets it miles apart from the more pedestrian beat-em-ups all too prevalent in the market today. The unorthodox style is highly effective - truly ANYTHING can happen and the viewer is excited and thrilled to see what’s coming next. This “dare to be different” approach scored big with us, which brings us to another reason why we praise this movie: it appears to be “by fans for fans”, or BFFF as our new clothing line will be called. In other words, it would seem the film is tailor made for hardcore action movie fans, who have seen thousands of them in their lifetime, and crave something different that will throw them for a loop. It seems unlikely that a non-action movie fan would like or even understand this movie.

Truly John Hyams is keeping the current state of action afloat, single-handedly. US: DOR is beautifully shot and directed, and he’s clearly not afraid to take chances. Just about all of his gambits worked, as the movie fires on all cylinders and is, frankly, riveting. And while a lot can be made about the film’s violence, or ultraviolence, which is a more appropriate term, violence for its own sake means nothing and is very boring without solid ideas behind them. 

Thankfully, US: DOR has the brains and the brawn to make a satisfying spectacle. While Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) is a truly excellent piece of work and to date Hyams’ masterpiece, Day of Reckoning, we felt, was superior to his Dragon Eyes (2012). But at least he’s keeping Van Damme employed...seemingly also single-handedly.

Van Damme appears to be on a winning streak of late, and his career, we say tentatively, is back on form. JCVD has a small, but pivotal role here, not unlike his turn in the aforementioned Dragon Eyes. Personal hero Dolph Lundgren is typically great, but the movie is all about Scott Adkins, in one of his best roles to date. Add to that some awesome fights and a standout car chase, all done, daringly, without music, and you have another potent piece of work from Mr. Hyams. If you happen to be reading this, Mr. Hyams, we just want to say to you: more please!

Make sure you get the movie on iTunes, as this is the unrated director’s cut not found elsewhere. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is like manna from heaven for true action fans, and we recommend it highly.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, Cool Target and DTVC!


Timecop (1994)

Timecop (1994)- * * * 1\2

Directed by: Peter Hyams

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mia Sara, Ron Silver, and Bruce McGill

In the future year of 2004, time travel is possible. But since the future has not happened yet, travelers can only go back in time. Because baddies want to go back in time to commit crimes, a new government agency, the Time Enforcement Commission, is formed to prevent and police criminal actions by people who travel in time. Max Walker (Van Damme) is chosen to be part of the TEC team. But since a bunch of thugs attacked and killed his beloved wife Melissa (Sara), Walker has hit the bottle and is living in the past, lamenting his lost love. But it hasn’t prevented him from being a top timecop, and his incorruptible nature has caught the ire of a very formidable foe, Senator McComb (Silver). 

McComb has his eye on the presidency, and all the millions of dollars it takes to get there, and is willing to do anything to achieve his power-hungry goals. When Fielding (Reuben) enters the picture, things get even more complicated. Can Walker stop McComb, other time-baddies, and possibly even time-rescue his wife in the process? Find out today…

It’s really no surprise as to why Timecop is one of the most popular and well-known Van Damme titles. It’s a completely mainstream, professionally-made product that contains thought-provoking ideas as well as classic Van Damme action scenes. JCVD gets all the best lines (90’s one-liners at their best), and the movie is as solid a piece of entertainment as you’re likely to find. Director Peter Hyams would re-team with Van Damme the next year for Sudden Death (1995), and is the father of John Hyams, who is a brilliant director in his own right, known for working with JCVD in Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009), Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012), and Dragon Eyes (2012). So the bloodline continues.

Timecop also qualifies as one of our favorite items, a movie that takes place in the future which is now the past, in this case 2004. Max Walker’s powerful mullet must have been reassuring for viewers in 1994 to see, knowing they would still be fashionable ten years into the future. But were they fashionable in 1994? Regardless, Walker is the type of guy who tells purse-snatchers to read between the lines on his boot, and that’s good enough for us. Of course, Van Damme does more than one split, including one that saves his life, in an attempt to show viewers that they ARE necessary to constantly do, dammit.

This also qualifies as one of many movies in which there are two Van Dammes. As we always say, it must have been in his contract. The great Ron Silver was perfectly cast as the smug politician/baddie (hey, aren’t they one and the same?) His car even has the license plate SENATE, thus broadcasting to the world he’s an evil megalomaniac to be reckoned with. 

Add to Silver and Van Damme the beautiful Mia Sara, some sax on the soundtrack, the time-honored warehouse fight, and the fact that the special effects are all wonderfully pre-CGI, and you have a winner that trumps the lackluster competitor Stargate (1994) in just about every way. And it wouldn’t be a 90’s sci-fi movie without at least a little bit of VR. VR was huge in the 90’s. It found its way into movies like this, which don’t even really deal with VR. In the 90’s, VR was the future.

Also slated to be the future back then were minidisc players, and surely Timecop must be one of the only movies in history to feature one. Speaking of music, songs on the soundtrack include “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “Time Won’t Let Me”, in that case covered by The Smithereens, and multiple shots of clocks get the viewers’ minds in the right space to appreciate the time-y goings-on.

In all, Timecop is a very well-written, well-directed, and just all-around well-made film. You’ve probably already seen it, but it certainly stands up to repeated viewings.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a review by our friends at Action Elite!


Desert Heat (1999)

Desert Heat (1999)- *

Directed by: John G. Avildsen

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Pat Morita, Danny Trejo, Bill Erwin, David 'Shark' Fralick, Larry Drake, Paul Koslo, Gregory Scott Cummins, Vincent Schiavelli, Jeff Kober, Jaime Pressly, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, and Ford Rainey

Eddie Lomax (Van Damme) is a mysterious stranger who comes to a dusty ol’ California town. When some local good old boys called the Hogan family, not to be confused with the delightful 80’s sitcom, assault him and leave him for dead, Eddie’s buddy, Johnny Six Toes (Trejo) nurses him back to health.

 Lomax then makes it his mission to get revenge on the Hogans, and one of his main methods of doing that is to pit a faction of other local no-good-niks against them. Lomax must be a big movie buff, because we’ve all seen that plan so many times before. He then enlists the help of Jubal Early (Morita), a nice man who annoyingly repeats all his sentences, the crotchety old man Eli Hamilton (Erwin) and the inexplicably Indian road house owner Singh (Schiavelli) to help him out. The owners of the local diner, the Reynolds family - Dottie, Rhonda, and the prerequisite Pop (Pressly, Fitzpatrick and Rainey, respectively) all love Eddie and get behind his mission quickly, and of course there’s some predictable romance between Rhonda and Eddie. Will Lomax ever turn up the DESERT HEAT?

At this point in his career, Van Damme was in a rut. After a long string of either good or successful movies, he went on to make the awful Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) and then Desert Heat, his first DTV effort after he was exiled from movie theaters. 

Despite a virtual all-star/all character actor cast, Desert Heat is a dud that’s pretty hard to sit through. The plot is yet another tired run-through of Yojimbo (1961), or, if you prefer, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), or perhaps Django (1966), Savage Dawn (1985) or the more recently-released at the time Last Man Standing (1996), or any other possible options. This movie adds nothing whatsoever to the tale, it’s just a tired rehash. At least similar DTV films like Steel Frontier (1995), Digital Man (1995), or Missionary Man (2007) tried to inject something different into the formula. Desert Heat - which based on its forebears should have been called “Desert Man” - does no such thing.

The whole outing starts on an irritating note and it’s hard to recover. It’s Van Damme spewing a bunch of nonsense as a “tilty-cam” swirls around him. It was the late 90’s after all, so there had to be things like this, and the fact that the movie is annoyingly self-aware (a character asks Dottie if she wants to go see Yojimbo in the theater...groan) hurts the final product. Desert Heat is populated with underdeveloped characters you just don’t care about, and, coupled with the movie’s lack of any originality whatsoever, makes it lose any kind of force or interest for the viewer.

 After the intro, which will unfortunately remind viewers of Bloodmatch (1991) of all things, it never seems to gain much momentum and it’s easy to see why director Avildsen took his name off the movie (even though it’s still in the end credits anyway - just another facet of the shoddy nature of the film). From Rocky (1976) to Desert Heat? Interesting career trajectory...

As far as the baddies, there are some familiar names - Larry Drake, Jeff Kober, Paul Koslo and Gregory Scott Cummins, among others. That’s one of the real shames of Desert Heat. It took a killer cast and reduced it to this crud. There are even a handful of potentially cool scenes - but if you don’t care about the characters or their plight, they don’t amount to much. 

Apparently, Van Damme’s behind the scenes meddling caused the mess we see today. Just what he wanted to change, why he thought the version after the changes was better, or how he was allowed to have that much power over the final film remain unanswered questions. But the end result is that Desert Heat is a slog and one of the weakest Van Dammes.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups by our buddies, DTVC, and The Video Vacuum!


Dragon Eyes (2012)

Dragon Eyes (2012)-* * *

Directed by: John Hyams

Starring: Cung Le, Crystal Mantecon, Peter Weller, and Jean-Claude Van Damme

A man named Hong (Le) comes to a gang, drug, and crime-infested ‘hood called St. Jude and rents a small apartment. It seems a gang war is brewing between the Devil Dogs, the 6th Street Kings and the Eastsiders. A corrupt cop named Mr. V (Weller) is orchestrating all the mayhem from behind the scenes. But the introduction of Hong into this milieu shakes things up for everyone. 

To innocent residents like Rosanna (Mantecon), he’s a godsend, because he helps clean up the neighborhood (in a classic “cleaning up the neighborhood” montage that we always love to see) - but to his enemies, he’s a thorn in their side. All Hong has to rely on is the Martial Arts training he received from his mentor, a man named Tiano (Van Damme). But what is Hong’s true motivation? He will be put to the ultimate test - will he be the savior of the streets? Find out today...

Dragon Eyes is more or less a “Homie Movie”, but with a difference. The difference being that it is competently acted, directed, edited and has some tough, brutal and engaging fight scenes. 

But we wouldn’t expect anything less from our new favorite director, Mr. Hyams, who delivered the utterly brilliant Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) immediately preceding Dragon Eyes. Throwback-style action, but perhaps with some added brutality, seems to be Hyams’ trademark. 

After all, this movie is about a loner who comes to a harsh new town, pits two gangs against one another, and contains the casual racism of the old days - as well as the Prerequisite Torture of the hero and the final fight in the...you guessed it, the abandoned warehouse. So all the proper elements are present and accounted for. But this movie has the first instance we can recall of Rakefighting, and Hong wields that rake like nobody’s business. We applaud that.

With the casting of  Peter Weller and Van Damme, we finally have Robocop vs. Timecop. Well, not really, as they don’t share any scenes together. Van Damme’s role is extremely limited, he only appears in dark, shadowy flashbacks as Hong’s mentor. It’s more about the mysterious Hong in a setup that’s like Blood and Bone (2009) meets Urban Justice (2007). Peter Weller, as Mr. V - not to be confused with Danny G from the previous year’s Forced To Fight (2011) - because in Dragon Eyes Mr. V wears a hat. Otherwise the roles are very, very similar. But Weller has a ton of screen presence, so you want to see him do roles like this. It seems just a few years ago, you wouldn’t see stars like Weller in down-and-dirty DTV product like this and Forced To Fight. But if Robert De Niro is going straight to video now, that signals the way for the movie industry, and all actors beneath his stature.

Mr. Hyams is clearly a talented director and knows how to direct a quality fight scene. The movie overall has some good grit and basically delivers what you want. While we prefer Regeneration, Dragon Eyes is certainly worth watching.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, The Video Vacuum and DTVC!


Legionnaire (1998)

Legionnaire (1998)- * *

Directed by: Peter MacDonald

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Berkoff and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Alain Lefevre (Guess Who?) is a boxer in Marseilles, France in the 1920’s. When some mobsters ask him to take a dive in the ring, Alain refuses, and the gangsters come after him. In a desperate bid for escape, he joins the French Foreign Legion. Probably because he knows the Legion “doesn’t ask questions about a man’s past.” 

Thus, it is something of a ragtag bunch of misfits. Even though the Legion marches and fights hard against its enemy in Morocco, to Alain it’s surely still preferable to being killed by the gangsters that are after him. Unfortunately, some of said baddies enroll in the Legion to find Alain. But Alain also made some friends while serving his time. Will this brotherhood of men with nothing to lose defy all the obstacles put before them? Find out today (?)

Legionnaire is one of the first Van Damme movies to go straight to video (at least here in the U.S.). Sure, it has a professional look and is somewhat glossy, but it’s an old-fashioned war movie - almost in the vein of those boredom-inducing Sunday-afternoon programmers so beloved by the elderly. Why the filmmakers would take that approach is somewhat confusing, until you realize Van Damme probably wanted to break out of his cycle of “beat-em-up” movies and appeal to a wider audience. Unfortunately, this leaves die-hard action fans in the cold, as, yes, there are some battle scenes but almost no Martial Arts.

But it does conform to the now-standard Van Damme formula of the time: It was written by Van Damme and frequent collaborator Sheldon Lettich, it’s 100 minutes or more, and features at least one scene of Van Damme nudity. It’s almost like they have not simply a movie script, but a page of check-boxes that must be ticked before the movie can be released. And since it takes place in the past and/or features Van Damme trying to escape his troubles via ship, it can be easily compared to Lionheart (1990) or The Quest (1996). In fact, in Lionheart, he plays a Legionnaire, so Legionnaire could be almost a prequel of sorts.

It could’ve gone to the theater, there’s certainly nothing junky about it that screams “Direct To Video”, but at this point, the action boom of the 80’s and early 90’s was definitely on the wane. Plus, there are no other real names in the cast to help and support Van Damme. But, plotwise, the enemy the Legionnaires are fighting is unclear, and there’s no one strong, central villain to boo and hiss at. In a supposed action movie, that’s a major problem. Hence, it becomes sort of a morass of unfocused incidents - nothing sticks with you - it’s in one eye and out the other. Nothing much memorable happens.

And while there is some mild Punchfighting at one point, it seems the sole reason Legionnaire was made was to tout the coolness of those awesome hats the Legionnaires wear. Obviously Van Damme wanted to display some national pride (even though he’s not from France) - but perhaps “Legionnaire Hat” isn’t as snappy a title.

If you ever end up in a scenario where you’re going to watch a Van Damme movie with your parents or grandparents, Legionnaire is seemingly made for that purpose.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out a write-up by our buddy,  DTVC!


Lionheart (1990)

Lionheart (1990)- * *

Directed by: Sheldon Lettich

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brian Thompson, Abdel Qissi, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Voyo Goric, Jeff Speakman, and Billy Blanks

Lyon Gaultier (Van Damme) is a member of the French Foreign Legion serving in North Africa. When he receives word his brother is in trouble, he asks for some time off, but his superiors say no. So he deserts the desert, stows away on a ship and ends up in New York City without a penny to his name. The problem is, he needs to get to L.A. While walking the streets, he sees an underground Punchfighting match and decides to get involved. That’s where he meets Eldridge (Page), a small-time promoter who takes a liking to him. Through Eldridge, Lyon begins making money through higher-class fights created by Cynthia (Rennard) and Russell (Thompson AKA Yahoots Magoondi). All Lyon wants to do is give the money to his destitute sister-in-law (Pelikan) and her five-year-old daughter Nicole (Johnson). Nicole ends up viewing Lyon as a father figure and loving him. 

But, as always, there’s “one last fight” and this one’s a killer: Attila (Abdel Qissi) is a brute favored to beat Lyon. On top of all that, two of his superior officers from the Legion have been tasked to bring him back, one of which is Hartog (Goric of Code Name: Zebra, 1987 fame). Will Lyon be Lionhearted enough to figure all this out?

Devised by Van Damme and frequent collaborator Sheldon Lettich, Lionheart has many of the hallmarks of classic-era Van Damme: it went to the movie theater, it’s 100 minutes or more, there’s at least one scene of JCVD nudity, he punches and kicks a lot of people, and he wears some silly outfits. It may contain all the elements, but it seems something is missing with Lionheart. Maybe it’s that Lyon isn’t that likable, and the lack of overall character development. To be fair, Harrison Page puts in a lot of much-needed energy, and his role is basically the one played by Adolph Caesar in The Hitter (1979) - a movie which clearly laid the groundwork for this.

It’s funny, Lyon isn’t in NYC for more than a few minutes before he sees the bumfighting/Punchfighting going on with all the action and people waving their money around. Then again, you have to remember that this was before Giuliani got rid of all the Punchfighting. Once Lyon gets to L.A. and takes on all comers, we see not just poolfighting, but also racquetball court-fighting. I guess something had to fill the space after the 80’s trend ended. It was nice of the Y to allow that. In the poolfighting scene, both fighters are wearing skintight black wrestling singlets, so it’s hard to tell them apart. We can only assume this is the same one Van Damme wore when he was in Breakin’ (1984). The way the whole thing is shot is very reminiscent of the “Schmitt’s Gay” sketch on Saturday Night Live.

Besides the fact that it’s very dumb, another problem with Lionheart is that there is no one, clear villain. It’s just a series of fighters. Sure, Yahoots Magoondi is here at his Yahootiest, but it’s just not enough. The cast is impressive and they do their best - even Billy Blanks and Jeff Speakman appear in tiny “blink and you’ll miss them” roles. Attila seems to be the closest thing to a main bad guy, but he only shows up in the final minutes of the film. And he’s a dead ringer for Gene Simmons, so it’s hard to take him overly seriously as a guy who will break every bone in your body.

As for the music, there’s some classic 80’s-style sax, of course, and there are musical cues that sound a lot like “There’s No Easy Way Out” and “Eye of the Tiger” - but just barely escape copyright infringement. As JCVD is jogging in a gray sweatsuit no less. No Rocky Parallels there. The end song, “No Mercy” by Bill Wray stands out as a winner in the classic action movie AOR style. It should have been used during a training montage in the movie though, not just during the credits. But there is a shopping montage, and those are always fun.

In all, Lionheart is standard, middle-of-the-road Van Damme. Fans will surely appreciate it, but newcomers to action movies shouldn’t start with it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up by our buddy, The Video Vacuum!


Knock Off (1998)

Knock Off (1998)-* * *

Directed by: Tsui Hark

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon, and Paul Sorvino

Set in Hong Kong, Knock Off is the tale of how the fashion industry intersects with the Russian mafia and the CIA. As if you didn’t already know. Tommy Hendricks (Schneider) is a fashion designer and his pal Marcus Ray (Van Damme) is shocked when he discovers “knock off” goods on the streets of Hong Kong, such as “Pumma” sneakers. But it’s all just a ruse to smuggle high-tech weaponry such as extremely dangerous and destructive bombs that explode with green flames. 

When the marketing manager for V-Six jeans, Karen Lee (Rochon), gets involved - as anyone might if they were somehow embroiled in a scenario that involved Exploding Counterfeit Jeans (or ECJ’s, as we like to call them) - they meet the mysterious Harry Johanson (Sorvino) and the stage is set for a lot of high-octane fights, stunts, chases and battles. Will these knock off products finally get our heroes...knocked off? Find out today!

The purpose of movies, especially movies like this, is to entertain. And Knock Off certainly does. It seems to work overtime to please the viewer with all sorts of fast-paced and off-kilter scenarios, and the vibe becomes infectious. Just as director Tsui Hark did the previous year with JCVD in Double Team (1997), he teams him up with a wacky American sidekick. With Double Team, unforgettably, it was the one and only Dennis Rodman. Here, it’s with unlikely action star Rob Schneider. We even get some brief Schneider-Fu, and, unfortunately, he also appears shirtless. Both Rodman and Schneider were hot in the 90’s - which is easy to forget these days - which just adds even more to the nutty feel of these movies.

If it’s one thing Knock Off has, it’s style, and we’re not just talking about fashion. Hark’s direction is filled with energy and overflowing with unusual camera angles (such as “shoe vision”) to the point where it can be described as cartoonish. Far from a bad thing, the whole venture seems very “Hong Kong” and he probably figured, after Double Team, ‘to hell with the American market, I’m doing this my way.’  

What reinforces that are the fun, Jackie Chan-style stunts and fights. Sammo Hung is credited as Second Unit Director, and this may seem insane, but you can actually tell. It’s his action style all the way.  JCVD gets a great intro to his character in the film, and both he and Rob Schneider both wear zany Hawaiian shirts for most of the movie’s running time. Clearly they are the height of fashion. JCVD also has his typical funny faces on display, adding to the charm of the movie.

While it was nice to see Paul Sorvino on board, though he seemed a tad bit confused (though wouldn’t you be?) - especially in the scenes where he, Rochon, Schneider and Van Damme are all together (talk about powerful casting) - truly the biggest coup were getting the Mael brothers of Sparks fame to do the music. Their closing credits title song is very slick, clever and catchy, like most of their other work. You’ll be singing “It’s a knock off...” for weeks. Yes, weeks. Varouje Hagopian did additional music, and we’ve seen that name before (he seems to do the music for a lot of Billy Blanks movies). In the end, if it’s zany, colorful, well-choreographed action you seek, Knock Off is a great choice.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out write-ups by: DTVC and The Video Vacuum!


Double Team (1997)

Double Team (1997)- * * *

Directed by: Tsui Hark

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Natacha Lindinger, and Mickey Rourke

Jack Quinn (Van Damme) is a retired CIA operative who wants to do nothing more than lounge by the pool with his wife Katherine (Lindinger), who happens to be pregnant, after a long career of CIA operations. However, trouble rears its head in the form of super-evil baddie Stavros (Rourke), a longtime enemy of Quinn’s. Stavros is so dangerous, Quinn must travel to Antwerp to meet Yaz (Rodman), a colorful, flamboyant arms dealer, to sell him the latest in hi-tech weaponry. 

After a shootout and one-on-one battle with Stavros, he ends up escaping once again, and Quinn is sent to a mysterious place called “The Colony” which is not at all based on The Prisoner TV show. Quinn spends most of his time at The Colony training and working on his escape plan. Once firmly out of the grasp of The Colony, he and Yaz team up to take one last shot at Stavros - who has kidnapped Katherine, and now his newborn son. Will Quinn and Yaz make the ultimate DOUBLE TEAM?

Double Team is classic 90’s Van Damme. The presence of Dennis Rodman cements the fact that it’s classic 90’s, period. This was not only an era in time when JCVD movies came to the theater, but when DENNIS RODMAN movies came to the theater. It truly was a more innocent time for us all. 

The fact is, Rodman’s outlandish female outfits, wacky hair, silly one-liners and, let’s face it, infectious charisma enliven the movie immeasurably. Director Tsui Hark brings that kinetic HK style and crazy camera angles he and his brethren are known for. Throw in some Mickey Rourke as the baddie and a tiger (during the climactic battle) and you have the enjoyable and entertaining movie we know and love today.

During a big chunk of the movie, namely the “Prisoner” sequence, you might find yourself asking “where’s Yaz?” or “this movie could really use more Yaz”. The fact is, Rodman and Van Damme do have very good chemistry together, and there’s certainly no shortage of basketball jokes and references in the movie. During the heyday of Rodman, he only appeared in two movies. This one and Simon Sez (1999). 

Fascinatingly, and inexplicably, both films feature “Cyber-Monks”. That is, underground monks using modern technology.  A quick look on Urban Dictionary for Cyber Monk includes this excerpt: “They have a strange tendency to show up in high-tech espionage movies starring Dennis Rodman. Some are known to dance.” Whether they are in Rodman’s contract as a prerequisite to him being involved, we don’t know, but Cyber Monks are definitely a thing. And we don’t know why. Martial Artist and stuntman Xin Xin Xiong is also involved with both Rodman vehicles.

Double Team definitely delivers what fans want: wild stunts, a classic training sequence (but with a twist: Van Damme’s time-honored split is done vertically this time, not simply horizontally as usual), at least one character walking away from an explosion in slow motion, and many characters who scream while shooting their machine guns. Because Hark is the director, there are certainly some odd close-ups and such, and there are many moments that are weirdly nonsensical, but it’s all part of the fun. Plus the movie mentions North Korea as a threat, which was pretty ahead of its time in 1997.

Rodman knows you can never get enough Rodman, which is why he also appears on the closing credits song, “Just a Freak” by Crystal Waters featuring Dennis Rodman. Maybe that’s why his star burned brightly but quickly back in the 90’s. But at least we have Double Team as proof that he teamed up with Van Damme back in that heady time. And the results are everything you could ask for.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out a write-up by our buddy, The Video Vacuum!


Sudden Death (1995)

Sudden Death (1995) * * *

Directed by: Peter Hyams

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Boothe, Raymond J. Barry, Whittni Wright, Ross Malinger, and Dorian Harewood

Darren McCord (Van Damme) is a sort of down-on-his-luck ex-firefighter from Pittsburgh. To help show he’s a good dad, he takes his two kids, Tyler and Emily (Malinger and Wright) to see their beloved Penguins play the Chicago Blackhawks in a big hockey game for the Stanley Cup. As it turns out, the Vice President of the United States (Barry) is also a big hockey fan and in attendance, and a gang of baddies led by the maniacal but smooth Joshua Foss (Boothe) threaten to kill the Vice-Prez, and blow up the arena with all 17,000 people inside if they don’t get the money they’re asking for. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve kidnapped Emily and are holding her with the other hostages in one of the luxury boxes. And Hallmark (Harewood) of the secret service doesn’t seem to be of much help. So it’s up to Darren McCord to try and dismantle all the bombs, save his family, save the Vice-Prez, save the hockey fans, and stop Foss - all single-handedly. Can he do it?

The now-classic 90’s theme of “DieHardInA” movies is perhaps never better exemplified than here. Tired of accented and/or quirky baddies over-running water treatment plants, biochemical weapons labs, schools, hotels, train tunnels, malls, planes, dams, rock concerts, computer research facilities, buildings, Beverly Hillses, more buildings, and beauty contests (Lethal Tender , Deadly Outbreak, Detention, CrackerjackCrackerjack 2, Irresistible Force, Strategic Command, Terminal Rush, Command Performance, Virtual Assassin, The Alternate, The Taking of Beverly Hills, The Last Hour, Open Fire and No Contest, respectively), this time they try a hockey rink. Powers Boothe steals the show as the evildoer who looks like a dapper Oliver Stone. The whole thing is very competently and professionally directed, and it’s standard action fare for the most part, with a few standout scenes and creatively-staged deaths that help endear the movie to the audience.

The fact that it’s the Vice President that’s in trouble certainly threw us for a loop. But then again, what does the Vice President do, anyway? That’s why it’s good that Van Damme had kids (and an arena of self-described “Puckheads”) to save, because if they had shot the VP, those stakes just aren’t high enough. Also, it’s good that they were able to get real teams, players, announcers and staff. That added some nice realism, instead of some made-up team like the Pittsburgh....Powers or something. (Though Boothe surely would have enjoyed that). Plus you know one of the baddies is evil because he has a “terrorist earring”, and what we dubbed “evil popcorn” makes an appearance.

Because it was the 90’s, there are some great fashions on display, a character is playing Doom on a PC, Tyler has a mini Super Soaker, and McCord’s son is named Tyler. It’s a totally 90’s name (heh heh). There was a time, not so long ago, that movies like this went to the theater. It seems hard to believe, but it’s true. Sudden Death is certainly enjoyable, and will remind you of the action boom of the 90’s right before it all went DTV.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups by our buddies: The Video Vacuum, The Action Elite, and Exploding Helicopter!


Black Eagle (1988)

Black Eagle (1988)-*1\2

Directed by: Eric Karson

Starring: Sho Kosugi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Doran Clark, Shane Kosugi and Kane Kosugi

Ken Tani (Sho) is a CIA agent assigned to Malta where a highly sophisticated plane with a destructive weapons system has been found underwater. His goal is to get to it before the evil Russians. The most evil-est Russian of them all is a man named Andrei (Van Damme) and he’ll stop at nothing to prevent Tani from getting to the plane before his KGB brethren. 

To ensure Tani does his job, his two children, Denny and Brian (Shane and Kane Kosugi) have been flown to Malta and put under the care of Patricia Parker (Clark), a woman who brings them to museum after museum with a bunch of tourists in order to bore them out of their minds. Well, according to Survivor, it’s “East vs. West, it’s the paradox that drives us all.” Will Sho overcome against Van Damme? Don’t bother finding out today!

Black Eagle is pretty much universally acknowledged as one of Van Damme’s weakest films, especially from among the early part of his career. Well, we would just like to humbly add our voices to the chorus. The simple fact is, Black Eagle just isn’t very good.  And it’s very easy to explain why: it doesn’t work as an action movie, and it doesn’t work as a non-action movie. It’s like two big gears with a wrench right in between them that’s stopping them from turning. 

The movie seems like it was made to cash in on the action movie boom of the day, and it was made by people with no grasp of how to make an effective action film. That’s a fatal formula. 

Any supposed “action” is limp at best, and what occurs in the meantime is inept and no viewer could possibly care what these people are talking about. When there’s no non-action going on, the movie is filled with moronic dialogue no one could possibly get invested in. It brings us no pleasure to say these things. We wish Black Eagle was better, we really do. But we have to tell the truth.

You’d think a movie starring Van Damme and Sho Kosugi couldn’t possibly be lame. It’s a reasonable thing to think, and surely just about everyone who saw the box art for this movie while perusing their video store had the same feeling. 

But there’s not just one, but TWO anti-climactic, very brief fights between the two. All the makers of Black Eagle had to do was make a movie about Sho taking down goon after goon in his own inimitable way, until the big fight at the end with Van Damme. You’d think that would be a no-brainer. But oh no, they couldn’t just do that and satisfy the fans. 

They had to come up with a bunch of nonsensical claptrap to frustrate audiences. Straining for positives, we found that the movie had some pretty shots of Malta, and to be fair there are a handful of unintentional “laffs” that keep you going until the end, but Black Eagle is truly for Van Damme and Sho completists only.

For instance, we have the world’s largest “No Smoking” sign, and Van Damme’s pants are hiked up to the max (and in other scenes, especially some of his hilariously unnecessary scenes where he’s doing a split, he appears to be an old-fashioned strongman, which is very silly). 

Sho has some nutty moments of his own, especially when he’s on the deck of a boat, screaming utterly incomprehensible dialogue to other characters on an upper level of the boat. Not only is it unnecessary that these characters be so far apart, space-wise, but Sho screams all his dialogue while wearing nothing but a Speedo and glasses. Talk about a stylish combo. Sadly, this is the only movie where Van Damme and Sho were together. You’d think they would have reconvened at a later time to make a better movie. Maybe there’s still time.

Packed to the rafters with stupidity, Black Eagle is unlikely to appeal to its main potential audience - action fans - and will alienate every other potential viewer as well. Unless you’re in an especially masochistic mood, we say avoid Black Eagle.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups by DTVC and The Video Vacuum!


6 Bullets (2012)

6 Bullets (2012)-* * *

Directed by: Ernie Barbarash

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Joe Flanigan, Anna-Louise Plowman and Charlotte Beaumont

Andrew Fayden (Flanigan) is an MMA fighter who wants to crack the European fight market before he stages his big comeback. So he does the natural thing anyone might do in that case, he brings his wife Monica (Plowman) and his young daughter Becky (Beaumont) to that hub of sporting and MMA activity, Moldova. 

While in Moldova, Becky is “Taken” and the Faydens are distraught - so they reach out to the one and only Samson Gaul (JCVD), An Ex-Mercenary, Ex-Legionnaire Who Is The Best And Whose Methods May Be Unorthodox But He Gets Results. Gaul has been down and out of late, after some complications arose on his last job. He went back to the family business of being a butcher and began drinking heavily. Inspired to do the right thing, he puts his skills to work helping the Fayden family. But will they find Becky in time? Find out today!

We’re very happy and proud to report that 6 Bullets is actually a good movie. Without any other knowledge, at first glance you might think a DTV effort from 2012 shot in Romania with Van Damme, from the director of Assassination Games (2011) called 6 Bullets, might be another piece of modern-day DTV crud. And under normal circumstances you might be forgiven for thinking this, but, somehow, 6 Bullets bucks all the trends and is indeed a solidly-made, worthwhile, entertaining, serious-minded affair that is well worth your time. 

Sure, it’s a Taken (2008) knockoff, and a pretty unabashed one, but so what? What the world needs now are tough, take-no-prisoners Taken knockoffs. Not love sweet love. The real crime here is that Taken 2 (2012) went to the theater while 6 Bullets had to settle for being direct to DVD. It should have been the other way around.

Thank goodness other countries in this world still care about Van Damme. If the whole world were like America, which seems largely uncaring of his career, he would be out of a job. But luckily other markets still care, and Eastern Europe at least still seems to have not lost their taste for action movies. 

Yes, we do have to put up with some unnecessary CGI effects at times in 6 Bullets, but that seems to be the way of the world with these newer DTV movies, and in all honesty, at least this time around, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. This was our first run-in with Joe Flanigan, and we must say he was quite good as one of the awesomest dads ever. That was one of the cool things about 6 Bullets, the mom and the dad take up machine guns, hand-to-hand combat and other violent tactics to help save their daughter. 

Thankfully, the wife isn’t a shrill harpy who whines the whole time. Quite the opposite, she gets into the fight with Flanigan and Van Damme and it was great to see that. We were happy to see that particular cliche go away (unlike the Prerequisite Torture, which was, well...prerequisite. Apparently.)

We really enjoyed 6 Bullets and we think you will too. It’s better than you probably think it is, so see it if you get the chance.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups by our buddies, The Video Vacuum and DTVC!