Arena (2011)

 Arena (2011)- *1\2

Directed by: Jonah Loop

Starring: Kellan Lutz, Samuel L. Jackson, Katia Winter, Daniel Dae Kim, Johnny Messner, Nina Dobrev, and James Remar

A mysterious, underground fight promoter known only as Logan (Jackson) stages "Deathgames" in which combatants fight to the death. These bloody mano-a-mano brawls are broadcast over the internet and apparently everyone from office workers in Hong Kong to unlikable and annoying frat boys in America find Logan's product wildly appealing. When one of Logan's workers named Milla (Winter) kidnaps ex-Marine and current paramedic David Lord (Lutz) and forces him to fight for his freedom, at first Lord resists. 

But then Logan offers the deal that if Lord wins ten deathfights to the death, he can go, and not die. Meanwhile, he's kept in a cell far from the prying eyes of the outside world. It's there he befriends Taiga (Dae Kim), who is in a similar situation as him, but his final match will be against an executioner-type-guy known as Kaden (Messner). Will David Lord be the Lord of the underground internet deathfight circuit?

Arena starts off on a bad foot right from the get-go and never recovers. It's almost like an athlete who's so pumped up that he got the ball, he fumbles immediately, and feels so much pressure to recover and make up time, he sabotages himself and can never really keep up. Right in the first few minutes, we're subjected to CGI-based fights, super-irritating frat characters that we only see from one angle as they watch their precious deathfights, and we discover, to our dismay, that our main hero, the guy we're all supposed to get behind, is a man named Kellan Lutz. 

Or possibly Kip Pardue, we're not really sure. Be it Kip, Kellan or Kaden, whatever, you know how it's said that couples that have been together a long time start to resemble each other, or in longtime human-pet relationships, the two start to look alike? Well, it's pretty clear Mr. Lutz has been admiring the Ryan Phillippe poster over his bed for a bit too long. If there's anyone out there who has seen every Ryan Phillippe movie ever made, it's him. While modeling your acting style and career on Ryan Phillippe might not be the world's best decision, if his goal was to be indistinguishable from him, he achieved it.

The massive vacuum where a scintilla of originality might have lived is one of the more glaring problems here. This is just another stupid, mindless fighting movie that adds nothing to an already-crowded marketplace. It's filled with cliche-ridden dialogue and plot developments. 

Its lack of originality is even evident in its title. There are already multiple movies that exist called Arena, but apparently that didn't bother anyone involved. It's almost like they were trying to telegraph this movie's superfluity to any potential renters. (God forbid there be buyers). Okay, we don't expect total originality here, or anywhere, really, but honestly. The only dialogue we liked was the fact that the name "David Lord" was said like a thousand times throughout the course of the movie. It became funny, in a Malone or Brakus kind of way. If that's the name you're super-proud of, and not much else, there's a problem.

OK, we know what you're thinking, because we were thinking it too: why in God's name is Samuel L. Jackson in this piece of crud? The only answer we can come up with is that he's a professional actor, and he likes to work. In Arena, he's a Black guy with a large underground command center, just like Keith David in Executive Target (1997). But this movie is just a knockoff of Gamer (2009) and Fatal Combat (1995) in just about every respect, so as noted previously, originality was clearly one of the first things on the executioner's chopping block. 

Speaking of which, Kaden as the executioner character, rather than be intimidating, is far more reminiscent of early-2000's game show character The Quizmaster from the show Inquisition. You think at any moment he's going to ask David Lord to recite the names of the Great Lakes.

 So we covered the childish, derivative dialogue and plot (a character even says "finish him" at one point, clearly ripping off Mortal Kombat), but the movie never explains why they put so much time and effort into getting this random guy, David Lord, to fight. Then they put him in a cell with a bunch of annoying lights and sounds, meant to break down his spirit. It ended up having the same effect on the audience. Then the brainless frat boys use their iPads and iPhones to bet on the fights. And did we mention Kellan is shirtless for about 90% of the movie? 

But we always try to see the positive, so on that score we applaud the fact that you can actually see most of the fights and there aren't a ton of eye-singing quick-cuts. But on the whole this movie is lame. It would have helped if they got someone good to be the hero, like a Dolph, Scott Adkins or Gary Daniels, but even if they touched Arena with a ten foot fighting pole, it would still be what it essentially is, sadly enough.

The important thing to remember is that Kellan Lutz is not, we repeat, not Ryan Phillippe. Aside from that, Arena embodies almost everything that's bad about modern-day DTV "action" movies.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Enemy Territory (1987)

Enemy Territory (1987)- * * *

Directed by: Peter Manoogian

Starring: Gary Frank, Ray Parker Jr., Tony Todd, Deon Richmond, Stacey Dash, and Jan-Michael Vincent

Barry (Frank), a New York City-based insurance salesman, has been down on his luck lately. But when his boss offers him a policy with a potentially large commission, he jumps at the chance. The only problem is, he must go into the Lincoln Towers, a frightening, dilapidated housing project not exactly friendly and welcoming to his kind (i.e., White outsiders). However, feeling he has nothing really to fear, and needing the money, he goes into the towers. 

But it’s not long until Barry discovers that the buildings are controlled by a street gang known as The Vampires, led by an intimidating psycho known as The Count (Todd). His gang members are extremely loyal to him, and when he sends out the order to kill “The White Ghost”, as well as a kind Vietnam vet helping him survive, Will Jackson (Parker Jr.), who the gang calls “The Blood Traitor”, all hell breaks loose. With the assistance of Toni Briggs (Dash) and another Vietnam vet, Parker (JMV), the frazzled Barry is going to learn, over the course of one hellish night, that there are some things in life more valuable than money. Will he ever escape ENEMY TERRITORY?

Enemy Territory is an under-appreciated gem that seemingly got lost in the video store shuffle. More people need to seek this movie out: it’s engaging, intense, and completely worth seeing. Sadly, it was one of Ray Parker Jr.’s only major film acting roles. He probably found it to be an easy transition from serenading us about ghosts to fighting Vampires. 

He even predates John McClane in being a barefoot hero in a high-rise. But the movie as a whole isn’t a knockoff of Die Hard (1988), like so many others were at this time. Try to imagine a cross between The Warriors (1979), Chains (1989), Dead End City (1988), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Tenement (1985) and The Raid (2011). And coincidentally, Tony Todd would return to the projects with Candyman (1992). So while the movie suffers from the common problem of slowing down a bit and getting a tad repetitive pre-climax, on the whole it’s a solid, absorbing winner.

Plus, this was to mark the first and only time RPJ met JMV. Vincent puts in what is honestly one of his best performances of his that we’ve seen to date. He seems angry and focused, and not at all drunk. His role is cool, that of an embittered, wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet who is heavily armed (even his wheelchair is tricked out with weaponry, which, needless to say, is awesome). He even calls Barry “jerk meat”, which must be a distant cousin to Judd Nelson’s immortal “Jerk Beef” of a few years later. JMV is always the trendsetter. Speaking of Barry, Frank did an excellent job in the role, but we also feel Judge Reinhold could have played that part. But then again, Crackerjack 2 (1997) proves that the man can do literally anything.

Featuring some great, un-PC dialogue and box art that features the WTC towers prominently, Enemy Territory is from another time in history. A time when movies were actually good. The film has a lot to offer and should be more widely seen. We recommend it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, Cool Target!


Blind Rage (1978)

Blind Rage (1978)- * *1\2

Directed by: Efren C. Pinon

Starring: Leo Fong, Leila Hermosa, Charlie Davao, Fred Williamson and Golay as Chan

In the wake of the Vietnam war, the United States plans to send millions of dollars in aid to Southeast Asia, in order to prevent a feared "domino effect" of instability in the region. For some reason, the U.S. government didn't foresee that a criminal mastermind named Johnny Duran (Davao) has hired a woman named Sally (Hermosa) to corral a group of blind men to stage a robbery on the bank where the money is being held. BLIND MEN ROBBING A BANK. That's pretty much it. That is, until Jesse Crowder (Williamson) shows up to get to the bottom of the heist and get justice. Will the blind indeed lead the blind...to a multi-million dollar payoff? Find out today...?

The original Blind Fury (1989), Blind Rage is the original vision impairment-based action movie. While we absolutely fell in love with the concept of the film: namely, a group of multi-racial blindies getting together for a bank heist, a couple of things weigh down the movie as a whole. The main detriment is the slow pace. There are long, extensively detailed scenes of "robbery practice" where Sally teaches the blind boys of Alabama how to properly execute the heist. The other thing is a mixed blessing. It's the inclusion of Fred Williamson. His appearance towards the end of the film rescues the movie from the doldrums, but the problem is, Fred should have been involved the whole time. Let's not forget this is from the same director as Ninja Assassins (1978), the movie where Cameron Mitchell didn't appear until the third act. Maybe that's director Pinon's idea of playing his last ace.

There are plenty of things to admire about Blind Rage, however. The 70's style we all know and love is in evidence, best exemplified by the massive cars that are roughly the size of aircraft carriers. The funk on the soundtrack and the rotary phones reinforce the vibe as well, not to mention the loudly patterned shirts and wood-paneled rec rooms. Speaking of the soundtrack, there's this one annoying high-pitched note that appears at least twice in the movie, and it's so ear-shatteringly irritating, and is held for such an interminably long time, we actually had to hit mute. Hopfully that wasn't Pinon's idea of suspense music. But that one note (not to be confused with the movie's idea) is washed away by the funk, as well as the presences of Fong and Williamson.

Fong plays a guy blinded during a fight with the triads, and Fred is just cool (he even exits a car in an extremely cool manner), but the rest of the acting is hilariously stilted and packed with funny pauses. That alone makes Blind Rage worth seeing, despite its flaws. And let's not forget the immortal credit "Golay as Chan". Yes, there is a man (?) out there simply named Golay. He's obviously the Cher or Madonna of the Philippines. And he played Chan. So now you know. Golay, we hardly knew ye.

Featuring a song we think is called "The System" by Helen Gamboa (Manila's answer to Shirley Bassey?), Blind Rage does have some dull moments and is flawed, but the overall concept and some of the sillier moments make for relatively painless viewing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Trackdown (1976)

Trackdown (1976)- * * *

Directed by: Richard T. Heffron

Starring: James Mitchum, Karen Lamm, Erik Estrada, Anne Archer, Vince Cannon, and Cathy Lee Crosby

Jim Calhoun (Mitchum) is a Montana cattle rancher who doesn't take any guff. When his sister Betsy (Lamm) decides to follow in the footsteps of so many that came before her and moves to L.A. seeking fame and fortune, tragedy befalls her. The wide-eyed and innocent Betsy falls afoul of an evil gang and is forced into prostitution. A guy named Chucho (Estrada) falls for Betsy, and while initially associated with the gang, severs ties when Betsy goes missing. 

Soon Jim Calhoun is in the big city, a big, burly fish out of water, also searching for his beloved sister. Joining the search party is social worker Lynn (Crosby). But super-evil baddie Johnny Dee (Cannon) is going to make life especially hard for the well-meaning trio, who, despite all their social differences, have banded together to save Betsy from a life of squalor. Will Calhoun and his friends succeed in their TRACKDOWN?

Trackdown is a quality example of the "disgruntled man searching for his wife/sister/daughter" movie exemplified by the likes of Hardcore (1979), Broken Angel (1988), and, most recently, Taken (2008). While there are other examples, Trackdown predates the aforementioned three titles, and, as you might expect, is dripping with 70's style. Thank goodness for movies like Trackdown, which show L.A. back in the day in all its gritty glory. While the surface is loaded with rotary phones, wide ties, and bellbottoms, the underlying message seems to be that the city is filled with harsh realities and uncaring people, and scavengers will take advantage of you if you don't have a support system of people who care.

One of those people happens to be Erik Estrada. His youthful energy pours through in this early role, and he has some stylish shirts and a killer van to boot. He even takes Betsy to a very interesting dance club with a live band at one point. Director Heffron was going for realism for the most part, which pays off today in the sense of it being a fascinating time capsule. But the true reward of this realistic approach is that there is no treacly sentimentalism or preachy messages, just Jim Mitchum with a shotgun dispensing Montana justice. Now that's a trackdown we can get behind.

It's hard to pick a favorite Mitchum: Jim, Chris or Robert. Each time we think we have a fave, along comes a Code Name: Zebra (1987) or a mega-winner like the awesome Final Score (1986). But for the purposes of today's review, Jim is in the driver's seat, and we couldn't be happier. Jim Calhoun brings a dose of reality to those L.A. airheads, in the form of some good beat-em-ups and an extremely well-directed action setpiece in an elevator shaft. While Cathy Lee Crosby and Anne Archer provide nice cast additions, Mitchum makes you root for Calhoun. Featuring the end credits song "Runaway Girl" by none other than Kenny Rogers, we feel Trackdown is worth tracking down.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


The Heroin Busters (1977)

The Heroin Busters (1977)- * * * *

Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari

Starring: Fabio Testi and David Hemmings

International heroin smugglers are traveling between Colombia, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, New York and Rome plying their sinister trade. Mike Hamilton (Hemmings) is an Interpol agent obsessed with stemming the tide of drugs from these professional narcotics-smuggling gangs. But he’s in his office. On the actual streets is Fabio (Testi), an undercover cop who makes plenty of enemies in the underworld. It all comes to a head when said baddies all come after Fabio, and he has to use all his wits to get away with his life. Can he do it?

There seems to be no end to the amazing contributions of Enzo G. Castellari to the world of filmed entertainment. From Light Blast (1985) to his post-apocalyptic Video Store Classics 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) and The New Barbarians (1983), to his Westerns like Any Gun Can Play (1967), to his trilogy of top-notch Poliziotteschi, Street Law (1974), The Big Racket (1976) and, this, The Heroin Busters, the list goes on and on. Is there anything he can’t do? When you’re adept at so many genres, that level of talent opens you up to new audiences, and many different types of film fans have a special place in their hearts for Enzo. We certainly do.

Everything is top-notch here, from the way it’s shot and edited, to the acting, clothing, set design, etc., it’s firing on all cylinders. Enzo seemed to really want to show the grossness and evil of drugs, showing the subculture not as glamorous and exciting, but as disgusting and dingy. David Hemmings puts in an energetic performance, and the icing on the cake is the typically-stellar Goblin soundtrack.

But truly the man of the hour is Fabio Testi. He seems so effortlessly cool in everything he does, and pretty much the last half-hour of this movie is him doing a lot of super-awesome things. Enzo just stacks ingenious on top of ingenious until the audience is overwhelmed. If you’ve seen it , you know what we mean, and if you haven’t, the excellent Blue Underground DVD is available, now at an all-new low price. You can’t afford to NOT see it.

The Heroin Busters is yet another jewel in the crown of Enzo, as well as everyone else involved with this fine production.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out a write-up from our buddies at 10k Bullets!


Cyber Ninja (1988)

Cyber Ninja (1988)- * * *

Directed by: Keita Amemiya

Starring: Shohei Yamamoto, Masaaki Emori, Eri Morishita, and Hanbei Kawai

When Raimei Dark Bishop (Yamamoto) creates “the perfect cyber ninja to please Dark Overlord’s birthday” (Dark Overlord is a menacing vision on a screen played by Masaaki Emori, by the by) , he doesn’t realize he has set in motion the ultimate battle between human ninja/samurai, and the kind of the cybernetic variety. When Princess Saki (Morishita) is kidnapped, bounty hunter Akagi (Kawai) snaps into action. 

Told he will be paid for every Cyber Ninja head he brings back to his master, he ends up teaming up with the aforementioned “perfect Cyber Ninja”, who laments the loss of his human soul. Henceforth a wild, unmanageable and messy battle ensues. Will humans come out victorious in the war between them and their mecha-ninja assailants? Find out today...?

Well, here’s a movie that delivers on its promises. It offers cybernetic ninjas, and indeed cybernetic ninjas are what you get. This is a movie that is completely Japanese, with absolutely no concessions made for any Western audiences.

It’s certainly the “most Japanese” thing we’ve witnessed in some time: seemingly out of nowhere huge robots appear, seemingly ultra-futuristic but with traditional Japanese home architecture affixed to the front of their panels (!!!), then Japanese men in traditional garb swordfight against constant volleys of “pew-pew” lasers, then a beautiful princess is kidnapped by a guy named “Raimei Dark Bishop”, whose costume seems to fuse Kabuki makeup with modern updates like stylized insect-like tines sprouting out his back. 

Then ninjas have helmets that stream Japanese writing in their field of vision. Then a creature who looks like a cross between Predator and Terl named Shoki appears, who has a tiny face on top of a huge mass of snakelike wires...I think you get the idea. If you’re looking for anything remotely resembling coherency, run screaming in the other direction. If you’re looking for something weird and Japanese, this is the movie for you.

The movie plays like a live-action Anime, and contains all the insanity an attempt like that may create. Apparently it was based on a Japanese video game, which again is not surprising. Normal movie-watchers are used to seeing the Paramount or Columbia logos before the movie starts. 

Cyber Ninja begins with the Namco logo complete with a smiling Pac-Man giving us the thumbs-up. You know before the movie even begins that if it’s a Namco production, you’re in for something...unusual. But surely that makes this one of the very first video game movies. The Japanese are always ahead of us.

Even though the film starts with a couple of silent movie-style intertitles “explaining” what’s going on, not only do the explanations make no sense, the fact that they’re done in that style just adds to the confusion. The overall concept seems to be “old school meets new school” in a mix of crazy inventions, swords, lasers and explosions. But the visuals are very strong, and whoever created the costumes and special effects should be commended. Not only does the movie have funny dubbing, it also has funny running, as the ninjas have their own way of moving which in itself is very amusing, which you just have to see, it’s too hard to explain.

Amazingly, this movie was released in the U.S. by Fox Lorber Home Video. Cyber Ninja is seemingly incomprehensible to us round-eyes, and we’re not even sure if the video game it’s based off of, Mirai Ninja, was even released here. Presumably this would have come out on Nintendo...any guesses? But the bottom line is that while the movie itself is utterly nonsensical, it is strong visually and has that wacky sensibility with a lot of creative inventions that show effort and energy. If that appeals to you, do go off and seek this movie out. If you’re obsessed with coherency, you probably wouldn’t be considering Cyber Ninja anyway, so, everybody wins.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Conspiracy Of Fear (1996)

Conspiracy Of Fear (1996)- 1\2*

Directed by: John Eyres

Starring: Andrew Lowery, Tony Rosato, Kenneth Welsh, Geraint Wynn Davies, Leslie Hope and Christopher Plummer

Chris King (Lowery) has his life turned upside down when his father dies in a freak accident and leaves behind a mysterious package. Now baddies far and wide are after him: mobsters like Zelmo (Rosato), a hitman, Straker (Davies), and the big boss man himself, Wakeman (Plummer). King then teams up with the streetwise Jimmy (Hope) and goes on the run for his life. At every turn, he must try and figure out what is going on and how to extricate himself from the nightmare. What in the world is a...CONSPIRACY OF FEAR?

Sadly, and we get absolutely no joy from reporting this, we have to announce that Conspiracy of Fear just plain sucks. It’s filled from confusing beginning to overlong end with:

- unlikable characters
- cutesy, irritating, dumb dialogue
- pretentious “stylistic” touches such as unnecessary slo-mo and “different” camera angles
- Tarantino-style gabby scenes filled with time-filling pop culture references
- cliches by the bucketload, and not the good kind of cliches
- unrealistic situations that go on way too long
- inappropriate music cues
- unfunny, annoying humor that just grates on your nerves

...among other items that dare, nay, defy audiences to slog through this crud. Somehow, we made it, but we’re used to suffering through turkeys like this. Before watching it, we thought, “oh, a PM movie with Christopher Plummer, that should be interesting.” Well, PM picked this up and released it on VHS, they did not produce it. And Plummer is just completely slumming it. Why, PM, why? We feel tricked. 

As is common for low-budget movies, especially ones shot in Canada pretending to be America like this one, much of the cast resemble bigger-name stars. Funnily enough, it seems like Conspiracy of Fear was cast from one of those places that provide celebrity look-alikes. The main kid looks like Chris Lemmon, the main baddie looks like Kurt Russell/Patrick Swayze, the doorman is Rodney Dangerfield, and other characters are carbon copies of Terence Stamp, David Heavener and Dennis Miller. Speaking of bits taken from elsewhere, there’s even a sassy waitress named Flo - also recycled in Search and Destroy (1988).

Have you ever noticed that as a substitute for interesting dialogue, characters just yell a lot in poorly-written movies? Well, here is a prime example. This when lamely trying to be funny in an indoor voice isn’t cutting it anymore. Plus the movie is WAY too long at almost two full hours. 

Much of that is just audience-insulting overlong dialogue scenes that don’t advance the plot forward or extremely repetitive chase sequences. Truly awful movies don’t seem to care if they’ve overstayed their welcome with the audience. Take the unbelievably bad and way-too-long Iron Thunder (1998) as a perfect example. And, perhaps the ultimate insult - there’s Michael Bolton music on the soundtrack. It’s almost like the filmmakers were trying to create a compendium of things that make movie audiences sick.

Whatever you do, do NOT watch Conspiracy of Fear under any circumstances.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Miami Connection (1987)

 Miami Connection (1987)- * * * *

Directed by: Woo-Sang Park and Y.K. Kim

Starring: Y. K. Kim, Si Y Jo, William Eagle, Maurice Smith, and Kathy Collier

“You will not escape the Miami ninja.” - Yashito

Jeff (William Eagle) and Yashito (Si Y Jo) are cocaine runners who are close to dominating the world with their drug trade. There’s only one thing standing in their way, but it’s of monumentally awesome proportions: a rock band called Dragon Sound, consisting of members of all different ethnicities who all practice Tae Kwon Do and perform in Karate Gi’s (when not sporting their sleeveless band logo shirt). 

Jeff’s sister Jane (Kathy Collier) just happens to sing for Dragon Sound, and he severely disapproves of her Pat Benatar-like vocal stylings, so he summons his army of biker ninjas to fight the “friends forever” in mortal combat. So while keyboard player Jim (Smith) sorts out his own personal family issues, it’s up to guitarist (?) Mark (Y.K. Kim in a stunning performance) to take on the baddies, while keeping his band of brothers together. Can he do it? (P.S.: BIKER NINJAS.)

Wildly enjoyable, Miami Connection defines what cinematic fun is all about. Man oh man does this movie deliver the goods you want. National treasure Y.K. Kim’s line readings are worth their weight in gold, so much so that G. Gordon Liddy and William Devane are going to start recommending them as the standard U.S. currency. Sadly, this was his only film, putting him up there in the stars with Matt Hannon, Jay Roberts Jr. and Andy Bauman. His, and everyone else’s acting/fight choreography is mind-boggling, and thank God for the new DVD release, which is loaded up with features, including deleted scenes and an alternate ending, so we can truly experience Miami Connection in all its glory.

Yet more proof that the 80’s was uber-awesome, in order to properly soak up the copious charm of Miami Connection, you have to mentally transport yourself back to the golden days when guys and girls with feathered hair wore Ratt and Motley Crue T-shirts with blue and/or black 3/4-length sleeves, Pink Floyd painter’s hats existed (and baddies wore them), and Oates rocked out a wailin’ guitar solo while wearing white Karate pants while Y.K. Kim did a Martial Arts demonstration on stage by grabbing a dude’s nose with his toes. It’s not actually possible to get more radical than that.

But yet, there are action scenes with gore and violence, and a baddie saying “No More Mistakes”. This from his hideout which looks like a little slice of Japan in the middle of Florida. Who knew Miami had such a large ninja population? That’s just one of many life lessons you’ll learn from Mr. Kim and the gang. That’s the thing, there’s a positive vibe, emphasizing friendship and camaraderie that you really don’t see in movies anymore. And those classic songs! The songs by Dragon Sound, and the others on the soundtrack are extremely catchy and you can’t help but love what you’re seeing and hearing. A CD soundtrack needs to be released.

It’s funny, it’s winning, there are great classic computers, the guy who plays Jeff looks like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (if he had been a mid-80’s Florida drug dealer, of course), and there’s even a Godfrey Ho-style Final Field Fight. Truly this is the movie Godfrey Ho always wanted to make, but rarely reached the heights of. Truly YKK isn’t something that’s cryptically imprinted on all of our zippers anymore. He’s a flesh and blood man who has found his way into all of our hearts.

They REALLY don’t make ‘em like this anymore. We would like to personally thank Drafthouse Films for reviving the majesty that is Miami Connection. We look forward to what they’re going to do next. It’s going to be hard to top this. Miami Connection isn’t really the type of movie you see. It’s the type of movie you live. Against the Ninja. We will fight the battle to win. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, Fist Of B-List, Good Efficient Butchery, and The Video Vacuum!


Sudden Death (1985)

Sudden Death (1985)- * * *

Directed by: Sig Shore

Starring: Denise Coward and Frank Runyeon

Valarie Wells (Coward) is a successful, upper-class woman living the high life in New York City. She has a great job, a loving fiance, and all seems to be right with the world. One day, some punks carjack a taxi and go for a joyride. Unwittingly, Valarie hails this anti-Cash Cab and is then raped and beaten by the two thugs. Thankfully, she decides to buy a gun and take the law into her own hands. Because she fashions her own “dum dum bullets”, she becomes known in the press as “the dum dum killer”. Detective Marty Lowery (Runyeon) is assigned to her case, but soon becomes personally interested. Will Marty get in the way of Valarie completing her revenge mission? Find out today!

A low-budget, NYC-shot Death Wish (1974) clone with the former Miss Australia in the vigilante role? Sign us up! It definitely has a lot of appeal for us, and the movie does deliver what you want. It has good, gritty NYC locations, contrasted with Valarie being a classy, modern woman of the 80’s - her clothes and apartment are slick and beautiful, and she even works on one of those one-color computers doing bar graphs. And naturally, she takes an aerobics class. 

Runyeon as Lowery strongly resembles John Stamos...with a bit of Erik Estrada thrown in for good measure. This Erik Stamos guy slurs a lot of his words and is tough to understand. But that’s okay, because one of the main highlights of this film is the music...

The music is by Arthur Baker, and anyone who knows about the synth-heavy productions of the 80’s knows his name. He’s famous for working with New Order, and, interestingly, snippets of their song Confusion are included on the soundtrack. The electronic, neo-disco sound was huge at the time and really gives the viewer today a sense of time and place. The title song, by Bloodlines, is very catchy and completely in keeping with the spirit of everything. Baker also did the music for Beat Street (1984) and other songs on the soundtrack, such as the one by Freeez, help reinforce that street-level vibe.

Sig Shore, mainly known for being the producer of (and having a cameo in) Super Fly (1972), is the director, and, clearly in a bout of modesty, gave himself the credit “A Sig Shore Movie”. You don’t often see a director credit written that way. He does a competent job, providing the movie with a nice pace, and it keeps the viewers’ interest over the course of its 90-minute running time.

Released on VHS by Vestron, Sudden Death is a worthy addition to the collection of vigilante/revenge movie fans (such as ourselves). 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Great Challenge (2004)

The Great Challenge (2004)- *1\2

Directed by: Julien Seri

Starring: Williams Belle, Chau Belle Dinh, and Malik Dourif

A group of multi-racial pals from France love nothing more than to Parkour it up on the local buildings and walkways.  They’ve become so accomplished at what they do, they decide to open a gym in Bangkok to teach the local, underprivileged children how to Parkour. However, they unwittingly open their gym on the turf of the Japanese Yakuza, who are making inroads into Thailand. Henceforth, the ultimate confrontation begins to bubble up to the surface: who will win, the humble Parkour-ers or the nasty gangster baddies? Dare you find out?

Here’s what’s good about The Great Challenge: there are a lot of extremely impressive physical feats, and the stuntwork and action scenes must have taken a lot of time and work to execute. We truly appreciate that. But here’s the problem: there is no plot to speak of, and there is zero character development. So, yes, what these Parkour people do is quite extraordinary, but without decent storytelling, it’s hard, if not downright impossible, to care about their plight. Consequently, you “check out” and you stop caring. So as much as we wanted to care about this band of buff ragamuffins (or ragabuffins, to use the vernacular), this movie made it really hard for us to get invested.

We think we see what was going on here - make a PG-13-rated movie for the younger, Mountain Dew-drinking set that leverages the current trend of Parkour to get adolescent eyeballs on the screen. One of the main characters even strongly resembles Tony Hawk. While that may not have seemed like such a terrible plan, if The Great Challenge only had characterization, and was darker, grittier, and was rated R, we might have something. 

As it stands, it’s “in one eye and out the other”, a forgettable exercise that contains a lot of jumping and CGI sequences, but fails to deliver the serious-minded, bone-crunching blows that hardcore action fans have come to expect. The final brawl is a definite movie highlight, but it should have been that way from the jump (no pun intended). The movie shouldn’t have saved its capital with the audience until the very end. By then it’s too little too late.

In the “mildly amusing” department, the little Thai street urchins have cast-off clothing from English-speaking countries that say “no fly zone”, “crabby” and one has a colorful Street Fighter shirt. It’s doubtful they know what their own clothing says. But the kids do get their own training sequence, so that’s not out of keeping with classic action movies. But does it pay off? Plus, the baddies have these ridiculous bunched-up blankets on their heads that don’t exactly inspire fear. The movie may be fast-paced, but where is it going?

After seeing the same year’s District B13 (2004), there’s almost no need for The Great Challenge. So despite the hardworking stunt performances, we can’t really recommend this.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Nightstick (1987)

Nightstick (1987)- * * *

Directed by: Joesph Scanlan

Starring: Bruce Fairbairn, Robert Vaughn, Kerrie Keane, John Vernon, and Leslie Nielsen

“You need a good workout to get your mind off those terrorists.”

Jack Calhoun (Fairbairn) is a New York City cop with an attitude, and, surprisingly enough, he plays by his own rules. While the top brass, as exemplified by Melton (Vaughn) don’t approve of his rogue ways, some of the other higher-ups, such as Thad Evans (Nielsen) realize that Calhoun’s ways may be unorthodox, but he gets results. 

When a three-brother team of bomb-makers and extortionists known as the Bantam Brothers begin blowing up buildings in the city, only one man can stop them: Calhoun. Did you think it would be someone else? But it becomes personal when they kidnap his girlfriend, Robin (Keane). Meanwhile, bank manager Adam Beardsly (Vernon) wants answers. Can Calhoun save the day? Find out today!

Seeing as how this was originally made for TV, and has the alternate title of “Calhoun”, presumably there was talk of having a Calhoun TV show. Nightstick does indeed feel like a movie-long pilot episode. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, as the movie captures some great NYC locations, not the least of which is an impressive aerial shot of the World Trade Center towers. It wouldn’t be an 80’s cop movie without some smooth sax on the soundtrack, and Fairbairn makes a decent enough hero.

Fairbairn looks like a thinner Tom Berenger, and this must be one of the last movies where the hero smokes. That is exactly what makes Nightstick worth seeing - not just 80’s nostalgia, but the fact that besides Fairbairn, we have Robert Vaughn, Leslie Nielsen and John Vernon all together in a kind of “old guys club”. We always applaud when movies take an anti-young-punk attitude and make salty old guys the heroes. You don’t really see that anymore. 

It’s also nice to see Leslie Nielsen before he was typecast in silly comedy roles. Most people forget the pre-2001: A Space Travesty (2000) times, when he was a serious dramatic actor. Plus, in Nightstick, he was a “foodie” before the term was cool.

From a filmmaking standpoint, there are some weird moments of abrupt editing, and the movie on the whole could have used a bit more energy at times. However, Nightstick is a fairly solid, if somewhat tame, cop thriller/procedural. But really, if anything, it’s the familiar faces that make it work. Plus check out that eye-catching box art.

So if you can’t get enough of rogue cops who handle things their own way (and why would you?), feel free to check out Nightstick, but don’t get your expectations too high.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Fire Down Below (1997)

Fire Down Below (1997)- * * *

Directed by: Felix Enriquez Alcala

Starring: Steven Seagal, Marg Helgenberger, Stephen Lang, Brad Hunt, Levon Helm, Harry Dean Stanton, and Kris Kristofferson

Jack Taggart (Seagal) is an EPA agent with an attitude. In order to get to the truth about a large, illegal toxic waste-dumping scheme, he goes undercover as a handyman in rural Jackson, Kentucky, where the waste is said to be hidden. 

This toxic waste is causing the townsfolk to develop medical issues, and is even killing them. While Taggart finds friendly locals like Cotton (Stanton), Reverend Goodall (Helm), and Sarah Kellogg (Helgenberger), who he forges a relationship with, he does end up with a lot of opposition to his even being in their supposedly quiet little town. 

As it turns out, the sinister Orin Hanner (Kristofferson) is a corporate bigwig who is using the townspeople of Jackson as his own personal enforcers against Taggart so he can continue to make millions with his waste-dumping scheme. But Taggart vows to end this cycle of corruption and misery - by any means necessary. Will Taggart and his friends triumph over the forces of environmental evil? Find out today!

You know, it’s a funny thing...we’ve been so conditioned by Seagal’s latter-day efforts, that we assumed watching this older Seagal vehicle was going to be a crud-filled slog filled to the brim with mind-numbing stupidity. But we were very much refreshed and relieved to find out...wait for it...that Fire Down Below is actually a solid, worthwhile, and entertaining movie. Yes, that seems shocking, but that’s only based on the 2014 view of Seagal. 

Hark back to a time when he was a little thinner, his movies went to the theater, and the major studios ensured some level of professional quality. Seagal is as likable as Seagal gets, and he even smiles a few times. Plus his jackets are truly amazing fashion pieces. (Hence, we ventured a supposition that his full name in the movie was Jacket Taggart). This was in Seagal’s “Environmental” phase, where he wore buckskin coats and all his movies had to be about pollution or rainforests or something. Somehow his interest in that seems to have faded, as his latter-day DTV efforts seem to have him more as an unlikable thug.

If Hard Target was Van Damme’s “Bayou” movie, then Fire Down Below is Seagal’s answer to that. There’s plenty of banjo-pickin’ country music on the soundtrack (a lot of which is by Seagal himself, with none other than Todd Smallwood of Street Knight musical fame...what an amazing team-up!), and the first image of the movie is highly reminiscent of the cover of classic SNES game Phalanx. But the idea of a butt-kicking EPA agent who becomes “Undercover Handyman” is an enjoyable idea, but the whole “classic corrupt small town” feels very familiar.

But here’s the bottom line as we see it: Because this is a rural movie, which is very well-shot and has a nice atmosphere, and has a refreshing emphasis on actual characters, it seems the movie as a whole would have gotten more recognition and critical acclaim had it starred Billy Bob Thornton or Ed Harris instead of Steven Seagal. 

Take out some of the action scenes, and this could have worked well as a low-key drama like Chrystal (2004), Paris Trout (1991) or Sling Blade (1996).  But because this is a Seagal movie, it ran into a dilemma: As a drama, it’s not going to please drama fans, and as a straight-up action movie, it runs the risk of upsetting action buffs who have to have everything go at a breakneck pace with tons of brutal violence. 

We suppose the intended audience is...us, really, because we appreciate actual storytelling, atmosphere, and characters, as well as action. But we applaud Seagal and the rest of the cast for actually trying to make something respectable and not your average crud.

So set your newly-minted (and extremely warranted) modern-day Seagal prejudices aside and feel free to delve into the world of classic, pre-obese Seagal. We’re not afraid to say we thought Fire Down Below was a winner.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


The Dogfighters (1995)

The Dogfighters (1995)- * *1\2

Directed by: Barry Zetlin

Starring: Robert Davi, Alexander Godunov, Lara Harris, and Ben Gazzara

Rowdy Welles (Davi) is a badass named Rowdy Welles. He’s a flying ace that loves planes as much as he loves women, cigars, and being named Rowdy Welles. When a suit at the CIA named Althorp (Gazzara) frames Rowdy for murder, Rowdy has no choice but to do his bidding. (i.e. the “just do this one job for me” plot which may seem familiar.) 

His mission is to travel to Russia, and stop the nuclear ambitions of a baddie named Lothar Krasna (Godunov). His name is as evil-sounding as Rowdy’s is awesome. While there, he gets up to all sorts of intrigue and shenanigans, many of which involve the beautiful Mikaela (Harris). Will Rowdy stop the entire Russian nuclear program with only a toy car? Find out today!

1995 was an amazing year for the great Robert Davi. He starred in this, No Contest (1995), Showgirls (1995), and one of his career best, The Dangerous (1995), among even more film and TV appearances. It’s easy to forget these days that Davi was a big star, or at least poised to be one, in the DTV world. Regardless of his status, we remain staunch Davi fans, and while it was only natural not everything he did in ‘95 would be as good as The Dangerous, Davi still carries the movie, and looks cool smoking a cigar and/or shooting people in slow motion.

While some of the weirder elements kept The Dangerous afloat and made it memorable, The Dogfighters is merely a “guy in a foreign land beating up foreigners” movie that we’ve all seen before. But at least it’s not a plane slog like we thought it was going to be. Granted, the beginning-and-end brackets of flying scenes go on too long (as do many other scenes), but we do have one of the better exploding helicopters in recent memory, so there’s that. 

Plus, Godunov is just not that threatening in this movie. Yes, he does have the typical long blonde hair that alerts us that he is a typical Eurotrash baddie, but he’s busy dancing (they made sure to give him at least one unnecessary dance scene), and not putting Rowdy’s family at risk, or anything like that.

History-wise, The Dogfighters is a movie trapped between the 80’s and 90’s. For example, there are references to “finishing the job” with Saddam Hussein and the first Gulf War, and another beaming picture of Bill Clinton firmly placed on the wall (though not as prominent as it was in Terminal Rush), yet the Russians are still the villains, just like they were in the 80’s. 

Fascinatingly, Ben Gazzara makes a reference to having “enough explosives to take down the World Trade Center”. While the first WTC bombing had already occurred, still that should be enough to ban the airing of this movie on TV, along with the forbidden episodes of Seinfeld and The Simpsons.  (Interesting connection to that: Dan Castellaneta is credited with “additional voices” on this movie).

But really, this movie is just dumb, and loses energy a lot. It needed more action, and lacked a sense of urgency or danger. Plus Godunov looks like, and is about as threatening as, Gerard Depardieu. Also the music by the normally-great Jeff “Skunk” Baxter seems listless and noodly, not driving and action-oriented like it should be. 

The “not theater-ready” look to the project inevitably alienated potential renters, who were spoilt for choice during the height of the video store era. Thus, fairly or unfairly, The Dogfighters is sadly condemned to the lost video store shelf of history.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett