Death Squad (2014)

Death Squad (2014)- * *

Directed by: Alessandro Capone

Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, Neva Leoni, Danny Glover and Michael Madsen

It appears that sometime in the year 2047, some bad guys called the Confederate Central Government, or CCG, are up to no good. Just exactly what they want is not made clear. The top brass at CCG are Colonel Asimov (Hauer) and Major Anderson (Hannah). A soldier on the opposing side, which is evidently called GreenWar (not to be confused with anything else that may be a bit more peaceful) named Ryan Willburn (Baldwin) is sent into some sort of danger zone to collect evidence against the CCG. If they’re so all-powerfully evil, we’re not sure why this is necessary. The man sending him on the mission is named Sponge (Glover) and he spouts nonsense philosophy and types away on old-school computers. 

Things get complicated for Willburn’s mission when he meets an Avatar-style mutant/alien/whatever named Tuag (Leoni). When the CCG hires a flashy mercenary named Lobo (Madsen) to do God-knows-what, chaos breaks loose. Apparently chaos can be quite boring. Anyway, will Ryan Willburn and Tuag live to look confused in the dark again? Don’t bother finding out...

We’re not sure what this was supposed to be, exactly. There’s no there there. Death Squad is a  movie that runs solely on the charisma of the actors involved, and nothing else. If it didn’t have Hauer, Hannah, Madsen, and Baldwin, and had a bunch of no-name actors running around in the dark on the one set they had, it would have been complete torture to watch (AKA Albert Pyun-level). As it stands, there are moments that you think just may be entertaining enough to be stupid. Either that, or moments that are stupid enough to be entertaining. We’re still not sure which. 

Whenever Madsen is on screen, he livens things up. He has a cool coat and even his own theme music. This time, his attitude of not caring is entirely justified. The audience can relate. Rutger Hauer spits out some nonsensical dialogue and seems confused. Daryl Hannah is there as one of the Nazi-esque soldiers, and Baldwin was clearly recalling his role as Weed in the classic Dead Weekend (1995). Danny Glover does what we call a ‘sit-down’ role, though we think he stands up briefly at one point. There’s even what we call the PT (Prerequisite Torture), but this time it’s PTT - the Prerequisite Torture of Tuag. All of this should have hit video stores somewhere between 1998 and 2003. Yet, inexplicably, it came out in 2014. Audiences should demand to know why.

While, yes, the movie has no structure, it’s filmed on what appears to be one set, in the dark, actors look at computerized screens and say nonsensical things for 80 minutes, and it’s all doubtlessly stupid, it’s still better than April Rain (2014). That’s the tricky thing about watching - and reviewing - movies. Whether you realize it or not, it’s all about context. If you watch April Rain, then just about anything else, the movie you watch after that is going to seem good - perhaps better than you’d normally think it would be. Your experience is colored by subconscious comparison. If we had watched something really awesome beforehand, we might be tougher on Death Squad, but because we watched April Rain the day before, we were in a really forgiving mood. All that being said, it still tested our patience to the limit and we came away unhappy. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Fourth Angel (2001)

The Fourth Angel (2001)- * * *

Directed by: John Irvin

Starring: Jeremy Irons, Forest Whitaker, Charlotte Rampling, and Jason Priestley

Jack Elgin (Irons) is a hardworking magazine editor. He loves his wife, son, and daughter, and he decides to combine work with a family vacation when they all fly to India. Unfortunately, terrorists hijack the plane and kill a lot of people along the way - including two members of the Elgin family. Suddenly, the genteel Elgin becomes irritated and aggressive, and has revenge on his mind. After, typically, trying all the traditional channels to get justice, he realizes the only true justice will come by his own hand. 

Along his road to revenge he meets CIA agent Davidson (Priestley), FBI agent Bernard (Whitaker), and reconnects with old contacts such as a woman named Kate (Rampling). Will our unorthodox hero iron out the bad guys once and for all...or will he find out he has too many IRONS in the fire? Find out today...

Before Taken (2008), Before Harry Brown (2009), before The Gunman (2015), and before the trend of what Hollywood snidely dubbed “GeriAction”, we had The Fourth Angel. If a bunch of high-class British people made a Death Wish sequel in their own milieu, and instead of Charles Bronson got Jeremy Irons, The Fourth Angel would be the likely result. There’s something awesome about Jeremy Irons one minute wearing white pants and a polo sweater or off pheasant hunting, and the next minute he’s wearing the time-honored Revenge Jacket, speeding down the street on a motorcycle, smoking a cigarette and blowing away the bad guys with an arsenal of guns and grenades. 

Director John Irvin, who has had a long and distinguished career but would be known to us and fans of the site as the director of the classic Arnie vehicle Raw Deal (1986) - no one gives Schwarzenegger a Raw Deal, just in case you forgot - and Dot.Kill (2005), does more than a solid job; he is in control of the proceedings and directs with style, excitement, and fluidity. The Fourth Angel rarely gets boring, and you really care about Jack and his son. You truly want Jack to blow the baddies to kingdom come, but with style, aplomb, and some classic British restraint.

The movie delivers the goods on a lot of levels, and is a satisfying watch. Irons is backed up well by his co-stars: Rampling has a small role but always adds something to whatever she’s in, Forest Whitaker we all know has charisma and commitment, and Jason Priestley is too old to be a teenager, but too young to be a CIA agent. He’s caught in the middle, age-wise, but we’re glad he’s here. We guessed the filmmakers thought Luke Perry would be too much of a Himbo to take on the role. So naturally they got Priestley instead.

The Fourth Angel is certainly what you would call a classy revenge film, which shows that our favorite subgenre has many flavors and varieties. Just when you think you’ve seen ‘em all, along comes Jeremy Irons to show terrorists the true meaning of “Class Warfare”! We give a hearty recommendation to this fine film. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


First Action Hero (1994)

First Action Hero (1994)- * * *

Directed by: Nini Grassia

Starring: Fabio Testi, Marina Giulia Cavalli, Ron Nummi, and Orso Maria Guerrini

Mark Fierro (Testi) is a pretty top-notch COTE (or Cop On The Edge, as we call them), who is transferred from his normal district of Tampa, Florida to Miami to where all the action is. It seems there is a gang war going on, with drug-related murders galore, and Fierro takes it upon himself, personally, to stop it. Of course, his partner Hoagy O’Toole (Nummi) - who is not an overweight Bond girl - is along for the ride as well. 

Of course, Fierro finds time for romance with an attorney named Lori (Cavalli) while he fights his way to the main mob boss, Tony Romeo (Guerrini), but he also has to try to repair his relationship with his daughter Paloma (Bellini). In the midst of all the warring factions, will Mark Fierro emerge as the...FIRST ACTION HERO?

Of all the contemporary titles to cash in on, it seems sort of odd for someone to pick the classic (?) Arnie vehicle Last Action Hero (1993), especially since this is a sort of latter-day Poliziotteschi and Austin O’Brien is nowhere in sight. We’re huge fans of Fabio Testi - his The Heroin Busters (1977) alone puts him in the action movie firmament forever - but, let’s face it, he’s not the first action hero. That’s clearly Jesus. Or maybe Imhotep. We’re not sure how far back “first” really entails. The original title, Il Burattinaio, translates from the Italian as something like “The Puppetmaster”. Why couldn’t they have left it at that? But, quibbling about the title aside, if you love those great Italian crime films of the 70’s but always wished you could see one set in Florida and everyone wears 90’s-style high-waisted pants, your dream has come true. 

We get some funny dubbing, some great, breezy music on the soundtrack (by director Grassia with Aldo Tamborelli), and classic characters like Spuds and Hoagy. Hoagy, of course, not to be confused with Hogie from Detention (2003) and the classic, anguished cry of “HOOOAaaaaggyyyyyy!!!!” The TV show Miami Vice went off the air in 1990, and Miami Beach Cops came out in 1992, so the world was prepared for the Miami-set action of First Action Hero in 1994. It was pretty common for Italian filmmakers to come to the U.S. and shoot their films there, however.

There are some baddies that show up at funerals and hospitals and shoot people with machine guns. That’s considerate of them, at least their respective victims are in the right place. Sometimes these masked shooters even wear “X” baseball caps, further reinforcing the 90’s vibe. But overall it was great to see a then-53-year-old Testi blowing away the bad guys like nobody’s business, mouthing off to his superiors, speeding around Miami, and even letting sticks of dynamite show his enemies his own brand of justice. Even into the 90’s, he was an awesome dude with an attitude.

Speaking of which, it all comes to a bang-up climax which is very, very enjoyable to watch. Sure, there are some slow moments throughout the 100-minute-plus running time as Testi puts on his detective hat and tries getting answers from people the old-fashioned way - not to mention the drama entailed by his relationship with his daughter, his partner, and his girlfriend - but all that’s to be expected and we really had no problem with it. Especially when that jaunty song comes on, followed quickly by a scene of mindless shooting. 

If you’ve seen every Poliziotteschi movie out there and are still craving for more, First Action Hero, while certainly not perfect, probably shouldn’t be last on your list. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty