Kiss Of The Dragon (2001)

Kiss Of The Dragon (2001)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Chris Nahon

Starring: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, Cyril Raffaelli, Burt Kwouk, Didier Azoulay, and Max Ryan

Liu Jian (Jet Li) travels to Paris from his native China to stop a drug kingpin and get to the bottom of his illegal doings in France. A top cop in his home country, Liu utilizes his amazing Martial Arts abilities to bring the baddies to justice. But he meets his match in the super-evil Richard (Karyo), who commands an army of goons, who in turn keep a stable of his prostitutes – all the while leading a double life as the head of the Vice Squad in Paris. As Liu tries to keep his bearings while in this foreign land, fighting Richard’s goons at every turn, he reluctantly teams up with one of his prostitutes, Jessica (Fonda) in the search for answers. It seems Richard is keeping Jessica’s daughter locked in an orphanage as leverage so she won’t spill the beans on his many, many illegal activities. His criminal empire seemed impenetrable…but he never had to contend with Liu Jian! Will justice be served, and will Jessica get her daughter back? Find out today…

Kiss of the Dragon is fast-paced fun, with a lot of the typically-excellent Martial Arts Jet Li is known for. It has a lot of lively, quick fights and is loaded with very impressive stunts. It’s all very cool and slick. It has a nice, professional look and has tons of action – as well as a likable hero and a very evil baddie. Just those things alone put it head and shoulders above a lot of other movies of this kind. There is minimal CGI and wirework – it’s mostly all-real fights (with a couple of exceptions, of course). We appreciated the idea of Liu’s “acupuncture bracelet”, and the fact that he has some knock-down, drag-out fights with guys that resemble Street Fighter characters Guile and Balrog. The Guile guy is even seen reading a “Where’s Waldo?” book at one point. We know this came out in 2001, but if that’s not 90’s, we don’t know what is.

Of course, all of this is highly reminiscent of The Replacement Killers (1998) of a few years previously. While that was a Hollywood vehicle for Chow Yun-Fat, this is for Jet Li. Instead of teaming up with Mira Sorvino, here it’s Bridget Fonda, and instead of Jurgen Prochnow as the baddie, here it’s Karyo. Needless to say, if you liked one, you will like the other. We also welcomed the fact that it was really Paris we were seeing, not Bulgaria masquerading as Paris, or some green-screen fakery. Nowhere was this more evident than on the boat fight scene, which is clearly on the Seine, and you cannot fake what they did. Maybe we’ve watched too many Seagal movies, but we loved the change of scenery.

As with Contract Killer (1998), Cradle 2 the Grave (2003), and Romeo Must Die (2000), the filmmakers have decided to pair Jet Li with rap beats. In this case we have not one, but TWO songs by Mystikal. While it certainly places the movie in a particular time period, we kind of wish it wasn’t Mystikal. What, were Jadakiss and Silkk tha Shocker songs unavailable? Also, it should be noted that Richard, the bad guy, is so evil, he keeps a turtle in his desk drawer. Another thing we noticed was that in the scene where Liu and Jessica go to the orphanage, the floor and room number where the daughter can be found is “B13”. District B13 (2004) is also a France-set Martial Arts extravaganza, and a Luc Besson production. This must have some significance to him. It was just a little thing we noticed.

Kiss of the Dragon is an entertaining ride that is well worth watching. The great Jet Li is in top form and a pleasant time will be had by all who view it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Thrill (1996)

Thrill (1996)- * *1\2

Directed by: Sam Pillsbury

Starring: Antonio Sabato Jr., Stepfanie Kramer, Maxxe Sternbaum, Christine Harnos, and Bill Cobbs

Jack Colson (Sabato Jr.) is a hardworking guy with a precocious young daughter named Alice (Sternbaum). Luckily for Jack, his sister Teresa (Kramer) is the owner of a local amusement park. However, when there is an offer to buy the park, a mysterious evildoer (don’t worry, no spoilers here) starts causing havoc there. At first it’s just a few rides malfunctioning – seemingly by accident – but then the baddie graduates to a bomb on the rollercoaster. The rollercoaster is named Thrill, by the way. Inevitably, it’s up to Jack to save the park, save his daughter, and even find time for love with the fortune teller, Ann (Harnos). Will saving the amusement park be the ultimate THRILL? Stand by for the thrilling conclusion…

It’s terror on the log flume as fan favorite Antonio Sabato Jr. snaps into action in this made-for-TV “thriller”, originally aired on NBC. While the obvious play here for the filmmakers was to ape Speed (1994) – except make it a rollercoaster instead of a bus – and cross-pollinate that with Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), strangely, they really only opted for the former, and even then it’s only the climax of the movie. No terrorists take over the park, and there are no amusement park goons for Sabato to fight. It’s mainly just tourists wearing fanny packs and brightly-colored shirts walking around the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It’s not really a “whodunit”, because we very swiftly know who “dunnit” too early on. It’s mainly about a Fred Dryer-less Stepfanie Kramer sorting out the park’s financial matters while Sabato takes care of his daughter and forges a relationship with the fortune teller. Occasionally he intercedes to help people off a runaway floom, but Thrill really is a textbook study in lost potential.

Really, think about all the ways Sabato could outsmart baddies and kill them in an amusement park. The possibilities are endless. Yet that’s not the route they decided to go here. We realize it’s a TV movie but they still could have done it that way. Part of the fact that the amusement park is a family business is that Jack lets his daughter – who is a classic young tot, as we call them – just walk around the park with the staff. That includes an older Black gentleman played by Bill Cobbs – not to be confused with another NBC star at the time, Bill Cosby. Letting your daughter go off with him would be a colossally bad idea. But Norm (Cobbs) wears a bowtie and is harmless. Or is he? Regardless, he’s a ride operator who uses what looks like an Apple IIGS to control the ‘coaster. No wonder they’re having problems.

There’s also a Star Tours-like ride where patrons get in a windowless van and rock around while viewing CD-ROM technology. No wonder they’re having problems. Of course, it all comes to a head during a death-defying fight on the Thrill coaster between Jack Colson and the baddie. Did you think it would end some other way?

For a TV movie that promises far more action than it delivers, Thrill is actually not that bad. Sabato and the daughter are likable, there is plenty of 90’s fashion and tech on display, there’s a rockin’ intro with kids on skateboards aggro’ing it up around the park, and Sabato has a dream sequence involving the local mime. That right there might be worth investigation. Yes, we would have liked a more paramilitary-style Sabato crushing some heads in the tilt-a-whirl, but if we can’t have that, Thrill – while actually far less than thrilling – delivers the next best thing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Terminal Velocity (1994)

Terminal Velocity (1994)- * * *

Directed by: Deran Sarafian

Starring: Charlie Sheen, Nastassja Kinski, Christopher McDonald, and James Gandolfini

Ditch Brodie (Sheen) is a radically awesome skydiver who you know is radical to the max because he works at a Jump Center. He is also the bad boy of said Jump Center. He’s probably spilled more Mountain Dew than you’ve ever drank. When Ditchington Brodie III (which may or may not be a variation on his name that we made up) meets the alluring Chris Morrow (Kinski), he becomes embroiled in an intrigue that involves the KGB, missing gold, thugs, goons, murder, and all manner of danger and mayhem. The skydiving man must become “Detective Ditch” as he attempts to get to the bottom of it all. And there’s only one way to stop the madness – more skydiving. In Ditch’s world, skydiving is the solution to all problems, even on the world stage. So while James Gandolfini and Christopher McDonald are on his tail, Ditch pulls his ripcord into heroic legend. We should all be more like Ditch Brodie.

The 90’s “Terminal” trend hits the big screen just in time to capitalize on another 90’s trend - for all things outrageous, “Xtreme”, and radically awesome. Everyone was always talking about “feeling the rush”, or some variation thereof. Even Nastassja Kinski says at one point, “Is it a rush?”, referring of course to skydiving, because if it isn’t – not interested. And who better to be our guide through the awesome world of rush-feeling than Charlie Sheen, Ditch Brodie himself? The thing about Charlie is he does have a lot of charisma and screen presence. He also has good comic timing and cool hair. A lot of these elements are important to carrying Terminal Velocity, because the plot is pretty weak. It’s all about the aerial stunts, and we give a lot of credit to the stunt people who worked on this film. They clearly went above and beyond.

Of course, this wasn’t the only skydiving movie flying around at this time – there was also the same year’s Drop Zone (1994), as well as the somewhat later Cutaway (2000). Terminal Velocity is bigger-budget Hollywood-stupid, but a lot better than anything Hollywood is putting out today. At least it’s an original idea, not a remake, sequel, or superhero movie, which are the exclusive province of Hollywood these days. It’s also a PG-13-rated middle-of-the-road Hollywood action thriller, enlivened by the cast and stunts. Of course, there are the requisite silly moments which make it worth watching. 

Director Sarafian, known to readers of this site as the director of Death Warrant (1990), backs off on the violence so he can turn in a movie readily accessible to a wider audience. Sure, there are some blow-ups, a couple of fights, and some gun-shooting, but nothing you wouldn’t see on TV. What he does deliver are skydiving scenes a-plenty, many of which include squealin’ guitar on the soundtrack because it was the 90’s, it was extreme, blah blah blah. You get the picture.

Many people in our age bracket remember going to the video store and renting Terminal Velocity on VHS, or at least remember seeing it in the store. In light of that, the movie served its purpose – being an entry-level action movie for younger viewers. It still works in that capacity today, but now it also has the added bonus of having some nostalgia value for those are of an age who remember it from back then. So, strictly speaking, this may not be an all-time classic, but it has a special place on our shelf.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Warbus 2 (1989)

Warbus 2 (1989)- * *

Directed by: Pierluigi Ciriaci

Starring: Mark Gregory, Savina Gersak, and John Vernon

Johnny Hondo (Gregory), despite what you might already think, is not a cowboy. He is a former Green Beret badass warrior who goes to Afghanistan during the conflict there with the Russians. It’s his father’s dying wish for Johnny to find secret documents left behind in the old, abandoned Warbus. So, off he goes, and he shoots and/or blows up a lot of buildings and/or people during the course of his mission. He links up with a small team of like-minded good guys, led by Ken Ross (Vernon), which also includes Linda Cain (Gersak), a guy named Billy whose main talent is he can eat an unlimited amount of food, and a guy named Norton. Johnny Hondo also has to rescue a POW named Captain Bowie, and he enlists the help of a local boy to show him around. But will the WARBUS make its scheduled stops, and will the baddies be paying the toll?

Mark Gregory – both Trash and Thunder, as Italian exploitation fans already know – wears a cool leather coat and proceeds to decimate the population of Afghanistan, as well as the commies, in this A-Team-esque sequel to the original Warbus (1986). He shoots a lot of people, blows up multiple helicopters with ease, and few buildings are left standing. Despite all this, and the presence of John Vernon (who is, unfortunately, dubbed here), this is no Rambo III (1988). It’s actually rather forgettable. Not bad, mind you, but it’s kind of, “another day, another blow-up”. There isn’t much in the way of character development or emotion, but maybe that’s unfair of us to ask for that. It does have nice camerawork, as well as a catchy, military-style score by Elio Polizzi.

Speaking of Polizzi, he seems to exclusively score these Mercs-type movies, including Just A Damned Soldier (1988), directed by Ferdinando Baldi, director of the original Warbus. If Baldi – who also directed Ten Zan: Ultimate Mission in 1988, bails, that’s probably not a great sign. But as Ten Zan was his last movie, perhaps he wanted to go out on a Frank Zagarino-in-North-Korea high. So, in the event, we were left in the capable hands of Mr. Ciriaci. We’ve now seen and reviewed all four of his directorial outings: Delta Force Commando (1988), Soldier of Fortune (1990), and who could forget the convolutedly-titled classic Delta Force Commando II: Priority Red One (1990)? It’s probably fair to describe him as a workmanlike director, and he goes through the appropriate motions, neither offending with badness nor delighting with awesomeness. This particular Warbus just kind of rolls along until after about 90 minutes or so when it runs out of gas.

It’s funny the way they really make you wait for the Warbus until the final third of the movie – almost like they were under the mistaken impression that the audience really gives a flying flip. It’s not exactly like they’re unveiling something mysterious or legendary – it’s a school bus. The anticipation level you’ll feel as an audience member is roughly similar to what you may feel like while waiting for the actual bus. It’s not really too much of a revelation. The whole “fixing up the bus” scene may remind you of American Commandos (1985) or perhaps The Gauntlet (1977), but…so what? Also Johnny Hondo gets the Prerequisite Torture treatment and there are relevant references to Iranians and Pakistanis.

There are a lot worse things in the world to watch than Warbus 2 – we’d prefer this to almost any currently-produced Hollywood product. But, on the other hand, even in the world of Italian-made blow-em-ups, this would rank towards the mediocre middle. Only you can decide what your level of fandom and interest is – and along the way John Vernon, Mark Gregory, and plenty of blow-ups accompany your journey.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty