The Capitol Conspiracy (1999)

The Capitol Conspiracy (1999)- * *1\2

AKA: Prophet

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray

Starring: Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Alexander Keith, and Barbara Steele

"When they're in your head, how do you watch your back?"

Jarrid Maddox (Don) is a CIA agent in L.A. who is working through some past trauma. When he teams up with fellow agent Vicki Taylor (Keith), he is tasked with getting to the bottom of what happened to a bunch of children that were involved in a top-secret government program. However, if Agent Oakley (Steele) is involved, you can bet this will be a (Capitol) conspiracy that goes…you guessed it, all the way to the top. Along the way, Jarrid – which is, evidently, how he spells it – gets into a bunch of fights and shootouts. Will he unravel THE CAPITOL CONSPIRACY?

We were worried at first, at least after initially seeing the box art, that this might be an attempt at “more serious Don” – in other words, an actionless political drama. Thankfully, that is not the case, as our wonderfully wooden old pal The Dragon gets into plenty of fights, including the time-honored barfight, and his gun is always at the ready as well – although we much prefer the Martial Arts combat scenes. As you might expect with a Roger Corman-produced, Fred Olen Ray-directed outing, you get some punching, some kicking, some shooting, some nudity, a bit of plot and a smidgen of Barbara Steele and it’s all wrapped up in about 80 minutes or so. It won’t tax your brain or your schedule too much.

Another thing low-budget actioners like this seem to have in abundance are actors that look like other actors. There’s the Gary Busey guy, the Michael Dudikoff guy, and the Jake Busey guy, but, in all fairness, this might all be the same guy. Impressively, someone else looks and sounds exactly like Charles Napier. Just why they couldn’t get the original Napier to be involved is unknown. Because it was 1999, our hero Maddox has Earthlink email that talks. Not only does it tell you that “you’ve got new mail!” (they probably had to add the word “new” to avoid legal action), but it reads your message out loud too. Welcome to the future. And Jarrid Maddox is leading the way.

A movie highlight comes when Maddox is on a plane, innocently trying to read a book. Suddenly two wrestlers – one wearing his championship belt on the plane – begin getting a bit too rowdy for their own good, and Maddox has to calm the situation down. Despite his painful flashbacks, the man can act independently as his own Air Marshal. He even gets the phone number of the stewardess for his trouble. Is there nothing the man can’t do? Our point, really, is that The Capitol Conspiracy (or Prophet if you prefer) needed more scenes like this – unbridled silliness that brings the fun level up a few notches.

All in all, The Capitol Conspiracy may not be the best Don outing out there, but it’s certainly worth watching, and it goes by without causing any undue stress or anxiety in your life. Unlike the victims of the aforementioned conspiracy. Also, the trailer for the film features footage from other Don movies that are not this one, in order to pump up the action quotient.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Cole Justice (1989)

Cole Justice (1989)- * * *

Directed by: Carl Bartholomew

Starring: Carl Bartholomew, Amy Gruebel, Keith Andrews, Mike Wiles, Noel Fairbrothers, and Nick Zickefoose

Beginning in 1953, Coleman “Cole” Justice (Bartholomew) is out on a date with his best girl, Betsy, taking in a viewing of Shane. After the movie, they’re walking home and Betsy realizes she dropped her locket. Cole runs back to the theater to pick it up, and it’s then when a gang of ne’er-do-well punks assault Betsy and rape her. (Now might be the appropriate time to mention that the actress playing Betsy is named Amy Raper. Could this possibly be a coincidence?). When Cole finds out what happens, he is destroyed and vows revenge.

Cut to 1989 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cole Justice is now Professor Justice, teaching a class in Western Cinema to his enthusiastic students. It seems like after the night he viewed Shane with Betsy, something stuck in his head about that and he can’t move beyond it. He’s obsessed with Westerns, becoming an encyclopedia of facts and quotes about them, and even his home is decorated in a Western motif. Professor Justice, who is a dead ringer for Inside the Actor’s Studio’s James Lipton, is irresistible to the ladies. When one of his students, Michelle Fresnay (Amy Gruebel) – who has a crush, naturally, on him – is found dead after a bad dose of crack (yes, it was going around even in the suburbs of Oklahoma at the time), something reignites in Cole Justice. Dressed in full cowboy regalia, he hits the streets to find out who is responsible, and deal with it – in true Western style.

Because he’s righting wrongs all over town, the media dubs him “The Cowboy Killer”. At the top of the baddie food chain are Jack Keeter (Willard Clark), a man who looks exactly like Barney Miller’s Hal Linden, and Wes Santee (Mike Wiles). (Not only is there a Western from 1973 with Glenn Ford named Santee, it’s also Dolph Lundgren’s name in Army of One). As if Cole Justice didn’t have his hands full enough, he still finds time for love, deal with family issues, and he  even gets involved with the forced retirement of Security Guard and buddy Pop (Nick Zickefoose) by the evil Dean of the college, Lindsay (Noel Fairbrothers). Will Cole live up to his name and truly get JUSTICE?

Cole Justice was a pleasant surprise. You can easily tell it was a passion project for director/co-writer/co-editor/star Carl Bartholomew, and the heart he and the rest of the cast and crew bring to the movie is apparent and infectious. Fighting mightily against the tide of its rock-bottom budget and novice actors and crew, Bartholomew and his posse managed to rustle up a winner.

One of the main reasons for this is that Cole Justice is a likable character. So many movies, both low and high budget, don’t have likable characters. Cole Justice – the movie – has multiple people the audience really warms to. Not just Cole, in fact, but also Pop and Cole’s students such as Chris Lomac (Keith Andrews). Bartholomew has a great broadcaster’s voice and I’d like to hope he did radio or voice-over work in Oklahoma during his life (he sadly passed away in 2009). Lomac and his classmates hang out at a restaurant with a giant animatronic chicken. Like all college students.

There is not just footage, but repeated footage of the aforementioned Shane, as well as Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Justice goes to a place called “The Cinema” to watch them. While it predated all the revival theaters that are currently hot today, it doesn’t get many points for originality when it comes to the name.

Of course, there are plenty of Middle-Aged Punks (MAP’s) in the movie, and why not? Rae Don video specialized in them. Many of their releases, such as Provoked (1989), Rescue Force (1990), and Punk Vacation (1990) feature them. Could this also be a coincidence? But, in all seriousness, perhaps the reason more people haven’t seen Cole Justice is because Rae Don didn’t have a huge reach back during the video store era.

We should also mention that Cole Justice also has a lovable dog named Frisco, and we’re treated to this credit at the end of the movie – “Frisco the Dog – Frisco”. So now we know that Cole’s dog has approximately the same acting range as Mike “Cobra” Cole.

Not to be confused with Mike Justus, COLE JUSTICE was released in the golden video store year of 1989, and is an interesting and worthwhile find, if you can indeed find it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


The Glimmer Man (1996)

The Glimmer Man (1996)- * *1\2

Directed by: John Gray

Starring: Steven Seagal, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Bob Gunton, John M. Jackson, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Brian Cox

Jack Cole (Seagal) is a New York cop and snappy dresser who transfers to L.A. when a serial killer begins terrorizing the city. Known as “The Family Man” because he slaughters the whole family, and does so also with a religious subtext, the stakes are high for Cole and his new partner Campbell (Wayans) to crack the case. The heat really ratchets up when Jack’s ex-wife becomes a victim, and our two heroes discover that the Russian mafia is involved in all this somehow, as they usually are in these instances. 

As it turns out, Jack’s CIA past comes to light as his former boss and now bad guy Mr. Smith (Cox) has joined forces with another local baddie named Deverell (Gunton). Things may seem complicated for the seemingly-mismatched pair of Cole and Campbell, but the Buddhist monk and the wisecracking cop are the only hope of rescuing the citizens of Los Angeles. Will they succeed despite all the obstacles in their way?

Prepare to soak up the awesome power of glimmering men as Seagal eats his way through L.A. like a pudgy Pac-Man. It seems pretty clear that the filmmakers were trying to replicate the magic of The Last Boy Scout (1991), even throwing a Wayans brother into the deal. But without the stellar writing of Shane Black, or a comparative budget, or the charisma of Bruce Willis, you’re left with a Seagal on the decline…this is where his laziness started to become really apparent, with face-palmingly obvious stand-ins, other actors overdubbing his voice, his whispering when he does have to talk, and the predominance of his paddy-cake slap-fu during the non-gun-related fight scenes. Oh well, at least this is before he became a sadistic torturer, as he did in his later DTV movies.

 Keenen Ivory Wayans not only shined with his great comic timing and snappy one-liners, we also appreciated the fact that his character, Campbell, was a classic movie fan. He even got to do some impressive Keenen Ivory-Fu, which was much appreciated. Not only did Wayans pull his own weight in this production, he pulled most of Seagal’s as well. Without Wayans adding the brightness, this would have been a total slog. 

Brian Cox was perfectly fine as the baddie, but it was very reminiscent of Noble Willingham in Boy Scout. When Cox and Seagal are talking in the Italian restaurant, it’s a battle of the whispers. You definitely need the subtitles on the DVD.

So while we do see the triumph of Seagal’s so-called “sissy beads”, the movie remains just on the edge of a breakthrough of quality and value. It’s entertaining enough, but it’s also easy to see why it was one of Seagal’s last movies to hit theater screens. Speaking of edges, you haven’t seen the proper use of a credit card until you’ve seen Seagal brandish his plastic. I hear he earns double airline miles for every dead gangster.

Once again, Seagal was also heavily involved in the music, teaming up with the prolific Todd Smallwood on two bluesy rockers for Taj Mahal and The Jeff Healey Band. Music aside, the plot is nothing you wouldn’t see on an episode of Criminal Minds, and it’s plain to see Seagal’s torpor setting in. Taking all this into consideration, The Glimmer Man might bring back some fond memories of perusing the shelves at your local video store…but seen from today’s perspective you can see the ill omens that would predict the course of Seagal’s later career. Despite the best efforts of Wayans and perhaps a few others, The Glimmer Man is pretty middling.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


The Black Ninja (2003)

The Black Ninja (2003)- * * *

Directed by: Clayton Prince (AKA "ME")

Starring: Clayton Prince, Carla Brothers, David Gosnell, Nicky DeMatteo, Michael Chance, Heather Hunter, and Yuki Matsuzaki

“Oh my God. Malik Ali is a good guy.” – Detective Howell

Malik Ali (Prince) is a Johnnie Cochran-esque defense lawyer who specializes in charging his criminal clients an arm and a leg to get them off the legal hook. That’s his day job, mind you. At night, he’s the avenging superhero called THE BLACK NINJA. He even goes after the baddies he formerly defended in order to get street justice. At a speaking event, Ali meets Tracey Allen (Brothers), an attractive psychiatrist, and the chemistry is immediate. The only roadblock to their blossoming relationship is the fact that she’s a witness in the upcoming trial of mobster Tony Fanelli (DeMatteo), and Fanelli commands his goons to have her rubbed out. So Ali/The Black Ninja is going to have to protect her with all he’s got. Compounding Ali’s already-complicated situation is the fact that Hagiwara (Matsuzaki), a red ninja, has reappeared in Ali’s life after heinously killing his wife and children years before. Now burning for revenge, Ali has to look after Tracey as well. Will the streets ever be safe?

Watch out, Troy Nikolo Ashford, there’s a new auteur in town. While we know The Black Ninja was written by Clayton Prince, and stars Clayton Prince, the credits of the movie inform us that it was directed by “Me”. Who is Me? It truly is an existential question. It could be anyone, but we’re going to go with the working theory that it is Clayton Prince.

Like the aforementioned Ashford, Prince was able to make a full-length feature film with an apparent budget of zero, shoot it on video, and not only get it into stores nationally, but internationally as well. Let’s all keep that in mind and applaud Mr. Prince. Now, that being said, this is about as far down the ladder of DTV as you can get, production-wise. It has every technical flaw known to filmmaking, it’s incredibly cheap-looking, and it’s all astoundingly silly. But that’s all part of the charm. You have to watch this with other people to get the full effect.

Imagine Batman meets Daredevil meets RZA’s Bobby Digital meets Zorro shot on a home movie camera. The Black Ninja’s “command center” consists of a desk with two computer monitors, the guy who played the mobster baddie, Fanelli, was probably hired because he has a passing resemblance to John Gotti, and The Black Ninja’s main mode of transportation is a black Kawasaki Ninja. Seems appropriate. There’s even an unexplained fight scene at a Funcoland in front of a Sega Dreamcast display. However, just like The Protector (1999) and others, he does have a talking computer, which all true heroes should have.

The movie starts with a bang, and ends with a bang, but there are some stretches in the middle where it starts to sag. The opening credits look like they were created with Mario Paint and there’s a quasi-animated Black Ninja figure. The fight scenes are almost too ridiculous for words (much like the rest of the proceedings) – forget punches and kicks looking like they may connect someday, but whenever TBN (as we call him) executes one of his trademark moves, Prince employs this laughably stupid tripling editing effect. During the non-fight scenes, Ali talks to his dead wife (Hunter), and there is an extended scene of unfortunate bathroom humor. Det. Howell (Chance) livens things up with his attitude and his heckling, however. Matsuzaki as the main baddie is very over the top – and incomprehensible, with minimal English skills. It makes for an interesting combination.

Featuring an extremely catchy title song which seems to hearken back to 70’s Blaxploitation (most of the music was done by The BeatBrokerz and Clayton Prince himself worked on some of it as well), The Black Ninja might not be near the top of the most technically well-made productions of all time, but it pretty much defines the term “cheap and cheerful”. Seen in the proper context, it’s pretty enjoyable. Gather some of your fellow film fans, make sure the brewski’s are flowing, and it just may be the underdog crowd pleaser of the year.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty