L.A. Wars (1994)

L.A. Wars (1994)- * * *

Directed by: Tony Kandah and Martin Morris

Starring: Vince Murdocco, Rodrigo Obregon, Kerri Kasem, A.J. Stephans, Mary Zilba, and Johnny Venocur

Raul Guzman (Obregon) is a drug lord and snappy dresser who wants to be the ultimate gangster in the L.A. area. Sure, he has assassin Rosa (Kasem) on his side, as well as many other goons, and he has a penchant for brutal killings, but there’s a big obstacle on his way to the top. The area is controlled by the Italian mob, more specifically Carlo Giovani (Stephans). While he is a mobster, he is genteel and old-school compared to the more violent Guzman. Giovani has a bodyguard for his beloved daughter Carla (Zilba) named Vinnie Scoletti (Venocur), but he’s a psycho and madly in love with her. Carla doesn’t return his affections. When a former supercop and now superdude Jake Quinn (Murdocco) saves her life during an attempted kidnapping, Giovani hires him to now watch his daughter. Naturally, the two fall in love and the stakes become high. Especially because Quinn was promised his much-wanted badge back if he infiltrates the Giovani family and puts an end to the L.A. WARS. Is Quinn in over his head? Will the killings continue? Could Jake Quinn be any cooler? Find out today…

L.A. Wars is Vince Murdocco at his absolute best. If you’ve never seen any Murdocco, start here. Imagine if Zack Morris was an L.A. cop with an attitude problem. Jake Quinn has such a problem with authority, he lost his badge and is now a bouncer at Boardner’s Bar. No one tells Jake Quinn how to run his life. If they do, they’ll either get a smart-aleck response, or be elbowed and kneed mercilessly. Or both. He wears high-waisted pants so he can kick people more easily, and he’s a regular at Victorio’s Pizza. You have to love Jake Quinn. 

This movie delivers the goods for fans of 90’s DTV action movies. If you’re reading this right now, we assume that’s you. It has all our favorite stuff; everything that’s wanted or needed in a movie of this type is here: A BYC (Black Yelling Chief), a COTE (Cop On The Edge), a drug deal gone wrong, lots and lots of people get shot, more people get beat up, cars explode, there’s a ton of gratuitous violence, nudity, and bad language, there are drive-by shootings, one of the main Martial Arts baddies looks like a white Ice-T, Jake Quinn puts on his revenge outfit at the end, and there’s a final warehouse fight. WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR? We would say it has every cliché in the book, but that sounds too negative. For lack of a better word, we would say it has every TROPE in the book. It has every ingredient necessary to make a satisfying watch. There’s no way the formula used in L.A. Wars could fail. And it doesn’t.

This might be because the great and criminally-unheralded Addison Randall was the co-writer. Randall knows what’s up. He knows the score. We’re constantly talking about how much we love Randall’s writing, directing, and acting. He doesn’t get the attention he deserves in the movie-fan community. For all the talk of filmmakers from the current cult underground darling to the mainstream Hollywood people, no one ever seems to give Randall his props. Hopefully that will change in the coming years as movies such as L.A. Wars become more available on formats such as Amazon Prime. If you’re out there, Mr. Randall, contact us. We’d love to set up an interview.

Randall co-wrote the movie with co-director Tony Kandah, who has one other writing credit. Guess what it is. Just take a freakin’ guess. Well, it’s none other than Ballistica (2009), made fifteen years later. Kandah must wait for a truly great concept to come into his brain, and only then does he proceed to make the movie. Based on his only two writing credits to date, we must be talking about another unsung hero. Though, to be fair, not as much of one as Addison Randall, but still. Kandah must be an interesting guy to talk to as well. Another mystery is why Kandah needed a co-director, and one whose sole other credit besides L.A. Wars is the 1977 TV movie Alice Cooper and Friends. It doesn’t make much sense to us, but it must be another one of those Hollywood mysteries.

L.A. Wars is a ton of fun, and what 90’s DTV action is all about. We absolutely recommend it!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Critical Mass (2001)

Critical Mass (2001)- *1\2

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray

Starring: Treat Williams, Lori Loughlin, Andrew Prine, David "Shark" Fralick and Udo Kier

Mike Jeffers (Treat) is a humble security guard at the San Miguel nuclear power plant. When the self-serving, vain Senator Cook (Prine) and his press secretary, Janine (Loughlin) arrive at the plant with a camera crew in tow for a tour of the plant, Jeffers is put in charge of said tour. There’s only one problem with the Senator’s jaunt – the arrival of a gang of international terrorists led by Samson (Kier) and his second in command, Rand (Fralick). They threaten to blow up the plant if their demands aren’t met. Naturally, that means Jeffers and Janine have to try, against all odds, to save the day. With no help from Washington, our heroes are alone in the face of overwhelming odds. Will they triumph, or will all of the sheer stupidity on show reach CRITICAL MASS?

Another day, another “DieHardInA” movie. These Die Hard (1988) knockoffs are so common in the DTV world, even ones set at nuclear power plants are a cottage industry unto themselves. For a more complete list of them, please see our Sudden Death (1995) review. This particular run-through of the classic Die Hard scenario is probably most similar to Deadly Outbreak (1995) and the Jerry Trimble outing Stranglehold (1994). It even borrows (?) the plot device of having a politician visit the facility before it’s taken hold of by the baddies. While we’re not entirely sure if director Fred Olen Ray saw Stranglehold, he’s certainly not afraid of borrowing ideas. Or footage.

It seemed to be common practice, starting in the early 2000’s as DTV movies started to go downhill, for filmmakers to borrow footage from other movies, particularly the bigger setpieces the lower budget versions couldn’t afford. It happened in Rangers (2000), it happened in Gale Force (2002), it happened in Extreme Limits (2000), and now it’s happening here. Anyone who has seen Terminator 2 (1991) or Universal Soldier (1992) will know when those scenes are intermixed with the more recently-shot stuff. Samson and his fellow baddies even steal their nuclear material from Cyberdyne Systems. Did they have to get permission to use that name? Isn’t that copyrighted material? Nevertheless, old footage of people shooting guns and blowing up stuff is interpolated with new footage of people shooting guns and blowing up stuff. Think of Fred Olen Ray as a bartender and here he’s making a cinematic Shandy. 

We love Udo Kier (or Udo Dirkschneider, or anyone named Udo), and he does his best, but of course he plays the typical Eurotrash baddie with an accent that means he’s evil. Just as Christopher Plummer did in Crackerjack (1994) or as pretty much any baddie has in any Die Hard knockoff. So that cliché remains unchanged. As has the “he’s just the security guard!” cliché, modified from Under Siege (1992) and its “he’s just the chef!” line of thinking.

Besides Critical Mass’s stubborn and out-and-out refusal to come up with any remotely original ideas, the main problem, really, is that it is repetitive and very, very dumb. Halfway through the movie you feel like you’ve been watching it for four hours because you’ve seen this type of movie so many times before in your life. It just starts to pile on at about that point. Even the great and mighty Treat Williams can’t salvage things. No one’s bigger Treat fans than us. He’s charming, likable, and a very capable hero. He’s even from the great state of Connecticut. But despite all that, Critical Mass’s monolithic wall of stupidity is just too all-encompassing for even Treat to surmount. 

We were happy to see Lori Loughlin on board, and this is certainly a departure from Full House, and the other character actors are quite good, but come on…ANOTHER “DieHardInA”? We would say to the filmmakers churning out this crud: Give us, as viewers, a little more credit. Don’t you think we’re tired of the same-old same-old? Don’t you think we can handle something a little more challenging; something with a tad bit of originality? Are we really supposed to be going back to the same old slop again and again? On the bright side, though, the key to Samson’s world domination and nuclear supremacy looks like the inanimate carbon rod from that episode of The Simpsons.

Sadly, despite the actors that are on board who put forth their best, Critical Mass is a dud. It’s a prime example that DTV was out of its glory days of the 80’s and 90’s and had entered its period of doldrums.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


To The Limit (1995)

To The Limit (1995)- * *1\2

Directed by: Raymond Martino

Starring: Anna Nicole Smith, Joey Travolta, John Aprea, David Proval, Jack Bannon, Gino Dentie, Floyd Levine, Branscombe Richmond, and Michael Nouri

When a baddie named Arthur Jameson (Bannon), who is so evil he has the ability to blow up helicopters using nothing more than a CD-ROM flight simulator, crosses the wrong woman, Colette Dubois (Smith), all hell breaks loose. In order to avenge the death of her husband, China Smith (Nouri, presumably no relation to Anna Nicole), it turns out Colette must team up with Vietnam vet Frank Davinci (Travolta). While Davinci has enemies of his own, he also has a support system of fellow goombahs such as Elvis (Dentie), Don Williams (Richmond), and Father Rich (Levine). As an ex-CIA agent, Colette has skills of her own. Will the unholy marriage of mobsters and disgruntled ex-government officials prove too much of a challenge for Frank and Colette? Or will your patience be tested…TO THE LIMIT?

While watching To The Limit, you can practically hear the sound of whirring VHS tape as guys who were in their teens and twenties in the 90’s fast-forwarded to get to the Anna Nicole Smith nudity. However, as this is a PM-produced action movie, we tried to keep the action elements in mind, and there are plenty of gunfights, blow-ups (including not one, but two helicopters), and PM’s time-honored car flip/blow-up that has become so near and dear to our hearts over the years. PM had a pip of an exploitable element in Smith; sometimes, in our nation’s darkest days, Joey Travolta alone isn’t enough to get a potential renter to pull a movie off of a video store shelf. 

You have to remember it was the go-go 90’s, and renting To The Limit carried with it less embarrassment than renting a Playboy video (though that’s debatable). Interestingly enough, this is a sequel to Davinci’s War (1993), of all things. Anna Nicole’s PM follow-up, Skyscraper (1996), came the next year. A lot of the same cast and crew of Davinci’s War came back for this particular outing, and it’s easy to hear a variation of this phrase being said during a pre-production meeting: “we’ll produce your film if you put Anna Nicole Smith in it”. That may be just one of the reasons why this movie makes no sense in the plot department and is pretty much a jumble from start to finish. But it matters not – we would say that you would have to watch Davinci’s War or Skyscraper first or this movie would make no sense, but the fact is that it makes no sense whether you see those movies first or not.

Though it must be noted that Davinci has a Vietnam flashback where he runs from an explosion in slow motion, and it also must be noted that in the scenes where she wears a brunette wig, Anna Nicole looks alarmingly like Monica Lewinsky. In most of these scenes, she’s talking to Travolta, who looks like George Carlin. At least they have similar hair. Travolta and Carlin I mean. So if you’ve ever wanted to see what it looks like for Monica Lewinsky and George Carlin to have a conversation, now’s your chance. There’s also a guy named Philly Bambino in the movie (Aprea). They couldn’t even get Vanity to reprise her role of Lupe.

Of course, To The Limit makes no sense as a mishmash of Davinci’s War sequel/Playboy video/PM action movie, but you knew that going in, didn’t you? Finding a VHS tape like To The Limit at your local video store was all part of the fun of that era. Thanks to Amazon Prime (as of this writing), you can relive it.
Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Lady Bloodfight (2016)

Lady Bloodfight (2016)- * * *

Directed by: Chris Nahon

Starring: Amy Johnston, Kathy Wu, Jenny Wu, and Muriel Hoffmann

“Your arrival lights the flame of the Kumite.”

Jane Jones (Johnston) is a humble waitress in Pittsburgh.  Thanks to her father, she also has formidable fighting skills. She travels to Hong Kong to find out what happened to her beloved dad – all she knows is that he disappeared after becoming involved in the mysterious Kumite. Meanwhile, female fighters from all over the world are specially selected to fight to the death in said Kumite. Trainers and rivals Shu (Hoffmann) and Wai (Kathy Wu) each take on a student to represent them in the tournament because when they last fought each other, they refused to split the prize winnings. We’re not entirely sure how that works either, but Wai trains a street tough named Ling (Jenny Wu), while Shu does the same for Jane Jones. Will a blonde American woman come out victorious in the Kumite? 

We’re definitely happy that an all-female Bloodsport (1988) or Kickboxer (1989) exists, especially in this day and age. Just when you thought the Punchfighting genre had run out of gas, along comes Lady Bloodfight – where women now have to endure grueling training regimens so they can punch each other into oblivion.

There’s a lot to like about the movie – the cast is engaging, it’s well-shot and looks good overall, it’s entertaining, and the concept of all-female underground Punchfighting is a solid one. The fact that it was co-written and co-produced by Bey Logan of Dragon Dynasty fame, and directed by Nahon of Kiss of the Dragon (2001) fame just enhances its bona fides. There’s even a mention of Dim Mak, as there also is in Kiss of the Dragon. Nahon must love the death touch. On the downside, the movie is too long at 100 minutes. The thin plot doesn’t really justify this length – that and the constant tournament fighting scenes will remind you of The Quest (1996). But one thing you have to say is that it doesn’t skimp on the action. There’s a fight scene seemingly every few minutes, and most of the fights are well done. 

Interestingly, nothing is said about this being an all-female Kumite. It just is. Other movies would make a big deal about it. Here it’s not even worth a single mention. Another thing worth noting is that Jane Jones is far from an invincible, flawless heroine – she gets beat up a lot, so much so it’s amazing she can stand up, much less fight, but there just may be a reason why that is…

Action fans will feel comfortable with the dubbing style and training montages, not to mention the near-constant fighting. Of course, the Kumite matches primarily take place in an abandoned warehouse. Jones even has to face off against a fearsome villainess, or “Tong Poette”, as we called her.

All in all, Lady Bloodfight is well worth-watching, and we look forward to seeing what Amy Johnston does in the future.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett