Air Rage (2001)

Air Rage (2001)-*1\2

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray

Starring: Ice-T, Cyril O'Reilly, Kim Oja, Alex Cord, Jack McGee, Steve Hytner, Gil Gerard, and Glynn Turman

"Altitude gets Attitude."

During a court martial, Col. John Sykes (O’Reilly), and his cohorts as well, are dishonorably discharged. The Chief Judge Adjutant, General Harlan Prescott (Cord), throws out their initial plea agreement, probably so he could bellow at them and then give them the maximum punishment. Later on, Prescott boards a plane with his assistant that looks exactly like Eugene Levy. Sykes and his disgraced army men board the same plane and take it hostage. Now with complete chaos on board, only one man can come in and save the day: Matt Marshall (Ice-T). But because he gets wounded in a firefight, he isn’t as active in day-saving as he should be. That’s when spunky flight attendant Kelly Young (Oja) gets into the act. One minute she’s serving drinks to obnoxious passengers like Morton (Hytner), the next minute she’s killing baddies and flying the plane. Will everyone on board make a safe landing…or will they be overcome with their AIR RAGE?

First came Executive Decision (1996). Then came Strategic Command (1997). Now comes Air Rage, an overlong, unnecessary addition to the plane-hostage movie canon. Over its 100-minute running time, you won’t see anything you haven’t seen before. Another plane is taken hostage, another strike force is brought in to save the day, another terrorist wants yet another CD-ROM filled with information, and it all seems very, very familiar. The only actual air rage is felt by the viewer as he takes in this repetitive muck. 

After we were watching the movie for a while, we noticed Ice-T was nowhere in sight, so we went on Ice-T watch. Despite appearing very prominently on the box art, Ice doesn’t show up until exactly 40 minutes in. And even after that, he’s not a forceful hero because he’s injured and in pain for a good amount of time. If there’s a main hero here, it’s Kelly the Stewardess. We were happy to see Oja not be put in an ineffectual stewardess role and instead get in on the action. But she’s not on the box art. Could it be sexism? Maybe because he was fresh off of fellow plane flick Stealth Fighter (1999), where he was the baddie, perhaps Ice-T was sick of planes and he doesn’t care as much this time around. And is it just us, or is it racist that Ice-T of all people leads a Black Ops team where the code name is Blackbird?

Pretty much the only bright spot in this air disaster of a movie is the presence of Alex Cord as the General. His presence is great and his voice is fantastic. He should have narrated the movie. That might have fixed things. As seems to be standard for Fred Olen Ray, while the movie itself is substandard, he gets a lot of great character actors to shoulder the weight of the project. This seems to mitigate the cruddiness of the proceedings somewhat. Jack McGee, Glynn Turman, and Gil Gerard are all welcome faces and they do their best. Even Steve Hytner, immediately recognizable as Banya from TV’s Seinfeld, is here and he plays an unlikeable jerk very well. But it’s just not enough to overcome the lack of originality here and the boredom that ensues from it.

Pro tip: If you want to watch something like this, but want to see a movie that’s actually good and very entertaining, watch Passenger 57 instead.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


War Camp (1988)

War Camp (1988)- * * *

Directed by: Jett Espiritu

Starring: Rey Malonzo

In the jungles of Vietnam, a group of mercenaries is on a rescue mission to save some captive American prisoners. One of which, a guy named James Brook, may have secret plans to annihilate Hanoi with an atomic bomb. Led by Aviles (Malonzo), he leads his compatriots Jo Lin, Robert Jason, Fernando, and Singh Su through many, many machine gun fights and chases. Eventually they end up at the dreaded WAR CAMP, where prisoners are kept in cages and held captive by not one, but two evil baddies. Lem Jing is the evil guy with the oversized 80’s glasses, and Minh Dem is the evil guy who takes dramatic pauses in his speech, making him the Vietcong William Shatner. Will our heroes survive to shoot and stab another day?

The Vietnam War continues to rage in the Philippines in WAR CAMP, yet another addition to the waterfall of late 80’s jungle shoot-em-ups. If you like lots of machine-gun shooting amidst verdant, tree-filled locations, this is the movie for you. Lots of faceless guys in those conical rice-paddy hats get filled full of lead and fall into shallow pools of water. Strangely, there are no guard-tower falls on show, but there is a lengthy (and prerequisite) torture scene that apparently tries to outdo The Deer Hunter (1978) at its own game. Literally.

Here, arm wrestling takes an even more sinister turn than it did in Over The Top (1987), wherein the competitors’ wrists are each bound to a wire of some sort, and it’s attached to yet another machine gun, so when the loser goes down, it yanks the cord and he goes down permanently. It really takes all the joy out of the term wrist wrasslin'. A lot of time is spent in and around this device. Obviously, the filmmakers were really proud of it. On top of that, there are plenty of booby traps in the jungle, and we are informed one of them is called a “punji stick”. You learn something new every day.

The movie is clearly influenced by other “war camp” movies such as Missing In Action (1984), Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985), and P.O.W. The Escape (1986). But director Jett Espiritu, as cool as his name is, did not have the resources those comparatively bigger movies had. So here we get the rough film stock, choppy editing, and funny dubbing those “third-world”-style movies all have, but it is somewhat charming. They used what they had to the best of their ability, and you can see that. Rey Malonzo from Search For Vengeance (1984) is on board, so that’s something.

There’s next-to-nil character development, but in place of that, lots and lots of people get shot with a machine gun, or, barring that, stabbed, tortured, or beaten up. But it’s all in fairly good fun and the synthy score helps. That and the fact that it’s 84 minutes. So, if you just can’t get enough jungle-shootin’ action, War Camp can stand alongside others in that illustrious canon.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Contract (1999)

The Contract (1999)- *1\2

Directed by: K.C. Bascombe

Starring: Laurent Imbault, Johanna Black, Matthew Olver, Doug Richardson, and Billy Dee Williams

Luc (Imbault) and Hannah (Black) are professional assassins on the mean streets of Toronto, Canada. They always execute their CONTRACT killings with efficiency, but they get more than they bargained for when they enter the world of Senator Harmon (Billy Dee). Described as a “hardliner” by his critics, they don’t know how right they are – Harmon seemingly has no qualms about eliminating potential threats to his rise to power…permanently. When a conspiracy unravels that puts Hannah and her boyfriend James (Olver) in jeopardy, they go on the run and link up with their associate Ozzy (Richardson). After many trials and tribulations, the inevitable final confrontation comes between Hannah and Harmon. But will the ultimate CONTRACT be fulfilled?

Unfortunately, The Contract was a disappointment. There are many factors at work here that ultimately sink the movie, any one of which might not do so on its own, but here it’s a case of death by a thousand cuts. The whole thing is very Canadian, but it’s supposed to be set in the U.S., which is always a mistake. Just embrace your Canadian heritage and things always go better in the end. It was the late 90’s, which was a death time for DTV productions like this. It has a downmarket, low-budget feel. It’s a Tarantino Slog, as we call them, and the world just didn’t need another one of those, especially one of this puny stature that couldn’t even compete with the bigger and more well-known T-Slogs of the day.

Most of the action consists of “assassination shootings”, and the few fight scenes (such as the kitchen fight) have this silly slo-mo effect which doesn’t do anyone any favors. The climax makes very little sense, and that’s after a movie which doesn’t have powerful forward drive or verve, not to mention a well-thought-out or well-written plot that would involve viewers. There’s also a lot of soundalike music on the soundtrack, with songs or musical cues that by turns sound like Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Dave Matthews Band, or Paula Cole/Meredith Brooks/Shawn Colvin or any number of Lilith Fair-style female singers at that time.

On the bright side, Billy Dee Williams is extremely charming, as ever, and he has a lot of screen presence and magnetism. The movie is hanging on by a thread as it is, without BDW it would be nothing. He did seem out of place here, however. Johanna Black brought a certain Nancy Kerriganesque charm to the proceedings. She did her best against impossible odds. A point of interest came up when Ozzy started talking about his record collection, saying that he has over 2,000 vinyl albums. After we perked up upon hearing this, the movie then went back down to its default position of being lame.

The Contract reminded us of a less-professional Killing Time (1998), but without the actual Portishead music. Instead it featured artists we’ve personally never heard of such as Juke Joint, Adam’s Curse, Vivian George, Shikasta, Heartbreak Hill, and Babelfish. They probably couldn’t afford the original hits by the original artists, we understand that. One of the songs does feature the lyrics “growing up in Canada makes you strong”, evidence of which cannot be found in this film. Of course it all ends in a Final Factory Fight, as so many movies do, but we as viewers simply don’t care about what we’ve just seen. To be fair though, this movie is significantly better than Conspiracy of Fear (1995). So, it’s good to keep perspective on things.

With better writing, tighter editing, More original dialogue, more focused direction, better music, and giving our heroes more goons to fight, The Contract would have been vastly better. Only the presence of Billy Dee Williams keeps things afloat…barely. The woman in the artwork doesn’t even appear to be Johanna Black. Sadly, we cannot recommend The Contract, except for Billy Dee Williams completists.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Shotgun (1989)

Shotgun (1989)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Addison Randall

Starring: Stuart Chapin, Rif Hutton, Jastereo Coviare, and Katie Caple

Set amongst the sleazy milieu of Hollywood’s hookers, strippers, and porno shops (you know the shops are sleazy because the store clerk wears a leather vest and no shirt), two heroic police officers are there to clean up the streets. Ian “Shotgun” Jones (Chapin), and his partner Max Billings (Hutton) just want to do their jobs, but, of course, bureaucratic red tape is always standing in their way. When a Zipperface-style leather-clad maniac goes on the loose killing the local prostitutes, Jones and Billings snap into action. Of course, Shotgun’s sister Tanya (Caple) is one of said prostitutes and ends up dying at the hands of the so-called “Basher”. This leads to turmoil that ultimately winds up with Shotgun having to turn in his badge and gun. 

He becomes a bounty hunter, AKA a skip tracer, while Billings ends up getting promoted to Sergeant. It all comes to a head in Mexico, where Shotgun meets up with a Machine Gun Joe-style character who looks exactly like Paul Rutherford from Frankie Goes To Hollywood. They make a tank together and blow up the local Mexicans. But have we heard the last of SHOTGUN?

Shotgun. Sometimes simplicity says it all, really. This PM outing from the golden video store year of 1989 is a ton of fast-paced fun. It’s silly, it’s funny, it’s absolutely ridiculous – and it’s a must-see! With Miami Vice going off the air in January of 1990, the stage was set for the replacement for Crockett and Tubbs in the hearts of viewers – Shotgun and Billings, of course. 

Of all the COTEs (Cops On The Edge) we’ve seen to date, Shotgun Jones must rank as one of the COTE’iest. What today would be seen as a serious anger management problem that requires rehab and therapy, in Shotgun’s day it meant only one thing: results. The man punches and/or shoots anyone he darn well pleases. He has long red hair, a red beard, and comes off as Eric Stoltz with rage issues. He has a great voice and is unafraid of confrontational behavior. He wears a cowboy hat and duster coat when the mood strikes him. He’s our new hero. 

Interestingly, Stuart Chapin is the brother of Robert Chapin, of Comeuppance favorite Ring of Steel (1994) fame. What a family! Sadly, however, Stuart Chapin passed away last year after a criminally short acting career. But he did far more than many more prolific actors have done: he left us with Shotgun, a fantastically entertaining piece of work and a great showcase for his talents. He will be missed. 

The main baddie, the Zipperface guy, should have been played by Chard Hayward. Maybe this is before PM could afford him. But as everyone searches for him, they all call him “The Kinko”. Presumably this doesn’t refer to his ability with a copying machine. When Billings is promoted, he keeps a stuffed Kermit the Frog doll in a prominent position in his office. It’s probably why he wanted an office in the first place. It might be the best piece of office d├ęcor since the Garfield phone appeared in all those Godfrey Ho movies.

Despite (or maybe because of?) low budget obstacles, director Addison Randall – a man whose name we’ve seen so many times in the credits we feel like we know him personally – created a real gem here. 

All the other PM behind-the-scenes credit names we’ve seen countless times before are here too, including Jastereo Coviare, who contributes an absolutely fantastic title song. He appears briefly as one of Shotgun’s quarry as well. Coviare and PM mainstay John Gonzalez did the score, which consists mainly of wailin’/shreddin’ guitars and be sure to keep your ears open for the immortal lyrics: "The shotgun of Jones!"

The movie speeds by at 84 minutes. There’s literally no reason not to own – or at least see – Shotgun. It will put a smile on your face for sure. Anyone with a sense of fun should step into the world of Ian “Shotgun” Jones! 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Commander 3 (1986)

Commander 3 (1986)- * *1\2

AKA: War Without End

Directed by: Teddy Page

Starring: Robert Marius, Jim Gaines, Mike Monty and Nick Nicholson

It’s 1982 in Cambodia. Captain Ted Wilson (Marius), and his fellow soldier Lt. Garvey (Gaines), among others, are test-flying a technologically-advanced airplane named the Wild Weasel. Their platoon (or perhaps their mission?) is named Lickin’ Chicken. We repeat: Lickin’ Chicken. When things go wrong and the plane goes down, Wilson and Garvey manage to escape into the jungle – but is it the KGB who caused the plane crash? Or could it be someone else? The two soldiers find locals named Nooin and Nam, and they head off on a perilous mission to find answers. Of course, this involves almost non-stop machine-gun shooting and exploding huts. What will be the ultimate fate of Lickin’ Chicken?

Director Teddy Page takes us on yet another jungle excursion with all the shooting, blow-ups, and guard-tower falls you’d expect to see. While the movie does have a handful of cool moments sprinkled throughout, including a chain of well-timed consecutive exploding huts, it’s all a bit too mediocre for our liking. The movie isn’t bad at all, and fans of jungle-set exploding hutters who can’t get enough of that sort of thing could certainly check it out on Amazon Prime. It’s competently made, but it’s just not our favorite Teddy Page – which is, of course, Phantom Soldiers (1989).

Maybe it’s unfair to compare everything Page does to that gem, because he’s done a lot of other fine work as well, but this time he had a lot of people backing him up that are mainstays of the Philippines-shot action world – stars Marius and Gaines featured almost exclusively in these types of movies. Fan favorite Nick Nicholson looks great this time around as the shady, bearded KGB agent. Mike Monty, as Dr. Meehan, wears a rumpled sky-blue suit, which is a plus, but on the negative side we don’t think it was his voice doing the dubbing. Of course, when the movie goes from the jungle action to the military offices, there is not only a picture of Reagan on the wall (as normal), but also a framed Reagan pic on the desk. The rotary-dial red phone featured in the movie must be used to call him directly.

Now let’s talk about the Cambodian elephant in the room. While the movie is known as War Without End, it’s also called Commander 3. As readers of the site know, the original Commander (1988) is one of our favorites, and perhaps the best “explosion” movie of all time. How could a Commander 3 possibly measure up? Well, sadly, Craig Alan is nowhere in sight. Commander was an Italian production and Commander 3 isn’t. While we have nothing against Robert Marius, it appears Commander 3 is an in-name-only sequel, and the two movies have little, if anything, to do with each other. This supposed sequel doesn’t approach the majesty of the original, so if you haven’t seen either of them, make sure you see the first one first. 

Commander 3 is not the worst exploding hutter we've seen, nor is it the best. It does feature a cool ending where Marius is brandishing a hand-held missile launcher in one hand and a machine gun in the other and is blowing up everything in sight. For those that can't get enough of the jungle genre, we'd say check it out, but for everyone else, perhaps not. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty