The Butcher (2009)

The Butcher (2009)- * * *

Directed by: Jesse V. Johnson

Starring: Eric Roberts, Jerry Trimble, Robert Davi, Keith David, Bokeem Woodbine, Irina Bjorklund, Vernon Wells, Geoffrey Lewis, and Michael Ironside

Merle "The Butcher" Hench is one cool dude. He's an ex-boxer, has a pair of golden guns, and he drives a 1969 Dodge Charger. His temperament is very even and he doesn't yell. He also has a gambling problem. As an enforcer for Irish mobster Murdoch (Davi), he is highly skilled in "the science of violence", as someone tells him. However, Merle's luck begins to change when he wins money from both Chinatown Pete (Woodbine), and Larry Cobb (David).

Meanwhile, thinking that Merle is "over the hill", he is set up as the patsy for a multi-million-dollar heist on a group of other gangsters. While Hench does end up with some of the money, and plans to use it to run off into the sunset with diner waitress Jackie (Bjorklund), he can't help but shake the fact that he needs to get revenge for the fact that Murdoch and his boys betrayed his long-time loyalty to them. So, risking it all - including a potentially brighter future with Jackie - The Butcher gambles one last time...for his life.

There's a lot to recommend about The Butcher. The style of it is fairly downbeat and a bit unorthodox, with some interesting flashbacks. It seems influenced by the "L.A. Noir" of the past. It's a fantastic showcase for fan favorite Eric Roberts as well, as he not only gets to ponder on the existential side of things, he also does some Eric Roberts-Fu on the baddies, and he shoots a whole heck of a lot of them as well. 

Director Johnson is almost venerable towards Roberts and gives him the starring role he deserves. There are a lot of other interesting character moments as well - Davi doing an Irish accent, instead of the expected Italian one, was a surprise treat. Woodbine and David as The Butcher's gambling cronies added a lot. The great Geoffrey Lewis as Naylor, the pawnshop owner, stood out. Although he only appears in the silent flashbacks, Vernon G. Wells is hiding in there as well. And this has to be one of the best-ever performances in Jerry Trimble's career.

The cast is strong and the main idea behind the film is simple but effective. We've seen a good amount of Johnson's films at this point, and he really seems to understand action and what the fans want. He's one of the very few directors out there that really seem completely dedicated to the action genre. 

While The Butcher is far from a thrill a minute - it's deliberately paced and takes time to build up a head of steam - Johnson seems to be showing the fact that you can combine action violence and quasi-film noir without a hitch. When the action does come, it's explosive. It's all the more impactful because of the character moments that surround it. Johnson does his best to eschew cardboard characterizations. 

We applaud everything about the film, with the exception of one little caveat. It's too long. At almost two full hours, we couldn't help but think that if it was trimmed down to 90 minutes or so, it could have worked better. Yes, we realize we just contradicted ourselves a bit - it takes time to build up character moments, so how can we say we love those moments and then want to cut them - but surely a few trims here and there just to get things down to a reasonable running time couldn't hurt.

Perhaps interestingly, the working title for the Van Damme film 6 Bullets (2012) was The Butcher. They must have realized that this The Butcher predated it, then they changed it. Then they got Joe Flanigan. As all movies should.

The Butcher is a solid film all around with a lot of good points and highlights. Its mix of thoughtfulness in with the violence was appreciated. There are interesting faces, as well as ideas, and the cast is excellent. The only thorn in the movie's side is that it's too long. So, as that's not a complete dealbreaker, we say check it out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Crooked (2006)

Crooked (2006)- * *

Directed by: Art Camacho

Starring: Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Olivier Gruner, Gary Busey, Fred Williamson, Diana Kauffman, and Martin Kove

When a hooker with a heart of gold named Angel (Kauffman) witnesses a murder, police officers Danny Tyler (The Dragon) and Phil Yordan (Gruner) are put in charge of looking after her so there isn't any gangland retribution before she can testify. Of course, this isn't as simple as it seems, as a perfect storm of police corruption and irate mobsters coalesce around our three heroes. While they're on the run, shootouts and fights ensue. Where do Rouse (Busey) and Jake Lawlor (Kove) stand in all this? And who amongst all of them is CROOKED?

Lone Tiger Effect strikes again with Crooked, a chintzy affair that makes Detonator (2003) look classy. You'd think you couldn't go wrong with Don The Dragon, Fred Williamson, Kove, Busey, and Gruner all together. Well, unfortunately, it appears you can. Fred and Kove have glorified cameos, so you can take them pretty much out of the equation. The material the others had to work with wasn't the best. Low budgets have never been a negative for us, but if that's the case you've got to try just a little bit harder. 

The pacing is off, the dialogue is insipid, and the whole thing has that "stupid" feel. You probably know what we're talking about. Then there are the technical issues, such as poor lighting and sound, which add to the mess. However, maybe it's best that some of the dialogue isn't heard. That can only help the situation. That being said, sometimes it provides some laffs, as there's a scene early on in a police squad room where everyone's voice sounds normal except for Gary Busey's, which sounds like it was recorded separately in a large, echoey warehouse. We wouldn't normally mention it, but it's very, very obvious. And humorous. 

In the scenes where Busey is talking and it sounds like his voice was recorded in the same county, it certainly appears like they let him run wild with his own dialogue. There are a few instances of classic "Buseyisms" on display that only he could come up with. Besides that, Don's lovable woodenness is not only present and accounted for, it almost powers the movie along. Gruner's name in the film, Phil Yordan, must be a nod to the classic Hollywood-era screenwriter. But what would the original Yordan make of what he saw here? While Gruner is obviously trying, Don and Busey come out best in all this.

Yes, there is an exploding helicopter and a (weak) barfight...but we couldn't help but think that if Crooked was a PM movie that came out in 1996, it would have been done right. So why, in 2006, should things be any different? Just learn from the greats of the past. You'd think director Camacho, who worked on so many of those classic 90's productions as a stuntman, would know better. I mean, yes, Point Doom (2000) had Sebastian Bach, and Gangland (2001) had Mario Van Obama, but what does Crooked have? It appears, sadly, that the answer is diminishing returns. 

Crooked is, at best - at best - a one-time watch. And that's being generous. We're glad our favorite stars are working, and we like to see them, even in a lesser production like this. But we couldn't help but be disappointed.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC!


Beyond Forgiveness (1994)

Beyond Forgiveness (1994)- * * *1\2

AKA: Blood Of The Innocent

Directed by: Bob Misiorowski

Starring: Thomas Ian Griffith, John-Rhys Davies, Joanna Trzepiecinska, and Rutger Hauer

Frank Wusharsky (TIG) is a Polish-American cop in Chicago. A festive evening of eating kielbasa and dancing to polka turns to tragedy when some baddies gun down his brother. Searching for answers as to who the evildoers are, Frank travels to his family's homeland - Poland, of course. Now a fish out of water, Frank finds an ally in lovable Polish cop Shmuda (Rhys-Davies). 

He meets resistance both from the official authorities and the Russian gangsters that are running wild all over Poland, but he does get further help from Anna (Trzepiecinska) - which leads him to the nefarious Dr. Lem (Hauer). Will it be a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top? Perhaps involving, in some way, the medical profession? Maybe you were B.O.R.N. to find out!

Beyond Forgiveness (AKA Blood of the Innocent) is one of the better TIG movies we've seen to date. It's certainly a heck of a lot better than Ulterior Motives (1992). But it's hard to beat the classic Excessive Force (1993). All in all, it's arguably number two in the TIG rundown.

That's because it has a lot of good things going for it. It's got a very enjoyable - dare we say classic - plot of a cop out for revenge and unafraid to shoot/kick/punch anyone who stands in his way, it's got more than a handful of cool lines said by TIG, and, even though this was a Nu-Image production, the whole thing was actually shot in Poland (and not Bulgaria) and has some very nice locations. 

Additionally, there are some quality blow-ups, shootouts, and fight scenes. Griffith is backed up with some top-notch talent this time around with not just Rhys-Davies, who also has some great lines and is charismatic and you grow to really like him, but also Rutger Hauer is here too, don't forget. His presence is enough to reassure audiences that we're watching something of substance. 

Trzepiecinska was more than just the eye candy - she gets in on the action and helps things along. This was one of her only (if not her only) non-completely Polish-made/Polish-language productions. She should have been in more.

It's a little surprising that this was directed by Bob Misiorowski, who we only know from two of his other duds, Blink of an Eye (1992) with Michael Pare, and Derailed (2002) with Van Damme. Beyond Forgiveness is leaps and bounds better than those two. Clearly Misiorowski was in his element here and it's definitely the best thing we've seen from him to date. 

Of course, it helps that there's a classic vegetable cart blow-up and there's sax on the soundtrack. That, and Griffith beats up some Polish meat factory workers. Obviously they want to kill him (?) - talk about not wanting to see how the sausage is made!

Beyond Forgiveness combines a solid revenge plot, nice locations, and quality actors. It even features what you might call a more mature TIG. We really enjoyed it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Gunblast Vodka (2000)


Gunblast Vodka
(2000)- * *1\2

Directed by: Jean-Louis Daniel

Starring: Gotz Otto, Mariusz Pujszo, Jurgen Prochnow, and Angie Everhart 

There's an evil Russian baddie on the loose (what else is new?)! In this case, his name is Sacha Roublev (Prochnow) and he's operating a snuff film factory out of Wroclaw, Poland. He's kidnapping girls left and right and forcing them to "perform" in said films. The local Polish cops, including a wild n' wacky guy named Marek...uh...Brzeczyszczykiewicz (thank goodness for cut and paste) (Pujszo) are on Roublev's trail, but they need help. So, naturally, they turn to the one man that can really nail Roublev to the wall: Abel Rothstein (Otto).

Rothstein is a Tel Aviv-born badass who was in Mossad and the Israeli army. He's a tough, no-nonsense dude, and he and Marek are, well, the original odd couple as they tramp their way through Poland trying to put an end to their (snuff) film industry. One of Rothstein's motivating factors is that Roublev really crossed the line when he kidnapped an American woman named Jane Woods (Everhart) who looks exactly like his lost love from back in Israel. Will Marek and Rothstein be triumphant? And who will discover the true meaning of the phrase GUNBLAST VODKA?

If Nothing Underneath (1985) met Taken (2008) in a dark alley at night, had a cameraman that was zonked out on crystal meth, and had a post-dubber who was deaf, you might come out with something like Gunblast Vodka. 

Now, while we didn't think the movie overall was quite as "bad" as everyone seems to think it is, let's be honest. It has some flaws. The frantic antics get tiresome after a while, and the camerawork and editing could be quite headache-inducing. Like a lot of films of this type, it starts to flag around the hour mark. But in this case it reaches a strange mixture of hyper and tired that you don't see too often. And it could have used better lighting.

All that being said, the silly-voiced dubbing provides some entertainment, and the outing as a whole is certainly off-kilter. All the best parts of the film are the ones involving Gotz Otto. Not that that really needs to be said, but let's get it on the record. The movie would have benefitted by having less self-consciously "wacky" scenes and more scenes of Otto beating up and/or shooting people. Otto really does show his range as an actor here, believe it or not, because in Schindler's List (1993) he was an SS guard. Here, he's an orthodox Jew. Otto deserves better material than this, it must be said, but his presence does elevate things a lot.

Sure, the whole thing is unusual and non-traditional (or just "off") but it should get some credit for predating the aforementioned Taken. Rich guys were bidding electronically on the girls who were kidnapped, and Angie Everhart was "Taken". Of course, Prochnow was the baddie as he usually is. For a night of "fish out of water cop in Poland" movies, pair this with Beyond Forgiveness (1994).

While we didn't think Gunblast Vodka was quite as bad as some people say it is, we can kind of see where they're coming from. However, we choose to see the positive: unconventional movie structure, Gotz Otto, and some tasteless humor. Should you run to your local DVD seller or computer and purchase it right away? No, probably not, but if you see it for a dollar at the gas station, you could do a heck of a lot worse.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty