Dirty Games (1989)- * *
Directed by: Gray Hofmeyr
Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Valentina Vargas and Michael McGovern
Johannes Kepler was an astronomer and mathematician that lived from 1571 to 1630, and was considered a scientific pioneer and genius in his fields of expertise. Kepler West (JMV) isn't quite on that level, but he's close. When Kepler West reconnects with old flame Dr. Nicola Kendra (Vargas) in Africa when they're both invited to check out a new nuclear storage facility, danger follows. Kendra wants revenge on the men who murdered her father, namely an assassin named Von Kleff (McGovern). When it's uncovered that baddies want to blow up the newly-minted facility, Kendra and Kepler snap into action. Well, action may be a bit too strong of a word, but they sure do...something in a race against time before the big blow-up. Can they save the day in an above-board way, or will they have to resort to DIRTY GAMES?
Dirty Games is a pick-up from AIP and not one of their in-house productions. Perhaps when they released films made by others for American distribution, they looked for more serious-minded titles to balance out their homegrown, silly ones. Much like they did for The Second Victory (1987). We're not sure if this is going to make any sense, but imagine a cross between The Killing Machine (AKA Goma-2) (1984) and No Time To Die (1984). In other words, Dirty Games is better than High Explosive (2001) but not quite as good as Danger Zone (1996). Hopefully that wasn't overly confusing, but the best way to describe Dirty Games is by comparison.
Like a lot of other South African movies we've seen, the pace is slow and the tone is bland overall. It's not bad, but it's sort of mediocre. It plays out a lot like a 97-minute episode of Airwolf. There are helicopters in the film and Jan-Michael Vincent has a very similar sunglasses-and-bomber-jacket ensemble to the one he had in that classic show. Except here there's no Dominic Santini to leaven things out with his fatherly good humor. Interestingly, Vincent does not appear at all drunk throughout most of the film's running time, except when he wears shorts. These Party Shorts or "Drunk Shorts" must have been his gateway to a good time had in Africa. Otherwise he seems commendably sober, in keeping with the film's tone.
Keep in mind that the theme of Dirty Games is not nuclear war, but nuclear storage. Perhaps this was the original "Storage War". One of the baddies looks a lot like George Peppard (at least he has similar hair) which reinforces the TV vibe. Overall, though, there should have been more action and JMV should have shot and/or beat up many, many more people. You have to wait a long time for anything in that vein to happen. Yes, he's supposed to be a scientist, but Scott Barnes was a social worker and that didn't stop him from becoming an action hero.
While there are a small handful of cool and/or okay moments, Dirty Games struggles and strains to maintain the viewers' attention. It's not what we'd call a must-watch. It's probably for Jan-Michael or AIP completists only.
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty