Chain Of Command (2000)

Chain Of Command
(2000)- * * 

Directed by: John Terlesky

Starring: Patrick Muldoon, Michael Biehn, Maria Conchita Alonso, Tom Wright, and Roy Scheider 

Special Agent Michael Connelly (Muldoon) is not the guy who writes the Bosch series of novels. He's a Secret Service agent tasked with protecting President Jack Cahill (Scheider). But the upright Connelly doesn't approve of Cahill's Clintonesque philandering, so he's transferred to a squad that helps protect the Nuclear Football. 

His boss, Thornton (Biehn) explains that said football is not actually a football. It's a briefcase. This is starting to get a little confusing. Especially for Connelly, who is a dedicated public servant but not the brightest tool in the shed. When evil Taiwanese businessmen start killing everyone and then kidnap "The Prez" so they can take control of the football and aim it towards China, it's up to Connelly, and, by extension, Vice President Gloria Valdez (Alonso) to save the day. Will it be Connelly or the baddies who spike the football in the end zone? And who will run that up the CHAIN OF COMMAND?

It's Die Hard on a Taiwanese boat! At least that's a relatively novel place to have a "DieHardInA" movie, and not the usual building, hockey arena, or missile silo (although silos are repeatedly mentioned. Thankfully not as many times as in Terminal Countdown). It must be said that Chain of Command - not to be confused with the Dudikoff film of the same name - may seem a little familiar to anyone who has seen The Peacekeeper (1997) or Executive Target (1997). 

Chain of Command is a sort of mash-up of the two; it has all the briefcase action of The Peacekeeper (along with Roy Scheider), mixed with the presidential kidnapping of Executive Target (along with Roy Scheider). It seems Scheider never tired of working on all of these variations of the same theme. Hey, the guy liked to work, and we respect that. 

The problem is that the film gets off to a slow start, and it's a long time until we as viewers see any action. It seems director Terlesky was concentrating on the political drama of the situation, although, let's face it, this isn't All the President's Men (1976). A little more self-awareness and consideration for the viewership of DTV action movies would have gone a long way. 

Compounding that is a lack of competent lighting, one of our least favorite low-budget pitfalls. You've got to have lights, people. Underlighting is the scourge of filmmaking. Whether you're Chain of Command or Boardwalk Empire, you have to at least make a cursory attempt to turn on a few lights. It won't kill you.

During all this yak-yak, somehow they couldn't find time for any meaningful character development. Michael Biehn (who is almost unrecognizable here) does describe the nuclear football as "armageddon in a box" - which is convenient and saves time - and President Jack Cahill does use a rowing machine, predating House of Cards' Frank Underwood by a good many years.

We had to wait until almost an hour in until we got to Maria Conchita Alonso, who was interestingly cast as the Vice President. Will we ever see the day when a Latina with a thick-ish accent is the VP? Nevertheless, we like Alonso and it was nice to see her in that sort of role. 

A better movie would have been Muldoon and Alonso as partners who beat up goons and bust heads together and shoot drug dealers or something like that. That would have been awesome. Instead we get what we get, which is just mediocre. But what else do you expect from a DTV movie from 2000? It wasn't the best year for DTV films. 

During one of the many discussions of the nukes and launch codes and such, more than one reference is made to something which sounds like "Merv Warheads". The DVD has no captions, so we don't know for sure. But that doesn't sound very threatening. Unless that's what the upper-management brass on ABC back in the 70's called their programming lineup designed by Merv Griffin. Then it makes more sense.

In the end, Chain of Command is your typical year-2000 DTV fare. It's not great, and it's not offensively awful. It's just a movie on a screen. It offers no surprises or curveballs of any kind. It could have been much better, which is a shame, especially considering its better-than-average cast, but ultimately this is what you might call video store shelf filler.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Shadow Force (1992)

Shadow Force
(1992)- * *

Directed by: Ken Lamkin

Starring: Dirk Benedict, Lise Cutter, Lance LeGault, Rey David Pena, Jack Elam, and Bob Hastings 

Something rotten is going on in Norman, Texas. Not only is the entire police force corrupt, but they're also on the payroll as assassins for local crime lord Emilio Vela (Pena). Chief Thorpe (LeGault), who looks a lot like Craig T. Nelson, knows about it. Mayor Talbert (Hastings), who looks a lot like Mike Ditka, knows about it. The whole freakin' town knows about it. So when out-of-towner Rick Kelly (Benedict) comes to Norman to start investigating his brother-in-law's murder, all the forces in town ally against him. He teams up with your standard female reporter, Mary (Cutter), and the two of them proceed to unravel the conspiracy that goes, well, all the way to the top. But will they be able to put a stop not just to the police force, but to the SHADOW FORCE?

Shadow Force is a DTV cop drama with some action elements. It's relatively serious in its intentions, and not wacky. That's not to say there isn't humor, but it's either unintentional or it's provided by the charming Dirk Benedict. He keeps the movie afloat, along with some amusing side characters like Tommy the bartender (Elam). Lise Cutter as the love interest/reporter should've done more, or at least have had a more flattering hairstyle. It all plays out like a TV movie, possibly made for Lifetime, which isn't surprising as this was director Lamkin's only theatrical film, having primarily worked in television. You can definitely tell.

It's sort of a DTV version of Magnum Force (1973). On the technical end, it's all lit and shot well enough. There's the local color of something like One Man War (1990). Or, if you're being particularly uncharitable, Radical Jack (2000). There are some car stunts, a blow-up or two, and a bit of shooting, but the movie highlight comes when Rick Kelly breaks out the skills he learned in 'Nam and sets some Home Alone-esque traps for the baddies. In other words, deadly ones.

Benedict really was the Bradley Cooper of his day, which explains why Cooper played Face in the recent A-Team remake. That was good casting. Someone was paying attention. On the soundtrack front, during most of the scenes of action or intrigue, Jeff Marsh provides some wailing quasi-shredding on electric guitar. 

Whenever the Mexican baddie Vela appears on screen, a Mariachi-styled nylon-string acoustic guitar is strummed. We're not going to say that's racist or anything, but let's just say we wouldn't be surprised if there was an Asian character and a gong was hit every time he was on screen. For the end credits tune, a very catchy ballad called "We Can't Lose" by Marsh and Carol Michaels plays. It will likely get stuck in your head. It could've been a hit on adult contemporary radio at the time.

Of note is the fact that the Imperial Video VHS states that the running time is 97 minutes. The moment we first see the end credits, the movie clocks in at 77 minutes. A very TV-esque running time. There are also trailers on the tape, including for My Samurai (1992) and other Imperial titles, so lying and inflating the running time by 20 minutes was not necessary. But that was how it was back in the VHS days. We're just beginning to sort it all out now. That's especially true in this case, as Shadow Force doesn't appear to have been a hot renter on the shelves. From what we've been able to tell, it likely just sat on those shelves and collected dust. 

Sure, it's a little slow by today's standards, and there's nothing particularly exceptional about it, but it's not bad. If more of the movie had concentrated on Dirk Benedict killing off baddies using his 'Nam skills, and it had backed off of some of the other, more boring material, we'd have a true winner on our hands. As it is, it's all a bit middle of the road. But Benedict fans may want to check it out.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Ghost (2001)

The Ghost (2001)- * * *

Directed by: Douglas Jackson

Starring: Michael Madsen, Julie Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Richard Hatch, Michael Paul Chan, Al Leong, George Cheung, Brad Hunt, Louis Herthum, James Hong, Brad Dourif, and Henry Smalls as Henry

Jing (Lee) is an assassin for the Tongs who is so elusive, she's known as "The Ghost". After she gets on the wrong side of evil baddie Chang (Tagawa), he vows to hunt her down and kill her. She makes that much harder for him by flying from Hong Kong to Los Angeles so she can pose as the Asian mail-order bride to a man named Edward Cosgrove (Hatch). While initially the relationship between the two is just for her cover, she gradually begins to genuinely fall for the good-natured Edward.

Meanwhile, an underling for Chang, Inspector Wu (Chan), and a bunch of his heavies, follow Jing to L.A. But because they don't know where she is, they end up at the doorstep of one Daniel Olinghouse (Madsen), of Olinghouse Bail Bonds. Olinghouse and a Lt. Garland (Dourif) of the LAPD have a working relationship despite some past troubles, and the men are tasked by Chang and Wu to find Jing. 

But it comes at an ever-increasing price. Olinghouse's bail bondsmen Browner (Herthum) and Sink (Hunt) may be masters of disguise, but it's going to take all the ingenuity of Olinghouse to finally track down the crafty Jing. Will anyone finally bust THE GHOST?

Yes, The Ghost is stupid and dumb and all that, but thankfully it's the GOOD kind of stupid and dumb. It's all very enjoyable and entertaining - far more so than you'd think it might be. Of course, there are the standard low-budget pitfalls: a cheap overall look, rough edits, amateurish acting, questionable fight choreography, and the like, but somehow, against all odds, it manages to win you over. You have to love it. It only adds to the viewing experience. 

If you like awkward dialogue delivered awkwardly amidst awkward stagings, The Ghost is the movie for you. It easily could have been another dud like Double Deception (2001), but it manages to sidestep that by having a silly charm all its own.

The solid cast and 85-minute running time also help a lot. First off, we have Julie Lee as The Ghost. Her character does go through an important arc: she starts off as an Asian Minnie Driver, but she ends up as an Asian Anjelica Huston. We really grew to love her flat-as-a-board line readings in her husky (some wags might say "mannish") voice. Especially in her "beating up MAP's (Middle-Aged Punks)" scene, she was reminiscent of Tiana Alexandra going undercover as "Cinderella Pu" in Catch the Heat (1987). She was good in her Martial Arts fight scenes, but it's hard not to be upstaged by Henry Smalls as Henry.

The Ghost, as a film in total, needed more Henry! His character was unquestionably the movie's highlight. Any time he was on screen, we shouted "Yes!" We loved him, and we should have seen more of him. 

Of course, there's plenty of Michael Madsen here for us all to enjoy. He brings his classic charisma, gravelly voice, and fantastic fashion choices to the fore. He's sort of the nucleus of the film and what we see revolves around him. The scenes between Madsen and Brad Dourif showcase an "odd couple" vibe that's fun to watch. Tagawa plays - you guessed it - a bad guy, just as he's done in every role in his career. We'd love to see something where he plays the good guy. But it seems he was typecast just because he looks evil. It's a shame.

On the other end of that spectrum, Richard Hatch plays the innocent guy caught up in all this, not to mention the romantic male lead, and honestly it's probably the best Hatch we've seen to date.

B-Movie mainstays such as Al Leong, George Cheung, and James Hong, among others, round out the cast. The whole outing is amusing and funny. Maybe you have to have a sense of humor to enjoy The Ghost, which it seems not everybody does.

The early 00's were not the best time for movies, so that means that The Ghost is probably the best movie of 2001 by default. For B-Movie DTV denizens such as ourselves, it's well worth seeking out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Terminal Impact (1995)

Terminal Impact (1995)- * * *

Directed by: Yossi Wein

Starring: Frank Zagarino, Bryan Genesse, and Jennifer Miller

Saint (Zags) and Max (Genesse) are Federal Marshals and also roommates (?) who get more than they bargain for when they cross paths with a newscaster named Evelyn Reed. While investigating a shady robotics company called Delta Tech, she takes a valuable microchip and the Delta boys want it back. 

Fortunately for them, they're in the business of creating unkillable killbots that kill. So Saint, Max, and Evelyn go on the run, and meanwhile there is a lot of shooting and blowing-up of things as our trio of heroes fight the evil cyborgs. Or androids. Or whatever they are. It all comes to a head in a junkyard where man and machine meet in the ultimate test...and that's just Frank Zagarino! We kid, but...who will be feeling the TERMINAL IMPACT?

You might be surprised at how enjoyable Terminal Impact actually is. I know we were. That's because this film seems to get a lot of negativity online, and the first 35 minutes really aren't all that great. But once you get past that rocky first third, things change for the better - fast. 

Miraculously, there's an almost complete turnaround from stupid and dumb to wonderfully stupid and dumb. We love to see that, as it almost never happens. We give the filmmakers a lot of credit for righting the ship like that.

At said 35-minute mark, this is what heralds the sea change: a shirtless Frank Zagarino is cooking in his kitchen while atonally and tunelessly crooning along to the radio while using an upside-down baseball bat as a microphone. It's unquestionably the movie's highlight.

In addition to that, we get a career-best (at least from what we've seen) performance from Genesse. He's got energy and sass, and, of course, a leather vest. The two guys have good chemistry together. Miller, as the third part of their trifecta, is nice to look at but her line deliveries are somewhere between Leo Fong and Don "The Dragon" Wilson in the "it sounds like I'm not just reading - but flatly reading - my dialogue" department. But it's all in good fun. 

It's a buddy action/comedy with some light sci-fi elements. It's almost a bizarre cross between Robowar (1988) and Drive (1997), but is nowhere near the class of those two. I wonder where the screenwriters got the idea for a human-like super-robot that's searching for a woman? We haven't seen anything that blatant since Termination Man (1998).

Like the movie itself, the score is not very good until it reaches a certain point - in this case, the car chase. Overall, the blow-ups are of good quality and the stuntwork is especially notable, highlighted best during a showstopper during the parking lot battle. You'll know what we mean when you see it. 

While it takes place in Iowa, but was shot in South Africa (as many Nu Image movies were at that time), we couldn't help but notice that the headquarters of Delta Tech in the film was at Fairfield University - which is the name of a real college in Connecticut. We know, it gets a little confusing, but other things to note are the healing powers of the robots are pretty cool and the main baddie has a great voice and he looks like Anthony Michael Hall. That, and Zagarino's singing voice, of course.

We can only surmise that anything negative said about the film is based on its first third, which is, admittedly, not great. Sure, it's not the most intelligent movie in the world overall, but you don't go to a Frank Zagarino-Brian Genesse film made by Nu Image if you're looking for cutting intelligence.

If you can get past the rather uninspiring beginning, you will get into the spirit of Terminal Impact.

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: While one of the alternate titles is Cyborg Cop III, there are no cyborg cops in the film.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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