Sharpshooter (2007)


(2007)- * *

Directed by: Armand Mastroianni

Starring: Mario Van Peebles, Al Sapienza, Bruce Boxleitner, Catherine Mary Stewart, Lee Reherman, and James Remar 

Dillon (Remar) is a professional assassin. After a lifetime of traveling around the world killing people for the CIA, he finally wants to hang up his sniper rifle and retire. But, wouldn't you just know it, he's convinced to do the classic and time-honored "One Last Job". Flick (Van Peebles), his boss, convinces him to travel to Julian, California, a rural fishing village. It's there he's supposed to pose as a Los Angeles lawyer just out to get some "R n' R". However, his true mission is to assassinate an evil baddie named Richard Phillips (Sapienza).

Of course, Phillips has a large mansion and a respectable amount of goons at his disposal. As Dillon is figuring out his mission, he meets a magazine writer named Amy (Stewart), as well as Sheriff Graham (Boxleitner), the law in that small town. However, as you might expect, after some double-crosses, back-stabs, and general intrigue, the hunter becomes the hunted and now Dillon has to use his lifetime of survival and killing skills to defend himself against the organization that trained him and that he's worked for for years: the U.S. government. Can he do it? Will he live to be the ultimate SHARPSHOOTER?

Sharpshooter is a made-for-cable outing that should have been much better than it is, based on the people involved. Not only does it feature fan favorites Remar - last seen around these parts with Quiet Cool (1986) - and Mario Van Peebles, it also has Boxleitner and two other people with 80's cult pedigrees - Catherine Mary Stewart from The Apple (1980) and Night of the Comet (1984), and it was directed by Armand Mastroianni of He Knows You're Alone (1980) fame. There's even a small part from Lee Reherman as Ziggy (of course his name is Ziggy) - the guy from Champions (1997) who looks like David Letterman and has a similar name.

So you'd think, with all that talent involved, the end product would be something other than the standard fare that we get. It has many, many cliches that we're all used to seeing by now: One Last Mission, the baddie mansion, Prerequisite Torture, the double-crosses, etc. Remar is good as always and his narration adds something, but it's not enough. It slows down a lot around the mid-point and never really recovers. There's also some very silly green screen during a chase sequence that did not need to be there. It didn't help matters.

It's not that the movie overall is bad, but it's nothing you haven't seen before, and done better elsewhere. There's not a lot of reason to go out of your way to seek out Sharpshooter. It seems like the brief given to Mastroianni was to make a telefilm version of Sniper (1993) mixed with Shooter (2007), and give it a similar title. As we said before, Remar, Stewart, Van Peebles, and Boxleitner are all fine in the film and none of this is their fault, but there's not a lot for the audience to hang on to. We were never given the red meat that we want. It's just a movie on a screen.

As much as we'd like to, we can't really recommend Sharpshooter. It delivers absolutely nothing new to the One Last Mission genre, which really is a genre unto itself at this point. Unless you're a completist as far as any of the talent involved goes, we can safely say you're not missing out on much if you never see it.

They should rename it “Dullshooter”.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum! 


Death Fighter (2017)

 Death Fighter
(2017)- * * *

Directed by: Toby Russell 

Starring: Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Matt Mullins, Joe Lewis, Chiranan Manochaem, Gigi Velicitat, and Cynthia Rothrock

Michael Turner (Mullins) is an American FBI agent on assignment in Thailand. Along with his partner Conrad (Lewis), the two men interrupt a gold deal in a warehouse and, you guessed it, it goes wrong. All hell breaks loose and, sadly, Conrad doesn't make it out alive. It transpires that the maniacal mastermind in the region is a man named Draco (Velicitat). He has his hands in all sorts of dirty dealings, and a woman named Valerie (Rothrock) is one of his underlings. 

 After seeking the traditional approval of the Thai authorities and not receiving it, Turner finds a mysterious man named Bobby Pau (The Dragon), who is described as a "former Special Ops soldier and part-time alcoholic". The two of them, along with a woman named Yui (Chiranan Manochaem) go after the Draco gang with all the fighting skills they have. But will it be enough? Who, as it turns out, will be the DEATH FIGHTER?

Death Fighter is an enjoyable throwback to the 80's style of Martial Arts action film. It was refreshing to see that the filmmakers were actually trying in this age of apathy and mediocrity. A big indicator that the movie's heart was in the right place was the casting of Don The Dragon and Cynthia Rothrock, two fan favorites that are near and dear to every action fan's heart. They even fight each other during the big climactic battle, which is a showdown we as fans have waited 20-plus years to see. Frankly, it could have been a bit longer and with no cutaways to the Matt Mullins fight going on at the same time, but it was entertaining, and we're glad it happened in the first place. 

Rothrock gets a great introduction in the film, cracking a whip like one of the baddie-esses in the first two Double Dragon games for Nintendo. It's not often she plays a villain, so it was refreshing for the audience to see that, and it was probably novel for her too, so that was a smart choice all around. Both Rothrock and Don the Dragon appeared in the jungle together just the year before with Showdown in Manila (2016). Evidently someone thought that formula worked well, so they put the two back in the jungle this time around as well.

Just to clarify, Death Fighter is not an exploding hutter. It's a Martial-Arts based actioner that happens to take place in large part in the Thai jungle. There are huts, but they remain for the most part structurally intact.

The extended jungle fight scene was a movie highlight. Great Martial Arts, high energy, and just a pleasure to watch. Of course, the time-honored barfight and the climactic battle are worth noting, but that big, long fight about midway through the film is the showstopper. 

Either Don, Cynthia, or someone else should have played the lead, because Matt Mullins, though he can clearly do Martial Arts, is a bit like the Freddie Prinze, Jr. of action. It leads back to the time-honored question of which is better: get a Martial Artist who can act, or train an actor to do Martial Arts? Mullins has the moves, but his acting is CW channel-level at best. When he's not doing the physical action, he comes off as a bit of a wimp. It's an improvement over Bloodfist 2050 (2005), but just about anything would be. His abilities are firmly on the action side of things.

There are a range of charming accents throughout the film, and fairly ridiculous dialogue, such as when the evil smuggler Draco is described as a warlord and a diabolical murderer...as opposed to a nice, friendly warlord. Additionally, we hope to see more from Manochaem, who, as of this writing, has done only this film. If nothing else, Death Fighter more than proves that Don and Cynthia have still "got it" after all these years, but that newer action stars like Mullins or Manochaem (well, she could be an action star if she wanted to be) are in the mix as well, right next to them. It's two generations fighting alongside each other. That was cool to see.

While it's more or less plotless (the entire plot for the 88 minute running time is "we've got to get Draco!") - at least that allows for extended fight scenes, which are executed well. While it won't change your life, Death Fighter is a fun and knowing nod back to the golden age of video store action.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Mask Of The Ninja (2008)

 Mask Of The Ninja
(2008)- * *

Directed by: Bradford May

Starring: Casper Van Dien, Dana Lee, Kristy Wu, Bellamy Young, Anthony Brandon Wong, and Ron Yuan

Jack Barrett (Van Dien) is an L.A. cop who may not be quite on the edge, but he has a slight attitude problem. Things get a whole lot more complicated for him and his partner Gina (Young) when Mr. Takeo (Lee) of the Takeo Corporation is murdered by ninjas. That's right, ninjas are involved in corporate intrigue too. Now they're after his daughter Miko (Wu), so Barrett teams up with a ninja expert named Hiro (Wong) to protect the girl and save themselves in the process. But it's not going to be easy, because these particular ninjas are ruthless killers and many fights ensue. Who truly wears the MASK OF THE NINJA?

What with the advent of Ninja Assassin (2009), Ninja (2009), Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear (2013), and now Mask of the Ninja, it would seem that a new Ninja Boom was upon us. Of course, in the 80's, video store shelves were filled with ninja movies, and these are just four examples, so maybe not. But if there ever was going to be a second Ninja Boom, this is certainly the way it would start. Maybe it was too much to ask. Besides, Mask of the Ninja is no Ninja III: The Domination (1984), let's just put it that way. But, to be fair, what movie is? It's pretty much impossible to beat that all-time classic, and 'Mask barely reaches American Ninja 4 (1990) territory.

It all begins promisingly enough with Casper Van Dien on stage in an L.A. club rockin' out on guitar. So far so good. He's wearing a vest and naturally it will put you in mind of The Revenger (1990), only in that case it was Frank Zagarino and his smooth sax stylings. Because Van Dien is a cop on the case, and 'Mask was made for TV, we couldn't help but think this could be the pilot for a Van Dien procedural TV series. He could team up with his charismatic partner Gina for a few seasons of crimefighting adventures. It wouldn't have to be an "East meets West" kind of thing like 'Mask, it could be anything, really. Unfortunately, that wasn't to be, but Van Dien has been in tons and tons of DTV and non-DTV movies so there will never be any Casper shortages anytime soon. Thank goodness. 

The problem with 'Mask is the way the fight scenes are filmed. It's non-stop quick cuts, flash cuts, "shake" cuts, and every other kind of distracting, unnecessary cut. The fights should have played out more normally and naturally. It's clear enough that everyone involved can fight, and surely there were quality fight choreographers involved, so all this unnecessary "flash" was not necessary. There were some very cool moments mixed in with all of that (we won't spoil some of those moments) but jeez, enough with the quick cuts and trickery already.

Especially towards the end, the movie actually starts to drag because the intrigue and the story isn't quite enough to carry things along for 90 minutes. It's a standard running time, it's not like it's too long or anything, but what we get just isn't interesting enough to sustain even that. We liked the guitar-based soundtrack, but overall things could have been improved if the story was more interesting and the fight scenes were shot better.

It should be noted that the DVD box art is very cool, but misleading. The DVD itself comes in a black slipcase that is die-cut to have "eye-holes" like a ninja mask. It slips over a picture of Van Dien's face, so when you move the slipcase on or off, it appears that Van Dien is wearing a ninja mask. We give full marks to whoever thought of that as a design idea. The problem is that Van Dien himself is a cop in the film, and not a ninja. So if you go in expecting Van Dien as a ninja, you're not going to get that. You get a good amount of other ninjas, including the prerequisite throwing stars and such, but it's not him. He fights the evil ninjas, so that works well enough.

In the end, Mask of the Ninja is just okay. It skates by, but it has too many problems for us to give it a wholehearted recommendation.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum! 


Dead Center (1993)


Dead Center
(1993)- * *

Directed by: Steve Carver

Starring: Justin Lazard, Rachel York, Eb Lottimer, and David Carradine

Joe (Lazard) is one bad dude. He's a career criminal with a bad temper. He pretty much fights or shoots everyone he sees. After an illegal art deal gone wrong (as opposed to the usual drug deal gone wrong), Joe is facing death row after he shoots some police officers. That's when the shadowy figures of Mary (York) and Sanders (Lottimer) enter the picture. They offer to mold this criminal lump of clay into a lean, mean fighting machine that pulls off secret assassinations for them. This may be starting to sound a little familiar to you at this point. So, after a period of extensive training, Joe is ready for the world. But after some conspiracies and some double or perhaps triple crosses occur, Joe doesn't know who to trust. Is it Mary? Is it Sanders? Could it be someone else? Looks like Crazy Joe may just have to hit his target DEAD CENTER if he wants to get out of this jam alive...

It has been noted before that Dead Center is pretty much the male version of La Femme Nikita (1990) or Point of No Return (1993). That is true, so that saves a lot of time in describing what the movie is. If you've seen those films, and want to see Justin Lazard in the main role, well, here ya go. He does a competent job and he looks like a lost Estevez brother. 

The main problem, however, is that the central character of Joe is not likable. The audience doesn't like him from the jump and that never changes. Despite all of his training and supposed transformation, he remains an unlikable jerk. There are also no other likable characters throughout the course of the film. So that made things tough going as far as the enjoyment factor is concerned, never mind trying to ferret out who to root for in all this. We would put in a vote for Ambassador Chavez (Carradine) but he's only on screen for maybe a minute or two. It's definitely a Carradine cameo. He gets slightly more screen time than Charles Napier in Center of the Web (1992). Carradine fans looking for a meaty role from the man will come away disappointed.

There are some beat-ups, some shooting, an abandoned warehouse/factory, and when the rollerblade girl appears in Joe's life, the time-honored sax duly appears on the soundtrack. The whole thing reminded us somewhat of The Contract (1999). Of course, for this movie some Cannon people are involved, such as Menachem Golan, and director Steve Carver, known to action fans for his Chuck movies An Eye For an Eye (1981) and Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), plus Dudikoff outing River of Death (1989). At least here in the U.S., the VHS was released on the Vidmark label.

Dead Center is a decent enough entry in the "let's take a bad person and train them so they become an assassin and then things go wrong" sub-sub-subgenre of action movies. However, nothing really stands out about it either, so we can't give it a wholehearted recommendation. But it's not too bad, so if you see it at Goodwill or someplace like that for 99 cents, you could do a lot worse.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty