Sanctuary (1998)

(1998)- * *

Directed by: Tibor Takacs

Starring: Mark Dacascos, Jaimz Woolvett, and Monika Schnarre

Luke Kovak (Dacascos) was literally 'Trained to Kill' - from a young age, he learned all the deadly arts. Now an adult, he goes undercover as a priest. While doing so, he realizes his former organization, the CIA, is after him. After Operation Titan, which involves getting launch codes to missiles, he sees that things have changed and his life is in danger. As of late, he has enjoyed the peaceful SANCTUARY of the priesthood, but now he's going to have to revert to his old, more violent ways. What will happen to Luke Kovak?

[Snoring noises] [Snoring noises ending followed by yawning and the sounds of waking up] Huh...what? Oh, time for another review. This week we're talking about the soporific snoozefest Sanctuary, a cure for insomnia if there ever was one. It's not that Sanctuary is a bad movie, per se, it's just that it's very slow and boring. It's 104 minutes of not a heck of a lot. Sure, anyone would be fooled by the cover, with fan favorite Dacascos holding those two guns. But when you sit down to actually watch it, you realize it's the old bait and switch.

To be fair, while it's not exactly action packed, there are a few light action scenes in between all the spaces where nothing is happening. If the filmmakers wanted to make a moody CIA drama, which it seems that they did, it should not have been marketed as a shoot-em-up action movie. Much like a more entertaining film, Blue Tiger (1994), we think director Takacs and the gang wanted to make something "classier" and closer to traditional Hollywood product. Hence the longer running time, increased dialogue and drama, and 'Lacktion', as we call it.

Naturally, we would have preferred a shorter film with Dacascos getting revenge and beating up/shooting the baddies. He barely does any Martial Arts here, just a few quick flashes in a dispute over a jacket. A jacket! But, on the bright side, Woolvett's hair seems to have improved since Terminal Countdown (1999). There was nowhere to go but up anyway.

There also seems to have been increased emphasis on cinematography, consistent with their ambitions to do something "better" than the average DTV actioner. But a couple of cool colors doesn't make an entertaining movie all around. There's no momentum, thrills, or surprises with Sanctuary. A handful of silly blow-ups can't change that fact. Yes, we were happy that Monika Schnarre was here too, having seen her recently in Fearless Tiger (1991), but...still nothing doing. Sanctuary just doesn't have "it", that certain indefinable quality that engages the viewer.

Produced by Imperial, that standby of video-store action, if you want to see a collaboration between Mark Dacascos and Tibor Takacs from around the same time period that's similar, but markedly better, check out Sabotage (1996).

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Honor (2006)

(2006)- * *

Directed by: David Worth

Starring: Roddy Piper, Russell Wong, Joanna Pacula, Jason Barry, Linda Park, 

LT Tyrell (Piper) is an L.A. cop and bar owner, and he and his wife Rose (Pacula) are thinking of packing it all up and retiring to Brazil. A guy named Ray (Wong) is the neighborhood baddie, who not only sends out his goons to get protection money from the local businesses, he also stages underground Punchfights. He also has a tragic history with Tyrell.

When the Tyrell's adopted son Gabriel (Barry) comes back from a Special Ops mission, he seems disturbed. The seemingly-ubiquitous Ray forces Gabriel to Punchfight for him, threatening that for every fighter Gabriel beats, that's one member of the Tyrell family he'll leave alone. Even Kate (Park), Tyrell's former partner, is powerless to stop all this feuding and brawling. Will it all be just a matter of HONOR?

Well, it's better than director David Worth's previous effort American Tigers (1996), but that's not saying much. Honor is humorless and dour; the problem with these latter-day Punchfighters is that by this point in time, viewers have seen this type of thing many, many times before. 

By the time the 2000's rolled around, makers of Punchfighters could not just retread the same old ground. They either had to bring something new to the table, or at least make it fun. Shootfighter (1993) had colorful characters that were clearly delineated, such as Boa and Mongoose. Fist Fighter (1989) had memorable characters such as Punchy. Warrior of Justice (1995) is just a spasm of pure insanity dreamt up by the fevered mind of Jorgo Ognenovski. Honor has none of these sorts of attributes. By 2006, what Honor was doing was pretty well-worn stuff.

Not that it's all bad, of course. Thankfully, the filmmakers had the good sense to make it 80 minutes. That was a blessing. Something like Honor should be 80 minutes. It's perfect for that sort of running time, and other makers of these sorts of things should "Honor" the viewers' time like this. So points go to them for that. Plus, it's always nice to see one of our heroes, Roddy Piper.

He gives one of his more serious dramatic performances that we've seen to date. The problem with the Tyrell character is that a nice guy like him isn't going to start busting heads right away. He has a long fuse, which means we have to wait quite a while until we see Roddy unleashed. 

Some people might not like that. However, viewers won't fail to miss the They Live graffiti on the wall, as it's shown twice, rather clearly. And Jason Barry as Gabriel was also rather brooding as the estranged son. Russell Wong stands out as the evil baddie that the audience can boo and hiss at.

The directorial career of David Worth is certainly a mixed bag. While we enjoyed Lady Dragon (1992) and Lady Dragon 2 (1993), and Chain of Command (1994), not to mention True Vengeance (1997), we have mixed feelings about Air Strike (2004). We weren't crazy about Soldier's Revenge (1986) and the aforementioned American Tigers is pretty awful. We've been on the record for years about how we think Kickboxer (1989) is overrated. Honor falls into the mid-range/end of the Worth spectrum. It's not entirely "Worth"-less but it definitely could have used some color or pizazz of some sort.

So, for the Piper factor and the reasonable running time, Honor may be 'worth' checking out for Punchfighting fans. But keep your expectations tamped.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Crash and Byrnes (2000)


Crash and Byrnes
(2000)- * *1\2

Directed by: Jon Hess

Starring: Wolf Larson, Greg Ellis, Joanna Pacula and Steven Williams 

A woman named Lissette (Pacula) is an evil terrorist, as you might expect a woman named Lissette to be. She and her goons plan to drop a virus over the city of Seattle, killing, potentially, millions of people. But she's going to have two very big obstacles in her way: Jack "Crash" Riley (Larson) and Roman Byrnes (Ellis). While the two guys are the Original Odd Couple, insofar as Crash is blonde and American and Byrnes is wacky and British, they team up to fight crime and to stop Lissette. As they're doing this, a man named Shannon (Williams) takes an interest in them. He recruits them into a secret organization called SPHINX, which deals with sensitive and off-the-books law enforcement matters. Will Lissette succeed? or will CRASH AND BYRNES spoil her dastardly plan?

Crash and Byrnes may have that junky, low budget, "ready for syndication" look and feel to it, but you can't really hate it. Every time they use very inappropriately-matched stock footage, fast motion, or silly-looking shaky cam during the action scenes, you kind of just have to throw up your hands and admit to yourself, "hey, I'm watching Crash and Byrnes. It's okay. Maybe I shouldn't be so critical all the time." It's a bit like in our review for Radical Jack (2000), where we pointed out that at a certain point a revelation comes that "I'm watching Radical Jack." Same thing here.

Further comparisons could be drawn to Logan's War: Bound by Honor (1998) and The President's Man (2000). They're all very late 90's/early 2000's syndicated television in look and feel. Crash and Byrnes is no exception. Which perhaps isn't surprising, given all the connections to L.A. Heat, the TV show that featured Wolf Larson and Steven Williams. Crash and Byrnes is like a 93-minute episode of the show...and not one of the better episodes. But, it was cool that the movie was written by Wolf Larson and directed by Jon Hess, the guy who made Excessive Force (1993). In all the technical departments, Excessive Force is a masterpiece compared to this, but at least it got made and onto store shelves and cable listings.

Of course, Crash Riley and Roman Byrnes have lots of arguments, banter, and bickering between them. Pretty much all of it is good natured and lighthearted. Usually Byrnes will say or do something humorous, and there will be a cutaway to Wolf Larson's face in an amusing reaction shot. We give Greg Ellis a lot of credit for putting himself out there as the comic relief. Things would suffer even more without him, even if Byrnes is slightly annoying at times.

There are almost too many cliches to list, and if you've ever seen any buddy cop movie before in your life, you'll pretty much know what to expect. One of the better aspects of Crash and Byrnes was its unwavering devotion to the cliches of the past. It's like a nice, warm blanket you can pull over yourself. Perhaps its one deviation from the formula was that Joanna Pacula beats people up and shoots them. Yes, you get a bit of Joanna Pacula-Fu as she inexplicably plays the terrorist mastermind.

In the end, Crash and Byrnes is just too silly to really dislike. We found a sealed copy at the Salvation Army, and after many months of it sitting on the shelf, we finally picked it up and gave it a chance. If you find it under similar circumstances, that may be the best way to pick it up.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Falcon Down (2001)


Falcon Down (2001)- * *1\2

Directed by: Phillip J. Roth

Starring: Dale Midkiff, Mark Kiely, Jennifer Rubin, Judd Nelson, Cliff Robertson, William Zabka, and William Shatner 

Captain Hank Thomas (Midkiff) is a former Air Force pilot who now works with his father Buzz (Robertson) at a small, family-run airplane hangar. Thomas's quiet life is disrupted when the mysterious Harold Peters (Nelson) and Sharon Williams (Rubin) approach him. They tell him they need his expert flying skills so they can steal the Falcon, a high-tech plane. Once Major Robert Carson (Shatner) becomes involved, things get really serious.

Now roped into a crazy plan with a bunch of mercenary-types, such as Rat (Kiely), Thomas has no choice but to fly the Falcon and land it on a sheet of ice, so it can eventually be sold to the Chinese government for ten billion dollars. As if all that wasn't enough, apparently there's a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top involving Area 51 and government a cover-up (what else is new?) - will Thomas live to eat beef jerky with his stepdaughter Alisia (Roth) again? Or will the FALCON go DOWN?

Falcon Down stars William Shatner, who you may remember from Land of the Free (1998) and some other stuff that we can't quite remember right now. Thankfully, he's at his William Shatneriest here in Falcon Down, as he delivers just about every line in that herky-jerky style we all know and love. Impressively, he manages to do that even if he's only saying one word. At the important scene when he and the other members of "The Company" are trying to intimidate Midkiff into signing on to their mission, Shatner stands next to a lamp so he's in very dramatic lighting. That was a movie highlight.

In that hotel room scene, it was quite something to see Judd Nelson, William Shatner, Jennifer Rubin, and Dale Midkiff all together in one small room. Have any of them given interviews as to what it was like to be there? Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

While Dale Midkiff did his best, if he wasn't available, the filmmakers could have gotten Randall Batinkoff. And let's not forget William Zabka is on board here too. We would have liked more Zabka. More Zabka is always better than less Zabka. Both he and Jennifer Rubin shoot their handguns sideways, "gangsta" style, which was funny. When they did that, the movie perked up.

Unfortunately, there are long stretches of the movie with no Shatner. Those gaps are filled with stupid moments, dumb dialogue, boring plane sloggery, and a whole lot of nothin'. When Shatner eventually returns, he's on a flight deck of some sort with an Asian man who looks a lot like Sulu. Coincidence?

It's not all bad, however. Nelson does his best, or at least somewhere close to his best, there's an amusing warehouse shootout involving the Rat character, and we get a rare double We Got Company. Usually it's said once by one character. Here it's said twice in quick succession by two characters.

What Falcon Down should have done is concentrate more on the Area 51/Conspiracy angle than it does. It starts and ends with these "videotaped" segments that seem straight out of a show like Unsealed: Alien Files or Unsealed: Conspiracy Files. While those shows are trying to get the truth out there, it's not their fault they're on a low budget. But those more intriguing elements are not really expounded upon or capitalized upon. That's a shame, because an X-Files-esque knockoff starring Shatner, Judd Nelson, Cliff Robertson, and William Zabka is a really cool idea. But that's more or less brushed aside, sadly.

Falcon Down is a telefilm produced by City Heat Productions, a company associated with Blockbuster Video, so you can be assured that multiple copies were always available at your local branch. Another production company was the Unified Film Organization, or UFO. Coincidence?

Despite its strong cast and a smidgen of decent ideas, Falcon Down is filled with too much mush to be really exciting or interesting. It was a close call, though. In the end, it's really more of a flyover in all of our lives.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty