Brawler (2011)


(2011)- *1\2

Directed by: Chris Sivertson

Starring: Nathan Grubbs, Marc Senter, Dane Rhodes, Pell James, and Michael Bowen 

Charlie Fontaine (Grubbs) and Bobby Fontaine (Senter) are brothers who, in their spare time, enter into Punchfighting matches on New Orleans riverboats. The mob is involved in the form of Atwater (Rhodes), but Charlie has a high-quality trainer in the form of Rex Baker (Bowen). When Charlie catches Bobby engaging in "the ultimate betrayal" (to quote the back of the DVD box) with his wife Kat (James), it's clear that the only way to resolve this dispute is in the Punchfighting ring. So, eventually, the two brothers square off against each other. Who will be the ultimate BRAWLER?

Hey, look! It's another Punchfighter! Beloved reader, you can rest assured that as long as they keep making movies with shirtless men punching each other, we here at Comeuppance reviews will continue to watch them and review them. Curiously, filmmakers out there don't seem to realize that this sort of thing has been done before. A lot.

Brawler was writer/director Chris Sivertson's follow-up to his I Know Who Killed Me (2007), the Lindsay Lohan epic that seems to have been much maligned but is actually fairly entertaining. In that film, there are many, many stupid moments but they somehow add to the overall watchability factor. In Brawler, just the stupid remains. He seems to be going for drama and atmosphere over anything else - and that includes scenes of fighting. There are surprisingly few brawls in Brawler.

In I Know Who Killed Me, there are many colorful lighting schemes and some flashy editing to keep the viewer's eye glued to the screen. In Brawler, they forgot to turn on the lights at all. Yes, it's one of those. There are many scenes with low - or seemingly no - lights. Filmmakers should know that not turning on the lights doesn't help the viewer like your movie. It actually annoys us.

There are long sections with no fighting, and the movie takes itself way too seriously. Even with all the endless dialogue scenes, somehow the writers of Brawler forgot to include an antagonist. Something every story should have, especially a Punchfighter. There's no Brakus, Tong Po, or some such memorable villain that our heroes must face off against and work up towards.

The character of Bobby is very Zac Efron-like. In other words, a prissy millennial. He doesn't seem like your typical tough guy. The best character in the movie was Rex, played by Michael Bowen. Much like Sly Stallone in his TV show The Contender, he's a fight trainer who wears a fedora. Considering Brawler's limited resources, their best move would have been to increase the role of Rex if they wanted to improve things. 

What would have been even better is if they had gotten one more character actor in there, perhaps someone for Bowen to play off of - someone like Lou Ferrigno, Christopher Lambert, Nick Mancuso, Vincent Spano - anybody! But no, it's just a bunch of fumbling around in the dark. Literally.

There's a scene early on where a group of frat bros comes to assault Bobby and he has to beat them all up. This shouldn't have been one scene - it should have been the basis for the plot. Brawler should have been: An evil fighter (the Brakus character) commands an army of frat bros. He has a secret lair and the bros do his bidding, whatever that may be. The baddie wants to take over the town so he sends the bros to trash businesses and cause mayhem. 

The Fontaine brothers must fight through wave after wave of frat bros with backwards or sideways baseball caps until they make it to the final battle - the toughest battle of their lives - with the evil baddie. Now is that so freakin' hard? Rather than tease us with that one scene, that's what Brawler should have been in its entirety.

Probably the best example of a fight film that's more of a drama is Scorpion (2007). Probably the weakest is The Fight (2001). Brawler leans more to the latter. Thank the lord it's only 84 minutes. You can find it at your local Dollar Tree or other dollar store, as we did, but the real question is, would you want to?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Car Crash (1981)


Car Crash (1981)- * * *

 Directed by: Antonio Margheriti 

 Starring: Joey Travolta, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Ana Obregon, Ricardio Palacios, and John Steiner

Paul Little (Travolta) is a stock car racer, and his best buddy Nick (Mezzogiorno) is his mechanic. The two men live to race, and they don't cheat, which really hacks off mobster Eli Wronsky (Palacios) who didn't want them to win a rigged race. After drawing the ire of the gangsters, Paul and Nick travel to Acapulco so they can be part of a new race called 'The Imperial Crash'. Along their journey they meet Janice Johnson (Obregon), an antiques dealer, and sparks fly between her and Paul. When the three of them go to the mansion of the wealthy Kirby (Steiner) and his snooty butler Gershwin, more chaos ensues before they can get to the final race. But Kirby's friendship will prove invaluable later on. Will the gangster baddies rub out Paul and Nick before they can even get to The Imperial Crash? Or, while they're in sunny Mexico, will there be - to quote Atomic Swing - a CAR CRASH in the blue? Find out today!

Antonio Margheriti has always been among our favorite directors, and Car Crash seems to be one of his lesser-seen works. Despite the cult status of Margheriti, the presence of Joey Travolta, and the fact that it was a Italian-Spanish-Mexican co-production which ensured a worldwide release, it appears as though the only way to see it in the U.S. is the Sony VHS.

While there are some scenes of light shooting and beat-ups, there are plenty of blow-ups and, of course, car races and crashes. Over almost 100 minutes, the film does slow down at times, but the camaraderie between Paul and Nick is good, and some drama is needed because it can't be all cars all the time.

One of the best things about Car Crash is the music by Mario and Giosy Capuano. It's really tremendous stuff and it helps keep the movie afloat. It ranges from hard-driving rock to synth to folk cues, and it's a treat for the ears. They were an interesting choice to provide the music, because it appears that this is their one and only soundtrack. It should come out on CD or vinyl, stat. I would say reissued, but it appears it has never been issued in the first place, which is a shame. I think a lot of people would buy it. It would be perfect for a company like Digitmovies.

Of course, it was 1981, and one of the first scenes takes place in an arcade with plenty of pinball machines and stand-up games. But, moving on from that highlight, much has been made of Margheriti's use of miniatures during some of the racing scenes. Far from a negative, it comes off as delightfully charming as far as we're concerned. If they had called the movie "Hot Wheels" it would have been entirely appropriate. Of course, Margheriti used plenty of "fast motion" to give the feeling of more speed, which gives things an old-timey "Keystone Kops" feeling which may or may not have been intentional.

John Steiner does an atypical role as the foppish Kirby, and his butler Gershwin is annoying so it's great when Nick finally punches him in the face. Nick also has some great insults, calling people "Jerk Brain", also, and we quote, "Your mother eats moose meat!" Obviously Nick was quite ahead of his time, as these two insults together were clearly the precursor to Judd Nelson in Conflict of Interest (1993) and his immortal "Jerk Beef".

Naturally, it all comes to a head at The Imperial Crash, which seems like it would be a good band name. Car Crash is decently entertaining most of the time, and would have been perfect for the waning days of drive-in theaters. Hopefully it'll get a physical release in a digital format so more people can see it and re-evaluate it, or just evaluate it for the first time.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The King Of Fighters (2010)


The King Of Fighters
(2010)- * *

Directed by: Gordon Chan 

Starring: Sean Faris, Will Yun Lee, Maggie Q, Bernice Liu, Monique Ganderton, and Ray Park

An evil baddie named Rugal (Park) wants to stay on top as the KING OF FIGHTERS. He has his own special dimension of existence where he can fight whoever joins him there using a Bluetooth earpiece. Certain relics are needed to help defeat Arugula or whatever his name is, so that’s where Mai Shiranui (Q) and Kyo Kusunagi (Faris) come in, because naturally Kyo has “the Kusunagi Sword” or some such thing. Iori Yagami (Lee) also is an opponent of Rugelach and Terry Bogard, a non-fighter, wants to know what the heck is going on. Vice (Liu) and Mature (Ganderton) are also fighters in the tournament. Will anyone be dexterous enough to beat Rugtime?

It must be an interesting challenge to turn a fighting video game into a 93-minute movie. Obviously you can’t have opponents fighting each other for the entire running time, so you have to fill the spaces in between the fight scenes with something. While, in The King of Fighters’s case, it took three people to accomplish this task, still the outcome fails to engage the viewer.

It’s all pretty slickly done in the visual sense, but there’s no emotional or intellectual aspects to lock on to. The end result is like watching someone else play a video game. And we all know how much fun that is. With King of Fighters, we don’t even get the pleasure of moving our thumbs around a plastic controller. It’s a video game that someone else is playing for you, and you can’t even press X to skip the cut scenes. That’s what the plot consists of.

The target audience for this movie seems to be obese middle-schoolers or otherwise very undemanding people that enjoy Mountain Dew and Cheetos as their main source of sustenance.

Sean Faris was an odd choice to play the Japanese Kyo Kusunagi. Mainly because he’s Sean Faris. He’s a himbo of the highest (or perhaps lowest) order. He seems like he’d be much more at home on the CW, delivering highly melodramatic dialogue about turbulent teenage relationships. Ray Park is no stranger to video game-related projects, including having been in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), which looks like a masterpiece compared to the brainless and taxing King of Fighters. If Gary Daniels or Scott Adkins played this part, it still wouldn’t have saved the movie, so perhaps it was better that it was Ray Park.

So while some scenes are somewhat stylish, it seems like the aforementioned Mortal Kombat: Annihilation might be enough for any sane viewer. That’s kind of the last word on movies like this – in other words, a bunch of people flying around in video game style while techno music plays on the soundtrack. And there is a ball of CGI snakes in there for good measure.

Featuring the end credits song “Go Fly” by Yoshitaki Iwai, King of Fighters is not recommended viewing, unless, for some reason, you’re trying to watch every video game movie out there. If so, you’re on your own there, buddy.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Pressure Point (1997)


Pressure Point
(1997)- * *

Directed by: David Giancola

Starring: Don Mogavero, Larry Linville, Linda Ljoka, Denise Gentile, Mark Keppel, Amanda Reilly, and Steve Railsback 

Sebastian Dellacourt (Mogavero) is a CIA agent that might be on the edge, but it’s kind of hard to tell. After accepting the time-honored “one last job” from his handler Neil Kennedy (Linville), he flies off to Chile to assassinate an ambassador or some such thing. After the job goes awry, Dellacourt, or “Della” as Kennedy refers to him as (maybe it’s not the most masculine nickname in the world, especially if there’s a subconscious comparison to Della Reese) is sent to prison. His terms for getting out: accept “one last job”. Again. Another one last job.

So Dellacourt travels from Wilmington, Delaware to the rural burg of Crittenden, Vermont, in the hopes of taking down a rogue militia masquerading behind a construction company. The head of said militia is the rather droll Arno Taylor (Railsback). While in Crittenden, Dellacourt runs afoul of the local good ole boys and local police officer Samantha Cole (Ljoka) comes to save his bacon. Naturally, sparks fly between them, especially when Sebastian Dellacourt gives his name as “Del Sebastian”. The clever Cole quickly finds him in the crime computers, but the two have to team up to stop Taylor from blowing up a congressional office building in Washington, D.C. Will they do it? Or have the baddies finally found Dellacourt’s PRESSURE POINT?

Pressure Point is from the same people that brought us Radical Jack (2000), and the main claim to fame of both films is that MST3K has mocked and ridiculed them. While Pressure Point may be low budget, and may be a mélange of both silly and face-slappingly stupid in the style that only a DTV movie of this sort can be, at least it got into video stores. There are some genuinely funny moments that were probably unintentional. The main problem, besides the obvious, is that it’s too long. This should not have been 98 minutes. The pacing is well and truly off, because for every “laff” moment, there’s a long stretch where things feel like a chore. The payoff is not exactly equal.

There are some classic clichés on display, such as Linville calling Mogavero “The Best”, and also his utterance of “No More Mistakes”. Movie highlights include the thrilling (?) prison escape and the infamous “dynamite in the microwave” scene. Railsback’s complete character development consists of the fact that he likes apples. His speech about America was pretty sweet, though.

Sebastian Dellacourt also has an inexplicably hot wife named Karen (Gentile), and a nine-year-old daughter named Emma (Reilly). Emma has a stuffed bear named Mr. Paws. Surprisingly, Mr. Paws plays a pretty integral role in the plot. In terms of importance, Mr. Paws’s billing should have been above Don Mogavero.

Mogavero is, let’s just say, an unlikely action star. Typically, they aren’t affectless middle-aged men with thinning hair. It was an interesting choice putting him front and center. There are other side characters worth mentioning, whether it be the annoying Walt (Keppel), or “The Prosecutor” (that’s all she’s billed as), played by Alex Datcher of Passenger 57 and Rage and Honor (both 1992) fame.

Pressure point is like a less-competent Malone (1987). There are also elements of Militia (2000) and Deadly Reckoning (1998) as well (the latter mainly because of the stuffed bear factor). Of course, the specter of Radical Jack is ever-present. Just like in real life.

So, if you’re ready for your brain cells to take a serious beating, enter the singular world of Don Mogavero and Pressure Point. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Treasure Raiders (2007)

 Treasure Raiders (2007)- * * *

Directed by: Brent Huff

Starring: Alexander Nevsky, Sherilyn Fenn, Steven Brand, William Shockley, Robert Madrid, and Andrew Divoff

After an intro featuring some Knights Templar and an explanation of the Templar treasure, we're soon introduced to hip, hot, n' happening history professor Michael Nazzaro (Brand). Brand fancies himself an amateur archaeologist on the side, and he funds his expeditions by competing in illegal street races. Makes sense so far. On the racing circuit, he meets a colorful character named Sergei "Wolf" Volkanov (Nevsky). He's a hulking brute, but he's charming, so everybody likes him.

After being introduced to Wolf and his wife Lena (Fenn), the two men decide to go all in together to find the Templar treasure. Meanwhile, the mysterious Pierre Samonon (Carradine) enters Nazzaro's life and wants to know what he's up to. During all this, the police are keeping tabs on Wolf's activities. They think he's involved in drugs, even though he's actually finding Moscow's drugs and dumping them and asking for no credit. Cronin (Divoff) wants answers. As if all that wasn't enough, there's intrigue involving a man named Beekeeper (Jason Newsted lookalike Shockley) and Dr. Pablo Ramirez (Madrid). Will Wolf and Nazzaro live to race/find treasure another day?

Treasure Raiders is a rather unexpected cross between National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) and The Fast and the Furious (2001), served up with an Alexander Nevsky twist. Who would concoct such a thing? That would be Nevsky, of course. They should have called the movie Treasure Racers. We think that makes sense. It's more like the National Treasure sequel because both deal with Templar treasure, but interestingly they both came out the same year. Its closer DTV relatives could be said to be The Minion (1998) or The Order (2001).

We thought, based on the name 'Treasure Raiders', that it would be people poking around the jungle for 90 minutes, looking for one of those old-timey treasure boxes. That's not what this is at all. Treasure Raiders features more illegal street racing than the title would imply. Not to mention Nevsky drinking vodka and flexing.

Treasure Raiders actually seems to get better as it goes along, culminating in the scene where Nevsky is shooting two pistols sideways with his arms outstretched in opposite directions. Nevsky's line readings alone are enough to keep the whole thing afloat, in our opinion. His low-pitched, flat, 'if-Schwarzenegger-can-do-it-than-why-can't-I' deliveries are very enjoyable to listen to.

He's definitely in the spotlight here, which leaves little scraps on the table for good gets like Sherilyn Fenn and David Carradine. Fenn especially is frustratingly underused. To get someone of her caliber for a nothing role like this was a shame. Her main job was to fawn over Nevsky. Oh well. She doesn't have to feel bad, as Carradine and Divoff don't do very much either.

Further highlights include a baddie shooting a machine gun, ironically wearing a Choose Life jacket (Wham! must be huge in Russia still), the time-honored Barfight, and a guy trying to shield himself from an explosion using a pizza box.

In the end, Treasure Raiders isn't exactly a masterpiece of cinema (did you expect it to be?) - but it's a pretty good example of DTV bein' DTV in 2007. Take a little bit from this column, a little from that one, and see what shakes out. It's mostly entertaining, if quite silly. You could do a lot worse.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty