Mortal Challenge (1996)

 Mortal Challenge
(1996) - * *

AKA: Death Game 

Directed by: Randy Cheveldave

Starring: Timothy Bottoms, David McCallum, Vince Murdocco, Nicolas Hill, Jody Thompson, and Evan Lurie

In the far-off future of 2024, Los Angeles is split in two: New L.A., where most of the people fight for survival after a big earthquake, and an island where the rich can afford to live. Naturally, a crazed madman named Malius (McCallum) is the mastermind of a series of underground Punchfighting matches that audiences just kind of sit around and watch. One of the fighters is named Alex (Murdocco).

When a detective named Jack (Bottoms) starts investigating a girl's disappearance, he and some other people, including Hawk (Hill) and Tori (Thompson) are spirited away to a large compound where a cyborg of some sort named Grepp (Lurie) is stalking them. After a lot of running around in the dark, and some fighting, the final confrontation ensues. But who will win the DEATH GAME and be victorious in the MORTAL CHALLENGE?

As Bruce Springsteen once famously sang, "This gun's for hire, even if we're just Punchfighting in the dark". I'm reasonably sure those were the lyrics. If they weren't, they certainly should've been, especially if the subject at hand was Mortal Challenge. Now, 'Challenge doesn't have as much Punchfighting as you might think there would be. Yes, there is some, but it's more of an American Cyborg: Steel Warrior-type affair where people are on the run trying to avoid a killer robot on the loose. It's less The Terminator (1984), and more Shocking Dark (1989). In this case, very dark. Lighting-wise, of course.

Around about this time in the 90's, Roger Corman and his companies became interested in Punchfighting, or fighting of some sort, so they made the same movie over and over again: Future Kick (1991), Bloodfist 2050 (2005), Blackbelt (1992), New Crime City (1994), Alien Terminator (1995), etc., etc. Most of them are set in the future and have minimal lighting so you can't see much. They usually have only a few cheap sets and the audio isn't so hot. We know we're in the world of very low budget films, but that doesn't mean the script, as such, has to suffer and the audience has to lose brain cells. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the situation with Mortal Challenge.

The solid cast is utterly wasted in this tripe. Vince Murdocco is under-used, and it's amazing they were able to get David McCallum to be in this. Evan Lurie seems in his element as Grepp, as he's played robotic or somehow cybernetic characters before, such as in T-Force (1994) or Hologram Man (1995). Timothy Bottoms, who looks so much like former president George W. Bush that he has portrayed him more than once in other movies and shows, is the main hero here. He's no Don The Dragon, if we're going to compare this to the very similar Future Kick, but we do get to see some instances of George Bush-Fu. So, that was appreciated. Interestingly, crooner Michael Buble is credited with a bit part. Could that possibly be true?

Now, much like the movie itself, that leaves the best bit for last: the title song by Mike Dolgy and Curtis Lee. The fact that the filmmakers left this song for the end credits is a shame and a waste. It should have played during the movie itself. The lyrics and vocals are wonderfully ridiculous, and the music is very reminiscent of the main theme to Mortal Kombat (1995) - as if the name "Mortal Challenge" wasn't an obvious enough reminder that they were trying to cash in on the popularity of that classic game. (One of the other characters is named Freeze - not Subzero, mind you - and the "Centurion" named Rogius is MK on a budget).

Despite the solid cast and maybe a few decent moments, Mortal Challenge is so dumb and stupid, it seemingly doesn't even try to engage the viewer. It's hard to imagine anyone with the intelligence level over that of a turnip actually ENJOYING Mortal Challenge. Were the filmmakers trying to insult the intelligence of the audience? Probably not, but it feels that way. So we cannot in good conscience recommend Mortal Challenge. Just listen to the song on YouTube.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Cartels (2016)


(2016)- * *

Directed by: Keoni Waxman

Starring: Steven Seagal, Georges St. Pierre, Florin Piersic Jr., and Luke Goss

Joseph "El Tiburon" Salazar (Piersic Jr.) is a drug kingpin that was captured by a team of U.S. operatives, including Maj. Tom Jensen (Goss). Because Salazar agrees to give information about his massive drug operation, the soldiers are holding him overnight at a hotel in Romania before they can fly him back to America. However, as you might expect, a large army of Salazar's goons swarm the hotel, putting our few agents under extreme fire. Outnumbered and outgunned, they have to fight for their own lives, as well as to save Salazar's.

His second in command is Bruno Sinclaire (St. Pierre), and when the mission goes sideways, as John Harrison (Seagal) likes to put it, those latter two men end up in a fight to the finish. Of course, Harrison has to interrogate Jensen in order to get to the truth of what really happened in this operation. Will our heroes stop the CARTELS?

In 2017, when Cartels came out, our TV and movie screens had been bombarded with things like Breaking Bad, Narcos, and Sicario (2015). America was on a binge when it came to all things drug lord, kingpin, or peddler. So, naturally, the next move was to make a DTV movie with Seagal that involved some of the same subject matter. But, really, Cartels is more of a "siege on the hotel" movie that seems to have been influenced by Smokin' Aces (2006). Of course, Cartels doesn't have the wit or the manic energy of Smokin' Aces.

There is a lot of gun-shooting, and some simultaneous beat-ups AND gun-shooting, which probably took a lot of work to pull off. We appreciate that very much, but there's no emotion or character development in Cartels. So, yes, there's a lot of violence and such, but the audience has to CARE. That's the key. Unfortunately, that key is not here.

As for Seagal, he takes more of a backseat role to Luke Goss here. Goss gets in on most of the action, and Seagal is the interrogator. When you watch a Seagal movie, you're never sure which voice you're going to get. Having just watched The Keeper, we're pretty sure it's not the same vocal stylings. At the outset, Seagal is "in the field", then he gets a lot of sitting down time as he questions Goss, then at the end we have the big fight between St. Pierre and Seagal. The idea that the rather large Seagal could defeat the in-shape St. Pierre in a hand-to-hand match isn't terribly realistic, but we're not all watching Cartels for the realism, are we?

Goss and St. Pierre look somewhat alike, and we got to thinking that DTV filmmakers could do a movie with Luke Goss, Georges St. Pierre, Bruce Willis, Michael Chiklis, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, and Vinnie Jones. Maybe they could call it "The Bald Expendables". It would be like a game for viewers to try to tell them all apart. It might be fun.

In the end, Cartels is basically just a "movie on a screen", as we always say. The shootouts and UFC moments may please some fans, but it needed more of a core that audiences could care more about. As it stands, it's not bad - Seagal has done MUCH worse - but it's not fantastic either.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC and The Video Vacuum! 


The Keeper (2009)


The Keeper
(2009)- * * *

Directed by: Keoni Waxman

Starring: Steven Seagal, Steph Duvall, and Liezl Carstens

Roland Sallinger (Seagal) is a tough L.A. cop, but after an unfortunate incident involving a corrupt partner, he travels to Texas to reconnect with his old police buddy Conner Wells (Duvall). Wells then gives him a job as a bodyguard, and protecting Conner's daughter Nikita Wells (Carstens) becomes Sallinger's full-time occupation. Naturally, baddies manage to kidnap Nikita, which makes Sallinger mad as they were just getting to know each other, and he uses all of his skills to retrieve her from their evil clutches. But will that be the end of the song of Roland?

The Keeper is surprisingly watchable by the Seagal standards of this particular era. Of course it's silly, stupid, and face-palmingly dumb, but you knew that going in. Thankfully, what The Keeper is NOT is offensively awful, like Kill Switch (2008). Just watching Seagal, with his Eddie Munster hair and funny voice (if that is his voice at all) is worthy of some level of entertainment. Adding to the fun are multiple instances of his trademarked style of slap-fu, and because he's in Texas, his wearing of a cowboy hat. But it might be just to cover up the Munster hair.

Of course, because this is a Seagal movie, several people tell him how great he is at things. Well, Roland Sallinger, that is. He has a knife-throwing practice mat in his backyard (don't we all?) and he tries valiantly to turn on the charm when he's interacting with Nikita. It's moments like those that rescue The Keeper from sinking into the muck and mire of lesser efforts. Additionally, Seagal must have realized that it's really hard to beat Urban Justice (2007) so he occasionally will lapse into quasi-homie-speak. With hilarious results, of course.

His boss in the film looks exactly like Jeremy Irons. He's a "Dead Ringer", you might say. After some thorough research, we found out it was actually an actor named Steph Duvall, who has something of a DTV action pedigree in his own right. He appeared in the Jeff Wincott classic Open Fire, as well as Scanner Cop (both 1994), and Driven to Kill (1991), not to be confused with Seagal's Driven to Kill (2009). We can't say we remember him looking this much like Jeremy Irons before, but here he does. Of course, Irons should have appeared in more action movies himself. But at least we have The Fourth Angel (2001).

If you go out of your way to watch one of Seagal's low-budget DTV outings from the 2000's, you may have some idea of what you're in for, but it's kind of a mixed bag. You might get a dud like the aforementioned Kill Switch, or you might turn up an unintentional (?) gem like an Urban Justice. The Keeper isn't extreme in any direction, but rather it's a straight down the middle Seagal-fest that goes down rather easy, like a nice, smooth beer.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write up from our buddy, DTVC!


Diamond Cartel (2015)

Diamond Carte
l (2015)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Salamat Mukhammed- Ali

Starring: Armand Assante, Don 'The Dragon' Wilson, Michael Madsen, Bolo Yeung, Olivier Gruner, Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tiny Lister, and Peter O'Toole as Tugboat 

To the extent that it's possible for a human mind to comprehend it, Diamond Cartel appears to be about a gangster named Mussa (Assante) and another gangster named Khazar (Tagawa), who both want a large diamond. Somehow a boyfriend-girlfriend team in Kazakhstan get the diamond and go on the run. In the meantime, a parade of cameos appear before our eyes, which include such fan favorites as Michael Madsen, Tiny Lister, Bolo Yeung, Olivier Gruner, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, and, of course, Peter O'Toole as Tugboat. In his final film role, of course. Sure, it's an utterly confusing mess, but that's part of the fun...we think.

Get ready for a nutso trip to Kazakhstan if you dare to enter the kooky, wacky, and crazy world of Diamond Cartel. As if the fact that it makes no sense wasn't enough, there's also narration over the top of it, as if that clears anything up. In addition to that, just about everybody in the film is dubbed in a highly amusing manner, the two most noteworthy examples being Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Peter O'Toole. We're not sure why they dubbed The Dragon here. But, then again, we're not sure why they did anything they did.

As fans, we know Wilson's inimitable voice. You could say he has one of the most recognizable voices in DTV action. So when you see him on screen, and this odd, other voice comes out, you can't help but laugh. Same goes for Peter O'Toole. Just how they got O'Toole to be in this oddity is anybody's guess, but when they did, they used someone else's voice, and he sounds a bit like Darth Vader. Like many in the cast of fan favorites, his screen time is very limited.

Speaking of limited screen time, Madsen, Lister, and Gruner - who, by themselves, would make a great cast in their own right - get very minimal roles. All three together probably equal about a minute of screen time, if you can believe that. It's really mere seconds for the bunch. Bolo gets more, including a fight at the end, and he only says one word in the film - "Yo".

There's a section at roughly the halfway mark that runs for about 15-20 minutes where everyone's voices echo. Then it goes away. It makes about as much sense as anything else going on around here. There are ridiculous green screen and other CGI-type effects. People yell while shooting machine guns. Sometimes there are shootouts, blow-ups or fights. Out of all the stars of the film, we get to see Armand Assante the most. He wears several absurd outfits, including a suit with no shirt underneath the jacket. He screams and yells, just as you want him to. At least he dubs his own voice. It would be a real tragedy if he didn't.

What else can we say about Diamond Cartel? It's just one of those movies you have to see to believe. For the cast, plus the nonsense, we would actually recommend it. But just keep in mind you will be puzzled throughout the experience.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Cyborg Soldier (1994)


Cyborg Soldier (aka Cyborg Cop II) (1994)- * * *

Directed by: Sam Firstenberg 

Starring: David Bradley, Morgan Hunter, Jill Pierce, Ken Gampu, and Kimberleigh Stark

In the second installment of the continuing adventures of Jack Ryan (Bradley), an evil baddie named Jesse Starkraven (Hunter) kills Ryan's partner during a raid on a drug den in a warehouse. Instead of going to death row, Starkraven is spirited away by a secretive group called the Anti-Terrorist Group, or ATG. ATG, naturally, turns Starkraven - who, we ought to mention, is stark ravin' mad - into a cyborg named Spartacus. 

Spartacus, against all odds and against ATG expectations, gains some sort of independence and sentience. He kills a bunch of his captors and corrals his fellow cyborgs so that they can eventually take over the world. When Jack Ryan hears about this, he's not happy. He begins waging a one-man war against the evil cyborgs. That is, until a woman named Liz McDowell (Pierce) joins in to help him. Will Jack Ryan get revenge and rid the world of the cyborg scourge? Find out today...

The 'pack is back! That's right, our beloved hero Jack Ryan still has his fanny pack, and thank goodness. David Bradley gets a great entrance when Jack Ryan first appears on screen here. He's still a cool toughguy, or perhaps a tough coolguy. He wears a leather jacket, sunglasses, and rides a motorcycle. He's "born for trouble", as it is said multiple times throughout the film. A side character, Gloria (Stark) also wears a fanny pack in the film. So clearly Jack Ryan's style is catching on.

The film opens up with a classic action setpiece in the drug den/warehouse. There are stunts, shooting and blow-ups galore. In fact, all throughout Cyborg Soldier, things are always blowing up, or someone is yelling while shooting a machine gun, or there's an exploding helicopter, or David Bradley is beating up the baddies in some form or fashion.

What's good about this sequel is that it is markedly sillier than the original. There are many moments of ridiculousness and/or stupidity or silliness going on. In case it wasn't clear, we mean that as a compliment. Action combined with this sort of foolishness is one of the great charms of the DTV era, and Cyborg Soldier is a great example of that.

A lot of the supposed sci-fi that was present in the first film is toned down here even more, which is a good move as far as we're concerned. The filmmakers must have realized they didn't need it, for the most part. They already had a straight-up action movie, it just happened to feature a bunch of cyborgs.

While Morgan Hunter was perfectly good as the evil Starkraven, we thought that if this was a big-budget Hollywood movie, for example one directed by Michael Bay, that role could have gone to Ed Harris. But, of course, it's the DTV action we all know and love, and Cyborg Soldier delivers that.

So, if it's a combination of action and silliness that you seek, Cyborg Soldier is a fine example, and is well worth finding.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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