Death Cheaters (1976)


Death Cheaters
(1976)- * * *

Directed by: Brian Trenchard Smith

Starring: Grant Page, John Hargreaves, Margaret Gerard, and Noel Ferrier

Rodney Cann (Page) and Steve Hall (Hargreaves) are friends and the top two stuntmen in the Australian film industry. They're so good at what they do that they're recruited by Culpepper (Ferrier), a member of the government, to go on a mission for their country. Along with Steve's wife Julia (Gerard), they reluctantly accept the assignment, and they put all their skills with blowing stuff up, climbing, falling, and being hit by cars to good use. At least that's what everyone hopes will happen. Will Rodney and Steve cheat death one more time?

Death Cheaters is just pure fun from beginning to end. It has a lot of Australian charm and a winning 70's atmosphere. As we've been saying for years, Grant Page is a national treasure, and both he and the movie itself are very likable.

Brian Trenchard-Smith, who is the original BTS, brings a lot of humor and a lighthearted tone to the film. As much as we enjoyed it overall, perhaps it didn't need to be 96 minutes. But Trenchard-Smith was getting so much great footage of Page and Hargreaves, it was probably hard to cut down any of it. In fact, the death-defying (or should we say death-cheating) stuff being done was likely deemed to be so good, much of it was later interpolated into another winner of a film, Stunt Rock (1978). No wonder he wanted to use it again in a film more people would see.

Death Cheaters is a good vehicle for the seemingly-fearless Grant Page and his fellow stuntpeople, and with this film, he can show audiences a different side to his talent, instead of being an "anonymous" stuntman. He can act in a role that's likely fairly close to himself in some ways.

Death Cheaters was released in the U.S. on the Vestron label, and it was surely most Americans' introduction to Grant Page and Brian Trenchard-Smith. Then we were introduced to the companion piece, Stunt Rock, and a love affair was born.

So, for an enjoyable slice of pure Australian stuntery, look no further than Death Cheaters.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Gang Boys (1994)


Gang Boys
(1994)- * * *

AKA: Skins

Directed by: Wings Hauser

Starring: Wings Hauser, Linda Blair, Dave Buzzotta, Mitch Hara, and Cole Hauser 

Joe Joiner (Wings) was an L.A. cop, but after a certain unfortunate incident, he left the force, fled to Mexico, and now lives on a boat. As a full-time alcoholic, he's constantly drowning his sorrows. When his fifteen-year-old son Marjoe (Buzzotta) is assaulted by a gang of skinheads, his mother Maggie (Blair) reaches out to Joe. After seeing with his own eyes the menace that this gang of skinheads is causing in the Hollywood area, Joe begs Maggie and Marjoe to help him kick the booze once and for all. On his road to recovery, not only does he attempt to repair the fractured relationships in his life, he also has a simple yet ingenious plan to deal with the local skinhead population - permanently. But will leader of the GANG BOYS, Bentz (Cole Hauser) prove to be the ultimate demon - out of the many that he has - for Joe Joiner?

Sandwiched in between Romper Stomper (1992) and American History X (1998), Gang Boys proves to be an undiscovered gem in the Wings canon. At least it features way more actual skinheads than Skinheads: The Second Coming of Hate (1989), which had surprisingly few. This must have been a passion project for Wings, as he directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the film, and even sang a song on the soundtrack. His wife Cali, his son Cole, and his daughter Bright also act in the film, so it really was a family affair. It's interesting subject matter for them to cover.

You'd think, after watching the opening credits and the first few minutes of the film, that this is pretty low-rent stuff, especially with all the "S's" in the credits made to look like Nazi SS S's, with those sharp edges. When such credits as "Associate Producer" are meant to look menacing, it seems a little odd. But if you stick with the movie, you'll see that it's filled with genuinely good acting and drama. The whole cast really brings their A game - you'd expect that from Wings, Cole, and Linda Blair, but even side characters such as Bruce the Vendor (Hara) really stand out.

Gang Boys isn't, strictly speaking, an action movie. It's more of a family drama, and when Wings goes into his "recover and revenge" mode, you'll be right there with him, cheering him on. The role reversal with his son, who now is caring for his father, is both touching and funny by turns.

A movie like this, with not a lot of money behind it but with a lot of heart, rises and falls on its actors, and Wings must have known this, because they elevate Gang Boys to a level it wouldn't be otherwise.

While both Wings and Linda Blair sing songs on the soundtrack ("Walkin' On the Right Side of the Devil" and "Since You've Been Gone", respectively), unfortunately, a lot of the music and dialogue is hampered by some bad audio on the VHS transfer. It was released on a small label, so it didn't reach many video stores in America. They were obviously a low-budget operation, and that goes for the quality of their tapes, as well as their quantity. That's a shame, because Gang Boys deserves better.

I know it seems like a long shot at this moment, but hopefully someday there will be a Blu-ray release of Gang Boys. That way, the public will see a cleaned-up version of a movie that should be more well-known and more often talked about. We recommend it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Contract To Kill (2016)

Contract To Kill
(2016)- * *

Directed by: Keoni Waxman

Starring: Steven Seagal, Jemma Dallender, and Russell Wong

A man named John Harmon (Seagal, in one of his countless roles where he plays a guy named John) is described as a "CIA/DEA Enforcer", whatever that means. This CIADEAE, for short, uncovers a dastardly plot by Islamic terrorists to go through Mexico, using the pre-existing drug shipping corridors, to smuggle in weapons of mass destruction to cause a terrorist attack. Harmon realizes he must now contend with both terrorists and drug lords, so he teams up with Matthew Sharp, an expert at working with drones. That's why he's working with Seagal. Wah-wah! But he also teams up with Zara Hayek (Dallender), who is described as a "seductive FBI agent", and this must be true, because she ends up wooing Harmon. Just like you would with anyone three times your age and five times your weight. So, will Harmon fulfill his CONTRACT TO KILL? Wait, there was a contract in this movie? It's not about hitmen? Well, that's not important...

As we said in our Cartels (2017) review, at this point we were living in a Breaking Bad/Narcos/Sicario world. In fact, there are characters here whose names are "Sicario #1" and "Sicario #2". So, for writer/director Keoni Waxman and Seagal, this is yet another DTV variant of the drug lord movie, and let's not forget shows like Homeland were still very popular. The problem is that Contract to Kill is dull, mediocre, and slow. It's talky, interspersed with some perfunctory Seagal quasi-beat-ups because they think the fans demand it every so often.

The dialogue, such as it is, is just insipid and you never grow to care about the characters, and by extension, what's happening in the film at all. Russell Wong's main job in the movie is to be good at drones. As if this is a specialized skill that an eleven-year-old couldn't handle. So we see him with the drone remote control in his hand, moving the levers up and down. Whoa, hold on to your hat. There are many shots of drones and/or droning in the film. In many different forms and fashions. Both cameras and guns are attached to drones, as we see quite often. Perhaps this wasn't as much of a novelty in 2016 as the filmmakers probably thought it was?

Meanwhile, Seagal continually mentions a group of people called "The D-Boys". Maybe we missed it, but they never actually explained who The D-Boys actually are. Are they good guys? Baddies? A satellite faction of I Come In Peace's The White Boys? What? As far as Seagal, he doesn't quite have what we call a "sit-down" role, but there are many scenes of him sitting. When he has to do his fight scenes, they feel a bit forced and like he doesn't want to or possibly can't do them. 

Steve is looking pretty chunky in this one, and they try to hide it with black, flowing clothing, but it's rather obvious. By itself, the weight alone isn't a major dealbreaker or anything - we know Seagal struggles with his weight - but the movie around his orbit just isn't that inspiring or noteworthy. So, it, well...collapses under its own weight. Sorry to say.

As far as these latter-day DTV Seagal outings go, Contract to Kill isn't bad or good. It's simply plain and forgettable. It's just grist for the DTV mill, and if you watch it, there's a strong chance you won't remember anything about it just a few days later.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Bet Your Life (2004)

 Bet Your Life
(2004)- * * *

Directed by: Louis Morneau 

Starring: Billy Zane, Sean Carrigan, Corrine Van Ryck De Groot

Sonny Briggs (Carrigan) is a limo driver in Las Vegas. He also happens to be a degenerate gambler who owes money to mobsters and loan sharks all over town. That seems to be why Carmen Rawlins (Van Ryck de Groot) is after him. Briggs's prayers seem to answered when a mysterious figure named Joseph (Zane) offers him 2.4 million dollars. All Briggs has to do is stay alive for 24 hours while Joseph and his goons hunt him down. Reluctantly, Briggs agrees to the rules, and they're off and running. Sonny flees to Cleveland, but Joseph follows. Will Sonny survive all the chases, shooting, and blow-ups in order to "survive the game" and collect his cash? Or did he take it too seriously when Joseph encouraged him to BET YOUR LIFE?

In 2004, there was a reality show on NBC called The Next Action Star. It's a good idea for a show, and out of all the competitors, Sean Carrigan emerged as the winner. This is his "coming out party", if you will, as the Next Action Star in all of our lives. His co-star Corinne Van Ryck de Groot had even less experience. Carrigan wasn't a complete newcomer; he had been on some shows before. He more or less wins the audience over with his Chris Jericho-esque looks and charm. Perhaps the best thing to do with him was to put him in a tried-and-true Most Dangerous Game/Surviving the Game/Hard Target/Death Ring-type situation where he's being hunted and he's on the run. Van Ryck de Groot later ended up in Chokehold (2019).

Of course, as an extension of the reality show, Bet Your Life is a telefilm that originally aired on NBC. Thanks in large part to the producing power of Joel Silver, there is a lot of production value on the screen, such as helicopters, blow-ups, and larger action setpieces. Likely the whole idea of a gambler in an action scenario evolved into the Wesley Snipes show The Player, also on NBC.

Perhaps hedging their bets, to turn a phrase, the filmmakers got Billy Zane to be the baddie. Smart move. Thank GOODNESS for Billy Zane in this movie. It's really Billy unleashed and he gets to act wacky and zany. Or, should we say, Zane-y. They must have given him free reign here, and that was smart. Zane holds the viewers' attention with seeming ease and acts as a counterweight to the more meatheaded performance of Carrigan.

Another smart thing the filmmakers did was infuse a lot of humor into the proceedings, and the end result is something tongue-in-cheek that they weren't taking entirely seriously. That works in Bet Your Life's favor, because you can't really go the dark and dour route with Sean Carrigan at the helm.

So, as a part of action film history, Bet Your Life is noteworthy, because it's the first actioner to feature a reality show contest winner. If Carrigan had lost, and they couldn't have gotten Corinne Van Ryck de Groot, they could have cast Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tori Spelling instead. Either way, as long as Billy Zane is there, we're in good hands.

As a telefilm with light-hearted violence, no nudity or bad language and featuring a reality show contest winner, Bet Your Life is a pretty fun way to spend 85 minutes.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty