Invincible (2001)

 Invincible (2001)- * *

Directed by: Jefery Levy

Starring: Billy Zane, Stacy Oversier, David Field, Dominic Purcell, Tory Kittles, and Byron Mann

There are immortal beings called Shadow Men and they want to destroy the earth. One formerly-evil Shadow Man defects and becomes a good guy intent on preserving the world. His name is Os (Zane). His main rival is Slate (Field), and in order to defeat him, Os assembles a team of four warriors: Michael Fu (Mann), Serena Blue (Oversier), Ray Jackson (Kittles), and Keith Grady (Purcell). Over the course of a lot of training, Os takes these unwitting people and transforms them into "Protectors" - they represent the powers of Air, Fire, Water, and Steel. Of course, the final battle with Slate awaits, and we will then see who is truly INVINCIBLE...

When the first credit you see on screen when you start watching Invincible is "TBS SuperStation Presents", you kind of get an idea of what you're in for. Coming hot on the heels of the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter films, but before video game movies such as The King of Fighters (2010), Invincible seemingly takes those influences and melds them with The Matrix (1999) - a TBS SuperStation Matrix.

When certain characters wear long trench coats, have sunglasses, and are doing anti-gravity Martial Arts up and down walls, you can imagine a kid sitting at home on Saturday afternoon, who is too young to go see The Matrix in theaters, so he watches Invincible instead. Sure, it's not as good, but it's there. And it's free.

There is a lot of that Chinese-style Martial Arts on display, where characters are always flying around and doing crazy stuff. But, as usual, Billy Zane is the best thing here, and he anchors it all with his personable performance. As a sort of cross between Neo and Captain Planet, he is the leader of the group and also has some humor that makes him a bit more relatable and not just a cardboard cutout.

Some of Invincible is incoherent, but we always enjoy a good "assemble a team" subplot. After the 45-minute mark, things start to slow down and it kind of falls off before the final battle. There is some philosophy going on in the film, but it's also from the makers of Red Water (2003). So, make of that what you will.

Let's put it this way: for a TBS TV movie from 2001, Invincible is just barely watchable most of the time. Unfortunately, it dispenses with character development, coherent plotting, or any songs by Pat Benatar. That being said, Zane is good in the film, so if you're a big Zane fan, check it out, but everyone else may be less than impressed.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Real Bullets (1988)


Real Bullets
(1988)- * * *

Directed by:  Lance Lindsay

Starring: John Gazarian, Darlene Landau, and Martin Landau 

John Davidian (Gazarian) is the founder and main instructor at the Southern California Stunt School. This year's class is a fun-lovin' group of guys and gals who just want to learn the ways of stunt and then party down in their off time. Unfortunately for them, they cross paths with a drug gang based out of the Vasquez Rocks area in Agua Dulce, California. At first the goons think the stunt team won't be a formidable fighting force, but they turn out to be wrong. Head gangster Sallini (Martin Landau) gets progressively less and less happy as the stuntpeople win more and more of their skirmishes. Will our stunt players get out alive, now that they're playing with...REAL BULLETS?

From the makers of Driven to Kill (1991), Real Bullets is something of a cross between Death Cheaters (1976) and Lone Hero (2002), with a bit of The Contra Conspiracy (1990) and Invasion Force (1990) thrown in for good measure. It was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved, because even though the film was done on a very low budget with mostly non-actors or people just starting out in their career, they managed to turn in a film with an upbeat tone that has a lot of heart.

With that in mind, it's easy to overlook the many technical flaws, such as bad lighting and poor sound quality and things like that. They become unimportant when we're introduced to "The Old Miner" character (that's what everyone calls him) or when John Gazarian breaks out his bow and arrow (which is an odd signature weapon to have in a movie called Real Bullets, but, then again, the whole structure of the film is pretty odd). Also, it's narrated for some reason.

Everyone in the cast has the same character name as their real name, with the exceptions of Martin Landau as Sallini and John Gazarian as John Davidian. Apparently it was important for him to be playing a different Armenian stuntman. Everyone else can be themselves, though. Just another oddity that reinforces the fact that Real Bullets is well worth watching.

Martin Landau's Sallini is a guy who pretty much yells lines like "No More Mistakes!" and other cliches, mostly over the telephone. At one point he wears a blindingly-white suit that can only be described as being of the Ice Cream variety. It's so "Wonderful" that it's amazing that Joe Mantegna, Esai Morales, and Edward James Olmos didn't come looking for it. Meanwhile, Martin Landau's daughter Darlene is running around here somewhere. She has only appeared in two movies to date - Driven to Kill and Real Bullets. It all comes back around.

A highlight occurs when a classic barfight breaks out at a place called Alice's Topless Joint. On their sign, it reads "Truckers Welcome, Suckers Keep Out". (Well, there might have been some inappropriately-placed apostrophes in the words "Trucker's" and "Sucker's", but who's counting? It all adds to the rough-hewn charm of the movie). It's also quite a strange phenomenon that it seems like there are way more members of the stunt school towards the end of the film than there were at the beginning. Or it could have been an optical illusion in the desert. Who knows?

Real Bullets obviously impressed the higher-ups at Vidmark back in the day, enough for them to give it a VHS release. But perhaps they didn't have total faith in the film, because these days it's one of the rarest Vidmark titles. Maybe they made it in limited quantities. All that aside, if you can manage to brush aside (or embrace) all the technical issues, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had with Real Bullets.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


New York Ninja (2021)


New York Ninja
(2021)- * * *1\2

Directed by: John Liu and Kurtis Spieler 

Starring: John Liu and the voice cast of Don 'The Dragon Wilson', Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Berryman, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Vince Murdocco, Linnea Quigley, and Ginger Lynn Allen


                                                    ****1400th Review!!******                                        

John Liu (Liu; voiced by Don the Dragon) is a humble soundman working for a New York City news network. His wife Nita (voiced by Ginger Lynn Allen) tells him she's pregnant and Liu is elated. The problem: New York is overrun by punks, thugs, and goons of all stripes, and they're running rampant. After Nita is attacked, a despondent and frustrated Liu first tries all the typical red tape-infested channels, such as going to Det. Jimmy Williams (voiced by Leon Isaac Kennedy). 

Getting nowhere, Liu does the only natural thing: he dons his ninja outfit and hits the streets, dispensing justice as the NEW YORK NINJA! But he'll face his ultimate nemesis in The Plutonium Killer (voiced by Michael Berryman), a light-sensitive, burn-happy baddie. His underling Rattail is no slouch either. These are tough challenges, but the New York Ninja begins gaining a legion of fans and supporters. Will he bring safety and justice back to New York? You have to find out!

The story behind New York Ninja is almost as amazing as the movie itself. In fact, its resurrection is downright miraculous. For those that may not know, what happened was this: the film was shot in 1984, but ended up not being completed due to production problems. The film reels languished in a vault until they were discovered in the archives of Vinegar Syndrome. All the visuals were intact, but no sound elements were able to be tracked down. 

So, the team at VS, headed by a very clever and intrepid guy named Kurtis Spieler, edited the film back to health, and re-created anything auditory. Spieler had no script to work with, so he re-wrote any dialogue he couldn't figure out by reading the lips of the silent original film. He then cast an excellent bunch of our favorite actors to do the voice parts, and got a killer, synthy score by a band called Voyag3r to do the music. The result is tremendous. A lot of work went into this project, and Spieler along with Vinegar Syndrome should win some sort of film preservation or editing award for what is, in our opinion, an important and even monumental project.

Importantly, as Spieler writes in his liner notes, he didn't want to make fun of the movie in a What's Up Tiger Lily (1966) style While he realized that New York Ninja is a film in the vein of a Miami Connection (1987) (which it played theatrically on a double bill with) or a Samurai Cop (1991), he - very wisely - took the project seriously and didn't try to be "above" the movie. While there is plenty of humor, he treated it as if he was editing (and, presently, re-directing) the film in the 80's. That decision made all the difference in the end.

As the first-ever Vinegar Syndrome Pictures release, they went all-out with not just the aforementioned screenings, but they released it in a deluxe hard box with a magnetic door, and a black ribbon, not to mention the book. They must be proud of this release, and they should be. Even if it was nothing more than a document of New York City in 1984 - which it wonderfully is - the film would be more than worth your time. There's even a clear shot of a movie marquee, likely on 42nd Street, for Ninja 3: The Domination (1984). On top of this priceless and now preserved footage, the movie itself has a Tenement (1985) meets Death Promise (1977) meets The Instructor (1981) vibe - but it's even funnier and weirder than those three gems.

Let's talk about the (new) cast: While, at first, it may seem odd to hear the unmistakable voice of Don The Dragon coming out of John Liu, the audience quickly warms to it, and the film as a whole. It's all so lovable and quirky, you just have to love it. Besides, as Spieler noted, to have dialogue not exactly match the mouths of the actors onscreen is nothing new for Martial Arts film fans. 

It even adds a bit of charm, although the film is pretty darn charming on its own. Spieler and VS's intention was to re-cast the movie with Vinegar Syndrome-related actors - i.e., genre favorites that fans like us would love - and who they got is genuinely cool. Michael Berryman is great as The Plutonium Killer, Leon Isaac Kennedy is wonderfully welcome as Detective Jimmy Williams, and Ginger Lynn Allen and our beloved Cynthia Rothrock have small but important roles. Matt Mitler and Vince Murdocco are here too, and Linnea Quigley as Randi Rydell is the icing on the cake.

New York Ninja is off-kilter and has a screw loose, which sets it apart from the pack, and is so colorful (just look at what all the goons are wearing), it's impossible not to love. But then Vinegar Syndrome comes along and breathes new life into the film, which was just magical. This project really shows the increasing strength, confidence, ingenuity, and creativity of Vinegar Syndrome. They were the perfect company to shepherd this lost sheep of a movie and add it to the rest of their flock. What they did here was truly special, and it gets our highest recommendation!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Stanger (1995)


The Stranger
(1995)- * *1\2

Directed by: Fritz Kiersch 

Starring: Kathy Long, Eric Pierpoint, Danny Trejo, Ginger Lynn Allen, Nils Allen Stewart, and Andrew Divoff

In one of those dusty ol' western towns, a mysterious STRANGER rides in on her Harley. Known only as The Stranger (Long), she is looking for Angel (Divoff), the diabolical head of the local biker gang. Because Sheriff Gordon Cole (Pierpoint) is afraid of the bikers, they've slowly but surely proliferated in the small town. After noting that The Stranger looks exactly like a certain fiancee that was killed by the bikers, she then proceeds to get her own brand of personal revenge. If time allows, she'll also help some of the locals. But will the biker baddies - including Jonesy (Stewart) and Hawk (Trejo) - feel the wrath of some truly STRANGER things?

Kathy Long, from Rage and Honor (1992) and Under the Gun (1995), finally gets her own starring vehicle here, with The Stranger. People have said that it's a low-budget High Plains Drifter (1973) knockoff, but the Spaghetti Western-styled soundtrack would indicate that it's also influenced by the European Westerns that came decades before. It's also quite close in tone to Hell Riders (1984), or the type of thing that AIP was releasing at the time. You almost expect Rocky Patterson or Joe Estevez to pop up at any moment.

As for the cast that is here, Kathy Long is an appealing leading lady and this is clearly her moment in the sun. The Stranger certainly has no problem beating up the baddies. There actually should have been more of that. Ginger Lynn Allen was also a nice addition to the ensemble, and you know Nils Allen Stewart's character is evil because he has a threatening rattail. A young Danny Trejo rounds out the more familiar B-Movie names we all know and love.

The problem with the film is that the plot is so simple and minimalistic, it's hard to stretch that over 90 minutes or so. Without the addition of further plot twists or developments, or more action scenes, the energy really starts to flag around the halfway mark. Director Fritz Kiersch, known for his initial pair of 80's classics, Children of the Corn (1984) and Tuff Turf (1985), at first seems to be having fun with this small-scale film and its tough female lead. But perhaps he began to lose interest or something, because the second half lacks dynamism.

While it's certainly better than something like Lone Hero (2002), The Stranger doesn't seem to warrant its current status of "rare and sought-after movie". It's an easy fix: there should have been more concentration on Kathy Long beating up/killing people, perhaps in more locations than this one small Western town. What you do get of that is pretty great, But the film itself needed a shot in the arm after a certain point.

In the end, The Stranger is a worthwhile one-time watch, but we think that's about it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty