Crime Lords (1991)


Crime Lords
(1991)- * * *

Directed by: Wayne Crawford

Starring: Wayne Crawford, Peter Hewitt, James Hong, Susan Byun, and Ted Le Plat

L.A. Cops Elmo Lagrange (Crawford) and Peter Russo (Hewitt) are partners, but also an Odd Couple of sorts. Lagrange is a crabby curmudgeon and perhaps not the best physical specimen on the force. Russo is young, hip, idealistic, and happenin' - his stylish mullet tells that tale. On the trail of some CRIME LORDS, the two men fly to Hong Kong. So now they're an Odd Couple, Cops On the Edge and now Fish out of Water. Getting mixed up with Ling (Hong) and Jennifer Monahan (Byun) lead them to the ultimate confrontation. But will they survive their Hong Kong escapade?

At the time of this writing, there are almost 1,300 reviews on this site. So perhaps it makes sense that then, and only then, would we be getting to Wayne Crawford. We have that luxury now, in 2024, but video store patrons in the early 90's would likely not have rented 1,300 movies before they got to Crawford. Consequently, it seems, not a heck of a lot of people discovered the charms (?) of Wayne Crawford.

Crawford looks like a cross between Sam Waterston and Leo Rossi. He claims to have a "spare tire", and is unshaven and cynical. His Comeuppance-relevant credits include White Ghost (1988) and L.A.P.D.: To Protect and to Serve (2001). His partner in 'Crime is Martin Hewitt, known for his run of Erotic thrillers in the 90's. There is a scene, presumably played for laughs, where he and Crawford get into a fight while wearing only their underwear. Perhaps this served as a good training ground for what he did later on.

Buddy cop movies were all the rage at the time, and Lethal Weapon (1987), Red Heat (1988), and Action Jackson (1988) ruled the video stores of the day. This seems to be the inspiration for Crime Lords. Throw in a WYC, Captain John Strauss (Le Plat), some silly dialogue, wacky situations, but also some fish-out-of-water cop action in Hong Kong, and there you have it. Most, if not all, of the cliches that you would expect to see in this sort of material are indeed present and accounted for. That's not a bad thing.

The main drawback to Crime Lords is its pacing issues, which are very noticeable throughout. But it was nice to see those old one-color computers with their dot matrix printers, and other nostalgic items on display. Plus there was a scene with a flicked cigarette that showed some cinematic ingenuity on Crawford's part (he also directed the film).

Clearly the Elmo Lagrange character was near and dear to his heart, because he returned in American Cop (1995). In the end, however, Crime Lords isn't exactly must-see viewing, but it's entertaining enough for what it is. If you've seen every other buddy cop movie ever made and are looking for another one, there's always Crime Lords.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Fire In The Night (1985)


Fire In The Night (1985)- * * *

Directed by: John Steven Soet

Starring: Graciella Casillas, Patrick St. Esprit, and Muni Zano 

Terry Collins (Casillas) is a small-town girl who works at the local diner. Her problem is that professional jerk Mike Swanson (St. Esprit) is constantly harassing her. The Swanson family "owns the town" and Mike does what he pleases without consequences - until Terry finally decides she's had enough.

The two make a bet, that Terry can throw Mike into the water at the waterfront. If she wins, the tyranny of the Swanson family may finally end. God help us all if Mike wins the contest. He arrogantly doesn't take Terry all that seriously. Naturally, the first thing the Collins family does is go to the International School of Folk Dance. They try to enlist the help of Manolo Calba (Zano) for Terry's training. Of course, he initially says no but eventually agrees. The stage is now set for the ultimate showdown: Terry vs. Mike. Who will get thrown in the water? That just may be the most important question you've ever asked yourself...

Fire In The Night has been described as "a low-budget Karate Kid", and that's not too terribly far off the mark. Perhaps the filmmakers thought they would confuse viewers (and avoid lawsuits) if the trainer was of Philippine origin and the student was a woman. In any case, the film is filled with rough-hewn charm. It's very 1985, and Casillas's line readings are wonderfully flat and carry a lot of the entertainment value here.

Burt Ward is here for a few brief minutes. He appears to be the head of some sort of Karate academy, but wouldn't his best advice be to use Shark Spray on the baddies? We liked that Terry's parents want her to get her revenge and are fully a part of her going to get trained to potentially kill someone. You don't usually see that level of parental consent. Patrick St. Esprit comes close to stealing the show as Mike, the guy who is a total jerkass 100% of the time, all the time. We hate to keep using the word "jerk" to describe him, but really Mike Swanson is the picture-perfect, dictionary definition of what a jerk can, should, and, dare we say, must be. St. Esprit does it well, anyway.

Okay, those are all the positives. In the negative column, there is a definite slowness to the movie, especially around the midway point where there is a dance recital (there's a surprising amount of "folk dancing" in Fire in the Night). It's then that an already slow film almost just stops in its tracks. Director John Steven Soet, who had previously directed a rare film called Skirmish (1981), and has directed nothing since FITN, evidently had some experience and cred in the Martial Arts community, which is a bit surprising considering how little forward drive, intensity, or energy FITN actually contains.

However, though, the charms of Fire In the Night do outweigh its faults (in this case, the charms ARE the faults, or perhaps the faults are the charms). It's best to see this if you're in an especially charitable mood. If you are, the overall stiffness, and things such as blows not coming anywhere near their target, people that look like they are in their 40's playing characters that are supposed to be in their 20's, boom-mike shadows, and the like, will seem delightful rather than amateurish.

Fire In the Night is low-budget, independent filmmaking, warts and all. And there's a lot to appreciate about that.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Challenge (1974)


Challenge (1974)- * *

 Directed by: Martin Beck

 Starring: Earl Owensby and William Hicks

John Frank "Frank" Challenge (Owensby) is a man from North Carolina who is running for the state Senate. You'd think with a name like that, he couldn't possibly lose. When Challenge comes across some paperwork that puts in writing the evil deeds of the local Dixie Mafia, led by one W.F. Gutherie (Hicks), the baddies decide Challenge is challenging their existence a bit too much, so - without any spoilers - they do some bad stuff that makes Frank Challenge mad. You do not want to make Frank Challenge mad. So, naturally, he makes it his mission in life to take down Gutherie and the other baddies that ruined his life. Will he succeed, or will the CHALLENGE be too great?

Earl Owensby was an independent movie producer from Shelby, North Carolina. He had his own studio and production facilities there, and he produced movies in an array of genres, though perhaps he is best known for his horror output such as Wolfman (1979), A Day of Judgment (1981), and Dogs of Hell (1983), among others. Challenge was his first producing effort, and he also stars.

It all begins with a personal note from Owensby, informing us of his intentions to make a PG-rated action film devoid of sex, nudity, bad language, and excessive violence. But we watched the movie anyway. In all seriousness, this may have been based on his religious convictions (although he never explicitly says so) and we appreciate the effort. And that's what Challenge, and other regional productions are all about - effort.

Challenge comfortably fits into the "Country-Fried Justice" films of the 70's and 80's, and is perfect for the drive-ins of the day. There are countless examples, but one of our favorites is Black Oak Conspiracy (1977). But back to Challenge, it all begins with a well-shot intro that sets the scene perfectly. Later, J.F. Challenge is described as a "ruggedly handsome ex-Marine". Some things never change - the hero is always an ex-something. And speaking of things that never change, the guy that sells out Challenge to "The Syndicate" is a little weasel from the media.

While Challenge overall has a nice, rough-hewn charm, it does fall prey to some of the, well, challenges of low-budget independent filmmaking. Many scenes are underlit or the sound is so muffled you can't understand what anyone is saying. There are significant pacing issues, like a lot of 70's movies. For example, there is an unbelievably long car chase, but, to be fair, that was the order of the day after Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971). Owensby and the gang were just going for their own version, but, much as we hate to say it, there are many times when the film drags. And not as in racing.

But there is the other side of the coin when it comes to the strong 70's vibe - there are Karate classes, beat-em-ups, gigantic cars, and 70's styles and hair galore. So that's all good, and perhaps some of the guys doing roundhouse kicks had never done roundhouse kicks before? It was nice to enter a world where middle-aged men's idea of Martial Arts training was sitting around drinking Lone Star beer while wearing plaid, flared pants.

Shot in and around Shelby and Asheville, North Carolina, Challenge represents low-budget, independent filmmaking in the wake of Billy Jack (1971) and Walking Tall (1973). It has a lot of charm, but flaws are evident as well, and, unfortunately, those cannot be swept under the rug. It did come out on VHS in an explosive, irresistible big box, and it features an end credits song, "The Ballad of Challenge", by Tommy Faile, which namechecks characters and plot points in the song. We do love when that happens.

In the end, your appreciation for Challenge will all depend on how much you love, and are willing to forgive the shortcomings of, regional cinema.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Full Contact (1993)


Full Contact
(1993)- * * *

Directed by: Rick Jacobson 

Starring: Jerry Trimble, Marcus Aurelius, Denise Buick, Reginald VelJohnson, and Michael Jai White

Luke Powers (Trimble) is a self-described "farm boy" who journeys to the dark underbelly of L.A. to get to the truth about his murdered brother. It turns out that Luke's bro was heavily involved with "Alley Fights" (what we call Punchfighting). To achieve his goal, he links up with Pep (Aurelius), a fight trainer/alcoholic/Art of War quote enthusiast. Romance blooms with dancer Tori (Buick, whose only other feature film role is the same year's Angelfist). Will Luke be able to summon all of his POWERS to beat the baddies and find out what really happened to his sibling? And who is REALLY behind all this alley-fighing stuff? Make FULL CONTACT with your remote control and find out today...

Not to be confused with the prior year's Full Contact starring Chow Yun-Fat and Simon Yam, THIS Full Contact is a moment in time for fan favorite Jerry Trimble to shine. It all opens with textbook Punchfighting as enthusiastic fans scream, yell, and clutch cash in their hands as they enjoy said punching in an abandoned warehouse.

The whole thing has a very Corman feel, as he's done this plot numerous times before, i.e. Bloodfist, Dragon Fire, Bloodfist 2050, etc. There's also at least one scene in a strip club, which was a Corman trademark/obsession around this time period. Happily, we can report that Full Contact is one of the better run-throughs of this plotline. There's plenty of sax and synth on the soundtrack, there's ridiculously stupid dialogue (in a good way), wacky situations, and punching, punching, punching. Characters, mainly Trimble, jumpkick their opponents in slow motion as they just stand there waiting to be kicked in the head. Somehow, against all odds, this all gels in the world of Full Contact.

Trimble is great as he resembles a melange of Emilio Estevez, Sean Penn, and Kirk Douglas. Tori's initial dance routine is gold, and when she meets Luke Powers, both of them are clad head-to-toe in denim and they have long blonde hair. It's clearly a match made in 1993 heaven.

It starts to run out of steam when the tournament fighting begins about two-thirds of the way through, but we do give Full Contact full credit because they actually bothered to include a twist towards the end, which a lot of similar films never actually do. There's also the time-honored barfight. Plus, there's an utterly ridiculous stick fight near a dumpster, and Powers's main training goal is to outrun a city bus with a wacky bus driver.

Director Rick Jacobson, no stranger to this sort of material, also worked as a fight coordinator on the film, and has a cameo as "Bar Heckler". Early appearances from Michael Jai White and Reginald VelJohnson round things out nicely. VelJohnson plays "Fighter #2", so if you've ever wanted to see Carl Winslow engaging in illegal alley fights, now's your chance.

The end titles song is "Sometimes You've Got To Fight", credited to no performer. The singer has an odd, quavering voice. Charles Philip Moore is one of the writers, who has a writer/director pedigree in the action field.

In the end, Full Contact is better than you might think. It's not intelligent, but it's entertaining. And that's the important thing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Shadow Fury (2001)


Shadow Fury
(2001)- * * 1\2

Directed by: Makato Yokoyama

Starring: Fred Williamson, Sam Bottoms, Gregory Vahanian, Bas Rutten, Cassandra Grae, Pat Morita, Alexndra Kamp, Allen Kolman, Masakasu Funaki, Jeanette McCurdy, and Taylor Lautner

When Dolly the Sheep was cloned in July of 1996, it was a very inspirational time for us all. Now everyone on earth knew we were open to a world of sheep-cloning possibilities. It was only a matter of time until we got cloned ninjas. Clearly, "clone fever" is what inspired Dr. Oh (Morita) to create Takeru (Funaki), a nigh-on unkillable super-ninja with amazing fighting and murdering capabilities. After cloning is banned, Dr. Oh sics Takeru on his former associates Dr. Forster (Kamp), Dr. Markov (Vahanian), and Dr. Hiller (Kolman), in some sort of act of revenge. So Nova Corp, the original clonemakers (which should be their slogan) hires a bounty hunter named Mitchell Madsen (Bottoms) to stop Takeru. Because Madsen has a failing liver, he thinks he can kill two ninjas with one stone and take Takeru's after he smites him down.

In order to achieve his goal, Madsen goes to see Sam (The Hammer), a sort of Machine Gun Joe character. Meanwhile, Nova Corp is developing a sort of super-teen with Martial Arts abilities named Kismet (the original tot is played by Taylor Lautner, but he grows up fast and two other people - including MMA man Bas Rutten - take on the role as well). As if all that wasn't enough, your classic Hooker With a Heart of Gold named Sasha (Grae) somehow manages to fall in love with the emotionless Takeru. But can Takeru learn to...love? And will friends become enemies and enemies become friends? Who has the ultimate SHADOW FURY?

While it opens with a bang, and the idea of cloned ninjas is a fairly cool one, we suspect that this is the type of production that really, really hoped it would become a cult movie but never did. As we've seen countless times before, you cannot intentionally manufacture a cult movie. It just has to happen on its own. That aside, Shadow Fury seems to fall into the category of the Scanner Cop series, the Cyborg Cop series, Steel and Lace (1991), The Demolitionist (1995), or even perhaps I Come In Peace (1990). We're not even going to mention the similarities to The Terminator (1984). It's all served up with a strong Japanese twist, thanks to director Makoto Yokoyama, who worked a lot with stunts, including with the Power Rangers. That style just may come across here in the wackier side of the unrealistic, wire-type fighting.

Pat Morita's hair in the film is almost worth the price of admission alone. Maybe it was inspired by Anime characters, but who can really say? It's as over the top as some of the fight scenes. Alexandra Kamp looks a lot like Sarah Palin, at least in her role here as Dr. Forster. Fan favorite Fred Williamson doesn't do a lot. It's a glorified cameo, but we were still happy to see him. The character of Madsen (characters named Madsen and Forster? Could the writers have been deliberately referencing Tarantino-associated actors here?) was ably done by Bottoms. It seems they were going for a They Live-era Piper vibe with this character. What with the other references on show, that's probably the case.

There really are some cool ideas here, and the silliness, action and silly action will carry you relatively easily to the 90-minute mark. But something still feels missing that would make it a more satisfying viewing experience. It's hard to say what that is, exactly, but by 2001, DTV was in the doldrums. Perhaps it's that, plus the references to other things, and synthetic fight scenes - in place of a more substantial heart and soul - that would cause viewers not to totally warm to Shadow Fury.

All that being said, if you find the VHS tape at Goodwill, as we did, it's certainly worth a purchase for a dollar or two. But probably not more than that.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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