The Silencer (1999)


The Silencer
(1999)- * * *

Directed by: Robert Lee

Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Terrence Kelly, Brennan Elliott, Michael St. John Smith, and Gabrielle Miller

Jason Wells (Elliott) is a young FBI agent in Chicago. His father was also a G-Man, and Wells feels he has something to prove. Sensing this, his boss Neal Donovan (Kelly), sends him on a dangerous mission: fake his own death, then re-emerge as Jason Black, a ponytailed "greaseball" (he's called that numerous times) assigned to get close to Quinn Simmons (Dudikoff), an expert in assassinations. The worldly Simmons takes the neophyte Black under his wing. This is all in the lead-up to the planned assassination of presidential candidate Senator Cayton (Smith). What at first appears to be a simple job soon goes off the rails and Jason Wells is caught in a quagmire of lies, deceits, divided loyalties, and other twists and turns. Oh, and by the way, Quinn Simmons's nickname is THE SILENCER. Who will get silenced...forever?

Not to bury the lede (surprisingly, that is how you spell "lede" in this context) but The Silencer was directed by Robert Lee, who also directed...wait for it...Crackerjack 2 (1997)! But, knowing that information, you might think The Silencer would be a lot of silly fun. It turns out that Mr. Lee must have a lot of range as a director, because The Silencer is much more serious-minded than the classic Hostage Train that featured Judge Rein-hold. If you're wondering why I put in that dash, just check out the box art.

While not a slam-bang 100% actionfest - because it wasn't trying to be - The Silencer is more in the "paranoid thriller" mold initated in the 70's by the likes of The Conversation and The Parallax View (both 1974) but continued on into the DTV era by outings such as Sabotage (1996) or Hidden Assassin (1995). The plot strand of an older assassin showing a younger one the ropes is very reminiscent of The Mechanic (1972). The word "Mechanic" is even used.

Thankfully, The Silencer is better-written than the usual DTV fare at this point in time. You care about the characters and what's going on. The way history was woven into the plot was unique and added depth to the proceedings. We get some classic "FBI exposition" as Donovan and Wells look at slides in the beginning of the film, laying the groundwork of everything to come - but it isn't as cut and dried as you might think.

What also helps things a lot are the actors - fan-favorite Dudikoff as the unsmiling villain (or is he?) here was given an atypical role and it worked great. He had previously worked with director Lee on Cyberjack AKA Virtual Assassin (1995). I guess he'll always be some sort of an Assassin to Mr. Lee. Dudikoff even does a slow, gravelly voice to underscore how serious he is, which inevitably reminded us of what Steve Guttenberg did with his voice in Airborne (1998). It's a lot less silly here, of course, but the similarities are there nonetheless.

Terence Kelly as Donovan was also wonderful, and Brennan Elliott put in a lot of great energy as the lead. Gabrielle Miller as Quinn's love interest (?) is presumably here because at the last minute maybe the filmmakers realized that there were no women in the movie, and it was decided that one was needed. If that was indeed the case, that's not her fault of course.

There's a killer car stunt towards the end of the film, and periodically there will be a blow-up or maybe some shooting or fighting just to keep this in the action realm just enough. But it fits in with the DTV action genre perfectly well in any case, and thanks to the aforementioned scripting, plotting, and acting, manages to stand out amongst its competitors. 

And here's a pro tip to anyone out there who's thinking of running for office: don't publicly threaten to end government secrets and corruption. Wait until AFTER you're elected to do that. Announcing to the world that you're going to end an evil cabal is very upsetting to said evil cabal. In the interest of your own life, just keep your evil-cabal hatred to yourself. Final thought before the wrap-up: While ostensibly set in Chicago, this was obviously shot in Canada. Just sayin' is all.

Not only was The Silencer a pleasant surprise - it could have been so much more generic, but thankfully it isn't - it likely is one of the best DTV movies from 1999, if not the entirety of the late-90's/early 2000's period. Recommended.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Urban Warriors (1987)


Urban Warriors
(1987)- * *1\2

Directed by: Giuseppe Vari

Starring: Karl Landgren, Maurice Poli, Bjorn Hammer, Malisa Longo, Tiziana Altieri, and Alex Vitale

Brad (Landgren), Maury (Hammer), and Stan (Poli) are scientists and co-workers. One day they're at work, just minding their own business doing science stuff, and there is a nuclear apocalypse. Everything blows up and the world becomes your classic wasteland. Our trio manages to survive the blast, and they even scrounge their way to find some canned food. But now they've got a bigger problem on their hands: roving bands of murderous mutants led by a meathead known only as Mutant Leader (Vitale). Faced with this threat, the formerly white-coated nerd Brad becomes a ripped action hero for the 80's. Of course, two women also survived the devastation: Julia Reiner (Longo) and Angela (Altieri) - but which one can he trust? After being put on "trial" by the baddies, they drive around in a rock quarry for a while, which is how they settle their differences in the future. Or maybe the past. Who will survive the onslaught of the URBAN WARRIORS?

We all love a good Italian Post-Apocalypse film (or Post-Ap's, as we call them) - but it appears that by 1987, we had already seen the best the genre had to offer: The New Gladiators (1984), Escape From the Bronx (1983), 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982), Warriors of the Wasteland (1983), 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983) among certain others. Note those early-80's release dates. If Urban Warriors is any indication, the genre was running out of steam. The Italian film industry in general was on the decline, and budgets were just not what they used to be. By this time, the focus was on the Exploding Hutters shot in the Philippines such as Born to Fight (1989), Strike Commando (1987), and Robowar (1988), to name just a few examples. It probably also didn't help that director Giuseppe Vari was around 71 years old at the time, and this was his last film. He literally was days away from retirement, and he hadn't directed a film for a decade at this point in his career. He was probably tired. It's almost like a poor hobo on the street: would anyone spare a dime for Urban Warriors?

Apparently, Cannon did, as they picked up the film and released it in America on VHS. Which leads us to this fact: the most interesting thing about Urban Warriors has nothing to do with the film. The VHS tape was part of Michael Dudikoff's Action Adventure Theater, a series that featured the Dude himself introducing each film. He even makes reference to a Cannon project that was never made. Which, knowing the history of Cannon and how many irons they always had in the fire, is not at all surprising.

There is some familiar-looking stock footage of nuke tests and lava flows to show that our beloved apocalypse has finally happened. Our three scientist heroes fumble around underground for a while after that. Then, for a while, we go into an Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) scenario. Even Paolo Rustichelli's score is very Carpenter-esque most of the time, except for during the final demolition derby, where the theme is a lot like White Lines by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel.

If this film seems a lot like The Final Executioner (1984) or The Bronx Executioner (1989), it's because it basically is. Everyone's recycling footage from everyone else, so it's really impossible (not to mention pointless) to try and figure out who came first. But the bottom line is, if you like roving gangs of punks in desolate, dusty wastelands, car/motorcycle chases, and plenty of abandoned buildings and warehouses, you'll find comfort in the fact that this is another place to find those things.

You gotta give it to the Italians, at least they always tried. Despite the low budget, there's a sort of scrappiness to the proceedings, and in the face of financial lack, they must've said something like, "We'll do it anyway!" Unfortunately, the film needed more drive. Which is ironic, considering how much driving goes on. Ideas that haven't been done before, and energy, must have been hard to come by at this point. So a certain slow, bland listlessness sets in.

Giuseppe Vari, like a lot of so-called "journeyman" directors, worked in "Vari"ous genres during his long and noteworthy career. Westerns, erotic films, comedies, Poliziotteschi, dramas, peplums and more. Whatever was needed at the time in the Italian film industry, it appears that he rose to the challenge. Yes, it could be argued that this, his final film, is him going out on an off note. It could also be argued that it's completely in keeping with the rest of his lengthy filmography: fulfilling a genre need when it was needed.

Is Urban Warriors the best Post-Ap ever made? No, not by a country mile. But as a potential video store choice in the 80's or 90's, made even more attractive by the Michael Dudikoff's Action Adventure Theater branding, it was undoubtedly part of the rich tapestry of the VHS rental world. The Cannon-Dudikoff connection is why this film is even remembered at all in the U.S., most likely. So, we choose - despite 'Urban's glaring quality issues - to dwell on the positives.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty