5.13.2011

Rage (1995)

PLOT: A corrupt defense contractor is injecting undocumented Hispanic migrant workers with chemicals to create a new breed of superhuman soldier. As they expand their pool of test subjects, an innocent schoolteacher is caught up in their scheme. No, this is not a movie about Monsanto.

Director: Joseph Merhi
Writers: Joseph John Barmettler, Jacobsen Hart
Cast: Gary Daniels, Kenneth Tigar, Tim Colceri, David Powledge, Jilliam McWhirter, Fiona Hutchison



PLOT THICKENER:
Action movies often make heroes out of normal, unlikely people. In 1974’s Death Wish, a passive architect might seem an unlikely candidate to transform into a grizzled vigilante tearing a path of urban vengeance … if you ignore the fact that his wife gets raped by dope fiends and he’s played by Charles Bronson. In 1995’s Rage, second-grade schoolteacher Alex Gainer doesn’t exactly scream “chronic traffic law violator and prime suspect in multiple homicides” but he’s played by Gary Daniels and this movie was produced by PM Entertainment.

The story is set in motion by Westech, a defense contractor dabbling in super serums designed to boost performance in soldiers. Their experiments using migrant workers have repeatedly failed after the test subjects died following injections. The cohort supplying the corporation’s thugs with said immigrants has bitten the hand that feeds him and during his mad dash, decides that a mid-day carjacking is the path to freedom. Who’s driving the car? Family man and martial artist, Alex Gainer.


The local authorities, led by a dirty cop working for Westech named Kelly (Powledge), pull over the vehicle. They beat Gainer and his captor mercilessly and Kelly makes the executive decision that because Gainer has a British accent, he’s not all that much different than an illegal immigrant and his disappearance won’t be noticed. Apparently, the cronies at Westech agree because before long, Gainer is on a gurney being wheeled into the laboratory for a procedure.

It doesn’t take long for Gainer to flip the switch from heartwarming to heartpunching. After being shot full of drugs and straitjacketed, he lashes out Hulk-style at the unethical medical staff and the Westech facility quickly becomes a fiery goulash of bullets, bodies, and broken glass. The portly Kelly and resident federal lapdog Parrish (Colceri) eventually manage to subdue him (i.e. Taser to the balls) and have him transported to a meet-up spot for a hand-off with more Westech cronies. That goes swimmingly as Gainer fights off the thugs again and flees into the barren plains under the cover of night.


Thoroughly confused and hopped up on super serum, Gainer continues to tear a very public path of destruction through the crooked ranks trying to pursue him. As the 24/7 news media grabs hold of this story of the rampaging murderer in a sports coat and khakis, Gainer’s best hope to clear his name is a disgraced broadcast journalist named Harry Johannsen (Tigar). Despite the risks to his already tarnished reputation, he finds the entire affair a bit suspicious considering Gainer’s spotless background and Westech’s filthy track record.

Some films are better described in terms of the overall action than the fight choreography. Despite the proficiency of its lead as a fighter, Rage is one of those films. Experienced fight choreographer Art Camacho and prolific stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos bring a polished and kinetic feel to the film’s action pieces, small and large-scale alike.

What the stunt-oriented scenes might lack in imagination, they more than make up for in over-the-top energy and a real sense of danger. An early chase with Gainer driving a gasoline tanker on the freeway is peppered with liberal amounts of overturned vehicles and high-speed explosions. No less than three smashed roadblocks and one wrecked fruit stand later, our fearless hero is heading straight into a school bus commandeered by one of the film’s resident dickbags. Instead of swerving to avoid a crash, Gainer rigs the tanker to accelerate and then climbs to the roof where he sails through the air and lands harmlessly as the vehicles collide behind him in a fiery trucksplosion. Silly? Yes. Unbelievable, sure, but I’d argue there’s something oddly coalescent about Gainer singing “The Wheels on the Bus” with his daughter one day, and driving head-on into that bus only several hours later.


Unfortunately, the film lacks a serious physical rival for Daniels’s character, but Camacho still finds other ways to make the fight choreography visually appealing. He employs a “one-man-army” approach and does a fine job of using movement to show the speed and ease with which Daniels disarms and dispatches his enemies. The members of Camacho’s stunt team throw themselves around the various sets like rag dolls to make the hero look convincing and there’s more mindless glass-shattering than a Japanese indie deathmatch.

There’s no singular fight scene that’s outstanding in terms of technique and flow, but there’s definitely one which rises above the rest in terms of pure insanity. During his race to elude the authorities, Gainer breaks into a random home and devours a combination of tomato juice, milk, and fried chicken, all while seated on the kitchen floor. (Gainer vomits up this food later on... way to eat a balanced meal, Gainer!) The owner of said home is not at work or out running errands, but rather in his bedroom being disciplined by a towering female dominatrix while Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries blares over their merrymaking. The leather-clad master and slave eventually come downstairs to find this stranger in the house and a fight breaks out. Furniture is destroyed. Glass is broken. A dominatrix is punched in the face.


From the writing team that brought us Time Barbarians and the Anna Nicole Smith actioner Skyscraper, no one should expect a paranoid man vs. state classic or crackling back-and-forth dialogue. The screenplay is more or less written to transport Alex Gainer from one insane action set-piece to the next. The plot is underdcooked and I’m not a huge fan of the shadowy corporate enemy in a film like this unless there’s a compelling figurehead involved. As head villainfiller Parrish, Tim Colceri is actually quite good dramatically (his claim to fame was getting hired to play Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket before being replaced with R. Lee Ermey) but he doesn’t have the fighting skills to make the final confrontation with Gainer as interesting as it could have been. As the burgeoning citizen advocate and journalist Harry Johannsen, Kenneth Tigar is perfectly serviceable as the film’s resident character actor who tries to give this silly story a touch of earnestness.


Miscasting is an issue endemic to the action b-movie genre, so it's nice to see Gary Daniels as the story’s wholesome schoolteacher hero. He of blue eyes and light hair, Daniels has boyish looks and an equally boyish tone and cadence in his line delivery. He looks like a legitimately nice guy and that’s a tough hurdle to overcome when casting him as a grizzled street tough, but his role here is a more natural fit that allows Daniels’s kindness to shine through. You see him teaching students about monkeys, greeting his family after a long day at work, and playfully botching the lyrics to “The Wheels on the Bus” while singing with his daughter. These were nice memories to have while watching Daniels leap from the top of a mall merry go-round to tackle an assailant before beating him to death.

VERDICT:
Insane stunts. More broken glass windows than the L.A. riots and WTO protests combined. And Gary Daniels playing a schoolteacher. I’m not quite ready to go out on that limb and say it’s his best ever, but it’s a fun-as-hell action movie with some absurdly over-the-top set-pieces. Aside from some occasionally clunky editing, Rage is one of PM Entertainment’s most polished efforts. Highly recommended for both Daniels die-hards and action aficionados in general.

AVAILABILITY:
Freely available via Netflix, Amazon, EBay.

5.5 / 7

3 comments:

  1. I had fun with this too, and thought Daniels really brought. Plus, that dominatrix fight was so fantastic. More movies need that kind of inspired creativity.

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  2. Definitely one of my fave Daniels' joint -- and one of the best PM Productions period. I agree that the only thing missing is some kind of over-the-top heavy for GD to throw down with. As it is, my only complaint about Rage is that it's just awesome action sequence after awesome action sequence and then it ends without an epic Hero Vs. Villain battle. It's kinda like if Out For Justice had ended with (SPOILERS if you're living a lie) Seagal shooting Richie dead (and saving him a lot of pain) rather than rewarding the audience without some of the most beautiful ownings of a human being in film history.

    My fondest memory of this movie was that my dad excitedly recommended it to me, having caught Rage's HBO Thursday Night Prime premiere the night before. He knows what the fuck is up.

    The other fond memory is that one of the bad guys during the high-rise roof chase is carrying a BB gun clone of a Desert Eagle. I know this because I owned the same one (the top of the barrel is a giveway). I guess PM had to cut costs somewhere to afford all of those big explosions.

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  3. Classic PM flick. Daniels was great as usual.

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