4.29.2011

Parole Violators (1994)

PLOT: A cop-turned-vigilante named Miles Long arms himself with a video camera to catch parolees in criminal acts in order to send them back to prison. That’s right: in this film, hero is spelled A-V-N-E-R-D.

Director: Patrick G. Donahue
Writer: Patrick G. Donahue
Cast: Sean Donahue, Pamela Bosley, Rey Garcia, Michael Kiel, Mike Donahue, Kerry Casey




PLOT THICKENER:
There are some action films which exist on a plane of reality which defies any semblance of rational human behavior or thought. I’m not talking about movies where the hero with a six-shooter never runs out of bullets, or even the hero who has the great fortune of being attacked by thirty dudes, but by no more than one at a time. I’m talking about movies where the hero strains spaghetti on his counter instead of in his sink, and gets hit by two speeding cars before bounding off into the woods like a fucking deer. Really only one movie fits the bill: the action opus from father and son stunt team Patrick and Sean Donahue, 1994’s Parole Violators.

It would be disingenuous on my part to fail to give credit where it’s due; I first caught wind of this film from the always cordial and knowledgeable Big Willie from the Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema. As the podcast’s listeners chased down copies, the film’s trailer began making the rounds via Twitter and Facebook updates before finally landing as a “Cool” post at Badass Digest in mid-April.


After acquiring the film, I was admittedly disappointed by the lack of a bombastic opening sequence. Instead, we get a picturesque shot of the Golden Gate Bridge as the credits roll, followed by a conventional convenience store stick-up. As I’m prone to do in judging action films by the first few minutes, I mentally prepared myself for what I expected to be a film on or around the quality of most PM Entertainment fare. Something with flash and fire and a few memorable moments or characters, but nothing revelatory that approached Arizal-levels of low-budget action genius. Literally seconds after processing this embryonic letdown of a thought, two characters got hit in rapid succession by the same moving car. What unfolded over the next 70 minutes made me chuckle at the silly impulsive cinematwat who judged this film by that first five minutes. While not a pure martial-arts film, Parole Violators is a terrific piece of action cinema.

Former cop and current television show host Miles Long (Fighting Spirit’s Sean Donahue) is a somewhat divisive and shadowy figure among local law enforcement. Some police love that this anonymous “video cop” makes their jobs easier by catching recently paroled criminals regressing to their criminal ways and providing physical evidence to boot. Others, such as Long’s cop girlfriend Tracy (Bosley), find the rumor that he moonlights as a videotaping vigilante both unusual and risky. While his tactics are ethically and legally questionable, they’re effective. He pursues every flavor of low-life, from grizzled stick-up artists to car-jackers. But one recent parolee stands heads and shoulders above the rest.


The villainous Chino, played by first-time-never-again actor Rey Garcia, has just been released from prison several years after being busted by Miles for sexual assault on a minor. His thuggish buddy Toos (Kiel) greets him upon his release and Chino immediately declares his intent to never again do something to put himself behind bars. In his words, he’s “a changed man.” Well, aside from his love for illegally young girls, which he makes sure to reiterate when his buddy questions his sexuality. Beyond the fact that he likes his women young, the only thing we know about Chino is that he has beer on the brain. No matter the situation, he voices his desire to “get a beer” at every opportunity. Just got out of prison? Let’s get a beer. Just evaded capture by throwing a six year-old girl from a moving car? Let’s get a beer. Just had a beer? Let’s get a beer. So how does a reformed sex offender who never wants to go back to prison commemorate his regained freedom? If you said: “he gets a beer,” you’re only half-right. He starts trying to kidnap little girls again.

Miles catches wind of Chino’s release and antics and it’s not long before the bad blood between them starts to boil again. Rather than stay clear of illegalities, Chino and friends go after Tracy’s daughter, inviting the fury of a certain former police officer who lists videography as a hobby. Despite the reputation of kiddie-touchers in the prison community, Chino still manages to lure a former cellmate and his biker friends into aiding his evildoing by dangling the hated Long as a potential reward. It could be said that the line of ex-convicts who want to beat the shit out of Miles Long is ... miles long. (Author’s note: Paused for collective groan).


Most would say that you don’t watch an action movie for the acting, but this film begs to differ. While the dramatic performances are more entertaining than they are good, in a film like this, it works to perfection. Miles and Tracy have an early exchange in a police car garage which requires the actors to yell an entire conversation over the screeches and constant banging of auto work. Later on, an actor sells a shotgun blast to the torso by murmuring “I’ve never been shot before” while softly moaning like an eight year-old who ate too much Halloween candy. There’s also an off-beat and hilarious discussion on the relative strength of birds as a female character writhes around and licks her lips while exposing some prominent camel-toe to her captors... in the back of a pickup truck. (Yes, this happened). So while the frequency and intensity of the action scenes are the film’s obvious strength, the inept acting and incredible dialogue are what enhance the film’s already sky-high rewatch value.

From a directorial standpoint, the elder Donahue is a steady veteran presence and the film is paced quite well. For the most part, the action sequences are competently shot, one of the highlights being an outstanding “empty warehouse” shootout scene. It’s quite literally an orgy of squibs and dudes falling from the rafters. These stunt falls are plentiful, but the one that tops them all has Long falling off a boulder and through about six different tiers of trees before landing chest-first on a branch, only to fall down another cliff before landing with a splash in a shallow riverbed. Fortunately, he shakes off the effects of this 80-foot fall in time to immediately kill two bikers with a knife. As mentioned previously, Violators contains a plethora of high-speed car vs. human body collisions which also need to be seen to be believed. The hand-to-hand fights are a bit short for my tastes but are accented with plenty of blood splatter, falls through windows, and good “baseball bat striking a head of lettuce” sound effects.


Aside from some continuity errors, the only other technical gripe I should note is the clunky editing, some of which appears to have been done to erase all spoken obscenities. I’m dubious on the real necessity of editing “motherfucker” to “mother--” when your film consists of bloody heroes decimating a gang of skinhead bikers with various automatic weapons in order to kill a crazed child molester … but that’s just me.

VERDICT:
In an age where the stuntman has been supplemented or even replaced outright by CGI chicanery, Parole Violators is a refreshing and rewarding watch for action aficionados. Between the epic falls, window smashing, and brutal car hits, this is some of the most insane cinematic stunt-work you’ll find in an American-made actioner and easily the best I’ve seen from a film specifically reviewed for this blog. The lack of clean and crisp fight choreography might leave some martial-arts purists cold, but viewers willing to trade off a bit of chopsocky for pure over-the-top action will want to add this to their collections.

AVAILABILITY:
Since Bottom Line Studios disappeared, exceedingly rare. You might be able to find a gray market copy on DVD.

6 / 7

4.18.2011

College Kickboxers (1992)

PLOT: A college freshman named James finds friendship and romance after arriving at school. He also finds a racist gang which takes offense at his friendship with Mark, his African-American roommate and fellow martial artist. Can he convince the cook at the local Chinese restaurant to teach him kung-fu, assuming the cook actually knows kung-fu and James isn’t just projecting racial stereotypes?

Director: Eric Sherman
Writers: Roxanne Reaver, Theresa Woo
Cast: Ken McLeod, Mark Williams, Tang Tak Wing, Matthew Ray Cohen, Harry Mok, Kendra Tucker, James Langton

PLOT THICKENER:
For a lot of people, college is a non-stop party where the sex is casual, the beer pours down like cheap flavorless rain, and the weed practically grows on trees. Yet, for some, college can be one of the most challenging life experiences they’ll ever have. Cultures clash. Beliefs are shaken. Hearts and minds can be changed as often as bad jam band concert t-shirts. In 1992’s College Kickboxers, a group of young minds is engaged in a conflict that can only be resolved in one of two ways: punches or kicks.

James, played by Ken McLeod (credited here as Ken Rendall Johnson), is starting his first semester at Millbrook State University, a fictional college which rejected my fictional application about a decade ago. Ever so cocky about his martial-arts prowess, James is surprised to find that his roommate, Mark (Williams), is an equally decorated martial-arts instructor. This is initially a minor point of competitive conflict, but is quickly set aside when a faction called the White Tigers interjects during the roommates’ friendly sparring session on the campus green one morning. Sadly, Sherman manages to botch the authenticity of this scene; there were no hacky sack circles whatsoever within view.


Led by obnoxious leather fashion-plate Craig Tanner (Cohen), the Tigers are sort of like a racist Cobra Kai without a John Kreese. Neither Tanner nor his gang really articulate the philosophical underpinnings of their bigoted worldview, but they’re pretty adamant that races shouldn’t mix. (I’m pretty sure one of their members is either Asian or Hispanic, though). More offensive than their reliance on racial slurs in casual conversation is their collective dependence on using cheap tactics and weapons during fights. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their beat-down of James following his night-shift busing tables at the local Chinese restaurant.

Outmanned and overpowered, James is unable to gain an upper hand despite his obvious advantage in actual fighting skills (in a previous confrontation, he easily handled Tanner one-on-one). He gets hammered with bats and pipes and only escapes serious injury thanks to the assistance of the restaurant’s cook, Mr. Wing (Tang Tak Wing). In an impressive show of speed and technique, he sends the wounded Tigers scurrying before pressure-pointing the fuck out of James’s various injuries. The student is astounded at Wing’s healing abilities and fighting skill and repeatedly asks him for training. Citing the huge cash prize in the upcoming Millbrook martial arts tournament, James is hoping that either he or Mark can win and open a karate school for disadvantaged children. Despite the good intentions, Wing insists that “money makes people crazy” before driving off in his expensive sportscar.


After James assures Wing he’ll abstain from the tournament, the cook eventually caves and soon enough, his new student is learning techniques through a combination of pain and perseverance. When he’s not translating these lessons for Mark and his karate class, James is trying to put his romantic moves on Kimberly (Tucker), the earthy activist from his ecology class. While the typical health-conscious environmental nutjob might reek of patchouli and have braidable armpit hair, it’s important to note that College Kickboxers is all about smashing negative stereotypes; Kimberly is a cute blond with the kind of huge 80s hair we all know and love. While initially disgusted at what she perceives as James’s meatheaded jockdom, she softens her stance upon learning of his interest in acupuncture. After an amazing first date montage consisting of petting zoo footage and beach frolicking, they bone in a hot tub and become inseparable.


The good vibes don’t last for long though; members of the White Tigers continue to make life miserable for James, Mark, and now Kimberly, and the douchebags declare their intentions to enter the fight tournament too. Things obviously don’t go as planned -- they never do -- but more important is the bond James and Mark forge despite the turmoil. Their dynamic reminded me a bit of the Jason Stillwell-RJ Madison pairing in No Retreat, No Surrender, but with reasonably good fighters and actors 10 years older than the characters they're portraying, instead of crappy fighters only five years older.

Generally speaking, the fight sequences are nicely choreographed and one would be right to attribute this to the involvement of a seasoned Hong Kong film veteran and martial artist like Wing. With credits including Supercop and Drunken Master 2 in his portfolio, he’s an obvious craftsman and it shows in the way strikes are both thrown and sold. His work is occasionally let down by clunky editing but the proficiency and fluidity of the fighters and stunt men on-screen overcome these technical missteps more often than not.


The film also contains some of the more interesting training sequences you’ll find in an American-made martial-arts film. The highlight finds Wing showing James how practicing forms while barefoot in the middle of an ice skating rink at 6 a.m. can help with balance. We do get a parade of ever-conventional beach jogging scenes but thankfully there’s no manual labor posing as practical fighting wisdom or flimsy philosophy about the inner self (well, not too much).

Played by Hong Kong stunt performer Tang Tak Wing, the character of Sifu Wing joins a cinematic laundry list of older, wiser, Asian fighting mentors. However, Wing also injects his character with light touches of humor, referring to James almost exclusively as “macho man,” and he has an engaging screen presence both dramatically and in action. Aside from his crisp fight scenes, he walks James through an interesting pressure point lesson and later does an impromptu form demonstration that leaves a massive Yin-Yang symbol carved into the dirt; it made for a genuinely cool visual.


While the mentor and lead characters are indeed likable, I found the film’s most memorable character to be Craig Tanner, who cements his spot in the pantheon of weirdly great American martial-arts villains. Despite a serious lack of fighting skills, Cohen owns the screen and proves that you don’t need to be a dumb skinhead to be a racist prick. His long, flowing mullet is among the most intense we’ve ever seen on film and were it not for his incredible overacting, it would easily be his best trait. While the White Tigers logo on his coat flaunts his gang affiliation, his fingerless leather gloves and leather pants with dangling chains scream “I just robbed the wardrobe rack on the set of Deadbeat at Dawn.” Pairing such a unique look with an unforgettable performance is a huge factor for why this film ultimately works.

VERDICT:
Overall, I really dug College Kickboxers but I’ll be the first to admit that tonally, it has a bit of an identity crisis. At times, it attempts to be a fairly serious student-mentor martial-arts film with good fights, akin to The Karate Kid. During other stretches, it’s classic DTV American martial-arts cheese with timely (and regrettable) wardrobe attire, a despicable but hilarious lead villain, and enough bad acting and editing to kill a small pachyderm. All of that adds up to a very enjoyable romp of a martial-arts b-movie.

AVAILABILITY:
Amazon or EBay. Only available as a standalone copy on VHS, which may be hard to track down. You may be better off going with the very affordable ($3!) Lethal Vengeance 4-disc set put out by BCI.

5.5 / 7

4.14.2011

Fist of Feature: Cinematic Alphabet of Fury

Over the past week or so, my Twitter and RSS feeds have been pummeled with an assault of cinematic alphabets. I’ve been told it’s the cool new thing, that all the kids (who have film blogs) are doing it. I’m typically not one for lists but I liked the conceptual approach and my skimming led to a healthy influx of films on my watchlists and queues, respectively. Not a bad thing. Unless your queue is maxed out, which mine is.

Because of the fairly limited critical scope utilized here on Fist of B-List, I initially balked at putting an alphabet of my own together. There was no way I’d be able to come up with 26 Western martial-arts b-movies to satisfy the criteria. After running through a practice run, this proved true (FUCK YOU J, Q, V, X, and Z.) So I expanded the pool to include all martial-arts film … and still found the exercise challenging. Wherever possible, I wanted to emphasize movies that have either flown under the radar, strongly demand a watch … or simply happened to be the only film that fit the bill (still looking at you, Q).

A is for AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2


B is for BLOODMOON


C is for CHOCOLATE


D is for DEATH MACHINES


E is for EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN


F is for FATAL CHASE


G is for THE GUYVER: DARK HERO


H is for HONOR AND GLORY


I is for INVINCIBLE ARMOR


J is for JAKA SEMBUNG (aka THE WARRIOR)


K is for KING OF THE KICKBOXERS


L is for LIVE BY THE FIST


M is for MISSION OF JUSTICE


N is for NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 2: RAGING THUNDER


O is for OPIUM AND THE KUNG FU MASTER


P is for PRODIGAL SON


Q is for A QUEEN’S RANSOM (aka INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN)


R is for RAGE


S is for SAKURA KILLERS


T is for THE TAI CHI MASTER


U is for UNDISPUTED 2


V is for THE VICTIM


W is for WHEELS ON MEALS


X is for X-TREME FIGHTER (aka SCI-FIGHTERS)


Y is for THE YOUNG MASTER


Z is for ZOMBIE VS. NINJA


Feel free to leave your own in the comments below.

4.11.2011

Angel of Destruction (1994)

PLOT: Go to the review of Blackbelt from last week. Find all references to “Don Wilson” and replace with “Maria Ford.” Add ice. Add boobs. Shake lightly and strain into a glass. This cold delicious liquid is called Angel of Destruction.

Director: Charles Philip Moore
Writers: Charles Philip Moore, Paul Maslak
Cast: Maria Ford, Charlie Spradling, Jimmy Broome, Antonio Bacci, Jessica Mark, Timothy D. Baker, Chanda, James Paolelli, Bob McFarland



PLOT THICKENER:
Every once in a while, after I’ve just poured my morning cup of coffee, I like to stare out my window and listen for the sound of a cinephile blowing his or her brains out after reading about the latest studio plans to remake a beloved film. While it seems like the remake epidemic is yet another modern outgrowth of corporate greed, it’s been going on for decades. The practice may piss off the hardest of hardcore fans, but it’s an easy way for filmmakers and studios to repurpose financially lucrative intellectual property or improve upon forgotten originals. So it should be no great surprise that writer and director Charles Philip Moore jumped at the chance to remake his 1992 breakout film Blackbelt... in 1994.

As in the Don Wilson vehicle, the plot revolves around a pop singer attracting unwanted attention from a serial killer and seeking out protection. This is no ordinary pop singer, though. Moore attempts to atone for the pop music sins of Blackbelt, not by hiring professionals to improve upon the terrible songs, but by having the actress playing pop-star Delilah (Mark) take off her top while performing the terrible songs. This sounds shameless and exploitative -- and it is -- but it makes for some visually interesting set pieces. The best, which the killer admires from a hooting nightclub crowd, finds a curvy blond onstage, strapped to what looks like an electric chair. Delilah, in nothing more than red lingerie, “croons” a few bars of her new single and when the music reaches a crescendo, the chair explodes in a display of smoke and pyrotechnics as the crowd cheers. Then the tops come off. The lip-syncing is bad, but the fake titties are even worse.


Unbeknownst to her adoring public, Delilah is carrying on a same-sex relationship with her blond companion, Reena Jacobs (Chanda), while continuing to sleep with her manager, Danny (Paolelli). On top of that, her mobster record label owner (McFarland) just might kill her for an insurance policy if she fails to resign with him. If those elements weren’t dangerous enough, a crazed military veteran named John Sweet (Broome) is stalking Delilah and leaving a trail of severed fingers and dead hookers in his wake. Who in the world has the balls to take on someone so sadistic?

Rather fortunately, Delilah finds those balls hanging from Brit Alwood (Spradling), a bad-ass private investigator whose fondness for dark aviators is second only to her love for giving piggish men free vasectomies with kicks to the crotch. Her toughness runs in the family too; Brit’s younger sister, Jo (Ford) is a tough-as-manicured-nails undercover cop who finds it easiest to rough up the scum of society while dressed in tight jeans and navel-exposing tube tops. While Brit initially takes Delilah’s case, it’s Jo who ends up performing the grunt work of protecting her. The saucy Internet rumor posits that the role of Spradling’s character was diminished due to her refusal to partake in a specific scene we’ll discuss in a couple of ‘graphs.


Along for the ride in the investigation of John Sweet is a cop named Aaron, played by first-time-and-never-again actor Antonio Bacci. He doesn’t bring all that much to the party other than imparting clunky exposition and looking average during fight scenes, but he does sport a great fucking moustache. He also has a love scene with Maria Ford before collecting his paycheck, so it would appear he left the industry on a high-note... assuming you consider awkward martial-arts movie love scenes to be a high note. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I do).

While Seinfeld has taught us many a lesson, few are as valuable as the notion of “bad naked” (episode: “The Apology”). I’m sure everyone had the best intentions in putting Ford in nothing but a thong for her late-night fight with a half-dozen thugs in Delilah’s mansion. I mean, topless kickboxing sounds good in theory ... doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the net effect is about as erotic as shredding tax documents. It’s not that I don’t find Ford to be attractive but it’s hard to ignore the hurricane of Aquanet, grunting, high-kicks, and... flopping. So while it’s certainly possible the filmmakers were trying to de-sexualize the female form with this scene, they achieved one of the most gloriously campy scenes ever captured in the martial-arts DTV genre.


Pointing out flaws in a movie like this is a bit counterproductive, but it also highlights why the film is so enjoyable. A music video shoot for Delilah consists of nothing more than her and Reena taking their tops off and lip-syncing in a room full of mannequins. Yes, the mannequins are both blindfolded and naked. At one point, Bacci actually calls Ford by "Maria" instead of her character's name and I'm not sure why Moore felt this didn't require a second take to nail down. I don't recall any visible boom mics, falling dummies, or landing mats during stunt falls, but this being a Roger Corman film, it does have that classic air of low-budgeted, balls-to-the-wall, "let's shoot this fucker!" methodology. More than the technical misfires, I found the weakest element was the casting of Jimmy Broome and the reworking of the John Sweet character. The guy looks like a fucking creep and his violent behavior is weird enough to cement the character as a psycho, but you take a lot off the table in downgrading from a physically imposing martial-artist like Matthias Hues. He's no Brando and his fighting skills don't really dazzle, but he's proficient at playing the hulking monster and would have been a more formidable opponent for Ford.


The ho-hum fight choreography of Paul Maslak has been replaced with the equally vanilla stylings of stunt coordinator Ronald Asinas. However, there are a few elements which elevate the action in Angel of Destruction above that of its source material. Its very liberal approach to the destruction of props and sets during the hand-to-hand fight sequences -- a staple of Filipino action films -- always wins me over, and the stunt crew makes Ford look great. The climax also trades the “one vs. many” fight of Blackbelt for a fun build-up marked by ‘splosions and healthy amounts of gunfire.

Going from the hard-kicking Wilson to Ford might seem to be a downgrade, yet there’s something inherently enjoyable about watching a petite blond heroine getting into bar fights with bigger opponents and gunning down would-be assassins without batting an eyelash. On top of that, Ford is the better actor and conjures up the necessary contempt for her adversaries that Wilson lacks in his facial expressions and line delivery. Jo's violent interrogation of one of Sweet's military buddies on a public street in the middle of the day is a hilarious scene and quite possibly Ford's best in the film. Well, aside from the nude fight where she smashes some dude's head through a fish tank.


VERDICT:
It's rare that a cinematic remake improves upon the original, but Moore nails the landing on this one. It makes me wish Maria Ford had done more Filipino action movies and less erotic thrillers, but she really shines in this one. If Blackbelt can be described as a studious, church-going star athlete, Angel of Destruction is the younger sister who sleeps around, drinks whiskey before fighting strangers, and would be completely topless in her Spring Break photos were it not for the vomit all over her chest. In other words, she’s a bit trashy, but also a lot more fun.

AVAILABILITY:
Amazon or EBay.

5.5 / 7

4.04.2011

Blackbelt (1992)

PLOT: A rising pop singer harassed by an obsessed stalker hires an ex-cop and martial-arts expert as personal security. As with most pop female vocalists, she’s kinda hot so her terrible music is tolerated by all involved.

Director: Charles Phillip Moore, Rick Jacobson
Writers: Paul Maslak, Don Wilson
Cast: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Matthias Hues, Alan Blumenfeld, Deirdre Imershein, Richard Beymer, Jack Forcinito, Timothy D. Baker, Bob McFarland



PLOT THICKENER:
When I was about 13 or 14 years of age, the Spice Girls were just beginning to break through in the U.S. They were annoying. Their music was awful. But for whatever reason, I had a thing for Ginger Spice, she of the reddish hair and reasonably big cans. Like all teenage infatuations, it faded and I moved on. However, there are those out there incapable of getting over these kinds of fixations. Pop starlets from Tiffany to Britney Spears have had brushes with stalkers, and this seedy byproduct of celebrity status was popularized as a cinematic plot device with 1992’s Kevin Costner thriller, The Bodyguard. It turned a good profit at the box office and gave us Whitney Houston’s smash hit ballad “I Will Always Love You.” Earlier that same year, the Don “The Dragon” Wilson vehicle Blackbelt was released to the U.S. video market and gave us a new film to gather around with large groups of friends and larger amounts of whiskey.

Jack Dillon (Wilson) is a no-nonsense guy who has dedicated his life to cleaning up the streets of his American city which shall remain nameless. As a cop, he fought societal filth with a badge and a gun. These days, he fights scum with nothing more than his fists and his boots. In a dark urban alley, an aggressive pimp with an aggressive mullet is using his pimp hand on a reluctant hooker when Dillon discovers them. After smashing the pimp’s face and laying waste to his undercarriage, Dillon coolly remarks that “the broken nose is for the girl, the vasectomy’s free” before returning the tearful girl to her mother. Not only is Jack Dillon a retired cop and martial-arts expert and teacher, but he also gives out free vasectomies! You should look him up if you’re done having kids, though your insurance might not cover him.


Rising pop star Shanna (Imershein) is accustomed to a chaotic lifestyle as a foxy touring live act with a rabid fanbase. But following her latest performance, she and her assistant make a grisly discovery in a box of long-stem roses left in her dressing room. No! It’s not the tacky inclusion of Baby’s-breath. It’s a severed female finger. Her manager and boyfriend Bobby (Forcinito) is basically nutless, and her mob-connected label owner Eddie D’Angelo (Twin Peaks’ Richard Beymer) kinda hates her, so Shanna goes outside her circle of handlers for help.

When a bratty pop star shows up to his martial-arts class looking to hire a bodyguard, Dillon is resistant; he doesn’t do that kind of work. As it turns out, Shanna could care less, because she doesn’t like cops anyways. Unwarranted speeding tickets? No. Her dad was a cop. So? He raped her. Ohhhhhhh..... awkward. In any case, she was only following up on a recommendation from Dillon’s old partner, Detective Will Sturges (Blumenfeld). Rather coincidentally, Sturges calls Dillon to consult on a crime scene at that exact moment.


Awaiting Dillon at a nearby hotel is a complete massacre. Five men, all armed, have been left dead in a hotel room with trauma to various vital organs. Due to the nature of their injuries, Dillon rightly suspects a martial-arts expert. As a counterpoint to this mostly bloodless execution, there’s a body left in another room which looks like a victim straight out of 1980s slasher film. Enough blood was spilled for the killer to spell out “SHANNA WE’RE GOING TO THE CHAPEL” on the wall. Not enough blood was spilled for grammatically correct punctuation, apparently.

Shit just got real, so Dillon decides to take Shanna on as a client. As he chases clues, he eventually discovers what the audience knew a half-hour ago: the killer is a former Special Forces member named John Sweet, played by Matthias Hues. Like any good serial killer, he has a raging Oedipal complex and a poorly lit secret hideout. I couldn’t help but notice that Sweet also bears a passing resemblance to the Stingray character from Undefeatable. Beyond their deep-seated mommy issues, they both collect trophies from victims (Sweet prefers fingers to Stingray’s eyes) and have amazing manes of hair.


What he lacks in fantastic hair, character actor Richard Beymer more than makes up for in acting chops. There are two things he does extremely well as an onscreen performer: act sleazy and eat food. Whether it’s the pasta and salad of Blackbelt or the brie-and-butter baguette sandwiches from Twin Peaks, Beymer has an effective way of eating that makes me want to join in. On that note, it’s time for pancakes.

As Jake Dillon, Don Wilson keeps it simple. He kicks ass and delivers some occasionally well-written lines with true aplomb, with the aforementioned vasectomy one-liner as the highlight. I can’t say that Wilson and Imershein have much chemistry together, but some of that has to do with the dick-punching turn-off that is her character’s awful music. Even by early 1990s standards, the attempts at pop songs are quite heinous and could take a lot of viewers out of the film completely. To his credit, Dillon treats Shanna’s music the same way he treats her celebrity status -- with complete indifference. Which is, of course, in sharp contrast to the way he (eventually) treats her lady parts -- with fumbling teenaged zeal. We’ve covered only two Don “The Dragon” Wilson movies so far, but in those films he’s batting 1.000 in getting his onscreen love interests to disrobe for sex scenes. Good show, Mr. Wilson!


The film’s opening credits and marketing materials boasted what was apparently a fighting cast full of decorated championship talent (one of whom you may remember as the hilarious dad from No Retreat, No Surrender). Unfortunately, none of these fighters is provided with a unique character to make their screen time particularly noteworthy. Compounding the issue is that the action set pieces from fight choreographer Paul Maslak are utilized to do nothing but make the film’s hero and main villain look strong ahead of their climactic showdown. It seems the primary role of anyone else involved in the fight scenes was to look as good as possible while getting their ass kicked. The generous helpings of blood and sweat during the final fight are a nice topper to a solid film, but if you’re going to offer up the numerous accolades of your fighters as a selling point, it would help to give them a little bit of room to shine.

VERDICT:
While I’m certainly no expert on the cinematic exploits of Don Wilson, I do feel that Blackbelt is as good an entry point as any into his filmography. This was the film that really cemented my fondness for the “kung fu killer” as a compelling narrative device, if only for the bizarre ways in which the main villain is characterized and portrayed onscreen. Due in large part to great selling from the stunt performers, Hues comes across as a real monster in his short but dominant fight scenes. However, it’s his character’s sleazy back-story which puts the film into favorable territory for me. In order to strike a sharp contrast with Dillon’s wholesomeness, writer Charles Philip Moore deserves a bit of credit for going into some dark and weird places in creating the John Sweet character. This and the Richard Beymer performance were the highlights for me in what I found to be a fairly serviceable DTV action movie.

AVAILABILITY:
Netflix and Amazon.

5 / 7

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