Final Impact (1992)

PLOT: The light heavyweight kickboxing champion of Ohio seeks out his hero for training before a major tournament held in Las Vegas. Can the young upstart save his drunken master from his demons?

Director: Joseph Merhi
Writer: Stephen Smoke
Cast: Michael Worth, Lorenzo Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont, Jeff Langton, Mimi Lesseos, Art Camacho, Gary Daniels, Ian Jacklin, Frank Rivera

The majority of opening title sequences in direct-to-video fight films are so bland that even the slightest deviation proves compelling. Had 1992’s Final Impact featured two minutes of arbitrary text touting the professional accomplishments of the film’s kickboxing stars over some generic rock track, I wouldn’t have blinked. I may have fallen asleep. I may have started doing semi-nude poom sae along to the beat of the generic rock track. Who the hell knows. It doesn’t matter, because Joseph Merhi gives us something different. In close shots with careful lighting, we get random hands oiling up random bodies. Hands wrapping hands in tape. Hands lacing up bikinis. Fists punching into palms with powdery impact. Hands applying lipstick. Hands tying shoelaces. I thought all of these hands belonged to the same rugged but sensual kickboxing lady, so I was pretty stoked.

It was all for naught, though, because there is no foxy kickboxer with equal attention to proper hand wrapping and well-blended cosmetics. This is the story of Nick Taylor (Lamas), an alcoholic kickboxing ex-champion and his new student, Danny Davis (Worth), a promising youngster in need of mentorship. Their paths cross in what might be the most amazing bar in the history of cinema. Women in nothing but oil and bikinis wrestle each other on one side, while sweaty brutes kickbox the daylights out of each other in a ring on the other side. (Thus, all the random hands in the opening). In between these two attractions, people dance, drink, and socialize. I didn’t see any skee ball or tabletop shuffleboard, but I’m sure they had them in a side room.

Danny is disappointed to find that his kickboxing hero has turned into a drunkard only three years after his title loss to arch-rival Jake Gerrard (Langton). Still, after proving himself through a short exhibition against Gary Daniels during his immaculate ponytail phase, Danny convinces Nick to take him on as a pupil. He spends time training at Nick’s home, in the patient company of his girlfriend Maggie (Kinmont), and she’s suspicious of her boyfriend’s intentions. Is Nick using Danny to win fight money? For a self-esteem boost? Or to take out his rival, Gerrard, and regain his past glory?

If you’ve been following this site for a while, you’ll notice that this is our first foray into the work of Lorenzo Lamas. For fans of American chopsocky, this might constitute an egregious omission but at this point, I have Lorenzo-phobia deep in the bone. First, I hated the Renegade television series. Hated it. There was also a fairly well-documented incident in which Lamas broke Avedon’s nose during a shoot for the former’s self-defense video and didn’t handle it with much professionalism. (Considering the results, it was for the best that he removed himself from the production). Avedon has great stories, and he’s been a class act in all of my interactions with him. He was one of the best screen fighters of his era, and I like the guy. If you’re a huge fan of Larry Bird, can you also be a fan of Bill Laimbeer? Dr. J? If you’re being real about it, probably not. To be fair, if Lamas could dunk a basketball from the free-throw line, I might feel more conflicted. Few actors other than Michael J. Fox can get that kind of hang-time.

That said, his involvement in the film’s pivotal restaurant scene is cinematic gold. Boozed to the gills, Nick stumbles over and confronts Gerrard (and the ex-wife his rival married, played by Mimi Lesseos) during a contentious altercation that leaves everyone feeling weird. Everything about this 50 seconds of the film is brilliant, from the bolo tie and Gerrard dressed in an outfit straight out of Night at the Roxbury, to Nick’s apparent self-satisfaction after calling his ex-wife a whore during a totally childish exchange. And what is the mythical Neon Graveyard to which Gerrard refers? (For the record, we find out later). Watch below for just a taste.

As the old cliche goes, the enemy is within. To be clear, Jeff Langton does his best to play Jake Gerrard as an obnoxious Jersey-tinged meathead, but he simply doesn’t have enough screentime or good lines to cement himself as a memorable villain. His fighting is vicious at the appropriate times, but Langton also lacks the look and physical stature to provide the audience with any sense of awe about his skills. We know the role of Gerrard is pivotal in Nick’s story arc because of the alcoholic tailspin that results from their fight. Thus, the real villain in this story is Nick’s rampant alcoholism. This character flaw makes him selfish, volatile, and visibly hammered for the vast majority of the film. We’ve seen the alcoholic mentor trope plenty -- in everything from King of the Kickboxers to Breathing Fire -- but Merhi really pushes it front and center as a major story element. Tequila with a chaser of blind vengeance is an especially dangerous mix.

Despite a capable fight choreographer in Eric Lee, I had low expectations about the action scenes in this film considering the long history of humdrum depictions of legitimate kickboxing tournaments. For the most part, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in dozens of films just like it. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the use of genuine psychology in the fighting itself. Several of the fighters have distinctive styles -- Gerrard is a roughneck brawler who aims for vital organs, and crowd favorite Jacky Clark is a flashy show-off -- and Danny is positioned as the well-rounded fighter who can effectively counter each of them. During breaks in between rounds, Nick relays his thoughts and then Danny deploys the strategy to successful results. I’m not sure what the correct countermove was for Gerrard’s signature “trap opponent in corner, pick up both of his legs and start headbutting him in the pelvis” attack, but Danny avoids it entirely.

This is the second time in three PM Entertainment films that Michael Worth played the trainee to a mentor on the hard sauce (see, To Be the Best). In that film, he got lost in the shuffle due to a large ensemble cast. Here, both his character and his performance are more interesting and layered. Worth captures Danny’s alternating streaks of cocky and naive convincingly, and he brings a palpable energy to the fight scenes. More than that, his engaged demeanor provides a nice counterbalance to Lamas’s cool and detached line delivery. Which is to say, sort of drunk. 

While not exactly an original work, Final Impact is a tournament fight film with decent in-ring action, a couple of good performances, and a lot of alcohol consumption, all under the bright lights of Vegas. While this was marketed as a Lorenzo Lamas film, it works better as a solid debut vehicle for Worth, playing a character trying to overcome his selfish mentor’s self-destructive bullshit. Recommended for fans of Lamas who would rather watch him drink than fight.

Netflix, Amazon, YouTube.

4 / 7

1 comment:

  1. Nice write-up. Got to love Lama's silly pants in this. Fun movie.


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