Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Carl Weathers

Synonymous with the role of Apollo Creed, which he played in the first four Rocky movies between 1976 and 1985, Carl Weathers true potential as an action star was first realized in a supporting role in 1987 action classic Predator alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Producer Joel Silver must have liked what he saw because only a year later Weathers, a former football player with a muscular physique and plenty of charisma, was the lead in his own movie; the cult favourite Action Jackson.

Craig R. Baxley’s 1988 feature cast Weathers as a Detroit city cop called Jerico Jackson. Nickname: Action. Occasionally absurd, with a lot of moments of comic relief and cartoon violence, it’s a great example of over-the-top 80s action cinema and a great vehicle for Weathers. It’s also notable for its supporting cast, which not only includes Predator co-stars Bill Duke and Sonny Landham, but also Craig T. Nelson, Robert Davi and the then unknown Sharon Stone.

Unfortunately the film flopped, critics pointing to its over familiar clichés and uneven blend of comedy and extreme violence. It was 4 years before Weathers got a second shot, going from playing Action Jackson to Hurricane Smith. The result isn’t quite the lazy rehash the title would suggest, but that’s not saying much.

Despite being backed by Warner Bros., Colin Budd’s 1992 feature hasn’t got quirks or charisma and feels like a cheap B-movie. The story is more straightforward but rather tedious. Weathers plays a Texan construction worker who travels to Australia’s Gold Coast to find his missing sister and upsets some local villains and that’s it.

The support cast are all unknowns except for Jürgen Prochnow. He’s proven himself a reliable villain in later films such as The Replacement Killers, Gunblast Voka and The Elite, but even he can’t elevate this thriller above average.

Running just over 80 minutes, the story is thin and resolution largely unsatisfying. Thankfully there’s an action packed final 10 minutes that includes a speedboat chase, assault on the villain’s lair and a fight in a helicopter that redeem the tedium.

Weathers went on to play the action hero in the series Street Justice, but was cancelled after two seasons, and co-starred with Hulk Hogan and Shannon Tweed in two Shadow Warriors TV movies. But since the turn of the millennium he’s been largely relegated to supporting roles in comedies. Most notably appearing as Police Chief Benjamin 'Ben' Benson in bizarre action homage Phoo Action in 2008.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Rick Yune

Korean-American character actor Rick Yune first made an impression on audiences playing bad guys in The Fast and Furious (2001) and Die Another Day (2002), but it was several years before he’d step into a heroic role.

After disappearing from cinema screens, guest starring in a small number of popular television shows, he made a return to features as the lead in 2008’s action movie The Fifth Commandment.

Some actors, Jason Scott Lee for example, seem to find themselves in this genre purely as a result of their careers are not going so well, but for Yune it seemed a very conscious choice to move in this direction. The Fifth Commandment was written and produced by Yune with the clear intent of relaunching his career.

With prior experience in the genre and a black belt in Taekwondo (he qualified for the Olympics when he was 19), Rick (short for Patrick) does seem at ease in the film and his brooding presence works for the anti-hero he’s playing; an orphan raised as an assassin.

Made in Thailand by prolific action director Jesse Johnson, The Fifth Commandment (“honor thy monther and father”) is a stylish movie with shades of Bangkok Dangerous and The Bodyguard and some cartoonish touches.

Dania Ramirez fails to arouse much sympathy as the heroine Chance Templeton (Yune) must protect but there is some great action, including yet another variation on The Terminator’s police station assault.

Yune doesn’t quite convince as a hero, even a conflicted one, and seems he’s destined to play bad guys (he’ll next be seen back on the big screen as a villain in Ninja Assassin), but The Fifth Commandment is a stylish modern action B-movie that’s much better than its terrible cover art would suggest.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dan Andersen

Beefy, but not particularly charismatic or gifted as a screen fighter, Dan Andersen failed to make much of an impression on audiences in his 2001 action debut, Extreme Honor.

In what seems to be his one and only role to date (according to the IMDb) Andersen plays ex-Navy Seal John Kennedy Brascoe. Apparently he's the best of the best, but does little over the course of 85 minutes to convince us he deserves such an accolade.

Distributors apparently had no confidence in Andersen when it came time to release the film. His face and name are nowhere to be seen on the cover art for the DVD, instead it was falsely marketed as a star vehicle for Olivier Gruner. It was even retitled The Last Line of Defence 2 in the UK, making it an in name only sequel to Gruner’s sci-fi flick Interceptor Force.

A major problem with the movie is definitely its story, in which Brascoe robs a wealthy villain to save his son from Leukemia. It does its best to avoid genre cliches, but the heist plot is so weakly executed that it fails to satisfy as either action movie or thriller.

There's also a major lack of action in this supposed action movie! But director Steven Rush does almost succeed in distracting you from this shortcoming, as well as those of his lead, with an amazing supporting cast. There are appearances from Martin Kove, Michael Madsen, Michael Ironside, Charles Napier and Antonio Fargas.

Extreme Honor is at best a mildly diverting curiosity, Andersen seems like a nice guy but clearly not cut out to play an action hero.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Duane Martin

Little more than a vanity project for the charismatic Duane Martin, Ride or Die (2003) is nonetheless a low-budget triumph.

Essentially a cheaper retread of Keenen Ivory Wayans’ 1994 action comedy A Low Down Dirty Shame and 1989’s The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Craig Ross, Jr’s film looks great.

Made for an extremely modest budget of $2 million, limitations have been overcome and favours called in to make this a high quality production. Martin’s not a household name but in a career stretching back to the early 1990s he's clearly made a lot of friends.

Not only does Vivica A. Fox co-star and Meagan Good but features cameos by Gabrielle Union and Stacey Dash. The film even boasts Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith among its Executive Producers. Martin had appeared in Woo with Mrs Smith and Deliver Us From Eva with Union and Good.

As Private Investigator Conrad “Rad” McCrae, Martin is perhaps not as funny as he thinks he is but a very likeable lead. The problem is he’s too generic, making you think fondly of those he’s following in the footsteps of.

Ride or Die (aka Hustle and Heat aka Rap Connection) is enjoyably routine and an amusing way to spend 80 minutes or so. But as cool as Duane Martin thinks he is it's the beautiful woman and the absurd final act in which one of the villains is killed with an exploding tampon that make this a must see.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Götz Otto

Former James Bond henchman Götz Otto had a stab at playing hero in the brilliantly titled Gunblast Vodka (2000).

Made in Poland and dubbed into English, the film is ample evidence that Otto is far more suited to antagonistic roles.

The German was miscast as an Israeli cop relocated from assignment in New York to track down a damsel in distress (Angie Everhart).

Otto threws himself into his action debut, fighting off assassins while naked (7 years before Eastern Promises) and firing a gun while being pulled along on his back aside a car. The latter an utterly pointless moment that's not as fun as it should be.

Director Jean Louis-Daniel is playing with the conventions of the action film, this is far from your typical action movie, but one can’t quite tell if this is intended as arthouse or music video-inspired B-movie.

Reminiscent of the more colourful films of both Albert Pyun and Michael Oblowitz, the film emulates and exaggerates Hollywood clichés but never entertains as much as it should.

As curious as Russia’s Velvet Revolution, Gunblast Vodka’s off-kilter approach to the genre seems entirely half-hearted, like so many Hollywood imitators.

Fellow German Jürgen Prochnow (playing the villain once again – albeit with bleached hair) doesn’t seem to be having much fun either. Local actor Mariusz Pujszo seems to be having more fun than anyone else as Otto’s geekily stylish and creepy partner.

Since Gunblast Vodka was released Otto has appeared in Der Clown and Ant and Dec vehicle Alien Autopsy in addition to numerous German film and television roles.