Friday, 16 December 2011

Til Schweiger

Though he’s not made a career as a leading man in action cinema, Tilman Valentin "Til" Schweiger is undoubtedly one of the most successful German actors of his generation. Moving between low-budget German films (several of which he has also directed) and Hollywood blockbusters.

Schweiger’s diverse and charismatic, recognisable from Antoine Fuqua’s The Replacement Killers (1998) and King Arthur (2004), not to mention Renny Harlin’s Driven (2001) and many others.

Most notably a member of Quentin Tarantino’s team of Inglourious Basterds in 2009, Schweiger made his debut as an action hero in 2007’s Body Armour. An extremely international co-production shot in Barcelona, the film was a decent low-budget stab at imitating Hollywood action fare.

Released under the title Der Bodyguard in Germany, this British, American, Australian, German and Spanish co-production echoes the likes of Back to Back (1996), The Chain (1996) and Fatal Blade (2001) in its good guy-bad guy buddy formula.

Schweiger plays John Ridley, a retired bodyguard lured back into action to protect the very man he despises, an assassin played by Chazz Palminteri. Borrowing elements from The Transporter (2002), Michael Bay’s The Rock (1996) and John Woo movies, Gerry Lively’s film feels a little too much like a TV movie but is good fun.

Apparently playing an American, Schweiger never convinces because he can’t disguise his distinct accent, but has a strong presence reminiscent of that of Michael Rooker or Robert Patrick. He also has a fun face-off with Khan Bonfils that provides a nice climax to the story.

Chazz Palminteri’s probably the only American in this faux-American production but it’s one of those films that’s all the more endearing for its often lazy efforts at deception.

Body Armour didn’t have much impact in the film world, but Schweiger next turn as an action hero certainly would. Cast as Jack Carver in the feature adaptation of the hit videogame Far Cry, Schweiger was once again the star of a faux-Hollywood movie, this time under the much more experienced guidance of the infamous Uwe Boll.

A Canadian-German co-production, Boll cast Germans in several key roles. Schweiger was joined by the legendary Udo Kier and the mighty Ralf Moeller in a straightforward adaptation of the plot of the game from 2004 that offered Boll the chance to step on the toes of the much more successful German filmmaker Roland Emmerich.

Boll’s film echoes Universal Soldier (1992), in which Moeller had played one of the undead supersoldiers commanded Dolph Lundgren, by teaming its hero up with a female reporter (that most well-worn of clich├ęs). Later, when the love interest needs rescuing, he shares scenes with an awful comedy side-kick, something none of the Universal Soldier films had. Thankfully.

Far Cry is no match for any of the Universal Soldier movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (it’s definitely better than the two dire TV movies though) but it’s a better than average Boll. The simple plot allows a lot of room for action with boat captain Carver employing his German special forces training to help our heroine once we get past the 30 minute mark. The last half hour is particularly action-packed.

Schweiger has the help of an obvious stunt double for his more physical moments but certainly looks the part. As in Body Armour he's confident handling weapons and his permanently stern expression would suggest he was born to be an action star.

That said, no action hero roles appear to be in his immediate future. On the contrary, Schweiger looks to be more anonymous in 2012. According to the imdb he'll be playing two characters known only as "FBI agent" in This Means War (starring Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) and The Courier (starring Mickey Rourke and Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Bas Rutten

As observed in January’s post about Mirko Filipovic, tough guys from the world of Mixed Martial Arts are now almost as common as wrestlers and kickboxers in the world of B-movies.

The likes of Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture may get top billing in some instances, but they’re rarely cast as heroes. Surprisingly few have been cast as action heroes, with Couture arguably having the most success, as a member of Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables ensemble.

Dutch mixed martial arts icon Sebastiaan "Bas" Rutten got a shot back in 2004, starring as the oddly named Dakota Varley in The Eliminator. The film cast the UFC Heavyweight Champion as a powerboat racer who finds himself drugged and hunted on a small island.

Before this, Rutten’s imposing figure had made a variety of film and TV appearances, including bad guy roles in Sammo Hung’s “Martial Law” (the Nitro Man episode in 1999) and the awesome Shadow Fury (2001). While his profile as a competitor and commentator in the world of MMA is much more significant, his filmography is certainly diverse. These days he’s as likely to turn up in a Kevin James movie as anything action packed.

Director Ken Barbet took his time introducing Rutten to audiences in The Eliminator (originally called Varley’s Game), opening the film with a powerboat race that’s more tedious than exciting. When Rutten does get out of the board, it’s no time at all before he’s kicking one of his competitors so hard he’s launched several feet.

With its island (actually Florida) death game premise and bald hero, The Eliminator is an awful lot like the WWE flop The Condemned, made 3 years later in 2007, but by no means has an original premise.

Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game from 1924 established a theme that’s become an increasingly popular subgenre. Since the first film adaptation in 1932, myriad, increasingly action-packed variations have used the “hunt the human” theme, including Death Ring (1992), Hard Target (1993) and Surviving the Game (1994).

But whereas the latter examples had excellent casts and glossy production values, The Eliminator is cheaper and less satisfactory fare. It doesn’t even have the amusing exploitation movie appeal of Death Ring, with it’s cast consisting of siblings and off-spring of icons such as Swayze, Norris and McQueen. It’s left to Rutten to draw in his fans and top-billed Michael Rooker to lend it credibility with a broader audience.

Rooker appears intermittently but Rutten’s not left to carry the film alone. For much of the time he’s teamed up with Paul Logan (a regular supporting player in the genre and star of Ballistica (2009) and MegaPiranha (2010)).

Vehicles for UFC stars are rarely watchable, just look at Ultimate Force (2005) and Cyborg Soldier (2008) starring Rich Franklin, but The Eliminator is at worst average. Rutten has considerable charisma and his choreographed fights are reasonably entertaining, especially those at the climax, during which he also brings down a helicopter.

Rutten’s had a steady stream of action roles, in the likes of The Vault (2005), Backlash (2006) and Saints and Sinners (2010), but The Eliminator remains his sole turn as an action hero. But at only 46 I wouldn’t rule out a second opportunity coming his way.