Friday, 1 June 2012
Tuesday, 1 May 2012
What he doesn’t get to do is deliver a lot of dialogue between the action scenes. The screenplay is crammed with exposition and most of the time it’s being directed at him.
Sunday, 1 April 2012
So synonymous is model and actor Cleveland Mitchell with the role of Michael Power both on screen and off that not many people realise he's entirely fictional. Mitchell didn’t even get credited as an actor in his starring debut.
Filmed over three months in 40 locations in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, Critical Assignment (2004) opens with the words “Michael Power in” and in the closing credits both character and performer share the same name to maintain the charade.
Of course Michael Power is not the only advertising character to get his own movie. Around the same time as Critical Assignment came out, Rowan Atkinson starred in Johnny English (Peter Howitt, 2003), based on a character created for a campaign to promote Barclaycard between 1991 and 1997. Created by marketing company Saatchi & Saatchi for Diageo, Guinness’s parent company, Power is a handsome, charming, crusading journalist of intentionally ambiguous origin. He’s usually seen dressed in cool black, fearlessly confronting injustice.
What distinguishes Critical Assignment, a British/African co-production, is the fact that it was directly connected to an advertising campaign. Johnny English was called Richard Latham in the 17 ads in which he appeared and didn’t use a Barclaycard in the film. But Michael Power stops every once in a while to enjoy some Guinness with friends (specifically at the 14, 30, 63 & 98 minute points).
Bill Britt reported on the film for Advertising Age and quoted executive producer Celia Couchman, responsible for the original ad campaign, as saying "Product placement only occurs where it's right for the story." Surprisingly, it's not as in your face as in the James Bond films it's clearly inspired by.
The BBC, who broadcast the film in 2008 (it’s never been properly released in the UK), observed when reporting on the premiere that while there is some topical subject matter it sometimes seems “like a promotional film for the African tourist board - a montage of bustling city streets, colourful market scenes, wildlife and culture. Our hero even finds time to go on safari.”
Stripped of the context of an iconic advertising campaign, it is Africa and not Guinness that viewers outside of Africa think of when the film is over.More prominent than the product placement is a message about the desperate need for clean drinking water in Africa. This is an example of Diageo’s “corporate social responsibility” in action and the sentiment is reinforced by a closing message from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). But while director Jason Xenopoulos’s film is attractive and stylish, just like Power himself it's all surface, no real depth.
There’s a lot that’s interesting about Critical Assignment but it’s not a great film. The convoluted plot is uninvolving and at times feels more like a TV movie than the blockbuster action film with a conscience it clearly wants to be.
The journey to expose corruption is a long and familiar one and the film is very light on action. Power gets involved in a foot chase across a rooftop and later borrows a motorcycle to pursue a kidnapper, a chase in which a Guinness truck plays a small but important role, but most of the time he goes from one place to another and smiles a lot. It’s no On Deadly Ground (Steven Seagal, 2004).
Beyond playing the role of Michael Power, Cleveland Mitchell has remained anonymous to international audiences. Although he worked with director Xenopoulos again in the ambitious London under water drama Flood (2008), it was in the insubstantial role of “Armed Policeman” and it would seem even bit parts have not been coming his way since.
As for Michael Power, he seems to have retired.
Thursday, 1 March 2012
Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus became an international star when his “Achy Breaky Heart” captured the zeitgeist in 1992 and began to pursue an acting career a few years later.
Now best known as the father of Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray made his starring debut alongside Dedee Pfeiffer (best known as the sister of Michelle) in the independently made Radical Jack in 2000.
He's unrecognisable when his character is introduced, sitting at a bar, unshaven in a bandana, sunglasses and dirty jeans. But after a brief scuffle, a pointless chase and a little exposition, he's tidied himself up again and headed undercover in a small town, working as a bar tender in order to track down the man who killed his family.
Cyrus has surprisingly few scenes in his leading role as CIA agent Jack Reynolds (codename: Radical) and not a great deal of dialogue in the film as a whole. While he’s supposed to be the hero it appears the makers were not inclined to burden him too greatly in his first starring role. The majority of the acting is left to Pfeiffer, whose sub-plot is completely unnecessary. At one point he’s beaten up and spends a significant portion of the film in bed waiting for Pfeiffer to throw herself at him.
Written and directed by James Allen Bradley, Radical Jack is little more than a cheap rip-off of the Steven Seagal movie Fire Down Below (Félix Enríquez Alcalá, 1997). In that film country singers (Kris Kristofferson and Randy Travis) were the villains and the action scenes were decent, but the most interesting difference to note is that while Seagal contributed to the soundtrack of that film, not one song by Cyrus is played in Radical Jack.
There are some classically bad B-movie moments but none of them involve Cryus or action choreography. There’s the moment where Pfeiffer’s character is introduced as a naked silhouette through a window before cutting to some very slight nudity.
But the funniest part is when Mark 'Woody' Keppel as corrupt Sheriff Neil threatens the hot wife (Orly Tepper) of one his deputies. Showing not the slightest fear for her life or concern for her husband, the young woman offers to sleep with Sheriff but after he’s done with her the bastard shoots her anyway. Keppel appears so miscast in his villainous role that it’s no surprise to discover he’s a gurning vaudeville performer known as Mr Woodhead.
Cyrus isn’t a bad brawler but Jack wasn't much of an action hero; Pfeiffer kills more people than he does! clearly wasn’t destined to be a movie star. The fact David Lynch gave him a role in Mulholland Drive (2001) probably says more about Lynch’s absurdist sensibilities than it does Cyrus’ acting talent, but he did star in a moderately successful TV show. It was called “Doc” and cast Cyrus as a Christian country doctor who relocates to the big city (Toronta doubling as New York) and ran from 2001 to 2004 (totaling 88 episodes).
Since the release of Radical Jack Cyrus has largely been a stranger to the action genre. But, perhaps due to his familiarity with fans of the Hanna Montana franchise (in which he’s appeared in alongside his daughter since 2006) he was cast in the kid-friendly action film The Spy Next Door (Brian Levant, 2010) alongside Jackie Chan. He received a Razzie award nomination for his performance.
Footnote: Look out for Radical Jack producer David Giancola’s Craptastic!. The documentary chronicles the making of his disastrous 2007 sci-fi comedy Illegal Aliens, the last film to star the infamous Anna Nicole Smith.
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
After years cast as villains and anonymous opponents for white heroes, skilled martial artist Han Soo Ong got his first starring role. He followed in the footsteps of Sonny Chiba and shared the screen with Roddy Piper in Last to Surrender (1999).
In the decade that preceeded his first and only starring role, Ong could be seen in bit parts of both big and small budget films. His career often followed Jean-Claude Van Damme’s; his first role was as “Tong Po Opponent” in Kickboxer (1989), a few years later he had an uncredited appearance in the flop Street Fighter (1994) and then he was in The Quest (1996) too. He even co-starred and fought with Van Damme-alike Daniel Bernhardt in Bloodsport 2 (1996).
Ong had begun his career in Thailand, according to a review of Last to Surrender in an old issue of Impact magazine, he was a fitness instructor at a Bangkok hotel and won his first speaking role, in King of the Kickboxers (1990) because it was noticed he had a grasp of English. These small roles eventually led to a showdown with Bruce Lee, or rather Jason Scott Lee, playing the role in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993). The two square off in a fantastically memorable sequence.
Last to Surrender (1999) cast Ong as Wu Yin, a character with no dialogue for the first 20 minutes and even from then on words are sparse. He and Piper play two law enforcers, one a brash, unkempt American (played by a Canadian), the other a smartly dressed and quiet Chinese guy, form an uneasy alliance in order to take down a one-dimensional villain in Burma (actually Indonesia).
Though he shares top billing, Ong is mostly just playing second fiddle to Piper. The film is a combination of Red Heat (1988) and Rush Hour (1998), but whereas Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan could hold their own against the mouthy James Belushi and Chris Tucker respectively, Ong was no match for Piper’s charisma and well delivered one-liners and never emerged from his shadow.
Cast purely to add some martial arts amongst the usual car chases, shoot outs and explosions, Ong only gets to show off his martial arts skills in a couple of mediocre fight scenes. He doesn’t have much to do and spends much of the last act in captivity waiting to be rescued before the climactic showdown.
Following The Killing Machine (1995) with Jeff Wincott, Mask of Death (1996) with Lorenzo Lamas, Last to Surrender was the last of three consecutive action pictures from David Mitchell. Not to be confused with the British comedian, he’s a B-movie director with a penchant for snowy comedies such as Copper Mountain (1983), Ski School 2 (1994), Downhill Wille (1995), Shred (2008) and Revenge of the Boarding School Dropouts (2009).
The film was apparently plagued with production problems. According to the imdb “A traffic accident caused three trucks carrying film equipment to flip over and almost fall off a cliff, a legitimate anti-government riot halted the filming of the city harbor scene, a flash flood in the jungle destroyed a military encampment set, and a plane filming aerial footage crashed into the jungle, resulting in the death of the pilot.” Although according to an article on the film by Dianne Naughton in a magazine called Hong Kong Action, the pilot survived but spent some time in a hospital in Singapore.
Last to Surrender is low on budget and thin on plot, but it’s not light on action. Running a fairly standard 95 minutes, it’s an enjoyable jungle romp and one of the last decent vehicles for Roddy Piper. Sadly because Han Soo Ong didn’t make much of an impression his Hollywood career seemed to hit a dead end. Surprisingly, he then disappeared from screens entirely. There is not a single imdb credit beyond 1999. If anyone knows what happened to him, please leave a comment below.
Sunday, 1 January 2012
Diamant is the Israeli producer behind some of Van Damme’s biggest hits and the man who introduced three of Hong King’s most famous action directors (John Woo, Ringo Lam & Tsui Hark) to Hollywood. His last collaboration with one of Hong Kong’s finest was Double Team (1997), a wild spy movie that pitted Van Damme against Mickey Rourke as a terrorist called Stavros.
Though primarily a vehicle for Van Damme, the casting of Dennis Rodman in a “buddy” role was key to the marketing of Double Team. That the title itself was a basketball term indicated this and the bold colour palate for the film seemed inspired by Rodman’s unique fashion sense.
Those unfamiliar with Rodman, anyone outside the USA, were introduced to the sportsman as an arms dealer called Yaz. Bringing his real life bad boy persona to the screen, complete with loud tight clothing, constantly changing hair colour and collection of tattoos and piercings.
Yaz appears throughout the film to assist Jean-Claude Van Damme’s secret agent. He has no importance to the plot, he’s just there to be Dennis Rodman.
Double Team flopped but the studio behind its release, Columbia Pictures, seemed confident that Rodman was the next big thing. He was given Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Supporting Actor (Rodman) and Worst New Star along with Worst Screen Couple (with Van Damme), but the studio ignored that. A Double Team sequel called Double Trouble was mooted but never materialised, however Simon Sez (1999) shares enough in common with Hark’s film that it’s not hard to guess that the script was adapted into a standalone adventure.
Shot in the South of France, Simon Sez was made for significantly less money than Double Team and there was no visionary at the helm. Screenwriter Kevin Elders made his directorial debut and Rodman was the only star, although he was surrounded by a vast number of supporting actors.
To ease the burden of carrying a film, Rodman's co-stars included not one but three comedy side-kicks (the main one is Dane Cook), a love interest, villain and a pair playing a young couple caught up in the mayhem.
Simon Sez was a major box office flop, grossing only $292,152 domestically, significantly less than the $11,438,337 taken by Double Team. But while it’s ranked as one of the worst films, it’s a personal favourite. A major reason for this is Xin Xin Xiong.
After his supporting role in Double Team, Xin Xin again appeared as a highly-skilled henchmen but was also action director. An experienced stunt choreographer, Xin Xin’s skills compensated significantly for the convoluted plot and time-wasting comedic scenes. When the action kicks in it’s a lot of fun.
Notable as one of the first American films to use wirework, it was released prior to The Matrix (1999) and, with its unconventional hero, was something of a forerunner to the extreme sports actioner XXX (2002). It’s failure meant that Rodman’s acting career stalled. A handful of subsequent roles have included Cutaway (2000), which featured Tom Berenger miscast as a cool skydiver called Red Line, and The Minis (2008), a which saw him playing basketball with dwarfs.