Buffy the Vampire Slayer (film)

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“If at first you don’t succeed…”

Buffy may be the only successful TV series based upon a failed film. A critical and commercial flop, creator Joss Whedon just wouldn’t let it lie, and finally got the mix of drama, horror, comedy and action he wanted in the show. The movie is a different matter, and has not aged well. The SoCal culture now seems incredibly dated, and Swanson takes too long to become the sympathetic heroine essential to the film. It also has no idea what to be: for a comedy, large chunks are not funny (despite classic lines involving coat-racks and clapping); if it’s a horror movie, it’s a lame one, with vampires largely as threatening as harvest-mice; and if you want social satire, you’re far better off with Clueless or Heathers.

The supporting cast help rescue the uneven material, with Sutherland as the guru whose near-impossible task is to convince Buffy of her mystical calling. Hauer plays a Euro-vampiric nemesis impeccably, but top plaudits go to Paul Reubens. About as far from Pee-Wee Herman as imaginable, he gets one of the finest death scenes in cinematic history. The cast also includes future Oscar winner Hilary Swank, Natasha Gregson Wagner, David Arquette and uncredited roles for Ben Affleck and Ricki Lake. Ironically, the part played by Seth Green, werewolf Oz in the TV show, ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is comparing this incarnation to v2.0 from five years later. No Scooby Gang (bad), no Angel (good), no cool dustings when the vampires are staked (bad). On the whole, it’s about what you’d expect after an interesting concept from a rookie film writer has been chewed up and spat out by a corporate studio. Hard to say which is more miraculous: that Whedon got another chance, or that a corporate network didn’t do worse still.

Dir: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Star: Kirsty Swanson, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland

One Girl, 2 Guns

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“Possibly the worst girls-with-guns movie in history?”

Even given that this was shot in 6 days for $5,000, it sucks on every conceivable level. Scenes are twice as long as necessary, or totally superfluous. The script has little of interest. And since there’s absolutely no sign of talent whatsoever, I have to presume the director slept with his leading lady. Hope she was better in bed than on screen. Rachel and Jane execute drug deals for their boss – emphasis on “execute”, since they get both the cash and your drugs. Jane’s qualms get worse when Rachel is shot dead, and she leaves the organization, until an FBI agent forces her to return, in order to kill her employer. She also gets frequent visits from the ghost of her dead friend.

In case the above sounds remotely interesting, let me repeat: this sucks on every conceivable level. The original choice for Jane quit because of qualms about the script: an excellent decision. Replacement Moss had never acted before, and it shows. Even as she’s being raped, I’ve seen pond scum with a bigger range of emotions, and if it’s an attempt to depict emotional numbness, she fails, coming across simply as tediously bad. Renee Roland does better as Rachel, and the film might have had a chance if they’d swapped parts – “dead” being just about in Moss’s dramatic range.

The rest of the cast irritate, with dialogue that’s not as clever as it thinks; the nadir is an inept scene where two henchmen bicker over how to cut up Rachel’s body. Beesley apparently wants to be Tarantino, but it’s woefully clear he lacks writing skill – indeed, any skill at all. Given his failure to work on a pic since, he might have been better off sticking to Playgirl magazine, an appearance in which helped fund this movie. Curiously, Googling Mike Lee Beesley turned up one in Palmdale (where the film was partly shot), who’s now founder and president of Cross Fire Ministries, Inc. If that’s him, wonder how he views this work?

Dir: Mike Lee Beesley
Star: Kirsten Moore, Renee Roland, Michael McGaharn, Tom Rees

Dragon Blue

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“Into each generation a rubber-suited monster slayer is born…”

When the island site of a proposed resort starts seeing mutilated bodies turn up, they call in Feng Shui specialist Mayuko (Tanaka) to investigate. However, as she herself discovers, she’s no ordinary psychic, but the next in a line of guardians dedicated to stopping demons from entering the human world. With the aid of some conveniently informative dreams, a down-to-earth cop (pro-wrestler Mutoh, known in the West as The Great Muta) and a sword she finds underwater, it’s up to Mayuko to stop the Hellmouth from openi…er, save the world.

Despite careful thought clearly having gone into the back-story and related folk legends, this wastes time meandering around before its climax, where Mayuko finally gets her powers by snapping her rock crystal power bracelets [incidentally, available at Trash City :-)] It probably doesn’t help that the monster is…well, let’s say that despite the involvement of Steve Wang, it’s no coincidence that this was released in the US by ‘Rubbersuit Pictures’. Though its relentless interest in human women – particularly topless ones – is amusingly reminiscent of B-pics like Humanoids from the Deep, that sound you hear is the Creature from the Black Lagoon sniggering.

This lacks the necessary enthusiasm which would counter the obvious budgetary restrictions. While possessing a smattering of sex and violence, the film as a whole is overly restrained, well-mannered and simply too damn polite to be of much interest.

Dir: Takuya Wada
Star: Hiroko Tanaka, Keiji Mutoh, Tomoroh Taguchi, Ryo Hayami

Lady Battlecop

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Tired and dull Robocop clone. But after all, “women were made for tennis”…

At least, so claims one of the songs in this largely ineffective movie, about professional tennis starlet Kaoru – Anna Kournikova will be in the Hollywood remake, no doubt – who is transformed into a crime-fighting machine. This takes place after she is killed by the Cartel, a crime syndicate bent on taking over Japan, despite apparently having about seven members. They do, however, have a “psychic robot” called Amadeus, which is probably the sole original thought in the entire film, and the whole thing gets kicked up a notch during his battles. The interesting question of where he came from (apparently a NASA creation), is never explored. This is a shame, since it’d be rather more interesting than almost anything the film actually offers.

As it is, it quickly gets tedious after the first time we see Lady Battlecop walk unharmed through a hail of bullets. [When the Cartel find a weapon that actually hurts her, this behemoth of evil can apparently afford only one of them] Keita Amamiya, who’d later go on to direct better films of his own, such as the two Zeiram movies, designed the suit, and it’s not bad – I liked little touches such as the dangling ear-ring and what may be turn indicators – but either it or the actress are incapable of moving above walking pace. Or performing martial arts, stunts, or indeed, anything else that might provide much-needed entertainment.

Many scenes and even dialogue will strongly remind you of Paul Verhoeven’s classic, but where Robocop was sharp and satirical, this is bland and vacuous. There’s little attempt made to make the characters interesting, and the Cartel’s enforcers come across with more depth, even if they never do much beyond sneer and rant. The good guys (and gal) here are left to dream of getting emotive depth.

Dir: Akihisa Okamoto
Star: Azusa Nakamura, Keisuke Yamashita, Masaru Matsuda, Shiro Sano
a.k.a. Lady Battle Cop

Dangerous Prey

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“Daft, but entertaining, soft-porn angle on Nikita.”

If you must stab someone with a knitting needle, you should take time to work out what to say afterwards. Instead, Robin (Whirry) comes out with the immortal line, “Knit the devil a sweater, asshole”, which is not a one-liner that’ll go down in cinema history. But like Fatal Conflict, this is a Lloyd Simandl film, the man perhaps most worthy of inheriting Andy Sidaris’ girls-with-guns crown in the 1990’s. And as such, this is no disaster.

When the arms-smuggling shenanigans of Robin’s boyfriend get her sent to jail, she is busted out by a secret project which turns women into assassins, who seduce men before killing them. Robin is none too impressed with the idea, but Dr. Drexel (Laufer) has implanted a device that can kill her on command. After an impressively sleazy opening, which mixes sex and violence to heady effect, this has more in common with the women-in-prison genre. For example, Robin has to deal with current top bitch Tanya (Hunter, Miss Canada 1988) who is unhappy to have competition. It’s no surprise to discover the two end up, er, bosom buddies as they, um, bust out. There’s certainly plenty of eye-candy, with the women showing all the expected devotion to personal hygiene.

Whirry is actually pretty convincing, and Hunter acquits herself well, in the face of a script that hardly bothers to motivate her character. Laufer, on the other hand, appears to have been instructed to extend the running time. By. Saying. His. Lines. As. Slowly. As. Possible. However, best of all is a cameoing taxi-driver (Ahmed Rahim), whose quirky character almost steals the film, though it’s not explained why an Indian is driving a Czech cab. The action is sound if unspectacular gunplay, plus occasional cool moments such as Robin’s concealment of a razor-blade. Overall, the impact falls short of the potential, but as a B-movie, it’s solid, knows its limitations, and works within them.

Dir: Lloyd A. Simandl
Star: Shannon Whirry, Ciara Hunter, Joseph Laufer, Beatrice de Borg