Fit To Kill

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Hang on, two movies ago, criminal mastermind Kane was Japanese – now, he’s the son of a Nazi officer who went on the run after the war with a diamond stolen from the Russians? I know I’m watching these all of our order, but still… They even refer to a pendant with a tracking device in it, given to the Japanese version of Kane, even though Moore now appears to be channeling Julian Sands, not Pat Morita. I’m so confused. Still, logic, continuity and coherence are not really the point here, are they?

This centres on said diamond, which a Chinese businessman plans to return to the Russians. When the jewel is stolen during a ceremonial party, Kane’s presence makes him the obvious suspect, not least because he has hired infamous assassin Blu Steele (Strain), turning her to his side after her attempt to kill him is foiled by a bulletproof vest. However, is everything what it seems? It’s up to Donna and Nicole (Speir + Vasquez), and their friends, to solve the puzzle, while dodging remote-controlled attempts to kill them (including a particularly-dumb pair of assassins known as Evel and Knievel), pausing only for changes of costumes, hot-tubs and the occasional spot of soft-core love-making. In other words, business as usual for a Sidaris film.

There’s a cheerful innocence to much of the nudity here, which harkens back to the 60’s, e.g. the radio station receptionist who has a hot tub as her desk, in which she sits topless. I actually prefer this approach to the more “intimate” scenes, and the relatively intricate plot also helps make this aspect a cut above [Kane and Donna end up having to work together after both are captured, which marks the first time I’ve genuinely been surprised by a Sidaris storyline development]. However, it does flag in the middle, and the obsession with remote-controlled models is not one I personally share, though overall, this still remains one of the better productions, with Strain fitting in perfectly as a villainess.

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Dona Speir, Roberta Vasquez, R.J. Moore, Julie Strain

Hard Hunted

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It’s very easy to mock a film, when the lesbian necking starts before the meaningful dialogue, and is immediately followed by a musical number where Cynthia Brimhall channels the spirit of Jimmy Buffett. Yet the endearing loopiness on display here did a better job of keeping my interest throughout than many movies made with far larger budgets. The plot centers on a jade Buddha, containing a nuclear trigger, which starts off in the hands of Kane (Moore), only for it to be swiped by an undercover agent: she is gunned down, but passes it to Donna (Speir), who has to try and keep it out of Kane’s clutches. However, an unfortunate bout of amnesia leaves her partner Nicole (Vazquez) and the other agents trying to find her first.

This is the usual mix of decent production values [if too much footage of aircraft flying], dumb plotting and breasts; the preferred method of communication is radio host Ava Cadell – who occasionally does her show topless from the hot tub. Just don’t drop the microphone. It’s harmlessly entertaining nonsense, and even has some local interest for us here in Arizona, with sequences shot in Phoenix and up the road in Sedona, though the geography on view is a little flakey. We particularly enjoyed Kane’s incompetent henchmen, Wiley and Coyote – as they helpfully point out, “Those are codenames” – with their Acme brand hovercraft. While it’s clear the film doesn’t take itself seriously (the intelligence community is not, presumably, at it like knives on an almost permanent basis), more of this kind of genuine humour would be welcome, letting you laugh with the film rather than simply taking the mickey.

You do get the feeling that Sidaris could make this kind of thing in his sleep: there’s nothing remotely innovative or challenging to be found here. Yet for what it is, this is slickly-made, with more ambition than usually found in the genre. Er, at least as long as the genre is that narrow subset of movies where horizontal action is of equal importance to any other kind – if you know what I mean, and I think you do…

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Dona Speir, Roberta Vasquez, R.J. Moore, Rodrigo Obregon

Do Or Die

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In a filmography not exactly noted for thought-out plots, this maybe counts as one of the thinnest. Donna (Speir) and Nicole (Vasquez) are targeted by death for Kane (Morita) for their interference in his illegal business ventures. But rather than simply bumping them off, as any sane criminal mastermind would do, he informs them of his intentions to send six separate pairs of assassins after them, beginning the next morning. Our pair of federal lovelies head out of Hawaii, little knowing that a tracker has been placed on them, allowing Kane’s to follow them, while their master sits in his apartment and follows the progress of his “game” on a computer display resembling a bad TRS-80 game [younger readers can Google “TRS-80” if they need specifics], as they proceed from Las Vegas to Louisiana, with a motley crew of associated agents in tow, including infamous Meyer model, Pandora Peaks. No prizes for guessing her role.

There seems to be an awful lot more sex than violence here; the action sequences are not exactly thrilling, and the assassins are, almost without exception, entirely incompetent, so pose little or no threat. Even the boss level ninjas that represent the final obstacle are easily fooled into hanging around inside a hut long enough to be blown-up. The structure is obvious: the ladies are attacked, fend off their assassins with some semi-nifty piece of technology, then there’s the required love-making scene, showcasing generally artificial attributes. Rinse. Repeat. Six times. It’s kinda amusing to see Morita playing a bad guy, not least because his massaging Oriental sidekickess is a good four inches taller than him, as well as about forty years younger.

Brimhall gets to do another musical number, which is startlingly inappropriate in just about every way, though I confess I did find myself humming along when it was replayed over the end credits. However, I also found myself seriously dozing off during the early stages, and little of what transpired subsequently proved sufficient to retain my interest.

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Donna Speir, Roberta Vasquez, Pat Morita, Erik Estrada

Underworld: Evolution

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“The evolution of species”

While undeniably flawed, the original Underworld had a big ace up its sleeve, in the basic concept of “vampires vs. werewolves”, which hadn’t received such a full-on depiction in cinema before. This time, the idea is familiar, and the story doesn’t have anything quite as cool to replace it. Sure, there’s the old fall-back of Kate Beckinsale in a PVC suit, but the sense of something genuinely new is rarely apparent. Sure, it’s a sequel, which in Hollywood translates to “more of the same”, but the lack of invention on view is still disappointing.

We start with a flashback to medieval times, explaining the basic premise, involving two immortal brothers, one bitten by a bat, the other a wolf. [A third brother was nibbled by a narwhal, but his role ended up on the cutting-room floor. Okay, I made that up.] Anyway, the lycanthrope is captured and locked up in a secret location by Victor (Bill Nighy – mercifully, only cameoing, since it’s impossible to take him seriously after his wonderful performance in Shaun of the Dead. We kept muttering, “I ran it under a cold tap…” every time he appeared). Back in the present, the vampire, Marcus (Curran), has been freed, and is now out to release his brother.

Meanwhile, Selene (Beckinsale) and her vamp-lycan hybrid lover Michael (Speedman) are bouncing around, trying to settle down and raise a family, of what I guess would be mostly vampires, but ones that get a little frisky around the full moon. Quite why they need to get involved in the storyline of the previous paragraph is unclear, but they do. And it’s probably relevant that contemplating the breeding habit of night creatures, and quoting lines from a British zom-rom-com were perhaps the best entertainment the film provided.

It isn’t entirely without merit though. Marcus is a memorable creation whose wings function as impressive weapons, and the effects are highly messy. In particular, the final two fights – and at least, this time, Selene does more than administer the coup de grace – both end in immaculately splattery ways. Though as an aside, I’m impressed with the sturdiness of a helicopter that can come crashing through a roof, yet still have engine and rotors running. But the action, on the whole, is fine, with an excellent chase which has Marcus harrying a truck, while Selene and Michael try to fend him off.

No, it’s the moments between the battles that are the problems, not least a dumb and gratuitous sex scene between Selene and Michael that appears to have wandered in from an airline version of a SkineMax movie. And the exposition also has to count as among the most leaden of recent times, achieving the rare double-bill of sending Chris and I independently off to sleep. Hey, we’d been out boating all day. So sue us. :-) However, for any action-fantasy to have both of us snoozing is definitely problematic.

So the results are disappointing, largely lacking the sense of style and invention that made the original a pleasant surprise (as well as something of a sleeper hit). However, it did well enough at the box-office to leave a third entry possible, and particularly when in motion, there was still sufficient life in the franchise to suggest that might not be an entirely bad thing. However, any future storyline must be limited to whatever complexity can be scrawled on a beer-mat. Anything more, and the scriptwriter should be sentenced to mop out sweat from Selene’s costume. With his tongue. :-)

Dir: Len Wiseman
Star: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi

Guns

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Two federal agents (Speir and Vasquez) are hot on the trail of South American gangster Degas (Estrada), after one of their friends is shot during one of his hits – but perhaps that’s really what he wants? Zipping around from Hawaii to Arizona to Las Vegas, this was the first Sidaris movie I saw, and was probably better than I expected. While obviously not shot on an unlimited budget, most of the deficiencies are made up for in energy and a host of interesting characters.

Those on the wrong side of the law come off particularly well: Estrada is suitably nasty, and his sidekick of few words is an early role for Danny Trejo. Add a pair of transvestite assassins, and Devin DeVasquez as Degas’ murderous squeeze, and the heroines seem kinda bland in comparison, despite good support from Chuck McCann and Phyllis Davis, making an impression in small roles. Cynthia Brimhall is perhaps the best of the cover starlets, though I could certainly have done without her lounge singer turn. Speir still seems to be finding her feet, while Vasquez merely looks pouty.

It’s the action sequences which really show up the paucity of the production. Helicopters chasing motorbikes is all very well, but Sidaris might have been better off reining in his ambition, to something more in keeping with his pocket. The smaller-scale stuff works better, such as a nice double-hit involving a computer screen and a radio-controlled boat – they were supposed to return the computer and get their money back, but couldn’t get the blood out of the keyboard…

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Donna Speir, Erik Estrada, Roberta Vasquez, Bruce Penhall

Savage Beach

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This one doesn’t really get going until the second half, when the search for a lost hoard of Japanese wartime gold, looted from the Philippines, leads to a remote island. There are CIA agents, revolutionaries, a left-behind Japanese soldier and, of course, our lovely heroines Dona and Taryn (Speir and Carlton) who end up there after their plane crashes in a storm. Or rather, “storm” – you can get a cheap laugh by seeing the bright blue skies as they land in the middle of a clearly hose-supplied downpour. Sidaris probably felt the need to justify their otherwise implausible strip-tease shortly after departure. Or do FAA regulation stipulate pilots must remove their tops in emergencies? Two take-offs for the price of one…

Such clunky exploitation is disappointing, but the back and forth round the island is fun, though note how our heroines’ carefully-applied camouflage paint mysteriously vanishes minutes later. Not that it impairs their concealment abilities, given the brilliant white shirts they wear. Kudos to Teri Weigel as the rebel who spouts rhetoric before, during and after undressing, giving the lie to the myth that Playboy centerfolds can’t talk and walk simultaneously. The rest of the cast, however, seem to have problems in this department, though Speir acquits herself creditably.

There does seem to be rather more blood here than usual, with some enthusiastic squibbing. However, the characters show a low level of intelligence that is, unfortunately, necessary to the plot. While I’m happy to forgive economies of scale – and, really, the film looks pretty good for the budget – it’s harder to accept flaws in the script that would have cost Sidaris nothing to fix.

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, Rodrigo Obregon, Michael Mikasa

Picasso Trigger

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Salazar (Aprea) is a famously devious assassin who gets shot by a sniper just after he donates a painting (of the emblematic ‘Picasso triggerfish’) to a Parisian art gallery. This sparks a series of lethal attacks on undercover federal spy teams who are Salazar’s enemies. But are the various bad-guys, who use all manner of tricks to eliminate government agents, all working for a criminal mastermind?

Sidaris makes amusing action films by casting Playboy pinups and hunky TV actors, and crafts low-budget Bond style thrills in exotic locations. There’s not much point in expecting greatness from these stereotyped heroes and villains, as the quintessential Sidaris formula simply requires some beautiful women to strip at regular intervals, a number of offbeat stunts and violent explosions, occasional bouts of kung fu, and frequent travel scenes in small planes, flashy boats and fast cars. On these terms, Picasso Trigger is a splendidly uncomplicated production showcasing several enjoyably ridiculous gadgets: a boomerang grenade, a radio-controlled toy car bomb, and a missile launcher disguised as a crutch!

If what you want is a speedboat chase in which the hero cannot shoot straight, lots of busty babes in bikinis (or less) carrying enough weaponry to fight a small war, crooks guilty of everything from drug-smuggling to snuff movies and white slavery, and a scattering of throwaway one-liners, Picasso Trigger fits the bill, perfectly.

Jeff Young
Originally published in Video Vista
www.videovista.net

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, Steve Bond, John Aprea

Resident Evil

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“Alice in Underland”

Interestingly, in the past year, all three of the computer-game to movie adaptations have had heroines: Lara Croft, Aki (Final Fantasy), and now, Resident Evil‘s Alice, who wakes up one day with a splitting headache and no memory. I’ve had mornings like that too. However, I never found myself kidnapped by a SWAT team and dragged into the Hive, an underground complex populated by the walking dead (human and canine), a peeved computer, and a mutated computer graphic monster called the Licker. My stepson somewhat gleefully informed me that, in the game, the last-named’s method of attack is to wrap its tongue round your head and pull it off. The movie doesn’t go so far – it just kinda nibbles on its victims. I felt somewhat disappointed at this display of taste and restraint, not least because it ran contrary to much of the rest of the movie. This is not a subtle movie, relying heavily on things leaping in from outside the frame, while the soundtrack goes “Boo!”.

¬†Of course, that doesn’t make it a bad movie. Nor do the obvious plot-holes. Here are a few examples:

  • Why would an assault team choose to take a pair of amnesiac security guards on the mission with them?
  • Zombie humans shamble along at classic Romero speed. Zombie dogs can run like greyhounds.
  • Security lasers in a corridor zip along with a variety of heights/patters, before finally switching to an inescapable grid-pattern. Why didn’t they do that to start with?

These are forgivable – the first is necessary to the plot, and Anderson (a veteran of game/movies, having done Mortal Kombat) uses the other flaws to stage satisfyingly cool sequences, with the security lasers perhaps the highpoint of the film. It’s a shame this represents about the extent of the Hive’s defenses; I’d have liked to have seen more ingenuity of this sort. The rest of the story revolves around the T-virus, being developed by the corporation that runs the Hive – when the virus is stolen and released, the Hive goes into lock-down, with the central computer (the Red Queen, personified by a little girl hologram with a nice line in not-so-idle threats) killing all the personnel inside. Bad move, for the T-virus reanimates them, turning them into hungry cannibals, which adds an extra frisson to the assault team’s mission.

This is to…er, well, I think it was to disarm the computer, but I’m not certain about that. Mind you, I’m not certain about quite a lot in this movie. The characterisation is so woeful, I managed to combine two opposing characters into one for the entire film. And it still made sense – indeed, even after Chris enlightened me, I felt my version was better. My version would also have discarded the clock countdown, or used it as the basis for an exciting race against time through the tunnels. What’s the point of a countdown, if you don’t see it in the last ten minutes? There’s also maddeningly shallow nods to Lewis Carroll: the heroine is called Alice, who goes down a “rabbit hole”, while the computer is the Red Queen with a fondness for lopping off peoples’ heads. You should either do this stuff to the hilt, or not at all.

On the plus side, we do have Milla Jovovich as Alice, and Michelle Rodriguez as the Vasquezesque Rain, who are about the only easily identifiable characters. The former drives the plot along as her memory slowly returns at convenient intervals, along with her ability to kick butt. Most notable is the kung-fu vs. zombie Dobermann battle seen in the trailer, though she does the same neck-snap with the thighs thing that Famke Janssen did in Goldeneye. It’s a further step on for Jovovich, who showed action potential in The Fifth Element, yet there isn’t enough here to truly satisfy. Rodriguez, too, is underused, marching through her third straight film (Girlfight, Fast and the Furious) with the same expression. I thought I saw her smile once, near the start, but it was probably a digital effect added in post-production.

So, not as good as it could have been, with even the most undemanding viewer able to imagine improvements. Yet, as an action/SF/horror film goes, it’s not bad at all, with very little slack or let-up. The virus is released in the first two minutes, and it’s pretty much non-stop from there on, with plenty going on. Jovovich looks the part, and the final shot has me anticipating the sequel, in a kind of Evil Dead 2 way, with her character getting totally medieval on the zombies’ asses. We can but hope.

Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
Star: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy

Hard Ticket to Hawaii

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Also known as Hard Titties in Hawaii – at least in this house – it’s a big step forward as far as the evolution of Sidaris’ work goes. After the flailing around that was Malibu Express, he’s now firmly settled on Hawaii as a location, and jiggly action/adventure as the genre. However, he still unfortunately seems to want to cram lame comedy in there, such as clunky references to his previous films, while many of the actors appear not to have been chosen for their thespian ability – to their credit, Speir and Carlton aren’t particularly the worst offenders.

They play, respectively, a local agent and a former agent now embedded in a new identity, courtesy of witness protection, who stumble across two packets of diamonds belonging to drug dealers. With the help of a couple of colleagues, including the brother of Cody Abilene from Malibu Express (Cody has apparently gone off to learn acting – which certainly explains his previous “performance”), they have to destroy the crime syndicate, though I’m pretty sure you can fill in the rest of the plot yourself. Not least because of the wildly gratuitous “let’s take our tops off!” sequences, such as the relaxing brainstorming session, which naturally takes place in a jacuzzi. [Carlton doesn’t even bother to get anything above her belly-button wet.]

The great majority of this film is actually a lot less fun than it sounds, since too many of the earlier scenes are pointless padding, despite blatantly thieving one of the best lines from Aliens. Even the nudity is not particularly well done, and the action is limited since the sum total of federal manpower is apparently “four” – I blame budget cutbacks. Then you reach a final 15 minutes where razor-edged frisbees, a villain who proves harder to kill than Jason Vorhees, explosive-tipped crossbows, and a snake contaminated with stuff from cancer-infected lab rats (no, really!) all suddenly play their part. This turns the last reel into berserk excess that’s gory by Sidaris’ standards, but undeniably and endearingly loopy. It’s just a shame that you have to sit through 75 pretty dull minutes in order to find this madly imaginative climax.

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, Ronn Moss, Rodrigo Obregon

Malibu Express

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Female action fans would be well advised to give this a wide berth. Actually, so should everyone else, unless they’re fans of crass sexism, extremely clunky exposition and hideous country & western. Cody Abilene (Hinton) is a PI hired by Countess Luciana (Danning) to look into the export of illegal computer technology to the Russians, centred on the home of Lady Lillian Chamberlain. Who is responsible? Oversexed chauffeur Shane? Daughters Lisa and Anita? Or the maid, Marion? [groan…]

Luciana and police Detective Beverly MacFee (Sutton) are the prototypes for later Sidaris action heroines, but otherwise this is crude soft-porn with few redeeming features. Were impressed with Danning’s amazing costumes though; never realised you could do so much with a roll of coloured crepe paper. The hero starts off driving a DeLorean, which rapidly goes in for repair, and is replaced by a series of less-expensive junkers which the production can afford to abuse. The over-frequent voiceovers that add nothing to the plot. The sub-plot involving a family who’d have been thrown off the Dukes of Hazzard for being too stereotypical. Need I go on?

With all the bed-hopping, this isn’t a film that has dated well – two decades of AIDS see to that. But it’s hard to imagine an era in which this could ever have seemed like passable entertainment. The occasional spurts of genuine imagination (such as the resolution, which I have to admit we didn’t see coming) aren’t nearly enough to justify the 101-minute running time. I suspect that a film concentrating on Luciana would have had much more potential – albeit at the cost of several more rolls of crepe.

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Darby Hinton, Sybil Danning, Brett Baxter Clark, Lori Sutton