Guardian of the Realm

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“Why do villainesses get all the best clothes?”

Despite a male hero, this qualifies since the very significant second lead and the villain are both female, with the former, in particular, worthy of our attention here. It’s set in the near-future where the group CORE, including agents Josh Griffin (Levy) and Alex Marlowe (Dempsey), keep humanity safe by executing demons that pop through portals from the dark side. However, an occult sect have unleashed a higher-level demon, Virago (Piryan) into this world, and she must be stopped before an upcoming total eclipse will allow her to blow the portals between the realms wide-open, and take the world down, Titanic-style.

Director/co-writer Smith appeared in both Guyver movies, and you sense that’s the kind of feel he’s going for here, combining martial-arts and rubber suits, in a world running just below the surface of ours. But according to his bio, he’s also done special effects on everything from Contact to Xena, and perhaps the latter’s influence can be seen in the statuesque Piryan, who would certainly have given Lucy Lawless a run for her money. The result is a mix of the highly-effective and the less-impressive. The moment where Alex’s true nature is revealed is just fabulous: among my favourite moments in any film this year. There is also a nice sense of ongoing history, though this is not developed as much as in, say, Witchblade. I got the sense of this being a fragmentary corner of a universe much larger than the film, perhaps due to budgetary limitations, could portray – a TV series would be very welcome.

On the other hand the CGI, especially at the finale, is not up to the tasks demanded of it; the world-threatening apocalypse looks too often like a bad video-game. I wasn’t really impressed with Levy either, who lacked the required presence for a lead. The main problem, however, is a first half that drags horribly. After Virago is freed, she basically vanishes, and it’s almost sixty minutes before she does anything of significance. The film doesn’t really develop the back story, or do much with the characters during this time either, and it’s pretty tedious, with little action to keep you interested.

Things do perk up significantly later on and, must say, Virago is definitely a nominee for the Best Costume of 2006, while Alex’s thong gets almost as much screen-time as she does. The action is well-staged with Dempsey kicking ass in a manner befitting a grown-up Buffy. However, and a minor spoiler, it’s Griffin that ends up taking on Virago – sadly, not in the cool costume – even though it’s clear that Marlowe is the better fighter. If the makers cut 25 minutes out (the current running-time is 110), this would be a much tighter, more effective work with a claim at cult status. As is, it’s still an interesting rental, but one whose potential isn’t quite realised.

Dir: Ted Smith
Stars: Glen Levy, Tanya Dempster, Lana Piryan, Ronald Quigley

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