Nightmare Nurse

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“Nurse shark.”

nightmarenurseThis Lifetime TV movie is the story of Brooke (Butler) and Lance (Good). The happy young couple get into an accident returning from celebrating her promotion at the restaurant where she works. The pedestrian they hit is killed, while Lance breaks his leg, and is confined to bed while he recuperates. To assist with that task, since Brooke has to work, they hire Chloe (Hartley). She initially appears perfect for the job, helping out with the household chores as well as her nursing work. However, it’s not long before strange little incidents suggest that not all is well in Chloeland. We see her life with an abusive boyfriend, and she develops an attachment for Lance well beyond the normal bounds of professional concern. Might this, possibly, be something to do with the accident?

Oh, who am I trying to kid. This is a Lifetime TV movie. Of course it has something to do with the accident, although the precise details are vague until the final 20 minutes. Which are actually when the film raised itself beyond the painfully humdrum, not least because of the return of Traci Lords. She plays “good” nurse Barbara, in what initially appears to be a glorified cameo, yet ends up an extremely pivotal role. Lords wipes the floor with the rest of the cast, and it’s a shame she is almost absent from the first hour. [It has to be said, knowledge of her past adds to the frisson here; she wouldn’t exactly be person most women would want caring for their boyfriends!] The final battle, as Brooke defends her territory like a lioness, is certainly the most fun this has to offer.

Unfortunately, you have to get through an awful lot of Very Obvious to reach that point. Naturally, it’s another sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of mental illness and the stigma faced by those who suffer fro… Oh, again – who am I trying to kid? Chloe is as batty as a fruitcake, whose direction appears to be the result of viewing Fatal Attraction. Except, Hartley isn’t exactly Glenn Close, no matter how wide she opens her eyes and stares really hard. She’d have been better off watching Nurse 3D, and taking lessons in scenery-chewing from Paz de la Huerta. Butler and Good are serviceable enough as the perfect couple with impeccable teeth. Though I’m surprised Lance remains faithful, given the Lifetime tendency for all men to be unreliable in the loyalty department.

It just about stays on the acceptable side of entertainment, until the final reel. However, the main thing you’ll take from that is how much more entertaining it all might have been, if the makers had Lords play Chloe instead.

Dir: Craig Moss
Star: Sarah Butler, Steven Good, Lyndsay Hartley, Traci Lords

Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler

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“Goddess of gamblers.”

wgb2Nami (Kaji) – or, to give her character’s full name here, Nami the Crimson Cherry Blossom – is still the same ice-cold, vengeful warrior as before. Though for this sequel, for some reason, she has switched to rather more traditional attire, in the shape of a kimono. She encounters Hanae, trying to escape a Yakuza sex-trafficking gang, to whom she has been sold by her father(!). Nami rescues her, subsequently wins Hanae’s freedom in a card game, and returns her to Dad. Turns out he can shed some light on Hoshiden, the man who killed Nami’s own father in a gambling spat, years earlier, and for whom she has been searching ever since. To find her target, Nami needs to embed herself deep in the murky, Ginza world of gambling and prostitution, helped by former friend Miyoko (Kagawa), now part of Hoshiden’s organization, and rival pimp, Ryu (Chiba).

This is slightly better than its predecessor, though is still hampered by too much reliance on gambling. It doesn’t help that the cards here are not the ones familiar in the West. As a result, we only know how the game is going by the reaction of the participants. Imagine watching Casino Royale with no idea of how poker works. It’s like that. When not actually gambling, things improve, and interesting to see Chiba play somewhat against type. Ryu is more stammering comic relief than the typical Chiba hero, though this dates from 1972, a couple of years before his star-making role in The Street Fighter.

As in its predecessor, this isn’t exactly action-packed. The opening confrontation, between Nami and the Yakuza gang on the bridge, looks like it’s about to explode… Right up until she pulls a gun. That’s not exactly very samurai (or geisha), is it, Ms. Kaji? From there until Nami and Ryu storm Hoshiden’s headquarters, it’s restrained, with more drama than swordplay. However, it is better at sustaining interest than part one, helped by aspects such as Ryu’s noble approach to prostitution. As he says, “We don’t force you or watch what you do. Our motto is clean, virtuous and classy,” prompting the sarcastic retort from one of his whores, “Well, you sound like Governor Minobe!” [The socialist governor of Tokyo at that time]

These elements help tide viewers over the card-playing scenes, until all sword-swinging hell finally breaks loose. This is rather at odds with some of the broad stabs at humour previously attempted. The “how to use a bidet demonstration” scene sticks in my mind there, and not exactly as an iconic sequence of comedy. It doesn’t sit easily in a storyline kicked off when a daughter is sold into sex slavery by her own father, and the ending of the series with this entry suggests the intended market was equally unimpressed.

Dir: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Star: Meiko Kaji, Sonny Chiba, Junzaburo Ban, Yukie Kagawa

Woman Avenger

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“A simple tale of vengeance, vigorously told.”

womanavengerThis appears to have been virtually the sole starring role for leading lady Shen, and that’s a shame. While, unfortunately, the only way you can see this is a badly cropped, English language version, her martial arts talents are undeniable. Chris caught the last 15 minutes on her lunch-break, and once she saw the skills on display, went from mocking the dubbing to yelling “Kick him in the balls!” at the TV. Repeatedly.

She plays Lu Ling Chi, who is delivering goods with her husband in the countryside when they’re attacked by a band of robbers. He is killed; she raped and left for dead. She’s rescued by a conveniently passing Buddhist priestess (Tai), who nurses our heroine back to health and, after some doubts as to the nature of her mission, teaches her kung-fu. Three years of training later, Lu goes undercover to infiltrate the gang, in the process, setting a new record for “least convincing male impersonator”, even by the low standards of martial arts films. She works her way up the chain, yet still lacks the skills necessary to best their leader, Kwong Wu Chi (Peng). However, she meets a woman (Yeung, I believe, though she’s not in the IMDb listing), crippled by Kwong and reduced to working as a prostitute. Her father used to be Kwong’s kung-fu master, and she offers to give Lu that techniques which will take him down.

The stuff between the fights is mostly blandly inoffensive, following the standard tropes of the genre, such as training montages, while Lu perfects her skills, under both her teachers. Though it is certainly unusual that both those are martial arts mistresses, rather than masters, making this an almost literal war of the sexes. But the presentation, in particularly the ludicrously inappropriate dubbing, reduces the film to something you might find at 3am in the morning on the El Rey network. [It’s not all the dubbing: Kwong’s blond wig doesn’t exactly encourage solemnity] Similarly, the reduction of the frame to a strict 4:3 ratio does the abilities of the stars absolutely no service at all.

It still isn’t enough to conceal the expertise of the participants though, with even the training montages showcasing Shen’s extraordinary flexibility. There’s a genuine sense of progression over the course of the film, with Lu learning new techniques and building them into her arsenal. For example, she learns how to attack her enemy’s joints from the priestess, and that’s seen a lot against the lower minions. However, it proves ineffectual against Kwong, and she needs to adopt different tactics, radically different from her early bouts. This allows Shen to demonstrate a number of styles, and if some are better than others, the overall impact remains impressive. Below, find a sample of her skills: I love, in particular, the way she disarms the gym owner, then discards the weapons obtained! I have to wonder why she never received any further chances to shine as a lead; whatever the reason, it’s probably our loss.

Dir: Lee Tso Nam
Star: Shen Kwan Li, Peng Gang, Tai Chi-Hsia, Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan

Women on the Run

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“Letting the Cat III out of the bag.”

womenChinese teenage martial-arts champ Li Siu-Yin (Guo) is seduced into a life of prostitution by her boyfriend, but eventually snaps and kills him. She escapes to Hong Kong, only to be arrested there, and given a stark choice: help ensnare crime boss King Kong (Kim) or be deported back to China. Unwillingly, she takes the former and goes back over the border with undercover cop Hung (Cheung), who is also having an affair with colleague David (Lai). However, it turns out that David is in cahoots with King Kong, and the pair end up in Canada and in jail. It’s a long way back from there, before the two can take their revenge on the men who betrayed them.

It appears my memories of this were conflated with another “Cat III” (the Hong Kong adults-only film classification) kung-fu film, the considerably more sleazy Escape From Brothel. Aside from some nekkid kung-fu and a couple of scenes of sexual violence, this is mostly mainstream. And it’s kinda hard to take the gang-rape sequence seriously when the perpetrators are set up as being Really Bad People by punting a clearly stuffed dog, as they make their way into the warehouse where our heroines are hiding out. Elements like these deflate entirely apparently serious attempts at drama; see also a flashback to an apparently kinder, gentler era of airport security when you could not just take your stun-gun onto a plane, you could apply it to other passengers without anyone rushing you with a drinks trolley. Ah, those were the days, eh? There are also bad subtitles which translate the line “smoke some weed” in English as, “get some sweet meat,” and a really nasty portrayal of Canadian law-enforcement, that left me wondering if the directors got a traffic ticket in Vancouver or something.

Fortunately, salvaging proceedings are some decent to solid action, as you’d expect from Yuen, who has a long track record of such things. Both Guo and Cheung are more than credible; the former, in particular, to an extent where it’s a surprise that she never appeared in anything of significance again. As a villain, Kim lets his feet in particular do his talking, and he makes for a formidable opponent, particularly at the end. There are a number of solid sequences before that, that let both leads show their skills – though I could perhaps have done without the comedic drug addiction, Liu doing her best kung-fu after a little H. I guess it’s a variant on Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master? All told, this is more or less your typical Cat III film, containing both the good and bad the classification implies. Action, exploitation, comedy, brutality and nonsensical aspects all rub shoulders, with the end product being… Well, while I could point out any number of other flaws, let’s accentuate the positive instead, and just say. this is certainly never dull.

Dir: David Lai and Corey Yuen
Star: Tamara Guo, Farini Cheung, David Lai, Kim Won-Jin

Hunterwali

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“Oh, God. Where to start….”

hunterwaliIt’s through this film that I backed into my discovery of early Bollywood star, Fearless Nadia. For doing some post-view Googling, I realized this 1988 Pakistani film is actually inspired by an Indian one of the same name, from more than 50 years earlier. That’s an entirely different rabbit-hole however: let’s consider this on its own, highly psychotronic merits.

The plot concerns two sisters, Bano and Bali (Anjuman), the latter also known as Hunterwali. Bano is demure and quiet, Bali… is not. In fact, she’s a totally wild child by local standards. Mind you, local standards apparently also involve killing girls who have the temerity to want to marry someone of their own choice. Still, there are three suitors for Bali’s hand. #1 is Umri, a warrior type, who tames her horse. However, after taking vengeance on the man who kills Umri’s entire clan, he is forced to become an outlaw. Potential husband #2 is the son of a family friend, who is her father’s choice. He is entirely useless and can be ignored, since he is present largely for comic-relief.

Finally, there’s Shahreyar, he helps rescue Hunterwali from attack by a gang. However, turns out that’s a ruse to gain her confidence. When she elopes with him, he takes her to a seedy cave – we know it’s seedy, because it has posters of Madonna and Brooke Shields on the wall! – and assaults her, along with the rest of the gang. The disgrace this brings to the family, causes Hunterwali’s dad to kill himself. In the fracas, Bano is also killed, but Bali takes the identity of her sister, who is married to the local police commander. This allows her to go out on vigilante missions, masked and with her whip, to hunt down the perps. She’s not messing around either: she shoots their eyes out and hangs them from the cave roof. While she eventually works her way up the chain to Shahreyar, he has an entire new gang. Fortunately, she has the help of Umri. And her horse. And her dog.

This has not dated well. Indeed, I suspect this wasn’t very good, even for the time – 1988 was the year Hollywood gave us Die Hard. The thing about the Fearless Nadia films is they’re not incomparable to what Hollywood was making at the time. You can’t say the same about this, which has all the technical quality of a bad 50’s B-movie. The director’s sole cinematic trick is the snap zoom, which is used so often it becomes a surreal joke, as does the single horse noise apparently available to the foley team. Yet there’s a loopy energy, and Anjuman has screen presence, which means the two and a half hours certainly do not drag. If you’re looking for a bizarre combination of Zorro with a musical version of I Spit on Your Grave,  also including a dog riding to the rescue of its owner on the back of a horse, the entire thing is on YouTube [enable closed captions for the English subs]. Just don’t say, I didn’t warn you…

Dir: Iqbal Kashmiri
Star: Anjuman, Sultan Rahi, Mustafa Qureshi, Jameel Babar

Roommate Wanted

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“Share today, gone tomorrow.”

If this concept sounds familiar, it should. Because this bears a strong resemblance to 2003 Japanese film 2LDK. Most obviously, both films are virtually single-location set pieces, in which the relationship between two room-mates devolve over the course of the feature, into a full-on brawl. Perhaps even more damningly, the original working title for this was 2BR/1BA – exactly like 2LDK, real-estate shorthand. [I wonder where the new title came from, since there’s no “wanted” at any point here] Yet there’s not even a “based on” credit to be seen, and no apparent acknowledgement of any inspiration. Hmm.

roomatewantedOn the other hand, if the plot has more than some similarities, the tone and approach are different here. There’s much more in the way of social commentary here, with the disparate personas of the two young women. [Indeed, so disparate, you have to question how the heck they ever ended up sharing a house] Jamie (Vega) is serious-minded, the kind of person who labels her food in the fridge, and seeking to pursue an academic career, but desperately needs funds to cover tuition at her chosen college. Dee (Grammer) is a party girl, whose days are filled with going to the gym and tanning, while her nights are filled with tequila and casual sex.

The culture clash between them is obvious, and provides most of the dramatic tension, as well as the more comedic aspects. For instance, Dee offers to make Jamie a smoothie, and on being reminded the latter is vegan, replies that she’ll use low-fat milk. Grammer nails the vapid, wannabe model-type perfectly, yet there’s an undercurrent of bitterness (particularly, as things turn out, toward Jamie and her perceived superiority) and you get the sense she’s smarter than she appears. Jamie has her own set of insecurities to deal with; as well as her tuition situation, she just broke up with her boyfriend after finding a thong in his car’s glove-box. Might Dee be able to shed some light on that?

Where this isn’t as good as 2LDK is in the mayhem. The Japanese version was, literally, no-holds barred, up to and including the use of a chainsaw. Here, there’s rather too much of the protagonists standing at a distance and lobbing things at one another. While the cynical social commentary and bite can make up some of the difference, this needs to amp up the brutality significantly, and include more surprises. When a point is made of a giant fish-tank in the living room, you know it’s only a matter of time before it’s going to come crashing down in a mini-tsunami of water, broken glass and flailing fishies.

Then there’s the ending. It could be the greatest ever. Or the worst ever. I’d listen to arguments, and could be convinced in either direction. It certainly is… a shocking ending. I should say no more than that. We will remember it, that’s for sure. But we’ll be more likely to watch 2LDK again, and an interest in doing so, is likely the main takeaway from this unofficial reboot.

Dir: Rob Margolies
Star: Alexa Vega, Spencer Grammer, Kathryn Morris, Bryan Dechart

Relentless Justice

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“1980 called. They want their action film back.”

relentlessBefore his death last August, Prior had a long career churning out straight-to-video action flicks with amazingly generic titles. Have a few samples. Deadly Prey. Death Chase. Invasion Force. Raw Justice. You get the idea. He was also responsible, on this site, for Mankillers, and returns to the female fray with this, which also mines another popular trope of the action film genre, the “hunting of humans”, which dates back to 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game.

Victoria De Vries (Sarelle) is a quiet suburban mom – albeit, one who happens to be the owner-operator of a martial-arts gym, and who used to be a member of Australian special forces. Her daughter heads off for a weekend’s camping with her boyfriend, but runs afoul of the local rednecks, led by local mayor Jason Macendale (Wells). They slit his throat and kidnap her – but when they discover mom’s background, use her daughter as a lure for their next bit of sport. Little do they know what they are getting into, however, and may have bitten off a lot more than they can chew, even with help from another special forces veteran, Joe Mangine (Rolston).

I had to think for a while and figure out why Sarelle’s name was familiar, and eventually remembered she played Sharon Stone’s girlfriend in Basic Instinct, back in 1992. Hardly seen her in anything since, and she’s certainly changed a bit – now, all “mumsy” and sporting an Australian accent for some reason that serves no apparent purpose, not even a  “That’s not a knife…” joke. The main problem here, is it takes way too long to get to the crunchy stuff, of Victoria kicking ass and breaking bones – literally, the final ten minutes of the movie have all the good stuff there. Up until then, you’ve got a lot of sitting around chit-chatting, with Roberts wheeled on for a role of absolutely no relevance at all, playing a big city mobster.

Sarelle isn’t actually too bad; from what I’ve read Kathy Long, five-time world kickboxing champion, was in charge of stunt coordination and fight choreography, and seems to have done a decent job in making the heroine look credible. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for everyone else, and in particular there’s one knife fight, which is among the most cringe-inducingly terrible of all time [names redacted to protect the inept]. This all might have passed muster in a more innocent time, when audiences were happy to put up with low-rent former stars running around a forest, while someone shoots them with a video camera, accompanied by a low-fi synth soundtrack (courtesy here of the workmanlike Chuck Cirino, who has been a staple for the likes of Jim Wynorski over the past three decades). Now, viewers are… well, if I’m reluctant to say “more sophisticated”, this kind of second-tier production needs to be a good deal more self-aware, or at least provide something not findable in better quality with three clicks on Netflix.

Dir: David A. Prior
Star: Leilani Sarelle, Mark Rolston, Vernon Wells, Eric Roberts

Pearl: The Assassin

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“Fake pearls.”

pearlI think perhaps the most memorable thing here was that, while doing my usual pre-review Googling, the search results returned with the warning that, “In response to multiple complaints we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 35 results from this page.” I’m not sure whether I’m surprised or concerned that 35 sites apparently deemed this worth their while to rip and upload a bootleg copy of this, because it probably doesn’t deserve it. I may be particularly disgruntled due to the presence on the sleeve both of helicopters that don’t exist, and someone totally different from the heroine; half a star was docked from the grade for this. In reality, the star  (Patton, the director’s wife – he plays the florist she’s garotting in the picture, right!) looks more like Marilyn Manson, with a high forehead and close to no eyebrows.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – indeed, there’s something to be said for a heroine who challenges conventional notions of beauty, and Pearl does that, even if the distributor chooses to hide this behind a leggy, long-haired model type. She looks like a pissed-off killer, out for vengeance – not any longer on the people who killed her parents, for they were taken care of years ago, as others of that same type. Which would be criminals, drug-dealers, pimps, etc. She kidnaps meth scientist Erik (Morales), using his inside knowledge to work up the chain toward top boss Tre (Brown), while Detective Wyatt (Morafetis) follows the trail of bodies left behind Pearl, from the other end.

Even given my tolerance for independent, low-budget cinema, the action here was particularly poor, barely choreographed and possessing absolutely zero impact. Surprisingly, what worked better than expected were the characters, particularly Erik, who actually possesses something of an arc, going from a meth-head with few redeeming features into something of a tragic hero. By comparison, Pearl doesn’t move the needle very much: she starts off the film as a stone-faced killer, and more or less ends it as a stone-faced killer. You do get to see some of her backstory, but it seems more perfunctory, and it’s also simplistic in the extreme: someone killed her family, now everyone must pay. That might have worked for Charles Bronson forty years ago; now, audiences expect rather more nuance. Still, there was one genuinely shocking moment, demonstrating Tre’s utter ruthlessness, and I actually laughed at one of Erik’s lines. Overall, it’s a case of being able to see where the film-makers are aiming; unfortunately, the results fall significantly short of that target, and you’re probably better off sticking with the obvious sources of inspiration here, instead of this attempt to imitate them.

Dir: Guy Patton
Star: Dana Patton, Scott Michael Morales, Justin Brown, George Morafetis

The Wrong Car

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“The first Uber paranoia film?”

wrongcarI was kinda amused by the concept here, which tells the story of law student Trudy (Savre), who is drugged and raped after getting into what she thinks is a “NetCar” – a thinly-disguised Uber – vehicle, only to find it driven by a predator who waits near venues for vulnerable (read, “drunk”) young women, who are expecting the Uber… sorry, the “NetCar” they ordered to show up. The police are, as typical in this kind of TV movie, powerless to help, and it’s up to Savre and her roommate, Gretchen (Raisa) to track down the perpetrator. To that end, Trudy becomes a NetCar driver herself, seeking to stop the rapist before any more women fall victim to him. Her new career puts Trudy in the way of further danger, after a pair of gangbangers get into her car, yet also brings her potential romance in the cute, well-off shape of investment advisers Donovan (Davis).

My amusement was partly due to family history, as Chris was (for a couple of months) an Uber driver for some extra money. Turned out not to be worth her effort for the return – but nor was her life as a driver anywhere near as exciting as Trudy’s. Chris was never hijacked by anyone, to go pick up one of their friends who’d been shot, for instance. Nor did she meet any cute, well-off investment advisers. Not that she told me, anyway. For this is a neo-Luddite scare story, about the dangers of a technological innovation, which carefully ignores things like, for example, the fact that anyone who calls an Uber car can then see exactly where it is on the app – so would surely know, even if utterly drunk, it was not pulled up in front of them. But why let that get in the way of a made-for-Lifetime slab of misandry?

For, make no mistake, that’s what it is: there is literally not a man in the film who is what I would call a decent human being, being a selection of sexists and creepers, when not actually rapey. After a couple of movies from Lifetime that have actually been solid (Big Driver and Deliverance Creek), this was definitely a step back into the cliches for which their previous output was somewhat notorious. That said, as a pulpy pot-boiler of entertainment, it’s competently created, with Savre a credible enough heroine who has a nice arc after her assault, going through the various stages of reaction on her way to deciding Something Must Be Done. It’s not too hard to see where this is going to end up, and the script in general offers few, if any, surprises – one, to be precise. Yet I can’t deny a certain gratification is provided by the final resolution, though I’d probably still have preferred justice involving a more “bullet to genitals” approach. Probably not very Lifetime-friendly that, though…

Dir: John Stimpson
Star: Danielle Savre, Jackson Davis, Francia Raisa, Christina Elmore
a.k.a. Black Car

Home Invasion

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“Not-so sweet home.”

homeinvasionNicole Johnson (Sheridan) comes home with her daughter to find a robbery in progress, but is a well-armed home-owner and ends up blowing away one of the intruders. The other, Ray (Howell), bails with their getaway driver, Jade (Duff), who was also the dead perp’s girlfriend. She vows to take vengeance on Nicole and her family, in a variety of forms, from posing as a swimming teacher, to poisoning the customers at Nicole’s restaurant, then setting the place on fire and framing her for arson. Plus, of course, she’s a believer in the old Biblical law of an eye for an eye – or, in this case, a boyfriend for a boyfriend, Jade fixing to inject her nemesis’s other half with that old “undetectable poison”, potassium chloride. I have probably just got myself on a government watch-list by Googling that. Should have done it on my boss’s computer. Oh, well….

So, before they come to take me away, this is a competent if hardly memorable TV movie, which is hampered significantly by the limitations of that medium. While the concept isn’t bad, the inability to go full-bore into it with the necessary energy and – let’s be honest – luridness, leaves the end result as bland as a bowl of rice-pudding. Duff isn’t bad, with a feral intelligence that’s somewhat endearing – frankly, I was largely rooting for her to get the revenge she craves – and Howell is good value as ever. Though Ray spends half the film hiding out in a shack after the aborted robbery, which makes for a bizarre time-frame, since it appears everything else unfolds over the period of several weeks or even months. I’m not actually sure what purpose his character particularly serves; however, watching Howell play a middle-aged gangsta in a bandana is bizarrely fascinating for some reason.

I was hoping it would all build to some kind of extended brawl through the house, with the lioness defending her cub against a predatory newcomer. It’s not much of a spoiler to say I was almost entirely disappointed, though Jade’s final moments have a poignancy that is surprisingly effective, and quite at odds with the low-key banality that preceded them. For almost everything else found here, is the very definition of workmanlike: largely non-threatening drama, technically solid enough, yet possessing all the bite of a geriatric chihuahua, and delivering about as much threat.

Dir: Doug Campbell
Star: Haylie Duff, Lisa Sheridan, Jason Brooks, C. Thomas Howell