From the Archive – Burn, Hollywood, Burn (1997)

Burn

 

“The movie Hollywood doesn’t want you to see.”

Directed by Alan Smithee (Arthur Hiller)
Starring Ryan O’Neill and Eric Idle

Eccentric British film editor Alan Smithee (Idle) is brought in to direct a big-budget blockbuster starring Sylvester Stallone, Whoopie Goldberg and Jackie Chan. When the studio edit butchers the movie, he doesn’t want to be associated with it but – and pay attention, because this is the high concept premise here – he can’t, because you can only take your name off a film to replace it with the Director’s Guild pseudonym ‘Alan Smithee’.

The film is an account in roughly documentary form of Smithee’s attempts to regain final cut, and at last to destroy the picture.

Laugh; I almost did.

What’s wrong with it?

The ‘mockumentary’ genre launched largely by This is Spinal Tap has produced some fine works, but this isn’t one of them. It’s very difficult to really say why this doesn’t work but Spinal Tap did, but the fact is that something in this would-be satire falls flat.

What’s right with it?

The film does have a few funny moments, mostly provided by the descriptive captions that come up for each new character.

How bad is it really?

The film is not so much bad as it is sad. It won a Golden Raspberry, and the director ultimately removed his name from the credits, but the former was undeserved, and the latter – given that the director does appear at the end of the film – may well be an attempt at a publicity stunt more than anything else. I mean, I’ve seen other films abandoned for Alan Smithee to take credit for: I’ve seen the extended Dune and I’ve seen Solar Crisis, and this is not bad on that scale.

It’s just a shame that you can see what it’s trying to do, and that somehow it is failing, but you can’t for the most part actually say why. It just doesn’t quite work, and it probably isn’t anyone’s fault.

Best bit?

Good bits in this movie are brief and scattered. The highlights are the captions, and of those the funniest is probably Sylvester Stallone’s: ‘Actor, Rocket Scientist, Brain Surgeon.’

What’s up with…?

  • Well, nothing much…

Ratings:

Production values – Not bad, if entirely undemanding. Points off – or rather on – for simply recycling old footage to make the trailer for the film Trio8

Dialogue and performances – This category is pretty kind to this film. The script was in no parts abjectly horrible, and the performances were of a generally high standard. Unfortunately, this was not enough to ever raise the movie above average. 7

Plot and execution – Well, there isn’t a great deal of plot, and there isn’t meant to be. The pacing is alright, but something about the direction is off, and in retrospect I think it’s the fact that periodically the film shows things which do not appear to be part of the documentary. 8

Randomness – Very low. Almost nothing leaps out as being wildly off-the-wall and irrelevant, although parts of the film are very odd. 2

Waste of potential – Here is Burn, Hollywood Burn’s big stumbling block. The film could almost certainly not only have been funnier, it could have been a lot funnier. 16

Overall 41%

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From the Archive – Sabotage (1996)

“Ouch”

Directed by Tibor Tackáks
Starring Mark Dacascos, Tony Todd and Carrie-Anne Moss

Former special forces assassin/hostage rescue sniper type Michael Bishop (Dacascos), who was almost killed by mercenary Sherwood (Todd) during a mission for General Tollander (Graham Greene) in some embattled European country or other, is working as a bodyguard when his principal is offed by Sherwood.

Enter suspicious FBI single mum Lou (Moss) and Bishop’s gay, English, wheelchair-bound, chess-playing ex-intelligence consultant mentor Follenfant (John Neville), add suspicion and child kidnapping; mix well.

Blah, blah; it’s all a set-up by the dying Follenfant who wants Bishop to kill him so he can go out with a bang.

Everyone but Bishop, Lou and the kid get dead.

The end.

What’s wrong with it?

As ever, Tibor Tackáks turns in a performance akin to housepaint: A good, workmanlike job, but really, really dull. Dacascos is his usual boring self, Moss is unremarkable, Greene has no opportunity to revel in a rare bad-guy role, and John Neville is criminally underused as the stereotypical flaming queen.

Oh; and I’d like to put a shout out for the child-minder, who once more pays the ultimate price during the kidnapping of the little girl. It is a thankless task to be a domestic in a thriller, and no more so to be the SWAT team: A shout out to the SWAT teams, in this and all the others; first in, first dead, and no-one ever says sorry.

What’s right with it?

Tony Todd; having a ball as ever, bless his evil, size twelve cotton socks.

How bad is it really?

Sabotage is just mind-numbingly dull. Even the action sequences.

Best bit…

Not really, no.

What’s up with…?

  • The SWAT team? Why does no one ever care about the SWAT team? No-one even gets pissed at their meaningless deaths. No- one even says: ‘They killed my men!’ Poor bastards.
  • The child-minder? Lou finds two cleaners in the back garden, carrying the lifeless bloody corpse of her devoted childminder and friend, wrapped in plastic sheeting. She shoots the cleaners, but never a tear is shed for the luckless girl who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not even a ‘poor <insert name here>; she’s been looking after my kid for years’.
  • Tollander’s ‘clean-up’? He swans in, all Army Intelligency and badass, gives the corrupt FBI boss a poisoned pen, then removes all the evidence in a bin liner, and no-one even challenges him.
  • Follenfant? Not only is it a stupid name and a stupid role, what’s a crippled Brit doing involved with US military intelligence anyway?

Ratings

Production values: Certainly not actively bad, aside from a couple of iffy slow-mo bullet-cam moments. 8

Dialogue and performances: Rubbish. The script is not so much poor as simply entirely unremarkable, and the performances range from Neville’s scene-chewing to Dacascos’ usual lethargic effort. 14

Plot and execution: Competent, but deeply uninspiring. Tackáks carries off his usual trick of not doing anything wrong by not doing anything much at all. 16

Randomness: Basically the plot hinges entirely on you never asking why. Nothing actually hangs together, making the whole film essentially random. 18

Waste of Potential: All the ingredients were in place for a really dull movie, and guess what…? No real surprises here. 8

Overall 64%

From the Archive – The Order (2001)

order

 

“Unleash the Power”

Directed by Sheldon Lettich
Starring Jean Claude Van Damme, Charlton Heston and Brian Thompson

Rudy (Van Damme) is a burglar specialising in rare antiquities. When his father, a professor, goes missing in Israel, he sets out to find him, aided by his father’s friend Findley (Heston), who is promptly shot. Rudy runs around Jerusalem a bit, causing mayhem, then gets tangled up in a plot involving an ancient order which aims to unite Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Seems the new leader of The Order (as it is officially known) is up to no good. He’s called Cyrus and played by Brian Thompson; what a shock that he’s evil. Anyway, he wants to blow up the Dome of the Rock or some such and start a worldwide, tri-faith jihad then rule what’s left, and only Rudy and an Israeli security cop ex of The Order herself can stop him.

Which of course they do.

What’s wrong with it?

The Order is a mess, not knowing if it wants to be dramatic or amusing, and ending up farcical. Van Damme has seen better days – and even those weren’t much good – and the supporting cast isn’t great. Thompson makes a great goon of course, and Chuck is da bomb until he takes one in the chest, but the rest is dire. Also, the Order themselves don’t make a great deal of sense; they seem very public to be professing such ‘heresy’ in Jerusalem.

What’s right with it?

Not very much, really.

How bad is it really?

Well, it isn’t painfully bad, but it’s not exactly memorable or anything. It passes the time without making you want to gut yourself with a bottle opener, and that’s more than I can say for most of the films I watch.

Best bit

Fleeing the Israeli security police, Rudy ‘hilariously’ disguises himself as an Hassidic Jew (see, it’s funny ’cause he’s got the hat and the bangs and…hem). He ducks down an alley and to his horror ends up in the Muslim part of town, where the camera lingers on evil glowers from the locals: Angry Muslim grocer; angry halal butcher; angry Muslim donkey.

The angry donkey makes it art.

What’s up with…?

  • The Order? They’re not some secret conspiracy, but rather an openly practicing group who go out in Jerusalem and claim that Islam, Christianity and Judaism are one faith – and they act all surprised when someone blows up their leader! They also seem to be all over the police, which seems odd; you’d think there’d be more Jews involved in Israeli state security.
  • The extent of the security cop’s cleavage? I’m sure she should be wearing a tie or something.
  • The comedy Hassidic Jew chase?
  • Angry donkey?

Ratings

Production values: Shiny and understated. Some nice establishing shots of Jerusalem and decent camerawork. Then they go an ruin it all with the dodgy explosion at the end. 10

Dialogue and performances: Uninspired and uninspiring. Aside from Chuck, naturally; and the angry donkey. 13

Plot and execution: The plot is thin and heavily padded, and the film runs around like a headless chicken for at least half and hour in the middle. 16

Randomness: The entire middle section is random, plus a bunch of incidental ‘but waits’. There’s also the wacky, wacky ‘Rudy steals a Faberge Egg’ scene, including comedy camouflage make-up. 15

Waste of potential: There’s good mileage in secret religious orders, but this is no worse than most attempts to milk it. 9

Overall 63%

From the Archive – Sweepers (1999)

sweepers

 

“He walks where other men fear.”

Directed by Keoni Waxman
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Payne and Claire Stansfield

I don’t think I can really say it better than the back of the DVD box, which I copy here verbatim:

“Torn from today’s headlines “SWEEPERS” is a non-stop, high-octane explosive thriller set in war-ravaged Angolia (they do in fact mean Angola). Christian Erickson (DOLPH LUNDGREN) eke’s out a living by taking on all-comers in bloody and vicious, no holds barred barefist fights but is also one of the world’s leading land-mine experts and is called in by the Pentagon when a super advanced A-6 land mineis utilised in a terrorist attack on a United States Senator.

“The rebellious Erickson has no respect for authority and refuses to help, until Bomb Squad expert Michelle Flynn uncovers a sinister and far-reaching plot to ship a bulk load of the world’s most deadly mines back to the USA, and begs Erickson for help in preventing a potential disaster in the USA.

“In the interests of national security she entrusts Erickson with only the bare outlines of the plot (as does the film, it seems), sufficient enough to grab his attention, and together they battle against overwhelming odds (three really crap South African mercenaries) as each sinister element of the conspiracy unfolds and they move ever closer to uncovering the real and totally unexpected villain behind the deadly scheme.”

Imagine my disappointment when the ‘totally unexpected villain’ turned out to be Bruce Payne, and not Pope John-Paul II after all.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, aside from everything the synopsis implies – although it is in fact wildly inaccurate in places, as well as grammatically pretty poor – the film is really dull. It’s kind of a non-start, unleaded snoozer really. It also treats its audience as if they were abject dolts, feeling it necessary to remind us every three seconds that Erickson is fucked- up because his kid got blowed away by a landmine. The weird Angolan soundtrack is frankly scary, Bruce Payne couldn’t be the unexpected villain unless you could afford to have Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken as red herrings, and the characters are all boring.

The mine also makes no damn sense – it requires power, and can be deactivated either by a concealed lever underneath or the big-ass off switch on top, and has an immensely variable effect.

What’s right with it?

Nothing.

How bad is it really?

It was so dull, I’d be pressed to remember how bad it was; which can’t be good.

Best bit?

Once more, this has no real contenders in this field.

What’s up with…?

  • The battery-powered funky mine of suckness, with its plethora of moving parts?
  • Erickson’s former outfit, the Humanitarian Knights of Chivalry?
  • Erickson bringing his son to Angola in the first place? Okay, he doesn’t mean to bring him to the minefield, but if he’s a minesweeper in Angola, for him to get custody his ex-wife must be a Nazi crack-whore or something.
  • Erickson’s personal citation from Lady Di?

Ratings

Production values: Low, low prices mean low, low quality. A few explosions, but nothing to really write home about, and shoddy editing to boot. 15

Dialogue and performances: Not tooth-grindingly bad, just utterly unmemorable. 13

Plot and execution: Zero tension, zero surprises, and every crass emotional short-cut in the book. 16

Randomness: Yeah, there’s some, but mostly the film is too dull to be random. The worst is the framing text, which tries to make out this is a serious political thriller about landmines. 13

Waste of potential: Any action film this dull could have been better. 15

Overall 72%

From the Archive – Dune, the TV edit (1988)

dune

 

“A world beyond your experience, beyond your imagination”

Directed by Alan Smithee (David Lynch)
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis and Jürgen Prochnow

After a long and rambling prologue, accompanied by a bunch of piss-poor watercolours, explains how men overthrew the thinking machines, and that everything is about the spice Melange that is only found on Arrakis – aka Dune – we are treated to a massive condensation of Frank Herbert’s sprawling, socio-political, Sci-Fi epic, which refuses to cut anything out, yet can not give due time to everything it needs to. The result is a shambles; a convoluted mess that makes less sense than the shorter version.

Harkonnen, Atreides, Fremen, Sandworms and Moa-dib. If you don’t know the story, I sure as hell can’t explain it without running to several hundred words. Read the book, watch the movie, or even the more recent mini-series. Just, dear God, don’t watch this one.

What’s wrong with it?

Make no mistake here: I’m not talking about David Lynch’s rambling, semi-coherent film here. This is the even more rambling, utterly incomprehensible TV mini-series extension that David Lynch refused to allow his name on (hence the Alan Smithee director’s credit). By reinserting all edited footage, the mini-series manages to say nothing more than the film, but to say it three times; literally. In general, someone will say something, then we’ll hear them think it in voice over, and then someone else will either repeat it back to them as a question, or think the same thing again, or they’ll say it to themselves.

Even the score – the great strength of the film – is here screwed up. In order to fill in the reinserted scenes – which also lack the visual effects editing that gives the Fremen their blue-in-blue eyes – it is as if the cassette was just left running, even in the pre-existing scenes, so that at times there are quite literally two separate sections of soundtrack playing at the same time! This also means that there are no tense silences, there is always a soundtrack, even when there shouldn’t be.

Also, Sting’s steel underpants, but they’re in the film as well.

What’s right with it?

Astonishingly little. The performances aren’t bad, but tend to the stilted, and I suspect Jürgen Prochnow was pretty much pissed throughout filming. The big exception comes from the Atreides retainers – well, three of them anyway, since Duncan Idaho isn’t much to write home about – Gurney Hallek, Thufur Hawat and Dr Yueh, played with great and campy aplomb by Patrick Stewart, Freddie Jones and Dean Stockwell. And then there’s Sting, who’s surely just taking the piss.

The music is keen, but annoyingly jumbled. The sandworms remain a high-point, although they have dated a little, and the shields likewise. There are some nice ideas, but with the added length they look even more lost than in the original.

Also, it is at least not the Jodorowsky version.

How bad is it really?

Well, it’s not terrible by the standards of this blog, but leave us not forget that the standards of this blog are mind-numbingly low. The big, extended Dune is really just dull, but at some three hours plus, that’s a lot of dull, and borders on the tedious; especially when anything interesting is mitigated by the mess that is the soundtrack and the repetition.

Best bit?

Probably the scene when the massive spice harvester is swallowed whole by the sandworm. It was probably the absolute bomb in 1984, and it still looks pretty good.

What’s up with…?

  • The random soundtrack?
  • The failure to edit the restored footage for SFX?
  • The crass use of recycled footage that makes no sense? The same ship docks like ten times, and there’s one long shot that it clearly a drawing.
  • The script in triplicate? “You must kill Paul Atreides.” <thinks>Why do they want Paul dead?</thinks> “Why do you want Paul dead?” <later> “Why do they want Paul dead?” <Paul psychically eavesdropping> “Why do they want me dead?”

Ratings:

Production values: Actual Hollywood standard production values, although some of the rubber suits and unexplained accordions are a little weird. This version is let down however by the crappy prologue, crass soundtracking and failure to blue the eyes in the restored scenes. 10

Dialogue and performances: The dialogue isn’t really bad per se, there’s just too much of it; or maybe the right amount repeated over and over. It’s also phenomenally serious about itself. The performances tend to be either camp or stilted, but that’s the fault of the script’s excessive earnestness. The narrator bites on a level not even matched by Virginia Madsen in the original version. 12

Plot and execution: Just to reiterate, this is an Alan Smithee film once directed by David Lynch. This is a film that was such a jumbled mess that David Lynch took his name off it! Also, the editing sucks. 20

Randomness: Mostly in the editing, but it’s here in spades. So many of the re-editing decisions seem to have come down to ‘people want a longer version, cram this back in even though it serves no additional purpose’. 16

Waste of potential: Dune is a book that would be nigh impossible to film well as anything less than an epic mini-series – and tough even then. By extending the running time, and making the film less comprehensible, this must rate as one of the biggest wastes of the time and talent of everyone involved in living history. 19

Overall 77%

From the Archive – Out for Justice (1991)

justice

 

“He’s a cop. It’s a dirty job…but somebody’s got to take out the garbage.”

Directed by John Flynn
Starring Steven Seagal

Tough, Brooklyn cop Gino something-or-other learns that his best friend has been murdered by small-time, crack-head wannabe Richie, who is swanning around, talking about his ‘last night’ and offering merry bushels of cash to anyone dumb enough to hook up with him. With the full collusion of his captain, Gino heads off on a quest for revenge, by way of roughing up Richie’s weasel kid brother, high-class madame sister and honest, God-fearing parents, dissing the local Mafia boss, traumatising his friend’s widow, and beating the crap out of anyone who so much as looks at him cross-eyed.

Naturally, Gino eventually gets his man, but lets the mob take the credit. In passing, he also patches up his marriage – through the tried-and-trusted method of getting his wife shot at then killing half-a-dozen men in front of her – discovers that his friend was not only on the take but also cheating on his wife and on the hooker he was cheating on his wife with – in the second iteration with mad Richie’s girlfriend, which is apparently what this is all about – and saves a small puppy.

What’s wrong with it?

Out for Justice belongs to a certain class of film in which the villains have to repeatedly prove their evilness –  say by shooting an innocent woman in the head for no reason save being high on crack – just so that the ‘hero’ looks good by comparison. Moreover, it belongs to a class of action movies where only the hero knows martial arts, and beats up so many hapless, useless goons that he looks like a bully for doing it. This film is in fact entirely devoid of sympathetic characters: Everyone is either a scumbag, a bastard, a weasel or a drip. Even the innocent victim being avenged turns out to be a louse.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. You kind of feel sorry for a number of the people that Gino drags through the mud on his way past, particularly Richie’s sister and parents, but it doesn’t make the film any easier to watch.

What’s right with it?

Nowt.

How bad is it really?

Out for Justice makes for excruciating viewing. Even hardened veterans of the bad movie battlefield would do best to avoid this one, unless they are also masochists.

Best bit?

Ah…no.

What’s up with…?

  • Gino’s insistence on telling stories about his upbringing to people who were there? He has this touching story about his father, and how Richie’s dad looked after him after pappy-Gino passed on, heartbroken and destroyed by the advent of disposable scissors, that he tells to his wife…with whom he has a fourteen-year-old son! Clearly, this is why the divorce was going to happen, because they must just not have known each other, at all.
  • The fact that the mob are the nicest, most respectful people in the film?
  • The fact that people make movies this unutterably unpleasant?
  • Richie’s ‘last day’? It’s never explained. He doesn’t seem to have been dying of cancer or nothing, and although he is clearly mad about his hooker cheating on him with the dirty cop, he doesn’t seem the type to get all ‘My, My, My Delilah’ over it and kill the guy in such a bloody stupid and obvious way.
  • The carefully-posed, Polaroid photos of dead-cop Bobby and Richie’s girl having sex? I mean, really: Polaroids. Who was supposed to have taken these, and how did they not notice? Or were they just sufficiently cretinous to make a full photographic record of their adulterous, ill-advised fling? Maybe they had an album: ‘Our illicit affair’.
  • Gino’s sudden and short-lived conviction that Bobby’s wife found the Polaroids and sent one to Richie, triggering the whole nasty business? He shows up, accuses the grieving widow then drops the subject without ever apologising.
  • Gino’s outfits? He wears at one point a sleeveless top and beret combination that – with his ponytail – makes him look like a flamboyant gay socialist revolutionary or something.

Ratings:

Production values: Cheap. Cars, guns, clothes (almost all bad). The occasional blood squib, and a deeply unconvincing ‘leg blowed off by a shotgun’. 15.

Dialogue and performances: A few good actors phone it in here, but mostly they deserve the arse dialogue they are given. Steven Seagal’s Sicilian-American cop is the low point: At times he’s all but incomprehensible; the rest of the time you just wish he was. 16.

Plot and execution: Oh. Dear. Christ. 19.

Randomness: With so little plot, how can they find room for randomness, you might ask. The answer is in the visuals. Such ‘delights’ as the glossy, studio-quality incriminating Polaroids, the gay socialist ensemble and others make this film as random as any. 17.

Waste of potential: This film was pretty much doomed, but it’s a poor showing even for Steven ‘Jonathon Livingstone’ Seagal. 12.

Overall 79%

From the Archive – The Horrible Doctor Bones (2000)

Dr

 

“The Doctor is in the House” (Or sometimes in the ghetto)

Directed by Art Carnage
Starring…well, no-one really

A group of nice young hip-hop artistes calling themselves the Urban Protectors are recruited by Dr Nathaniel Bones, the not-at-all-sinister head of Boneyard records, little suspecting that he is up to something dubious that involves people’s heads exploding. He turns out to be a wacky voodoo guy who uses subliminal voice-control techniques to manipulate people, which only the song-writer/producer Jamal notices.

Bones and his moronic accomplices use the Protectors’ music as a carrier to zombify the living, but Jamal evades the effect, and smashes the hearts that control his dead zombie slaves. A year later, the nice young people get mind-controlled from beyond the grave… or something.

What’s wrong with it?

The Horrible Dr Bones truly is horrible. It’s incredibly dull, the effects are cheap and tacky; the plot is limp, and so short that the entire thing fits neatly into the trailer. The acting is dire, and not even in a way that’s funny. Dr Bones is clearly supposed to be sinister, but doesn’t have the charisma. The whole thing seems to have been put together to sell the so-so hip-hop talents of the soundtrack artists, both of whom appear as runners-up in the battle of the bands won by the Urban Protectors.

What’s right with it?

Well, it’s short.

How bad it is really?

Very, very tedious, and when it’s not being tedious, just plain annoying. It doesn’t even have any quality shambling. It’s pretty much ‘shamble lite’.

Best bit

Jamal sees Dr Bones putting his middle-aged moves on the lead singer, Jamal’s best girl Lisa. Bones turns to him, and his mouth creases back into a CG’d impossible rictus grin.

What’s up with…?

  • The mixing booth, which has a huge mixing deck, and only a single input from the stage, and a single input from the voodoo temple in the basement?
  • Bones’ club? He’s supposed to be wealthy and successful, but he seems to be putting on gigs in a school assembly hall.
  • Bones’ dream tempting of the band? It’s not like they weren’t going to take the deal; the money had them hooked pretty nicely.

Ratings:

Production Values: Lame. Really. Nice work with the rictus, but otherwise it’s all crap. Even the costumes suck, and they’re just clothes. The whole thing looks very, very cheap. 18

Dialogue and performances: Utterly terrible. None of the bad guys are sinister enough, and the zombies can’t shamble worth shit. The ‘heroes’ lack any kind of charisma. The lead singer chick can writhe some, but sadly can not lip-synch. 17

Plot and execution: The plot would fit on the back of a postage stamp, and even then would take up more space than it deserves. The direction is lacklustre, and one suspects that Mr Carnage – if that is his real name – might have been more used to directing bad hip-hop videos than bad movies. 18

Randomness: There actually isn’t enough happening for much randomness, except for the whole temptation-dream thing, which is a solid ten minutes of pure random. 14

Waste of Potential: This is possibly the most boring zombie movie ever. Even Steven Seagal in Marked for Death was better. That being said, it promises very little. 13

Overall 78%

From the Archive – Impostor (2002)

Impostor-dvd

“In the future, not everyone is who they seem to be.”

Directed by Gary Fleder
Starring Gary Sinise, Madeline Stowe, Vincent D’Onofrio and Mekhi Phifer

This film was awarded the BMM Special Award for painful lack of professional ability on the part of the military industrial complex 

Genius scientist Spence Olham (Sinise) and his wife, Maya (Stowe) – a brilliant surgeon – are the toast of a world at war with the Centaurans, where the surviving cities are hidden under huge force domes.

Continue reading From the Archive – Impostor (2002)

From the Archive – Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

Dragon

 

“Kiss Fear Goodbye”

Directed by Chris Nahon
Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tchéky Karyo

Lui Jian (Li) is sent to France by the Chinese Secret Service – or something – to assist with a drugs bust by psychotic Sureté detective, Inspector Richard (Karyo) and the gaggle of psychopathic-yet-Clouseauesque incompetents who masquerade as his narcotics squad. But when the dealer goes upstairs with a couple of hookers and one of them stabs him repeatedly with a hair pin, it all goes to hell; and I do mean the movie.

It rapidly emerges that Richard set up the hit, and that he is a pimp and a pusher as well as a thug. He might in fact be the French connection that Lui Jian was sent to catch, but I’m not completely sure. What is certain is that he is a bad-un – shooting his own indiscrete hit-hooker and one of his goons just to prove his evilness – and that his goons are entirely useless, failing to apprehend or kill Jian despite numerical superiority, advantage of firepower, and the equal griplessness of Jian’s Chinese Secret Service bosses.

Jian escapes using his knowledge of kung fu and acupuncture, and More or less by chance, befriends the second hooker from the hotel, the drippy Jessica (Fonda), who only works for Richard because he’s got her daughter. After rescuing her from Richard’s unter-pimps – who do however manage to kill his contact in France, the hapless Uncle Tai (Burt Kwouk) – Jian learns who she is, and she helps him get the evidence he needs, in exchange for which he storms the police headquarters, and rescues her daughter.

Oh, and the Kiss of the Dragon is a forbidden acupuncture point, at the back of the neck, which paralyses the victim – in this case, Richard – and brings on a swift and especially bloody death.

What’s wrong with it?

Kiss of the Dragon is another of that rare and unforgivable breed; a really boring kung fu action movie. The actual action scenes are quite good, and avoid the slapstick trap nicely enough, but they are too few and far between – or maybe they just felt that way – and besides, with the rank incompetence of the enemy, Lui Jian just looks like a bully for beating up on them.

Almost none of the characters are sympathetic, or even interesting in their unlovely scummishness. Richard is an agglomeration of the viler traits of every character Karyo has ever played, to the point of mirthless caricature. Jessica is essentially just dull and drippy, and even Lui Jian fails to evoke any real sympathy. The only likeable character in the film is Uncle Tai, who mourns that none of the young agents sent to his safehouse have ever gone home alive before being shot dead. There’s really only one reason to like the hero, and that’s because the villain is so utterly vile.

The foreshadowing is pretty lumpen. Prior to killing the drug baron, the coked up hit-hooker repeatedly asks ‘do you want to go to heaven?’; like anyone doesn’t know what’s coming. Then Richard actually has the gall to point this out to the short of attention span.

What’s right with it?

There’s a few decent fight scenes, and dull bully or not, Li is pretty cool. That’s about it really.

How bad is it really?

Pretty tedious, and in a kung fu movie, that’s a poor showing.

Best bit?

One of the contacts in Jian’s incredibly complex chain of connections before meeting Richard is an absurdly British airline pilot. As Jian flees the goon squads, said pilot spots him, whips a pair of laser targeted Uzis out of nowhere and starts blasting away. It’s kind of a laugh.

What’s up with…?

  • The absurd secret agent routine involved in getting Jian to meet up with Richard? These are the narcotics squad, not spies.
  • The unutterable crapness of everyone involved in Richard’s operations? He can’t even contract a proper hit.

Ratings

Production values – Fair to middling. There’s no crazy wuxia, and the film is probably the better for it, but while adequately shot, there’s nothing special about this movie. 8

Dialogue and performances – An ensemble of fairly competent actors fail to breathe life into the cavalcade of caricatures who populate this movie, with the result that we never actually give a shit about any of them. On the other hand, the dialogue never sinks to the point of being memorably bad. 15

Plot and execution – Pretty leaden, and especially disappointing given some of writer Luc Besson’s other work. The whole middle section is a nothing, and the plot picks up again only by pure chance (c.f. Randomness). The direction is no more than competent, and fails to bring a sparkle to the material. 14

Randomness – Pimp-pusher cops using their hookers as impromptu – and fairly incompetent – hit women. Acupuncturist kung-fu cops. A plot that holds together only because of coincidence. Plus a couple of moments that make no sense (Richard shows the Chinese police liaison what he claims is footage of Jian killing one of his compatriots, but we don’t see the tape, and we know he never did this). Nothing outright insane, but a perpetual air of hysteria. 13

Wast of potential – A kung fu movie written by Luc Besson, starring Jet Li and set in Paris. This could have been Leon with higher kicks; instead it was Le Samourai without the laughs. 18

Overall 68%

From the Archive – From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (2000)

DTD3

 

Directed by P.J. Pesce
Starring Marco Leonardi, Michael Parks and Temuera ‘Jango Fett’ Morrison

1914, and Bandito Johnny Madrid (Leonardi) is saved from execution, and flees from the menacing Hangman (Morrison), taking the Hangman’s beautiful daughter Esmerelda (Ara Celi) with him. With the Hangman in pursuit, Madrid lets his saviour – wannabe outlaw, Reese (Jordana Spiro) – lead him to a supposed treasure on a coach occupied by a pair of newlywed God-botherers, and inebriate atheist war hero Ambrose Bierce (Parks).

What with one thing and another, this motley crew turn up at the La Tetilla del Diablo, a seedy whorehouse in the desert. Night falls and the vampires – including barman Razor Charlie ( Danny Trejo) – come out to play. Esmerelda is revealed to be the daughter of a vampire, and their prophesied messiah: Santanico Pandemonium. With all hell breaking loose, it is up to the Bierce to pull the disparate survivors together, in the by-now-familiar struggle to last until dawn.

What’s wrong with it?

The effects in this third foray are as cheap and cheerful as those in the second film. The genre-switch device is by now a little worn, and once the set-up has been made, the hunt through the lower levels of La Tetilla del Diablo is fairly by the numbers. The appearance of real person Ambrose Bierce (best known as the writer of The Devil’s Dictionary) is also pretty weird.

What’s right with it?

This film recognises its budget limitations, and makes the best of its cheap effects, largely by not showing too much of the plastic bats. The genre switch may be old hat, but it’s handled better than in the first one, and the western section is possibly the strongest opener of the three films. The players are mostly competent and very definitely along for the ride, with a welcome return for the world’s largest living Mexican (Trejo). There are a number of genuinely funny moments, and even a spirited attempt to inject a plot twist into the wacky vampire high jinks.

How bad is it really?

Much better than Texas Blood Money, and almost as good as the real thing. Like the original From Dusk Till Dawn, The Hangman’s Daughter (named after Bierce’s ‘The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter’) is good clean fun for all the family; or at least all of them who are over eighteen, and/or not of a nervous disposition, and who don’t mind their movies being very bloody indeed.

Best bit?

The film has some good scenes and one liners, like the blind guard shooting by ear, and Ambrose Bierce baiting the Christians (‘No madam; when Gabriel blows his trumpet, I shall be playing the tuba’). The best is a toss up between the fired-up missionary asking Razor Charlie if he can start a fight, and Charlie handing him a cudgel, or the revelation of Reese’s murderous past.

Hangman: You killed your parents?
Reese: They were poor; starving. I sent them to a better place.
Hangman: What about your aunt, uncle and cousins?
Reese: Oh. I never liked them.

There’s also a nice visual queue to the original, where the camera pulls back on the full scale of the Ziggurat, with coaches and wagons instead of trucks and coaches dumped around the base.

What’s up with…?

  • Once more, where does the clientele come from? There’s no road past La Tetilla del Diablo, yet travellers of all stripes just happen by.
  • Ambrose Bierce being in this movie?

Ratings

Production values – Low budget, but well used. This film shows it’s immediate predecessor what you can do on a limited budget. 10

Dialogue and performances – Such a vast improvement on Texas Blood Money that – having watched them pretty much on consecutive nights – they seem almost Oscar-worthy. The dialogue is also peppier, with plenty of nice one liners and routines. Not Shakespeare, but not See You Next Wednesday either.10

Plot and execution – The western plot is actually fairly involved, and carries through somewhat into the second half. The twist is not completely twisty, but is gamely done, and nicely reacted. 8

Randomness – Once more, with the exception of the big Ambrose Bierce weirdness, the film sticks firmly to its rather bizarre guns. 9

Waste of potential – For a second sequel to a better-than-average schlock vampire flick, this was Hamlet. On ice! 4

Overall 41%

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