Kickboxer: Retaliation – a year after killing Tong Po to avenge his brother’s murder, MMA champ Kurt Sloan is kidnapped and forced to fight a new underground deathmatch champion. After a dubious opening Bond-lite salsa dance / train fight, the film is rigidly punctuated with some outstanding action set pieces. The choreography in a couple of the fights is jaw-dropping, especially the single takes at the jailhouse (3 mins uninterrupted), and riverside rumble (inexplicably set to the Surfaris ‘Wipe Out’). The ‘Final Boss’ fight against Game of Thrones’ “The Mountain” is 20 minutes of bone-crunching savagery that reaches previously uncharted levels of OMGWTF twists and turns. Outside of the fights however, the film doesn’t feel particularly well put-together: the direction is weaker than the previous outing – jerking between various scenes, locations, filler Thailand Tourist Board type shots… and there’s no attempt at updating anything about the generic 80s action plot. Cast-wise, almost everything else is in the shadow of Moussi’s physicality and technical ability: Bjornsson is an intimidating force (when he’s not strumming an acoustic guitar for no reason!); JCVD’s charisma brightens up his scenes; Tyson hams it up and gets some laughs; but disappointingly, Christopher Lambert has nothing more to do than growl some threats and react to big hits (away from everyone else). What it lacks in originality and direction, Kickboxer Retaliation makes up by leaving no stuntman unscathed and no prop unsmashed; the fight scenes are top-drawer, and it makes you wish that Alain Moussi would get the chance to go toe to toe with the likes of Iko Uwais and Donnie Yen.
The Tournament: every 7 years in an unsuspecting town 30 of the world’s top special forces, serial killers, athletes and assassins fight to the death for a £10M cash prize. To get it out-of-the-way, yes, this film clearly borrows from the likes of Smokin Aces, Battle Royale, Series 7 etc etc. To ensure there’s some dialogue – in what would otherwise be a speechless film – the silly priest storyline is added, although it could have been just as easily done with two underdog killers teaming up. Given that there’s 30 contestants + others watching, characterisation is obviously very thin. Boring things aside, the action in this film is intense and very frequent – the highlight being a strip-club shootout/massacre with blood, guts and limbs flying everywhere. Nothing within the frame is safe, pedestrians, buildings, animals and vehicles (cars, jeeps and tankers all flipping and exploding at some point). Every five minutes there’s a big action scene, and most of it is of a very high standard. For a £4M movie to have such a decent cast, great action scenes and well-directed action (it’s his first film!!) – it’s nothing short of a miracle. Someone please throw more money at the director, Scott Mann to kick off his next project – it’s absolutely the best in class for mindless action; a bloody schlock romp for the guys, full of explosions, guns, blood and tits.
The Man with the Iron Fists: loads of warring factions descend upon ‘Jungle Village’ to snatch up some government gold. It could have just been the version I saw but parts of this looked re-dubbed and deliberately out of synch, with illegible subtitles barely peeking up from bottom? While that’s cute, all of the fancy tricks and money can’t re-create the cheese and charm of a low-budget kung-fu flick. Highlights of this film are the absolutely awesome wire-work, fight choreography, and ultra-gore – there’s more throat rips than MacGruber. There’s also a pretty good cast, with some familiar faces; Bond Baddie, Pai Mei encore, and Russel Crowe (‘Jack Knife’ – LOL!) clearly just there to molest hot-chicks – which will make you nauseous. RZA – a Badass black blacksmith with a penchant for Assassin’s Creed clothing and Jax from Mortal Kombat forearms – was alright, deliberately kept his bit to a minimum, which was a wise choice for a non-actor. The film looks solid – costumes, sets, backdrops – all make for popping visuals. The story was a little too convoluted and complex for the first-time director – but the wow-cast and action were distracting enough. From an action perspective, The Man with the Iron Fists has some great scenes, but as a ‘film’, it’s quite flimsy and superficial, and feels far like more of a continuation/extension of the running in-jokes that the WuTang clan have long had with olde, badly dubbed Kung Fu films. (See Kung Faux).
Safe: a former cage fighter has to save a gifted child from falling in to the hands of the Triads, Russian mobsters or bent cops. So here we are, another Statham action vehicle where he can kick ass, forget about the names and we all walk out of the cinema satisfied. Action-wise, there’s a few really good, bone-crunching – grab your arm / leg / nuts and shout ‘fuuuuu’ – fight scenes, however the biggest set-pieces are big, loud, well-handled, gunfights. Gruff Statham is as gruff as he can be, although his character is all over the shop: ex binman, ex cage-fighter, ex cop, potentially more dangerous… make up your mind! Other characters are all very dated action film stereotypes: Asians being either angry triads or good at maths; tattoo’d Russian gangsters called Petri and Sergi, and ruthless bent cops who will do anything for some cash-money. The story is just as ridiculous, but who really cares – it’s an action film, with plenty of action and a stunningly high body count. Other notes would be a groovy / old-fashioned soundtrack popping up in places, an Audi with Infinite boot space, New York looking shittier than ever, and the Americanized delivery of the line “I don’t collect garbage, I dispose of it”. Although I walk in to every Statham flick hoping he’ll pull a JCVD on us, Safe ends up being a pretty safe action film about a robbing a safe and keeping a girl (and the audience) safe. Sure it packs a punch and delivers some thrills, but it’s not even remotely interested in doing anything new or original, and neither is Statham at the moment.
IP Man (AKA Yip Man) [Blu Ray]: partial-biogaphy of grandmaster martial artist Yip Man, as he fights to protect his town through the Japanese invasion of 1937. This is a jaw-dropping homage to the old martial arts films; choreography, subtle wire work, sound effects and filming of the action. This all peaks during a 1-on-10 fight indoors, which is action-tastic, bone-snappingly brutal and phenomenal to watch. Storywise, the film starts off amazingly with random schools of martial artist groups challenging each other to fights, but as soon as the war / Chinese history kicks in it slows the film down to a crawl. Annoyingly, there’s random leaps forward in time about every ten minutes; is it a week, month or year… we don’t know. Outdoors the BD picture great, but inside it’s very grainy – and the entire second half (invasion) looks depressingly washed-out and devoid of any colour. Films that handle the Sino–Japanese war have a tough job, and IP man succeeded nationally (although falls down internationally) in doing this; because it’s over-sentimental – but you can’t hold that against such a nationally proud, historical piece. Overall, IP Man starts with a massive bang, but the entire second half becomes a bit of a struggle, although the great action will keep you in your seat.
The Expendables: A band of gruff mercenaries feel up to the task of overthrowing a corrupt Latin-American dictator. First thing’s first: this film has the action cast to end all casts – while it’s not 100% perfect, you just don’t see this many huge names in a film these days. It’s hard to describe but seeing star after star after star is spectacle in itself. Then there’s the action, which is awesome – and although CGI heavy, it’s great fun watching henchmen get mauled by fists, blades, bullets, fire and grenades; watching anything and everything get blown up; watching all the standout musclemen fight each other; and watching set piece after set piece. Little else is particularly noteworthy, but little else matters in a film like this; the script’s terrible laughable, the plot is contrived beyond belief, the acting’s utterly forgettable (everyone’s on auto-pilot) and even the ‘hot chick’ was a bit of a dog. Essentially a B-movie with an A-star cast and massive budget, this isn’t a homage to 1980s blockbuster action films, this is a 1980s blockbuster action film. It’s also an action film for action fans, and it does the big scenes way better than anything else I’ve seen recently. I laughed, I cringed, and I shouted ‘Holy Shit’ (usually while clutching a limb that’d just been snapped on screen) about 20 times. What can I say? I’m a sucker for big names, big guns, big explosions and big set pieces. Roll on the Expendables 2!
Piranha: (Piranha 3D – 2010) Spring break is ruined as an earthquake releases a massive school of 2 million year old cannibal super-piranhas into a party-lake!! The movie’s divided in to two parts: set up (nudity-fest and just enough gore) and bloodbath (gore-fest and just enough nudity). The cast is a who’s who of B-movie stars, all typecast and wafer thin characters; in saying that, Christopher Lloyd’s great fun, Ving Rhames is Ving Rames, Kelly Brook is ball-tighteningly hot and porn stars Gianna Michaels / Riley Steele also get their 3D lungs out – no complaints with any of that! The gore‘s decent enough; most of it is real effects so looks pretty good but the CGI is a bit rubbish and the underwater scenes look very dark with the 3D glasses on. The 3D itself is generally good if a tad sloppy – they clearly spent the most time on the buxom booty and a few cheap ‘poke outs’ and not enough time on the piranhas themselves, but on the whole it was decent. There’s a bunch of nice nods to Jaws, from the poster through to ‘the dolly shot’, when Brody realises what’s happening, and even the casting of Dreyfuss. My biggest complaint is that for the robbery extra cost of seeing a 3D flick it’s very short – although given that Piranha barely sustains itself for 75-80 minutes this may be a godsend! All-in Piranha’s everything you expect it to be: shallow and camp, but bulging with entertaining gore, red dye and constant nudity… what more could you want from a B-movie? Guilty pleasure of the summer.