Sex, Leins & Videotape

Sex, Leins & Videotape #132. Tom Leins reviews Bad Ass, Sofia and Wrong Turn 4 in this week's straight-to-DVD special.

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Tom Leins scrapes the barrel in this week’s straight-to-DVD special!

Loosely inspired by the real-life viral YouTube clip known as ‘Epic Beard Man’, Bad Ass (20th Century Fox) tells the story of decorated Vietnam hero Frank Vega (Danny Trejo, Con Air) who finds himself plucked out of obscurity after intervening in a violent altercation on a California bus.

In February 2010 67-year-old Thomas A. Bruso became an instant online star when he beat a trash-talking black man on a crowded bus. The deeply ambiguous clip – the dispute has uncomfortable racial undertones and the unhinged-looking Bruso himself was forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation after the incident – undoubtedly makes for arresting viewing, but the producers have tweaked the details to make Bad Ass more palatable for mainstream viewers. As such, the movie commences with an uncannily similar-looking Trejo taking on two skinheads who are harassing an elderly black man, assuring himself local celebrity status in the process. From there, the movie lurches into entirely fictional territory as Frank takes matters into his own hands following the suspicious murder of his best friend Klondike (Sledge Hammer!).

What follows is a cheesy join-the-dots vigilante thriller that sees Trejo stomp across LA busting heads and taking names until he unravels a conspiracy that goes all the way up to the corrupt Mayor Williams (Ron Perlman, Sons of Anarchy). Although Bad Ass is a clear throwback to the Charles Bronson/Death Wish school of filmmaking, it also pays lip service to Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino and Rutger Hauer’s Hobo With A Shotgun, albeit with none of the former’s cantankerous charm, and not enough of the latter’s gore-streaked carnage.

While Robert Rodriguez transformed Machete from a spoof trailer into a crowd-pleasing feature film, Bad Ass outstays its welcome, and despite some appealing moments, it is far too silly to warrant repeat viewings. Machete sealed Trejo’s reputation as a Mexploitation icon, but Bad Ass feels like a missed opportunity.

For the last decade washed-up action stars such as Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Wesley Snipes have managed to secure a regular source of employment in Bulgaria, a country where you can evidently churn out undemanding thrillers on the cheap without sacrificing your B-list credibility. More often than not, these movies will be ostensibly set in slightly more glamorous cities, but Sofia (Lionsgate) is a clear exception to that rule, proudly giving its drab Eastern European location top-billing. When an unknown vigilante starts killing high-priority terrorists from America’s ‘Most Wanted’ list in Europe, tormented former FBI agent Robert Diggs (Christian Slater) is brought in by the US Ambassador (Donald Sutherland) to discover the identity of the assassin. During the course of his investigation, Diggs become infatuated by a mysterious belly dancer, unaware of her true vocation.

Previously known as Assassin’s Bullet, but tweaked following a disastrously brief theatrical run in the US, Sofia is a dreary, muddled affair that utterly wastes Slater and Sutherland, as well as Timothy Spall who pops up in an improbable extended cameo as a psychiatrist who has a vested interest in the protagonist. Ostensibly devised as a vanity project by leading lady Elika Portnoy, Sofia clumsily mashes up chunks of everything from Nikita to Bourne, with scant regard for its audience’s entertainment. Portnoy herself is a strangely lacklustre screen presence, and struggles to convince throughout. After an unfortunate spell in the Hollywood wilderness Christian Slater looks poised for a mini-comeback with roles in upcoming Elmore Leonard adaptation Freaky Deaky and Walter Hill’s Bullet To The Head. On this evidence he is still a charismatic performer, but the sooner he leaves garbage like Sofia behind the better for everyone.

In recent years 20th Century Fox has arguably been one of the biggest culprits in churning out sub-standard straight-to-DVD sequels to well-liked movies, with the later movies often lacking even the flimsiest connections to their predecessors. One of the prime examples of this trend is the Wrong Turn franchise, which followed up 2003’s original with 2007’s enjoyable Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, before lowering the tone in 2009 with Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead. Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (20th Century Fox) continues the downward spiral with a lowest common denominator prequel/sequel hybrid that briefly shines a light on the origins of 3 Finger, Saw-Tooth and One-Eye before jumping forward in time to resume the grisly storyline.

Commencing in 1974 at an isolated lunatic asylum in the West Virginia wilderness, a family of inbred hillbilly cannibals are being held in seclusion. However the crafty flesh-munchers engineer their escape from the facility and enact sadistic revenge on their jailers. Decades later, a group of brash, shallow college students take an inevitable ‘wrong turn’ whilst bombing around on snowmobiles, and seek refuge in the now-abandoned asylum during a ferocious blizzard. Not even the discovery of a set of  abandoned medical files detailing the identities of the hideously deformed former inhabitants can dampen their enthusiasm for the sprawling building however, and before too long their night takes a turn for the worse, with the demented trio of hillbillies picking off the youngsters one by one….

After winning fans over with Wrong Turn 2’s better-than-expected sequel, the latest instalment undoes all of the hard work with its lazily generic storytelling and unashamed cash-in approach. The gore is still present and correct, but everything else required to make a horror film even vaguely memorable is sadly lacking. Horrifyingly bad.

 

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