Sex, Leins & Videotape #60. Paignton film critic Tom Leins takes aim at this week’s DVD releases in an explosive action movie special!
This summer’s unstoppable barrage of ensemble action movies -which included The A-Team and The Expendables -meant that the comparatively less star-studded The Losers (Optimum) ended up getting lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame, as former music video director Sylvain White’s adaptation of the 2003 comic book series is a great action movie that boasts a genuine visual flair and a quirky sense of humour.
When a CIA black ops unit is betrayed and left for dead in Bolivia by Max, their shadowy handler, they are offered a lifeline by Aisha (Zoe Saldana), an enigmatic figure with CIA connections who needs their help in enacting a violent vendetta of her own. The protagonists: Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Roque (Idris Elba), Jensen (Chris Evans), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) are then plunged into a warped world of government intrigue and weapons of mass devastation.
Few film fans would have credited director White with having the chops to pull off an explosive action movie -considering his previous Hollywood effort was dance movie Stomp The Yard -but he rolls out a series of explosive set-pieces as the movie zig-zags across the globe with breathless verve.
The cast is great, too -particularly elegantly dishevelled Morgan, wisecracking techno-geek Evans and sultry Saldana. If you have enjoyed stuff like The A-Team, and also Prison Break Season 4 (whose storyline about a crew of misfits trying to get to the bottom of a hi-tech government conspiracy is echoed here) then it’s a safe bet that you’ll appreciate The Losers too. As long as you don’t object to the movie’s cheerful excesses, there’s great fun to be had here. Fingers crossed the producers approve a sequel comprising the remaining comics in the series.
Fresh from an appearance in The Expendables, retired wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin consolidates his Hollywood ambitions with Hunt To Kill (Anchor Bay), a survivalist action thriller set in the rugged wilderness adjacent to the Canadian border. Austin stars as Jim Rhodes, a reclusive border patrol agent who is tormented by the death of his former partner in a bloody Mexican meth-lab shootout. After retreating to the opposite end of the country to lick his wounds, Rhodes finds himself embroiled in a bloodthirsty battle of wits when a gang of feuding criminals kidnap his daughter and force him to guide them into the wilderness to track down their missing partner and retrieve their stolen share of the spoils.
Reuniting Austin with B-movie veterans Gil Bellows, Eric Roberts and Gary Daniels -all of whom crop up alongside him in Sly Stallone’s The Expendables -Hunt To Kill flaunts its straight-to-DVD pedigree for all to see, and Austin not only treats us to a handful of glib, Arnie-style puns, he also shouts out the movie’s title as he prepares to deliver the final blow (‘when I hunt, I hunt to kill!’). It may not be as enjoyable as Austin’s earlier film, The Condemned, but Hunt To Kill still offers plenty of violent entertainment for any 80s video shop devotees who think that they don’t make ’em like they used to.
Inspired by a recurring sketch on the enduringly popular US comedy show Saturday Night Live, MacGruber (Universal) sees Will Forte reprise his hapless American soldier of mis-fortune role in a feature-length frenzy of explosive crudeness. Holed up in an Asian monastery after the violent death of his fiancÃ©e, MacGruber is lured out of self-imposed retirement when his arch-nemesis, international terrorist Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) threatens to detonate a stolen nuclear warhead. Some critics have suggested that British audiences’ failure to engage with MacGruber is down to Saturday Night Live’s minimal impact on this side of the Atlantic, but in reality the film’s problem is that it attempts to stretch a five-minute skit into a 90 minute movie.
MacGruber isn’t a total waste of time, as it does possess a reasonable number of laugh-out-loud moments, but these are few and far between, and after 20 minutes the movie runs out of steam, mistaking crass humour for shock value. Tropic Thunder proved that this kind of fusion of action and comedy can work over an extended period of time, but it was blessed with funnier characters, a better central conceit and more sophisticated gags. Too often, MacGruber resorts to mimicking 80s action movie set-pieces, relying on their inherent comic value, without actually altering them in any way. The fact that the movie resorts to draining every laugh possible out of Val Kilmer’s character’s name (Dieter Von Cunth) highlights quite how badly it is struggling for inspiration. Overall: sporadically amusing, but nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is.
With a Bourne Identity-aping title and an array of glamorous international locations (Bangkok, Prague, erm Omaha) Echelon Conspiracy (Universal) is aimed squarely at fans of the popular action franchise. Unfortunately, director Greg Marcks (the man responsible for cult movie 11:14) fails to understand what made the Bourne films so interesting, and Echelon Conspiracy plods between undemanding scenes without ever cranking up the intrigue to a passable level. Shane West stars as Max Peterson a globe-trotting computer programmer who finds himself in possession of a mysterious mobile phone that sends him inside information about plane crashes, stock market windfalls and other random events. The phone guides him to Prague where he proceeds to follow its instructions and clean out a local casino, earning him the attentions of NSA operative Dave Grant (Ving Rhames) and retired spook turned-casino-manager John Reed (Edward Burns), whose scepticism proves well-founded when the unlikely trio become embroiled in an increasingly violent quest for the truth behind the enigmatic device.
Leading man Shane West is a fairly ineffectual central presence, but he is ably backed by the charismatic pairing of Ving Rhames and Edward Burns who keep things ticking over at a reasonable pace. The less said the better about Martin Sheen’s thankless role as a shadowy National Security Agency chief involved with the conspiracy the better, and it is strange that he involved himself in something this marginal in the first place.
The movie explodes into life halfway through with a thrilling Bourne-style close-quarters combat scene featuring Tamara Feldman (an actress best known for dating Bruce Willis a few years ago). Unfortunately, one great scene does not make a movie, and the film limps towards its inevitable conclusion. With a range of obvious reference filmic reference points and a seriously lazy script, Echelon Conspiracy does little to distinguish itself, and it is easy to see why it was a box office flop Stateside. One to avoid.