Tom Leins has his finger on the trigger as he takes aim at this week’s action-packed DVD releases.
Improbably directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, violent Indonesian action thriller The Raid (Momentum) signals the arrival of a bold new talent.
Deep in the heart of one of Jakarta’s most deprived slums stands an impenetrable high-rise tower block, ruled with an iron fist by fearsome crime-lord Tama Riyadi. In exchange for the opportunity to stay in Tama’s enormous safe-house, the city’s most dangerous killers and drug addicts are willing to put their lives on the line and fight off anyone who attempts to breach the stronghold. Despite generally being considered a ‘no-go area’ for cops, a SWAT team is dispatched to infiltrate the building and flush out the filth. However, the mission quickly backfires as a number of naÃ¯ve rookie cops are picked off by their merciless opponents, leaving hardboiled cop Sergeant Jaka and clean-cut expectant father Rama (Iko Uwais, Merantau) to fend for themselves and try and get out of the tower block alive.
Former footballer/delivery driver/Silat fighter Iko Uwais has the skills to pay the bills, and based on this display he could quite easily become the Bruce Lee for the Oldboy generation! Considering the sporadic sadism on display, Oldboy is a key reference point, but The Raid also compares favourably to Die Hard -if, that is -the Nakatomi Plaza was seething with Indonesian low-lives armed to the teeth with axes, machetes and hammers, rather than comical-looking German terrorists with machine guns!
Despite being made for a mere £1.1 million, The Raid contains more pulse-pounding mayhem than a film 20 times more expensive, and director Evans unveils an enviable array of set-pieces, which will almost certainly make Hollywood’s power-players sit up and take notice. Both Evans and leading man Uwais seem certain to have glittering futures -here’s hoping that they stay true to their roots and don’t get swallowed up and spat out by the Hollywood machine.
Previously known as Get The Gringo, How I Spent my Summer Vacation (Lionsgate) opens with a high-speed car chase led by the enigmatic Driver (Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon). With a boot-load full of stolen cash, and a dying partner in the backseat, Driver crashes through the US-Mexico border and promptly finds himself apprehended by corrupt Mexican authorities, and chucked into El Pueblito, the country’s most dangerously surreal prison. Aided by a tough-talking 10-year-old kid (Kevin Hernandez, The Sitter) Driver -a career criminal who has burned off his own fingerprints -quickly learns the ropes and formulates a violent plan to seize back his missing loot.
Directed by Adrian Grunberg -Mel’s first assistant director on the excellent Apocalypto -and co-written by Gibson himself, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is a quirky, colourful caper movie that would surely have given its leading man’s career a welcome shot in the arm if his reputation wasn’t so irredeemably damaged. Despite his numerous and well-documented personality defects, Gibson remains a charismatic performer, and The Driver recalls his prime-time knack for morally-compromised tough guys. Although it was lampooned in some quarters for premiering in the US as a video-on-demand (VOD), How I Spent My Vacation is a distinct improvement on the dreary Edge of Darkness and the baffling The Beaver. Who knows, maybe Gibson will shun the mainstream altogether and develop a new sideline in violent straight-to-DVD thrillers?
Not to be confused with the similarly-named 2010 flick Caught In The Crossfire, Crossfire (eOne), which also stars rapper-turned-actor 50 Cent, was originally known as Freelancers upon its limited (eleven day) US cinema release. The plot sees the ubiquitous hip-hop star (real name Curtis Jackson) star as Jonas ‘Malo’ Maldonado, the son of a slain NYPD officer, who joins the police academy along with his two best friends (Malcolm Goodwin and Ryan O’Nan) in a bid to make a clean break from their chequered pasts. Within hours of graduating, Malo is taken under the wing of his father’s former partner Captain Joe Sarcone (Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver), and deployed as part of Sarcone’s rogue Vice Crime Task Force. Inevitably, he finds that corruption and racism are rampant within the department, and is forced to choose which side of the law to follow.
Bobby De Niro’s lazy streak has already seen him dip his toes in straight-to-DVD waters with prison drama Stone, but it is surprising to see him pop up here, alongside fellow Oscar winner Forest Whitaker. Despite already working with 50 Cent in the breathtakingly bad Righteous Kill, De Niro was happy to sign up for another dose of B-movie trash, and Dominican music video director Jessy Terrero also has form in this department after previously helming the utterly woeful 50 Cent thriller Gun. Mercifully this movie is better than both of those sub-par efforts, even if the script lapses into clichÃ© far too often for comfort. As is generally the case, 50 Cent’s limited acting range is dangerously exposed by his co-stars, who include a number of small-screen veterans, such as Malcolm Goodwin (Breakout Kings), Robert Wisdom (Prison Break) and Andre Royo (The Wire). On the plus side, Crossfire resolutely follows in the footsteps of the work of David Ayer (Harsh Times) and Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), albeit with none of the flair of its predecessors. It may fall short of its gritty influences, but Crossfire is arguably 50 Cent’s most worthwhile movie yet. Yikes.