Salma Hayek is a one-woman army, Tom Berenger reprises a role, and a drive-in cash-in shifts gears.
Kidnapped from her life four years ago by criminal kingpin Taiko, forced into prostitution, kept captive in a highly secure apartment building owned by Taiko and inhabited by his workers, Everly (Salma Hayek) has recently been taking steps to escape from this nightmare, getting in contact with the one good cop she could find in the city and working with him to take Taiko down.
Unfortunately, Taiko finds out what Everly's been up to. As the film opens, she has just been brutalized by a group of his enforcers and delivered a box with the cop's head inside. Stumbling into the bathroom, Everly retrieves a gun she had hidden in the toilet tank and uses it to get her revenge on the men in her apartment. With that, the action begins, and it rarely lets up for the rest of the movie's 92 minute running time.
Unable to leave the building because of the security guards, Everly is trapped in her apartment as Taiko puts a $50,000 bounty on her head and sends wave after wave of assassins after her. As Everly faces off with both heavily armed professionals and fellow building residents who want the cash, Taiko gives her reason to fight for her life with even more fervor when he threatens the lives of the young daughter he stole her away from and her mother, who has been taking care of the child.
With his third feature, director Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Knights of Badassdom) steps out of the horror genre and dives right into action, working from a screenplay by Yale Hannon.
Together, Lynch and Hannon have created a film that could be accurately described as "Die Hard in a room", as Everly is set during the Christmas season, has a soundtrack of Christmas songs, and has at its core a character stuck in one location as they fight to save their own life and the lives of loved ones. Also fitting would be "Kill Bill in a room", as moments of violence, the Japanese influence, and the element of a mother fighting for her daughter are reminiscent of that film. A character known only as Dead Man, a Taiko employee who Everly bonds with somewhat as he slowly dies of a gut shot, is reminiscent of a character in another Quentin Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs.
Lynch handles the action sequences very well, and for a relatively low budget movie the film looks absolutely incredible.
Hayek gives a very strong performance in the titular role. The actress has kind of drifted off my radar in recent years, but this is sort of a return to the type of movie that first brought her recognition (Robert Rodriguez's Desperado was her breakthrough), and she does wonderful work both conveying the emotion of the situation and the strength of a character waging a one woman war against a multitude of attackers. Everly is hurt in many ways over the course of the film, but she deals with the physical and mental pain, patches her wounds with duct tape, and soldiers on.
I thought Everly would be totally off-the-wall bonkers, and the movie does go that far at some points, but overall it's a much darker, deeper viewing experience than I expected. It's a great film, and one which takes Joe Lynch's career to a whole new level.
Everly is currently available on VOD and will have a theatrical run beginning on February 27.
SNIPER 2 (2002)
Despite how cool and interesting Tom Berenger's character of Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett was in the 1993 film Sniper, it always seemed like a standalone movie. Beckett's mission was completed, his career as a sniper was over, viewers were not likely to ever see him again. But nine years later, TriStar Pictures decided that Sniper was a property worth revisiting, and Berenger and Beckett were put back in action.
Tasked to bring the character back to the screen were a writing duo who earned their first film credit on Sniper 2, Ron Mita and Jim McClain (they would go on to provide the stories for S.W.A.T. and Robots), and director Craig R. Baxley, a stunt coordinator turned helmer who began his feature directing career with the incredible B action hat trick of Action Jackson, I Come in Peace, and Stone Cold.
As the sequel begins, Beckett is, as the ending of the preceding film indicated he would be, retired from the Marines due to losing his trigger finger, but he's had a lot of trouble adjusting to civilian life. He has maintained his shooting skills, though, and the fact that he won the recent Kodiak Long Range Marksman Tournament, besting the Marine Corps Rifle Team and seven S.W.A.T. members, has caught the attention of the C.I.A.
Beckett is offered an assignment which is considered to be a suicide mission, as he deduces from the potential compensation being "anything he wants". What Beckett wants is his rank as Master Gunnery Sergeant back, and for that he agrees to go to Serbia and assassinate a rogue General who has been commanding his men to commit genocide.
To serve as Beckett's spotter, a former Army sniper who has been sitting on death row for killing a DEA agent in an act of vengeance is plucked out of jail and promised a pardon if the mission is successful. Unlike Billy Zane's out-of-his-element character in the first movie, this spotter, Bokeem Woodbine as Jake Cole, is experienced and knows how to do the job.
Beckett is fifty, down a finger, sometimes his eyes get blurry, but if the assassination of the General was all this movie was about, it'd be a 30 minute short. Unfortunately for him, there is a hidden agenda to this excursion into Serbia, Cole has a secondary mission to perform that Beckett was not informed of, and the attempt to carry that secret objective out leads to a whole lot of action throughout the next two thirds of the running time.
To help Cole and escape the country, Beckett must join with a small group of local separatists and, using weapons left over from World War II, go into battle with the soldiers who served under the general.
Sniper 2 is a typical sequel in that it ups the ante in the action department, featuring more gunfire, explosions, and vehicular mayhem than its predecessor. This is the type of movie where cars explode into massive fireballs upon any kind of impact. It all culminates in a fantastic cat-and-mouse sniper vs. sniper sequence.
As you'd expect with a stunt coordinator behind the camera, all of this action looks really good on the screen. The action is also quite different this time around, as the characters fought their battles in the jungle in the first movie, while here the fights are primarily on city streets and around buildings that have been left in ruin by war.
The story is serviceable, and there was respectable work done to give the characters some depth. The essence of who Beckett is was retained, and he has grown since we last saw him, the events of the '93 film had an effect on him. Cole has a strong, emotional back story and there are layers to his actions.
Viewers may have never expected to see a Sniper 2, but the one delivered by Mita, McClain, and Baxley stands as a worthy follow-up that pays respect to what came before and is a solid film in its own right.
HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS (1970)
Director Al Adamson's film Hell's Bloody Devils earns a mention not through its quality so much as the story of its production and marketing.
The movie was filmed in 1967 under the title The Fakers (and alternately, at some point, Operation M) and was intended to be a low budget drive-in cash-in on the James Bond franchise, which was only five years and five movies old at that time.
John Gabriel stars as suave secret agent Mark Adams, who has been working undercover in a Las Vegas crime syndicate for five years. When the syndicate is contacted by Count Von Delberg, the head of the New Nazi Party who is looking to fund his revival of the group by selling counterfeit cash made from unmarked World War II era plates, Adams is sent to meet the Count and hopefully buy the plates from him.
The plates are not for sale, but while Adams can't complete his syndicate mission, he does start to focus on a government mission of bringing down the Count and ending his Nazi dreams. He's aided in this endeavor by the Count's right hand woman, Carol Bechtal, who is actually an Israeli agent seeking revenge for the murder of her parents at Auschwitz.
Adamson did his best to create a spy/crime adventure on pocket change, emulating Bond as much as possible. Adams wears suits, does judo chops, and woos the ladies, and in one scene Carol meets up with a gadget maker who equips her with an exploding pen. The movie even starts out with a stylized title sequence with the title song composed by Nelson Riddle and sung by Debbie Stuart playing over it.
Stuart sings another song, "When Did the Sun Come Out", for a love montage that occurs later in the film, which includes Adams taking his date out for lunch at KFC. Colonel Sanders makes a cameo in exchange for him providing chicken for the cast and crew.
In addition to Sanders, Adamson sought to bring attention and viewers to his movie by filling the supporting cast with stars of the past like Broderick Crawford, John Carradine, and Kent Taylor, as well as Playboy Playmate Anne Randall showing up for a nude cameo.
Unfortunately, when the movie was finished Adamson couldn't find anyone who was willing to distribute his cheapo take on Bond. The Fakers sat on the shelf for a couple years... Until its cinematographer, Laszlo Kovacs, worked on a movie that was a smash success: the 1969 motorcycle picture Easy Rider. Now there was another type of movie Adamson could cash in on, and he jumped at the opportunity.
Approximately 17 minutes of new footage was shot to add in a biker gang called the Bloody Devils, who work as enforcers for Count Von Delberg. These new scenes feature Carol paying the bikers for jobs, the bikers beating people up, having a mini-orgy with a couple of hitchhikers, and just driving their motorcycles around the desert. These scenes got the movie, now re-titled Hell's Bloody Devils, into drive-ins and grindhouses and became the centerpiece of the marketing campaign. A new motorcycle movie shot by the same person who shot Easy Rider!
The result of mixing spy movie and biker movie footage is a nonsensical mess where it's hard to follow who's connected to who or how and what they're up to. Seemingly important scenes between characters were cut along the way, only to be referenced in dialogue. It's all very scattered and off-putting. But Adamson got his movie made, released, and it's still around, so that's a success.