Elmore Leonard crafts another Western, Bloodfist drops The Dragon, and Denzel Washington equalizes.
Directed by veteran film and television helmer Virgil W. Vogel, who racked up 80 credits (not counting individual TV show episodes) between 1956 and 1996, the TV movie Desperado was originally intended to launch a new Western series in the tradition of Wagon Train and Bonanza, both of which Vogel worked on. The teleplay was written by legendary novelist Elmore Leonard, which is what drew me into my recent viewing of it.
Leonard's script was titled Duell McCall, which is also the name of the lead character, who is played by Alex McArthur. McCall is introduced when he stops for a bite to eat during a cattle drive and ends up on the bad side of some stagecoach robbers. When his life is threatened, McCall makes quick work of the robbers, establishing the fact that we'll be following a hero who can handle himself quite well.
Upon reaching his destination, McCall right away finds himself on the bad side of some more characters, like David Warner and Yaphet Kotto as Ballard and Bede, the representatives of the company that has taken control of the town. At first he does this by hurting their pride. He visits his regular hooker Sally (Sydney Walsh, who I recognized from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2) on a day when Ballard intended to visit her - Ballard doesn't like her having other customers on his days. Then he calls Bede out for cheating during a card game. Ballard and Bede get on McCall's bad side in return, as do the company men who are trying to steal the property of the local rancher McCall befriends, Donald Moffat as a man named Malloy. While helping Malloy protect his land, McCall also strikes up a romance with the man's daughter Nora (Lise Cutter), which makes her and Sally jealous of each other.
With the company even making the town sheriff (Robert Vaughn) completely ineffectual, it's down to only McCall and the Malloys to stand up to their wrongdoing, which includes finding excuses to kill people who stand in their way and infuriatingly perpetuating these lies.
Our heroes have to endure shootouts, dynamite detonations, and dire circumstances on the way to the classic style final showdown.
Leonard got his start writing Westerns, earning two cents a word at the beginning of his career. It's a genre he knew well, and he crafted a fine one with this story. Apparently at one time there was a description on Leonard's official site that implied something was lost during the project's journey to the screen, which didn't involve Leonard after he submitted the script two years earlier, but I found Desperado to be an enjoyable watch.
That's even despite the fact that I found McArthur's performance in the lead role to be occasionally lacking. He still has his moments, and the actors around him are great. I liked the character interactions and the way the scenario plays out, and Warner plays a wonderfully detestable "untouchable" villain. The sort of guy who when faced with someone daring enough to disagree with him will drop a line like, "A free thinker. Shoot him, Bede!"
If you like Westerns, Leonard, or both, Desperado is well worth checking out if you can catch it somehow. Unfortunately, a VHS release in the UK seems to have been the only official home video release it has ever received.
The broadcast of this TV movie did not lead to the production of a weekly series, but this also wasn't the end of Duell McCall's adventures. Four TV movie sequels followed over the next two years: - The Return of Desperado and Desperado: Avalanche at Devil's Ridge in 1988, Desperado: The Outlaw Wars and Desperado: Badlands Justice in 1989. Elmore Leonard was not involved with any of the follow-ups.
BLOODFIST 2050 (2005)
Producer Roger Corman's practice of slapping the Bloodfist title onto standalone action films was taken a movie too far with Bloodfist 2050, which came out nine years after the previous installment in the franchise, Bloodfist VIII: Hard Way Out. It sticks out among the bunch, and I don't say that because it's set in a dystopian future while the other movies were modern day. A Bloodfist movie can be anything, as long as there's a key ingredient present, and that ingredient is missing from this film.
Bloodfist movies star Don "The Dragon" Wilson. Don "The Dragon" Wilson is not in Bloodfist 2050.
This film stars Matt Mullins, and the opening credits sequence keeps in the Bloodfist series tradition by notifying the viewer of his fighting credentials by listing them right beneath his name. Mullins was the five-time World Martial Arts Champion. His character, a fellow named Alex Danko, is introduced in the midst of a vehicular chase sequence straight out of Mad Max as he makes his way through the desert. His destination: the ravaged city of Los Angeles. A place in such bad condition that human corpses are "recycled" for the water in them.
Once Alex is in L.A., you do have to start to admit that this movie has some claim to the Bloodfist title, because it turns out that this is basically a remake of the original Bloodfist. There, Wilson's character went to Manila to find out who killed his tournament fighting brother, and here Alex arrives in L.A. to find out that his brother has been murdered and had been fighting at a venue called The Pit. Wilson's character befriended a tournament fighter and fell for his stripper sister, Alex befriends a Pit fighter and falls for his stripper sister. Interestingly, the actors who play siblings Randy and Nadia Boikanovich, Glen Meadows and prolific B-movie/softcore actress Beverly Lynne, got married and started a family soon after the making of this movie.
Lynne's penchant for nudity is taken full advantage of here, as her character's profession allows for multiple strip club scenes, and later a sex scene with Alex.
The nudity and sex is used to break up the fight scenes a little bit, as Alex runs into a whole lot of people who want to engage in fisticuffs with him, even before he decides he needs to become a Pit fighter himself so he can suss out who killed his brother. Before entering the fighting business, Alex receives some training from local detective "Slick" Marino (Joe Sabatino), and if you've seen the first Bloodfist then you know what's in store for all of these characters.
The Dragon may be absent, but the 2050 cast does feature several actors from previous Bloodfists. Monsour Del Rosario, who plays prime suspect Great Ahmed Kahn, was in Bloodfist II, as were co-stars Nash Espinosa and Joseph Zucchero. Part 1 antagonist Cris Aguilar is in there as a character called Killer Kane. Returning from the first two movies is Joe Mari Avellana, who plays the MC of the Pit fights in addition to serving as the movie's production designer. You don't often see actors pulling that kind of double duty.
Directed by legendary Filipino B-movie filmmaker Cirio H. Santiago (T.N.T. Jackson) from a screenplay by Michael Henry Carter, Bloodfist 2050 is lacking The Dragon and Mullins is no replacement, but it's a decently entertaining fight flick if you can get beyond that. The best thing about it is how retro it feels. This does not look like a movie that was made in the 21st century, it looks at least ten years older than it is and is exactly like the movies that were coming out in the '90s and '80s. It was a throwback before making throwbacks was so en vogue, and I don't think it was even on purpose, it just reflects Santiago and Corman's old school sensibilities.
This is the type of movie they should still be pumping out today. Just don't call them Bloodfist unless they star Don "The Dragon" Wilson.
THE EQUALIZER (2014)
In 1985, Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim created a television series called The Equalizer, which starred middle-aged British actor Edward Woodward as former covert operative Robert McCall, who after leaving the mysterious agency he worked for decides to use his skills to help out people in need. He puts an ad in a newspaper: "Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer." The Equalizer being a nickname he was given during his service. For four seasons, the Equalizer helped people out of all sorts of jams. The show began when I was a few months short of two and ended when I was approaching six, and I remember when my maternal grandmother would watch episodes - probably catching reruns as well - and I thought that show was a complete bore. Beyond the first couple episodes, I haven't gone back to give the show another chance, but I definitely was not a fan at the time.
Another person who wasn't a fan was Denzel Washington, who would go on to star in this reboot of the property nearly thirty years. It wasn't that he didn't like it, he just didn't watch it. As it turns out, there is no reason to have a familiarity with the TV show when going in to watch the movie, because it is really nothing like the movie. It's called The Equalizer for name recognition, but how much weight does that title carry these days? This movie could have been called anything else, no one ever would have connected it to The Equalizer. Just change the name of Washington's character and it's an entirely original film. This age of reboots and remakes doesn't make sense sometimes.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) from a screenplay by Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2), this version of The Equalizer finds Washington's former covert operative Robert McCall living a quiet life and working in a hardware store. McCall's life gets shaken up big time when he befriends a fellow regular at a diner, a teenage prostitute named Teri and played by Chloe Grace Moretz (Hugo and the Carrie, Amityville Horror, and Let the Right One In remakes). When the girl defends herself against one of her johns, her pimp punishes her so severely that she's sent to the hospital. McCall visits the pimp and attempts to buy Teri's freedom with $9800, a scene that had me flashing back to a similar moment in True Romance. And like the pimp confrontation in True Romance, this one explodes into violence, with McCall killing the pimp and a room full of his lackeys.
Teri may be free now, but McCall has just made himself the target of the pimp's buddies in the Russian mafia, who also have some corrupt cops (among them David Harbour from Quantum of Solace) working for them - corrupt cops who have coincidentally been tormenting the family of one of McCall's co-workers, so taking them down is also another good deed for a friend.
Over the course of the TV show, Woodward's McCall would frequently interact with colleagues from the agency, and Washington's does the same in the midst of all this, stopping by to visit married agents played by Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo - who happens to have played a completely unrelated character in the third episode of the show.
Sometimes when McCall is faced with danger, we get a glimpse into his thought process as he assesses the situation and takes note of items he's going to use as weapons. It's a nifty visual trick, but reminded me a bit too much of the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies for me to be very impressed. McCall's violent abilities are impressive when he puts them to use, though, and it's fun to watch Washington mess up the bad guys.
McCall gets into plenty of altercations during the film's overly long 132 minute running time, and it all builds up to a battle between him and Russian mob lackeys that is waged in the aisles of the hardware store. This was my favorite sequence in the film, largely because it reminded me so much of a slasher movie, with McCall taking the role of the slasher as he dispatches the villains one-by-one.
I probably would liked The Equalizer more if it were thirty minutes or so shorter, but I still enjoyed it at the inflated length it is. It's a decent action/thriller, and entertained me more than the TV show did when I was five.