An action hero attempts to rise, Greydon Clark takes a different approach, bugs return, and the future gets dark.
THE PERFECT WEAPON (1991)
Twenty-five years later, we know that Jeff Speakman's acting career didn't exactly catch fire after the release of The Perfect Weapon. This was the moment when his career flared up brightly, but then it promptly dimmed back down. At the time of its release, though, The Perfect Weapon was a big deal among action fans. This appeared to be the emergence of a new action star, someone who might join the ranks of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, and Seagal. I can clearly remember my father marveling at the speed at which Speakman could perform his martial arts moves.
A star was not born with this film, but they were trying. The Perfect Weapon was directed and co-produced by Mark DiSalle, the same producer/director who had given Jean-Claude Van Damme his boost to stardom with Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Death Warrant. DiSalle first introduces us to Speakman's character Jeff Sanders while he's working on a construction crew, and you've never seen a cleaner, more well groomed construction worker. There's not a hair out of place, and not a drop of sweat on him.
As he practices kenpo in his living room that evening, however, there is a fine sheen of sweat (or oil) on his shirtless body. As he does his moves, "The Power" by Snap! plays on the soundtrack. This spectacle ends with the song, and then we can get to the story written by David C. Wilson.
Jeff Sanders is a hero with a troubled past. His mom died when he was young, an event that sent him spiraling out of control. Struggling to figure out what to do with his son, his police officer father Carl (Beau Starr of Halloween 4 and 5) takes the advice of family friend Kim (Mako) and enrolls him in a kenpo karate school. Jeff becomes a very good student in kenpo, but things come crashing down when he's a teenager. Protecting his younger brother Adam from a bullying football player, Jeff goes too far and uses his kenpo moves to kick the hell out of the bully.
The image of young Jeff kicking the young football player in his helmeted head has stuck with me ever since I first saw this film when I was a little kid, although largely for the wrong reasons. The way I remembered it, Jeff accidentally killed the bully, kicking him in the head so hard that it broke his neck. That's not the case, he just knocks the kid out.
Knocking the bully out was still enough to cause Carl to throw Jeff out of the house and order him to stay away from his younger brother. He's a bad influence and Carl is done with him.
Years pass and Jeff stays in contact only with Kim. When the Korean Mafia starts leaning on Kim, trying to force him to let them use his antique store as a storage space for their meth shipments, it prompts Jeff to finally return to his hometown. He coincidentally arrives just in time to find enforcers smashing up Kim's store, and if he left them alone I'm not sure they would have done as much damage as he manages to cause while fighting them off.
Tragedy follows victory, as soon after Kim is murdered by the biggest, baddest enforcer around - a man named Tanaka and played by professional wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka, who went up against Schwarzenegger as the killer called Subzero in The Running Man.
The Tanaka character is another element that has remained in my mind over the years. The guy is huge, and he's nearly unstoppable, enduring multiple car crashes and a couple shots from a taser gun, and barely flinching when Jeff hits him. He's quite reminiscent of Harold Sakata as Oddjob in Goldfinger in a way, he just doesn't have a cool hat.
Jeff runs after Tanaka's car when he sees him driving away from the crime scene, but isn't able to catch up with him for a fight just yet. Don't worry, Wilson and DiSalle throw a quick fight in here anyway - as soon as Jeff loses the car, he's randomly attacked by four muggers, including stuntman/character actor Thomas Rosales Jr. I always enjoy seeing him show up in movies, and I love that the filmmakers dropped this completely random bit of violence in there.
Even though his brother Adam (John Dye) is now a detective and the one assigned to the Kim murder case, Jeff decides to take the law into his own hands and fight his way up the ranks of the Korean Mafia to reach the boss behind it all. Along the way he runs into more familiar faces, like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Lew, Branscombe Richmond, and Al Leong as villains with varying screen times (mere seconds for some of them), Dante Basco (you may know him as Rufio from Hook) as a helpful street kid, and James Hong as Yung, a friend of Kim's who points Jeff in the direction of the local mafia leaders.
The movie never goes more than a few minutes before throwing some more bad guys Jeff's way so he can beat them to a pulp with fists and feet, but there is also drama amidst the violence and chases, as we get to watch Jeff repair his relationships with his brother and father. Shockingly, he doesn't find time for a love interest, as heroes so often do, but Mariska Hargitay does show up for a cameo as a childhood friend of Jeff's. Maybe that's something that would have been fleshed out in a sequel.
Paramount apparently was planning to produce a Perfect Weapon 2, and were also developing Speed as a Speakman vehicle, but things fell apart for him there when the studio changed CEOs.
It's a shame that Speakman didn't become the next big thing, because he definitely had the potential for it. He has a likeable screen presence (which certainly gives him points over Seagal), a midwestern charm (born and raised in Chicago), and he handles the fight choreography just as well as his contemporaries did. He just didn't have luck on his side. His acting career has continued, he has been in several films since The Perfect Weapon, he just deserved to be a lot more popular and to be in bigger productions.
DiSalle's attempt to make him a star with The Perfect Weapon was a valiant effort, and they made a highly enjoyable film together, one that delivers a breezy 85 minutes of action-packed entertainment.
THE BAD BUNCH (1973)
After acting in David L. Hewitt's The Mighty Gorga and working with director Al Adamson on Satan's Sadists, Hell's Bloody Devils, and Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Greydon Clark took the helm of a feature film himself, and his feature directorial debut is also his second feature. Confusing?
The Bad Bunch first came into existence as an anti-establishment drama called Mothers, Fathers and Lovers. Clark wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which centered on a young man who was being pushed into marriage. On his wedding day, he thinks back on his life, to his experiences in Vietnam, to a time before he went to war, and to when he came back from the war and struck up a relationship with the woman who was to become his wife. Because of its counter-culture vibe and shocking story elements - the man and woman were living together before they got married! - the older, more conservative men who ran the distribution companies did not understand Mothers, Fathers and Lovers at all. Clark did eventually manage to make a deal with a distributor, but Mothers, Fathers and Lovers barely got any exposure from that. Clark couldn't get his movie out into the world, so it was looking like a failure.
Working with Adamson had taught him some unconventional tricks, though. He had watched Adamson turn a spy movie into a biker film with Hell's Bloody Devils, and he realized he could salvage Mothers, Fathers and Lovers in a similar way. One distributor had told him that his Vietnam vet character should have gotten involved with violence when he came back to the states rather than falling in love, so Clark took the story in that direction while also working his film into a sub-genre that was doing big business at the box office at the time: blaxploitation.
Mothers, Fathers and Lovers had included a scene in Vietnam where Clark's character, Jim, was talking with an African American fellow soldier named Clay about racism. A conversation that's cut short when Clay is shot dead by the Viet Cong. Clark decided to use that scene as the starting off point for the reworking, and it is indeed the first scene in the film we now know as The Bad Bunch.
After getting back from the war, Jim travels to Watts to deliver an unfinished letter Clay had been writing to his father when he was killed. Clay's father is very appreciative, but someone who's not happy to see Jim is Clay's brother Tom (Tom Johnigarn), who has joined a gang and is now going by the name Makimba.
Makimba and his gang chase Jim down and are in the middle of beating the hell out of him when they're interrupted by a pair of cops played by Aldo Ray and Jock Mahoney, known names at the time whose careers were in decline.
Jim goes on his way after that, and for the rest of the running time the film cuts back and forth between his life and Makimba's. The Makimba storyline shows him continuing to be menaced by Ray and Mahoney, dealing with the crime that surrounds him, and stewing over Jim getting away, while Jim's storyline is footage from Mothers, Fathers and Lovers - he gets back together with Nancy, the girl he was seeing before the war (she's played by Clark's real life love Jacqueline Cole) and their relationship progresses to them considering living together in a time when that was a tough, controversial decision to make, then a marriage that Jim is pushed into.
One thing's for sure, the reworking of Mothers, Fathers and Lovers into The Bad Bunch was not nearly as messy as Adamson's creation of Hell's Bloody Devils was. While the tone of the original footage doesn't really match what's going on with Makimba, that does work to get across to the audience how different things are for these two characters. The Bad Bunch actually makes sense; if someone didn't know the back story I don't think they would suspect that this was actually two movies patched together.
Retaining the drama that was originally intended and working in the violence that was requested worked out for Clark, as The Bad Bunch got good distribution and was a box office success. This cheap blaxploitation drama won't appeal to everyone, but viewers who would watch such a film are encouraged to give this one a look.
MIMIC 2 (2001)
One thing I really like about Dimension Films is the way they pump out DTV sequels to some of their genre franchises (Children of the Corn, Hellraiser, Feast, Dracula 2000, The Prophecy, etc.) That's a wonderful thing for a horror fan like me, so often dazzled by series with multiple entries, even when the quality of these sequels fluctuates wildly.
Mimic 2 is a prime example of the Dimension franchise machine. Guillermo del Toro's Mimic hit theatres in 1997, and four years later here comes a sequel on home video. For the script, Dimension went to their go-to guy Joel Soisson, who produces many of Dimension's movies and who wrote sequels for all of the franchises mentioned above, plus more (Pulse 2 and 3, Piranha 3DD, Hollow Man II, Highlander: Endgame). Jean de Segonzac was hired to direct, and looking over his filmography this seems to be the only non-television thing he's ever direction. He is incredibly prolific when it comes to TV work, though, racking up directorial credits on a handful of TV movies and over 40 TV series, often directing multiple episodes of each show.
In Mimic, Kindergarten Cop's Alix Koromzay played Remy Panos, an associate of entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler, creator of the highly dangerous Judas Breed bug. Remy aided Susan in her investigation that led her to the climactic bug action, but Remy exited the picture before the bug battle began. She doesn't avoid facing the bugs in the sequel, but in return for her trouble she has been promoted to being the lead character, so it's a pretty fair trade.
The first film presented Remy as an entomologist by day, musician by night. In the sequel she has gotten a teaching job, educating kids about insects at a New York City school that has been slated for demolition. She's a single woman trying to navigate the dating scene and not having much luck at it, although she seems to date often. You can deduce this because she has the very strange habit of taking a Polaroid selfie every time a guy has upset her. She then labels the picture with the guy's name and sticks it on the wall in a closet in her apartment. She has several Polaroids on that wall. Some of them aren't labelled, so maybe they aren't all guy related, but it's still weird to have a wall of selfies when it's not a Facebook wall. (And even then, I don't know...)
The idea of someone doing this "end of relationship selfie collection" thing is even more disturbing to me than the concept at the center of the Mimic franchise, that there are insects so large that they can mimic the human form and make their way around the streets of NYC looking like shadowy people.
There's only one giant bug to deal with in this sequel, a male who has his own approach to the dating scene: he has chosen Remy as his mate. He wants to make bug-human babies with her. To make this happen, the bug starts knocking off the males in Remy's life, building up to trapping her in the school with two students and the detective who has been investigating the murders. The majority of the film concerns Remy trying to escape the school and the bug's plans for her.
Clocking in at just 82 minutes long, Mimic 2 is a simple and quick monster movie that doesn't have a lot of substance to it, but it provides a decent amount of entertainment while it lasts.
I fully support the decision to make Remy the lead, as I find that Alix Koromzay has a very likeable screen presence, even if her character has some oddities to her. It's disappointing that Koromzay didn't get more lead roles after this, and a shame that she hasn't been in any movies at all in the last ten years. Come back, Alix!
Mimic may be the better film overall, but part 2 is a fun follow-up. It's made well enough, especially for a low budget, direct-to-video sequel, and features some appealingly colorful lighting in some scenes. It does the trick for me.
Director Shane Abbess's Infini takes a cue from Ridley Scott's Alien in that it centers on working class characters in a hi-tech future. The film is set at the turn of the 23rd century, by which time the majority of people live below the poverty line, forcing them to take dangerous interplanetary jobs in order to make a living. Interplanetary travel is done not through space ships, that's old hat. A controversial transportation method called "slipstreaming" is used; matter (like a person) is turned into a data signal that can be transmitted anywhere in the known universe.
This is information that should be conveyed through character interactions and dialogue, but instead it's delivered right up front in blocks of text that appear on the screen. They tell you so much and keep appearing, if there were any more it would have been laughable.
Infini is the name of the most remote outpost in our galaxy, a mining base that was the site of a disaster that claimed the lives of the 1600 people stationed there when the potential energy source they were mining proved to be too volatile. So volatile that it could cause a global catastrophe if it were to enter our atmosphere.
Destroying Earth with this substance, called Opus, seems to be exactly what Montoli Reece, the sole survivor of a fifteen person inspection team that went to Infini after the disaster, wants to do. When a search and rescue team based out of the west coast of the United States attempts to extract Montoli from Infini, things so go so wrong that new hire Whit Carmichael is the last surviving member of the entire west coast division within minutes. Then it's the east coast division's turn to slipstream to Infini, rescue Carmichael, and stop Montoli from getting Opus to Earth.
In addition to the Alien influence, there's also a touch of Event Horizon, Doom, and even Ghostbusters 2 to what ensues in the film... And that's all a longwinded set-up for a movie that I just could not get into at all. There are interesting ideas, it's a well made movie, it looks really good, and it should have appealed to me. It's about a group of characters trapped in one location going nuts, getting infected, and turning on each other, I'm all about that sort of thing in general, but something about Infini just kept me at arms length for the overly long 111 minute duration.
I didn't care about the characters or what was going on. My favorite thing about Infini was the fact that one of the characters was named Rex Mannings, which made me think of the movie one of my nieces calls her favorite movie: Empire Records from 1995, which features a pompous, sleazy musician named Rex Manning.
If you're the mood for a dead serious sci-fi horror movie, give Infini a chance and see if it works better for you than it did for me and for Stacie Ponder of the Final Girl blog when she made it one of her SHOCKtober picks.