Friday, January 6, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Honor, Justice, Revenge

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Action with and without Van Damme, hunters go out for Ice-T, and foodies go too far.


A few years ago, I posted a Worth Mentioning article with write-ups on all five movies in the Kickboxer action franchise. That post received a comment from someone I was blown away to hear from - legendary filmmaker Albert Pyun, director of Kickboxer 2: The Road Back and Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor. I don't know if I planted the idea or if it was something Pyun was already kicking around, but in the article I had said I wanted to see Sasha Mitchell reprise the role of kickboxer David Sloan for a new sequel, one in which he would ideally bring the villainous Tong Po to justice, and in his comment Pyun was receptive to the idea of teaming up with Mitchell again to bring David Sloan back to the screen.

Soon after, it was announced that Pyun was developing a web series called The Kickboxer that would star Mitchell as a character called Daniel who runs into trouble with a drug cartel after twenty years of hiding out in South America, raising a family and living in peace. One would assume that Daniel was actually David Sloan using a fake name. Eventually, the cartel would capture Daniel and his family and force the former kickboxer to participate in a pay-per-view fight to the death. Sadly, Pyun was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis soon after this announcement and had to set the web series aside.

A year later, it was announced that Pyun would be making The Kickboxer: City of Blood, a film that would catch up with Mitchell's Sloan, now going by the name David Anderson, twenty years after the events of The Aggressor. City of Blood would be the biggest action movie Pyun had ever attempted, and would find Sloan/Anderson working as a UN Peacekeeper in Myanmar. When he's assigned to protect a woman (to be played by Clare Kramer) who witnessed the murders of UN aide workers and transport her to the Justice Minister, our hero would find himself up against assassins, secret police, and terrorists.

Dennis Chan was going to reprise the role of Xian Chang from the first three Kickboxer movies, Kevin Sorbo was going to play a shady CIA agent, and original Tong Po actor Michel Qissi was attached to play a villain - not Tong Po, so this wouldn't be the story of Tong Po being brought to justice, but it still sounded awesome. Unfortunately, this was another Kickboxer project that Pyun was unable to get off the ground for one reason or another, although I assume the disease he has been stricken with was the primary reason, if not the sole one. Keeping an eye on his social media accounts, it has been devastating to watch him deal with MS.

While Pyun was working on his Kickboxer ideas, it was also announced that a remake of the original film was being developed, and that project did come to fruition, recently being released under the title Kickboxer: Vengeance. Although I would've much rather have seen any of the ideas mentioned above than a re-telling of the original story, it was a given that I would check out the remake regardless, and it did have one major drawing point going for it: the return of the first film's star Jean-Claude Van Damme to the franchise. In the 1989 movie, Van Damme's character was the martial arts student. In the remake, he is the master.

Directed by John Stockwell from a screenplay by Dimitri Logothetis and Jim McGrath, Kickboxer: Vengeance tells the same basic story as Kickboxer did, but with some tweaks here and there. African stuntman Alain Moussi stars as Kurt Sloane, the character played by Van Damme in the original movie, the supportive brother of World Karate Champion Eric - and the filmmakers stayed true to the fact that the brothers had different accents in the original by casting English actor/martial artist Darren Shahlavi as Eric. Sadly, Shahlavi passed away from a heart attack soon after filming.

A shady fight promoter played by Gina Carano invites Eric to Thailand to face off with undefeated Muay Thai champion Tong Po (Dave Bautista) in an underground, no holds barred match... a match that comes to an end when Tong Po purposely snaps Eric's neck, killing him.

Similar to the situation in Kickboxer 4, Tong Po is highly placed in the crime world, living in a training compound with a harem of prostitutes and a legion of devoted martial artist followers who fight - and kill - each other for his entertainment. Setting out on a mission to avenge his brother (thus the title), Kurt will need a little help to achieve the goal of infiltrating the compound and challenging Tong Po. His two main allies are Sara Malakul Lane as local police officer Liu, who has her sights set on bringing Tong Po to justice and also becomes Kurt's love interest, and Van Damme as the eccentric Master Durand, who trained Eric and now trains Kurt in Muay Thai.

After being put through Durand's unconventional training regime, Kurt is ready to take on Tong Po in a climactic "mortal combat" battle that does indeed feature a popular element from the first movie, bandage-wrapped hands dipped in broken glass.

Kickboxer: Vengeance isn't bad, but it tells the Kickboxer story in a way that's not nearly as fun as the '89 film was. In fact, I found myself rather disinterested in the proceedings for much of the running time, despite the fact that Stockwell and the writers never go too long without throwing some kind of action in there, whether it be a physical altercation, gunplay, or a chase. These things just didn't grab me, and I didn't connect much with the characters.

Adding to the off-putting nature of the storytelling, the film also has some absolutely hideous cinematography, the look of this did not appeal to me at all.

A mountain of a man, Bautista does have an intriguing presence as Tong Po, although his performance is much more subdued than Michel Qissi's was. And not only was Van Damme a drawing point, but he's also a saving grace - Vengeance benefits greatly from having him in the cast. Never taking off his sunglasses for reasons unknown, Van Damme is very enjoyable to watch as Master Durand, even with someone else handling his ADR. The vocal actor attempted to sound like Van Damme and gets close, but the voice is deeper and stands out among the lines actually spoken by Van Damme. The most jarring instance of ADR work comes when Durand's final pep talk to Kurt is obviously not Van Damme's voice. Awkwardness in the presentation aside, Van Damme/Durand livens things up when he's on screen.

Quite flawed, I don't think Kickboxer: Vengeance is going to be replacing Kickboxer on any favorites lists, but if you're in the mood for an old fashioned fighting flick (with some unfortunate modern cinematography) Vengeance does deliver an old school story and plenty of fisticuffs.

HARD TARGET 2 (2016)

As a sucker for cinematic franchises, one thing I've always enjoyed is the tradition of direct-to-video sequels, and that is a tradition that is alive and well at Universal. Last year, Universal looked through their library and decided to greenlight a follow-up to a film I had long given up hope for seeing a sequel to, the 1993 John Woo / Jean-Claude Van Damme joint Hard Target. Even if I had expected a sequel to Hard Target, I would have figured that it would star Van Damme, reprising the role of Chance Boudreaux... but that's not the case with Hard Target 2. Like the Van Damme movies that have received direct-to-video sequels before (example: Kickboxer), this sequel has a different lead character and no Van Damme.

Scott Adkins stars as disgraced MMA fighter Wes Baylor, who is introduced as he accidentally kills his opponent/best friend in the ring. Baylor exiles himself to Thailand, where he continues participating in underground fights until he catches the attention of a very wealthy man named Jonah Aldrich (Robert Knepper), who offers to pay him a million dollars for a no-holds-barred contest.

Baylor accepts the offer and is flown to Myanmar, where he finds that this isn't the sort of fight he was expecting. He has inadvertently volunteered to be the prey in a hunt through one hundred square miles of jungle that Aldrich has paid the local military to allow him to use.

Baylor's realization that he's about to be hunted comes at around the 25 minute mark, and during the build-up to this it felt like the movie was taking too long to get to the point. It begins with a couple other people being hunted, cuts to Baylor's disastrous fight, then there are flashbacks that reveal he was friends with the ill-fated opponent, followed by scenes of him fighting and brooding in Thailand... Sure, those first 25 minutes consist mostly of people getting knocked around, but I wasn't caring or connecting. The hunt comes along to liven things up, and I like the fact that, even though Aldrich's human hunting business isn't officially associated with that of the first film's villain, the setting of his hunt does tie back into something the villain said in the previous movie. There, it was revealed that the human hunts had been conducted around the globe - New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, Yugoslavia. "There's always some unhappy little corner of the planet where we can ply our trade." The site of constant civil wars for nearly seventy years, Myanmar definitely fits that description.

Baylor is pursued by the jungle by a group of several hunters, led by Aldrich and his right hand man Madden (Temuera Morrison), the standout of the group being Rhona Mitas as the black-clad, crossbow-wielding Sofia. The military also gets involved in an attempt to make sure things run smoothly, but they don't because Baylor is a survivor and a highly capable man of action. Along the way, Baylor also receives some aid from local woman Tha (Ann Truong), whose brother was the prey in a previous hunt.

If you're going to watch a Hard Target sequel, you're going in wanting to see plenty of hunting action, and part 2 certainly delivers that. The hunt takes up more than an hour of the running time, more than an hour filled with fights, gunfire, foot and vehicular chases, and explosions. The hunters even use motorcycles with mounted machine guns, rocket launchers, and net throwers.

As cool as all of that is, Hard Target 2 never reaches the same level of entertainment that its predecessor did, and while Baylor is a fine protagonist, he's no Chance Boudreaux. Still, I didn't expect this DTV sequel to match up to Woo and Van Damme's movie, I just expected a fun action flick, and that's exactly what I got.

Director Roel Reiné, a DTV action veteran, and screenwriters Matt Harvey and Dominic Morgan did a serviceable job crafting a Hard Target sequel that shares nothing but the basic concept with the original film, throwing in plenty of nods to its predecessor along the way, including featuring Woo's trademark doves and having lots of arrows flying through the air, with Reiné filming them in the same way Woo did.

If you want to kill some time with some old school style action, Hard Target 2 is worth a viewing.


Directed by Ernest Dickerson (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight) from a screenplay written by Eric Bernt, Surviving the Game has the same source material as movies like Hard Target and Hard Target 2 - Richard Connell's 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, which was about an aristocrat who has a passion for hunting and his prey of choice is humans.

The human-hunters in Hard Target would hunt homeless people without families, and that's exactly what Ice-T's character Jack Mason is in this film. When Walter Cole (Charles S. Dutton), a man who works at a soup kitchen, sees that Mason is about to attempt suicide, he saves the man's life and offers him a job - Cole and his business partner Thomas Burns (Rutger Hauer) are hunters, and they need a survival guide for their next jaunt in the wilderness. Mason doesn't know anything about hunting or the wilderness, but it's a job, so he accepts it.

Once the men have arrived at a cabin nestled deep in the woods in a place called Hell's Canyon, Mason discovers that this has all been a ruse. Cole, Burns, and their wealthy pals Doc Hawkins (Gary Busey), Derek Wolfe Sr. (F. Murray Abraham), Derek Wolfe Jr. (William McNamara), and John Griffin (John C. McGinley) like to gather together out here to hunt people, and Mason is, as far as they're concerned, the perfect prey.

Mason is sent running out into the woods, given a head start that lasts as long as it takes the hunters to eat breakfast, and then the hunt begins. And it takes up nearly an hour of the 96 minute movie.


Surviving the Game isn't the greatest take on Connell's concept, which also inspired such classics as Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity, but it's a decent action movie that benefits greatly from the fantastic cast that Dickerson assembled. This group of actors would be worth watching no matter what kind of story they were bringing to life, but the fact that they're acting out a scenario that provides some thrilling action sequences and allows Gary Busey to play completely bugnuts in the way only he can makes watching this ensemble even more fun that it would have been otherwise.

I haven't watched this film many times, but I will always remember the first time I watched it, when it had just been released on VHS. This would have been right around my 11th birthday, and my brother-in-law was in the living room with me when I put the rental copy of Surviving the Game on. Watching his reactions to the more suspenseful scenes was even better than watching the movie itself, because there were times when he was clearly very wrapped up in what he was seeing, especially at a moment when Mason tumbles off a cliff. My brother-in-law had a broken leg at the time, if he didn't I think he would have jumped off the couch.

The following review originally appeared on

SLAW (2016)

When I first heard the broad strokes of what director Matt Green's film Slaw would be, I found the idea to be a bit confounding - it's a Saw parody about food obsession. I just couldn't quite wrap my head around how and why those two elements would be mixed together. Making a movie about a foodie family of Jigsaws is nothing that ever would have occurred to me, but it is an idea that occurred to former wrestler John Kap, and he and writer Richard Tavernaro ran with it and brought it to the screen.

Tavernaro and Kap both also have acting roles in the film, Kap as one of the Jigsaw types and Tavernaro as one of the group of seven people who have been abducted and taken to a dungeon, where they awake to find themselves chained to a merry-go-round with a large clown head in the center. They are now at the mercy of the Mayflowers, who introduce themselves as Gordon and Martha - played by 6'8" Kap and 4'3" Aaron Beelner. The captives are told that they all have something in common, and they'll eventually come to realize that they have all insulted the Mayflower family in some way while they were out eating at restaurants. Unhelpful servers, rude fellow customers, cooks who tamper with food, anyone who has ruined a Mayflower dining experience has been brought to this dungeon to pay for their offense.

The food/restaurant theme carries over to the torture traps these people have to endure. One character has to survive for thirty minutes while coleslaw is poured into their face, filling up the plastic bucket that has been placed around their head. One who wrecked a birthday party has to sing "Happy Birthday" for thirty minutes straight with a shotgun in their face. Another trap involves trying to fill a bucket with mouthfuls of coleslaw laced with pubic hair. (Coleslaw plays such a prominent role because it's Martha's favorite.)

These goofy twists on traps may be the main draw for some viewers, but for a Saw parody this actually devotes surprisingly little time to them. Most of the captives don't even get their turn to be put in a trap. Instead, the primary focus is digging into the absurdity of Gordon and Martha's lives, which includes showing us the restaurant excursions and rude treatment that led to this situation, with these flashbacks allowing for a cameo by wrestler Kevin Nash, which paves the way for more ridiculous cameos by the likes of Bono, Johnny Depp, and Sammy Hagar (who are played by look-alikes).

Some time is also spent on the escape plan hatched by captive Amber (Baby Norman), who decides to try to seduce Gordon... and also seduce Gordon and Martha's Mama (Berna Roberts), who is actually their sister but for some reason goes around made up like an old lady and pretends to be their mom. I couldn't tell you why.

Weird and nonsensical it may be, but I'd take any scenes involving the Mayflowers and the celebrity stuff over another plot takes up a good amount of the running time, the investigation into the disappearance of the captives that is conducted by detectives Turner and Hooch (Escalante Lundy and Michael E. Sanders). Yes, Turner and Hooch. That gives you an idea of the sort of comedy this film is presenting, and for me the Turner and Hooch scenes sort of dragged it down. There are silly things going on in there, but I just wasn't interested in following their investigation.

As is the case with comedic films, your enjoyment of Slaw will be entirely dependent on how well the film's sense of humor meshes with yours. If jokes like detectives named Turner and Hooch might repeatedly cause you to chuckle or if you'll get a kick out of watching Kevin Nash play a very unpleasant version of himself, chances are you'll like Slaw more than I did. While there are several things within the film that I did admittedly find amusing, overall the filmmakers and I just don't have the same sense of humor. It wasn't long after characters started talking that I started cringing. The movie definitely has an air of confidence about its humor, it goes for it as if the filmmakers are certain that it's going to have viewers rolling on the floor with laughter, I'm just not in that target audience.

If you like wrestlers and staggeringly dopey jokes, Slaw is out there for you.

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