Friday, February 1, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Did You See Any Action?

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.

McConaughey, Phillips, Lundgren, and Haim all saw some action.

SAHARA (2005)

Director Breck Eisner's Sahara was meant to be the start of a franchise starring Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt, the adventurous hero of a series of novels written by Clive Cussler, and Steve Zahn as his comedic sidekick Al Giordino. Unfortunately, the movie was dragged down by a lawsuit filed by Cussler, who was unhappy with the lack of creative control he had on the project, and truly a lack of interest from the audience. The film did not make its budget back, killing any hope of a franchise... which I suspect Cussler might have killed even if it was a success.

I haven't read any of Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels, but I have always enjoyed Sahara. A fan of McConaughey at that time (this was before he lost me for a few years by moving into goofy romantic comedy territory) I saw it in the theatre opening weekend and was almost immediately won over, as an opening scene set during the American Civil War segues into a title sequence set to the Dr. John song "Right Place, Wrong Time". A song that had been on the soundtrack of the movie that introduced me to McConaughey, Dazed and Confused. There are a few classic rock songs in Sahara and I always appreciate it when a movie chooses to pair its imagery with classic rock. Later on "Never Been Any Reason" by Head East comes on, and that song was also on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack.

Dirk Pitt works for the National Underwater and Marine Agency, salvaging historical artifacts that have been lost in the sea. The story involves his obsessive search for an ironclad Confederate ship that he believes made its way across the Atlantic Ocean, down a flooded Niger River, and ended up stranded in the Sahara desert. Thus the title. On this search he's accompanied not only by lifelong friend Al, but also by fellow NUMA worker Rudi Gunn (Rainn Wilson), who is really a redundant secondary comedic sidekick so he leaves the adventure early on, and Penelope Cruz as Dr. Eva Rojas of the World Health Organization.

Dr. Rojas is investigating a deadly plague that seems to be spreading out of the African country of Mali, which happens to be where Dirk needs to go on his search for the ironclad ship, so they venture into Mali together. This puts them in great danger because the country is in the midst of its own civil war and villainous military general Zateb Kazim (Lennie James, who went on to be in the Walking Dead shows) has just pulled off a coup. While Dirk hunts for the ship and Rojas tries to find the source of the plague, they have to repeatedly fight off Kazim's soldiers.

Featuring physical altercations, gunfire, displays of military might, chases on land, sea, and air, and a fun moment in which Dirk and Al make their way across the desert in a vehicle they fashion from parts of a wrecked plane (a sequence set to Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride"), Sahara is an entertaining adventure movie with an intriguing set-up and a great cast. There's even William H. Macy as the NUMA boss.

I wish had been received better than it was, because I would have been totally on board to watch a series of films about McConaughey's Dirk and Zahn's Al going on crazy adventures... I'm still kind of disappointed we didn't get that. This movie really didn't deserve to do so badly that it's best known for being "one of the biggest financial failures in Hollywood history."


Class of 1984/Commando/Armed and Dangerous/Class of 1999/Showdown in Little Tokyo/Night of the Running Man director Mark L. Lester's Extreme Justice is a film that turned out to be much more timely than intended. The story written by Frank Sacks and Robert Boris was inspired by the concept of the LAPD's Special Investigation Section, a plainclothes "elite tactical detective squad" tasked with going after the city's most dangerous criminals, but the version of the S.I.S. presented in the movie take police brutality to the extreme; led by Scott Glenn as Dan Vaughn (with Ed Lauter as his higher-up Captain Shafer), this fictional, ten-man S.I.S. has become a death squad, executing criminals rather than apprehending them.

Lou Diamond Phillips of Young Guns and The First Power plays Jeff Powers, the latest recruit to the S.I.S., which also includes the likes of future Wishmaster Andrew Divoff and Live and Let Die villain Yaphet Kotto as a man who fancies himself a modern day cowboy gunslinger. Vaughn and his men should have expected that someday they'd bring someone into the fold who disagrees with their methods, and that's exactly what happens when Powers goes into the field with them and sees the deadly force they employ. Making Powers even more of a threat to them is the fact that his girlfiend Kelly Daniels (Chelsea Field - Masters of the Universe, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, The Last Boy Scout, The Dark Half) is a crime reporter who starts investigating the investigators.

Watching Extreme Justice twenty-six years after it was released, it stands up as a decent B-level action-thriller... Although I will say that a lot of my enjoyment of it came from a sense of nostalgia, as it reminded me of the type of movies I would have sat through with my father back in the early '90s. Maybe we even watched Extreme Justice together then, but I don't remember it if we did.

Now it's sort of a gritty-but-fluffy time waster, but it ran into some trouble back in the day. It was originally intended to receive a theatrical release, but the studio hesitated and decided to make it an HBO premiere when the LA riots over police brutality happened in 1992. In the end, I think that was the right choice for it regardless of real world events. It is more suited for TV than for the big screen.

Lester and his stunt teams sure could bring some cool action to life, though. This has far less action than something like Commando, of course, but it has its moments, including an impressive moment when a person hanging on to the side of a Jeep is tossed off of that vehicle when it flips over and lands on the roof of the car speeding along beside it. All of it done for real right in front of the camera.

DON'T KILL IT (2016)

Don't Kill It became a must-see movie for me as soon as I heard it was going to star Dolph Lundgren as a badass demon hunter, and the deal was sweetened even further by the fact that it was being directed by Mike Mendez, a filmmaker who has made some really cool movies over the years (including Big Ass Spider!, The Last Heist, and a segment of Tales of Halloween), and would co-star Kristina Klebe of Rob Zombie's Halloween. When I watched the finished film, it was just as fun as I hoped it would be.

The script by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen feels like it was drawing some heavy inspiration from the television series Supernatural, as Lundgren plays a fellow named Jebediah Woodley, who travels around hunting down demons, a gig he was brought into by his father - demon hunting is sort of the family business. The latest place this endeavor has brought him to is Chicory Creek, Mississippi, where Christmas is being ruined by the rampage of a demon that turns people into black-eyed, screeching, bloodthirsty maniacs.

The opening sequence of Don't Kill It is quite unnerving as it follows a hunter who becomes possessed by the demon while out in the woods one day. He goes home, kills his family, then runs over to his neighbor's house so he can kill some more people. He attacks a young girl's mother right in front of her before he's shot down by the girl's father (played by Jason X and My Bloody Valentine 3D screenwriter Todd Farmer). The demonic spirit then jumps over to that man, who then turns his gun on his own daughter. Anyone who kills somebody who is possessed by the demon then gets possessed themselves, that's why the movie is called Don't Kill It. That makes stopping this evil force quite complicated - and the net, whip, and rubber bullets Woodley arms himself aren't going to be enough to do the job.

Woodley offers his services to the Chicory Creek police force and ends up being teamed with FBI agent Evelyn Pierce (Klebe), a former resident of the town who did not leave the place under pleasant circumstances. Pierce is the realistic, by-the-book investigator, Woodley is a quirky fellow who's used to working alone, so his social skills are lacking. Woodley's interactions with others are entertaining and amusing, while Pierce does her best to keep things serious and down-to-earth.

It's often evident that Don't Kill It had a small budget - this isn't on the scale of Lundgren classics like I Come in Peace or Showdown in Little Tokyo (or The Punisher or Masters of the Universe) - but that didn't stop Mendez from unleashing some madness now and then, the standout being when the demon raids a town meeting with a sack full of weapons. The place turns into a bloodbath while the demon moves from one body to another, since not many people take the advice of the title, despite Woodley's warnings. Which is understandable, because who would really believe that they'd become possessed by a demon if they take down a killer?

Don't Kill It is a really good time. This fan of Lundgren, Mendez, and Klebe was not disappointed.


Director Jim Wynorski is a tough act to follow, but if you want to instantly sell me on a non-Wynorski sequel to a Wynorski movie, one hell of a way to do so is to hire Kevin S. Tenney to direct that sequel. That's what happened with Demolition High and its sequel Demolition University, where the director of Chopping MallThe Return of Swamp ThingSorority House Massacre II, and Hard to Die paved the way for the director of WitchboardNight of the DemonsWitchtrapThe CellarPeacemakerWitchboard 2, and Pinocchio's Revenge. That's a more-than-fair trade.

Both of these movies were written by Steve Jankowski, and they're practically both the same movie. Each begins with a group of terrorists stealing a dangerous item of some sort from a military installation, with the place going up in flames to lead us into the main title sequence. Then we catch up with our hero Lenny Slater (Corey Haim), who has to deal with bullies while pursuing a beautiful classmate. Having graduated high school since the last time we saw him, Lenny is now attending college while sporting some poorly plucked eyebrows, and the girl he's pursuing this time around is sprint runner Jenny, played by Tenney's Witchboard 2 star Ami Dolenz.

Trying to talk Jenny into going out with him while also trying to evade his bullies, Lenny ends up on a school bus he doesn't belong on - with both Jenny and his main bully as fellow passengers. The bus is taking them on a field trip to the local water and power plant, and it's a good thing Lenny ended up being on this bus he wasn't supposed to be on, because now he has the chance to save the day, just like he did back when terrorists took over his high school.

Terrorists, led by Tenney's Witchboard star Todd Allen as a rogue soldier named Max, have taken over the plant with plans to drop nerve gas into the water supply. As the bus rolls onto the property, Lenny already notices that something is wrong here and tries to warn the teacher, but instead of focusing on his high school heroics she distrusts Lenny because he has an unwarranted reputation for being a prankster at the college. Because of that, she and her students end up being taken hostage, with only Lenny and Jenny free to handle this problem.

Being set in a labyrinthine facility full of pipes and catwalks rather than in a regular building with regular hallways and rooms automatically makes Demolition University less appealing to me than High was, and while the sequel tries to replicate the first movie's fun "Die Hard meets Home Alone" vibe at times, it's not quite successful. Lenny again rigs traps to take down some of the terrorists, but the traps in High were better. None in this one come anywhere close to the trap involving a circular saw in High.

While Lenny and Jenny fight for their lives, Max is speaking to the authorities, represented by Peacemaker's Robert Forster as a Colonel Max holds a grudge against and Khrystyne Haje as an FBI agent. As always, you can't expect much from these characters outside the facility. The heroes inside have to take care of everything.

Neither of the Demolition movies are particularly good, so while I had a better time watching High overall, University isn't a big step down. It's just not quite as entertaining as its predecessor. These aren't movies I would recommend to the average viewer, but if you're into low rent '90s action movies... you know who you are, and you might want to watch the Demolition duo.

It's a shame we never got Demolition Postgrad.

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