SIX DEGREES OF CAST & CREW
- Director David Frost has nothing to do with English comedian Sir David Frost. Though he was production supervisor for 1988′s MST3k classic, “Deathstalker & The Warriors From Hell“.
- Three sub-actors were involved in the “Hot Shots” movie, two others in “Batman Forever”.
- Actors Robert Chapin and David Speaker worked on 1992′s “Army of Darkness”, as stuntman and sword fighter, respectively.
- Hood #2 actor Melvin Jones is a noted stuntman, twice for Samuel L. Jackson.
- Lead actor/writer Robert Chapin may not have done alot of acting or even stuntwork, but you know his work very well. Look up his visual effects resume, and you’ll see big movies ranging from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, to “X:2″, to “Cloverfield”, to “Iron Man”, with plenty surprises in between.
It’s one thing to judge a book by its cover; another to judge a dollar-bin action movie by its cardboard sleeve…
… with its oiled up lead actor on the front and Mortal Kombat fighters on the back, my expectations for this one weren’t too high, in terms of quality. What I did jump at, however, was the prospect of MST3K favorite Joe Don Baker (aka Mitchell, Final Justice) as a crime lord-looking “man in black”, running an underground swordfighting club. The swordfighting-only aspect intrigued me further.
Again, appearances can be deceiving. The first chunk of film is very slick, pretty, even dreamlike. It’s got that Steven Spielberg fuzziness, a department store keyboard soundtrack, and generally looks like something out of a travel company promo video. The characters are warm and charming, up until star and writer Robert Chapin accidentally breaks his fencing sword and stabs his tournament opponent in the face. His challenger dead and his hopes of being national champion dashed, Alex (Chapin) is lost without a paddle (or sword), or a job as a result of the accident. Enter the mysterious (and somewhat pimp) Joe Don Baker. Baker (character unnamed) saves Alex from some alleyway muggers, and invites him to… the Ring of Steel.
Now before we go any further, I have to note something striking: this movie should be far more cliche’d than it is, even barely fifteen minutes in. Alex meeting his love-at-first-sight fencing honey Darlene Vogel should have been sappier, his post-manslaughter ordeal more over-dramatic, and his fight with the muggers far more unrealistic and dominant on his part. And being a real-life sword fighter, blossoming stuntman, and first-time actor, Chapin himself should be irritatingly stark, or just plain flat. And he’s not a grizzled, hairy-chested “action star”. Instead he’s very down-to-earth and charming, and just dynamic enough to be interesting. Love interest Elena (Vogel) is much the same, despite not having done much acting herself, Ski School and Back To The Future II notwithstanding (“What’s wrong, McFly? Got no SCROT’???”).
The movies main trappings are pacing, lighting-quick-yet-succinct dialogue, and editing that feels like it was done by a sword fighter, too, as in choppy as hell. At a lean, mean 1Hr. 34 Mins, this movie is definitely early 90′s, though the stylish quasi-mullets and parachuted fashions make that obvious enough. There’s even a “…Not!!!” moment. But again, it could and by all means should be far worse, far more cliche’d, and far more obnoxious.
In fact the only truly eye-rolling aspect is the action itself. Despite a cast littered with legitimate stunt people, the sword play and occasional fist-and-feet work is depressingly soft-hitting. By all means its coordinated well enough, very nicely at times. But an overall sense of restraint keeps the violence from actually feeling violent. Things would not be improved by more blood and broken bones, don’t get me wrong. There’s just not enough actual contact to create any suspense.
Therein lies the film’s greatest flaw: no suspense. Alex is extorted into fighting all the way through Baker’s tournament after Elena is kidnapped… but it all happens so smoothly and matter-of-fact like, that we barely notice it happens, let alone care. Baker’s downright cheerful performance gives an air of him wanting to say, “Hey, it’s a pretty standard action movie plot device, just roll with it, okay Alex?”. And roll with it he does. Even the climactic battle between Alex and bug-eyed villain Jack is underway before we have a chance to remember what’s at stake… which isn’t entirely obvious. We know Alex wants to free Elena and escape, but there’s no clear consequence to him not doing so. If he loses, he might die, and if he wins he’ll be forced to stay in the Ring of Steel circuit anyway. And there’s even a faint, and quite interesting, hint of a sub-plot between Baker and Jack, alluding to if Jack wins, he’ll somehow gain control of Ring of Steel. But of course all this is forgotten as Alex chases Jack through the club, to a basement, to some sort of fiery steel factory, which on the outside is labeled “Toy Wholesaler”. And is somehow on fire after the cops bust the Ring of Steel’s illegality. Oh, and the head detective is Bob Pinciotti from “That 70′s Show”.
It’s this kind of “Oh, it’s over” ending that ruins many of these types of movies, films that shine with so much promise for the first hour or so, and then just fizzle. Kid of like watching a fencing match. It’s enthralling to watch the elegant action as it perhaps even builds with intensity towards what anybody raised on action movies expects to be a devastating climax. Then you remember that they just poke each other lightly to gain points, and, oh, it’s over.
At least Joe Don Baker lives. :)
RATING: 2.5 pirate jokes out of 5.