Beyond the Law (2019)


Once a badass, always a badass.

(2019) Action (CinedigmJohnny Messner, Steven Seagal, DMX, Bill Cobbs, Zack Ward, Randy Charach, Patrick Kilpatrick, Chester Rushing, Saxon Sharbino, Kim DeLonghi, Jeff M. Hill, Sean Kanan, Yulia Klass, Ken Garito, Scotch Hopkins, Mitchell J. Johnson, Mike Ferguson, Madeleine Wade, Victoria De Mare, Cody Renee Cameron, Kansas Bowling, Brialynn Massie. Directed by James Cullen Bressack

 

Some of you may be old enough to remember the era of direct-to-VHS action films; others who are longer in the tooth may remember the action movies of such purveyors as Cannon Films, New World and AVCO Embassy. They were often characterized as schlock, but they were entertaining to say the least.

=This new flick harkens back to those eras and those types of films. Here, ex-cop Frank Wilson (Messner) finds out from Detective Munce (DMX) that his estranged son Chance (Rushing) has been brutally murdered. Chance has made a series of really terrible decisions, not the least of which was getting involved with Desmond Packard (Ward), the particularly bloodthirsty son of mobster Finn Adair (Seagal) who has a history with Frank.

=Realizing that his son won’t get any justice from the hopelessly corrupt cops on the city Frank leaves his mountain cabin to return to the place he once worked as a cop in. It hasn’t changed much, but it has changed – and not for the better. He will have to fight off Desmond’s goons, corrupt cops and at the end of the day, the father of his son’s killer if he is to get justice for Chance.

The plot sounds like something you’ve seen before and it is; revenge films are one of the core types of action movies. Some might be attracted to seeing this by the presence of Seagal but they are likely to leave disappointed; Seagal has only a supporting role in the movie and mostly sits behind a desk, puffing on a cigar and lecturing his son on all the ways he’s gone wrong in his life. Seagal appears only in one fight scene and that so briefly that if you blink you just might miss it.

This is really Messner’s movie and when last I saw him in Silencer, I thought he had a future. I still do, but this is definitely a step backwards. Perhaps it’s the proximity to Seagal (who only has one scene with him) but Messner mumbles his lines in a low gravelly voice that you kind of hope for subtitles. Seagal has always been a mumbler and with his thick Louisiana accent it can be hard sometimes to make out what the two men are saying.

This is a low budget affair and while the action sequences are competent, they are pretty sparse, so we have to rely on the ability of the actors to hold our attention. Sadly, despite having a fairly decent cast, that doesn’t happen. Most of the performances here are stiff and lack believability. Then again, given that they have a script with dialogue that doesn’t sound like it could ever possibly be uttered by an actual human being for whom English is a first language, and plot points that feel like they’ve been borrowed from dozens of B-movies from the 70s, 80s and 90s and you’ve got yourself a hot mess here.

Still, as terrible an actor as Seagal is, he has always had that indefinable something that made him a star. Strangely, he still has it but the filmmakers don’t utilize him as well. Years ago, Seagal would have been playing Frank Wilson and maybe the movie would have worked better in that instance but one gets the sense that Seagal isn’t terribly interested in re-exploring old trails. Incidentally, those hoping that this is a sequel to Seagal’s action classic Above the Law will also be disappointed; the two films have nothing in common other than the last two words of their titles.

REASONS TO SEE: Seagal still has plenty of presence.
REASONS TO AVOID: The acting is pretty stiff. The film is riddled with clichés from the script to the score.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of violence and profanity as well as some drug and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Seagal and DMX previously appeared together in the 2001 film Exit Wounds.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Basically, any Steven Seagal movie
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
The Report

Skyscraper (2018)


A big star like the Rock has a long way to fall.

(2018) Action (UniversalDwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Noah Taylor, Roland Møller, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Hannah Quinlivan, Adrian Holmes, Elfina Luk, Kevin Rankin, Gretal Montgomery, Jeff Klyne, Kayden Magnuson, Byron Lawson, Jason William Day, Ryan Handley, Sean Kohnke, Shawn Stewart, Venus Terzo. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

 

Paint-by-numbers summer action blockbuster fare that is both satisfying and not. Johnson plays a security consultant who had a leg blown off during his time as a federal agent who has in the intervening years acquired the job as security chief at the world’s tallest building, the Pearl in Hong Kong (a fictional beating created with impressive CGI).

The billionaire (Han) behind the tower is hiding a McGuffin – doesn’t really matter what it is – in his penthouse apartment. Therefore, just before the building is about to open, a group of baddies led by a nasty Afrikaner (Taylor) break into the tower and set the building on fire in order to cover their tracks and convince the billionaire that they mean business. Their mistake is that The Rock’s family is still in the building. Oh, you definitely don’t want to mess with the Rock’s family.

Actually, his wife Kate (Campbell) – an ex-Navy surgeon – who proves to be more formidable. Johnson, who has done a few too many generic action thrillers of late, looks like he’s not having much fun and in fact is beginning to show signs of aging – he was 45 when he filmed this. While the stunts and CGI are pretty spectacular as well as the building’s tech features, this feels a bit like we’ve seen it all before. And we have, in Die Hard and The Towering Inferno of which this is a cinematic love child. This really isn’t all that bad – it is pretty mindless and for the most part, fun – but it could have used a little more Neve and a little less Dwayne.

REASONS TO SEE: The tech is pretty cool. Keeps your interest at a reasonable level.
REASONS TO AVOID: Johnson beginning to show his age. The villains are way too easy to spot.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of action and violence as well as some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Adrian Smith, the lead architect on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia – both at one time the tallest buildings in the world – consulted on the script.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/13/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews: Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Towering Inferno
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Papi Chulo

Sicario: Day of the Soldado


Hispanics with guns: Donald Trump’s nightmare.

(2018) Action (Columbia) Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Ruffo, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, Howard Ferguson Jr., David Castañeda, Jacqueline Torres, Raoul Trujillo, Bruno Bichir, Jake Picking, Tenzin Marco-Taylor, Alfredo Quinoz, Nick Shakoour, Lourdes del Rio Garcia. Directed by Stefano Sollima

 

Our Southern border has been a hot button item for those on the left and on the right. Blue staters tend to look at the issue as a humanitarian crisis born largely of our own policies in Latin America while red staters see it as an invasion of criminals, layabouts and terrorists.

Following the destruction of a Kansas City big box store by suicide bombers, the U.S. Government has had more than enough. They bring in “consultant” Matt Graver (Brolin) and his nearly indestructible assassin Alejandro (del Toro) to ferment war among the Mexican cartels who were responsible for smuggling the bombers across the border. To do that, Alejandro kidnaps the daughter (Moner) of a particularly vicious cartel boss. This predictably stirs up a hornet’s nest and while it gets the desired results, the conscience of Alejandro – whose family was wiped out by drug lords like the girl’s father – doesn’t go unscathed.

The movie sorely misses Denis Villaneuve who directed the first one; his sure hand could have made this a better film. Italian television director Sollima, best known for the ultra-violent Gomorrah series, does pretty well with the action series and keeps the pacing of the film up to snuff. He has more trouble with character development as other than the three characters mentioned above, nearly all the characters get lost in the shuffle, including a young Mexican-American boy in McAllen, Texas played by Rodriguez who falls into working for the cartels and ends up in a violent confrontation with Alejandro. A little more depth of character there might have given the film some oomph.

Del Toro and Brolin are both outstanding and are the real reason to see the film. I understand that this is meant to be the middle chapter in a proposed trilogy and although the box office numbers don’t really seem to point the way for a third installment, I nonetheless wouldn’t mind seeing one.

Emily Blunt, who starred in the first film, is also sorely missed and while the filmmakers assert her story had gone full circle, it still leaves the film without much of a moral center and I suppose that is merely appropriate. When one considers that in many ways this movie is making the case for the right’s take on the border, it’s hard to justify it in the face of children who continue to be separated from their parents at the border. But then, that’s just my own personal bias rearing its head. I guess it is fairer to say that Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a solid action film that has political elements that makes it very relevant to what’s going on at our border. If you leave the theater chanting “Build that wall” though, it’s on you.

REASONS TO SEE: Brolin and del Toro make an excellent team.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little less focused and a little more cliché than the first film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a surfeit of violence and profanity as well as some fairly bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Denis Villaneuve, who directed Sicario, was unable to commit to the sequel due to scheduling conflicts.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miss Bala
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Tomorrow, Maybe?

Outlawed


Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to use grills.

(2018) Action (Vision) Adam Collins, Emmeline Kellie, Andy Calderwood, Andre Squire, Ollie Christie, Jessica Norris, Ian Hitchens, Anthony Burrows, Zara Phythian, Tina Harris, Brian Woodward, Rose Joeseph, Martin Gaisford, Tobias Fries, Celiowagner Coelho, Craig Canning, Steven Blades, Jack Edwards, Renars Latkovskis, Phil Molloy, Melvyn Rawlinson, Lisa Opara, Halle Neathey, Charlotte Williams. Directed by Adam Collins and Luke Radford

 

Action movies are surprisingly formulaic. Somebody gets wronged, somebody gets their booty booted. It’s a formula as old as time. The truly great action movies either add something to the formula or execute it flawlessly. Some merely emulate the formula as best they can.

Jake (Collins) is part of an elite British special forces unit. They do the dirty work when there is a bad guy who needs to be terminated, or a child that needs rescuing from terrorists. After capturing a particularly nasty wild-eyed wild-haired terrorist (Fries) who likes to shoot children, Jake and his crew are recognized with medals.

He is contacted by Nottingham businessman/power broker Harold Archibald (Hitchens) who offers Jake a job. Jake however knows what Archibald is all about and declines. Shortly after, Archibald – who has been making deals with the wild-eyed wild-haired terrorist, double crosses the WEWH terrorist which is not usually a good idea when dealing with terrorists. He ends up with his children kidnapped and even though Jake’s team is sent in to save the day, it ends in tragedy.

Jake just can’t get past that a child died on his watch and he decides to get his discharge papers. He promptly discovers that his girlfriend (Kellie) is cheating on him and so Jake sinks into a bottle and screws the cap shut behind him. Then, childhood girlfriend Jade (Norris) finds him sleeping in the street and tells him that she needs his help Her father was murdered you see and the person responsible was none other than Harold Archibald and she has the proof! Archibald owns the cops – or at least has a long-term lease out on them – and is virtually untouchable. Nevertheless he kidnaps Jade and almost dares Jake to come get her. What self-respecting special forces operative could turn down a dare like that?

Collins is a veteran stuntman on a variety of major Hollywood productions as well as a former British Marine. His acting chops are from the early Jason Statham school of acting. He has some potential in a Vinnie Jones sort of way (I’m really name-checking today) but largely it’s wasted because the role he is given to play here is so run of the mill. I don’t feel sorry for him however; he co-wrote and co-directed this movie so he has only himself to blame.

The action sequences as you might expect are the highlights here. Unfortunately when it comes to exposition, Collins makes a fine soldier. The story portions tend to be a bit maudlin complete with overwrought score and advanced by unbelievable coincidences. The dialogue is clunky and cliché; the villains are way over the top but that’s okay – villains should be. Heroes should be understated and brooding, or outgoing and light.

If you’ve never seen an action movie before, this is a fine jumping-off point but if you have seen your share a little too much of this will be too familiar. While there are a few things that work, most of the movie just doesn’t live up to the standards it should be.

REASONS TO GO: Collins is a solid action performer.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is absolutely rotten with action movie clichés. The story is dull and uninspiring.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of violence and profanity as well as nudity, sexual references and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Collins served six years in the Royal Marines, which included two tours of Afghanistan.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Silencer
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
 Every Act of Life

Silencer


 

Even the best of shots don’t always hit what they take aim at.

(2018) Action (Cinedigm) Johnny Messner, Danny Trejo, Robert LoSardo, Nikki Leigh, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Heather Johansen, Erik Aude, Edward Modlin II, Mariene Márquez, Mike Ferguson, Sofia Esmaili, Erin Michele Soto, Said Faraj, Tristian Eggerling, Ashlee Nicole Jordan, William Guirola, Nailia Lajoie, Noli Mollakuge, Tom Struckhoff, Victor Boneva, Rachael Santhon. Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr

 

Some men kill for their country; they are trained to do it and it is a job for most of them. However, when someone’s family is threatened, killing becomes much more than a job and if the person in question is a trained sniper, God help the one doing the threatening.

Frank (Messner) is a decorated ex-Marine whose military service was marred by the accidental killing of a child. The event haunted him and led him to seek a quiet life as a restorer of antique vehicles in Las Cruces, New Mexico. One of his clients, Ocho (Trejo) has cartel connections as well as a personal friendship with Frank going back a ways. When Ocho’s daughter is hit by a drunk driver and dies in her own driveway, Ocho wants vengeance. Frank agrees to help him get it but this will be his last job. You can guess how that’s going to work out.

When Frank stalks the drunk driver, he meets up with him and discovers there are children in the car and so he can’t quite bring himself to pull the trigger. The grief-stricken Ocho doesn’t care; he wants this guy dead and when Frank fails, Ocho sends his henchman Nels (Liddell, channeling Michael Rooker) to kidnap Frank’s stepdaughter and ends up shooting Frank’s girlfriend Cass (Leigh). That turns out to be a mistake; Frank along with his buddy Lazarus (Ortiz) go on a rampage that ends up with a bloody confrontation on Ocho’s Old Mexican hacienda.

This is essentially standard revenge action fare, with Messner doing a surprisingly good job in the role of an action antihero. Frank is a bit of a loose cannon, he has a drinking problem and tends to shut out the people he loves the most. However, push him a little bit and he turns into Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s crazy love child. There is a future for Messner in low budget action films and maybe some big budget ones if he gets a few breaks.

The dialogue tends to be florid and infected with clichés.. There are also some pacing problems particularly early on, although the ending is pretty nifty if you ask me. However, most of the actors chew the scenery with gusto which is distracting at times.

This is not something I would generally recommend; the movie is seriously flawed. However, fans of 80s and 90s action movies ought to get a kick out of this one and it is possible that Messner may be an action star in the not-so-distant future. For those reasons alone I give the movie a very mild thumbs up, as a better film critic than I might have said.

REASONS TO GO: Messner has a lot of potential as an action hero.
REASONS TO STAY: The film starts slowly (although it does pick up).
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Liddell and Ortiz are notorious MMA rivals.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Commando
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
It Will Be Chaos

Beast Stalker (Ching yan)


In Hong Kong action movies, even pedestrian overpasses aren’t safe.

(2008) Crime Drama (Emperor) Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Jing Chu Zhang, Pu Miao, Kai Chi Liu, Ho Man Keung, Jing Hung Kwok, Sherman Chung, He Zhang, Suet Yin Wong, Sum Yin Wong, Kong Lau, Tung Joe Cheung, Simon Lee, Accord Cheung, Ka Leong Chan, Esther Kwan, Si-Man Man, Francis Luk, Sai Tang Yu, Kim Fai Che, June Tam. Directed by Dante Lam

Lives can be changed in the blink of an eye. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can have devastating consequences, the effects rippling out like a rock thrown into placid waters. Rarely are those ripples pleasant although in time they can turn out to be beneficial but that isn’t often the case.

Hong Kong police detective Tong Fei (Tse) is ambitious and arrogant. He’s chasing a well-known Triad crime boss and has him in his relentless sights. Working with his team whom he sets very high standards for, he manages to get the criminal arrested – only to learn that the guy’s thugs have managed to break him out of custody. Fei personally leads the chase after him along with longtime friend and mentor Detective Sun (Liu). A violent car crash leads to a terrible tragedy in which an innocent little girl is killed. Fei is devastated.

Months afterwards, the prosecutor for the case, Ann Gau (J.C. Zhang) is getting past the grief of losing a child when her surviving child is kidnapped by Hung (N. Cheung), a half-blind assassin who is caring for a paralyzed wife and needs the dough. The guilt-wracked Fei is obsessed with finding the missing daughter despite Ann’s pleas for him to butt out – she has been warned to not involve the police. She agrees to alter the evidence that will put the crime lord behind bars for a very long time; so Fei goes out looking for the girl on his own. Hung is just as desperate to make sure that the girl isn’t found and both men play a game of cat and mouse with a little girl’s life hanging on the outcome.

Like many Hong Kong crime dramas, the plot hinges around a number of coincidences (some might say improbabilities) that require a whole lot of disbelief suspension. How likely is it that the crook would steal the car of his prosecutor who just happened to stop the car she was driving so she could yell at her ex-husband on the phone? And the coincidences don’t end there.

However if you can unwrap your head around those plot points you’ll be treated to a story with plenty of nice twists and turns, maybe one or two you won’t see coming. Nicholas Tse and Nicky Cheung are two of HK’s  best action stars and they are at their best in this movie. The action sequences, particularly the initial car chase that sets everything up, are extremely well done with the aforementioned chase being literally breathtaking.

The story does get a little bit maudlin in places but again that’s pretty much standard operating procedure for Hong Kong action films – is there a manual for these things? – and anyone who is a fan of that genre won’t mind a bit. Dante Lam is one of Hong Kong’s surest action directors and while this wasn’t his very best work, it was certainly one worth reviving. It played the recent New York Asian Film Festival. While I don’t see it listed on any of the standard streaming services, you can find the DVD and Blu-Ray in a variety of places. If you like Asian action, you won’t want to miss this one.

REASONS TO GO: The action scenes are uniformly excellent. The plot is full of lovely twists and turns.
REASONS TO STAY: The camerawork is so aggressive and kinetic it becomes distracting. The story is a little bit maudlin in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of violence, some mild profanity and a few disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was nominated for five Hong Kong Film Awards in 2009, winning two.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/11/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Infernal Affairs
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Looming Storm

The Commuter


What I love about train travel is that it’s so relaxing.

(2018) Action (Lionsgate) Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Andy Nyman, Clara Lago, Roland Moller, Florence Pugh, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ella-Rae Smith, Nila Aalia, Colin McFarlane, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Adam Nagaitis, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Andy Lucas, Zaak Conway, Ben Caplan, Letitia Wright. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

 

A word to the wise: if you see Liam Neeson getting aboard any sort of conveyance – a plane, a train, a boat, a bus – get off immediately. There’s bound to be mayhem.

Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is a decent guy. He gets up every morning at 6am rain or shine at his home in Tarrytown, NY, makes sure his son Danny (Chapman) is up and getting ready for school, is driven to the train station by his loving wife Karen (McGovern), chit-chats with the regulars aboard the train and then gets off at Grand Central Station to head off and sell life insurance. His routine varies very little day after day. From all outward signs this is a happy, loving and prosperous family. In reality they’re pretty much two out of three; Danny is getting ready to attend Syracuse University in the fall and that’s a sizable chunk of change and the MacCauley family is just scraping by as it is.

The bad day starts when MacCauley is unexpectedly let go from his position. At 60 years of age, the job prospects for the ex-NYPD cop are pretty grim to say the least. He heads back home on the train, wondering how he’ll break the news to Karen. Wondering how he’ll get the mortgage paid. Wondering how he’ll send his son to college.

His wonderings are interrupted by a beautiful woman as wonderings often are. She sits down across from him and introduces herself as Joanna (Farmiga) and she has quite a proposition for Michael. All he has to do is find someone on the train who doesn’t belong there – someone known only as Prynne – and put an electronic device in his or her bag. That’s it. Do it and Michael will get $100,000 tax-free at a time where he desperately needs it.

The problem is Michael is a decent guy and an ex-cop to boot and the ex-cop smells a rat. Soon he gets shanghaied into the game because if he doesn’t play along his family will be murdered. He has no way of knowing how many eyes and ears Joanna has on the train, who he can trust or even the first idea of how to find Prynne. Time is running out and if he doesn’t find Prynne or find a way to stop Joanna, the people he loves are going to die.

Neeson has pretty much spent the latter part of his career playing nice guys who definitely don’t finish last in action films. He is beginning to look his age here – I think that’s a deliberate choice by the actor and director Collet-Serra to make Michael more vulnerable and less of an unstoppable Rambo-kind of guy. Michael doesn’t have a particular set of skills so much as an absolutely iron will and devotion to his family.

While the action sequences range from the preposterous to the well-staged (and to be fair they tend to be more often the latter than the former), the CGI of the train itself is absolutely horrible. They would have been better off filming a Lionel model train set than the images that they got which in no way look realistic. Seriously though the production crew would have been much better off using practical effects but I suppose the budget could only tolerate bargain basement CGI.

As action movies go it’s pretty much suited for a January release with all that implies. As most veteran moviegoers will tell you, most movies released in the first month of the year are generally not much in the quality department; high expectations should generally be avoided. Taking that into account, The Commuter isn’t half bad. It’s not half good either.

REASONS TO GO: The opening sequence is cleverly done. Some of the action sequences are pretty nifty too.
REASONS TO STAY: The CGI is truly horrendous; they would have been better off with practical effects. Neeson is beginning to look a bit long in the tooth for these kinds of roles.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some action film-type violence (some of it intense) as well as a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fourth time Collet-Serra has directed Neeson in an action film within the last seven years.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/27/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Non-Stop
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Darkest Hour