I’ve never seen an Olivier Gruner movie before but Ryan Kenner over at Movies in the Attic (http://moviesintheattic.blogspot.com/) started me off right by sending me Angel Town as a primer. Since I’d already taped Nemesis and The Circuit 1 and 2 off TV, I figured now was a good time to play catch-up on the world of Olivier Gruner. I’m not sure he has what it takes to be a Legend of the Silver Screen, but I liked the guy enough to group all four reviews here. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gruner-palooza.
ANGEL TOWN (1990) ** ½
Angel Town begins with a scene of total awesomeness. Olivier Gruner is leaving
Anyway, Gruner needs a place to stay in LA while he’s going to school. Problem is; he registered for classes late so that the only place he can rent a room from is in “The Student Ghetto”, which is a haven for gangs. The gangs keep pestering his widowed landlady and her son and make it really hard for Olivier to get any studying done. Before you can say Death Wish 3, Olivier brings the disgruntled citizens together to help fight off the gangs and take back their home.
Olivier Gruner is no Lawrence Olivier in the acting department, but he does know how to throw down and dish out ass beatings. He acts a bit dopey in this movie and his accent sounds like nails on a chalkboard. I guess that was the point though. I mean he looks and acts like an unassuming wimp, yet when it comes time to beat the bejabbers out of cholos, he can throw down with the best of them. I think my favorite fight was when some gangbangers busted up a college mixer and Gruner had to kick some ass. I also liked the part where he put a guy’s arm in between his legs and flipped him over.
The rest of the cast is more or less forgettable; particularly the villain. He doesn’t make much of an impression and doesn’t seem like much of a threat. We do get some great handicapped acting by the guy in the wheelchair who has a terrific scene where he cries and punches his useless legs because he can’t run and help Gruner kick some ass.
This movie also has a mean streak about it that I appreciated. Like the scene where Gruner sees some kids harassing another kid. Gruner decides to intervene and help the brat out and when he saves the kid’s life, he flips Gruner the bird and says, “What do you want a fucking medal?” There’s also a bad taste scene where one of the same kids pulls the trigger at a drive-by shooting that sorta made me misty for Robocop 2.
Angel Town has moments of WTF madness, but most of the time the movie feels like an After School Special with some occasional kickboxing. There a lot of “dinner table discussion” scenes where people sit around and spout exposition about what it’s like to lose a husband, be involved with gangs, etc. The ending comes as a bit of a letdown too, especially when Gruner lets the landlady's wimpy son do his fighting for him.
Angel Town was directed by Eric Karson, who also helmed Van Damme’s awful Black Eagle. He does a much better job on the action side of things this time around but like Black Eagle, there is a lot of padding here that could’ve easily been trimmed. Seriously, no French kickboxer vs. Latino gangbangers movie should ever run 104 minutes long. Just saying.
NEMESIS (1993) **
Olivier Gruner stars as a kickboxing cyborg cop in futuristic LA who gets blown apart by some female terrorists. A scientist puts him back together again and Tim (Rhinestone) Thomerson orders him to find some robot chick. Gruner says uh-uh but Timmy Boy says, “We put a bomb in you, so do what we say” and Gruner goes along with the program.
Okay, let’s see if we have everything. Kickboxing cyborg? Check. Cruddy looking futuristic landscapes? Got it. Multiple annoying female leads? Yep. Thom Matthews and Vincent Klyn in supporting roles? Affirmative. Smells like another Albert Pyun movie to me.
If we’re judging this movie for solely what it is, i.e. an Albert Pyun kickboxers n’ robots movie; then Nemesis isn’t all that bad. Compared to Cyborg, the action is rather decent (except that one part on a Super Slide), the effects are a lot more ambitious (there’s a pretty cool eyeball popping scene), and the robots themselves are a lot cooler (the final stop motion cyborg is crapper-riffic). And besides, any movie that features Tim Thomerson, Brion James, and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as villains has got the right idea.
Gruner is OK in the lead. His blandness actually enhances his performance since after all; he’s supposed to be 86% robot. He fares rather well in the action scenes too, although he spends more time shooting guns than kicking dudes in the face. I also enjoyed seeing Thomas Jane popping up in an early role (the credits list him as “Tom Janes”) as a smug dude who gets a blowjob from a cyborg chick before getting killed. A post-Bad News Bears/post-Watchmen Jackie Earl Haley is also in the mix too.
Nemesis was produced by Eric Karson, who also directed Gruner in Angel Town. Well, this one isn’t quite as good as that movie. The biggest blunder Nemesis makes is the erratic pacing. The beginning jumps around a lot and the flick suffers from one too many false endings. And the constant female narrator will get on your nerves PDQ. At least you can keep yourself amused by Gruner’s funny accent when he says shit like, “Yoo Dahm Terror-rust!”
THE CIRCUIT (2002) **
Olivier Gruner stars as the awesomely named Dirk Longstreet. He’s the only fighter who’s escaped a secret underground fighting ring called “The Circuit”. When his younger brother gets mixed up with The Circuit, Dirk has to pick up his old ways and start kickboxing the crap out of people.
There’s nothing new here you haven’t already seen a hundred times before, but The Circuit is done competently enough. Compared to Angel Town and Nemesis, this one has a much more streamlined plot and moves at a decent pace. Plus, Gruner always seems to get jumped by a couple of guys every twenty minutes or so and has to kick some ass, which I appreciated. But whereas Angel Town and Nemesis had random spikes of awesomeness sprinkled in between the mediocrity to keep you entertained, The Circuit is more or less a flatline of ho-hum been-there-done-that. (That might be the first seismograph metaphor used in a kickboxing movie review, but I’m not sure.)
Gruner does a fair job here. He hits all his marks and handles his fight scenes rather well. I also thought he had a lot of chemistry with the babe who played his love interest. Not because they’re good together you understand; it’s because they both have really thick accents and when they try to get romantic with each other, the results are often hilarious. I do have to take points off for the scene where she goes to disrobe and the camera abruptly cuts away.
The supporting cast is pretty good, although they aren’t given hardly anything to do. The great Loren Avedon from King of the Kickboxers is in this, but his role is nothing more than a glorified cameo. And having the ever-reliable villain Billy Drago play the crippled good guy who trains Gruner for his big match was a weird touch. He’s good in this to be sure; it’s just that when you think of inspirational kickboxing mentors, Billy Drago isn’t exactly on the top of the list.
Overall, The Circuit is just OK. This is a formula that SHOULD work for a guy like Gruner, but it just never really kicks into fourth gear. I think what prevented me from giving it a half-hearted ** ½ was the fact that the final fight is kinda whatever. Much like the movie itself.
AKA: Final Punch.
CIRCUIT 2 (2003) **
First there was Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Then there was Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Heat. Now Circuit 2 brings us another stellar pairing of two titans of cinema. That’s right; we’re talking Olivier Gruner and Lorenzo Lamas in Circuit 2.
Okay, that may be that’s a bit of hyperbole on my part.
As it was hinted at in the end of The Circuit, Circuit 2 is about an underground fighting ring in a prison. When Gruner’s reporter girlfriend tries to do a story on the illegal boxing organization she gets brutally assaulted. Her boss (Lamas) sneaks Gruner into the prison where he competes in the fighting circuit and sets out to bring the circuit down.
I was jazzed at the prospect of pairing Gruner and Lamas. The only downside is that once Gruner goes to jail (about a half hour into the movie), they cease to have any major scenes together. On the plus side, we do get a pretty badass scene where Lorenzo and Olivier beat up some gangbangers in a parking lot. Even though Gruner does most of the heavy lifting, Lamas does get in a couple good roundhouses, which was nice.
Because of Lamas’ involvement, Circuit 2 is probably slightly better than the original. I liked the plot to this one more since Olivier is motivated by revenge and I’m a sucker for a good (okay, average) revenge movie. The flipside to that though is most of the fight scenes are just kinda so-so. I think the real problem is that nearly all of the fights happen in montage form. I did however like that the final fight took place on the beach inside of a ring of tiki torches. As Direct to DVD sequels about underground Kung Fu fighting in prison go, Circuit 2 is no Undisputed 2, but it’s not terrible or anything.