June 17th, 2008

THE PRESTIGE (2006) *** ½

Wolverine and Batman star as these two magicians living in turn of the century England.  When a trick goes wrong and Wolverine’s wife is killed, he blames Batman and vows vengeance.  Batman meanwhile starts performing on the magic circuit doing a snazzy bullet catching trick.  One day, an extremely pissed off Wolverine shows up with an itchy trigger finger.


Batman doesn’t catch the bullet.


Batman gets steamed cuz his wife is pregnant with a Batgirl and he can’t very well do magic with only eight fingers.  Even worse is that his loyal butler, Alfred jumps ship and starts helping Wolverine with his magic act. 


Good help is so hard to find.


So Batman goes around mucking up Wolverine’s tricks, killing birds and breaking people’s fingers.  The Caped Crusader then invents a new trick that stuns the audience called The Transported Man and Wolverine goes Beserker trying to figure out how he does it.  Wolverine seeks out David Bowie to teach him how to do The Transported Man because if you’ve ever seen Bowie levitating crystal balls and walking on walls in Labyrinth, you know he knows his magic. 


I won’t reveal how the rest of the flick plays out because you don’t want the magician, or in this case the director, Christopher Nolan to tell you how he does his trick.  The twist ending to The Prestige, like any good magic trick, is right there in front of your face the whole time and if you’re sharp (like me) you’ll see the secret.  Despite the audience knowing how the trick works, a good magician will still marvel you with his showmanship and that’s exactly what Nolan does here.  Although I figured out Bale’s secret about halfway through the movie, I was still thoroughly entertained thanks largely to how Nolan unraveled his tale.  


Both Batman and Wolverine’s performances helped tremendously and for my money any time you can get David Bowie in front of the camera, it’s okay by me.  The film is far from perfect (the “Turn”, or middle section of the film is especially draggy), but honestly, how can you pass up seeing Batman and Wolverine playing dueling magicians during the turn of the century?


Bowie gets the best line of the movie:  “Exact science is not an exact science!”  

CYBORG (1989) ½ *

I haven’t seen too many of Jean Claude Van Damme’s later Direct to DVD movies, but I assure you they can’t be much worse than this crap.


Usually when you see the familiar Cannon logo, you think you’d be at least getting quality of SOME kind.  After all these are the people who brought us the Death Wish sequels, the Missing in Action movies and Cobra for God’s sakes.  Cyborg is just a shitheap futuristic kickboxing crapfest from start to finish. 


Van Damme stars as Gibson Rickenbacker, a guy who lives outside of a matte painting of the post-apocalyptic New York City.  He’s pissed at Fender, this Deep Voiced Mullet Dude who killed his family, but he’s content to just roam along the wasteland with a lot of dirt on his face.  After Fender kidnaps a Cyborg chick with the cure for “The Plague” in her robotic noggin, Van Damme says okay, I’ll take the chick to Atlanta so some scientist can get the information out of her thick skull.  


At least that’s what I THINK this movie is about, because most of the movie only consists of JCVD wandering around a junkyard for 85 minutes looking for this robot woman.  Every ten minutes or so, someone will say something like, “Are you going to Atlanta?  The cure for the plague is there!” and you’re like, “Okay THAT’S what’s going on, I remember now!”  In the end, JCVD FINALLY kickboxes the Deep Voiced Mullet Dude onto a meathook so this sorry mess can be over. 


Filmed in PLACES (I REFUSE to call these things SETS) originally constructed for the never made Masters of the Universe 2, this movie continuously looks bad, sounds bad, and IS bad.  The budget (excuse me while I fall to the floor in uncontrollable laughter after typing the word, “budget”) must have been $7.55.  I’m not joking.  JCVD didn’t even get enough money to put a decent down payment on some nose candy for this one.  


This flick is rife with awful dubbing, pathetic costumes, an incoherent plot, ludicrous villains, woeful flashbacks, idiotic dream sequences, and some of the lamest kickboxing action scenes you’ve ever seen.  Not to mention that this movie is BORING as all fuck.  Seriously, NOTHING happens in this movie and it happens A LOT.  Every once in awhile there will be some sorry excuse for a kickboxing scene to perk things up, but most of the time Cyborg is about as entertaining as scraping dog shit off your sneakers.


Except for one brief scene where he utilizes his patented Van Damme split, JC keeps his kickboxing skills to the barest minimum in this one.  I don’t know if that’s exactly JCVD’s fault though.  It probably had more to do with director Albert Pyun’s shitty direction, sloppy choreography and haphazard editing more than anything.  I mean did Pyun absolutely FOREGT how to make a movie?  We’re talking about the guy who directed Sword and the Sorcerer here.  C’mon Albert!  Pull that camera back a little so we can actually SEE Van Damme’s whole body when he jump kicks somebody and not just his torso!


And the less said about the vaguely homosexual final shirtless kickboxing duel in the rain, the better.


Oh, and just so you know, all the characters in this movie are named after guitars.  If the screenwriter spent MORE time on plot, action, and other stuff that made a lick of sense instead of naming something after a musical instrument, we MIGHT have had a good movie here.  But I seriously doubt it though. 


Followed by a much better (but not entirely GOOD) sequel starring Angelina Jolie.


There’s an extremely aggravating non-sexual romantic interest in the film whose only purpose from where I was sitting was to deliver the ONLY memorable line of this back alley abortion of a movie:  “There’s a cure for the plague and you don’t even give a shit!  What kind of a jerk are you?” 

DEATH WARRANT (1990) ** ½


There were a lot of prison themed action flicks in the late 80's and early 90’s (Lock Up, Tango and Cash, etc.).  This is one of them. 


Jean Claude Van Damme stars as a kickboxing Mountie who in the great opening scene puts away the sadistic serial killer, “The Sandman” (Patrick Kilpatrick) by shooting him six times in the chest, then saying, “You’re under arrest!”  Afterwards Van Damme is assigned to go undercover in a scummy prison where a lot of the inmates are winding up dead.  His boss tells him, “You’ll be imprisoned for armed robbery; a respectable crime among inmates.  Implicitly violent.  They respect violence.”


So JCVD goes to prison, doesn’t pass Go, doesn’t collect $200. 


He’s not in jail 5 minutes and he’s already kung fuing Cholos in the Chow Line.  He learns quickly that in prison you don’t fraternize with prisoners not of your own skin tone, so he tries to keep a low profile.  Pretty soon, he’s looking for clues to find out why all of the inmates end up with ice picks in their skulls, but still takes time out to beat the snot out of the occasional punk with a mop in the laundry room.  JC eventually learns that the deceased prisoner’s bodies are being harvested for their organs and sold on the black market.


Unfortunately for Van Damme, The Sandman gets transferred to the prison and he immediately comes gunning for him.  The Sandman also exposes Van Damme’s identity to the rest of the prisoners, which doesn’t exactly make him the most popular person in General Population.  All of this leads up to an impressive five minute free-for-all kung fu finale as Van Damme trades blows with The Sandman while all the prisoners cheer them on.  (“Time to bleed!”) 


The blow by blow:  Van Damme gets a wrench to the face; Sandman gets a bandsaw to the cranium.  Van Damme gets cut with glass; Sandman gets kung fued.  Van Damme kicks Sandman into an open furnace; Sandman comes back burnt to a crisp ready to fight.  (Special Note:  Van Damme’s “Oh shit” face is priceless in this scene.)  Van Damme finally kickboxes the back of Sandman’s skull into a fire plug, but the fucker refuses to DIE so Van Damme has to grab his head and push that thing DEEPER into his cerebellum so the movie can at last be over.


The plot slows down considerably whenever it switches to Van Damme’s partner (Cynthia Gibb) and a horny computer nerd (Joshua Miller from Near Dark) trying to hack into the prison’s computer, but whenever JCVD is roundhousing scumbags in the face with his Belgian boots, it works.  Death Warrant may not be quite in the same league as Kickboxer, but it features a harem full of transvestite prisoners, people being set on fire, boots to the nuts, and axes to the guts, so it’s got that going for it. 


Van Damme is his usual self, saying about 75% of his dialogue intelligibly.  His kung fu skills are adequately displayed here, although the overabundance of “plot” sometimes hampers their frequency.  But easily the best thing about the movie is Kilpatrick as the sinister Sandman.  If you enjoyed Kilpatrick’s memorably creepy work here, you should also check him out as the outstanding villain in The Substitute 4.  Robert (Benson) Guillaume also co-stars as the helpful, spiritual black inmate.  Honestly, if you liked Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, you’ll love Guillaume in this movie.  Guillaume already played virtually the same role as Freeman did four years earlier, yet it was Freeman who got all the rave notices.  Go figure. 


Director Deran Serafian handles the action scenes well and does a decent job considering the claustrophobic setting.  He later went on to direct the immortal Charlie Sheen actioner, Terminal Velocity.  Screenwriter David S. Goyer also wrote the Blade movies.  The Muscles from Brussels starred in Double Impact next.