December 16th, 2008

STREET FIGHTER (1994) * ½

During the early 90’s I spent most of my time playing Street Fighter 2 in the arcade.  I probably should’ve been off somewhere thinking about girls or trying to get good grades, but I mostly just played that damned video game.  Street Fighter 2 was something of an enigma because nobody ever played Street Fighter 1, and yet Street Fighter 2 was a huge success.  SF2 was so big in fact that instead of releasing a Street Fighter 3, the game company Capcom just kept churning out variations on Street Fighter 2 such as Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Super Street Fighter 2, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and Street Fighter 2:  Champion Edition.  By the time that an actual Street Fighter 3 DID come out, nobody gave a shit because they were sick and tired of playing countless retreads of Part 2.

 

After the Mortal Kombat movie was a big hit, Street Fighter was put into production and even though it was based on Street Fighter 2, they just called it Street Fighter.  A lot of people bitched and moaned that Ryu and Ken were not the main characters and that Guile (Jean Claude Van Damme) hogged the spotlight.  It didn’t really matter to me because I always played as Guile anyway.  I could really fuck shit up with his Flash Kick and Sonic Boom.  The flick ended up being a big flop and we never got to see an actual Street Fighter 2 movie.  (There is another Street Fighter film in production, although it’s not even called Street Fighter 2.  Idiots.)

 

The plot has the evil dictator M. Bison capturing a bunch of hostages and Col. Guile tries to rescue them.  Meanwhile characters that only bear a passing resemblance to their video game counterparts show up and stand around and don’t fight each other very often.

 

While some of the characters look like their original incarnations (like Wes Studi as Sagat) most of them don’t look or act like they did in the video game.  In the game, Chun Li was a peasant girl; here she’s a news reporter.  In the game, Ken and Ryu were karate students; here they are whiny, back-stabbing arms dealers.  In the game, Dhalsim was an Indian mystic; here he’s a meek scientist.  In the game, M. Bison was a brawny badass; here he’s... Raul Julia.

 

The biggest stumbling block about the flick is that it’s hopelessly cheesy, silly and cartoony.  It makes the video game look realistic in comparison.  Having said that; the best part of the movie is Blanka; the green skinned monster that Bison creates.  The filmmakers deftly combined Guile’s story and Blanka’s (in the game, Guile was looking for his POW pal named Charlie and Blanka’s real name was “Carlos”) and if writer/director Steven E. de Souza showed a little bit more ingenuity in the screenwriting department, Street Fighter may have been worthwhile.  Still, it’s better than say, the Super Mario Brothers movie.

 

Another big problem is that middle section of the film is almost completely devoid of fighting.  And then when the characters finally DO fight, it’s not in the street, it’s in Bison’s lair.  So why was this thing called Street Fighter then?  None of the fighting is really memorable and the showdowns between beloved characters from the game are pretty much a letdown as they almost always end abruptly.  The final fight between Bison and Guile is the only decent one in the bunch; if only to crack up at Raul Julia’s “skill” as a brawler.  Guile did get to do his Flash Kick a few times, so I really can’t complain about it too much.  Just don’t get me started on the scene when Bison starts shooting electricity out of his hands like the goddamned Emperor.  

 

At any rate, you can get some laughs by watching Van Damme butcher the English language.  His rousing speech to the troops is especially hilarious.  “Whoo whants to go hohm and whoo whants to go with MEE!”

THE QUEST (1996) **

The Quest is basically Bloodsport set in the 20’s.  There are a bunch of physically diverse fighters who congregate on a faraway island to duke it out in a secret marital arts tournament.  It’s notable for being Jean Claude Van Damme’s directing debut and not much else.  He’s no John McTiernan or anything, but he’s a lot more capable than a lot of JCVD’s directors, that’s for sure.

 

The production values are a step up from the usual Van Damme fare, although the film is light on action for the first hour or so.   Once we do get to the fighting however, things don’t necessarily improve.  Even though all of the fighters have different skills and abilities (there are Sumo wrestlers, Jamaican breakdancers, a Spanish flamenco dancer, and a drunken monkey fighter just to name a few), all of the fight scenes are interchangeable and none of them are really all that exciting.  Also, the build-up to the tournament takes way too long and the scenes of JCVD, Roger Moore, and company sitting around chatting endlessly really stalls the film’s momentum.  Van Damme’s final battle with a dude that looks like Karnov is decent but it takes forever to get to it.

 

The Quest does provide you with some unintended hilarity though.  Take the opening scene that’s set in the present day where an old Van Damme walks into a bar and kung fus a bunch of punks with his cane.  Not only is the old age make-up on JCVD terrible, but the fight choreography is pretty bad too, which gives you some good chuckles.  Then there’s the scene where JCVD is dressed up like a clown and kung fus a bunch of cops while wearing stilts that has to be scene to be believed too. 

 

At least the performances are good.  Roger Moore is clearly having a ball while chewing on the scenery as JCVD’s financial backer and James Remar portrays his role as a 20’s style boxer with aplomb.  Van Damme is Van Damme, although he’s slightly better here than he was in say, Nowhere to Run.  He returned later in the year with Maximum Risk, which was even worse.

HARD TARGET (1993) ***

Hard Target is Jean Claude Van Damme’s best movie, mostly because it was directed by action movie god John (The Killer) Woo.  Woo’s flamboyant style, gratuitous shots of white doves and trademark slow motion was somewhat muted by the stupid American studio, but it’s still prevalent enough to have that unmistakable Woo look and feel.  After the success of Hard Target, Van Damme would later employ other Asian action directors such as Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark to helm several of his features.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t compare to the master, John Woo.

 

What we got plot wise is yet another variation on the old Most Dangerous Game scenario.  Greasy Lance Henriksen offers down and out vets an opportunity to make some money.  He’ll hunt them down like an animal and if they survive, they get a bunch of cash.  If they don’t survive, they’re... well... uh, dead.  Yancy Butler’s dad gets killed during one of these Most Dangerous Games and Chance the Cajun (Van Damme) helps her find out what happened to him.  Eventually Chance gets drawn into one of the games himself and has to kung fu the bejesus out of anyone armed with a crossbow and/or automatic weapon.

 

JCVD is quite good in this flick and sports the most perfectly moussed mullet in cinema history.  He kicks a lot of ass during his many slow motion kung fu scenes, shootouts, and action sequences.  In addition to his usual brand of kung fu, he also gets to break people’s forearms Steven Seagal style. 

 

The action is way over the top and isn’t realistic in the least and I’m perfectly OK with that.  The carnage includes a great moment where Van Damme punches a rattlesnake, an awesome shootout where JCVD straddles a giant paper Mache pelican and blows away several people, and of course, the immortal scene where Van Damme stands on top of a motorcycle like he’s riding a surfboard and jumps over a car.  The stuff that doesn’t involve slow motion action sequences is thoroughly ho-hum though.  The pacing also seems to be caught in slow motion too, but whenever Van Damme is putting someone in a hurt locker, its damn good times. 

 

You can also feast on the excellent scumbag performance by Lance Henriksen.  There’s a wonderfully demented scene late in the flick where he’s got Butler hostage and he’s all out of bullets and he tells her, “Load me!”  The way he says it is strangely sexual and could’ve only been done by someone as creepy as Henriksen.  And then there’s the priceless scene at the end where Van Damme puts a grenade down Henriksen’s pants.  Henriksen desperately pulls out the grenade and tries to defuse it and eventually succeeds.  After a second though, the fuse ignites and Henriksen quips “Whoops!” before being blow to smithereens.  That shit’s great.  We also get a fine slimy turn by a before-he-was-The-Mummy Arnold Vosloo as Henriksen’s henchman and a great extended cameo by Wilfred (“It’s the right thing to do!”) Brimley as Van Damme’s moonshiner uncle.

 

The flick also contains the greatest dialogue exchange found in any JCVD movie ever.  When Butler asks him, “How did you get a name like Chance?”; he replies:  “My mamma took one!”

 

Producer Sam Raimi also teamed up with Van Damme for the next year’s Timecop.

THE BLACK GODFATHER (1974) * ½

J.J. (Rod Perry from Black Gestapo) tries to rip off a big time mobster with his junkie friend.  It turns out bad and J.J.’s smacked out buddy ends up dead.  Even though he botched the robbery, the mobster’s competitor, “The Numbers Racket King” takes a liking to J.J. and offers him a job.  J.J. turns out to be a fast learner and four years later he becomes a kingpin.  He then muscles in on the white mobsters in the community who control the smack trade in the ghetto.  When Whitey kidnaps J.J.’s woman, he grabs a couple of his best bad dudes and they go out to kick some white ass.

 

The title makes it seem like that this is going to be a blaxploitation version of The Godfather but the movie is nothing more than a no budget action flick filled with amateurish acting and very little action.  When we finally get to the action, it’s all pretty ineptly filmed and staged.  There is an OK catfight randomly thrown in there for good measure though.

 

The “dramatic” portions of the film are mostly boring and are shot without an ounce of style or energy.  The overall look of the production is really shoddy and the editing is especially atrocious as there are a lot of jarring jump cuts.  On the plus side, a couple of chicks do end up getting naked, so the movie has got that going for it.

 

Ultimately, everything about The Black Godfather is cheap.  I mean when the big deal “Numbers Racket King” makes his grand entrance, it’s from out of the backseat of a taxi!  Plus a lot of the scenes look like they were filmed in the director’s mom’s house or something, which is economical I suppose.  I hope she made cookies for everyone.

 

While most of the acting straight-up reeks, I did have fun seeing Tony (Rocky) Burton making his film debut in the smallish role of the Rackets King’s bodyguard.  Also, the score was pretty groovy.  It had a good mix of soul music and bizarre synthesizers. 

 

Overall, The Black Godfather is a bottom of the barrel blaxploitation flick.  Check it out only if you’ve already seen every Fred Williamson, Richard Roundtree, Rudy Ray Moore, Pam Grier or Jim Kelly movie in existence.

 

AKA:  Street War.

FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH (1980) *

I am a big fan of the Bruceploitation genre (movies that cashed in on the death of Bruce Lee), but even I have to admit that this movie is the pits.  If it wasn’t for the fact that it contains some of the most hilarious dubbing in the history of cinema (quite a feat if you stop to think about it), it would’ve received the dreaded NO STARS rating.  Luckily for Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, I actually laughed out loud enough times at the putrid quality of the film that it was worth One Star at the very least.

 

Most Bruceploitation movies are patch-up jobs where we see brief footage of the real Bruce Lee (usually in the beginning) before the film switches over to a completely unrelated story starring a Bruce Lee imitator.  Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is the patchiest Bruceploitation movie of them all.

 

Most of the flick takes place at Madison Square Garden during a karate tournament where announcer Adolph Caesar (the guy who narrated the awesome Dawn of the Dead trailer) tries to figure out what made Bruce Lee so mysterious.  He talks to Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (who balls a woman in his hotel room) and to some other dude who thinks that Bruce Lee’s death was a conspiracy.  Then there’s a match where a guy rips out his opponents eyeballs and tosses them into the crowd.

 

This is the first tip-off that this movie is completely full of shit.  And the sad thing is, this is about the most believable thing that happens in the whole movie.

 

Then we go back to flashbacks of Lee’s grandfather slicing up a couple hundred people in ancient China, interspersed with scenes of a young Lee rebelling against his folks and wanting to be a karate star.  These scenes are from two totally different movies that are sloppily edited in with useless narration and idiotic dubbing.  At least the priceless dialogue like:  “Bruce, you’re driving everyone kung fu crazy!” will have you rolling with laughter.

 

After about 45 minutes of that nonsense we see footage of the real Bruce Lee, but he’s horribly dubbed and all the shit he says doesn’t make much sense.  Then we see Bruce making his way to Hollywood.  They couldn’t afford to show scenes of Bruce from The Green Hornet TV show, so they got some other dude to recreate a scene dressed as Kato.  Unfortunately the guy has a huge bushy moustache and looks more like Carlos Santana than Bruce Lee!  Hilarious.

 

After that, it’s back to Madison Square Garden for another kickboxing match.  Then Caesar talks a bit more about Bruce Lee and then, that’s about it.  Man, this was one shitty flick.

 

Like I said, this flick is good for some laughs.  Besides the side-splitting dialogue and atrocious dubbing, there’s a legitimately funny running gag where Fred Williamson keeps getting mistaken for Harry Belafonte.  I also got a kick out of hearing the theme song, which was just music stolen from the old CBS Fox Video logo.  Other than that, Fist of Fear, Touch of Death was a chore to get through.

 

Let me tell you how bad it was.  You know that “Display” button on your DVD remote control that tells you how many more minutes you have left on a movie?  Well, I must’ve hit that button about 84 times during the film.  The problem with that is that the movie is only 84 minutes long!

 

Fist of Fear, Touch of Death pisses all over the memory of Bruce Lee and will be a major insult your intelligence.  The upshot to that is it does have some funny ass dialogue that will have you cackling like a motherfucker.  My favorite line was during the flashback scene where a young Bruce Lee pouts to his uncaring mother, “I can kill with my bare hands!  You don’t understand me!”

 

AKA:  Fist of Fear.  AKA:  The Dragon and the Cobra.