December 9th, 2009

DESERT HEAT (1999) **

Had I known that John G. Avildsen directed this direct to video Jean Claude Van Damme movie, I would’ve watched it a long time ago.  He obviously hated the results and took his name off the film.  While it’s not up to the high standards of great Avildsen classics like Rocky 5 and Karate Kid 3; it’s no better or worse than most of Van Damme’s DTV flicks.


JCVD plays a suicidal ex-military drifter who gets shot in the desert and left for dead.  He is nursed back to health by his Indian war buddy (Danny Trejo) and heads into town to get revenge.  Van Damme learns that the town is run by two dueling gangs of drug runners who are in the middle of a détente.  He decides to stir things up a bit by playing them against each other, The Man with No Name style and return control of the town back to it’s citizens.


Okay, let me get this off my chest.  Jean Claude Van Damme is no Clint Eastwood.  The man has his merits but he just doesn’t have the wits necessary to play two warring gangs against one another.  While Clint methodically plotted out his scheme to sick his enemies against each other; JCVD sorta tosses his plan together at the last minute.  As a result, it doesn’t work nearly as well.  In fact, the two factions realize they’ve been had pretty quickly and then they actually join forces to get Van Damme.


Another thing I didn’t quite understand about this movie was what the bad guys stood to gain in such a small town.  I mean the town consists of a diner, a motel, a general store, a biker bar, and the obligatory abandoned warehouse where a big gunfight occurs.  I guess it’s easier to intimidate and harass people when there are less than ten people within the city limits.


Plot holes aside; Desert Heat also suffers from some sloppy editing during the action scenes.  Avildsen favors shootouts over hand to hand fighting and consequently doesn’t give Van Damme much of an opportunity to show off his Kung Fu prowess.  You also have to put up with a lot of spiritual Indian mumbo jumbo that seems to go against the grain of the whole revenge plot.

On the plus side, the performances are pretty good.  Van Damme isn’t given a lot to do but I did enjoy the scene where he banged two biker bitches at the same time.  Pat Morita (from Avildsen’s Karate Kid movies) is also amusing as the town’s impeccably dressed handyman and David “Shark” (Uncle Sam) Fralick is fairly intense as a redneck drug runner.  It’s Larry (Darkman) Drake who gets the best line of the movie as the villain who tells his numb nut sons, “You two were the unfortunate results of recreational fucking!”


AKA:  Inferno.

THE HARD CORPS (2006) **

Jean Claude Van Damme stars as an Iraq war veteran who returns home suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  To help him get back on his feet, Van Damme’s old army buddy gets him a job as a bodyguard for an ex-boxer.  The former champ has a long-standing grudge against a vindictive rapper and when the lethal lyricist gets out of prison, he sets out to pop a cap in the popular pugilist’s ass.  It’s up to Van Damme to protect him against the gangsta’s wrath.


The Hard Corps started life as a vehicle for Steven Seagal and DMX; so if you keep that in mind you might know what to expect.  It actually plays a little like a modern day blaxploitation movie with Van Damme in the lead.  (The only two other white people in the flick are JCVD’s right hand man and a crooked cop.)  In fact when Van Damme gets hired, his new boss jokingly says, “Isn’t it time we had some Affirmative Action around here?”


While it’s fun seeing Van Damme gun down a bunch of gangsta rappers, the film gets bogged down early on and goes south rather quickly.  The action is sporadic and severely inflated running time (110 minutes) drains the flick of a lot of much needed momentum.  And since the beef is mostly between the rapper and the boxer, Van Damme’s character doesn’t have much of a stake in the action.  Sure, he kinda has the hots for the boxer’s sister (Vivica A. Fox) but that’s about it.  It also doesn’t help when Van Damme has war flashbacks every fifteen minutes or so.


Sheldon Lettich, who has previously directed Van Damme in Lionheart, Double Impact, and Legionnaire, films the action in a workmanlike manner.  Although the flick is light on action, Lettich does deliver at least one good fight sequence when JCVD’s employer fires him and they have a knockdown drag-out brawl.  Van Damme was obviously comfortable with Lettich behind the camera because he gives one of his most relaxed performances in some time.  However, it’s still not enough to rise The Hard Corps above the usual Van Damme Direct to DVD mediocrity.