February 4th, 2012

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: MARK DACASCOS

I admit that Mark Dacascos is a lesser Legend of the Silver Screen; but he’s a Legend that’s well worth devoting a couple hundred words to. Ever since he essayed the role of the concerned Kung Fu teacher in the classic Only the Strong (AKA: Lean On Me Before I Stand and Deliver a Roundhouse Kick to Your Face), he’s always been considered “Good People” in my book. While none of the flicks covered in this column come close to matching that level of Awesome, they certainly have their moments.

Our first Mark Dacascos joint is…

BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2002) ** ½

Brotherhood of the Wolf is the best Kung Fu Indian vs. Man-Made Werewolf movie ever made. I dare you to find a better example of the genre. There may be a better one made at some point in the near future, but for now; if you’re really craving a Kung Fu Indian vs. Man-Made Werewolf movie, this is the one I’d recommend.

So this Frenchman and his faithful Indian guide (Mark Dacascos) are investigating a series of grisly murders. Naturally, the authorities want it all hushed up. Eventually, he discovers an elaborate plot by a secret society who are using a man-made werewolf to terrorize the countryside.

Since Brotherhood of the Wolf is a crazy mash-up of wildly different genres, it goes without saying that the flick is going to be more than a little uneven. I mean when you take a French period drama, a horror movie, and a Kung Fu flick and put them all together, there are bound to be some rough patches. At least two out of the three genres are pretty cool. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which of the three genres drag the film down.)

The thing that really kinda kills the movie is the fact that it runs almost two and a half hours long. Honestly, if this thing clocked in at about 100 minutes everybody would’ve been happy. As it is, the flick is just way too long and has too many lulls in between the cool stuff.

But the cool stuff IS pretty cool. The Beast himself (created by Jim Henson’s workshop) is badass and looks like a cross between a porcupine and Battle Cat from He-Man. And the Kung Fu sequences are well done also.

Mark Dacascos was pretty awesome in this. He gets a couple of great fight scenes; one of which involves a pair of Kung Fu wenches. Acting-wise he delivers what has to be the definitive portrayal of a Kung Fu Indian the screen has ever seen. The rest of the cast aren’t nearly as impressive, although Monica Bellucci (who plays a sexy witchcraft practicing prostitute) comes close. I’d definitely pay to see a spin-off featuring her character. Grrrroowwwwl.

Our next Dacascos flick is…

NO CODE OF CONDUCT (1998) * ½

By all accounts, No Code of Conduct should’ve been a winner. It was written and produced by none other than Charlie Sheen and Poison front man Bret Michaels, it stars not one but three Sheens (Charlie, Martin, and Joe Estevez), and was directed by Michaels himself. I don’t know what went wrong, but somehow despite all the talent involved, the flick never really comes together.

In fact, you’ll have more fun imagining Charlie and Bret sitting around a table boozing it up and getting high while writing the script than you will watching the actual movie.

The plot involves a mysterious drug kingpin waiting for a major shipment of heroin to hit the street. The Sheens play cops who get wind of the impending shipment and try to stop it from entering their neighborhood. Along with Charlie’s partner (Mark Dacascos), they uncover massive corruption in the police force and learn that one of their own is in cahoots with the kingpin.

Folks, I’m not going to lie; I was kind of excited about the prospect of a Bret Michaels directed action movie starring Charlie Sheen. As it turns out, Michaels (who also has a small role too) isn’t much of a director. He seems to favor dull domestic scenes over the action, which leads me to believe he may have a career in Lifetime Originals if his reality show doesn’t pan out. If you doubt me, check out the way Michaels handles the scene where Sheen’s bitchy wife yells at him and says, “Your daughter doesn’t need a stuffed animal… she needs a father!”

When it does come time for the action, it’s poorly edited and not exciting in the least. I think Michaels was really in over his head during the action scenes because it seems like his coverage was pretty sparse. (Which may be more of a knock against his second unit team, depending on how much of the action he actually shot.) On top of that, Michaels really overdoes it when it comes to the WHOOSHES and WHIZZES sound effects in between scenes too.

No Code of Conduct was made during the period when Charlie Sheen wanted to be known as “Charles” Sheen, so you know not to expect quality of any kind. It was in the era (which should be known as “The Dark Ages”) where Charlie actually tried to “act” opposed to just coasting on his usual persona. That is to say, he’s not very good. The supporting cast includes Paul Gleason, Meredith Salinger, and Joe Lando; all of whom are solid, if uninspired.

I think the biggest fumble Bret Michaels made was his criminal underutilization of Mark Dacascos. Here’s a guy with Kung Fu technique out the yin yang and Michaels does virtually nothing with him. All Mark does in this one is basically follow Charlie’s lead.

In a better director’s hands, the combo of Sheen and Dacascas could’ve been a potent one. Imagine them in a badass buddy cop movie instead of this crap. What a waste.

AKA: Cop War. AKA: Full Brunt.

And our next Mark movie is…

DOUBLE DRAGON (1994) **

In 1997, The Big One hit Los Angeles and turned it into a burnt out city ruled by gangs. (I think we all remember where we were when THAT happened.) Ten years later, the government has to issue a citywide curfew to ensure the citizens they don’t get killed by the roving gang members. In the midst of all this chaos, Robert Patrick (sporting Vanilla Ice’s hair and wardrobe) wants to reunite the Double Dragon medallions so he can rule the world or some shit. It’s up to Kung Fu brothers Jimmy (Mark Dacascos) and Billy (Scott Wolf) to keep their half of the medallion and kick Patrick’s butt.

For the first half hour or so, Double Dragon was surprisingly enjoyable. It had a bit of an Escape from New York vibe to it and I got a kick out of the Robocop style commercials and news breaks. I mean any time you’ve got George Hamilton and Vanna White as news anchors (not to mention… gasp… Andy Dick as the weatherman), you’ve got to at least laugh a little bit.

As the film wears on however, Double Dragon loses more and more brain cells. By the end, the flick flatlines under the weight of sheer stupidity. Consider the scene where a dude takes a mess of steroids and turns into a giant bulbous mutant with what looks like a huge set of testicles on his back. It’s just too stupid for words.

Most Movies Based on Video Games suck because they’re aimed at squarely at kids (Super Mario Brothers) and not teens (Mortal Kombat). And sadly, the target audience for Double Dragon is strictly for people whose ages are in the single digits. Had the film been a bit tougher and had a bit more piss and vinegar, Double Dragon might’ve worked.

It doesn’t help that the two leads act so damned goofy. There are far too many scenes in the film where Dacascos and Wolf make scared faces at each other a la Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall and RUN from a fight and not enough of them actually kicking ass. And it doesn’t help that world class hottie Alyssa Milano is saddled with an atrocious haircut that robs her of her sexiness. (Save for that one gratuitous close-up of her butt.)

No matter what the movie’s flaws are (and there are quite a few of them), Double Dragon does have a scene in which Robert Patrick turns invisible and chokes Michael Berryman inside of a Thunderdome type arena, so it’s got that going for it.

Patrick gets the best line of the movie when he says, “I just want total domination of a major American city… is that too much to ask for?”

And our final flick on the Dacascos docket is…

AMERICAN SAMURAI (1992) **

Don’t let the fact that American Samurai is directed by Sam Firstenberg and stars David Bradley fool you. This has nothing to do with the American Ninja series. Having said that; it’s still marginally better than American Ninja 5.

After his parents die in a plane crash, a little boy gets trained in the samurai arts by a wise master, which naturally pisses off the old dude’s son. The orphan grows up to become David Bradley and the other brat winds up becoming Mark Dacascos. At their samurai graduation, the old fart decides to give David the priceless family sword. Dacascos considers this the last straw and he runs off and joins the yakuza. Later, he sends some jackasses to steal the sword and Bradley has to travel to Istanbul to get it back. Once there, he learns that Mark has set up a gladiatorial fighting tournament and before long, Mark kidnaps him and forces him to participate.

American Samurai is pretty much Comatose City for about the first half hour. It’s especially disappointing to sit through these sluggish scenes considering the flick was from the director of Avenging Force. Thankfully, the film manages to come alive during the gladiator games sequences. It’s here where we get to see guys dressed up like Conan dueling with WWE rejects to the death. Not all of it is good, but there are some decent fight scenes along the way. I do have to chide Sam for cutting away before we get to the gory bits though (although he does manage to sneak a couple of severed hands in there).

The movie does have a couple of weird touches that made it semi-amusing. I kinda dug the bizarre dream sequences that were entirely filmed in negative-vision. And American Samurai is notable for having a sex scene in which both the guy and the gal use body doubles (both of their faces are kept in the shadows the whole time).

Bradley is OK here and Dacascos makes for a rather bland villain. It’s not his fault really because his part is so flatly written, but I was still expecting more out of him. I’m willing to give him a mulligan on this one though because it was so early in his career.

AKA: Ninja: American Samurai.

Next week’s Legend: Robert Shaw.

That’s gonna wrap up Kung Fu-A-Palooza for the month of January. I still may sneak in one or two more Kung Fu flicks this month, but you never know. What’s February’s Movie-Palooza you ask? Why nothing less than Skinamax-A-Palooza! You know… for Valentine’s Day and shit.

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: FRED OLEN RAY

Here’s a new segment for y’all. Week in and week out I do my Legends of the Silver Screen column where I showcase three films from a particular actor. Now I feel it’s high time I started highlighting some of my favorite directors’ work. I won’t be doing these columns as often as the Legends posts, but I will from time to time set aside a few movies from a particular director and review them. Since February is going to be Skinamax-A-Palooza, I figured we’d get things started off with a handful of films by legendary sleaze wizard Fred Olen Ray:

Our first Ray flick is…

BIKINI TIME MACHINE (2011) **

We’re starting Skinamax-A-Palooza off in the biggest way possible with a movie starring a gal who has the two biggest assets you’ve ever seen on late night cable. Of course I’m talking about the one and only Kylee Nash. You loved her in Jim Wynorski’s Busty Coeds vs. Lusty Cheerleaders and now she’s starring in Fred Olen Ray’s Bikini Time Machine. Sure, it’s no Busty Coeds vs. Lusty Cheerleaders (and quite frankly, what could be?), but her eye-popping frame is the sole reason why you should probably check it out.

This old professor dude invents a Virtual Reality helmet that allows the user to go back in time. Meanwhile Joslyn James’s restaurant is about to go under. Together with Kylee Nash, they hatch a plan to go back in time to win the lotto and use the money to save the restaurant.

Bikini Time Machine features the usual Fred Olen Ray Skinamax nonsense. Only this time, he forgot to put in some funny jokes. The flick also suffers from some worse acting than normal (except for Kylee of course). The movie really needed a better main actress than Joslyn James. One can almost imagine how much better things would’ve been if Ms. Nash was in the lead.

It goes without saying that every scene Kylee is in is a winner. There’s a good part where Nash goes back to the 60’s and bangs a hippie and says a lot of catchphrases like “Sock it to me!” and “Make love, not war!” before getting down to business. My favorite scene though was her soapy bubble bath. This scene is also important because it’s here where we learn that Kylee is extremely BOUYANT. Just remember fellas, if you are drowning; Kylee Nash can be used as a floatation device.

Since this month is Skinamax-A-Palooza, and I’m going to be reviewing a mess of Skinamax flicks, I thought now would be a good time to remind you how The Skinamax Scale works. First, we tally up the number of sex scenes. Then we divide that total by the running time to find our Sex Scene Per Minute number. Finally, we plug that number into the following scale:

If there’s a sex scene every 10 minutes or more-You’re Better Off Watching Porn. A sex scene every 9 minutes-Not Worth Your Time. A sex scene every 8 minutes-Not Bad (this is usually about the norm). A sex scene every 7 minutes-Good. A sex scene every 6 minutes- Recommended. A sex scene every 5 minutes-Highly Recommended. A sex scene less than 5 minutes-HEAVEN.

(You got all that? Make sure you save the above paragraph for future reference. I don’t intend on going through it again.)

So where does Bikini Time Machine fall? Let’s take a look at those Skinamax Stats to find out. We have two Girl on Girl scenes (which aren’t very sexy, but at least they feature some scissoring), one Solo Girl Bubble Bath scene, and four Guy on Girl scenes. Since the flick runs about 80 minutes long; that means we get a sex scene about every 11 minutes. Not the kind of total we’ve come to expect from Mr. Fred Olen Ray.

Despite the appallingly low Skinamax Stats, I’m still giving Bikini Time Machine Two Stars; one for each of Ms. Nash’s glorious 32HH gazongas.

Our next Ray joint is…

LADY CHATTERLY’S DAUGHTER (2011) **

Porn star (one of Tiger Woods’ many mistresses) Holly Sampson stars as a rich broad who’s banging the gardener. Her hubby (porn icon Randy Spears) gives her an old book and whenever she reads it, she gets horny. He also hires a new sexy maid (Jessie Lunderby) and before long, he’s boning her. The new maid turns out to be the reincarnation of a dead silent movie star who has the power to make everyone around her horny.

Lady Chatterly’s Daughter didn’t have much of a hook to it. It could never make up its mind whether it wanted to be a Lady Chatterly update (note the different spelling) or a sexy ghost story. Because of that, the plot more or less sucks. Not that plot is something we’re grading on here, but still.

The gals in the cast are hot, but they just aren’t as much fun to watch as say a Beverly Lynne or a Christine Nguyen. Lunderby’s bust is generous, yet her line readings are flat as can be. Not that I’m craving thespianism of the highest order in a Fred Olen Ray Skinamax movie, but still.

The only way to accurately grade Lady Chatterly’s Daughter is by looking at the sex scenes, so let’s look at those Skinamax Stats. We have four Guy on Girl scenes, one Solo Soapy Shower scene, one Girl on Girl scene, and one Two Girls on One Guy scene. With a running time hovering around 80 minutes, that means we’ve got a sex scene every 11 minutes.

Faults aside, Lady Chatterly’s Daughter remains watchable throughout. It also moves along at a steady clip, something that can’t be said for a lot of Skinamax flicks. Too bad the sex scenes were so damn sparse.

AKA: Lady Chatterly’s Ghost.

And our final Ray flick is…

SEXUAL WITCHCRAFT (2011) **

Fred Olen Ray must be the hardest working man in the Skinamax business. Sexual Witchcraft was the third of four Skinamax movies Ray directed in 2011. It’s not a sterling example of what Ray is capable of, but I give him points for the prolific rate he (bump and) grinds these things out. As long as he keeps making ‘em, I’ll keep watchin’ them.

Christine Nguyen is a sexy witch who moves into a new neighborhood with her clueless husband. Her prudish neighbor (Michelle Bauer) learns of her hocus pocus ways and tries to expose her as a witch. Meanwhile, Christine helps her hubby come up with a new beauty campaign and inexplicably winds up conjuring the horny Cleopatra (Vanessa Brink AKA: Porn star Cassandra Cruz).

So basically what we have here is a Skinamax version of Bewitched.

The best thing I can say about Sexual Witchcraft is that the cast is filled with hot chicks. Any time you’ve got Christine Nguyen, Holly Sampson, and Jessie Lunderby in a movie; you’re off to a good start. However, the best looking gal in the bunch, Michelle Bauer never gets naked. What’s up with that Ray? I know she’s getting older, but she’s still looking good. It’s a damn shame she never gets in on the fun.

Another debit about this movie is the scant number of sex scenes. Like Bikini Time Machine and Lady Chatterly’s Daughter, there are only seven sex scenes in Sexual Witchcraft. There are four Guy on Girl scenes, one Soapy Shower Scene, and two Girl on Girl scenes (including a lesbian pool sequence that features way too much slow motion). Again, since the running time is about 80 minutes, that means we only get one sex scene every 11 minutes. For Sexual Witchcraft to have truly worked, Ray should’ve used a little more Skinamax magic and conjured up some more sex scenes.

AKA: Little Witches.