Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Lake Eerie

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Lake Eerie                              
Directed by Chris Majors
Savage Beast Films / Solid Weld Productions /
FilmRise / Gravitas Ventures / MVD Visual
103 minutes, 2016 / 2017

Let me start of by stating that the name of this film is brilliant, and I wonder why I’ve never heard of anyone else using it. Kudos on that!

When I think of Lake Erie, I tend to think of the New York end of it, having so many friends along it’s east shore. In actuality, the Great Lake touches on four states (not counting Ontario to the north): Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. It is the latter, in the town of La Salle, where this was both filmed and takes place (in the family-owned domicile of the director). It’s a huge house just off the lake, in this story recently bought through a repossession auction by a young woman who has moved off the farm to forget the recent death of her husband. Having been abandoned and untouched since 1969 when its previous dashing anthropologist owner mysteriously disappeared, it gives the widow, Kate (Meredith Majors, the director’s spouse who also wrote the screenplay), a way to start over and get some therapy through painting (and a large amount of prescription pills apparently, considering the number she downs in the course of a few days).

Meredith Majors
Soon after she is given the keys by the realtor (Marilyn Ghigliotti, who rose to some fame as the female lead in Kevin Smith’s overrated 1994 debut, Clerks), most people in the area have already packed up from the Lake for the season (i.e., post-Labor Day). That is, except for the nice lady who lives a few doors down, Eliza (Betsy Baker, who will forever be associated as the demonically laughingLinda in 1981’s classic The Evil Dead). I quickly got the heebie-jeebies about her, just from the constant use of her calling Kate “Dear.” Not a good thing for a neighbor in a horror flick having to do with spirits and demons (1968’s Rosemary’s Baby comes to mind).

Sadly, this “tell” is endemic to the writing of the film, which makes questionable moves throughout, even when trying to strike some originality. More on that later. Kate makes many, many, questionable choices. For example, on the first night, she is on the main floor and sees a huge and unknown man (Allen Sarvin, better known as wrestler Al Snow, who has been making quite a nice dip into the indie horror film market) in a cowl and cape in her living room, and does she run out the door, which is rightthere? No, she runs into the kitchen to grab a long knife, high-tails it up the stairs, and then takes a pill and promptly goes to sleep to have a sex dream about her husband and another woman. In the morning light, does she contact the police? No, she goes on with her day calmly and has some muffins with Eliza. Whaaaaaaaaaaa?!?

Annemijn Nieuwkoop
I won’t go into much more of the story, as this is all still the first act, which ends with the introduction of Eliza’s niece, Autumn (Danish actress Annemijn Nieuwkoop, who also goes by Anne Leigh Cooper), who is obsessed with Harrison (director Chris Majors), the archeologist who used to own the joint.

There are some definite issues with the story, which is quite lackadaisical in its approach. I mean, if you need to grab a kitchen knife two nights in a row (your first two nights) – once because of the big dude and another after a nekkid woman (Victoria Johnstone) rises from the lake and goes into your house – and then you go speed upstairs and fall asleep after taking pills, rather than getting leaving the house – even after a kinder spirit tells you to get out…twice – then it’s hard to feel some kind of empathy for that character.

Lance Henriksen
It’s nice that the story tries to throw the “Is it real or in her head?” motif, which always is a fun twist. Here, we are given that by the appearance of Kate’s Pop (legendary Lance Henriksen, who pretty much sleepwalks through his one scene, and still manages to steal it), who wants her to come back to the farm and get helps because he thinks she needs help. Actually, what Kate needs is, well to be honest, acting lessons. This is Meredith’s (since both star/writer and director have the same last name, I will be impertinent and use the first) initial starring film role, and she does not seem to be up for the task. She looks cute in an everywoman kind of way with a smack of a Jane Alexander vibe, but her acting is, well, wooden. I’m betting she’d be fine in a best friend or neighbor role, but she cannot carry a film on her own at this point in her career. What I mean by that is that she looks like she is wincing when trying to emote, and you can almost see her thinking (i.e., pausing too long) between showing a feeling or speaking a line.

Betsy Baker
But she’s not the only one, to be fair. Most of the cast seems to be polar opposites in either being in a daze or a bit over the top, such as Nieuwkoop; though to be fair, the part written for her is as an avid fan of the previous owner who disappeared before she was even born, though she comes across more as a chipper and giddy teenaged-level cheerleader than a true scholarly researcher as she claims. Again, you can tell from the dialog part of this is definitely how the role was designed. She’s kind of the reverse of Henriksen’s underplayed role. I do have to say, that despite the “dear” business, Baker comes off the most competent (and I’m not saying that because she’s exactly two days older than me), although the role itself is clich├ęd.

There are few surprises in the story, including the conclusion, but for me the biggest problem here is in the editing of the text. I’ve said this a number of times regarding other films as well: rather than being well over an hour and a half, it would have behooved the writer and director to narrow it down to about 80 minutes. Considering the long stretches where nothing really important to the story happens, this could have been done with no ill effect on the plotline (please, if you can’t do text chopping, call in someone who can!). Yet with all that extra time, there are still plot questions that arise that haven’t been answered.

For example, if you’re dealing with an eternal ancient Egyptian underworld/eitherworld, why are the guardians/demons dressed in modern clothing, rather than galabeyas at the least? I mean, I have my own from when I visited Egypt back in ’93, so shouldn’t the snake-eyed guardians of that place have them as well? Also, on a feminist perspective, considering this was written by a woman, why is the only nude scene a woman, and not including Kate’s husband? These were just two of the many questions that ran through my head during watching the film.

The only DVD extras are chapters and English Captions (always a fave of mine). And yet, the nagging question that remains at the end is, surprising to me as hopeful, will there be a sequel called The Eerie Canal?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: The Evil Within

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

The Evil Within [aka The Storyteller]           
Written and directed by Andrew Getty
Supernova, LLC / The Writers Studio Inc. / Vision Films
98 minutes, 2002 / 2017

What would you do if you had large funds and wanted to direct a horror film? Add to that, you’ve written a script that has a mix of some old ideas infused with some unusual visions thanks to a mind riddled by years of a methamphetamine addition? Andrew Getty was in this fairly rare situation and started this project in 2002, which didn’t see an outlet until this year, two years after Getty’s death in 2015 from a mixture of an ulcer-related gastrointestinal hemorrhage, and a toxic level of meth (thanks to Producer Michael Luceri, who saw the project to completion).

Literature, especially during the 19th Century, often had characters whose inner voice was way more sophisticated than the person speaking them. A perfect example is 7-year-old Pip in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, where the youth speaks in grammatically perfect English while everyone else speaks colloquially. I am guessing / assuming / presuming that Getty may have felt a bit like that while under the influence: the ranting of a drug fueled brain while probably feeling like he was making sense, yet not understanding why others could not see what he saw. This story and film would have been a way to express that, and as from what I’ve read from various sources, Getty had a history of bad dreams, the tripwire on which this film lies.

Michael Berryman (L.) and Frederick Koehler (R.)
Dennis (Frederick Koehler) is a man whose inner voice is one of intelligence, keen observation, and fury, while outwardly he is mentally challenged. He is being cared for by his older brother John (Sean Patrick Flannery), who is well-meaning, but lacks patience and sensitivity for Dennis beyond his own needs after caring for him so many years, and not realizing the weight of the PTSD of guilt. Yet he is truly concerned about Dennis and is adamant to take care of him rather than have him go to a facility run by the State. Though his intentions are essentially good, this brings him on the negative side of some people, such as Mildy (Kim Darby!), an overzealous social case worker who wants to yank Dennis out of John’s fraternal grip.

Sean Patrick Flannery
We are introduced to Dennis through his inner voice, as he relates bad dreams he’s had since he was a mere wisp of a boy, mostly involving a demon named Cadaver (Michael Berryman) and a more newly introduced mirror that may reflect evil. Mirrors as a trope for a window for malevolence certainly isn’t new, and was even used as recently as in the 2013 Oculus. Psychologically, it is also a “window” to one’s deep self, and that is what a large part of this film plays on, specifically how much is external and to what level internal.

Often, the viewer sees Dennis having conversations with his image in the glass, his “true” self a mental and physically slow man, and his “reflection” a balanced, intelligent and violent personification of Cadaver, who we also see in the background, or somewhere in a reflection of a reflection as Mirror Dennis has Body Dennis point the new mirror to face one on the wall, giving unlimited and not always duplicated images. This is a theme that runs through the whole film.

As much as this is a horror film, with a demonic creature influencing the living and infirmed, there is also a strong thriller level. Since we see Dennis slipping in and out of the Body and Mirror versions of himself in single camera shots, the audience is left to wonder if Mirror Dennis is all in Body Dennis’ physically damaged mind. Even with some of the weirder, supernatural things that happen, you’re bound to wonder if it’s a dream of Body Dennis, all in his cranium, or is there really something sinister going on in a supernatural plane.

Dina Meyer
Adding to the family tension is John’s girlfriend, Lydia (Dina Meyer), who is left in the dark on John’s refusal to let Dennis go, rather than settling down with her to a life of wedded bliss. And Dennis has a crush on Susan, the cutie at the ice cream store (Brianna Brown, who really knows how to facially go from stunning to creepy in a nice turn), who of course is incredibly out of his league). The three key women in the film have almost no contact with each other, and this would certainly fail the Bechdel Test, but at least the women – even Mildy – come across as caring rather than shrill, albeit heteronormatively stereotypical.

Other than the cast, many of whom have had decent careers both before and/or after the shooting (e.g., Meyer was just off of Starship Troopers, Darby has a long track record, and Brown would go on to be a key player in General Hospital and Devious Minds; even Koehler started out as the kid in the sit-com Kate and Allie), it’s easy to see that a majority of the $X millions that went into this film was used for the SFX. Don’t get me wrong, it looks good enough to be a theatrical release, rather than a direct-to-digital one.

Brianna Brown
The post-Getty’s demise editing alone, by Luceri and Michael Palmerio, is eye-catching, such as when we are introduced to Mildy talking to John; the angle keeps changing as the camera zooms around them. Beyond that, the SFX are pretty creepy, and when there is some gore, it looks sharp.

Speaking of the cast, everyone does really well, beyond what you would expect for a b-film, but that’s not surprising considering the pedigree of actors, right down the line. Pluto… I mean Berryman, who is completely covered in green body paint, looks menacing, but I felt that he was underused, mostly in the background to – err – reflect what the Mirror Dennis actually looks like, or possibly the evil side of Body Dennis’ soul, anyway.

The story of Dennis’ past, which I won’t divulge in a spoiler, kind of gives credence to the anger he would feel and the deep level behind Mirror Dennis’ bitterness. This is a nice touch; again I believe reflecting on the director’s own dabbling experiences. However, there definitely are some holes in the story and certain things left me scratching my head.

Even so, it’s an enjoyable film to watch. It’s a shame Getty never got the chance to do more, and we’ll never see what he could have accomplished. Stay off drugs kids, or this could happen to you!!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: Parasites

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Written, produced and directed by Chad Ferrin
Crappy World Films
81 minutes, 2017

“Living in a jungle, it ain’t so hard /
Living in a city, it’ll eat out, eat out your heart.”
- The Heartbreakers (Thunders not Petty) [HERE

Nothing makes me happier (well, perhaps that’s an overstatement) than a film title that can be seen in multiple ways. As for this film, I’ll be getting to that in a bit.

Three college jock-types are roaming around the big bad city and get lost. Not a good thing, especially in the neighborhood in which they’ve landed. Now, get your mind out of the National Lampoon’s Vacation view of Detroit, this area of Los Angeles is not colorblind, but it is certainly greenback poor. The key word there is poor, and then add in homelessness and frustration-fueled anger… that’s a volatile mix in an indie screen world.

The three dudes, including Sean Samuels as Marshall (middle)
As the dudes drive around, getting deeper into the vicinity, they make comments about the homeless they see like, “Give them a broom to clean that shit up,” and sarcastically, “Look! That one has a cell phone!” We’re definitely not dealing with liberal-leaners, but a Trump squad mentality. Then, they run over something and get a flat. And that is where the story really takes off.

In an updated idea right out of Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), they are confronted by a mob of homeless men (and one woman) who don’t take kindly to strangers in their neighborhood, such as it is. It quickly escalates, and before you know it, one of the trio, Marshall (Sean Samuels) is running down the street nekkid in fear for his life, with a band of bums out to even the social score a little bit.

Okay, that’s about as far as I’ll give in details to the plot (the box and trailer below give similar info, so I’m not divulging too much). The patriarchal leader of the mob is Wilko (Robert Miano) who exudes anger, hate and racism beautifully. The problem with Wilko is a human one rather than merely of poverty: he is a narcissist who blames others for his own actions. One could argue that he is a product of having nothing left but ego, but I could also see that it could be part of what brought him to that level in the first place. In this case, his actions have left a witness, and he has to deal with it. As the de facto leader of our not-so-merry troupe, he brings the other street people with him to clean up, as it were.

Robert Miano as Wilco
While they are (nearly all) men of the streets, they are strong, but can they deal with Marshall, who is a quarterback in top physical shape? Quick to adapt, he does what he needs to survive, as he becomes the focus of a distorted version of The Warriors, without the fancy costumes and catchy dialogue. He has no choice but to come on out and play as he is hunted down by the urban version of the backwoods mob. It becomes a question of how does one win against a group that has nothing to lose.

The added social commentary is as Marshall becomes more and more identified as a homeless person, wearing their clothes, limping from a wound and covered in blood; being African-American in this case especially demonizes him as “Other.” He becomes a target not only of his hunters, but of the very people that he was accused by the gangly group of being in the first place, one who targets the homeless with paintballs and flame by people his own age who are slumming and looking to burn off some political incorrectness.

Joseph Pilato as Wilde
One of the standout roles here is a drunken ex-soldier, Wilde, a homeless man who is at odds with Wilco, played with great dexterity by Joseph Pilato. If you need clarity, he was the asswipe army leader, Rhodes, in Day of the Dead (1985) who famously gets ripped in half by a mob of zombies. He definitely proves here that he’s got acting talent.

For me, one of the rare disingenuous moments is a scene depicting how the mentally ill get released to the streets (the “droppin’ the kid off at the pool” bit). I know that after Geraldo Rivera’s “Willowbrook” expose in 1972, a lot of the psychologically infirmed were booted out of mental facilities which then closed their doors, but this seems more like fiction. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, because what the hell do I know from my privileged white male position, but it didn’t feel right, somehow. Hopefully.

As the athletic Marshall runs for his life, he meets Wilco’s diminishing band of followers, who seem to meet up with Marshall one at a time, forcing his hand to do things he probably never would have believed himself capable. But does that make him culpable? The effects of these actions are done with practical SFX, which are nicely handled (even with the lack of continuity of the absence of blood on a recently used rake)

This film is definitely testosterone fueled, as there are only two women in the entire cast, being one of the followers (Suzanne Sumner Ferry) and a prostitute (Silvia Spross); as a side note, both Ferry and Spross also appeared with Miano in the television series “Sangre Negra.” Sure, some of the guys are just there to kick ass in a pissing contest against Marshall, but as the numbers dwindle, the remaining ones begin show some sense. Whether that is good for them or not in the story, I won’t say.

Getting back to what I meant at the beginning by the meaning of Parasite, the film actually asks the audience to think about exactly whom the term refers. Is it the street people, who certainly those of a Republican bent (in the present political environment) would see as living off the teat of society without giving anything back, or the Bourgeoisie college students who use the homeless as paintball target practice because they deem the homeless lives as worthless?

The music is quite minimalist and stunningly stirring, especially the folk-laden tunes like “House of the Rising Sun” and “In the Pines,” mostly sung by the cast, such as Miano and Samuels.

The film is actually quite effective and engaging, well shot, and the acting is quite good. Even the over the top moments (such as Wilko shouting, “I’m gonna kill ya dead!”) are not played to the point of making the viewer wince, but keeps one in the moment. The story will probably retain the viewers’ interest throughout (I did for me), as Marshall literally runs around the empty streets of Los Angeles fending for his life. The ending is effective, albeit predictable, considering the zeitgeist of the film’s tone and story direction. It’s a worthy viewing.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: Pig Pen

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Pig Pen
Directed by Jason Koch        
Dire Wit Films / Lost Empire Films / MVD Visual
85 minutes, 2016 / 2017

One of the better things some torture films have brought into the sphere of genre films is a new neo-realism that harkens back to the time of Rossolini, Passolini, and all the other –olinis (i.e., other filmmakers in the style). The Italian neo-realism of the 1960s and ‘70s brought life situations to the audience, with all its blemishes and horrors in a matter-of-fact way.

Recently, there have been a series of gritty, realistic (relatively, hence the “neo-“) stories that are there to disturb more than distress, such as the ones by Dakota Bailey (e.g., 2017’s American Scumbags). I mean, this isn’t really new, as we’ve seen it before in films like Suburbia (1984), Scorsese‘s Mean Streets (1973), or even The Day of the Locust (1975; where Donald Sutherland played Homer Simpson, but I digress…). The difference is that of late, realism has faded away into the static camera of torture porn which is less about story than effects; realism is just the opposite, even with its level of gruesomeness.

Lucas Koch
I didn’t really have any expectation about this film, so its level of initial low-key grittiness took me by surprise, which doesn’t happen very often these days. Here, Zack’s (Lucas Koch) world is one of dysfunction. The tall and lanky13-year-old stoic skater, whose school nickname is Pig Pen, lives in a home where nothing gets cleaned and supper consists of cold cereal mixed with water. His mother, Sandy (Nicolette Le Faye), is zoned out on booze and pills, and her new, abusive “entrepreneur” boyfriend Wayne (Vito Trigo, who sports a strange facial hair style) pimps her out and sells drugs. Wayne is so narcissist that he has his own name tattooed on his neck. Things aren’t going too well for Zack and the future looks as bleak as his present life. Between the occasional huffing and probably PTSD, who wouldn’t be stoic just to survive?

Insisting that Zack bring in some money, such as by doing what the guys on the corner do for cash, the boy is thrown to the streets, where we watch as he learns to survive amid desperation, stealing and violence.

As a nice move, Koch edits in flashback scenes throughout that lead up to the present, as we see how life has spiraled out of control step by step. Of course, the past catches up in an explosion, after he gets some dough through an act of violence, and is met by an even larger one at home.

This film doesn’t pull any punches. It gives a realistic feel of the dangers of living on the street, including gangs and perverts; a much-muted version of this kind of life was presented in the Mel Brooks’ Life Stinks (1991). But Zack isn’t like other boys his age. His moral compass has already been turned up this side of Sunday, and he isn’t beyond thievery even before the Wayne hits the fan.

Nicolette Le Faye
In some ways, which I won’t go into in too much detail, Zack and Wayne have some traits in common, just the extreme is different, at least at the start. Perhaps it’s brain damage from the glue sniffing or seeing his mother abused, or perhaps he’s just high-functioning nuts, but he is both walking around like he’s in a state of constant shock while he’s also waging and absorbing information, and how to work it to his own advantage. He seems to have no qualms eating out of a dumpster, or sleeping in odd places. His adjustment skills are stunning for someone his age.

Like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Straw Dogs (1971), Zack is kind of a stranger in a strange land, and when finally pushed to shove, he is a survivor and will fight for his life no matter what it takes. When dealing with Wayne and his troupe, to paraphrase Generation X’s “Your Generation,” it’s “gonna take a lot of violence…but he’s gotta take that chance.”

This is an intense film right from the start, and it just keeps building right until the very end. Its sheer level of violence – everyday kind of violence to the extreme level, meaning the story begets the violence rather than the other way around, as in most films of this type. That is where the neo-realism comes in: it’s realistic, but takes a step beyond that into a fictional realism, if that oxymoron makes any sense.

It really is a horribly beautiful film. The editing, the lighting, the camerawork is all spot on. It doesn’t hug the action (that’s not to say there aren’t some close-ups), but rather presents it as Zack sees it. We see everything the same time he does, i.e., he’s in just about every shot. I’m not sure how old Lucas is in real life – I’m guessing somewhat older than his character – but as a performer he plays stoicism pretty well, rarely letting the viewer get lost in the acting. Similarly, Le Faye strikes a delicate balance in being sympathetic as both a dreamer and a lost cause. The viewer is both horrified at her actions, and also her inactions. To me, she is the most realistic in being caught between wanting to do good, pining hope on the hopeless, and feeling trapped. I see women who have gone through this nearly day, and have decided to take the step of separation from an abuser that Sandy does not.

Vito Trigo
As for Trigo, if he can make us uncomfortable while his face is being hugged by that shaved raccoon on his face that seems right out of the Dirk character from She Kills (2016), that says talent. Seriously, he comes across as fierce in an early Harvey Keitel kind of way. He takes a ridiculously looking role and still made us fearful and him fearless, and that’s good acting. At least, I hope it is…

If you’ve ever seen Koch’s first film, 7th Day (2013) – or, if you’re like me and have seen the trailer – you know how effective his SFX company’s work is, and it’s no surprise that the application work is top notch. With the exception of the fact that there would have been a lot more blood in the situation presented (no, not gonna give it away), it looks spectacular. It also isn’t overdone, which is a nice choice for Koch, considering this is only his second feature.

If you’re in for a good story with some excellent writing and acting to back it up, tension that is palpable in a building crescendo, and some way-above standard physical effects, this will be a good direction to go.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Elite

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Directed by Mark Cantu      
Live Wire Films / Lost Empire Films / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2017

It’s not often I get to review a straight-out action film with no horror involved, so I was glad to get the opportunity with this military crime drama focusing on drug dealing gangs, and specifically the take-down of a drug lord from down South of the Border. Yes, this is a potential Trump wet dream where the bad guy is from Meh-hee-ko (a bad hombre), and it’s the special forces of the United States that is out to take him down.

Allison Gregory
Most action films of this type follow an almost regimented formula (at least until the reveal), and this one is no exception. After a prolog about a mission gone bad where the good guys lose, we pick up the story two years later with a new Naval Covert Ops Command Special Agent and “registered Republican,” Abbey Vaughn (the square-jawed Allison Gregory, rocking a Frances McDormand-meets-Erin R. Ryan look), who is brings retired Bourne-level super-agent Sam Harrigan (Jason Scarborough) out of retirement. He’s grumpy, he’s drunk, he’s sequestered himself in some far off locale in rural Texas, and he has a beard. Of course, he doesn’t want to come back, but events get him to shave his head and he’s back on point to take down the drug lord and his minions. This is a trope that has been overused a bit much, but it gets you to the point of action. And, being an action film, that’s the point, right?

Right off the bat, Vaughn shows herself to be a bit of an amateur (she’s no Clarice Starling), such as entering a bad-guy bar solo, without back-up. Whenever I see this done on a TV show, where the lone cop/good guy runs into a situation where they should just wait until back-up arrives, I think, “This character is an ass, and deserves to die.” But they don’t. Vaughn seems to get roughed up or threatened somewhat regularly early on (and it’s not hard to predict her family will be probably be put in danger at some point...I write this 17 minutes into the film, so I don’t know for certain yet). She’s gonna need big strong man Harrigan to rescue her, or at least be a mentor. You can tell this was written by dudes (Cantu and Scarborough) right off. I’m waiting for the mansplaining (it comes in at 50 minutes, FYI, but it’s acknowledged and tempered in a somewhat positive light, or possibly even mocked).

Also, just because Harrigan is the star (and co-writer), even though Vaughn’s name come first in the credits, it seems pretty ridiculous that for most of the film he’s the only one who can take care of himself. I mean, there is Vaughn and another (African-American male…from Brooklyn yet) agent (Shawn Brooks) who cower under a table while Harrigan takes care of a bunch of knife and gun-tottin’ thugs himself. This is a bit too Seagal / Van Damme / Rambo egocentric without the star power to back it up, in my opinion. More on this later.

What I also fine disconcerting is the weaponry and its use. Everyone has a gun, that’s no surprise, being law enforcement vs. drug gang (never mind that it’s Texas), but nearly all the firepower is hand guns, especially in the first two-thirds of the film. Drug cartels and enforcers would most likely have high powered assault rifles that fire multiple rounds per second, not bam…bam…bam. On top of that, nobody seems to hit very much (people or, say speeding away cars), so there is very little collateral damage, even from a couple of feet away. This is a bit of a throwback to the Schwarzenegger days where he would stand in the middle of a room with dozens of people firing at him, and he would kill with every shot while none hit him. Here, even Harrigan’s (and Vaughn’s) guns tend to miss, despite multiple rounds. And yet he tries to tell Vaughn how to shoot though she’s supposedly a marksperson. The feminist side of me is getting grumpy.

Jason Scarborough
I was trying to figure out the political stance of the film. While it’s quite heteronormative, at the same time there are some swipes at conservative politicians, but also seems to fall in line with the present administration’s attitudes about “bad” people coming from Mexico and the belief that they bring crime with them (or the desire to do so). Perhaps it’s my own prejudice that sees that, being suspicious as this is from (and filmed in) San Antonio, Texas. I’m not sure, but I can easily see both sides of the liberal/conservative spectrum either questioning some parts of this, or agreeing with others.

One of the enforcers for the cartel is played by WWE-wrestler Mike Dell, who is also known as Dr. Corbett. He handily kills people with his bare hands. You know at some point, as this is the paradigm they are following, he is going to cross fists with Harrigan. Even before it happens, I’m going to guess that Harrigan starts by losing, and then wins. Won’t say if it’s true or not, you’ll have to watch for yourself.

Towards the end of the film, Vaughn becomes stronger after a personal loss, and ends up mostly being able to handle herself. However, there is one other core character I would like to talk about at this point, a cyber babe named Jazz (Ione Europa Rousseau) who is sort of a more punk version of the Abby Sciuto character from NCIS. At first they have her playing the doofy Joe Pesci role from Lethal Weapon 2 (etc.), even giving her the “Do I get a badge/gun?” lines, but she is my favorite here, and proves that she can kick frickin’ ass. I want to see a film of just the background story of her character. Jazz is arguably by far the most interesting and nuanced one here. Other standouts are Jason Lee Boyson as capo Guapo; his being a stand-up comic certainly helps with his line delivery, and James C. Leary as Benedict (who was a semi-regular on the later-seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer under tons of make-up).

Generally, the acting is decent, and when actually connecting, the kills look pretty good. Most of the hand fights are pretty good (the villains are usually MMA fighters in their non-film lives), especially Mills, who comes across as quiet and intense, stealing the camera’s view whenever he’s onscreen.

One of the things I appreciate is that while a lot of the film’s story is formulaic, the expected double crosses actually worked really well (that they happen, not who they are), and even though I wondered about it at some point, it still managed to take me a bit by surprise because I was expecting it to be one of two people, and it was neither.

Other than three enjoyable trailers from LWF, the only extra is a full-length commentary with Cantu, Scarborough, and Gregory that while not brilliant, is chock full of information about the creation of the story, certain scenes, and fun anecdotes. It’s the bad jokes and the occasional talking-over that puts a slight damper on it. Still, I would recommend the listen if you enjoy the film.

Despite it all, this is actually a decent watch for this genre, either in spite of or because of it being formulaic. The story may have holes, but the basic premise works due to it following so close to the rules. Hell, it actually makes more sense than most of anything with Seagal or Van Damme, which are just ego pieces. This can’t rely on that, so it needs to be a bit stronger, and it is that. For a straight-out action film, the skin is more important than the bones, meaning that the action/what you see, trumps out the basic story/structure. This fits the menu quite well for a nice fast paced, fast food film.