Joseph Gordon-Levitt and “ze Germans” revive the 9/11 genre with this slow burn, yet riveting thriller about an airplane hijacking gone wrong. That’s essentially all there is to it. There are no twists, turns, slick one-liners, experimental filmmaking, deep social messaging, or even a score to fluff it up and pad it out. The minimalist, 90-minute production is almost anti-establishment in this day and age of politically-infused cinematic bloat. Now playing on Amazon Prime, 7500 is a must see for patient action fans that can appreciate a reality-based, what-would-you-do story.
The Unlikely Hero and the Unwilling Terrorist
The narrative tightly focuses on Gordon-Levitt’s Tobias, a seasoned, straight-laced first officer co-piloting a typical passenger airplane. He’s a quiet, unassuming fellow and the only American on board. Basically, he’s the last one you’d think of doing anything remotely heroic outside of making a slight course correction to save 10 minutes on the arrival time.
The movie goes from 0 to 100 when Tobias is thrust into an attempted hijacking, gets knifed in the arm, fights off a suicidal terrorist plot, his flight attendant girlfriend is taken hostage, and 85 passengers face certain death if he loses control of the cockpit. Character growth and development happens within a span of a few minutes vs. an entire feature’s length. That instantaneous personality transfusion reflects the very real dynamics of violent conflict and the type of grit forged in wartime. Fight or flight…or in this case, fight in flight.
On the other side, a young man struggles to carry on a terror mission he doesn’t quite believe in and into which his older brother coerced him. Vedat, the reluctant extremist, is the only other character we get to know as he manages to form a bond with Tobias. They are both horrified by the violence and just want it to end. Vedat can’t quite let it go as he knows he’s in way too deep and he still feels bound by the pledge he made to his brother. While they try to figure each other out, both Vedat and Tobias desperately search for a way out without spilling more blood.
Action, Gripes and Recommendation
Given the confined spaces of a passenger jet we don’t exactly get huge action set pieces. Con Air and Passenger 57 had to land in order to spice things up with car chases, shootouts, and explosions. Air Force One is a flying monster, so sure, you can have shootouts on 10 different decks of the plane to keep things interesting. Where do you go on a smallish regional jet, especially when your terrorist plan involves quickly taking over the plane in order to crash it into a nearby city? You try like hell to smash down that cockpit door, which is what happens for 80% of the movie.
Other than the initial attack and the third act standoff, most of the action is viewed through Tobias’ eyes as he watches helplessly at his CCTV, monitoring the activity outside of the cockpit door. The ethical dilemma and grave consequences set up some of the most harrowing damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t sequences I’ve seen in quite some time. I won’t get into spoilers but there is a real “hoorah” moment after one of these scenes where Tobias takes to the PA system. Soon after, we get a glimpse of what happens next in the passenger cabin.
These moments seem brief but they’re raw and filmed in an almost documentary style. You feel the cuts, you feel the pain and gaping wounds. The closest comparison is United 93, which goes full documentarian out of respect for the subject matter. 7500 is a thriller with action beats and flairs of character drama, which make it a more engaging watch.
So How Ultimate is it?
It’s not a perfect film and it often feel like a throwback to some of the 90s action movies I’ve already mentioned, plus a few more like Under Siege 2. Other critics seem to struggle with this as well; it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. If this was made 15 years ago, it would’ve had a broad cultural impact but in 2020, Islamic terrorists hijacking a plane along with the standard issue hostage negotiation at the end; it all seems a bit outdated. 7500 is bound to fly under the radar, even after only a few days after release. B-movies like these lower budget action/thrillers never really get much attention anyway and the film’s “European-ness” may also present a problem for more hardcore action fans.
Despite the challenges that keep this from being a great film, it’s nevertheless a good film built on a sturdy foundation. This movie is German-engineered for efficiency and entertainment. It’s great to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt on screen again and he delivers an excellent performance along with the rest of the cast. The stark, minimalism is a welcome change from the loud, over-the-top but ultimately bland comic book movies of late. Add 7500 to your Amazon Prime queue and let me know what you think! I’d like to see more action fans weigh in on these types of movies vs. the boring mainstreamers who are bound to trash a solid effort from a first time director.
You can see this one for free at the excellent streaming platform Tubi. (Is it tubby? Tooby?) And see it you must. Finally! The promise that Jeff Speakman delivered in The Perfect Weapon, that was derailed or sidetracked in Street Knight and The Expert, is merged with a competent and coherent script, a director steeped in stunts, and the result is Deadly Outbreak. (It’s titled Deadly Takeover in tubi. Maybe the title given to the film in other markets?)
Brought to us by Nu Image, progenitor of Millennium Films. They have carved a niche in the medium to low budget action genre, and have delivered solid entertainment classics for over twenty years (Cyborg Cop, Rambo 4, The Expendables), with names you immediately associate with no no-nonsense action (Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Jason Statham, David Bradley.)
Nu Image Productions moves the action to Israel, where Sargent Dutton Hatfield (Speakman) is an American Embassy guard working detail, escorting a group of scientists to a chemicals research and development facility. Unbeknownst to Dutton, the “scientists” are a terrorist group infiltrating the facility as part of an elaborate plan involving bombs timed to detonate at a specific time in Washington DC, and a biowarfare virus they’ll retrieve from the facility and use on metropolitan areas, unless the US government pays them $500 million ransom.
In very little time, we’re in Die Hard in a lab, with Ron Silver acting as a discount Hans Gruber. He plays the cool, calculating Colonel Baron. He leaves his henchmen the bloody job of mowing down the security with full auto assault rifles, while he backs every bullet he uses with a solid reason.Over the course of the story’s arc he will become a magnificent sample of the Second Criteria of effective action films:
Does the antagonist succeed in placing increasing demands on the protagonist, forcing him to increase his skill set and resourcefulness?
Yes! Colonel Baron is an iceberg of detached aloofness around an increasing storm of events that test Sargent Dutton’s skills. After gathering his wits from an initial attack, Dutton pieces together the strategic importance of protecting Dr. Allie Levin (Rochelle Swanson), the lead scientist in the virus’ development. And he begins to fight his way through the ranks of henchmen, to seek help at first.
It was refreshing to see an action movie from the 90s addressing the cliche of the hero ignoring discarded hardware as he works (shoots) his way to the boss. Dutton uses guns and kenpo in ways that feel organic, resorting to martial arts when proximity permits, and picking up guns when his present firearm runs out of ammo. The action is balanced with moments of humor, and it looks like Speakman is having fun, trading quips with Dr. Levin, and throwing wisecracks at the bad guys over the two-way radios.
Rick Avery doesn’t share the director’s credit with William Lusting this time-which was the case with The Expert, Speakman’s previous film-and he puts his stuntman background to good use, with shootouts that use cinematic geography efficiently, and fight scenes that go between rough and gracefully violent. (There’s a gruesomely funny moment involving a shotgun and a henchman’s crotch.) Avery uses an open desert road, a helicopter, multiple cameras, and excellent editing to create a suspense-filled sequence that pays off in an awesomely satisfying finale, and fulfills the Primary Criteria of the effective action film:
Does the story’s structure and pacing place increasing demands on the protagonist’s abilities, forcing him to expand his skillset by engaging both his mind and body in the process?
Without question. Once Dutton realizes what’s happened he takes ownership of the situation and establishes his credentials as a capable man of action. And when the villains up their viciousness on the hostages and soldiers attempting to control the situation, Dutton draws resources from within to push back against the villain’s plans while trying to maintain his humanity. Rick Avery shows what he can do as a director when he’s fully in charge, and Speakman is having a blast. Deadly Outbreak is a true collaboration that pays off nicely for our entertainment.
And this is where the Speakman train stops for me. The films continue into the early 2000s, but I’m stopping on the high note Deadly Outbreak left me with. If there is a mystery behind what happened to Jeff Speakman, it’s possibly that he became disillusioned with Hollywood. The unevenness of his filmography strongly points as evidence to this, and this situation sent him back to his first passion, martial arts. His American Kenpo Karate Systems has evolved into Kenpo 5.0, and he continues to evolve his training systems he did his best to promote in his films.
It was very enjoyable to retroactively get to know Speakman, and to use his films to develop a criteria for effective action films. Armed with this, let’s get to know the work of other action stars.
Martial arts stuntman and star Scott Adkins gives some ultimate insights into the fight scenes from some of the biggest action franchises.
If there were ever a man who knew more about ultimate action – from martial arts movie history to hands-on training and fighting experience – it’d have to be one Scott Adkins. The man came up in an era where Bloodsport was considered classic cinema and martial arts stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan were more than household names.
He’s also done his fair share of studying, training and performing as well in his many small fighter roles in movies like The Bourne Ultimatum and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However he’s perhaps best known for his many starring roles that have led Adkins to become of the biggest – and brightest – names in modern action with titles like Accident Man, Boyka: Undisputed and Debt Collectors (to name a few).
So, if Scott Adkins has plenty of insights to offer up on some of the biggest action franchises of all time, you’re damn right to listen as it’s interesting as F… well, you get the point!
Produced by GQ Sports, and in promotion of his recently released Debt Collectors one would assume, Adkins dives into the following action classics giving some very interesting – and often first-hand accounts – into how many of these iconic fight scenes where trained for, choreographed and pulled off. As well as how they fit into the greater history of ultimate fight choreography and the various martial arts practices (of which Adkins knows a great deal about as well) used in each example.
The video breaks down scenes from movies including Ip Man (which Adkins would later go to fight against Donnie Lee in Ip Man 4), The Bourne Supremacy (in which Adkins would later fight Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum), The Karate Kid, The Protector, Charlie’s Angel’s, Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, Rush Hour and the forthcoming Debt Collectors.
Highly recommend you check the video out in its entirety, then maybe, you know, dive into any of these action and martial arts classics too!
From his villainy in No Retreat, No Surrender to his hardened brawling in The Bouncer, Jean-Claude Van Damme kicks ass wherever he goes, whatever he’s doing, be it good, bad or ugly – even with that black hair in Replicant. Fully equipped with a background in karate amongst other hard-hitting, wild shit, Van Damme is as legitimately tough as they come.
Van Damme’senemies include the likes of Dolph Lundgren, hockey mascots, and even himself – “Dos Van Damme!” was a marketing tagline for Double Impact in Europe. But which fights are his best? ALL of his fights are epic encounters.
Below, in order of release, are his 10 best fights, but there is one rule: for fairness and diversity, only one fight per film is allowed.
Ah yes, the final fight from Van Damme’s most cherished film. Not only was Bloodsport his breakout film, it displayed all of the great ass-kicking conventions we would be wowed by for the entirety of his career. In his encounter with Bolo Yeung’s Chong Li, peak physical prowess and fitness is on display.
Like any decent display of good vs. bad storytelling in action, the villain has to provide actions which draw heat from the viewer, and inspiration for the hero. Emphatically presented in slow-motion like all good fights, Frank Dux is beaten badly here and there, but it is in this notion that the character transcends into somewhat of an underdog, almost Rocky-esque, therefore establishing greater importance and emphasis on the hard-hitting action throughout the fight.
Like Bloodsport listed above, Kickboxer is not just one of Van Damme’s greatest films, but one of the greatest action films of the 1980s. From start to finish, Kickboxer is absolutely loaded full of great action and great fights. Of course, Van Damme’s final fight against the villainous Tong Po (Michel Qissi) tends to be the showcase of this revenge spectacle, but instead, it is the bar fight halfway through – despite being overshadowed by the comic nature of Van Damme’s dancing – that shows the true variety of his action skills.
Severely drunk and smooth with the ladies, Van Damme’s Kurt Sloane embarrasses the young fighters belonging to the sleazy Freddy Li (Ka Ting Lee). From roundhouse kicks to reverse headbutts, the comedic nature in the timing of the fighting provides great awe.
The first sci-fi Van Damme in this list, and probably his best, Universal Soldier is somewhat of a clash of the B-movie titans. Though both having flirted with The Cannon Group, Van Damme was the slightly more successful, though you could argue that Dolph Lundgren had the bigger career hit withRocky IV. Universal Soldier, however, had a badass premise mixing sci-fi with war and action, a terrific, yet frightening concept. Deceased soldiers brought back to life as “UniSols”? WILD!
To an extent, the fight between Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren can be read as a, “winner gets the better movie career” fight. The fight and the film itself saw a return to villainous form for Dolph Lundgren, which we can all agree is what he does best. In a fight that can be detailed as skill vs. power and strength, so much is at stake in this final battle. Luc Deverauxis the more human of the two, whereas Andrew Scottboasts a machine/monster-like presence in a fierce spectacle, the fight of a lifetime.
Nowhere to Run was the first Van Damme film to possess a great deal of humanity, more so than his preceding films. Firstly, Van Damme’s Sam Gilen is a crook, a convict. His subsequent escape and befriending of Rosanna Arquette’s Clydie Anderson provides a quest for redemption from his crime. Beyond a friendship and potential romance, Clydie is alone with her two children in a vulnerable position up against a threatening, corrupt property developer lead by Joss Ackland’s Franklin Hale, and aided by Ted Levine’s Mr. Dunston. Sam can make a difference, but as a wanted man, up against a corrupt system, only his fighting can do the talking.
The Muscles from Brussels taking on Ted Levine – the man behind Buffalo Bill!Throughout the fight with Dunston, there is a vulnerability shown by Van Damme, in an almost humanising manner. The fight itself is somewhat more domesticated and rugged, thus adding a touch of authenticity in what is, essentially, a full-on exciting brawl.
Yes, Van Damme fights a rattlesnake, and if this list was ranked, the fight would be a contender for #1. In probably the biggest film of his career, Van Damme was the star of John Woo’s US debut following his transition from Hong Kong. Looking at the action bonanza within Woo’s previous film, Hard Boiled, expectations were high for Hard Target and Van Damme – fans were not left disappointed!
In sporting a slick mullet, overcoat and double-denim, Van Damme’s Boudreaux oozes style. But just when you think his coolness has peaked in Hard Target, think again.When leading Nat (Yancy Butler) through a woodland trail, romance seems imminent, but instead, Boudreaux punches a damn rattlesnake. Without doubt, the toughest fight of his career.
The highest grossing film of Van Damme’s prime, Timecop proved to be another sci-fi success for the action star having previously battled in the genre two years prior in Universal Soldier – a financial success also. Despite showing a little amount of grey within a healthy mullet, Van Damme’s kick-ass fighting fails to display any sign of ageing. If anything, his physique looks better than ever too.
A peaceful sleep? No chance. Equipped with 50,000 volts, knives, and pain, the bad guys are sent to Max Walker’s (Van Damme) house to take him out, but little do they know, Walker hates his sleep getting interrupted. A domesticated fight, taking place all over the living room and kitchen, we are witness to one of Van Damme’s more technical fights – the usage of knives disarms his traditional moveset, but instead, adds a new layer to the spectacle of Van Damme, which concludes with the most absurd display of athleticism in action cinema.
Bookended in release by other classic video game films, Super Mario Bros. and Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter could very well be the best of the three. Based on Street Fight II, Van Damme leads the charge as Colonel Guile against military dictator and all-around mad man, General Bison (Raul Julia). In what was to be Julia’s last film, a career best performance was present in a comedic, yet terrifying manner.
“Come out from behind the curtain, wizard.” Invites Guile, leading to Bison swinging into action, ready for a fight till the death, full of high kicks, power punches, and close-ups of biceps. Superbly, the fight itself is as theatrical, ridiculous and over-the-top as is much of the content within Street Fighter, thus leading to no incoherence contextually and tonally.
Die Hard in a stadium? Yes please! Collaborating with Peter Hyams for a second time, Van Damme is Darren McCord – a former firefighter turned fire safety and stadium security in Sudden Death. Essentially, caught in the right place at the right time – he is security after all! – McCord has to save the day by protecting both his kids and the vice-president from terrorist Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe) during the Stanley Cup. Of course, terrorists have to be taken out one at a time, including one dressed as a team mascot…
Despite the limitations of a mascot’s costume, the fight in question is both highly skilled and intense. Using the surrounding environment, Van Damme serves a five-star meal of a fight in the kitchen prep area. From conveyor belts to deep fat fryers, all expectations are met and subsequently surpassed in a fight that, despite being absolutely ridiculous on paper, is full of great action moments and perfectly fits in with the tone of the film.
Having previously worked with John Woo on Hard Target, and Ringo Lam on Maximum Risk, Double Team saw Van Damme lead the fight for the third time in the US debut of a prominent Hong Kong director – this time, it was with Tsui Hark of Once Upon a Time in China for Double Team. In the midst of tracking down bad guy Stavros (Mickey Rourke), with the help of Dennis Rodman’s Yaz, Van Damme finds himself kicking ass in a hotel full of Stavros’ henchmen.
After taking out one guy, Van Damme faces the ultimate hotel suite duel, featuring everything from flying chairs and flying shoes. Under the eye of Tsui Hark, the action is choreographed and shot magnificently – the movement of the camera is almost the antithesis of Van Damme’s earlier action work.
Yet another “Dos Van Damme!” and another collaboration with Ringo Lam, having previously worked together on the director’s US debut, Maximum Risk. Unlike the previous editions of “Dos Van Damme!”, Replicant features Van Damme as the villain of the film as well as the usual hero – the sadistic villain, The Torch, and his replicant, secretly produced to aid the capture of the bad guy.
Though The Torch and Replicant do cross paths in a bar, resulting in a brief fight halfway through the film, the real magic and spectacle occurs right at the end in an exceptionally choreographed fight. Armed with the same moves, and presented in the absolute best Dutch angles, it takes something special – maybe even superhuman – for either to break the deadlock in a battle of life and death, evil vs. science.
From the fun-loving Cannon Films sidekick to a rising action star, Steve James changed the face of ultimate action!
It was on December 18th, 1993 when actor Steve Jamesdied of pancreatic cancer. James was actor, comedian, writer and martial artist. His legacy is often forgotten but just as important as Wesley Snipes and Fred Williamson. He was only 41 years old when he passed away too soon. Sidney Poitier spoke at his funeral. James was taken too soon. His status as an action icon diminished by his untimely death.
After graduating from C.W. Post College with a major in Arts and Film he began working as a performer and manager at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Theater. In 1975 he acted in the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,”in Louisville, Kentucky. He soon found his way into various commercials before the bright lights of Hollywood cast their eyes on him.
James’ road to fame began with work as a stuntman in films like Ghostbusters, The Wiz, and The Warriors. His breakout role was as Robert Ginty’s best friend in the vigilante film The Exterminator. His most memorable role was Curtis Jackson in the American Ninja franchise from Cannon Films. James walks away from the first film with quite possibly the most iconic line from the entire series “Well according to witnesses testimony and evidence, this massacre was the work of ninjas.” Only an actor of James’ skill and fortitude could ever hope to say that line with a straight face.
Pure comedy was something that James would often explore with equally successful results as his action films. James performance in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, as Kung Fu Joe will always be the first thing anyone talks about when they remember the movie. Kung Fu Joe is a brilliant send-up of every kind of a kung fu action hero since the beginning of cinema.
James was astute practitioner of tiger claw kung fu, James was often more talented and more charismatic than any of his co-stars. His talents were, on occasion, lifted to that of the lead role. In 1989 he starred in the film Riverbend, as unfairly disgraced army major who fights back with his men against a white sheriff terrorizing the local black population in Georgia. He also helped write and would star in the 1990 film Street Hunter. Despite being the hero and leading man, the film’s poster puts the villain in the spotlight.
Steve James may not be remembered as the greatest action star of all time but his enduring legacy is still felt today. He pushed himself to be more than a sidekick, never afraid to outshine his co-stars and towards the end of the 1980s he found a way to lead movies and anchor television shows. Steve James deserves to be remembered as unheralded pioneer working to break the mold of exploitation films and into a stratosphere all his own.
An under-the-radar gem from two action movie legends in ‘Alien Agent’ (2007).
In Jesse V. Johnson we trust, when it comes to delivering the goods to fans of old school style action cinema of the last couple of decades. As a director, I have come to realize he never disappoints. His work with Scott Adkins in recent years has continue to set the bar of what lower budget filmmaking can be. Coming soon, I will be reviewing his the all new Debt Collectors film. But today, I dove into 2007’s Alien Agent and with this review, I hope you will track it down too, if you haven’t already!
Before we get into the thick of things here, I also have to say what an absolute star of a leading man Mark Dacascos(Only the Strong/Drive/The Base/The Crow: Stairway To Heaven) has been over the years and he still is. I’d put his DTV efforts up there with the best of the genre without a doubt. In Alien Agent, Dacascos stars as a lawman from another galaxy, named Rykker. He is in pursuit of a familiar group of former allies who have come to earth to wipe out the human race and take over basically.
They are some kind of alien lifeforms that assume human bodies, as does Dacascos’ character. Billy Zane (The Phantom/Danger Zone/Invincible) ends up as the main alien in charge, even though we first see him as a redneck trucker who gets his neck snapped, and brought back to life when his body is taken over by the other worldly being. Zane does not have a huge role, but he does well. I forgot how cool the Zane-man was!
Amelia Cooke (Species III) plays the beautiful, but deadly Isis, who we find out had a past relationship with Rykker (Dacascos), but are now on opposite sides. Emma Lahana (Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger) is Julie, whose family gets gunned down and she ends up tagging along with Dacascos throughout the film. The two have their highs and lows, but end up building a connection.
Sons of Anarchy alumni, Kim Coates, plays a very different kind of character for him and shows what a versatile, underrated actor he is. Here, he is a scientist that becomes a blind follower of the bad guys. I also can’t forget to mention the familiar faces we have on henchman duty. Dominique Vandenberg (The Mercenary/Pit Fighter) and the late Darren Shahlavi (Bloodmoon/Kickboxer Vengeance/Pound of Flesh).
The adrenaline ride starts right away with a high speed shootout, with some really impressive car stunts that end explosively. Shahlavi gets his time to shine early with Dacascos in the film’s first fight. Vandenberg is in the movie considerably more, getting to take out a group of guys on his own before coming face to face with Dacascos.
All of the film’s fight sequences are handled very well and prove that without a doubt, Dacascos still has his sharp martial arts skills that haven’t slowed down one bit. The biggest highlights are the “dream matchups” with Shahlavi and Vandenberg, as well as this hallway fight that starts off with him crashing through a wall to take on multiple guys.
Although he mostly portrays this cold and slick killing machine, Dacascos also throws in some fun one liners like when a bad guy has him dead to rights as he is on the ground, he rolls over and says “in your dreams” before he blows him away. And then later before he tosses a guy off a cliff, he says, “hold on tight, this is going to be a bumpy ride!”.
The finale is action packed as Dacascos snaps many necks, kicks many of faces and gets the girl. So as you can see, I was not let down in the action department. I also have to say what an ambitious effort this was… combining the special effects to go along with the alien, sci-fi aspects of the film.
They worked well for the most part. I’m not sure what the budget was exactly for Alien Agent, but for my money, they made it look like an even bigger production than it probably was. I would love to see another pairing of Jesse V. Johnson and Mark Dacascos in the future!
Let’s take a look at the Austrian Oak’s rich and ultimate action blockbuster history!
In 1968, young Arnold Schwarzenegger made his way to America with just 27,000 dollars to his name. In 1984 he was paid a measly 75,000 dollars for his role as the titular Terminator. Years later he made Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines for 30 million dollars. That amounts to 4,000 dollars for every second of screen time.
It wouldn’t be his action franchises that netted him his biggest payday. Instead, he made more money than any other film with the release of Twins. He passed on a salary for a cut of the profits along with Danny DeVito and director Ivan Reitman. The comedy went on to make 215 million dollars worldwide. It was a gamble that definitely paid off.
He also made copious amounts of money from real estate deals. In the 1970s he used his winnings from body building competitions to buy apartment complexes and other holdings. He bought his first apartment building (a six unit establishment) before buying his first house. He sold this small investment three years later and immediately bought a 12 unit apartment complex. Arnold’s real estate empire alone is valued at over 300 million dollars.
Real estate wasn’t the only investment Arnold was willing to make to build his fortune. In 1991, Schwarzenegger invested in Planet Hollywood along with other celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis. Its initial run was very successful. Restaurants in Las Vegas and Walt Disney World ushered in talk of a game show and a Marvel-themed restaurant concept. By 2000 things had soured and Schwarzenegger cut his losses with the company in January before it went bankrupt in May.
He’s also dabbled in producing including such features as Last Action Hero, The Sixth Day and more recently Aftermath. In 2016 he ended his endorsement deal with MusclePharm before creating his own line of nutritional products in 2018.
Ladder is a supplement company the Austrian Oak developed with LeBron James, Lindsey Vonn and Cindy Crawford. It’s an idea near and dear to Schwarzenegger’s muscles selling individually specific orders rather than ten gallon buckets of powder.
Today, Schwarzenegger has a net worth of 400 million dollars. Money like that, Arnold could make his own Terminator robot.
A LOOK BACK AT THE ULTIMATE ACTION CAREER AND LEGACY OF JEFF SPEAKMAN IN ‘THE EXPERT‘ (1991).
By the time The Expert was released Steven Seagal was entering the decline of his very successful box office run, but the influence of his films might have been on the minds of the producers of The Expert, and maybe they passed these suggestions on to Jeff Speakman. Possibly they were thinking of Speakman as a discount Seagal, seeing the kenpo expert through the prism of Seagal’s aikido. Perhaps they were looking through a prism that was blurred by dollar signs glimpsed at the end result that became The Expert.
When John Lomax’s (Jeff Speakman’s) sister, Jenny Lomax (Michelle Nagy) is murdered by serial killer Martin Kagan (Michael Shaner), John becomes homicidal with rage, and conceives the idea of breaking into the jail Kagan is imprisoned to avenge his sister in a way the law has failed to.
This sounds awesome, but as executed, the film is long on drama and short on action. And when action does happen, it’s of a vicious, gleefully savage kind, without the action-reaction motivated kenpo. I speculated in Street Knight that there were internal tensions, disagreements in the production that led to that film failing to meet the Primary and Secondary Criteria of effective action films, leading to the disappointing picture that it was. In the case of The Expert, there’s evidence that such a thing happened.
“I only did a little work on the Expert. My daughter, Jill Gatsby, wrote that movie. I just got the job for her, that’s all. I really had nothing to do with the film, so I couldn’t comment on it. I saw The Expert, but I don’t remember much. I thought it was passable. The movie was supposed to be a remake of Brute Force (1947) but it wasn’t very good. Once again, somebody fucked around with the script.” – Larry Cohen: The Stuff of Gods And Monsters, Bear Manor Media, by Michael Doyle
And that sums up the shaky undercarriage on which The Expert was built. Not even the great Larry Cohen could save this film. Like it happens often in the film industry, screenplays are retooled and recycled in ways that are not subtle, regurgitated as something that superficially resembled the original manuscript, but contains new parts that were grafted onto the original structure rather than seamlessly integrated to create a new whole. And retooled is the word. The Expert feels like a script that in its original form was a courtroom drama against capital punishment that was bludgeoned into fitting the parameters of an action film through a right-wing fantasy lens.
John Lomax’s credentials as an ex-special forces member are established in a training exercise that opens the movie, but are displayed to full effect in an action sequence in a court building where Lomax takes out an entire family of criminals who tried (and failed) to break out their son while he was being transferred to a state penitentiary. It’s an action scene that is both cleverly staged and sadistic in the pleasure Lomax takes in exterminating the family with a shotgun and a few strikes. (Very little motivated martial arts.) His sister’s murder has changed his views. (Or opened his eyes to the way things are, the screenplay would have us believe.) Lomax’s savagery has been made acceptable for the things he will do in the third act, and the Primary Criteria of effective action films has not only failed to be fulfilled in any satisfactory way, it has been reversed:
Does the story’s structure and pacing place increasing demands on the protagonist’s abilities, forcing him to expand his skillset by engaging both his mind and body in the process?
The answer is no. The journey takes our hero on a downward spiral of “justified” violence and brutality in a cinematic sense, and away from the ideals Speakman defends in The Perfect Weapon in a subtextual sense. The self-possession and temperament that a man with his training and background should have is simply abandoned to embrace frontier justice, thanks to a very accommodating script and the lack of a single, unifying voice.
This narrative dissonance continues through the production, where two directors are credited for this movie, one of them William Lustig, director of the exploitation “classics” Maniac (1980) and Vigilante (1983.) A superficial Internet search found me the trivia bit of Lustig walking away from the production after Speakman threatened Lustig with violence over objections to the violence Speakman’s character inflicts. Not getting into the irony of that situation, if it’s true. But it illustrates the contradictory nature of the story. The movie spends more time with Martin Kagan. We see his stalking and hunting methods when he sets his sights on Jenny as his next victim, and goes through with the murder with sadistic delight.
We learn of the fake identities he creates to avoid leaving a pattern, his knowledge of the legal system when he represents himself after being caught, culminating with Kagan’s death sentence being commuted to imprisonment at a psychiatric facility. John Lomax seethes over with rage at these news. He has been standing in the sidelines, training officers for field duty while remaining uninvolved, allowing liberals to introduce laws that fail to protect the innocent. Or those are the ideas that the script tries to push on us, insinuating it’s John’s fault Kagan escaped the electric chair, and the only way to right things is to break into the facility Kagan is being held in custody to settle matters with sharp steel. It’s here that the Secondary Criteria of effective action films is also perverted:
Does the antagonist succeed in placing increasing demands on the protagonist, forcing him to increase his skill set and resourcefulness?
The answer is a dubious yes. Kagan is established as cunning, calculating, very intelligent, and gleefully evil. Kagan pushes Lomax, not to be a better person, but to completely embrace his dark side. Lomax is outclassed in every way against Kagan except in Lomax’s ability to fight, so Lomax connects with weapons supplier, Snake (Jim Varney of Ernest Goes to everything) to equip him for his break-in, which coincides with the night of Kagan’s prison breakout. And in the chaos Kagan has created to cloak his escape, Lomax runs into other inmates that he hacks with a knife he might have borrowed from Rambo, before facing down Kagan in a showdown.
The Expert is a film built on a weak framework, containing contradicting messages, placed on the shoulders of an unwilling star, and featuring the wasted talents of Wolfgang Bodison, a man possessing the charisma and talent missing in Speakman, and Josh Brolin, who has fun as the sadistic prison warden. I can’t even recommend this on the basis of good action, because it has very little action, and this action is mean-spirited and vicious rather than thrilling and reaction-motivated. Watch it at your own risk.
A further exploration (and ultimate video essay) into oddest buddy cop pairing of all time.
Watching Collision Course today conjures up a longing nostalgia for the bygone era of moderately budgeted action comedies. They were simply made to entertain and take your mind off of the life’s complexities for 85 to 100 minutes.
Hot off the exploitation explosion, independent movie production came to life in the late ‘70s and early 80’s as filmmaking became cheaper and untethered from the soundstage. Young upstarts working in the major studios and a few overseas entertainment tycoons set out to take advantage of this golden opportunity. They started their own studios guided by their ambition and creative vision. As quickly as they rose to challenge the Hollywood establishment, the independent and semi-independent movie studios would crash and burn in the 90’s.
Collision Course was one of the last movies released from DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, Dino’s short-lived studio based in Wilmington, NC. DEG produced such classics as Evil Dead II, Raw Deal, the original Transformers movie, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. While Collision Course was still in production, DEG was already heavily in debt. By the time it wrapped, the studio declared bankruptcy. Rights and properties were sold off and the fate of Collision Course hung in the balance. The years slowly went by as more studios began to fall under the weight of consecutive box office bombs, weasely executives, and the financial instability of the late 80s.
Much of DEG was sold to Carolco Pictures in 1987. Carolco produced some of the most legendary action movies of all time including Total Recall, the first three Rambo’s, Universal Soldier, Stargate, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. They also made another Schwarzenegger film, Red Heat in 1988. A no-nonsense Russian police officer is teamed up with a brash city cop as they pursue international crooks throughout Chicago. Sound familiar? There was no way Collision Course would be released in theaters while Red Heat was covering the same territory with more bankable stars.
More time passed as Collision Course started collecting dust and Carolco achieved its greatest success with Terminator 2 in 1991. Collision Course’s ill-fated timeline gets murky as libraries and ownership changed hands in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. At some point, HBO Video picked up the rights and distribution, so a theatrical release was out of the question. Collision Course went straight-to-video and plopped itself on video store shelves in 1992, making it one of the last 80s movies ever released.
So what happened to Caroloco and its half a billion T2 windfall? Amazingly, like DEG before, the studio suffered a series of box office disappointments that created growing financial troubles and crippling debt. Cutthroat Island struck a fatal blow in 1995 and the already over-leveraged company folded that same year. The company sold its library to StudioCanal, which is still operating and gobbling up production companies today.
By the mid-90s, virtually all of the independent studios collapsed. Orion was one of the first major players to fold in 1991, even after producing such crowd-pleasers as the first Terminator, Robocop, Platoon, and Code of Silence, among many other non-action titles. Similarly, the Cannon Group began to sputter in ’88 after the lackluster performances of its most costly movies, Masters of the Universe and Superman IV. Cannon made its last movie, Hellbound, in ’94 and finally closed up shop in ’96. Subsidiary and semi-independent studios, such as United Artists, the Ladd Co., Savoy, and TriStar also fell or were reabsorbed by their parent companies by the mid- to late ‘90s.
The age of economical and highly entertaining action movies faded to black and Collision Course represents all that had gone wrong. Instead of going out with a bang, they withered and died on the bottom shelf of Hollywood history. As a final insult, they became punchlines and producing a buddy cop flick these days is cinematic poison.
With the rise of Disney and the remaining monuments of the studio system still treading water, hardcore action fans must feed on the scraps tossed from streaming services and offloaded to video-on-demand. Occasionally Netflix throws us a bone with Extraction or a hidden Jean-Claude gem can be found in Redbox’s catalog but these offerings are fewer and farther between.
There is some hope on the horizon, however. From the rotting corpse of the formidable independent studio springs new life. Although they are not action-oriented, promising production houses and distributors like Lionsgate, A24, Neon, and Blumhouse offer alternative creative visions to the risk-averse movie barons of Tinsel Town. In this evolving environment, perhaps another Cannon or Carolco will emerge from the mediocre muck, find their audience, and start making consistently enjoyable action movies once more. While we wait, just go along for one more ride and pick up a DVD or VHS copy of Collision Course. It may not be one of a kind but it’s the last of its kind, which is why it’s worth adding to your physical media library.
Drive is first and foremost a Mark Dacascos vehicle. After films like Only the Strong and Double Dragon he continues to show his ability to be in the driver seat of any film.
Released in 1997 this kung-fu extravaganza is nothing short of miraculous. The story is paper-thin and the budget is nominal but none of that matters when the action reaches high-octane levels of excitement. Toby (Mark Dacascos) is a cybernetically enhanced kung-fu master whose former employer wants the technology buried in his chest.
By itself, this is a strange premise but it only gets weirder. Toby uses a little bribery to coerce Malik (Kadeem Hardison), a down on his luck songwriter, to drive him from San Francisco to LA. This unlikely friendship yields some excellent banter and pithy one-liners. Hardison brings some palatable anxiety to the role. His cartoonish levels of befuddlement are nicely balanced against Dacascos’ straight man persona.
Vic Madison (John Pyper-Ferguson) a cowboy-themed bounty hunter, his faithful servant Hedgehog (Tracey Walter) and an endless supply of henchmen are in constant pursuit. The chase has a Looney Toon approach that works nicely within the tone of the film. The faceless goons go toe-to-toe with Dacascos at a breakneck pace and he dispatches them with the ease of Bugs Bunny himself. Madison starts off with a lot of potential be a goofy nemesis but his shtick never evolves and only becomes more of a burden. He relies on it too much and by the end of the movie he just isn’t threatening enough. His disposal is such an after thought you almost feel sorry for him.
The movie sells itself as an action bonanza and it does not disappoint. Dacascos is a hell of a delivery system for all sorts of insane stunts. His willingness to do anything is uncanny. The film does an excellent job utilizing his skills throughout. The fight scenes have a decent flow relying less on cuts instead showing its confidence in Dacascos to connect with each and every high kick.
Even so, the fighting is hampered by their repetitive nature. Toby must land a thousand kicks in this movie but by time the movie reaches the credits you wish you’d seen a little more variety. This creates a little boredom during the middle stretches of the film but once the hotel explodes with a fireball big enough to see from space you’re back on board.
Despite his straight man approach Dacascos brings a lot of easy, honest magnetism to Toby. Before he even announces himself you already like him. Dacascos may never win an Oscar but he knows how to capitalize on his natural abilities. His easy going style of acting also makes him a terrific adversary in movies like “John Wick: Chapter Three.” An empathetic villain is generally pretty memorable and Dacascos acts like a cheat code for those types of characters. In this movie he’s even a triple threat. His karaoke scene is by far of the most memorable scenes in the movie rivaling Van Damme’s dance moves in “Kickboxer.” It’s one of the strangest and funniest moments ever found in an action film. It’s heaven on celluloid.
Another bit of heavenly celluloid is Deliverance Bodine (Brittany Murphy) a young woman with a crush on Malik. She brings a vibrant, raw energy to the movie. She isn’t acting she’s just enjoying every minute of screen time she can get her hands on. She sadly disappears too soon but her gigawatt performance isn’t easily forgettable.
The film’s budget also forces it to showcase some fairly standard locations. The shipping freighter and abandoned factory are especially bland. The only location with any real life is the club where the climatic action takes place. This boss fight doesn’t stand out as much as it should simply because the even more powerful cyborg never removes his bizarrely long trench coat to do battle. He still moves with grace and fluidity but something about that trench coat is just too peculiar. What’s he hiding under there? An earlier fight involving stun batons (a scene clearly repurposed later in Blade 2) is more visceral and engaging.
Dacascos doesn’t need cyber enhancements to be an action star and “Drive” proves this with all the pageantry of a brand new sports car.