The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Striking Range (2006)

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I found this on Netflix's Watch Instantly feature. Between the small amount of Jeff Speakman in Plato's Run, and how Lou Diamond Phillips was the one bright spot in Death Toll, I figured I'd give this a shot. The trailer for it on imdb made it look pretty good.

Striking Range is about a team of mercenaries or private security guys or something headed by Lou Diamond Phillips. His old flame, Yancy Butler, has hired him at the behest of her boss to protect him and his son and their new weapon. It's this thing that puts holes in people with a laser that changes the molecular structure of whatever it hits. Jeff Speakman wants it, so he sends a team of his thugs in after it. Then there's some random dude with a mask who's good with a knife that's causing problems too. Double crosses and plot twists abound, and all we know is LDP is our guy.

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I kinda liked this. It had some dull parts, and there were points where even the action was boring, which is never good. I also didn't like the lack of good Speakman fight scenes. He did some roundhouses at the end just as an afterthought. Considering the film only had a 90 minute running time, how hard would it have been to have a five minute scene where Speakman is jumped by some thugs in an alley and he beats the crap out of them. On the other hand, the dialog was funny (both intentionally and unintentionally), there were some good shootouts, and LDP was nice. I'll give it a mild thumbs up.

I'm liking LDP. This guy's a pretty good actor. I was looking over his imdb bio, and I had forgotten about Extreme Justice. I put it in my Instant Queue, and hopefully I'll get to it soon. As far as this film goes, he did his thing. I normally wouldn't think he could carry an action film as the lead, the way a Dolph or Seagal or even Snipes can, but he did it. It looks like he's doing more TV movies and crime dramas right now, so who knows how many more newer films we'll be able to review with him in them, but there's a huge catalog from the 90s and early 2000s to explore, including Extreme Justice, so this won't be the last we hear from him.

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All right, I know I keep promising more Speakman, and we're getting there. First we had Hot Boyz, where he has a total of five minutes of screen time. Then there was Plato's Run, where we see him at the beginning and end, with nothing in between. In Striking Range he's the bad guy, so we see him a little more. We're getting there. He was good for what they were having him do. He had one line where he pulls up to the building where LDP is working security, and at the gate a guard asks Speakman for his ID. He replies "No ID, no appointment, I'm just here to kidnap and torture Billings for information." (The quote is actually featured on the imdb entry.) I know, I know, I need to just bite the bullet and review a film where Speakman is the main star.

I've never understood the concept of Yancy Butler. I just don't see it. Maybe someone could explain it to me. Like Witchblade. Did that make sense to anyone? Is she supposed to be hot? A sex symbol maybe? I decided to do a Google image search of her, and there definitely were some hot pictures. Maybe what it is is she's always scowling in all the roles I've seen her in. In Striking Range, even when she was smiling it was a fake smile. I think when she plays the tough chick, she always overdoes it, maybe because in real life she isn't as heartless as the characters she plays.

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The guy who plays Billings son is played by Troy Baker. Nothing special, his resume is mostly a bunch of video game voices. So why am I mentioning him? Because he's another April Fools Baby. Born on April 1st, 1976, three years before me. That's two in three weeks, with Sung Hi Li from Art of War III, who was born on the first in 1970.

If you have Netflix's Watch Instantly, and you have 90 minutes to kill, this isn't a bad option. You may even want to through it on your DVD queue. It's not anything special, and it could've been better in parts, especially as far as Speakman was concerned; but for what it was, it does the job all right.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457290/

Thursday, August 27, 2009

War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave (2008)

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I knew this would be a bad idea. I knew an Asylum War of the Worlds sequel, directed by C. Thomas Howell, would hurt me. But I had reviewed the first one, and needed to do my job as a DTV film reviewer to sit through this one and tell my readers what it was like.

War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave picks up two years after the first one. Humans are rebuilding their lives after the first invasion, and they haven't done a great job of it. There's very little infrastructure and people are living in near post-apocalyptic conditions. Howell's wife has died, but his son's still alive-- that is until the aliens come back and one of their walkers zaps him. Now Howell doesn't want to live either and wants the aliens to zap him too. At the same, some scientists have a base where they're working on a way to combat the aliens. In two years, despite having lost all of our infrastructure, these scientists have managed to create new airplane and weapons technology. Things resolve themselves pretty much as you'd expect.

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All right. Deep breath. And.... This was utter crap. Ridiculously bad. What was Howell thinking? And this wasn't just bad, it was weird. Like waiting on the platform for the subway and a random guy who smells like urine is talking to you weird. The whole time I was just waiting for the train to come so I could run away from it. On the ships, people were put in these rooms where they had gross nets on them and hoses stuck in their mouths. A girl who had a nasty virus and cuts on her face would save them. Howell and Kid from Kid N' Play escape a ship, only to appear in some holographic world where they meet the virus girl and her virus guy friend. What kind of mind conceives weirdness like that? Then, for no good reason, Howell injects himself with their virus. I mean no good reason, because he then draws some of his infected blood and sticks it in the alien, thus recreating the end of the last movie. Why didn't he just inject the virus into them directly, i.e., not infect himself with it first? Why, I ask? Because that would mean doing something that made sense, and that was far beyond this film's ken.

On imdb, someone tried to defend this by saying we needed to suspend belief and allow ourselves to be taken into Howell's HG Wells world. Are you kidding? Why don't I just go hitchhiking in the Midwest at 3AM and hope some crazy dude talking about the time machine he invented gives me a ride (actually happened to a friend). This person then went into all the things that were wrong with it, from the story to the special effects, etc. I'm actually good with the bad special effects and silly story. It's the weirdness of this world that I don't like. It made me uncomfortable, like I was sitting in a car next to some random dude that picked me up.

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C. Thomas Howell. Anyone who watches soccer understands the metaphor I'm about to draw here. A player has just made a nasty slide tackle. The whistle blows. He slinks off, but the ref calls him over. He sulks, shakes his head, and the ref just smirks and holds up the yellow card. Well, Mr. Howell, you don't just get a yellow card, I'm forced to give you a red. That's right, and a five match ban. Forget your feeble attempts at artistic wide shots of people walking in front of buildings-- that stuff was actually kind of funny. As were the ships that could communicate with Earth from Mars via radio without delay, or the fact that you're still going with aliens as Martians when we know no life has ever been on that planet. It was the weirdness that hurts me. It makes me question everything I've ever seen you do. I loved the overacting after your son was zapped. That was hilarious. I was weirded out by the people with nets on drinking fluid out of hoses. I was weirded out by the virus girl trying to save the day. The fact that stuff didn't weird you out makes me wonder.

The best film trilogy of all time is the House Party series. From the dance scene in part one, to the pajama jammy jam of part two, to David from the second Real World in part three, these movies truly did have it all. That makes Kid's role in this movie all the more troubling. Did he need the work? Was Howell calling in a favor? And what was up with his hair? I'm not saying it all needs to be standing up in the air like like it used to, but at least make it cool. He looked like he just got off work as a pharmacist at Wal-Mart. No offense to pharmacists at Wal-Mart, I'm actually friends with a couple, but you could just see his picture on the wall under the title "Pharmacist on duty".

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The first film had Jake Busey. He would've made a huge contribution to this one. Sure, he was killed off in the last one, but what does that matter. First off, continuity was a loose concept on this production to begin with. Second, the scientist woman was cast in the first film in another role. Busey could've played someone else too. This movie just needed something, anything, and Busey could've provided that. Of course, maybe Howell called Busey, and he looked at the script, and then promptly went to the court house to get a restraining order telling Howell he couldn't go within 200 feet of him.

If this wasn't so weird, I'd say rent it for the silly factor, but the truth is, it is weird. I'm not sure if I blame The Asylum or Howell or both-- there's plenty of blame to go around. I read on Netflix or imdb that someone actually rented this thinking it a sequel to the Spielberg film. I guess that means, from the Howell and Asylum perspective, this was a success. Godspeed guys.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1183733/

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hoodrats 2: Hoodrat Warriors (2008)

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This was suggested to me by Netflix after I rented something else. I don't remember what it was. It certainly wasn't Hoodrats 1. If you're wondering, the reviews for the first Hoodrats were atrocious, but the ones for part two claimed it had women using trash can lids as shields. Where do I sign up?

Hoodrats 2: (Hoodrat Warriors) (they use the parenthesis in the opening titles!) is about three girls whose best friend is beaten by her boyfriend and loses her unborn baby. One of the girls decides her best bet is to go upside the boyfriend with a bat, and takes her two unknowing friends along for the ride. Well, that boyfriend is the most powerful gangster in the city, and now he wants them dead. Will they survive the day and get him off their backs?

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I don't know where to go with this. Obviously it was bad. It was definitely funny bad for the most part. The trash can lids as shields were there. The lead girl drives this amazing car with the license plate "ICUHATIN". Was I watching a real movie or a Mad TV sketch? Maybe the best was how the girls had never really fought in their lives, and suddenly, because they decided to take a stand, knew martial arts moves that only someone with formal training could pull off. One girl had a guy in a Muay Thai clinch; another was using jiu-jitsu to defend herself on the ground. Here's the long and the short of it: if you think you've got what it takes to tackle this film, you could have tons of fun. Don't go it a alone, but let your buddies know what they're getting into. This is MST3K level stuff.

There was a nice message buried in the poor cinematic output. Women are being torn apart by bad, manipulative men. The gangs of girls attacking our three heroines for the bad boyfriend represent women in real life fighting over a guy, when they should probably be fighting the guy instead. That makes sense, but not all women are manipulated by these guys-- some of the women are as manipulative. Also, at the end, there was this tone of women being superior to men. Now, I won't say they're wrong, that guys are superior; but I will say they're wrong, and that men and women are equal. I was rooting for them until they got all small minded about it.

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The girl who I guess you could call second in command, Celia, was hot as hell. She looks ridiculous on the cover, but in the movie she's hot. I just wanted to rescue her from the ghetto, but I know she'd never like it in Maine, the winters are just too brutal. I could see us meeting at a bookstore in LA, hitting it off, her being intrigued that I'm a writer (not knowing I don't have any money). We'd go out a couple times, then the day would come where I'd call her, and not hear from her. The next day she'd show up, bruises on her face, telling me it was nothing. But I'd know she got worked over by a gang of girls using trash can lids as shields.

The bad boyfriend is played by the guy from that Southwest Airlines commercial where he dances, showing off for a girl in a club, and knocks over the DJ's turn tables. I love that commercial, and when I saw this guy, I was so excited. Then he beats the crap out of his girlfriend, and I was less so. He never danced in this movie, which was dumb. Why would you have that guy and not have him dance? You had girls with trash can lids as shields, but you can't mix in a dance number for that guy?

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I want to make a point clear before I get to the final paragraph. I'm from Maine. I have no idea what East LA is, what it's like to live there, or grow up there. I'm not calling this a bad movie, though, because I "don't get it", I'm calling it a bad movie because it sucks. I have no idea what it's like to live in 1960s Tokyo either, and I loved High and Low. The dialog here was bad, poorly written, and unnaturally delivered. There were plenty of scenes that were useless and did nothing to move the plot forward. One of those scenes could've been replaced with a scene at the beginning showing the girls in a dojo learning martial arts, which would've made their ability to fight using martial arts more believable. When I'm making fun of the movie, I'm making fun of those aspects, not the fact the people are speaking with Spanish accents or that they've grown up in violent circumstances. And the fact the girls are fighting with trash can lid shields-- I'm making fun of that too...

Do you think you have what it takes? The movie is there on Netflix. You have some material to start with because the bad guy was in the Southwest commercials. For you and your buddies, this is your MST3K moment. 90 minutes of pain turned into laughs. I'll be quite frank, I'm not sure I have what it takes. Celia got me through it... be still my heart...

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1261419/

Mercenary (1997)

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I bought this on VHS a while ago, and just kept putting off watching it. I mean, I've had it since like May, so I don't know what took me so long. Anyway, here it is now, finally.

Mercenary is an old HBO movie with John Ritter as a really rich man whose wife is killed by terrorist Martin Kove. He hires Gruner and his mercenary team for revenge. The catch: Ritter wants to be there to shoot Kove in the head. That's an issue, because Ritter doesn't have any special forces experience, and he's not in the best shape. That's not the real kicker, though. Someone's tipped off Kove and his boys that Gruner's coming, and they're ambushed. Now Gruner has to get him and Ritter out alive and find out who set him up.

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This was pretty good. It had a nice bad action feel to it. Gruner lived up to his end, Kove was a good bad guy, and it had Ritter and Robert Culp. It did get redundant, especially near the end, when we were treated to twenty minutes of nothing happening as Gruner and Ritter try to escape in a helicopter and crash in the wilderness. Maybe HBO's time restrictions forced them to make the movie longer than necessary. Who knows, it still put me to sleep, which sucked, because the ending wasn't bad.

Gruner was great. At the beginning, he has to rescue Jaime Pressly from kidnappers, and it's an awesome scene. Why the rest of the movie couldn't be that is beyond me. It came close to it a couple times, but never quite got there. Gruner with a gun isn't Gruner fighting guys hand to hand. When he's unarmed and being taken into his cell, we can't wait to see him dismantle his two escorts. The same vibe isn't there when he's shooting an AK-47 behind a barrel.

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John Ritter in 1997 was doing a bunch of TV movies and whatnot. I think his role as a gay man in Sling Blade was his one major job at that time. It wouldn't be for another five years that he started his comeback on network television in the sitcom Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter. Then he died. One thing I can say, no matter what role he did, he was always Jack Tripper. There was a sense, in this movie, as he escaped with Gruner from this or that dangerous situation, that he was really covering up his hijinx from Mr. Roper. Can you imagine Gruner on an episode of Three's Company?

Robert Culp and Martin Kove rounded out the cast. Culp, we know, was in I Spy and Greatest American Hero. He's just great as the wise older member of the team who's a little off-beat, but can still kick ass when the situation calls for it. For Martin Kove, I think no matter how many hours he's logged at the Cobra Kai, he's no match for Gruner. Wouldn't Karate Kid have been better with Gruner instead of Ralph Macchio?

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People who have read my Shepherd: Border Patrol and Jill the Ripper posts know about my coming across an imdb tag stating the films featured "shirtless male bondage". Well, this film has the same tag. If you are a fan of shirtless male bondage, I have to apologize, because I decided to forgo the Gruner pic for this review. I just can't afford to be hit with the adult content label. If my blog gets a reputation for shirtless male bondage, I'll have to start carding people at the door, and no one wants that. Buy the movie if you're really that into it.

You can only get this on VHS right now, unless it pops up on an HBO or something. That means to get it on Amazon, you'd have to pay whatever it costs plus $2.99 shipping and handling. Anything more than $2 total is too much, so I'd just keep an eye out for it in a bargain bin somewhere.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119660/

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Alien from L.A. (1988)

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Like many people, I first saw this on MST3K. I didn't see that Albert Pyun directed it, and didn't put two-and-two together that the genius behind Cyborg directed a film panned by Mike and the 'Bots. Now, maybe fifteen years later, I have a blog where I review DTV movies, and Albert Pyun is in my Hall of Fame, so I have the task of watching it sans silhouettes.

Alien from LA has Kathy Ireland as geeky girl from the beach who finds out her professor-father fell down a bottomless pit in Northern Africa. She follows him out there, falls down the same pit, and finds herself in the lost city of Atlantis. Because this film was made in 1988, the locals don't call it Hotlantis or the ATLS, and the inhabitants look like something out of a 1984 New Wave video. Now Ireland has to find her dad, escape back to the surface, and put on that bikini we've all been waiting for her to wear.

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This was hard to deal with without Mike and the 'Bots to mock it. Very slow, lots of things not happening. It's just this endless cycle of Ireland almost being caught by someone, escaping, telling people about herself, and then almost being caught again. Netflix described it as a slick retelling of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. I don't know if by "slick" they mean Deep Roy with disgustingly long, red eye lashes, but I didn't see a lot of slick going on. What it needed was Sasha Mitchell kicking people's asses. Cute and quirky works when something's happening, but nothing was happening here.

I wasn't sure if I should be hard on this or not considering I now know Albert Pyun is reading my posts. But when I found myself knee deep (Roy) in a plot that didn't look like it would ever resolve itself, I felt like I had to be honest. I do wonder, though, what it's like as a director to have a film used in an episode of MST3K. I've seen plenty here at the DTVC that could've been used, and one other, Future War, that was used, so it's always kind of crossed my mind. Is it an honor, is it taken in stride, or is it a low point? I will say, as far as Alien from LA goes, the MST3K commentary makes the film complete-- fills in the dull parts, if you will.

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Kathy Ireland is supposed to be playing a type of ugly duckling that matures and becomes a beautiful swan by the end of the film. I didn't see it. She had big glasses that were very unflattering. Big deal, she's also very hot. She had a high-pitched voice. Again, big deal. It was only hard to listen to when she spoke loudly, which she barely did. I guess she wined a lot, which would've been tough to deal with, so maybe the point of the film was she learned to wine less, and became beautiful. I don't know.

The hero was played by a dude who's been in tons of Perry Mason TV movies. My mom eats that kind of stuff up, so I've seen him a bunch. He dons this atrocious Australian accent, which sounds fake right from the jump. How anyone can't do an Australian accent is beyond me. And you call yourself an actor? I think it's funny too when people mistake accents for dialects. Dialects are almost separate languages. Speaking a Russian dialect does not mean speaking English with a Russian accent, it means speaking an actual form of the Russian language.

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Pyun mainstay Thom Mathews makes an appearance. Maybe I should tag him. I think he's been in like five or six other films on the DTVC. Norbert Weisser, another Pyun mainstay is tagged, along with Vincent Klyn. I think I did have him tagged at one time, but deleted it. Does it really matter? Are there any Thom Mathews fans out there that'll be upset if I don't? Are there any Norbert Weisser fans out there that are happy that I did? I'm a huge Vincent Klyn fan, and I'm stoked I tagged him.

If you're going to see this, make sure it's the MST3K version. You'll dig that one more. If you're looking for good Pyun, stick with Cyborg, Nemesis, Omega Doom, etc. More action, less snoozefactor.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092532/

Monday, August 24, 2009

Guyver aka The Guyver (1991)

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A while back you may remember I reviewed Midnight Ride with Michael Dudikoff and Mark Hamill. As I was tagging Hamill, I noticed he only had one other film on here, Time Runner. That didn't sound right. I knew I had to have covered The Guyver at some point. Turns out I hadn't. Man, do I have egg on my face.

The Guyver (listed as just Guyver on imdb) is a sci-fi comedy based on Japanese comic books. The idea is that aliens made humans to be the ultimate killing machines. Then they upgraded them so they could turn into large beast like things. Anyway, an ancient alien created a fail safe called The Guyver, which is a suit of armor that bonds itself to a person. Long story short, a college kid gets the armor before the bad aliens that are making people into beasts, and they want it from him. Mark Hamill plays a CIA agent with a moustache.

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This movie is great. Tons of fun. It's not very serious, but even as a comedy it's kinda bad, which makes it entertaining both in itself, and to make fun of. I always love guys in monster suits fighting, so you've got that. Mark Hamill in the 'stache is great too. Contrary to what the DVD cover says, he isn't the Guyver. This also has Jimmie Walker. The lines are great, the action is both good and campy, and you've got guys in monster suits-- what more could you want?

When I first saw this, probably fifteen years ago, I didn't get that for the most part it was intentionally silly. To my mind it was utter crap and should be dealt with as such. I think later, when I was five or six years older, I saw it again and got the purposeful humor and liked it more. Now, at thirty, I see where the comedy works, and I see where it's crap, and I'm able to appreciate both. I've always said the hardest bad films to make fun of are comedies, because they're not taking themselves that seriously either. That gives this film an added level of interest, because it's not only an icon of early 90s bad sci-fi, but it's also a comedy, so you know you're a master of the art if you can tackle it.

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I have to assume that many of my readers are Star Wars fans. Personally, my favorite alumnus from the series that makes his way onto the DTVC is Billy Dee Williams, but I understand liking Mark Hamill as well. I kinda think he sounds silly, and here with him rocking a 'stache and trying to sound like a tough cop... err CIA agent, it was even funnier. I'm not going to tell you what happens to him in The Guyver if you haven't seen it, but it's pretty funny.

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Dy-no-mite! Ain't we lucky we got 'em... Good Times! How can you not love Jimmie Walker? That alone makes this great. Then you got the conehead-like guy, Michael Berryman; scream queen Linnea Quigley; and hottie Asian actress Vivian Wu, who guest starred in a Highlander episode. I wonder if I tagged every movie that had someone who had been in a Highlander episode, how many I'd have. Of course, every Christopher Lambert, Brion James, and Adrian Paul film, so there's a bunch right there.

If you haven't already, you need to see this. This is one of those staples for bad movie fans. Also, if you haven't seen it in a while, see it again. It gets better with age. Probably something that should be in all bad movie collections.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101988/

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I saw District 9 last night (yes, I do actually see films in the theater). I was told by some people that it was "awesome". I don't know if that's the word I'd use. Great, intense, thought provoking, yes; but awesome, no. It would be like saying Schindler's List is awesome. If you think visceral metaphors to Apartheid, the Holocaust, Blackwater atrocities in Iraq, or African rebels cutting off arms is awesome, more power to you. Don't get me wrong, the movie was the best I've seen all year, and if you're totally ignorant to the metaphors I mentioned above, you may even think it's awesome. My advice: expect an in your face intro to cultural anthropology delivered in the medium of a sci-fi action film. If you want just a sci-fi action film, go see Transformers instead.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1136608/

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Belly of the Beast (2003)

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This is the second to last Seagal DTV film we have to review here at the DTVC, the last being Shadow Man. That, of course, is until The Keeper comes out. Does anyone know when that's going to happen? I will be reviewing Dolph's Cover Up before I do Shadow Man, just because I want to have all of Dolph's DTV films reviewed before Seagal's. Nothing personal for Seagal, Dolph just has a special place in my heart.

Belly of the Beast has Seagal as a CIA agent who works mostly in Thailand dealing with Golden Triangle drug issues. Back at home, he gets word that his daughter and her friend have been kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist organization in Burma or Thailand or something while vacationing in the jungles of Thailand. Now Seagal's gotta go in there and take care of business.

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This was pretty good. There were some hilarious scenes where a Seagal stuntdouble was jumping and sliding all over the place. At the end, he's almost felled by a Seagal voodoo doll, and only the backing of a bunch of Buddhist monks praying for him keeps him alive. Then you got this ridiculous effect of a guy shooting arrows and Seagal shooting those arrows with his gun. It was like Wanted, but even funnier. The only thing I didn't like was how they killed off his partner at the end. I've always hated the idea of the guy helping the hero dying for his trouble.

Seagal was great. In 2003 he was only 52 (only 52!), and seemed a little more spry. I imagine at that age it must go pretty quick. I was listening to a couple of dudes in their 60s today talk about how Tiger Woods was getting old and past his prime. Tiger? The guy would've been a couple classes ahead of me in high school. And from Seagal's standpoint, at Tiger's age, he still had another five years before his first movie. Anyway, this is classic Seagal, and you'll dig this one.

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One thing I didn't like was how they killed off his friend at the end. The guy was played by the guy who played Ryu in Street Fighter, and he was awesome-- a great sidekick for Seagal. How is he thanked for his great work? They kill him off. I'm sorry, it's just one of my pet peeves. It makes the hero less heroic for him to be alive and his friend that helps him dead. This is even worse when the guy is as cool as this dude was.

I haven't traveled that much in my life. England and Scotland, the bulk of the Northeast, all the major cities on the West Coast, the east coast of Florida from St. Augustine to just north of Miami, and San Antonio. Again, not much, so I don't know what weight my opinion has in this matter, but why would anyone vacation in the jungles of a Third World country? Aren't you just asking to be captured by insurgents? Especially if you're an American. I wouldn't go to Juarez right now for fear of something happening to me, forget the effin' jungle in Thailand.

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I haven't seen Taken with Liam Neeson, but the plot sounds pretty similar. Is that possible? Did a mainstream movie company see Belly of the Beast and repackage it with a star like Neeson and release it to a mainstream audience? It just shows that what's popular and considered entertaining to people is less about the content, and more about how it's sold to them. Seagal, bad. Neeson, good.

This is a sweet deal. I'd put it in the top half of my Seagal DTV work. It gets plenty silly at points, and you may find yourself saying "What the hell am I watching?" Just go with it. If you take it too seriously, you'll be sorely disappointed. It should also be noted that this film is better when viewed in a group.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0357474/

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Confessions of a Pit Fighter (2005)

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I saw this at the local video store, forgot about it, then saw a trailer for it on another DVD. Between the Flav, The Armand Assante, and the Quinton Rampage Jackson, I had a good feeling. Of course, it could still go terribly wrong, so I went in with my guard up.

Confessions of a Pit Fighter is about a dude from East LA who killed a man in a pit fight, and went to jail for a while for it. When he gets out, he finds out his brother is pit fighting, trying to make some scratch for his pregnant homegirl. What none of them know is that Flavor Flav and Armand Assante are in cahoots organizing pit fights, and they have a horse in the race in the person of Rampage. He kills the pit fighter's brother in a fight, and now the guy is out for revenge.

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This wasn't too bad. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was horrible, but it was fun to watch. No women were raped, nobody's eyes were gouged out-- nothing gross like that. Just a bunch of pit fights that were pretty well choreographed, and Flavor Flav, Armand Assante, and Rampage. I was pretty sure the main character's love interest was a tranny, but wen she took off her clothes her boobs, though fake, looked like they were a women's with implants. Anyway you slice it, good fights, funny plot, great supporting cast-- just a plain old good time.

Let's start with Armand Assante. This guy is great. We've had many people play mob bosses here at the DTVC, but I don't think anyone has pulled it off like he did. He channelled Pacino and Brando, but gave us enough Assante, with a dash of bad movie tongue and cheek. The other film we covered of his was The Killing Grounds, and in that one he played a cop mitigating racial tensions between Germans and Turks in Berlin. He was believable in both roles, but I think he had more fun here. I definitely had more fun with this movie than that one.

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As you may know from previous posts, I'm a big UFC fan. I think if any big name fighter has the personality to pull off an acting career, it's Rampage. He's always funny in interviews, always has something great to say. The one problem I had with him here as the baddie was his lack of lines. At one point I thought they were saying his character, who was from Brazil, couldn't speak English. Then he walked up to the main character at a party and says "He smells like a bitch", which was hilarious. Let this guy talk. The other problem I had was how he looked like he was on the verge of tears every time he hit someone. Don't do that Rampage. This film also reminded me that I haven't seen Never Surrender yet. We'll get on that.

Flavor Flav! I must confess (Confessions of a Pop Culture Junkie), I watched the first two seasons of Flavor of Love. It was just so fascinating. No TV network casts reality shows the way VH-1 does. The people they find are so amazing. Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Flav was good here. Better than Treach in Art of War III. Way better. Rappers can act. Yes, Flav wasn't trying to play a secret agent, and I bet he'd have just as much success, but based on what I've seen of Treach, I couldn't see him pulling of Flav's role here either.

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The hero was played by a dude named Hector Echavarria. He also directed Never Surrender. He's an Argentine dude, and according to imdb, he has a lot of projects on the way, so we'll see what happens. If Never Surrender is good, he may find his way into the Potential Hall of Famer section of the blog. I liked him here as the hero, and his martial arts skills were pretty solid.

I'm going to cheat here and work in an extra paragraph, because Art Camacho directed this, and it may be his best work ever. This wasn't that bad. I think I'd put Crooked aka Soft Target, which had Don "The Dragon" and Olivier Gruner, above it, but this was a close second. I'm still kind of afraid to check out Half Past Dead 2, but maybe after this effort, Camacho's earned my viewership. Big if, though.

This is worth a rental. It's bad, but a good bad that you can make fun of. I thought it was funny enough anyway. It doesn't try too hard to be something it isn't, and the cast you're renting it for all turn in solid performances. If you didn't listen to me on Art of War III, listen to me here. (And if you really didn't listen to me on Art of War III, I'm sorry.)

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0463947/

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Art of War III: Retribution (2009)

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I saw an ad for this on imdb, checked it out on Netflix, and figured I'd get it and review it the week it came out. I tried to do this with Direct Contact, and it didn't work out so well. Luckily I was on the ball this time, and had all my DVDs back the day before it was released. I might be the first person in Portsmouth, NH to watch it. Yay!

The Art of War III: Retribution has a very unconvincing Treach from Naughty by Nature taking over for Wesley Snipes in the role of Shaw, UN Enforcer. Does the plot really matter after that? He goes to South Korea, aka Korean parts of LA that don't even pass as Seoul, trying to break up an arms deal between the North Koreans and the Russians. Things go bad, though, and now Treach is wanted for murder, and the only people he can trust are his green partner, and this hot Korean chick he picked up who he thinks is his link to the players. That's pretty much it.

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Wow, was this God awful. It starts with Treach doing a voice over, reading from The Art of War. I don't want to be too mean, but he sounds like the kid in class that the sadistic teachers would embarrass by making them read out loud when everyone knew they were functionally illiterate. His Ebonics didn't work either, and he had no ability to code switch into standard English to make him believable as a secret agent. On top of that, his fight scenes were so bad I cringed watching them. It looked like a bunch of high schoolers making a movie on YouTube. Even Ice Cube was better as XXX, which isn't saying much.

The biggest issue with Treach is he doesn't have the chops a Wesley Snipes has to pull something like this off. Snipes is smooth, precise, and fun to watch. Treach is uncouth, unwieldy, and a train wreck to watch. Had the plot been more fun, or the cast had better supporting actors, it might have been fun to make fun of him, but this movie didn't even have that going for it. That being said, compared to Treach, the other actors looked like Oscar contenders. I felt like when he spoke, I was watching a TV with bad audio, and when they spoke, the audio was back to normal. He was so bad I couldn't even enjoy how they tried to pass LA off as Seoul.

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I just don't get this idea that Treach is a potential leading man, even of the DTV action variety. He was good in support in the Seagal flick Today You Die. Being good in support does not make one good in the lead, though. His martial arts skills, for one thing, left too much to be desired. And listening to him talk strategy with his fellow operatives made me laugh out loud. How did anyone not see how ridiculous this was? He's just not a secret agent.

One issue that came up when I was studying anthropology at UMaine was the question of whether or not Ebonics was a full-fledged dialect of English, or just a bunch of slang. I don't know enough about the distinction to go one way or the other, but a case could be made based on Treach's performance that it is a dialect, and that if children aren't taught standard American English at a young age, they won't be fluent enough in it to compete for higher paying jobs. Again, I don't know enough about the subject to give an informed opinion, but at the very least, Treach does not sound fluent in standard American English.

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You may notice that all the pictures are of Treach's Korean co-star, Sung Hi Lee. I decided that one, I didn't want any pictures of Treach up here because he was so bad in this movie; and two, when I looked up Sung Hi Lee's imdb bio, I saw that she was born on April 1st, 1970. That's the same day I was born, only nine years earlier. It was the one cool thing in the movie for me.

Skip this. If it's in your Netflix queue, delete it. If you like pain that badly, try eating soup that's really hot. There's no point in enduring this film. I only did it so you wouldn't have to.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0878647/

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Road Killers (1994)

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I found this on Netflix while looking for more Lambert films. It has quite an all-star cast, with James Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Shooter McGavin. Oh yeah, and David Arquette. Should he even count when talking about an all-star cast?

The Road Killers has Lambert as a family man traveling cross country from Wisconsin with his wife and daughter; and his brother and nephew in another car behind him. While fixing an issue with his car on a desolate highway in Nevada, his nephew is standing in the middle of the road, and is almost run over. The brother is less than stoked when he sees the kid that was driving the car in a road-side diner, and he throws a glass of water on him. Back on the road, the kids throw a chicken in his car while he's driving, he gets pissed, and loses a game of chicken to them, crashing and dying. Now the kids need to cover up their crime, and Lambert needs to save his family from them.

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This could've been good. Instead it spiralled out of control into a mass of random killings and ridiculous scenarios. Why? Here's where it went bad: Lambert was just a family man. He needed to be a military trained action hero. Why cast him in the male lead if he can't fight? He's not a great actor. Essentially the film devolved into a series of scenes where Lambert could almost get the bad guys, but they were always better than him. Stupid. What they should've done was a little divide and conquer, where he took them out one-by-one.

According to imdb, Albert Pyun cast Lambert in his upcoming Tales of an Ancient Empire. That should be good, because Lambert hasn't done a DTV film since Day of Wrath. I guess if anyone can pull him out of retirement, it's the best DTV director of all time.

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Josh Brolin is in this as one of the kids after Lambert. He does a great job with what he has to work with. I've been meaning to see W., because I've heard so many good things. One thing I should bring up is his GQ cover from a year or so ago. In it, he was smoking a cigarette with the caption "The rebirth of cool". People wrote in and talked about how appalling it was that GQ would associate cool and smoking. I can see that for a Disney Channel magazine cover, but GQ? That's a magazine targeted to mature men. I think there's a point where this anti-smoking stuff is ridiculous. Are adult males really that impressionable? Oh wait, that's right, we have beer cans now that turn color when they're cold. My bad.

As I said above, this also has Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He's too young here for it to matter, but one film he did recently that's worth checking out is The Lookout. Richard Roeper had it as one of top films of 2007. I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but if you like good Film Noir like I do, then give that a try.

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I'm from Maine, which has pretty much one industry: tourism. I'm not naive, I get it, and I accept that Maine would have no economy if people from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, didn't treat it as their own personal Disney World every summer. That being said, nothing irks me more than when these degenerates come into my town and act like they own the place because their state is better developed and has higher per capita college graduates. If you can't get away with parking in the middle of the road, walking in traffic, or just plain standing in my way in your home state without someone yelling at you, don't expect it here either. In this film, Shooter McGavin, Lambert's brother, is that guy. First, his son is in the middle of the highway. Why would you let your kid do that? Then throw water in the dude's face who didn't hit him? Maybe he didn't deserve to be burned alive in his car, but he did deserve an ass kicking.

This movie is all kinds of wrong. If The Lookout is good Film Noir, this is atrocious Film Noir. If you like Lambert, you won't like him here, and Brolin and Gordon-Levitt weren't quite there as actors yet to matter. When I think Lambert DTV, this kind of crap isn't what I'm looking for.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110999/

Crash Dive (1997)

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I don't remember why I went for this. I guess it's another two-word titled Dudikoff film. The thing is, when a film's protagonist is both a former Navy SEAL and an expert submarine designer, it can either be awesome or a straight up dud.

Crash Dive has Dudikoff as a former Navy SEAL who, as a civilian, designs nuclear subs. One of his subs is hijacked, and as it turns out, he's the only one with the unique combination of SEAL training and submarine know-how. He's hesitant at first, but because he's the star of the film, we know he goes in and saves the day.

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This was atrocious. Who comes up with this crap? Submarine fights are not cool in movies. Also, one of the big issues is that Dudikoff is boarding the submarine in lieu of blowing it up, saving the crew. That's awesome, except the sub blows up another one with a full crew. Is one crew more important than another? Of course, all of this could've been salvaged had the Dudikoff fight scenes been quality, and they weren't. In fact, they were rather annoying. He'd punch a guy, and then wait to get punched back immediately after. What? Give me Dolph or Seagal or Van Damme who can run through five guys at once. Just plain boring and stupid. A glorified JAG episode.

I'm going to make up for it on the Dudikoff front. Next in my queue from him: Freedom Strike with Tone Loc. Do I need to say anymore? Sorry about this one, though.

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Speaking of a glorified JAG episode, this also has Catherine Bell. Man, she looks hot in a Navy uniform. I looked her up on Google Images, and it turns out she looks even hotter in a lot more outfits. That's kinda funny, because in the two films I've reviewed of hers here, this one and Dolph's Men of War, she wears a Navy uniform and an unflattering mercenary outfit respectively.

Do you remember a horrible sitcom on FOX called Titus? The guy who starred in it, Christopher Titus, is in this as the SONAR guy. Big deal. That sitcom was crap, his role in this was crap.

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One thing that's always funny is how some of these bad movies decide, instead of just hitting the credits, they'll show one scene from each of the main actors with his or her name and character name on the screen. You know what I'm talking about, you see Michael Dudikoff making a funny face, they freeze it, then put whatever his character name is over his real name. What's great is when they go like ten characters deep, and we see guys that we don't even remember who may have never even been referred to by the name they give for them. Do we care if Brock Chestnut played "Tiny" for two minutes before Dudikoff stabbed him with his own knife?

Stay as far away from this as possible. It sucks hardcore. There are so many more Dudikoff films out there that are so much better. Watch those first, and then watch them again, before you consider this.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115965/

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Plato's Run (1997)

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I always like a good Gary Busey as a hero movie, so when I found this one while looking him up on Netflix, I went for it. It also had Roy Scheider, Steven Bauer from Scarface, and Jeff Speakman. But most of all, it had Gary Busey.

Plato's Run has Gary Busey as an ex-Navy SEAL living in Miami with his old Navy buddies Bauer and Speakman. He gets a job rescuing a political prisoner in Cuba which he takes because he needs the money. That's when things go bad. The guy he thinks he's saving isn't the guy, but an assassin hired by Scheider to kill the guy's father, a Cuban politician living in exile in Miami. The guy also frames the murder on Busey. Now he's gotta clear his name, and when he gets close, Scheider mucks up the works by kidnapping Busey's daughter. Scheider! Why do you always have to be a pain in the ass?

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This was pretty good. The action wasn't bad, and Busey was believable as an aging ex-SEAL. I could've gone for more Speakman, because when he was there, he showed why he's so good. He's pretty much only there at the beginning and end. Again, Busey's great as an aging ex-SEAL, but for the real action I need a Speakman amping it up, and I didn't get that. Just the same, the Busey factor prevails over the diminished action quotient.

It's been a while here at the DTVC since we've been able to report a film was highly Abusive. More often than not Busey just does cameos. Not here baby. His name's front and center, and so is he. Looking back on past posts, the most recent one we did with him, No Tomorrow, I listed as a seven on the Abusive Scale. Here I'm thinking it's like a 9.5-9.7. That good, and that's good that we've had two back-to-back posts with Busey with an average of above an 8 on the Abusive Scale. As I said above, it's also cool to have him as a good guy. Eye of the Tiger is another you may want to check out where he plays an action hero. The review is here on this site.

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Jeff Speakman is one I've been trying to review more of here at the DTVC for a while now. He's just kind of been lost in the shuffle. The other film I did with him in it was Hot Boyz, where he barely had a cameo, and the movie sucked anyway. What I didn't like here was how little they used him. And not only that, they bring him in in the end and kill him off like he was whatever. I've never liked this idea of someone helping the protagonist and dying for his or her trouble. It just makes the hero less heroic in my eyes. As far as the Speakman goes, we'll try and get some more up here soon.

I feel like I've posted more than just three (now four) Roy Scheider movies. He just seems like a guy who's been in more of the type of movies I watch. Looking at him on imdb, there's tons of stuff I could go to. Of the four posts I've done, all four have a DTVC Hall of Famer in them, so he's batting a thousand there. A guy of his quality should probably only have movies of his reviewed with Hall of Fame talent in it. He actually has a posthumous film coming out in 2010 called Iron Cross. Doesn't look like much, but who knows.

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I'm sure it's no surprise that a dude with a blog like mine liked Scarface. Great film. Best one-liner ever: "Would you kiss me if I wore the hat?" Steven Bauer seems to have bounced around from film to film, with nothing of any real importance after Scarface. This is the third film of his up here, the others being Raptor Island and The Last Sentinel. I'm not sure if he's worth tagging yet. I guess what he can say is he's also batting a thousand with DTVC Hall of Famers, because Lamas is in Raptor and Don "The Dragon" Wilson is in Sentinel.

This is worth the rental if you're a Busey fan. Again, it's always great to have him be the hero for a change, and this film doesn't scimp on the Abusive level. We're talking near Point Break levels. If you're a Speakman fan, this probably isn't what you're looking for, and if you're just an action fan with no particular affinity for Busey, you may not be that impressed with this either.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119903/

Death Toll (2008)

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This movie came up when I added Striking Range with Lou Diamond Phillips and Jeff Speakman to my Netflix Watch Instantly queue. It also had the aforementioned Phillips, along with rapper DMX, and Rudy Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Plus, the 80 minute running time was very alluring.

Death Toll takes place in New Orleans and follows the lives of two warring drug lords and the cops, DEA agents, mayors, moms, and nurses who are affected by their actions, and how the actions they take in response only perpetuate the problems, making the killing worse. DMX narrates, LDP is the mayor, and Rudy is the nurse.

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This was horrible. The idea was great: a more visceral, street level version of Traffic or Crash, telling the stories of the people who live the struggle everyday in urban New Orleans. I got that. But the execution was just all kinds of bad. The dialogue felt like I was in a creative writing class reading the first draft of a classmate's short story. And the plot was all over the place, with characters underdeveloped here and making no sense over there. I didn't feel like I was watching a movie, I felt like I was watching contestants on a reality show that had to compete in an acting challenge. At one point one of the drug lords says to Rudy that he wants to run away with her, after only knowing her for one five minute conversation where they argued. Instead of being like "What?", she's like "Do you really mean that?" When the credits finally rolled, I said both things: "What? Do you really mean that?" Not only that, the director has the audacity to call himself "Phenomenon." Wow. There are probably 2000 directors with far superior talents than you out there that wouldn't dare call themselves phenomenon. What a moron.

What was Lou Diamond Phillips doing in this movie? Who is his agent? Did he fire him after? Maybe it was sold to him as the real story of the real people living in New Orleans, but he had to know from the script that he was in trouble. I mean, The Big Hit looked intelligent and nuanced compared to this film. And the thing was, LDP showed up. He didn't mail this in, he actually did a great job. You could tell he was the only one in this that had a superior level of acting talent, because he could take the bad script, and turn it into something other than just a dude reciting lines.

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Even though Lou Diamond Phillips wasn't in this as much as the cover suggested, it was DMX that we were really stiffed on. The cover makes it seem like he's one of the drug lords. Instead he appears from time to time, essentially as himself, supplying commentary on the drug lords' behavior. A bait and switch if I've ever seen one. That kind of dishonesty makes me question the motives of the people making this. Were they really out to make a picture about the real New Orleans? Did they really have good intentions that went bad in the execution? Or was this a cheaply made cash grab playing on the names of a couple celebrities?

This urban New Orleans crime drama brings us back to a favorite here at the DTVC, Baller Blockin'. Baller Blockin' brought up many of the same issues this film did, and though they did about as good of a job dealing with them, what they did do was give us plenty of great memorable scenes. The Interrogation, the Foot Chase, the Mail Man Killing-- I could go on. Also, when they advertised that their film had Lil' Wayne and Juvenile, they actually had them. What I did like in Death Toll was the corrupt DEA agent. He was doing coke off naked chicks' chests and smoking fools with a high powered sniper rifle. They should've done more with him the way Baller Blockin' did more with the corrupt cop Curly. Maybe the people who made this could've taken a lesson from the Cash Money Millionaires. I can't believe I just said that.

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We finally did it here at the DTVC. We got a Cosby Kid. Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played Rudy, is in this movie as a nurse that's in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses a murder. She looks fine as all get out. Watching the show, I always thought "Rudy's so young." According to imdb, she was born on April 9th, 1979-- 8 days after me! I guess I never realized how young I was watching the show. She was in the recent Madea movie, which hopefully will get her better roles in the future than this crap movie.

You gotta stay away from this. 80 minutes, DMX, Lou Diamond Phillips-- don't believe it. I just saw Ran the other day, and it's over double that length, and it felt like it was half as long. Next time a moronic director wants to call himself "Phenomenon", he should watch a little Kurosawa and learn what it's like to be a real phenomenon.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0822802/