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.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Strategic Command (1997)

Photobucket

This is one of those ones that you know, based on the premise and who's making it and just the overall feel, that it's probably going to hurt; but then I see names like Michael Dudikoff and Richard Norton, and I think "okay, this might be sweet"... or I think "I'm the one who came up with the bright idea for me to do a blog on DTV movies, and have guys like Norton and Dudikoff in some kind of Hall of Fame, so now I need to take my medicine, get my whuppin', so to speak." There's no getting around a movie like Strategic Command, I just have to get through it quick, like I'm peeling off a Band-Aid.

Strategic Command rips off Executive Decision, only on a smaller scale, and with some minor tweaks. Michael Dudikoff is a scientist/former Marine special forces officer who designs some nasty shit called Bromax. It's the best industrial floor cleaner on the market-- er, rather, it's an agent used in chemical warfare that will kill people by violently inducing the same phenomenon in them as the kid in elementary school that we'd make laugh so he'd cough milk out of his nose. Anyway, Richard Norton steals it, then hijacks a plane chartered by the Vice President, threatening to blow it up over LA if his demands aren't met. Dudikoff wants to be a part of the rescue team, because his wife was a part of a news interview crew, lead by Bryan Cranston (yes that Bryan Cranston, Tim Whatley, Malcolm in the Middle, Breaking Bad...). Anyway, that's pretty much it.

Photobucket

Wanna see something exciting? Watch this, I'm going to run some stock footage of a generic 747, then run some stock tension music over it. Exciting, huh? Beyond that, this was a sack of ass crack. The only potential good stuff came at the end, but they ruined the fights between Norton and Dudikoff by having them in too confined a space. I know what you're thinking, they're on a plane, it's supposed to be cramped. Yes, except they had enough space to have a more traditional fight between (this kind of movie mainstay) Larry Poindexter and Norton's girlfriend. Really, that's what you're going with? The rest was just crap about will they or won't they shoot someone, will the hostages or won't they try to take back the ship, will Dudikoff save the plane in time before the F-16s shoot, yadda yadda yadda. If I've said it once, I'll say it 100 times: planes, space ships, submarines, etc. do not make action films by themselves. Action must be pumped into them. Yes, I know I'm watching a mindless action film, but when you leave out the action part of it, I'm just left with mindless.

This is like five or six Dudikoff films that are all about the same. Crash Dive, Black Horizon, Black Thunder, Counter Measures, Ablaze, and now this all follow the same pattern. Disaster or hijacking. Call in Dudikoff. Michael Cavanaugh as a higher up. Larry Poindexter as not. May or may not contain Marcus Aurelius. The thing with these is, there's some better stuff of his sprinkled around them, like Bounty Hunters or Moving Target. It's like they're taunting us with good Dudikoff. Still, these wouldn't be so bad if they weren't so boring. Also, as I noticed in this, there can be some long moments without Dudikoff on-screen, which makes it even worse. Here's the thing, if you want to do Die Hard on a plane, do frickin' Die Hard on a plane, don't act like you're going to do it, then inundate us with the same old crap.

Photobucket

Speaking of Die Hard on a plane, Richard Norton's character is named Carlos Gruber. Not as cool as Hans, and there was no great scene where Dudikoff is on the walkie talkie imploring him to "back off Carlos, you've made your point" while Norton looks on, stoned face, saying "hit 'em again." This definitely could've used more of that in it. I'd even have settled for Clarence Gilyard saying "the quarterback is toast!" Anyway, to get on the plane, Norton dons this disguise that makes him look like he'd be one of my dad's friends. Not in the Huey Lewis sense, where he could be anyone's dad's friend, but specifically one of my dad's. I could see someone that looks like him in 1997, when this film was made, pulling up to my parents' place in his Ford F-150, and ask my dad if he could borrow some tools or equipment to do some job.

A quick shout out here to the late Paul Winfield. He was in many films during his long career, but my personal fave of his was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Remember, he had bugs put in his ear with Checkov. That new Star Trek movie wasn't bad (I think I reviewed it at the end of another post somewhere), but I've yet to see anything that does it for me like part II.

Photobucket

I'm not sure how many of my readers are also into the Golden Age of Hollywood (I hate saying "old movies" because it's so dismissive), but these movies and their usual suspects casts feels like those Warner Bros. pictures from the 30s and 40s, where after I've seen a few, I recognize a lot of the same faces in the supporting roles. Then I see them on TCM, and Robert Osbourne is telling me about this one or that one who did like 50 movies in the 30s as everything from a stable hand to a gang leader, and how this was his big break, and he was even nominated for an Oscar or something. The difference here is, all I get is a feeling, because there's no productions company, no producer, no director, nothing in common that ties all of these movies with their casts that include guys like Michael Cavanaugh and Larry Poindexter, among others, all the time. And it's always these Dudikoff disaster/political intrigue movies too.

I thought this was out of print, but it turns out it's in print, just that Netflix doesn't carry it. Still, with Amazon, the shipping alone will put this outside of what it's worth-- and to be honest, unless you're a Dudikoff completist, anything more than zero isn't worth it. For second opinions, you can check out our friends over at Explosive Action and Comeuppance Reviews (both links are to the post).

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120224/

15 comments:

  1. Nice Review! Pretty silly Dudikoff film. You are right about it having limited action. At least Norton and Dudikoff had a brief fight. Should have been longer though.

    Also: Thanks for the link, buddy!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well at the very least this film HAs to be better then ablaze and Executive Decision, the latter of which I never really cared for that much as it was FAR too long for it's own good.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well I liked Black Thunder believe it or not. You also leave out Freedom Strike which you liked so there is that.

    I don't hate this movie. I find it way too uninspired, flaccid and unimaginative to stir up any emotion beyond indifference. I pretty much got what I expected, I like Dudikoff so I was more tolerant than usual but if it was Lorenzo Lamas I doubt I would be as forgiving. The other thing I found it about the same as Executive Decision which I didn't care for either. This is one of those movies you have no opinion on. It's competently made but it's also lifeless. In autopilot and yet it isn't as tedious as something like Starship Troopers 2 and 3, Black Horizon or Crash Dive. Basically it is made with routine indifference and Strategic Command is about as generic as the title. It's also slightly better than most of its ilk because of its relative competence but it's still a very unexciting caper. I can't think of a better type of film to sum up my two star rating. (A 2.5 star rating is a flick that had some moments adrift a mold that doesn't quite gel) But there is a reason I consider a two star flick a movie I dislike. Strategic Command is but one source of evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah, towards the end, these Dudikoff movies seem very "assembly-line." "My company has just purchased a buttload of stock footage of submarines and airplanes, we're going to make nothing but movies that deal with this footage in some way." This is, however, one of the better ones from that era.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Awesome, I've just experienced some mid-90's DTV Dudikoff myself and it doesn't get much, much.... Dudikoffer than that. You gotta give it to the guy on consistency though, my writeup soon to appear at LVA.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This movie rocked purely for Norton's attempt at disguise as the cameraman. Brilliant!

    ReplyDelete
  7. No problem on the link, I figure when I know one of the other sites has reviewed the movie I'm looking at, why not mention it. Second and third opinions are always good.

    I left out Freedom Strike because I didn't see it as quite the same as these other disaster films, but maybe you're right. The lack of either Michael Cavanaugh or Larry Poindexter threw me off. Certainly, I wouldn't give this a 2.5 star rating if I had your system. 1 seems about right, or as Sutekh rightly puts it, 1.5 because of Norton's creative dissimulation.

    I'll keep an eye out for your write-ups, Goodkind.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Two Stars. Not 2.5 stars. I'd give 2.5 stars to Jill The Ripper, Killing Machine, Better Tommorrow III, Corruptor, 10 To Midnight. Those movies have great elements and I almost liked it but the overall movie never quite comes together for a full recommendation.

    2 stars is still a bad movie. Often reserved for uninspired fare with maybe a few redeeming factors. Strategic Command is certainly closer to 1.5 stars than 2.5. Once again Dudikoff and Norton's presence, the movie is competently made and the movie didn't inspire any emotion beyond indifference. Also compared to Crash Dive, Flight Of Fury and Stealth Fighter it is way better. I actually liked Black Thunder though. The truth is you can do better...starting with renting Iron Eagle, Firebirds and Freedom Strike (Guilty pleasures)

    ReplyDelete
  9. First I should start by saying I just realized I posted the German cover to the movie, so my bad on that one. If you're wondering, the US cover looks identical.

    Now to your point Kenner, I think saying this film was handled competently is giving it a little too much credit. It bungled the fight scenes by having the two Norton/Dudikoff ones in confined quarters, yet having the Poindexter/Norton's girlfriend one in an open area. We were all looking forward to Norton and Dudikoff-- that's why we're watching this sack-of-asscrack for God's sake-- so to bungle that was pretty egregious. Also, they ruined Dudikoff's applause line where he's supposed to tell the kid running the rescue team "hey, I've been doing this since you were in diapers", first, by having him not say anything when first confronted by the kid, then when he does respond in the plane, it's so weak he might as well have not said anything. We look for those great Dudikoff one-liners, almost as much as his fights.

    There were plenty of other issues, like the in cold blood murder of the blond CIA agent, the inexplicable Larry Poindexter opening the door just to have a "door opening on the plane scene", and then the bad shootouts where you had the classic "myriad shots fired at close range but no one is hit" routine. This film did inspire emotion in me, but it was annoyance leading to anger, because it was so tedious and boring with zero payoff.

    My thing is, and I mentioned this in the review, if you're going to do Die Hard on a plane, then go for it, do Die Hard on a plane, not this stock footage of planes followed by will they or won't they kill them and will they or won't they try to escape crap. Oh yeah, and the "someone needs to call the president" BS as well. I'd rather watch Deadly Prey over something like this any day.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Just trust me when I say that when compared to Iron Eagle 4, Agent Red (I know you like it to mock but the film is horrendous and almost two hours),Flight Of Fury,Stealth Fighter, Dessert Thunder,Crash Dive, Mach-2, Militia and Crash Landing. This one at least is made with some sort of professionalism. The action sequences were unexciting but i'll i'm saying is that this while this quite bad, it's not as bad as these things get.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'll give you that the ones you named are worse, but what does that really mean? "Okay, Strategic Command, you made a cheap rip-off of Executive Decision loaded with bad stock footage and even worse stock music, but hey, at least you weren't Mach 2" (which hadn't even come out yet). For me, that's like saying "oh, your team went 3 and 13? Well, it could've been worse, they could've been 1 and 15." Sure, 1 and 15 sucks a lot worse than 3 and 13, but 3 and 13 still sucks a lot too.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Most of those films you mentioned are guilty pleasures of mine, Iron Eagle 4 and Flight Of Fury especially, Agent Red and stealth Fighter WERE awful, but they're a hilarious kind of awful and not the drop-dead-on-your-ass-from-immense-boredom kind of awful that other films like say Hard Luck and Full Impact have, anyways i'll see this film just for the sake of completing Dudikoff's filmography.

    ReplyDelete
  13. The films I mention would be the 3-13, A movie like Delta Force:The Lost Patrol or Black Friday would be 1-15. I would say this film would be like a 6-10 or 7-9. Given that my 2.5 stars would be 8-8. I mean it's not good but it had some redeeming qualities. Mainly Dudikoff's charisma, Norton was a decent bad guy and a welcome appearance by Paul Winfield.

    My point then is that if a film of this caliber doesn't leave any impression other than indifference, I usually will award a two star rating.

    Why you are picking on the guy who says "Bad but not as bad as usual" vs the guy (Commuppance Reviews) who gave 2.5 stars. I mean he gave it the same rating as The Peacekeeper.

    See, I know how to do the red herring bait and switch to throw everyone off the trail on a system that I use that admittedly makes little sense. I know that you questioning this brings up very valid points that I can't refute but thankfully I know how to engage in the art of subterfuge.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Sorry for not replying sooner, but I was off the gird for a bit this weekend. The best part of your subterfuge, Kenner, was deleting one of your comments and editing and reposting it, because that line "comment deleted by author" looks as if it was me that cut it, adding to the mystery.

    I'm only picking on you, Kenner, because you asked for it. Ty's (and Sutekh's) review is there so people can have the second opinion, while you and I are debating strictly on my opinion that I just wrote. See, while you were indifferent, I was annoyed and angered by this movie-- maybe not too much, but enough. I'll give you 6-10, but I'm looking at it more like 4-12-- or maybe I'll meet you at 6-10, but with two of the wins coming off bad roughing the passer or pass interference penalties in the last minute. How's that?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Oh, and allow me to point out Kenner that your comments are what make these threads cook. I mean, I haven't broken double figures on a post in a while, so it's good to have you in here mixing it up.

    ReplyDelete