As far as the remaking of cult classics, Stephen Kay’s Get Carter is a piss poor effort, so much so that not even a positively stacked cast could do much of anything about it. The original saw fearsome bulldog Michael Caine getting shotgun fuelled revenge and has since become iconic, while this one switches up rainy Britain for rainy Seattle and a sedated Sylvester Stallone in a shiny suit takes over as Carter, a mob enforcer who hails from Vegas but has travelled north both to escape scandal and look into a shady family matter. There he finds all sorts of characters played by a troupe of big names, character actors and even Caine himself in an extended cameo as a bar owner, but it all feels lazy, listless and flung about like a ball of yarn full of loose plot threads and scenes that fizzle. It’s obvious that there were major editing problems here as the pacing is in conniptions and an entire subplot involving a love interest back in Vegas (Gretchen Mol) has been slashed to ribbons. So sloppy was the final product that my college acting teacher, who landed the role of Carter’s gangster boss back in Vegas, although mentioned brazenly in the opening credits, can only be seen briefly from the neck down and heard on the phone, except for whatever reason they decided to dub his voice over with an uncredited Tom Sizemore, which is just so bizarre. Anywho, Stallone sleepwalks his way through a local conspiracy involving his dead brother, the widow (Rachel Leigh Cook), a mysterious femme fatale (Rhona Mitra), a weaselly computer tycoon (Alan Cumming) a sleazy pimp/porn baron (Mickey Rourke) and more. It’s just all so terminally boring though, and none of the clues or twists spring to life or feel organic at all. Rourke provides some of the only life the film has to offer as the villain, a guttural scumbag who has two painful looking nightclub boxing beatdowns with Stallone which are fun. John C. McGinley raises the pulse somewhat as a lively Vegas thug dispatched by Sizemore’s voice to bring Stallone back to face the music. Others show up including Miranda Richardson, Mark Boone Jr., John Cassini, Johnny Strong, Frank Stallone, Tyler Labine and more. None of it amounts to much though and by the time the anticlimactic plot resolutions arrive and Carter jumps a red eye back to Vegas before the credits roll, you wonder what the point of it all was and want your hour and forty minutes back. A thorough bummer.
I have no words for Highlander 2 other than ‘what in the actual fucking fuck.’ I can’t call it Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander 2 because the poor guy tried to have his name removed from the credits, and who could blame him, really. In fact, it’s so thoroughly godawful it shouldn’t even be called Highlander, either. It’s ‘Movie X’, fit only for quarantine and to be blasted off into space so the folks on fictional planet Zeist can keep it. I love the first Highlander, it’s a camp cult rock n’ roll sci-fi sleeper classic, and any sequel would have large shoes to fill. What can be found here? Time travel. Outer space. An artificial ozone layer. Autistic porcupine alien assassins. Michael Ironside ripping off Clancy Brown’s beloved Kurgan villain so blatantly it hurts. Christopher Lambert in old age makeup that looks like it inspired Jackass’s Bad Grandpa. A Sean Connery montage visiting a tailor set to the William Tell Overture. I know all these ingredients could potentially brew up an even zanier cult classic than the original, but nope, no sir. This movie is a badly told story with scant context and zero continuity in both connective tissue to the first film and finding any organic roots of it’s own. Lambert’s Connor McLeod appears to be both old, young and somehow from a different planet, oh and he helped build a synthetic ozone layer to protect earth, a subplot both arbitrarily drawn up and coincidentally concocted around the same time as Total Recall came out, which I’m sure is just one big coincidence, ho ho. Ironside plays some radical called Katana who travels to earth and through time (wat) to kill Connor because there can be only one, a mantra that the film also happily dismantles in its earnest quest to bury the legacy of the first film in confusion and custerfuckery. I won’t even begin to describe Virginia Madsen’s haphazard love interest, a ‘scientist’ who winds up in bed with McLeod like minutes after she’s met him and seen him reverse age randomly and get young again. I’ve heard that Lambert would only do the film if Connery did too, and that the pair formed a bond working on the first film. The studio would have been better off just pitching their bucks in for the two of them to take a fishing trip together, no cameras involved, and save us all the headache.
There’s a whole bushel of ‘Most Dangerous Game’ films out there, tweaked versions of the same motif in which human beings are hunted for sport, and often large sums of money as well. Surviving The Game is probably the most bombastic and excessive one (John Woo’s Hard Target is the way to go if you want something slicker), but it’s a hoot of a flick, a dingy, mean spirited exploitation piece with an eccentric cast and thrills right up to the last scene. Ice T stars here under a giant heap of dreadlocks, playing a grumpy homeless man who is approached by an alleged social worker (Charles S. Dutton, intense) and offered help in the form of some vague rehab program way out in the woods. Soon he’s out in the woods at the remote retreat run by a sinister ex military Rutger Hauer, joined by other oddballs from all walks of life including F. Murray Abraham and a hopelessly coked out Gary Busey, who chews enough scenery that those giant teeth of his actually go to good use. This is no sabbatical though, as Ice soon finds out, and before he knows it he’s scrambling through the wilderness for his life as Hauer & Co. pursue him with a giddy amount of heavy artillery. The film isn’t interested in the morality or ethics of it’s concept, it’s here for a down n’ dirty romp and not much else, as long as you’re in popcorn mode you’ll get a kick out of it. Hauer is intense as ever, with some inspired costume choices and that ever present half smirk that signals danger and violence aren’t far off the horizon. Busey is certifiably, completely off his head, spouting monologues that weren’t even in the script (Hauer’s autobiography provides hilarious behind the scenes insight) and staring down everything that moves in true loosey Busey fashion. Throw in a manic John C. McGinley as well and you’ve got just about as much crazy as the film can handle. The combat hunting scenes really are impressive and thrilling, well staged stunts against a wilderness backdrop and raucous gunplay all round. An oddball of a flick, in the best way.
I imagine THE BELKO EXPERIMENT was the first screenplay James Gunn pulled out of his drawer and dusted off to make, spending his cache from GUARDIANS on, that Disney absolutely forbid him to direct. The end result is a fun, hard genre picture that is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s a return to pre Marvelized Gunn.
The film is brutally violent, more so on the realistic side than the over-the-top Tarantino induced cinematic folly. The casting is what makes this film work to the degree that it does. It’s a mixture of Gunn’s troops, typecast players, and a very fun cameo at the end that anyone who’s familiar with Gunn or De Palma’s work will instantly rejoice in seeing.
The entire ensemble plays hard to their typecast, with the exception of Michael Rooker who has been recently re-branded by Gunn as the likeable salt of the earth guy. Tony Goldwyn is the no bullshit asshole who plays on his good looks and affability, and it is fantastic seeing him back on the big screen. He’s great in this. John C. McGuinley plays his smarmy self in a throwback to his turn in PLATOON. Sean Gunn is the dope. John Gallagher, Jr is the everyman who grows a pair and rises to the extraordinary situation, and Brent Sexton is the guy who’s there to help until he isn’t.
The picture is a perplexing ride. While it’s a hard genre staple, you’ll find yourself thinking a little too much about it, casting shades of grey where there really isn’t any intent of. HIGH-RISE was a comparison that I found myself trying to make, but the film isn’t nearly as sophisticated, and that’s okay because it’s not trying to be.
The film’s excessive violence will certainly be cause for backlash, but while watching I kept thinking about the need for violence in entertainment. Whether it’s gladiators, boxing, MMA or fist fights in hockey; it’s an aspect of our culture that refuses to go anywhere because it is a primal urge that is so badly desired. Somebody somewhere has had to have made an “ultra-violence” quip somewhere talking about this film.
Bottom line is that THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a film that uses violence in its most primitive form, but in a respectfully cinematic way that genuinely gets lost amongst the shoddy horror films that continuously show up on streaming platforms. This film is exactly what it sets out to be, and doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It could have easily tried to be some LORD OF THE FLIES rehash, but it wasn’t and that is refreshing. The film opens with the ultra nostalgic Orion Pictures logo, and if that excites you, this movie was made for you.
I tend to actively avoid Steven Seagal films like the plague, and realize intermittently that I do in fact enjoy certain ones from back in the day. He’s made a ton of trash, no doubt, but the clouds part every now and again, for select occasions like Under Siege, The Glimmer Man, Above The Law, Fire Down Below and the snowbound On Deadly Ground. The main marvel in this one is an incredibly hammy Michael Caine as the mustache twirling villain, a Big Oil maniac who has his amoral sights set on sacred land belonging to Inuit tribesman. Seagal plays yet another martial arts trained badass who takes it upon himself to bring down Caine, his nefarious capitalist plans and the violent mercenaries he has hired to wipe the land of indigenous natives. It’s as silly as silly can be, right down to him falling in love with a beautiful Inuit girl (Joan Chen, actually Chinese), but enjoyable on its own terms when you look at the solid choreography, stunts and impressive location work. Also, the roster of villains is too good to pass up, starting with Caine’s outright, wanton psychopath. We’re also treated to the Sergeant himself, R. Lee Ermey as a merc with a particularly salty attitude, John C. McGinley over-playing one of his patented schoolyard bullies, and even Billy Bob Thornton shows up, adding to the sleaze factor. Watch for cameos from Mike Starr, Michael Jai White and an unbilled Louise Fletcher as well. Seagal directed this himself, so it’s essentially one big vanity piece where he gets to play Dances With Wolves for a couple hours, but the trick is to see the unintentional comedy in that and enjoy it. Seagal is one of those goofs who I am not a ashamed to say I am laughing at, not with. Caine is the real prize here, and his merry band of assholes. An action flick is only as good as it’s antagonist, and this guy is bad to the bone in hilariously over the top ways. A big dumb flick, nothing more, nothing le- well maybe a little less in places, but fun in other spots nonetheless.
The Last Outlaw is a revenge themed western written by Eric Red, and if you’re at all familiar with his other works (he also penned The Hitcher and Near Dark), you’ll have some idea of how bloody and intense it is. It’s a smile story populated by hard bitten, gruff sons of bitches, and the violence comes fast and hard from all directions as soon as a few backs are stabbed, and several ravenous tempers ignited. Often in westerns the violence is clipped and minimal, the damage which a six gun does to flesh oddly shirked in favour of theatricality. This one has no use for that, and messily displays exactly what such a weapon does to people, repeatedly and with no discretion. It’s rough, gritty, Walter Hill style stuff, with not a trace of levity, smash or buckle, and every character kicking up dirt and anger the whole time. The film opens with a daring bank robbery, executed by former civil war Colonel Graff (Mickey Rourke), and his brutal gang. Their victory turns sour when mutiny looms among them in the form of Graff’s second in command, Eustos (Dermot Mulroney). He can’t abide by Graff’s sadistic methods, and bitterly betrays him. The rest is a bullet ridden cat and mouse game in the dusty deserts and shanty towns of the southwest, as the bodies pile up and the blood spatters in the dirt time and time again. Rourke is an implosive, grade A dickhead as Graff, a man less concerned with the fruits of his labor and more driven by the desire to exact violent retribution. One wonders if that’s what he’s in the game for anyway, to bide his time until something goes amiss, and the revel in the carnage. The supporting cast is just epic, with work from Steve Buscemi, Ted Levine, Paul Ben Victor, Richard Fancy, John C. McGinley and Keith David. It’s essentially one big stylish bloodbath, a pulpy ride through the gutter of arrogant machismo. Terrific fun, if that’s your thing.