After Dark has been busy releasing a full slate of genre fare, and today we take a look at the After Dark Action lineup which dropped no fewer than four new movies in May. They each had a brief theatrical run are now available on VOD. Read on below to hear our thoughts on movies featuring Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Jim Caviezel and more.
Martial artist Scott Adkins stars in "El Gringo" as a popular action staple, the lone man with a big bag o' money. Wandering into a small Mexican town, it's not long before an endless wave of cartoon bad guys puts a bounty on his head. He responds with fists and feet. And there's your movie!
Eduardo Rodriguez opts for spaghetti western themes and hoary character archetypes that simply reveal he's mistaken Robert Rodriguez for Sergio Leone. Freeze frames highlight colorful character names (El Jefe is one), though they don't really get much to do to emphasize their identities amidst the action. In the middle of this chaos, Adkins shares a wry smile — he's handsome, but amused more than amusing, and it's a testament to his notable skill that you root for him to get this money out of there.
Christian Slater shows up late as a corrupt cop looking for the cash, but as the film limps towards ninety minutes, it's clear his "celebrity" was what they were chasing by hiring him for a large but inconsequential role. "El Gringo" gets bogged down in overly-plotty nonsense, but the fight choreography and shootouts are fast-paced and inventive, allowing the film to come alive in spite of its time-wasting peripherals. Surprisingly, it's the most lively and inventive of the After Dark Action films, though that merely highlights the weirdly downbeat and dour nature of each picture. [B-]
"The Philly Kid"
After an elaborate only-in-the-movies misunderstanding that leaves a police officer dead, young Dillon (Wes Chatham) takes a trip to the hoosegow. Emerging ten years later, he finds old pal Jake (Devon Sawa: he's looked better) in deep debt with some shady gamblers. Jake manages to introduce Dillon to the world of Mixed Martial Arts, and suddenly A Star Is Born. But Dillion's attempts to stay on the straight and narrow are compromised by the same hanger-ons you'll find in the darkness of any sport, and soon he's pulled in all directions by the needs, and soon the threats, of others.
Chatham is a fairly humorless, wooden lead, but he looks good in the ring, and the combat sequences are vivid and believable. Too bad about everything else: new mentor L.A. Jim (Neal McDonough) is a compendium of every tough manager in any sports movie you've ever seen, while outside threats like Arthur Letts (Michael Jai White, essentially a cameo) simply comprise a line of indistinguishable grunts. Moreover, poor Sawa looks like he's been through some pretty ugly real-life ordeals to get to where he's at, and seeing him playing a chatty, possibly-diseased ball of impulse vices feels like the film's only authentic element. "The Philly Kid" never gains traction as a film about anything other than what it's about — you've seen it before you've seen it. [C-]
For all the flak action star Dolph Lundgren draws for his monotone delivery and his stone-faced seriousness that is a supposed sign of limited skill, it's startling to see him surrounded by so much amateur-hour garbage in this home invasion thriller. Lundgren and a terrible Jon Huertas are two shady possibly-ex-government types trying to break into a heavily secured house that's been foreclosed, but not before the two stashed a motherlode of cash and/or drugs. Unfortunately, the prospective buyers, an attractive young couple, have moved in a little too early, and are paying the price for their overzealousness. Yes, they're about to get Dolphed.
The couple is played by the attractive duo of Briana Evigan and Sean Faris. Evigan acquits herself well doing what women usually do in these types of films, which is yell and run scared, then make an implausibly valiant last stand. Meanwhile, a quick IMDb search reveals Faris once starred in "Never Back Down." Not that we advocate typecasting, but by the half-hour mark, he's already whining and crying. It does seem like the movie would have been more appealing had he held off on the backing down just a bit longer. Maybe never. The two of them hold steady as their attackers try to find ways inside a house that's borderline boobytrapped, but most of the time is spent looking at Lundgren and Huertas through security camera footage as they walk in circles around the house. Thrills aplenty. [D+]
In a role that doesn't involve much steely seriousness or placid, distant line-readings, Jim Caviezel is a dad driving his wife and two kids to a camping getaway where they can bond together in the wake of his untimely, investment-related arrest. Unfortunately, the clan is tailed by a group of bank robbers who need somewhere to stash their cash. Turns out, in the hood of this average family car wasn't the best place, and a cat-and-mouse game ensues, as they hit the open highway in a MacGuffin-fueled duel of wits.
The thugs are played by an unlikely group led by James Frain, Harold Perrineau, Diora Baird and Ryan Donowho, and it seems as if they are an unlikely family themselves, an idea that would already be tired even if this group had any chemistry. With the exception of Baird, who brings surprising depth to her role considering she's got the lesser resume, these are TV actors desperately trying to imbue their movie-type parts with a little extra cinematic pizzazz, Frain by underplaying, Perrineau by overacting, and Donowho by skeeving it up. Neither is a match for Caviezel, who slowly morphs into an action hero lead for a superficially-satisfying final twenty minutes that involve high-speed chases, gunfights and bareknuckled brawls that essentially acknowledge the previous hour was a real waste of time. [C]