Sunday, May 27, 2007

You Should Have Died When He Killed You

Baltimore filmmaker Alvin D. Ecarma’s feature debut is a dizzying parody of Hong Kong action flicks. Made with very little money, but a lot of heart and enthusiasm, LETHAL FORCE (I think a better title would help it stand out from the myriad of generic action movies with similar titles) is 70 minutes of wild and frequently funny thrills.

A wheelchair-bound villain named Mal Locke (Andrew Hewitt) kidnaps the wife and son of hitman Jack Carter (top-billed Frank Prather). As ransom, he demands that Carter betray his best friend, a badass kung fu assassin in a suit and a bright yellow suit named Savitch (writer/producer/director Ecarma, billed as “Cash Flagg, Jr.,” an obvious nod to Ray Dennis Steckler), and lure him to Locke’s estate. Savitch once shot Locke from a hiding place inside a mailbox (shades of GET SMART’s Agent 13!), but the hit attempt merely crippled Locke instead of killing him. Only Carter can get close enough to Savitch to lure him into Locke’s clutches.

Heavily influenced by exploitation filmmakers as disparate as Russ Meyer, John Woo and Nathan Juran (and a few comic book creators such as Garth Innis), Ecarma, like Quentin Tarantino, has a certain knack for pulling from his favorite sources to cobble together an entertaining feature (that runs 70 minutes with credits). The over-the-top violence, including swordplay that draws spurting blood (like in SHOGUN ASSASSIN), a power drill jammed into someone’s head, and a chomped-off tongue, is played for laughs and is unlikely to turn anyone off. Action director and cinematographer Eric Thornett, who also portrays an eccentric killer modeled after THE MATRIX’s Agent Smith, should share some credit for the movie’s pace and energetic fight scenes, particularly because it’s clear that most of the cast are not experienced in the martial arts. However, the fights are choreographed with such tongue-in-cheek style that the performers’ amateurism works in their favor.

Like any micro-budgeted film, LETHAL FORCE has its share of drawbacks, mainly the drab performance of star Prather and the clumsy post-synch sound. It may take a bit of patience to climb aboard Ecarma’s dream, but if you can hack it, you should be well rewarded. Unearthed Films’ DVD also includes an audio commentary by Ecarma and some crew members, as well as production artwork, trailers and three of Ecarma’s short films.

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