Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dolph Is An Army Of One

You can expect the directorial debut of the man who performed movie stunts for Han Solo, James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Superman to be heavy on action, and that’s what this crackerjack action vehicle for Dolph Lundgren delivers.

Lundgren worked with Vic Armstrong on his previous film, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, on which Armstrong was stunt coordinator. Armstrong was either a stunt performer or stunt coordinator on some of the greatest action pictures of all time, including RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STAR WARS, TOTAL RECALL, SUPERMAN, and BLADE RUNNER. When he got the opportunity to direct a feature for the first time, he picked Lundgren to be his star. The result is JOSHUA TREE, which came out this week on a beautiful new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Shout Factory.

JOSHUA TREE unfortunately never played theatrically in the United States, though it's good enough to (it was a theatrical hit overseas, where Lundgren was a bigger box office draw). Its title was changed to the more commercial ARMY OF ONE when it was released directly to home video and later when Artisan put it out on a subpar full-frame DVD. So when JOSHUA TREE was first seen on VHS in the spring of 1993, it never got its just due as an above-average actioner. Hopefully, it will now.

The screenplay by Steven Pressfield (FREEJACK) is short on plot, but the central relationship between escaped convict Wellman Santee (Lundgren) and his hostage (played by DAYS OF OUR LIVES star Kristian Alfonso) is well-rounded and even generates a bit of steam. However, Armstrong (whose career as a second-unit director extends to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and beyond) is more interested in the chases, shootouts, explosions, and other setpieces, and when they’re as exciting as they are in JOSHUA TREE, he should be.

Santee, on his way to prison on a trumped-up charge of killing a cop, escapes from guards paid to kill him. He snatches a four-wheel-drive truck and Alfonso’s Rita Marrick, a deputy sheriff (it may be an in-joke that nobody in the film believes the fetching Alfonso is really a police officer, just like we in the audience don’t), and takes off into the desert with corrupt detective Severence (a slumming George Segal, having a good time) in pursuit. No prize for guessing that Severence is the movie’s real bad guy, who goes so far as to put a bounty on Rita to prevent her from telling what she knows.

Armstrong assembles a strong supporting cast and provides them with roles right in their wheelhouses (Beau Starr as a bad detective, Bert Remsen as crusty desert rat, Al Leong as henchman who gets blasted to death), so he doesn’t have to spend valuable screen time fleshing them out—time better spent blowing stuff up. Highlight is a spectacular shootout in a chop shop full of paint, fire, expensive sports cars, and bad guys loaded with chunky squibs. The Shout Factory Blu-ray appears to contain an uncut version of this sequence that never could have received an R rating, and it's worth owning the disc just to see this bravura action scene filmed without faking it with shaky-cam and CGI.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Just A Fight To Survive

From time to time, I plan to use this space to repurpose film reviews I wrote for several local independent newspapers during the previous decade:

THE OCTOPUS: 1999-2000
CU CITYVIEW: 2002
THE PAPER: 2003-2004
THE HUB: 2005-2006

During my tenure as a professional (re: paid) film critic, I wrote about both new releases and cult classics. The date provided below is the date the newspaper issue containing the review hit the streets.

This review has been slightly edited from the original published piece.


BILLY JACK (1971)
Rated PG
Running Time 1:54
Directed by Tom Laughlin
Stars Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor
Originally published May 12, 2006

BILLY JACK is nothing less than one of the most popular motion pictures ever produced. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that few movies released this decade, if any, will be as profitable or be seen by more people than BILLY JACK was in its theatrical releases. The story of a half-Indian and ex-Green Beret who protects a schoolful of teenaged hippies from bigots, BILLY JACK is a testament to the tenacity and confidence of Tom Laughlin, who produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the film as Billy Jack.

Although BILLY JACK was a tremendous hit in the early 1970s, it can be something of a chore to watch today. Much of it has dated terribly—for instance, the drug humor of the improvisational group The Committee (including a long-haired Howard Hesseman) and the folk music performed by the flower children characters—but BILLY JACK’s stances against individualism, non-violence, and racial intolerance are as relevant now (or more so, as Washington extremists strive to plaster Red and Blue labels over us) as ever.

The story behind BILLY JACK is a fascinating one. The leading character portrayed by Laughlin had already appeared in a biker movie, THE BORN LOSERS, which American International released in 1967. Laughlin, who produced and directed that picture too, held on to the rights to Billy Jack, and after THE BORN LOSERS became a hit, he landed financing from Warner Brothers to do a bigger-budgeted sequel called BILLY JACK, which first came out in 1971.

Warners, in Laughlin’s view, buried the film on the bottom of double bills in dirty, disreputable theaters, so he sued the studio and received the right to release the movie his way. The Laughlin method was to travel around the country “four-walling” theaters—renting the auditoriums himself, playing BILLY JACK in them, keeping all the box office receipts, and giving the theaters the concession profits. Laughlin and his family (who also appeared in the movie) made personal appearances to support the release, and relied on massive regional television advertising to get the word out. BILLY JACK, which was already something of a hit in 1971, was a veritable smash upon its 1973 re-release, breaking box office records across the country and turning its karate-kicking anti-hero into a household name.

BILLY JACK is nothing if not ambitious. It preaches about so many subjects—gun control, education, racism, the generation gap—that the film often falls into tedium. The script is by Laughlin and his wife Delores Taylor, who plays Jean, the teacher at the Freedom School, where troubled teens go to escape their uncaring families or recover from bouts with drugs or other dangerous lifestyles. One is 15-year-old Barbara (Julie Webb), who escaped her abusive father Mike (Kenneth Tobey), ran off to Haight-Ashbury, got pregnant, came home to a beating from her father, and found shelter at Jean’s school, where she begins a loving relationship with an Indian boy. Their mixed-race relationship is a burr under Mike’s saddle, spurring him to create trouble around their small Arizona town for the students, who are also harassed by weak Bernard (David Roya), the son of venal town boss Posner (Bert Freed).

Luckily for Jean and the kids, they have a protector in Billy Jack, one of Hollywood’s few liberal action heroes. Laughlin’s clenched though charismatic performance makes Billy Jack an interesting character. He learned to kill in Vietnam, where he saw so much senseless bloodshed that he makes a strong effort to return to his Native American roots and avoid the violence of the White Man’s world, even though mankind’s inhumanity to his fellow man forces him to seek justice using the skills taught to him by the government, namely hapkido karate.

If you’re patient enough to endure BILLY JACK’s pitfalls, there’s much to admire. Yes, when the Laughlins’ daughter Teresa begins caterwauling her way through a self-penned folk ballad about her dead brother, you’ll want to strangle her. However, Laughlin does an okay job staging his action scenes, which attempt to preach non-violence, while simultaneously stimulating us with shots of Billy Jack kicking bad guys in the face. Few cinematic moments are more moving than the opening title sequence involving an illegal roundup of wild mustangs, beautifully shot by cinematographer Fred Koenekamp and set to Coven’s affecting Top 40 hit “One Tin Soldier.” The acting is variable with hardy character actors like Tobey (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) and Clark Howat (as the sympathetic sheriff) doing nice work and amateurs such as Taylor barely able to recite dialogue with a vestige of emotion. But what the lesser actors lack in technique, they make up for in honesty and earnestness.

This cinematic ode to tolerance and peace also has one classic moment that’s the stuff of Hollywood legend. Bernard and his posse harass the children in an ice cream parlor by pouring flour over the head of a cute little girl. Billy Jack waltzes in and gives a long speech about beautiful young angels mistreated by idiotic savages. Then, he “...just...goes...BERSERK,” freaks out, and kicks the crap out of the hoods. Irony or Laughlin’s commercial instincts kicking in?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Ultimate Terror Has Taken Form

From time to time, I plan to use this space to repurpose film reviews I wrote for several local independent newspapers during the previous decade:

THE OCTOPUS: 1999-2000
CU CITYVIEW: 2002
THE PAPER: 2003-2004
THE HUB: 2005-2006

During my tenure as a professional (re: paid) film critic, I wrote about both new releases and cult classics. The date provided below is the date the newspaper issue containing the review hit the streets.

This review has been slightly edited from the original published piece.


THE BEING (1983)
Rated R
Running Time 1:22
Directed by Jackie Kong
Stars Bill Osco, Martin Landau, Marianne Gordon, Jose Ferrer, Ruth Buzzi, Dorothy Malone
Originally published October 14, 2005

Anyone who's had the misfortune to sit through any of Jackie Kong's other features, such as the witless BLOOD DINER or the painful NIGHT PATROL, won't be surprised to learn this Idaho-filmed monster movie that she wrote and directed is pretty awful. On the other hand, in the right setting with a few friends and the proper blood-alcohol level, THE BEING is good for some hearty guffaws.

My favorite example of Kong's incompetence is a scene in which three local yokels break into an empty building with the intention of burning it down. One says, "Let's see if we can find anything around here to burn," while clearly standing in front of a high stack of cardboard boxes. Time means nothing to Kong either. She follows one night scene with a day scene, and then she cuts back to night, where one character states the time as being "11:45 pm," when a musical recital takes place. On a Sunday night. Don't any of these people have to work on Monday? You can have a good time playing Spot the Continuity Errors with this movie.

THE BEING opens with a portentous, deep-voiced narrator telling us "strange and unexplained events are occurring" in Pottsville, Idaho, which a country music DJ tells us is the "potato capital of the world." Right away, we know we're in big trouble—has there ever been a good horror movie that began with useless narration?

However, we do learn that people have been disappearing ever since a young boy named Michael vanished near the town's new nuclear waste dump. Some townspeople are worried that the presence of so much radiation will be hazardous to their health, but Dr. Garson Jones (Martin Landau, an Oscar winner for ED WOOD) tries to assuage their fears by pointing a Geiger counter at his wristwatch and a glass of water. Whew! That makes me feel better, Marty!

More hazardous to their health is the "being" of the title—a slimy, red mutated creature with tentacles and large teeth that randomly chomps down on the Pottsville populace. Investigating is local cop Mortimer Lutz (producer Bill Osco, Jackie Kong’s husband, billed as both “Rexx Coltrane” and “Johnny Commander”), who has the odd habit of talking to himself ("Now why did he leave his flashlight lying the middle of the street?") and sorta has a crush on cute waitress Laurie (HEE HAW honey Marianne Gordon, married to Kenny Rogers at the time).

The silly character names seem to indicate Kong and Osco were making a comedy, but since there's little in THE BEING approaching intentional humor, it's hard to be sure. Nothing is funnier than the monster, which has one eye that wobbles around like a bobble-head doll. Since we only see it from mid-torso up, it’s probably being pushed around in a wheelchair. It also has the ability to appear anywhere at anytime. Even if it was just seen vanishing into a hole underground, it can still pop up seconds later inside an automobile.

Obviously, if the filmmakers fail to set any ground rules or limitations regarding the creature's abilities, it's hard to generate much suspense. Kong's main preparation must have been watching ALIEN a few times. There's even a scene where two characters wander around a large building searching (for no real reason) for a cat!

Since Osco's earlier producing efforts had been of the softcore porn variety, including FLESH GORDON, a few jabs are taken at fanatics who picket a massage parlor. Inexplicably, even the Landau character, who isn't a local and would seem to have little interest in Pottsville politics, grabs a sign. Despite their billing, none of the above-the-title stars, including LAUGH-IN’s Ruth Buzzi and Oscar winners Jose Ferrer (CYRANO DE BERGERAC) and Dorothy Malone (WRITTEN ON THE WIND), have much to do, except Landau, who actually gives a decent performance, considering what he's working with. Osco Coltrane Commander Kong may have been going for a deadpan style of acting, but he comes off somnambulant instead.

THE BEING was filmed in 1980 as EASTER SUNDAY (the film's setting, which actually is irrelevant), but not released until 1983. It closes with picture credits, which are always fun (although they were probably used to stretch the film to 82 minutes), and AMERICAN GRAFFITI-style "where-are-they-now" cards, which aren't.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Super-Reality of Sensurround!

From time to time, I plan to use this space to repurpose film reviews I wrote for several local independent newspapers during the previous decade:

THE OCTOPUS: 1999-2000
CU CITYVIEW: 2002
THE PAPER: 2003-2004
THE HUB: 2005-2006

During my tenure as a professional (re: paid) film critic, I wrote about both new releases and cult classics. The date provided below is the date the newspaper issue containing the review hit the streets.

This review has been slightly edited from the original published piece.


BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978)
Running Time 2:19
Rated PG
Directed by Richard A. Colla and Alan J. Levi
Stars Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, Jane Seymour
Originally published June 9, 2006

Okay, so who remembers Sensurround? Anyone who saw Universal’s star-studded action epics of the 1970s undoubtedly recalls his heart racing and his ears bleeding from the Sensurround process, which the studio introduced with the release of the disaster film EARTHQUAKE in 1974.

Basically, the Sensurround gimmick consisted of several additional subwoofers, including two very large ones in the rear, installed in the theater that emitted powerful low-frequency vibrations that caused the audience to rumble in their seats during Earthquake’s massive destruction sequences. Although EARTHQUAKE was a big moneymaker, Universal only used Sensurround on a handful of later films, probably because of the extra expense to the theater owners who had to buy and install the special speakers. Among the other Sensurround spectaculars were ROLLERCOASTER, MIDWAY, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

But wait…wasn’t BATTLESTAR GALACTICA a television series? Well, yes, it was, but the 1978 pilot episode was so pricey (the most expensive ever filmed to that date) that Universal sought to quickly recoup some of the cost by releasing it theatrically. It played in Canada before the pilot’s American telecast on September 17, 1978, but not in U.S. theaters until May 1979—after the series’ final ABC airing. Since Universal was asking audiences to buy a ticket for something they had already seen for free on TV, the Sensurround gimmick was added to spice up the presentation, providing the many spaceship battles and explosions with a visceral oomph a small TV speaker couldn’t.

The theatrical film was released in a 125-minute version that was cut down and featured additional footage not seen in the 148-minute TV pilot, which ABC aired in a three-hour Sunday-night timeslot. Neither is the version I’m reviewing, which is included in Universal’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE COMPLETE EPIC SERIES DVD set. This 139-minute cut includes even more previously unseen scenes, particularly one played by actress Maren Jensen (DEADLY BLESSING) mostly in the nude that certainly would have spiced up the PG theatrical release.

Executive producer Glen A. Larson’s script is thematically ambitious, if somewhat light in details and occasionally in logic. A sneak attack by an army of sleek robot warriors called Cylons destroys virtually all of mankind living on the Twelve Colonies. What few humans survive pack into whatever spacefaring vehicles can be cobbled together and head into the universe in search of a mythical 13th colony, known in legends as the planet Earth. Leading the “ragtag fugitive fleet” is the last remaining battlestar, an enormous military spaceship called the Galactica, which is led by the authoritative Commander Adama (BONANZA patriarch Lorne Greene).

In order to stock up on fuel and supplies for the humans’ long trek across the galaxy, the Galactica sends three of its best combat pilots—serious Apollo (Richard Hatch, just off THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO), Adama’s son; wisecracking, cigar-smoking Starbuck (Dirk Benedict, previously on the shortlived CHOPPER ONE); and trusty Boomer (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.)—to scout a planet called Carillon, which is said to be rich in food and water. It’s also inhabited by a reptilian species called Ovions, which have, unbeknownst to the Galactica, entered into an agreement with the Cylons, which lie patiently in wait.

Larson also introduces several more characters who would become important to the Galactica mythos, including journalist Serina (Jane Seymour, later DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN), who became Apollo’s love interest; her young son Boxey (Noah Hathaway); traitor Baltar (the delicious John Colicos); Adama’s exotically gorgeous daughter Athena (Jensen); prostitute Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang); Adama’s dignified second-in-command Tigh (Terry Carter); corrupt councilman Uri (Ray Milland); and, as much as we’d like to forget it, Boxey’s robot pet, a “daggit” named Muffit.

Before BATTLESTAR GALACTICA could be released, Universal battled a lawsuit initiated by 20th Century-Fox, which claimed that the property was a ripoff of Star Wars. Which it was. However, it was hardly the only film project to be highly influenced by George Lucas’ blockbuster, and the suit was settled out of court. (Universal was really wearing down lawyers in those days, getting the Italian production GREAT WHITE barred from U.S. theaters as a ripoff of JAWS.)

In some ways, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA equals its illegitimate parent. John Dykstra, who orchestrated STAR WARS’ Oscar-winning visual effects, did such a wonderful job creating BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s elaborate models, dogfights, and matte work on a TV-sized palette that he earned a producer credit. Stu Phillips’ marvelous score, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, provides a sense of majesty that few other television shows have matched. And Richard A. Colla, who receives sole directorial credit, is a far better director than Lucas.

ABC fired Colla (ZIG ZAG) midway through the expansive 69-day shoot and replaced him with episodic TV journeyman Alan J. Levi (BLOOD SONG). The network feared Colla’s approach was too cinematic, shooting too few close-ups for ABC’s tastes and spending too much time setting up elaborate camera moves and lighting effects. Of course, it is precisely Colla’s attention to detail and quality that sets the pilot apart from the disappointing and childish TV series that followed. The style Colla set was ignored by series directors and ABC, which thought of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA as a mere kiddie show—which is exactly what they got, unfortunately.

Awash in affecting dramatic scenes of tragedy, terrorism, and mass destruction, but still propelled by a grand sense of optimism, hope, and humanity, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is as relevant now as it was in 1978.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Terror On The Docks

Richard Deming was a prolific mystery writer who turned to the quick-buck market of television tie-in novels during the 1970s. Under the pseudonym Max Franklin, Deming wrote novelizations, including five CHARLIE'S ANGELSes, a VEGA$, and eight STARSKY & HUTCHes. Since the STARSKYs, at least, were based on episodes, all Deming had to do was follow the script and add a few scenes to stretch the story to 150 pages or so. I don't intend for the above to come across as demeaning, as it does involve some measure of skill to adapt schlock in a readable fashion, but I don't believe Deming put as much sweat and tears into this paperback as he did his originals. I presume Ballantine intended this 1977 novel for kids, as the plot unfolds neatly and without surprise, and the dialogue is puerile. Then again, you could say the same about the actual STARSKY & HUTCH episodes.

Deming/Franklin's fifth STARSKY & HUTCH novel is titled TERROR ON THE DOCKS, though that appears nowhere on the outside of the book, and is based on a first-season episode written by Fred Freiberger (notorious for producing STAR TREK's third season and sinking that show with juvenile plots) and directed by Randal Kleiser, who moved on from television to do GREASE and THE BLUE LAGOON.

Blame Freiberger for the story's dumbest turn, which has detectives David Starsky and Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (played in the series by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, respectively) accidentally bumping into Nancy Blake (Sheila Larken, Scully's mother on THE X-FILES), a childhood friend of Hutch's. Even though they haven't seen one another in many years, she reveals she's getting married in a few days and asks Hutch to give her away. And since she appears to have no other friends, she invites Hutch and Starsky to come over to the house where she lives with her widowed mother for home cooking nearly every evening.

Meanwhile, Starsky and Hutch are working a case where masked crooks knocked over a warehouse and killed an undercover cop. Well, of course, the gang's ringleader and the guy who actually pulled the trigger on the cop is Billy Desmond (Stephen McHattie, PONTYPOOL), Nancy's groom-to-be. What a coincidence.

Desmond's reveal is no surprise in either Freiberger's teleplay or Deming's book, though even if it were intended to be, it wouldn't. STARSKY & HUTCH wasn't a great show, but there was pleasure to be found in its action scenes and the breezy byplay between Glaser and Soul. Naturally, neither is adequately reproduced in the book, making it not worthwhile for the hour or so it takes to read it. You may as well invest fifty minutes in watching the TV show.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No One Is Safe


Pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin takes above-the-title billing in 2011's RECOIL, a meat-and-potatoes action flick that plays like a Brian Bosworth picture of the 1990s. Filmed in Canada on a low budget, RECOIL eschews big setpieces and visual effects in favor of old-fashioned punch-ups.

As former Dallas cop Ryan Varrett, Austin invades the small Washington town of Hope(less) looking for a rapist and killer named Rex Salgado (Noel Gugliemi). After checking in at the local fleabag owned by weary-beyond-her-years widow Darcy (Serinda Swan), Varrett kills Rex in an explosion, which puts the ex-lawman at odds with Rex’s biker gang, the leader of which is Rex’s badass brother Drayke (Danny Trejo, who brings extra depth to his heavy), who also runs Hope. Turns out Ryan has been cruising the country, taking out bad guys who escaped punishment in the courts. On his tail is FBI agent Sutton (Locklyn Munro), whose goal is taking down the vigilante.

RECOIL hasn’t an original bone in its body—the coroner eats a sandwich in the morgue, Austin walks away from an explosion in slow motion, the self-loathing sheriff is on Drayke’s payroll—but it isn’t bad either. Outside of Austin, who is wooden and dull, the performances are decent, particularly Adam Greydon Reid as an unlikely looking deputy who wants to do the right thing and Patrick Gilmore as a nice-guy gas pump jockey. Swan, a good-looking brunette, isn’t quite “tough chick” material, though she’s generally appealing and believable. Terry Miles’ directorial skills are uneven, but he generally knows where to put the camera and doesn’t spoil the action scenes with an overuse of CGI.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Assignment...To Disaster

Edward S. Aarons penned more than eighty novels during his lifetime, which ended prematurely of a heart attack in 1975 at the age of 58. Of his novels, 42 of them featured the adventures of a tough-guy Cajun spy named Sam Durell.

ASSIGNMENT TO DISASTER, first published by Fawcett in 1955, was the first.
Durell's first case is an interesting mix of Cold War intrigue and over-the-top end-of-the-world shenanigans that we would come to see regularly in the James Bond movies. Durell is assigned to track down an eccentric scientist named Calvin Padgett, who has been out west working on a top-secret nuke. It's suspected Calvin may be a traitor, and Sam's best bet to find him is Calvin's sister, Deirdre.

Of course, nothing is as it seems, and the stress level is high for all the characters, including Durell's D.C. bosses. Sam, who comes to realize the missile's launch could mean the end of life on Earth, becomes a treason suspect himself, and he and Deirdre find themselves on the run from government spies.

ASSIGNMENT TO DISASTER is a pretty great adventure, told in third person, even though everything we see is Durell's point of view. I've been reading Aarons' Durell novels for years, and give them a high recommendation. If you're into Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series, I think you'll like the Durells too.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Out Of Uniform. Out Of Control.


Low-budget leading man Jeff Wincott turned four seasons on NIGHT HEAT into a good career as a direct-to-video action star in the 1990s. He always looked believable punching and kicking, and unlike much of his competition during that era, he’s a decent actor too (and sustained his career into the 2010s doing guest shots on shows like THE GOOD WIFE and SONS OF ANARCHY). The script he and director Steve Barnett (MINDWARP) are working with in 1992's MISSION OF JUSTICE is routine stuff that checks the “cop movie” boxes, but it’s played with energy and excitement.

Kurt Harris (Wincott), tired of the bureaucratic b.s. clogging up the justice system, quits his job as a street cop (his partner Lynn is played by karate star Karen Sheperd, who memorably fought Cynthia Rothrock in ABOVE THE LAW) and joins a band of street vigilantes called the Peacemakers. His interest isn’t altogether altruistic, however. He’s investigating the murder of his friend Cedric (Tony Burton from the ROCKY movies) and believes mayoral candidate Rachel Larkin (COBRA damsel Brigitte Nielsen), who trains the Peacemakers at her “mission of justice,” had something to do with it.

What makes MISSION OF JUSTICE stand out from typical DTV drivel are its fight scenes. Barnett’s pacing throughout is good with plenty of well-staged action, but he, Wincott, and stunt coordinator Jeff Pruitt (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) deserve extra credit for a couple of cool setpieces. In one, Wincott takes on a gauntlet of about twenty stickfighters to get initiated into Nielsen’s group, and later he and his Peacemaker colleagues get into a wild fight in an auto chop shop.

Some of it is silly, perhaps intentionally so, as many of the best action movies are. Burton’s character is a former heavyweight boxer, and after Larkin’s henchman (Matthias Hues) kills him, he steals Burton’s title belt. Later, during the climax when Hues and Wincott are fighting to the death, Hues tears open his jacket to reveal…he’s wearing the belt! Like he’s just been walking around with it ever since Burton’s murder just for the hell of it. MISSION is definitely something of a sleeper and one of Wincott’s best pictures.