Monday, November 03, 2014

U.S. Seals II: The Ultimate Force

U.S. SEALS II: THE ULTIMATE FORCE is nothing less than one of the best direct-to-video action movies ever made. In fact, its energy and spectacular fight sequences are thrilling enough to rank U.S. SEALS II among the best action films of the 21st century so far, period.

Yeah, I know.

Released in 2001 by Nu Image/Millennium as a sequel to a film it has nothing to do with, U.S. SEALS II is as close to an authentic Hong Kong action movie as any American production has ever gotten (with the exception of the unbelievably great buddy action/comedy DRIVE). Although its title and DVD box indicate a straight-forward macho military-style shoot-'em-up, director Issac Florentine (now a big name in DTV features for his collaborations with action star Scott Adkins) and writer Michael D. Weiss (OCTOPUS) have concocted a preposterous thriller with enough high-octane awesomeness to line a decade of Jerry Bruckheimer schlockfests.

Former Navy SEAL Frank Ratliffe (Damian Chapa) kidnaps sexy nuclear physicist Dr. Jane Burrows (Kate Connor) and stashes her on a private island, which used to be a Soviet military base until a chemical accident left the island saturated in methane gas. Because of the gas, no guns can be fired there, due to the possibility of explosion (just go with it, man).

Surrounded by his army of kung-fu experts, including foxy Brit Sophia (Sophia Crawford, Sarah Michelle Geller's former BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER stunt double), Ratliffe demands a billion-dollar ransom to prevent him from firing a pair of nuclear warheads smack dab into Washington, D.C. To stop Ratliffe's mad plot, Army major Donner (ROAD HOUSE heavy Marshall Teague) recruits the megalomaniac's former best pal, Casey Sheppard (Michael Worth), who left the SEALs after Frank raped and murdered their sensei's daughter. With less than 48 hours to Ratliffe's deadline, Casey recruits a ragtag team of martial-arts experts, including Donner, who's armed with a paintball gun that fires acid missiles, and Kimiko (Karen Kim), Casey's ex-lover and the twin sister of the woman Frank murdered in Okinawa.

One thing is made clear from the very beginning: none of this is to be taken even the least bit seriously. In fact, much of the dialogue sounds like it was penned for a NAKED GUN movie, as it's spoken so earnestly by a mostly unknown cast of straight faces. Florentine punctuates not just the action scenes, but also almost every little movement, with a "whoosh" sound effect, right down to a turn of the head or a roll of the eyes. The gimmick of an island surrounded by methane, as ludicrous as it sounds, is perfect for this comic-book universe and nicely justifies some of the most exciting martial-arts battles ever filmed outside of Asia. The fights were choreographed by Andy Cheng (who also portrays one of Chapa's goons), a veteran of Jackie Chan's stunt team, as super-balletic dances of death--swords, knives, chains, machetes, and old-fashioned hands and feet all become deadly weapons under Cheng's tutelage.

Florentine appears influenced by Italian westerns as much as he is kung-fu flicks, and indeed U.S. SEALS II's themes of loyalty and male friendship lie in that same tradition. But in a movie where the villain can fire a nuclear missile by pressing a button on a remote control (the air inside the silo was unaffected by the methane explosion, we're told) or a nuclear scientist can be a sexy 25-year-old Army officer in a bun and miniskirt, it's doubtful you'll be looking for any subtext.

And that's okay when the movie is as much cheeky fun as U.S. SEALS II. It's a shame to see an action movie this clever and skillfully made go ignored. Hell, there aren't any more video stores, so you can't even go rent it. The violence provides a high body count, but it's never meanspirited, and there's something to be said for the climax, which offs its main heavy with an over-the-top gore effect more likely to draw admiring laughs than uneasy grimaces. Seriously, it's one of the greatest movie deaths ever.


Grant said...

After reading about the Sophia character, I'm guessing THIS is the one I was thinking of when I made that comment on the original "U.S. SEALS."

Jack Badelaire said...

Brilliant. But, c'mon. You can't make a movie about SEALs without some MP-5s and night-vision goggles. I mean, seriously, people!

Marty McKee said...

Jack, I'll see your MP-5s and raise you an acid paintball gun!

(Actually, I think there is night-vision goggles in this movie)