Wednesday 25 September 2013

Half Past Dead 2

How bad does a film have to be before Steven Seagal won’t star in it?

It’s a question to which the numbed witnesses of such rank offerings as Against The Dark or the execrable Flight Of Fury probably feel there is no answer.

But, it would appear, the sceptics and naysayers are wrong. Impossible as it may seem, such a work does indeed exist: a film of such utter wretchedness that even Old Totem Face (an actor, let’s not forget, whose copious use of stunt doubles and over-dubbing means he’s often barely in his own films) felt unwilling to grace with his immobile presence

Ladies and gentlemen I give you: Half Past Dead 2 (2007).

As the brighter ones among you may have already deduced, this is a sequel to Half Past Dead, in which the ‘divine ponytail’ played a policeman who gets sent to prison on an undercover mission. Ironically, given the title, the film completely flat-lined at the box office, killing off Big Steve’s Hollywood career.

Now, no-one’s going to argue Steve is bursting with MENSA potential – but even he realised that appearing in the follow-up to such a galumphing turkey wouldn’t be the best way to resurrect his ailing career, and duly passed. (Though allegedly, when he told the producers he wouldn’t be fighting, speaking or playing any meaningful part in the sequel, they initially thought he’d agreed to take on the role.)

Kurupt wondering if it was wise to star in this sequel
Without Whispering Steve, the producers of Half Past Dead 2 had a problem: how to provide at least a tenuous semblance of continuity? Their solution came in the form of rapper turned actor Kurupt.

I’m sorry? Who he?

Painfully average rapper Kurupt (responsible for such timeless classics as Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha) had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Half Past Dead. It would appear that, on the strength of his non-performance as a gobby, irritating convict in the original, the producers duly decided to promote him to leading man status for this outing. (For an idea of how ludicrous this is, imagine making Argyle - Bruce Willis' limousine chauffeur in Die Hard - the star of Die Hard 2).

While such casting makes the film’s claim to sequel status rather dubious, the story does dovetail surprisingly neatly with the events of Half Past Dead. How so? Because it turns out Kurupt wants to escape from prison so he can recover the gold everyone in Half Past Dead was looking for. Unfortunately, a riot breaks out in the prison before he can put his plan in motion.

As anarchy spreads throughout the jail, one of the inmates seizes two hostages. In a plot contrivance too tiresome to explain, the captives happen to be Kurupt’s girlfriend and the daughter of another prisoner (more non-acting talent in the shape of wrestler-turned-thespian Bill Goldberg). Thrown together by circumstance, the two prisoners team up to rescue their loved ones.

Bill Goldberg getting 'dangerous'
This setup isn’t without potential. With Kurupt playing a cocky, motor-mouthed street punk and Goldberg as a taciturn, lumbering hulk who just wants to peacefully serve out his time, you have the makings of a classic mis-matched double act. (See Murphy and Nolte in 48 Hours, or Gibson and Glover in Lethal Weapon.)

Sadly, the fractious relationship that should power the movie emerges as a giant damp squib. While Kurupt holds up his end of the equation, injecting livewire sass into proceedings, the hapless Goldberg – despite his gigantic frame and shaven head – wanders through the film with an air of genial befuddlement, exuding all the danger of a giant teddy bear.

Equally limp are the fight scenes that punctuate the film. With veteran stunt co-ordinator Art Camacho handling directorial duties, one would have hoped for an A&E-tastic parade of neck-snapping, bone-crunching brawling.

What you get is a bunch of extras standing around waiting for their designated extra partner to throw an unconvincing looking punch at them. You’d likely see better – and, crucially, faster – blows delivered at a sherry-fuelled pensioner brawl down the bingo hall.

The overall effect is depressing – and the absence of any inspiration or spark makes watching this prison movie feel curiously like a 92-minute sentence of hard time. They say capital punishment is inhuman but, given the alternative of sitting through this drudgery again, I’d take the electric chair in a second.

Given the paucity of thrills elsewhere in the film, it’s no surprise to learn the exploding helicopter scene is a similarly dispiriting affair.

It occurs during an expository scene where, in an effort to get viewers up to speed with the plot, we see snippets from Half Past Dead. Readers with good memories will recall that the original film ended with an exploding helicopter and it’s this rotor-bladed conflagration we witness in flashback.

There’s only a brief shot of the chopper before the bomb on board explodes destroying the aircraft.

Artistic merit

This is a tough one to review. On the one hand I enjoyed the chopper fireball in Half Past Dead. It’s a good explosion and the wreckage races dramatically towards the camera, so why couldn't I just enjoy it again?

I guess it's because for a movie enthusiast the whole scene feels like being palmed off with mouldy offerings from the reduced section after having paid for something box-fresh.

As Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten famously observed: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Exploding helicopter innovation

If your cup is half full, you’d say this was the first time a chopper fireball sequence from one film has guest starred in a sequel.

If your cup is half empty, you’d say this was the diametric opposite of innovation. ‘Unnovation’, if you like.


Robert LaSardo adds a touch of class to proceedings
Among the prisoners, it’s a joy to see perennial cinematic jailbird Robert LaSardo, whose weasel-faced and heavily tattooed body you’ll doubtless recognise from umpteen films.

He only has a few scenes, but LaSardo is such a charismatic presence he immediately injects much needed drama into proceedings.

His distinctive appearance inevitably means he’s spent a full career playing crooks, gang members or prisoners. But what I like about his style is that he can be genuinely menacing or, if needed, bring a brittle kind of vulnerability to his characters. It’s this versatility which makes him more interesting than the majority of character actor heavies.


Rarely have I seen a film take place in such stygian gloom. Whole sections of the film take place in virtual darkness. The effect is not so much film noir as film opaque. Still given the quality of what I could actually make out on the screen, this may not have been entirely a bad thing.

Interesting fact

No one has, as yet, made Half Past Dead 3. We should be grateful for small mercies.

Review by: Jafo

Friday 20 September 2013

Annihilation Earth

I like to think I’m an intelligent man. Nothing special you understand, but I can tackle a Sudoku and dent the cryptic crossword.

It also means I can follow most films. Sure, I might not understand every last nuance or layer of subtext, but I can generally follow the broad sweep of plot and theme.

Or at least, that’s what I thought. But after watching Annihilation Earth (2009), I’d absolutely not a scoobie what was going on.

Normally, I wouldn’t even bother to try and make sense of such a mangled cinematic experience. However, my obligations as a reviewer for a micro-genre film blog require me to at least attempt a brief synopsis. So here goes….

In the near future, the world’s energy crisis is about to be solved. A global network of Hadron Colliders are about to come online to provide the planet with all the clean energy it could ever need.

Happily, though, this is a disaster movie and not a promo video for the environmental movement. So predictably, there’s a fly or two in the ointment.

First, there’s the regulation-issue shady politician (Marina Sirtis) leading a high-level conspiracy to stop the technology being shared. And –  try not to fall off your chair from shock – but would you believe there’s also  a terrorist who’s hell-bent on blowing up the super-colliders? The film never  troubles itself to cast any light on the motivations of these shadowy characters, leaving the viewer clueless as to why anything is happening.

At first, I was going to quibble this point but, given how buttock-clenchingly poor the motivations of most movie villains are (remember the goon in Olympus Has Fallen who cited ‘Globalisation. Wall Street.’ as the trigger points for his traitorous actions?) that a dignified silence might well be the best option.

After the terrorist blows up one of the colliders, the whole power-generating network becomes dangerously unstable, threatening to destroy the entire world. Only a top scientist, played by Luke Goss – the distressed Levis-wearing, Grolsch bottle top-bothering former singer from Eighties pop moppets Bros – can stop the annihilation of the earth.

Goss and his team don protective suits to shield
themselves from the fallout from of a dire script
Now, if this sounds straightforward, it’s only because I’ve left out the guff where the Earth’s magnetic poles switch, earthquakes shake cities to the ground, and everyone faces the prospect of disappearing into the void when a black hole forms. Oh, and that’s not to mention the ‘doomsday equation’: some sort of mathematical flaw in the colliders that means oblivion was inevitable from the moment the damn things were turned on.

The effect of all this woeful incoherence is to leave the viewer caring not so much whether the world will end, but simply when the film will.

Perhaps embarrassed by its failure to make any sense, the film hastily gets on with the main disaster movie business of blowing stuff up – which entertainingly includes half of France. (Hollywood’s long-standing grudge against the cheese-eating surrender monkeys is a gift that keeps on giving).

Inevitably, amid such widespread destruction, the film-makers gamely throw in a chopper fireball to keep our flagging interests from waning.

The rotor-related mayhem occurs when Goss and a small team of scientists fly in to investigate the site where the first collider blew up. Conforming to disaster movie type, the helicopter develops a mechanical problem at the worst possible moment and plummets from the sky. Crashing to the ground where, it lies broken and smashed for a moment before exploding.

Artistic merit

The crash is decently staged. There are lots of shaky camera shots from within the helicopter as the pilot battles for control.

The explosion though, is a dull CGI affair. It makes me wonder if, like the pre-programmed rhythm settings on a cheap keyboard, there’s a default ‘explosion’ setting that comes with all CGI software. If so (and straining the analogy to its breaking point), this conflagration had a definite ‘bossanova’ feel to it – cheesy and predictable.

Exploding helicopter innovation

I’ve wracked my brains and genuinely can’t come up with anything. Not a bean.

Do passengers survive?

Naturally, main guy Goss and his team of scientists manage to scramble from the chopper’s wreckage and survive. But oh no! The pilot’s trapped in the cockpit.

With the helicopter about to explode, Goss tries to free the unfortunate aviator. However, realising that the chopper is only seconds away from fiery oblivion the pilot nods wordlessly at Goss, giving permission to abandon the rescue effort and save himself.

It’s meant to be a moving moment of self-sacrifice, but plays more like the actor simply lost all enthusiasm for being associated with Annihilation Earth any longer. I know exactly how he feels.


If the thought of a former boy-band lip-synch specialist as one of the world’s top scientists seems unlikely enough, the rest of Luke Goss’ scientific team is made up of silicone and collagen-enhanced dolly birds.

Still, science must be exhausting work. In no time at all, our lady professors are stripping down to their vests for no discernible reason. Cue much cleavage-focussed camera activity.

Later when one of the bimbos dies, she makes her final wheezing breaths look and sound suspiciously like an orgasm – which, in retrospect, may offer a clue as to the nature of her previous cinematic outings.


Curiously, in this American made-for-TV production, all the leads are British. Perhaps wisely, given he often struggled to convincingly lip-synch songs with only two lines in them, Goss is permitted to retain his standard Cock-er-nee accent. Colin Salmon, on the other hand, tries to disguise the clipped diction of his RADA-trained baritone with an accent that can only be described as ‘generic American’. By someone who’s plainly British.

Meanwhile, Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation) appears to be aiming for a Southern Belle twang. Unsurprisingly though, it keeps chaotically switching on and off, as if someone behind her was twiddling a giant knob and desperately trying to find the correct vocal setting. Edifying, it is not.

Favourite quote

In a film where the script is made up entirely of deathless dialogue, no line epitomises the profound lack of danger or excitement better than: “David - we have to get back to Geneva.”

Interesting fact

In his Eighties pop heyday, Luke Goss once sang: ‘When Will I Be Famous?’ Not any time soon, if this piece of prime cinematic merde has anything to do with it.

Review by: Jafo

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Arctic Predator

It would be very easy to confuse Arctic Predator (2010) with The Thing, but be assured they are very different films. While one’s about a shape-shifting creature that’s defrosted by scientists in the arctic, the other is about scientists who accidentally defrost a shape-shifting…. oh, never mind.

Make no mistake though, there are notable and crucial differences between the two films. For example, one film’s called Arctic Predator and the other is titled The Thing. It’s possible there may even be other differences but, overcome with a sense of déjà vu, you’ll probably find them hard to spot.

In Kurt Russell’s role, we now have former TV Superman actor Dean Cain, whose career seemingly went up, up and away at some point in the early Noughties. He’s leading a mission to find the wreck of an old sailing ship, which mysteriously sank in the Arctic nearly 200 years ago.

Inevitably, when they find and defrost the vessel they also thaw out the titular Arctic Predator. As the newly unleashed creature starts killing off the small team one-by-one, Cain must stop the monster before everyone is put permanently on ice.

So far, so similar, you might think. However, it would be unfair to accuse this film of doing a straight rip-off of The Thing, if only because it would appear that plundering just one suspense classic wasn’t quite enough for the movie’s ‘creative’ team.

How so? Well, just as you’re getting used to watching a flaccid re-run of Kurt Russell’s classic, up pops the homicidal ice monster – which looks uncannily like yon dreadlocked Predator chappie who gave Arnold Schwarzenegger so much trouble all those years ago.

In essence, you’re watching the movie equivalent of a ‘ringer’ car – a wonky, barely-operating whole made up from distended bits of other blockbuster vehicles.

Dean Cain and definitely not Kurt Russell
Although largely bankrupt in terms of ideas and budget (just get a load of that Atari-level CGI), the film’s penurious approach does promote a strange strain of originality.

So, when they need a device to carefully defrost the delicate, centuries old artefacts from the sunken ship, a heat gun – yes, the standard type generally used for stripping paint – is pressed into service as if it were a sophisticated piece of scientific equipment.

There’s also a glorious scene where, after an impromptu amputation, someone cauterises the gaping wound using an iron. Yes, an iron. (Apparently, you can find the ‘wound-cauterising’ setting just between nylon and cotton steam.

Sadly, such moments of low-fi inspiration don’t stretch to the helicopter explosion which is the dictionary definition of routine.

Looking to escape the arctic base one of the team flies out in a helicopter during a violent storm. As he’s about to take off, the pilot is stabbed by our icy hunter but still manages to fly the chopper a short distance away from the facility. Alas, all too quickly he succumbs to his injuries so the whirlybird crashes to the ground and explodes.

Artistic merit

Risible. The ‘explosion’ is a yellowy CGI smear that the director chooses wisely not to linger over.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None. We’ve already seen helicopters explode in the Arctic. Funnily enough, in The Thing.


Amid a veritable tsunami of rank cliché and banal rip-off, there is actually one genuinely good idea fighting to be noticed. It turns out the sailing ship that Cain searches for was captained by his distant relative, so there is a nice story arc about his life paralleling that of his forefather.

To avoid plot spoilers I won‘t go into specifics, but this idea goes off in a potentially interesting and dark direction at the end.


As a veteran viewer of low-budget, made for cable productions, I’m well used to hearing actors deliver execrable dialogue – but the Arctic Predator script is a whole new kind of bad. In fact, it’s not so much bad as just plain wrong. Let’s look at the prosecution’s ‘Exhibit A’, which occurs when the crew eventually realise they’re facing a homicidal ice monster.

“We got ourselves a situation here.”

[With panicked expression] “I’d say ‘situation’ underlines it.”

For pity’s sake. It doesn’t ‘underline’ anything; it ‘understates’ the situation. Shakespeare, this ain’t.

Favourite quote

There’s a glorious lack of empathy in this brief exchange:

“Where’s the doc?”

“He sacrificed himself.”

[Immediately] “Did his plan work?”

The concern for the poor, departed doc is touching.

Favourite helicopter-related quote

“Make no mistake, we’re flying out of here on this chopper.” (Unfortunately, as action movie genre rules state, the inverse of any emphatic statement given by a minor character must turn out to be true.)

Interesting fact

Having grumbled through this review about how Arctic Predator is a rip-off of The Thing, it’s only fair to acknowledge that John Carpenter was also reinventing an earlier film, The Thing From Another World (1951).

However, whereas Carpenter was clearly producing a remake and bringing his own ideas to the film, Arctic Predator settles for nothing more than lazy plagiarism.

Review by: Jafo