Join The Grumps as we bring you a selection of what’s new and now in the Action genre. Strap in for Round-house Round-Up!
THE TAKEDOWN (2022) [NEW ON NETFLIX]
Director Louis Leterrier came up at the tail-end of the French “du look” era of filmmaking with actioners like the first two Transporter films that made Jason Statham the action star he is, and the gold standard Unleashed starring the inimitable Jet Li. He’d go on to direct tentpole genre films for the likes of Marvel and Warner Brothers. And the further he’d push his career, the less du look his films would appear; after all, what use would a sleek modern aesthetic be in Clash of The Titans? So Netflix’s The Takedown comes along as a kind of return to form ~ and a decade after the previous film in this series, On the Other Side of the Tracks. This is a slick, playful buddy cop flick that has plenty of action scenes and social commentary to boot. And while its leads are fine with performing the material, the plot is often sidelined in favor of forced petty bickering between the two cops.
Laurent Lafitte returns as the libertine detective who in this outing seems to be little more than a Trojan horse character by which to deliver the message that being an outdated selfish sexist and possibly racist jerk isn’t cool (duh, it isn’t). Omar Sy returns as Laffite’s now superior, albeit somewhat loose cannon, partner who espouses upon the how’s and why’s this or that is racist, etc…all of which seems to be a bit of hand-holding for the audience. Here they team up to thwart a far-right terrorist plot, and in some ways succeed and in some fail.
This territory of Good Cops vs Corrupt Cops and/or far-right extremists is not new and has been handled much better (see: Dead Bang or even Lethal Weapon 2 for an American take on the topic. Or another French du look style thriller Crimson Rivers in which Vincent Cassell MMA’s a bunch of neo-nazis during routine questioning. Or yet another du look-informed film Kiss of the Dragon, which pits Jet Li against an entire corrupt police force). The point is, here, it all seems so forced. In fact, the crux of the original outing was class warfare, though it too did touch on some of the race/immigrant issues going on in France at the time. This outing seems more concerned with grievance studies as cribbed from talking points on Twitter.
As for the action and aesthetic, there are some positive and some comme ci comme ça. On the plus: the color of the film is unique in that it’s brightly lit and vibrant, still neon but not exactly neo-noir. While there’s impressive drone footage used in a go-cart chase sequence, much of the fight sequences aren’t nearly as impressive as Leterrier’s Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog). There seems to be a compromise between sleek and gritty when presenting the fight scenes, often favoring clunky handheld camerawork that obscures the action.
As a light diversion, sure, give this a shot. It’s a pretty film. Its leads perform the material well enough. But it’s a far cry from Leterrier’s earlier, more hungry films. And for a current-day action film, there’s even some sex/nudity sprinkled throughout, if that matters at all.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022) [NEW IN THEATERS]
The strategy to release this movie on Memorial Day weekend does in itself comment on how we Americans continually choose to subject ourselves to certain blatantly patriotic consumptions, but in a less heavy reading, Memorial Day has always been the “unofficial” start of summer. So to kick off the summer blockbuster season with such a bang is a real treat. There’s really no other way to describe Top Gun: Maverick than to use the “thrill ride” cliche; it’s entirely engaging to see Tom Cruise bring this character back to life in such an endearing way, and give purpose and meaning to his life of exploits. Top Gun (1986) is Goose’s movie at its heart, and to see how the friendship between him and Maverick, and the tragedy engulfed in it, plays out decades later brings just the right amount of hope and closure. Plus, there’s kewl airplane fights and hot babes playing football on the beach! SUMMMMERRRRR!!!
THE SADNESS (2021) [NEW ON SHUDDER]
On title alone, I pictured a horror origin story focusing on what terribly unprocessed trauma specifically lead to the horse’s death in The Never Ending Story, or, at least, a rife with symbolism examination of how grief can become viral. But thank goodness this movie is neither. Instead, we have a hyper-violent, hyper-gory, hyper-disturbing film out of Taiwan written and directed by a Canadian (Rob Jabbaz). Are your eyebrows raised? They should be. This film is incredible: gloriously visceral, fast-paced, sarcastic, emotionally vexing, and downright sinister — and, even though it is about a virus, somehow pulls away from being too “on the nose” of our current plague times. It is body horror chaos, sealing the deal with never-ending blood, guts, semen, and sweat. What could be a more pure viewing on a hot summer night?
ZONE TROOPERS (1985) [NEW BLU-RAY EDITION FROM 88 FILMS]
This light action sci-fi comedy might be the most wholesome thing to ever have come from Empire Pictures. An alien ship crashes onto Earth in the middle of World War II, leaving a troop of American soldiers stationed in Italy to figure out how to rescue a mostly ambivalent, somewhat cuddly female alien from Nazi capture (and save their own skins, too). The main protagonist, who’s waaaay into comic books and sci-fi mags, possesses a “gee-whiz” quality that’s just a couple of notches away from annoying but played how it is, lends pulpy Americana credence to the story. Another character decks Hitler in the face. Not sure what else we need, really.
INTERCEPTOR (2022) [NEW ON NETFLIX]
How does the action genre show it respects women in 2022? By lazily reproducing a late ’90s straight-to-video action aesthetic in a treatment that gives the heroine a past in which she is a victim, and shows how tough she is by bestowing her with rage. Theoretically, that’s okay, but I am never a fan of female characters whose strength comes from traits that are typically male. Our military superwoman here is hardened and humorless, and lacking most kinds of charm. The screenwriters do attempt nuance in that, though, by adding in some dimestore vulnerability, but even then, that only amounts to our strong female lead being boiled down to a “Daddy’s girl.” Tonally all this is kind of weird, as it seems the movie can’t decide whether we should pity her for her trauma or not. It’s a sort of algorithmic take on screenwriting that pulls from keywords and more or less guesses what we want to see, which ends up as some kind of passive wish-fulfillment exercise, right down to writing in a female POTUS.
Oh, should I say what Interceptor is about? Something about shooting Russian nuclear missiles down over the ocean before they hit the mainland USA. Something about some nihilistic domestic terrorist plot; I honestly don’t know, and I tried watching this movie twice. The first time I fell asleep, and the second I lost interest by the third act — even with the gimmicky Chris Hemsworth cameo. Sure Elsa Pataky is a formidable fighter and is totally capable of some admittedly great stuntwork, but that’s just not enough to keep this one afloat.
From Brian Miller:
Expect No Mercy (1995) [Reissued on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome
This is perhaps the height of DTV ’90s action with heavy cyberspace themes, even giving Hologram Man a run for its money. Released on the heels of Billy Blanks’ instant stardom via his Tae Bo workouts, the budget here is lavish compared to his previous martial arts films, and the entire thing is just drenched in colorfully tacky green screen depictions of entering into a computer. The stylish aesthetics compliment the goofy and somewhat incomprehensible storyline perfectly. Billy Blanks shows what a star he is as well, with standing ovation-inspiring dialogue that mocks losers who prefer computers over real life. This is a true crowd-pleaser.
Miami Connection (1987) [Reissued on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome]
Lost films are such a treat that something middling could easily get a pass just for the excitement of the experience. So, Miami Connection being outstanding only raises the question of how this cruel world let it be unseen for so long. Of course, the rediscovery of this film happened years back with the initial Blu-Ray release by Drafthouse, but the new Vinegar Syndrome scan will only help get the film an even larger, well-deserved audience. Far more than just a martial arts film, it has a close resemblance in form to the literary classic Moby Dick, presenting itself as an almanac of the ’80s American dojo experience. While the narrative glues this film together, it is used as a placeholder for putting the dojo’s band on display with full performances of their original rock songs and moments of actual martial arts educational exhibition.
Games of Survival (1989) [Reissued on Blu-Ray by Culture Shock]
Every single scene in Games of Survival is beautiful unto itself, with gaudy Mad Max-inspired punk outfits, lackluster fights, and knucklehead scripting. Sequenced back to back, these incredible moments add up to nothing and create a drone effect that is tough to sit through. In the end, this is perfect wallpaper as a backdrop on mute at your next drunken party. Everyone who glimpses a few minutes and then walks away will ask what this cool-looking movie is and get excited about seeing it later. Aren’t they in for a surprise? Recommended. Sort of.
Cloak & Dagger (1984) [Reissued on Blu-Ray by Vinegar Syndrome]
Hey, kids need violence too. And with Cloak and Dagger, they get it — plus, are subjected to plenty of parental abuse. Yes, this film was made for children and has an appropriate tone for such, but it just isn’t the way of things anymore to see kids shooting guns, murdering, and getting shot back at in movies. Too bad, the world was a better place for it. Maybe if films and TV weren’t so cowardly these days, we’d have less violence towards children IRL. Probably not, but as horrible as the tragedy of school shootings are, it really isn’t an excuse for embracing “Mothers Against” style anti-art Congress testimony. How did this kids’ movie review get political so fast? Oh well.
From Spencer Seams:
VIKRAM (2022) [NEW IN THEATERS]
I’ve been obsessed with Indian action since last December so I am biased. I love and adore every aspect of every excessive detail. This is the maximalist cinema I crave. Before I get further, I need to clarify something, Bollywood refers to the Hindi movie industry and the other major languages have their own stars and systems. The recent Kollywood (Tamil language cinema) Vikram from Lokesh Kanagaraj follows all formulaic tropes that come with the territory. That said, it is not a bad thing. That’s what any genre boils down to.
Vikram is an epic melodrama following a shady black-ops agent, Amar, tracking a serial killer among a wider arching plot that expands into a colossal-feeling but ultimately, personal beef taken to a chaotic extreme. You get missing drugs, corrupt authority, family trauma, and secret operations. This barely gets into the meat of the story but that’s all you need without spoiling the post-intermission half. Instead, I’ll just jump into why this movie rules. It starts with an infectiously fun song, “Pathala Pathala” (in the Tamil version, the one I saw in a theater) showcasing local lowlife Karnan. Ever since his son was killed, Karnan’s fallen into total disarray – drugs, alcohol, sex, and even worse…golf. This is the only traditional musical number; music is integral but gets handled more subtly afterward. This primes you for the excess to come. Shortly after, the pulsing beats of the main theme (also called “Vikram”) blast on the screen. The audience exploded in wolf whistles, thirsty woos, and applause at every instance of this, amplifying everything and elevating the film at every point.
The connections between missing drugs, black-ops operation, and Karnan escalates into an emotional crescendo of passionate catharsis. That catharsis includes creative and satisfying action. The reason that everything flows and meshes so well is simple emotion. As bombastic and silly as the spectacle gets, you can feel the emotion and that elevates the stylistic flourishes making it more effective. Vikram understands that for the action to be memorable it needs to match the character and it always does. This is apt with the home invasion sequence – it’s creative, heartfelt, and funny. Every action sequence is top-notch and equally memorable for different reasons – story, character, violence. As “samey” as action can be at times, they are acutely great at variety within their style.
Vikram’s a good primer for modern Indian action and feels like it’s aimed at an international audience. The stark lack of songs compared to other recent films, Fast & The Furious/James Gunn style sensibility (that’s both more grounded and even more ramped up at the same time), and a lessened presence of propaganda make this an easier gateway. If you’re a fan of Indian action or new to it, Vikram is a great addition to the recent scene. I saw it in theatres but it should pop up streaming soon in due time.
From Justin Harlan:
SHARK BAIT (2022) [NEW TO VIDEO ON DEMAND]
My wife and I have a real love for shark films. All types of them, in fact. The classics, like Jaws, are always welcome, of course. Strong modern shark movies like 47 Meters Down are a blast, too. But, even the “shitty shark movie” subgenre – as I like to call it – tends to deliver big fun in our household, with favorites like Ghost Shark and Santa Jaws. So, whenever a new shark flick is ready to drop, we scurry to see it, whether at home or in theaters.
Shark Bait, released in May, was the latest to cross our path and we dove right in despite less than stellar reviews all over the movie sites and Letterboxd. And, while it’s not a world-beater in the aquatic action world nor a laugh-out-loud shitty shark flick, it’s a pretty damn enjoyable time.
It starts with a group of friends on jetskis and ends in bloody carnage. Showboating on jetskis, interpersonal conflict, and bloodthirsty sharks abound. For me, this recipe works quite well, despite poor CGI in some sequences and some moments of questionable acting. There are some fantastic sequences and some less than fantastic ones, but the movie is a genuinely good time. With a few surprisingly gory effects and a couple of solid jump scares, the down points are certainly forgivable.
I do, however, suspect my enjoyment hinges greatly on the fact that I love shark movies. If you aren’t big on this particular action subgenre, it’s probably not for you… but if you find shark movies a worthwhile way to spend a few hours, you could do far worse than Shark Bait.
Can’t get enough Action? Take a look at the last edition of Round-house Round-Up for more!