Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cult Movie Trash: Special "Bad Boyz in Bratislava" Edition: URBAN MENACE (1999), CORRUPT (1999), THE WRECKING CREW (2000)

There are times when a story is so monumental that it takes a trilogy to tell it.  THE GODFATHER.  The original STAR WARS saga.  LORD OF THE RINGS.  Kieslowski's THREE COLORS.  To that, we must add Albert Pyun's landmark "Gangstas Wandering Around In An Abandoned Warehouse" trilogy (© The AV Club's Nathan Rabin), an epic achievement in the late '90s rapsploitation DTV explosion wherein Pyun somehow managed to get three films, all exhibiting the production values of a homemade sex tape, out of a three week trip to a decrepit, abandoned factory in Bratislava, Slovakia.  According to the occasionally reliable Pyun, who actually had a real career at one point (he directed THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER), Air France lost half of the footage on the trip back to the States.  But Pyun and producer/star Ice-T perservered, and cobbled together three of the most astonishingly inept, incomprehensible, unwatchable excuses for cinema that the world has ever witnessed.

These reviews originally appeared in slightly different form on the Mobius Home Video Forum in March 2011.

(US - 1999)

The trilogy kicks off with a horror film, where a bunch of Bronx thugs find themselves pursued--through an abandoned warehouse--by the vengeful ghost of Preacher Caleb (Snoop Dogg), who was killed along with his family in a fire started by gang warfare. As the Preacher (as he's ultimately called, even though the opening crawl mentions that he was merely a janitor, though at one point, he's referred to as an alderman) knocks off the gangstas one by one as they wander around the abandoned building, it becomes clear that his true target is crime boss Crow (Big Punisher, who died shortly after this hit video). Meanwhile, snitch King (T.J. Storm) is working with the cops against Crow and his top henchman Terror (Fat Joe) to secure a better life for his family.

URBAN MENACE is nightmarishly bad in every way. Visually, the film is nauseating, as Pyun uses a bunch of garish filters for a washed-out look that is simply unviewable. You can't even see people's faces most of the time. It's just a blurry white. Secondly, Snoop Dogg isn't in this nearly as much as his obvious stunt double is, and when Pyun needs a closeup, he repeatedly resorts to the same shot of a scowling Snoop. But the biggest--no "pun" intended--offender here is the acting of Big Pun, who turns in a "performance"--and I use the term loosely--that defies all description and comprehension. He's wheezing, mumbling, and making zero effort to hide that he's reading cue cards, and I'm actually not entirely convinced that he knew how to read. Not to speak ill of the dead, but man...Big Pun is unspeakably bad here. There's numerous pauses as he either a) tries to figure out what the next word is, or b) has to take a breath. You have to see it to believe it. It's a legit contender for the worst performance in the history of the moving image. Fat Joe is also reading cue cards, but he's at least a little more stealthy about it. It's also painfully obvious that neither Big Pun nor Fat Joe are even performing with the other actors thanks to some hilariously inept editing. Third-billed Ice-T introduces the film and functions as narrator. Also with future 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN co-star Romany Malco, shame of the Hudson family Ernie Hudson, Jr., Karen Dyer, Tahitia, Jahi J.J. Zuri, Rob Ladesich, and Vince Klyn from Pyun's CYBORG, back in another lifetime when Pyun made real movies. Almost all of these supporting actors turn up in the next two films. Storm went on to play the ridiculous Irish-Rastafarian gangster Maginty in PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. The best that can be said about URBAN MENACE is that it's only 72 minutes long, and about ten of that is credits. (R, 72 mins)

(US - 1999)

Ice-T takes a much bigger role here, as vicious crime lord Corrupt, who, in one of the funniest scenes ever, wipes out rival crime boss Yazu (Jahi J.J. Zuri) and his crew so he can take over. But he has to deal with ambitious gangsta MJ (Silkk the Shocker), who's threatening to undermine his authority. Plus, Corrupt wants MJ's older sister Jodi (Karen Dyer), who's dating Miles (Ernie Hudson, Jr.). Most of the action takes place at the diner Jodi runs. Well, I think it's a diner. It looks like a prop counter set up in front of a janitor's closet, and the only food items visible are half-gallon containers of Tropicana orange juice, a Coke dispenser, several bottles of ketchup, a single hanging bag of Chi-Chi's tortilla chips, and a big styrofoam cup full of straws. People come in and order pizza, chili dogs, falafel, and burgers, but there's no visible food prep/kitchen area. Amazing.

Corrupt promises to leave MJ alone if Jodi will let him hit dat azz, which angers Miles, which, of course, leads to a wild, continuity-be-damned shootout at, you guessed it, the abandoned warehouse. At the very least, this actually looks normal, minus the filters and all the goofy processing Pyun utilized on URBAN MENACE. It still looks like it was shot on a cell phone, but let's take what we can get. The actors are terrible, especially Ice-T, who can actually act. I swear you can see him laughing a couple times. Silkk the Shocker is awful, and obviously isn't in any of the locations at the same time as Ice-T, even when they're in the same scene together. It just looks like Pyun kept the supporting actors around and let the big ballers come in when they wanted. Pyun commits perhaps his most merciful act by having the closing credits start at the 59-minute mark. CORRUPT's running time: 66 minutes. Also with T.J. Storm as Corrupt's eye-patched flunky Cinque, Tahitia, Vince Klyn as "The Sayer," Romany Malco as an obnoxious diner customer, and Miss Jones, better known as Tarsha Nicole Jones, the former Hot 97 radio host who followed up her CORRUPT triumph with an insensitive parody song about the 2004 Asian tsunami. (R, 66 mins)

(US - 2000)

The trilogy reaches its thrilling conclusion with its most grandiose outing yet: a 75-minute epic with Ice-T as Menace, the leader of an elite squad of Detroit (still Bratislava) cops pitting rival gangs against one another. Second-billed Snoop Dogg is Dra-Man, a Chicago gang lord who is introduced via silent stock footage of a Snoop Dogg interview and a bunch of AP file photos of Snoop Dogg...then promptly exits the film after 20 seconds of stock footage from URBAN MENACE, most of which is his double. Two gangs, the Locs, led by Sly (David Askew, having the good luck to only be in one of these), and the 111's, led by Hakiem (the inevitable Ernie Hudson, Jr.), agree to a truce, which angers a third group, the Cartel, who corner the two gangs in...yes, an abandoned warehouse, as Menace's Wrecking Crew closes in to wipe them all out. There's actually some semblance of a coherent plot with THE WRECKING CREW, but it's ruined by Pyun's sloppiest filmmaking of the series: most of the dialogue is barely audible and largely unintelligible, and both of the major shootouts are stock footage of the climactic shootout from CORRUPT. That's right...Pyun plays the same shootout twice.  Three times if you count CORRUPT.  And there's a ten-minute stretch where Hakiem is doing nothing but frantically running from room to room, yelling, presumably for no reason other than to pad the running time. As the incoherence and foolishness reach a fever pitch, Pyun demonstrates his love for the hilarious fire effect in CORRUPT by repeating it in a similar, and equally hysterical, scene at the very end. Also with Vince Klyn, Miss Jones, Romany Malco, Rob Ladesich, and Jahi J.J. Zuri, turning in his finest work in the trilogy as Hakiem's twitchy top gun who repeatedly looks into the camera during the truce sequence.  (R, 75 mins)

1 comment:

  1. Urban Menace is a tough sit! Terrible movie...too scared to see the other ones. Haha. Also love your term Rapsploitation.