Wednesday, April 9, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray, Special "Purcellapalooza" Edition: IN THE NAME OF THE KING: THE LAST MISSION (2014) and VIKINGDOM: THE BLOOD ECLIPSE (2013)

(Canada/Germany/Pakistan - 2014)

When the hit series PRISON BREAK ended its run in 2009, co-star Dominic Purcell dove straight into movies and seemed to have what it takes to become a tough, chiseled big screen action guy.  The problem is that all of his starring vehicles are terrible.  He can be alright in supporting roles (the not-as-bad-as-everyone-says STRAW DOGS remake, KILLER ELITE, and the recent THE BAG MAN), but when he's left to carry a film, he seems to be going for the "man of few words" thing, but something in his line delivery and his body language makes him come off like a lumbering oaf. Regardless, the guy's phone apparently never stops ringing and he hasn't stopped working since PRISON BREAK wrapped up.  He starred in five films--almost all DTV--in 2013 and has already been in four this year, with another on the way.  I suppose it was inevitable that Purcell would get sucked into the orbit of Uwe Boll.  The director's latest, the in-name-only DTV sequel IN THE NAME OF THE KING: THE LAST MISSION ("Too intense for theaters!" the packaging boasts), the third entry in this improbable franchise (Purcell follows the first film's Jason Statham, and the second's Dolph Lundgren, neither of whom got along with Boll at all), is also the third pairing of Boll with his current favorite actor, after the deck-stacking histrionics of ASSAULT ON WALL STREET and the pointless remake of the Presidential assassination thriller SUDDENLY.  It's a partnership that's yielded nothing worthwhile, and while they may get along just fine, it likely exists simply because Purcell works cheap, and cheap is where Boll's at as he still adjusts to his post-German tax loophole world.

Purcell, knowing he's in another Boll joint and not trying any harder than he needs to, grunts his way through this ARMY OF DARKNESS/GAME OF THRONES ripoff as Hazen Kaine, a present-day American hitman working in Sofia for Bulgarian crime boss Avaylo (Marian Valev, who looks like Bulgarian Sean Bean).  Avaylo orders Kaine to kidnap the two daughters of the heir to the Bulgarian throne, and Kaine finds one of them possesses a strange medallion.  The medallion matches one of Kaine's tats. Yep...he's The Chosen One.  Cue the wormhole portal sucking Kaine back to medieval times as he aids two sisters, Arabella (Ralitsa Paskaleva) and Emeline (Daria Simeonova), and their uncle Tybalt (Nikolai Sotirov) in their battle against the tyrant Tervin (Valev, again) and his giant, flying, fire-breathing dragon.  Boredom ensues (watch Boll pad the running time by having Purcell make an espresso and drink it in real time!), both in terms of story and Purcell's performance, but the batshit Boll of old shines through in the last 15 minutes, when Kaine and the dragon get sucked back into the wormhole and dropped in present-day Sofia.  The dragon is chasing Kaine through the streets of Sofia as Kaine carjacks some Bulgarian guy, as if the dragon can't follow a car by flying over it ("Take a right!" Kaine tells the hapless driver.  "Lose it!"  IT'S A FLYING DRAGON!  IT CAN STILL SEE YOU!).  Realizing the error of his ways, Kaine, who's somehow eluded the dragon,  releases the two kidnapped girls he's kept in a shipping container, while the dragon, now apparently a good guy, shows up and carries away one of Avaylo's flunkies.  Kaine kills Avaylo and takes the girls back to their father, who's OK with the fact that, even though Kaine returned them unharmed, they wouldn't have been missing in the first place had Kaine not abducted them, and lets him go ("Thanks...appreciate it," Purcell mumbles).  As Kaine ambles away, the dragon can be seen taking a leisurely flight through the skies over Sofia.  Nope, no worries.  Everything's fine. Nobody's taking cover. There's no police or emergency personnel anywhere. Everyone's just back to their business, disregarding that a fire-breathing dragon just appeared out of nowhere and destroyed half the city and is now apparently a permanent resident of Sofia, but hey, just let it fly around and do its thing, it won't bother anyone. (R, 86 mins)

(Malaysia/US - 2013)

Purcell also stars in this "300 Meets THOR in Middle-Earth" would-be epic that was shot in 3D by Malaysia's KRU Studios, founded by three Halim brothers who, since 1992, also comprise that country's leading chart-topping pop group KRU when they aren't being movie moguls. Boasting embarrassingly primitive CGI and the same quality of greenscreen backdrops usually favored by local TV meteorologists, VIKINGDOM: THE BLOOD ECLIPSE was supposed to be KRU's big splash in the US (CLASH OF EMPIRES went straight to DVD in 2011), but it only made it to a few screens and VOD, and even that's a stretch considering how shoddy it looks.  The visual effects, including some tame CGI splatter, aren't even on the level of a typical Asylum title, though in a few scenes, the sets have that cheap-but-charming quality that brings to mind early '80s Roger Corman productions like THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS or DEATHSTALKER.  But still, that's probably not what director/set designer/visual effects supervisor Yusry A. Halim (or, "Yusry KRU" in his teen idol years) was going for with a budget equaling $15 million US. Sure, that's not big bucks by today's standards, but for that amount, one should be able to say something more positive than "some of the sets come close to looking like a 30-year-old Roger Corman production."  The incoherent plot has Viking leader Eirick (Purcell) killed in battle and resurrected by the ghost of his dead betrothed Freya (Tegan Moss) in order to take on an evil Thor (Conan Stevens), who's plotting some scheme to gather ancient relics for the apocalyptic "Blood Eclipse."  Eirick assembles a crew of warriors, including Sven (Craig Fairbrass) and Brynna (Natassia Linn Malthe), as well as martial arts expert Yang (Jon Foo, from the ill-fated TEKKEN movie) to battle the forces of Thor, which includes a papier-mache dragon that looks like a rejected prop from a high school drama club production of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG.

The action scenes try to copy both the speed-ramping of 300 and the choreography of wuxia, but Halim doesn't quite pull it off, and while he might be going for that graphic novel artifice in the visuals, it ends up looking like a laughably cheap, dated ripoff.  If this film and IN THE NAME OF THE KING: THE LAST MISSION show us anything, it's that Dominic Purcell doesn't get your movie into theaters--he gets it a spot on a Wal-Mart DVD department planogram. Halim should've known he wasn't going to find success in the US market when his lead is Uwe Boll's go-to guy (Malthe and Fairbrass have also logged time with Dr. Boll), but even Boll's movies look better than this.  VIKINGDOM's cheapness--the wigs look like mop heads, and Thor's hammer appears to be a block of silver-spray-painted packing styrofoam stuck on a broom handle-- might've had some B-movie charm if Purcell wasn't once again sleepwalking his way through the whole thing.  This is easily the narcoleptic thespian's worst performance yet.  He speaks in a monotone that doesn't even mask his utter boredom with the project, and with his often halting and hesitant moves in the battle scenes, he looks like someone who's nursing a recent back injury.  He frequently looks confused and irritable, not even hiding that he's just in this for the free Kuala Lumpur vacation. VIKINGDOM does little other than establish Halim as the Uwe Boll of Southeast Asia, getting stilted performances from his cast of C-listers, and his staging of the action scenes is awful: it's obvious he's got about 25 extras that he unsuccessfully tries to make look like an army. Old-school directors back in the day knew how to pull that off. (Unrated, 115 mins)

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