Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray, Special "Really? This Franchise Is Still A Thing?" Edition: SNIPER: LEGACY (2014) and CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO (2014)

(US - 2014)

That's right...they're still making SNIPER movies.  The original SNIPER, directed by Roger Corman graduate Luis Llosa, was a surprise sleeper hit in theaters when it was released in the January dead zone in 1993, a bygone era when a post-PLATOON and MAJOR LEAGUE Tom Berenger was still headlining major movies. Berenger's days on the A-list would come to end a few years later after duds like MAJOR LEAGUE II and CHASERS (both 1994), and though LAST OF THE DOGMEN (1995) didn't shake things up in theaters, it became a big word-of-mouth cult hit in video stores with a fan base that endures to this day. Berenger enjoyed one last theatrical hit with THE SUBSTITUTE (1996), but beyond that, he found himself in supporting roles in major movies like TRAINING DAY (2001) while becoming a popular fixture on video store shelves for the better part of the next decade. While the straight-to-video SUBSTITUTE sequels found Berenger replaced by Treat Williams, he reprised his role as ace military sniper Thomas Beckett in the straight-to-DVD SNIPER 2 (2002) and SNIPER 3 (2004). In 2011, the franchise was rebooted sans Berenger with SNIPER: RELOADED, which centered on Beckett's son Brandon (Chad Michael Collins), a master sniper like his old man, who was missing and presumed dead as original SNIPER co-star Billy Zane returned to function as young Beckett's mentor and bridge to the older films. After sitting out SNIPER: RELOADED, Berenger returns once more for the fifth entry in the series, the Bulgaria-lensed SNIPER: LEGACY, but if you're looking for a throwback to the first films, keep looking. While it's a bland and largely unspectacular actioner that gets occasional bursts of energy from a few lively firefight sequences, Berenger's contributions to the project are minimal. He's top-billed, of course, but he doesn't appear until around the 55-minute mark and only sporadically until the end. He's here for a quick paycheck and to rope in Redbox customers, as the focus is again on Collins as Sniper Jr.

Brandon Beckett is part of an elite unit based in Turkey, assigned to take out terrorist cells in Syria. He's informed by his superior officer Bidwell (Dominic Mafhan, who should just be called Slightly Sean Pertwee) that a rogue sniper named Simpson (Doug Allen) has had a breakdown and is killing everyone associated with a botched mission in Afghanistan from a decade earlier. These men include Bidwell and another high-ranking officer, Shope (Mark Lewis Jones as Roughly Ray Winstone), as well as their old ops commander, known simply as The Colonel (Dennis Haysbert). Another man on that 2004 mission was Beckett's father Thomas. The elder Beckett is presumed dead but in fact very much alive and reappears to help Sniper Jr. and company with their mission to take out the deranged Simpson. Berenger looks bored and couldn't have spent more than a few days working on this, and though his actions prominently figure into the climactic showdown between Brandon and Simpson, it's obvious that director Don Michael Paul (HALF PAST DEAD, LAKE PLACID: THE FINAL CHAPTER, and speaking of franchises somehow still being a thing, JARHEAD 2: FIELD OF FIRE) was forced to deal with shooting Berenger separately, as he's clearly not interacting with Collins and Allen in the final sequence (and you can't help but laugh at The Colonel later telling Brandon "You did most of the heavy lifting"). The script by Paul and late BLACK ROSES auteur John Fasano, who died in July 2014, offers nothing in the way of originality and can't avoid cliched dialogue like Bidwell telling Brandon "You're a sniper...this is what we do!" There's a few decent action sequences and the cinematography is impressive enough that it looks a lot more expensive than it really is, but for the most part, SNIPER: LEGACY is about as by-the-numbers as it gets. Collins is functional in the lead role, but nothing about him or his character will have you waiting with baited breath for the continuing adventures of Brandon Beckett: SNIPER JR. (R, 98 mins)

(US/Dominican Republic - 2014)

It's not exactly meant to be praise, but if nothing else, CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO is a definite improvement over Ti West's CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER (2010). Initially announced as a prequel, this stand-alone, in-name-only third entry in the Eli Roth-generated franchise doesn't have any holdover actors or characters, which must be a crushing disappointment to the Rider Strong and Giuseppe Andrews contingents. The big name here is Sean Astin in the title role as Porter, who's being held against his will at a secret government research complex on a deserted island off the coast of the Dominican Republic. He's immune to a potential pandemic that's being contained by untrustworthy Dr. Edwards (Currie Graham), who's more concerned with making a name for himself with a vaccine than he is with anyone's well-being. Meanwhile, a four-person bachelor party for groom Marcus (Mitch Ryan) has arrived at the island for a night of beer, weed, and revelry before he marries into a filthy rich family and turns his back on his longtime friends. Marcus' brother Josh (Brando Eaton) and his "just one of the guys" girlfriend Penny (Jillian Murray) go snorkeling and find all sorts of dead marine life and human body parts, many with most of the flesh eaten away. It isn't long before they're infected with a bacteria that starts eating away at their skin in typical CABIN FEVER fashion.

Directed by Marvel Comics artist-turned-B-horror filmmaker Kaare Andrews (ALTITUDE) and written by Jake Wade Wall, whose screenplay credits include the instantly forgotten remakes of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (2006) and THE HITCHER (2007), CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO is nonsensical garbage and the very definition of "it is what it is," but at least Andrews and Wall seem to recognize that it's garbage. The gore is plentiful, the makeup effects are old-school latexy and wet and the whole thing is frequently offensive, especially in what will probably go down as horror cinema's most traumatizing cunnilingus scene (Andrews also directed the "V is for Vagitus" segment of THE ABCs OF DEATH, so this region seems to be a recurring motif for him), and there's some unpredictable character development after an unpromising start. The bachelor party crew, which includes affable stoner Dobbs (Ryan Donowho) start out as general caricatures, but their roles shift over the course of the film in legitimately surprising ways: Dobbs, the laid-back voice of reason, becomes a frazzled and unreliable coward, while Marcus, initially an uptight, dweeby pain in the ass who can't wait to marry into wealth and leave his dumbass buddies behind, turns into the take-charge hero who holds things together and gets shit done.  But really, no one's watching CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO for complex shifts in character shading--they're watching to see a dudebro go down on his girlfriend and emerge with a bleeding face and chunks of detached, dissolving labia spilling out of his mouth.  On that front, I guess it delivers, so dive in if you're so inclined. (Unrated, 95 minutes, also streaming on Netflix Instant)

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