Friday, June 9, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: KILL 'EM ALL (2017) and ENTER THE WARRIORS GATE (2016)

(US - 2017)

Jean-Claude Van Damme's DTV action films have historically been a cut above most of their ilk, but he stumbles badly with the arguably career-worst KILL 'EM ALL, a dull and uninspired Biloxi, MS-shot waste of time that sees fit to shamelessly rip off THE USUAL SUSPECTS two decades after the fact. KILL 'EM ALL jumps back and forth in time over the course of one day, opening with the aftermath of a massacre at a soon-to-be-closed hospital that's abandoned except for the emergency room. Nurse Suzanne (Autumn Reeser) is being questioned by FBI agents Holman (a ludicrously miscast Peter Stormare, looking like an aging rock band's tour manager) and Sanders (Maria Conchita Alonso) about Philip (JCVD), the mysterious stranger who took on a crew of hired killers and kept her safe during the hospital siege before vanishing. The agents, especially Holman, are skeptical about Suzanne's story and seem convinced that she's withholding details. In a brief detour that borrows a lot from EASTERN PROMISES, it turns out Philip infiltrated the Serbian "Black Hand," a crime outfit that rose from the ashes of the former Yugoslavia, and led by war criminal Dmitri Petrovic (Eddie Matthews), the man who assassinated Philip's activist father in front of young Philip 35 years ago (among other implausibilities, we're asked to believe that craggy-faced, 56-year-old JCVD is playing someone who was a little kid in the 1980s). A shootout starts at a nearby hotel and ends up at the hospital, where each of Petrovic's goons, including Radovan (Daniel Bernhardt, looking like a DTV Jon Hamm), Dusan (the mandatory bone thrown to JCVD's son Kristopher Van Varenberg, who's finally cut the shit and just decided to go by "Kris Van Damme"), and Almira (Mila Kali) not only get introductory captions but also momentum-and-time-killling flashbacks showing how lethal they are. Battling a knife wound and a concussion, Philip takes on each of them in the abandoned hospital as he fights to keep himself and Suzanne alive.

JCVD has maybe the fewest lines he's ever had in a movie, and while he has several fight scenes here, he looks tired and seems like he's going through the motions. First-time director Peter Malota, a veteran stuntman and fight coordinator who's regularly worked with JCVD going back to 1991's DOUBLE IMPACT, relies on dizzying quick edits that render every brawl a tiresome blur. A lot of is certainly used to cover the understandable fact that the aging JCVD isn't as agile as he once was, but he's at least showing up for work, unlike his contemporary Steven Seagal. But KILL 'EM ALL is cheap-looking and slapdash enough that it's too close for comfort with Seagal-level quality, and it's probably not a coincidence that co-writer Jesse Cilio wrote the recent Seagal dud THE PERFECT WEAPON. By the time the final twists start coming, each one more ridiculous than the last, KILL 'EM ALL just gives up and doesn't even attempt to be subtle about how much it's ripping off THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Even a dipshit like Fenster could've made a better movie than this. (R, 95 mins)

(France/China - 2016; US release 2017)

If the gamer/wuxia fantasy ENTER THE WARRIORS GATE seems like it should've been made ten years ago, that's because it pretty much was--when it starred Jackie Chan and Jet Li and was called THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. Produced and co-written by Luc Besson, the $48 million ENTER THE WARRIORS GATE was given a huge 3-D release in China in November 2016, but was banished to VOD when it debuted in the US in May 2017, a couple of months after Zhang Yimou's expensive THE GREAT WALL underperformed in US theaters. It's not without its moments of KARATE KID-like retro charm, but at the same time, it feels awfully late to be jumping on the CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON bandwagon, making you wonder just how long Besson and regular writing partner Robert Mark Kamen (TAKEN, THE TRANSPORTER) had this one stashed away before Besson got around to assigning it to someone (in this case, COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES director Matthias Hoene). Jack Bronson (Uriah Shelton, most recently seen on Netflix's 13 REASONS WHY) is a bullied gamer who lives with his busy-single-mom-too-distracted-to-notice-all-the-shenanigans-going-on-in-her-house Annie (Sienna Guillory). He blows off his homework for video games and works part-time at antique shop, where his Chinese boss Mr. Chang (Francis Ng) gives him an ancient crock that turns out to be a portal to another time. He's visited through the crock by Zhao (Mark Chao), the chief guard to Princess Sulin (Ni Ni), who he leaves in the care of Jack, believing him to be the fabled "Black Knight," confusing him with his gaming avatar. Zhao has brought Sulin to the present day in order to escape Arun the Cruel (Dave Bautista), a despot who has murdered Sulin's emperor father and intends to claim her as his bride as he takes over the land. After Jack takes Sulin to the mall for some ice cream and some tired culture clash/fish-out-of-water comedy, some of Arun's men get through the time portal and end up trashing Jack's mom's house. This sends Jack and Sulin fleeing through the portal back to her time, where she's abducted by Arun, forcing Zhao and Jack, who's definitely not the Black Knight that Zhao was expecting, to set aside their differences and work together to rescue Sulin...if they don't kill each other first!

There's a nice '80s vibe to some of the early scenes, with Jack trying to avoid a bullying asshole named Travis (Dakota Daulby, really oozing that loathsome William Zabka prickitude) and a resulting reckless mountain bike chase through the streets (cue reaction shots with befuddled old people looking confused and scared). Jack even has the required overweight, obnoxious, comic relief best buddy in Hector (Luke Mac Davis as Jonah Hill as Josh Gad as Dan Fogler as Zack Pearlman), who tries to fistbump Sulin and rightly gets his ass kicked in the process. There's also some laughs to be had from a running gag involving Arun's incredibly stupid henchman Brutus (Zha Ka), but while it occasionally amuses, ENTER THE WARRIORS GATE never reaches beyond the level of merely OK. The action sequences are nothing special, and Shelton is as irritating here as Michael Angarano was in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. There's too many easy, predictable jokes about Jack trying to get Zhao to loosen up, like when he provides human beatbox and club sound accompaniment to teach Zhao to dance (do they have time for this?), or sheltered, demanding Sulin learning contemporary slang ("You're the shit!" is her favorite).  A Robert Zemeckis or a Richard Donner probably could've made this a lot of fun 30 years ago, but it isn't retro enough to be completely funny and it isn't imaginative enough to be anything other than a run-of-the-mill knockoff of all the Zhang Yimou epics of the early-to-mid 2000s, like HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, and CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. (PG-13, 105 mins)

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