Tag Archives: action movies

Showdown In Little Tokyo

Showdown in Little Tokyo

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Today’s feature is a b-grade buddy cop classic: 1991’s Showdown In Little Tokyo.

The plot of Showdown in Little Tokyo is summarized on Rotten Tomatoes as follows:

Dolph Lundgren stars as police detective Chris Kenner, an American raised in Japan. He is given a new partner, Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, making his Hollywood debut), a Japanese raised in America. The two are made for each other — Chris doesn’t appreciate American culture, while Johnny doesn’t much like Japanese culture. One thing they both enjoy are the martial arts, of which they are experts. The two are assigned to L.A.’s Little Tokyo, trying to nab the notorious Yoshida (Carey-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a drug manufacturer using a local brewery as his distribution center.

Showdown in Little Tokyo was directed and produced by Mark L. Lester, who was also behind movies such as Class of 1999, Class of 1984, Commando, Roller Boogie, and Firestarter.

The two writers for the film only have a handful of other credits between them, most notably a couple of episodes of Dragnet and a television adaptation of The Watsons Go To Birmingham.

The cinematographer for Showdown In Little Tokyo was Mark Irwin, who shot Scream, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Class of 1999, RoboCop 2, New Nightmare, Kingpin, and Steel, among many, many other well-known features.

A total of four editors wound up putting in work on Showdown in Little Tokyo: Michael Eliot (Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence), Robert A. Ferretti (Tango & Cash, Rocky V, Die Hard 2, Gymkata), Steven Kemper (Face/Off, Timecop), and Stuart Baird (Demolition Man, Lethal Weapon).

The musical score for the movie was provided by David Michael Frank, whose other credits include Poison Ivy, Suburban Commando, Out For Justice, Hard To Kill, and Best of the Best II.

The cast for Showdown In Little Tokyo is primarily made up by Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, The Punisher, I Come In Peace, Johnny Mnemonic), the late Brandon Lee (Laser Mission, The Crow), Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World, Kull The Conqueror), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Vampires, The Phantom).

littletokyo3Showdown In Little Tokyo suffered from a significant amount of studio interference, primarily in the form of mandated edits to the final product. Likewise, even before the movie was shot, the screenplay went through a number of different forms. The experience burned director Mark Lester out on working in the studio system, leading him to take on smaller, self-funded projects.

The public reception for Showdown In Little Tokyo was generally negative. It currently holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 29% from critics and 51% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 6.0. Likewise, the movie certainly didn’t set the box office on fire: it brought in well under $3 million in its theatrical release, on a estimated production budget of $8 million.

I was introduced to Showdown in Little Tokyo pretty recently. For whatever reason, it has never been on my b-movie radar, and I have absolutely no idea why. As far as cheap, b-level action movies go, this is about as good as it gets. Not only does this movie showcase a classic buddy-cop formula, but the fights are entertaining, the antagonist is more than sufficiently hammy, and all of the players seem to be having a great time with the material. I’m a huge fan of this particular era of Dolph Lundgren, as he took on some damn entertaining projects, and gave performances that I think easily out-class contemporaries like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, and Showdown is no exception.

littletokyo2There is one aspect of Showdown In Little Tokyo that definitely makes it stand out from the field of similar action flicks: outside of perhaps Tango & Cash, it is the most homoerotic entry into the buddy cop genre.

Showdown in Little Tokyo doesn’t bill itself as a gay action film. And like most action movies, that doesn’t do much to disarm just how amazingly queer it is. I mean, we’re talking about a movie where a muscular blonde guy spends entire scenes clad in nothing but black leather hot pants and men compliment each other on the exquisiteness of their dicks

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That excerpt is no exaggeration, either. In one particularly notable moment in the film, Brandon Lee tells Dolph Lundgren that he has “the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man,” and the script and performances are both laden with slightly more subtle references to the two men having a potential attraction.

Much like with Tango & Cash, it isn’t totally clear if this angle was intentional on the part of the writer/director team (though the penis line seems pretty blatant). Regardless, the chemistry of the subtext adds a lot of entertainment value to what is already an amusing, saturated-with-machismo buddy-cop feature.

I can’t recommend Showdown In Little Tokyo highly enough. Not only is the action good, but the performances are memorable, the plot is over-the-top, and even the costuming got a few chuckles out of me. This is the pinnacle of a specific type of b-movie film-making, and it’ll take you on a time-traveling trip to a bygone era. The comedic performance of Brandon Lee brings up a lot of questions of what might have been if the fates had taken another turn, and Lundgren is still in his top form here. The homoerotic angle of the films adds a whole extra layer of entertainment value, whether it is read as intentional and subversive, or just hilariously oblivious on the part of the creative team. Either way, I think it is hard not to find something to enjoy on a re-watch of Showdown in Little Tokyo.

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Face/Off

Face/Off

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Today’s feature is John Woo’s 1997 hammy acting showdown, Face/Off.

Face/Off was written and produced by the duo of Mike Werb (The Mask, Darkman III, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and Michael Colleary (Death Wish V, Firehouse Dog).

The director for the film was action movie icon John Woo, who has been behind films like Red Cliff, Paycheck, Mission Impossible II, Hard Target, and Broken Arrow over his career.

The cinematographer on Face/Off was Oliver Wood, who shot such movies as Die Hard 2, The Other Guys, Neon Maniacs, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, U-571, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and Rudy.

Face/Off featured two editors: Steven Kemper (Legion, Timecop, Showdown in Little Tokyo, Aspen Extreme) and Christian Wagner (True Romance, Bad Boys, Furious 7, The Island).

The other producers for the movie included actor Michael Douglas (Ant-Man, The Game, Falling Down), Jonathan D. Krane (Swordfish, Battlefield Earth, CHUD II: Bud the Chud), Steven Reuther (Hider In The House, Under Siege), Terence Chang (Paycheck, Windtalkers), David Permut (Captain Ron, Farce of the Penguins), Jeff Levine (Slither, 8MM), and Barrie M. Osborne (The Matrix, Cotton Club).

faceoff5The music for the film was provided by John Powell, and was his future-length film credit. He has since provided scores for movies like Antz, The Road To El Dorado, Shrek, Rat Race, The Bourne Identity, Gigli, Happy Feet, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and How To Train Your Dragon, among others.

The special effects unit included such workers as Bryan Sides (Mimic, Species II), Robert DeVine (Wild Wild West, RoboCop 3), Tony Acosta (Bordello of Blood, Volcano), Joseph Mercurio (Mommie Dearest, 8MM), Henry Millar, Jr. (Young Frankenstein, Capricorn One), David A. Poole (Gigli, Waterworld), Anthony Simonaitis (Torque, Swordfish), R. Bruce Steinheimer (John Wick, Argo, The Running Man), and Richard Zarro (Class of 1999, Predator 2).

faceoff4The visual effects team for the movie included Allen Blaisdell (Red Planet, Dracula 2000, Theodore Rex, Shocker), Derry Frost (Epic Movie, Swordfish, Torque), Douglas Harsch (Dracula 2000, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Richard E. Hollander (Winter’s Tale, Daredevil, Timecop), Mark Tait Lewis (Red Planet, Deep Blue Sea), and Scott Schneider (On Deadly Ground).

The makeup effects in Face/Off were provided by a team that included David Atherton (Shocker), Ken Brilliant (Congo), Michelle Bühler (Swordfish, The People Under The Stairs), Grady Holder (Pick Me Up, Lake Placid, Small Soldiers, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Children of the Corn III, Waterworld), Nina Kraft (Con Air, The Rock), Mike Measimer (Stuck, Space Truckers, Castle Freak), Gilbert Mosko (Bratz, Star Trek: First Contact), Brian Penikas (Trick or Treat, Leviathan), Shaun Smith (Captain America, Children of the Corn III), Mario Torres Jr. (Hollow Man, Starship Troopers), Kevin Yagher (The Dentist, 976-EVIL, Trick or Treat, A Nightmare On Elm Street 2), and Mark Yagher (Starship Troopers, Sleepy Hollow).

The cast for Face/Off includes Nicolas Cage (Vampire’s Kiss, Con Air), John Travolta (Battlefield Earth, Swordfish), Joan Allen (Pleasantville), Alessandro Nivola (Jurassic Park III), Gina Gershon (The Insider, Showgirls), Nick Cassavetes (Blind Fury, Class of 1999 II), and Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea, The Punisher).

faceoff6The plot of Face/Off follows an obsessive cop (Travolta) and his criminal arch-nemesis (Cage), who is captured after an intense sting. However, it is decided after the raid that Travolta must go undercover to foil a pending plot by Cage’s organization. In order to do this, he must pose as Cage, who has fallen into a coma with severe injuries. He goes through an experimental surgery to graft Cage’s face onto his own, and begins the operation completely off the books. Cage unexpectedly revives in police custody (sans face), and easily steals Travolta’s identity, thus turning the undercover plot upside down. What follows is an epic duel of mistaken identities and deception.

Reportedly, John Woo insisted on leaving the slash in the title of Face/Off (in defiance of the studio) to ensure that people would not think that the film was about hockey.

faceoff7The original screenplay for the movie had the plot taking place in the distant future, which helps to explain some of the futuristic  technologies showcased in the prion and the surgeries. John Woo is said to have specifically changed the setting to the present day to make the conflict more identifiable and dramatic.

Mark Wahlberg apparently turned down the role of Pollox Troy, Nicolas Cage’s brother and right hand man in Face/Off. Other potential alternate castings had Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the lead roles, Patrick Swayze, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, or Jean Claude Van Damme involved in some capacity, the Heat combo of Pacino and De Niro taking the leads, or the far more unlikely duo of Harrison Ford and producer Michael Douglas headlining.

The high-tech magnetic boots worn in the prison sequences were reused props the featured prominently in Super Mario Bros., which released four years earlier.

faceoff3 faceoff2Face/Off was made on a significant budget of $80 million, on which it managed to gross over $245 million in its lifetime theatrical run. Critics and audience both generally liked it, and it is fondly remembered as one of the most bizarre action movies of the era. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 92% from critics and 83% from audiences, alongside an IMDb score of 7.3.

What is there to say about the joy that is Face/Off? This is a showcase of two of the hammiest showboats in the business, and they both fire on all cylinders here. The action and plot is fun (if not particularly smart), and there are plenty of highlights throughout the film. The only criticism I really have is that Travolta and Cage eclipse anyone else who dares to appear on screen, so the accessory cast is mostly just there to fill in empty space. That said: who cares? People went to this movie to see Cage and Travolta try to out-act each other, and that is exactly what is delivered with Face/Off.

If you haven’t seen Face/Off, this is absolutely an essential of the action genre. I feel like this should go on a high shelf of honor next to Tango & Cash as one of the most ridiculously fun, silly action movies of all time. If my word isn’t good enough for you, check out The Nostalgia Critic, How Did This Get Made?, and Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who all have plenty to say about the film.

Action Jackson

Action Jackson

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Today’s feature is the 1988 Carl Weathers super-cop movie, Action Jackson.

Action Jackson was written by Robert Reneau, who is best known for writing the screenplay for Demolition Man. The director for the film was Craig R. Baxley, who also helmed the Dolph Lundgren movie Dark Angel (AKA I Come In Peace). However, he is most known for being a veteran stunt coordinator, with a career on such productions as Predator and The Warriors.

The cinematographer for Action Jackson was Matthew F. Leonetti, who also shot the movies Santa’s Slay, The Butterfly Effect, Red Heat, Commando, and The Bat People. The editor for the movie was Mark Helfrich, who has cut films like R.I.P.D., Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, and the Cannon movie Revenge of the Ninja.

The producers for Action Jackson were Steve Perry (Speed 2: Cruise Control, Executive Decision, Road House) and Joel Silver (Speed Racer, Dungeons & Dragons, Swordfish, Hudson Hawk, Predator 2, Xanadu).

The musical score for Action Jackson was composed by the team of Michael Kamen (X-Men, Iron Giant, Event Horizon, Last Action Hero, Hudson Hawk, The Dead Zone) and noted jazz-funk pianist Herbie Hancock (Death Wish, ‘Round Midnight).

The team of effects workers on Action Jackson included Andrew Sebok (Memento, The Last Boy Scout, Die Hard, Road House), Jay Bartus (Jingle All The Way, Dark Angel, Seven Psychopaths), Al Di Sarro (Speed 2: Cruise Control, Red Dragon, Predator), James Camomile (Swordfish, Heaven’s Gate), Scott H. Eddo (Judge Dredd, Hudson Hawk, Mystery Men, Saw),

The cast of Action Jackson includes Carl Weathers (Predator, Rocky, Arrested Development), Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist, Coach), Vanity (Never Too Young To Die, The Last Dragon), Sharon Stone (Casino, Basic Instinct), Thomas Wilson (Back To The Future, April Fool’s Day), Robert Davi (Predator 2, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3), and Bill Duke (Predator, Commando).

actionjackson2The noted music personality Paula Abdul provided the choreography work for Action Jackson, which released in theaters the same year that her debut album became a hit.

The concept for Action Jackson, a blaxploitation-inspired police action movie with Weathers in the lead, was conceived of on the set of Predator. As a result, the two productions have a number of common elements both in front of and behind the camera.

Vanity wound up receiving a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for her role in Action Jackson, which are given out to the judged worst performances and movies of the year. She ultimately lost out to Liza Minelli for her performances in Rent-A-Cop and Arthur 2: On The Rocks.

The hope was for Action Jackson to mark the first in a series of films, making up a franchise for years to come. Unfortunately, though the movie grossed $20 million domestically on a budget of $7 million, the reviews were overwhelmingly negative: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 10% (critics) and 32% (audience), alongside an IMDb rating of 5.1. Adding on top of the complications, the production company and its library/rights were soon sold, making a sequel even more unlikely.

In regards to performances, Carl Weathers was enjoying himself throughout making Action Jackson, and is solid throughout the film likely because of that. I personally didn’t think Vanity was all that bad, particularly when compared with her other acting roles before this. Craig T. Nelson, on the other hand, is absolutely top-of-the-line as the antagonist in this movie.

actionjackson3As you would expect given the director’s history with stunt work, Action Jackson is filled with solid stunts of every variety, culminating in a sports car rampaging through a mansion. The stunts help build the generally fun and exciting tone for the movie, which is careful never to take itself too seriously, but never goes so far as to wink to the camera.

My biggest criticism of Action Jackson is that it seems to drag on just a little too long for what it is, but I think it does a good enough job of staying interesting throughout the run time. Most of the criticisms I have seen have either claimed that it is too boring, or too light-hearted in tone for how violent the content is. For instance, here is a blurb from Roger Ebert’s review:

Rarely have comedy and gruesome violence been combined in such a blithe mixture, as if the violence didn’t really count.

I can perhaps see how a violent action-comedy wouldn’t have flown for many people in 1988, but this is not some excessively violent flick by today’s standards of action comedy. Honestly, the content didn’t really occur to me at all while watching the movie. It isn’t dramatically different from something you would see in an average police-focused television drama nowadays, and I didn’t think it ruined the comedy or vice-versa in any sense. It seems to me that people have warmed to the movie over the years, as it was perhaps a bit ahead of its time in that regard.

When it comes to blaxploitation send-up movies, Black Dynamite is definitely my favorite of the lot, but Action Jackson is a solid, more serious homage to the genre. It isn’t a “good” movie by any means, but I think it is successful in being what it was intended to be. I think it deserves a second look from people nowadays at the very least, because it strikes me as having been written off a bit too hastily.