Twice the Van Damme: Double Impact (1991, directed by Sheldon Lettich)


Twice the Van Damme means double the damme trouble in Double Impact!

In this low-budget action flick, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays twin brothers, Chad and Alex Wagner.  When they were just six months old, their parents were murdered in Hong Kong and the brothers were separated.  Chad grew up to become a goody-goody martial arts instructor in Los Angeles.  Alex grew up to become a part of the Hong Kong underworld.  Under the direction of the parent’s former bodyguard, Uncle Frank (Geoffrey Lewis), the twins are reunited and team up to take down the gangster who killed their parents.

When it comes to second-tier 90s action heroes, Jean-Claude Van Damme was never as good as Dolph Lundgren but he was still a thousand times better than Stephen Seagal.  The secret of Van Damme’s success was that, in real life, he was capable of doing all of the thing that he did in the movies.  Van Damme didn’t need a stunt double or trick editing to look athletic.  It’s easy to laugh at Van Damme’s propensity to do the splits in every film he made but everyone knows that if Stephen Seagal had ever tried to do the same thing, he probably never would have been able to stand back up.

Double Impact was made early in Van Damme’s career, after he had established himself with Bloodsport but before he went mainstream with Timecop.  Van Damme is credited with co-writing the script and it’s the first Van Damme film to feature him playing twins, an idea to which he would return a surprising number of times.  The movie is full of moments between the twins that were designed to make critics and audiences say, “He really can act!”  Unfortunately, at that time, Van Damme really couldn’t act.  Chad smiles like a goof.  Alex smokes a cigar and is an angry drunk.  When Chad fears that his mentor has been murdered, he shouts, “NO!” in a way that will remind you of Rainier Wolfcastle’s reaction to his partner getting gunned down in McBain.  That’s the extent of their characterizations.  It wouldn’t be a problem except that the movie is nearly two hours long and that’s a long time to spend listening to Jean-Claude Van Damme argue with himself.

There are a few action scenes, which is the main reason for watching any Van Damme film other than JCVD, but they’re mostly perfunctory.  The bad guy’s main henchman is played by Bolo Yeung and the fight scenes between him and Van Damme are exiting to watch.  Otherwise, Double Impact is damme forgettable.

Eat To The Beat(nik): Peter Falk in THE BLOODY BROOD (Kay Films 1959)


cracked rear viewer

I suppose you could categorize THE BLOODY BROOD as Canadian Beatnik Noir – and it would definitely be a category of one! But this low-budget entry from The Great White North tells its tale at a fairly swift pace (or aboot as swift as those Canucks can get, eh?), features an oddball cast of characters, and offers viewers the unquestionably non-Canadian Peter Falk in his second film as a dope-peddling psychopath who gets his kicks from “death… the last great challenge of the collective mind”.

Falk, warming up for his breakthrough role as Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles in MURDER INC. a year later, plays Nico, who  pushes his junk to the Beat Generation rejects that hang around the local cafe (“He’s a salesman, baby… he sells dreams”). When an old man dies of a heart attack before their eyes, psycho Nico thinks it’d be far-out to deliberately off a square…

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Lifetime Film Review: Trapped Model (dir by Damian Romay)


If there’s anything that can definitely be said about Lifetime films, it’s that they always feature the nicest houses.

Take Trapped Model, for instance.  Now, this film is also known as The Model Murders and A Model Kidnapping so, right away, you know that it’s not going to be a happy story about how wonderful it is to be a model.  No, this is a film about a young woman named Grace (Lucy Loken) who runs away to Florida so that she can have her picture taken by a seemingly reputable photographer named Hunter (Wes McGee).  Hunter, of course, is charming at first but he soon turns out to be a total sleaze who, with the help of his assistant Nicole (Katherine Diaz), takes Grace prisoner and forces her to strip on camera for a worldwide audience of pervs and incels.  That’s a nightmarish story, one that’s made all the more disturbing by the fact that it’s very plausible.  I mean, I’ve met more than a few real-life Hunters and I saw pieces of all of them in Wes McGee’s unnerving and menacing performance.  And yet, as I watched the movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about how nice Hunter’s house was.

I mean, seriously!  This place was huge and it had a pool and, even more importantly, it was totally spotless.  Remember that mansion where Al Pacino kept his mountain of cocaine in Scarface?  That place had nothing on Hunter’s home.  In the film, Hunter used his mansion to give himself legitimacy.  Grace was lured into trusting Hunter by all of his visible signs of success.  Now, of course, those of us in the audience knew better.  We’ve seen enough Lifetime films to know better than to trust anyone who is as superficially charming as Hunter.  But still, even though we were all like, “Don’t trust him!  Don’t agree to stay overnight!  Stay out the guest house!,” it was impossible not to appreciate that house.

“Wow,” I exclaimed as I watched the film, “Maybe it’d be worth getting kidnapped just to live in that house!”

“That’s not funny, Lisa Marie!” came the replies and technically, I guess it wasn’t.  Still….

The other thought that I had as I watched Trapped Model was that it was unfortunate that Grace wasn’t Liam Neeson’s daughter.  I mean, we all know that no one gets away with kidnapping a member of the Neeson family.  Unfortunately, Grace has to depend on the investigative skills of her mother (Kiki Harris) and her boyfriend (Seth Goodfellow), neither one of whom has been trained to thwart kidnappings.  Instead, they have to go to the police, who turn out to be fairly ineffectual.  Usually, I kind of roll my eyes at the incompetent cops who populate Lifetime films but, in this case, the film made good use of the trope.  As soon as Grace is kidnapped, it’s obvious that she’s going to have to be the one to figure out a way to escape her captors.  You find yourself cheering her every success and dreading her every setback.

For the most part, Trapped Model was just as impressive as Hunter’s house.  This was a well-executed melodrama, featuring brisk direction from Damian Romay and excellent performances from Lucy Loken, Wes McGee, and Katherine Diaz.  In the end, Trapped Model is one of the better Lifetime films that I’ve seen this year and I’m not just saying that because of the house.

Lifetime Film Review: Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (dir by Jeff Hare)


Look out everyone!  Dr. Beck is back!

Played by Eric Roberts, Albert Beck is the anti-hero at the center of the Stalked By My Doctor films.  He was once a brilliant heart surgeon, up until he grew obsessed with one of his patients and was forced to go on the run.  That happened in 2015’s Stalked By My DoctorStalked By My Doctor was so successful that it has inspired, to date, three sequels.  Each film features the same basic plot, in which Dr. Beck assumes another doctor’s identity, becomes obsessed with another patient, and ends up murdering the usual collection of dumb boyfriends and nosy coworkers.  Ever since the third film, Dr. Beck has spent a lot of time talking to himself, which the franchise usually represents literally by having two Doctor Becks appear on screen at the same time and arguing with each other.  The real Dr. Beck usually wears a suit and a lab coat and is prone to thinking that he’s finally going to find true love.  The imaginary Dr. Beck wears a Hawaiian shirt and is always holding a tropical drink.  Of course, this means that you get twice as much Eric Roberts as advertised!

And indeed, Eric Roberts is the main reason why this franchise has thrived.  Lifetime is full of movies about stalkers but only the Stalked By My Doctor franchise features Eric Roberts at his most demented.  (We make a lot of jokes about Eric Roberts on this site but the truth of the matter is that he’s actually a very good actor and he’s given some very good performances over the course of his long career.  If nothing else, he’s a more consistently interesting actor than his better-known sister, Julia.)  In the role of Dr. Beck, Eric Roberts never makes any attempt to be the least bit subtle and that’s exactly why the films work.  If you take every creepy doctor and touchy-feely male friend that you’ve ever had to deal with and combined them into one ubercreep, the end result would be Dr. Beck.  He’s arrogant.  He’s condescending.  He’s got the creepiest smile in the world.  And yet, despite his personal issues, he’s also a lot of fun to watch.  Eric Roberts always seems like he’s having fun in these movies as he discovers new ways to communicate the fact that Dr. Beck is an absolute creep.

There are two things that I especially like about the Stalked By My Doctor films:

Number one, they take place in a world where someone who looks and sounds like Eric Roberts can somehow evade detection despite making absolutely no effort to disguise his appearance or change his voice.  For instance, in the franchise’s fourth film, Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Nightmare (which aired on Lifetime this weekend), we find Dr. Beck working as a server at a roadside diner.  As in the previous films, he’s still frequently distracted by wild fantasies and elaborate schemes for revenge.  But what’s hilarious is that Dr. Beck is apparently one of the most wanted men in America but none of the customers at this seemingly busy diner ever says, “Hey, that mysterious server looks just like that murderer who was all over the news!”  To the film’s credit, it also makes it clear that the film itself is in on the joke.  We’re supposed to enjoy the rather odd sight of Eric Roberts pouring coffee and awkwardly flirting with his customers.  We’re not supposed to worry about whether or not it’s a plausible development.

Number two, I love the fact that there’s literally nothing that Dr. Beck cannot do.  Seriously, Dr. Beck has got to be the most brilliant medical mind of all time because there’s not a single field of medical care that he cannot conquer.  When we first met Dr. Beck, he was a heart surgeon.  In the fourth film, he steals the identity of a specialist in sexsomnia.  He manages to do all of this without missing a beat or giving himself away.  All you have to do is give Dr. Beck a lab coat and he can basically do anything!

This time around, Dr. Beck is obsessed with the niece (Angeline Appel) of one of his patients, Michelle (Emilie Ullerup).  Once again, Dr. Beck is breaking hearts and ending lives while, at the same time, arguing with his Hawaiian shirt-wearing alter ego.  And again, there’s murder, love, and melodrama.  It wouldn’t be a Stalked By My Doctor movie, otherwise!

And it’s all lot of fun.  Just when you think that the franchise has run out of gas, Eric Roberts adds another layer of quirkiness to his performance and you find yourself enthralled again.  As I hinted at above, the best thing about the Stalked By My Doctor films is that they know that they’re ludicrous and they make no apologies for being what they are.  Much like A Deadly Adoption, the Stalked By My Doctor films poke fun at the Lifetime format while still showing enough respect for the audience that no one watching is going to feel as if they’re being condescended to.  The film is totally over-the-top and silly but it’s Eric Roberts so who cares?  What else would you expect?  Are you not amused?

When watching Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Revenge, keep an eye out for Felissa Rose.  Rose plays one of Beck’s colleagues.  Horror fans know her best from her starring role in the original Sleepaway Camp.  Her casting is one of those touches that sets Stalked By My Doctor: A Sleepwalker’s Revenge apart from other Lifetime films.

In its way, the Stalked By My Doctor franchise has the potential to be Lifetime’s equivalent of the Sharknado films.  Personally, I can’t wait to see where Dr. Beck turns up next!

 

Royal Flush: THE CINCINNATI KID (MGM 1965)


cracked rear viewer

There are movies about the high-stakes world of poker, and then there’s THE CINCINNATI KID. This gripping look at backroom gambling has long been a favorite of mine because of the high-powered all-star cast led by two acting icons from two separate generations – “The Epitome of Cool” Steve McQueen and “Original Gangster” Edward G. Robinson . The film was a breakthrough for director Norman Jewison, who went after this from lightweight fluff like 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE and SEND ME NO FLOWERS to weightier material like IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR.

The film revolves around a poker showdown between up and coming young stud Eric Stoner, known as The Kid, and veteran Lancey Howard, venerated in card playing circles as The Man. This theme of young tyro vs old pro wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, having been hashed and rehashed in countless Westerns over the…

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Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Boy Next Door (dir by David DeCoteau)


“Don’t trust your neighbor,” proclaims the tagline for The Wrong Boy Next Door and that’s certainly true when it comes to Lifetime films.

Seriously, in a Lifetime movie, your neighbor is either going to be a seemingly nice woman who is going to end up trying to steal your baby or else a really hot guy who never wears a shirt and who is secretly plotting to kill you and your friends.  In the case of The Wrong Boy Next Door, we get the hot psycho who is always wandering outside without a shirt on.  John (Travis Burns) may be intriguing but he’s also dangerous.  It might be fun to watch him while he’s out in his garage but if he starts watching you back …. look out!

The Wrong Boy Next Door really does capture an essential truth.  Bad boys are sexy and the more dangerous the better.  While watching the film, it was easy for me to yell that Katie (played by Calli Taylor) was making a huge mistake by trusting John but, honestly, I probably would have made the same mistake back when I was in high school.  First off, there’s the fantasy of being the one girl who can reform a bad boy.  Secondly, there’s the fact that, when you’re a teenager, you do stupid things because you think you’re smarter than you actually are.  I mean, really, that’s the whole appeal of being young.  It’s the only time in your life that you can get away with being totally dumb and irresponsible.  That’s why there are people in their 30s who are already feeling nostalgic for high school.

Having watched the film, I can say that Katie is one of the greatest Lifetime heroines ever.  From the minute the movie starts, she’s getting in trouble.  First, she gets caught vaping at school and this leads to her being suspended for a few days.  It’s during that time that she first spots John walking around outside.  She invites him inside and, two minutes later, they’re kissing.  Then, when Katie returns to school, one of her teachers spots her checking her phone in class.  When the teacher demands the phone, Katie throws it at her and literally knocks the teacher to the ground!  (The school’s principal later says that the teacher looks like she got hit in the face by a baseball.)  Go Katie!

So now, Katie’s under house arrest!  That means that she has to wear one of those ankle bracelets that beeps if you leave your front yard.  The detective in charge of Katie’s house arrest is played by none other than Vivica A. Fox so you know that if Katie breaks the rules, she’s going to be in a lot of trouble.  Unfortunately, being stuck in her house is kind of a problem because Katie suspects that John might be as good a guy as he’s pretending to be.  But how can she investigate without going outside!?

The Wrong Boy Next Door was a hell of a lot of fun, largely due to Calli Taylor’s energetic and sympathetic performance as Katie and Travis Burns’s menacing turn as John.  As is typical of Lifetime’s “Wrong” films, director David DeCoteau kept the action moving at a brisk pace and Vivica A. Fox brought her usual flair to yet another no-nonsense authority figure.  All in all, The Wrong Boy Next Door is one for which to keep an eye out.

Film Review: Payday (dir by Daryl Duke)


First released way back in 1972, Payday tells the story of Maury Dann (played by the late, great Texas actor, Rip Torn).

Maury is a country singer.  He sings songs about wholesome values and good country girls.  His music isn’t exactly ground-breaking but his fans still love him and it’s easy to see why.  The movie opens with Maury performing in a small, country club and his charisma is undeniable.  He has a good singing voice and he easily dominates the stage.  Between songs, he flashes a friendly but slightly mischievous smile.  After his performance, he is perfectly charming when he meets his older fans.  And, when he meets a younger fan, he takes her outside and has sex with her in the backseat of his Cadillac.  He does this while her boyfriend is wandering around the parking lot looking for her.

Maury is a man who is in control when he’s on stage.  However, when he’s off-stage, the real Muary comes out.  When he’s not singing and basking in the applause of his fans, Maury is …. well, he’s a total mess.  Actually, mess doesn’t quite do justice to just how screwed up Maury Dann is.  He cheats on his girlfriend.  He pops pills constantly.  He treats the members of his band with a casual cruelty.  When Maury’s off-stage, that charming smile changes into a rather demented smirk.  Just when you think Maury’s done the worst possible thing that he could do, he does something even worse.

Payday follows Maury as he is driven through the South, singing songs and ruining lives.  Along the way, he gets into a fight with his mother and then a fight with his ex-wife and eventually, a fight with the boyfriend of that younger fan from the start of the movie.  We watch as Maury drinks, bribes DJs, and frames his employees for all sorts of crimes.  It’s an episodic film about a man who seems to understand that he’s destined to self-destruct no matter what he does.

Payday is very much a film of the early 70s.  Though the film may be about a self-destructive country star, it’s hard not to suspect that — as with most of the films from that era — Maury and his adventures were meant to be a metaphor for America itself.  Country Western is a uniquely American genre and by showcasing the damage that Maury does to everyone around him, the film seems to be suggesting that Maury’s sins are also America’s sins.  The people who idolize Maury and make him a star despite all of his flaws are the same people who reelected Richard Nixon and supported sending young men to die in Vietnam.

It’s all a bit much for one film to carry on its shoulders and spending two hours with Maury Dann is not exactly a pleasant experience but the film works because of the performance of Rip Torn.  When Torn died earlier this week, there was a lot of discussion about which performance was his best.  Quite a few people on twitter cited his roles in Defending Your Life and The Larry Sanders Show.  I personally mentioned The Man Who Fell To Earth and Maidstone.  But if you really want to see what made Rip Torn such a great actor, you simply must watch Payday.  Maury is a jerk with little in the way of redeeming qualities but Torn gives such a fearless and cheerfully demented performance that it’s impossible not to get caught up in his story.  As much as you want to look away, you can’t because Rip Torn keeps you so off-balance that you cannot stop watching.  Torn is smart enough to play Maury with just enough self-awareness that the character becomes fascinatingly corrupt as opposed to just being a self-centered jerk.

Finally, Payday simply feels authentic.  The film was made way before my time but I’m a Southern girl who has spent enough time in the country to know that the backroads of rural America haven’t changed that much over the past few decades.  At times, while watching Payday, I felt like I was back on my granduncle’s farm in Arkansas, walking through high grass and listening to the cicadas while watching the sun go down.

Payday is definitely a film that’s worth the trouble to track down.  Watch it and appreciate the fearless genius of the great Rip Torn.