Gridlocked (2015): ‘The Hard Way’ Sans the Humor (Review)

Cody Hackman and Dominic Purcell

Gridlocked feels like a remix of the 1991 Michael J. Fox film The Hard Way, sans the romance and the  laughs.  The film also lacks James Woods, but has Dominic Purcell as the millennial version of Woods and even has Steven Lang as the bad guy. Lang was the villain in The Hard Way as well.

There are elements of Assault on Precinct 13 without the Carpenter touch and the film even seems to borrow a bit from  Sabotage. Gridlocked has Cody Hackman as Hollywood star Brody Walker; a former child actor who, despite being a success at the box-office,  has issues. One  these problems includes  assaulting a member of the paparazzi.

To keep from doing jail time, Walker is assigned to Purcell’s character, David Hendrix, a cop recovering from being shot on duty. Stephen Lang is Korver, an old colleague of Hendrix’ who is after some bearer bonds in an evidence locker. Vinnie Jones and Danny Glover have small roles in the film, with Jones on team Korver and Glover as a cop.

(There is a self referential moment where Glover’s character sighs and says he is “Too old for this sh*t.” Something his character in the Lethal Weapon franchise was always saying.)

While the film does resemble the 1991 Fox/Woods vehicle, in this version, Hendrix is not trying to get rid of Walker. The cop opts to take the Hollywood bad boy under his wing instead.  Hendrix takes the star to the training facility, a ‘la “Sabotage,”  and Lang’s people, after disabling the building, attempt to overtake it.

There is plenty of action. Gunfights and hand to hand combat are the order of the day and the good guys have a mole on their side who is working for Korver.  As Lang’s character repeatedly tries to enter the building, Hendrix and his small team fight them off. Eventually  the bad guys get in and the fighting gets up close and personal.

As Gridlocked moves from a siege to an invasion, Hendrix has more problems. He has a mole  on his team, and  a personal connection with the bad guys who want in.

Aussie actor Purcell does a good job as the injured action hero and Hackman is convincing as the irksome Hollywood star. Lang really does give the best ”bad guy” in the business and Glover is splendid in his cameo as the cop  nearing retirement.

On a sidenote, there is a practical effect later in the film where one of the character’s is shot through the face.  Uncomfortable to look at, it looks real and not a little bit freaky.

Directed and co-written by Allan Ungar (his second feature length film) Gridlocked  flows well and does not drag.  The action may feel a bit formulaic and the plot does seem to be influenced by the above mentioned films. However, the cast keep things interesting and Purcell proves that he is more than a one trick pony. 

Vinne Jones has little to do other than to look menacing though later on he does fight Purcell’s character. (In terms of cameos, the excellent Saul Rubinek does  a splendid turn as Walker’s agent.)  

At just under two hours the film moves along at a crisp clip and does not drag at all.  While the film is more “action” than acting, it will never be mistaken for Shakespeare, Gridlocked does entertain.

This is a 3.5 star film.  Nothing to write home about but good enough to get lost in for an extended period of time. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment. Pop up some corn and pour some fizzy and see what you think.

Death Squad aka 2047: Sights of Death – What a Mess

Poster for Death Squad
Death Squad, aka 2047 Sights of Death, is a 2014 Italian film starring Danny Glover, Stephen Baldwin, Rutger Hauer, Darryl Hannah and Michael Madsen. Directed by Alessandro Capone (Hidden Love, Primetime Murder) IMDb classifies the film as action, science fiction and a thriller all mixed into one. In reality the movie is none of these genres. Death Squad is an unmitigated disaster from frame one; as Danny Glover’s character Sponge says at the end of the film, “What a mess.”

The plot may have to do with saving the world, although it is not clear just what the overall mission of Ryan Willburn (Baldwin) actually is. He is either supposed to collect a transmitter or information and the transmitter or possibly something else entirely. He crash lands in a contaminated area where he needs an anti radiation serum dose on a regular basis or he will hallucinate and die.

Once he crashes Willburn discovers a pile of bodies and a local alien girl. We know she is alien because she cannot talk, although she can write in English, and she has been painted purple…or burgundy. She also has two black dots on her forehead and chin. Tuag, played by newcomer Neva Leone, helps Ryan on his mission, whatever it is.

The villains of the piece are apparently supposed to be Rutger Hauer’s Colonel Asimov, his aide Major Anderson (Hannah) and Lobo (Madsen). With no real clear objective, it seems that they are just meant to threaten and then kill Willburn.

Editing of the film appears to have been done while under the influence of hallucinogens and the script apparently had no dialogue included as it seems that all the performers were making it up as they went along. Hauer’s lines definitely feel made up on the spot. For all intents and purposes Death Squad seems to be the first film shot with no real script or lines or direction.

Granted the movie has been given a science fiction setting, telling the audience that it is in 2047 and that world order has fallen apart and so on sorts this out. Danny Glover’s character sits scribbling in a notebook when he is not cursing and looking for data on antiquated computer monitors or talking to Willburn. At one point in the film he is writing down that “Charles Manson was right” and that viagra “was right.” Like everything else in the movie, Glover’s character is in a muddle.

The film’s action roams all over the place and has no coherency or direction. Each of the actors feel like they are in their own film. Of course Madsen plays the same face-pulling cigarette-smoking psycho version of his Kill Bill character, regardless of the role he is cast in. The actor seems to be performing in his own special movie regardless of what the script asks for.

Hannah, and Baldwin, both seem to be desperately trying to play their roles straight but with no support from anyone else in the cast. Unfortunately for Baldwin, it is hard to play it serious when having black shoe polish smeared on one’s face. Luckily for him it does magically disappear a short time later. Odd moments like this abound in Death Squad and they do not result in laughter just confusion.

In a nutshell, this film plods nonsensically along for 89 minutes with no resolution, no real story and obviously no real script. Somewhat amazingly, 2047: Sights of Death, or Death Squad, was released in Italian cinemas. For the rest of the world, the film is on Netflix and should be avoided at all costs. There is not one redeeming factor in this feature and one can only surmise that all the name actors in the film owed someone a huge favor.

0 out of 5 stars for being confusing, horrible and a waste of time.

Bad Asses on the Bayou: Third Time up for Viral Video Based Film

screenshot from Bad Asses on the Bayou
It is hard to be too critical about Bad Asses on the Bayou, aka Bad Ass 3. This is the third time up for the film series based on a viral video posted on YouTube back in 2010. Featuring a “Vietnam vet” in his late 60s who beats up a younger chap on the public transit bus, the footage turned Tommy Bruso into an Internet sensation. Unfortunately he was also on the Google-owned site a year before for getting tased by the police when a drunken Bruso got belligerent about being in the wrong seat at a baseball game.

In essence, the real life, “Bad Ass” was a bit of a nut, one “friend” stated that the man who served in the US military for 3 months during the Vietnam war, suffered from Bipolar and that he was bit off the rails, so to speak. Writer, director Craig Moss (Breaking Wind, Saving Ryan’s Privates)came up with a highly fictionalized version of Bruso where the “vet” turns vigilante when his one and only friend is murdered and the police do not seem to care (Bad Ass). This straight to DVD, and Netflix apparently, film proved popular enough that a second visit was set up where the screen version of Bruso, Frank Vega (played by cult favorite Danny Trejo) teams up with a pal, Bernie Pope (played by Danny Glover) for Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses.

Each of these films boasts an estimated budget of around $5 million and in the third installment, John Amos plays the part of Earl, father of Carmen (Loni Love) who is worth a fortune after his plantation is found to have oil under it. Carmen is kidnapped at her engagement party and the two men; Pope and Vega, decide to get their friend back.

These films are pretty low brow and despite the entertainment value of seeing Trejo, Glover and John Amos (a personal favorite) on screen, this one trick pony should be brushed down and put back in the stable. In all likelihood, the first film, which came out two years after the viral YouTube video with Tommy Bruso punching out a fellow passenger on the bus, came at a time when the public’s awareness of the bearded 67 year-old “hero” was already diminishing.

By now, a good five years later, type Bruso’s name in the search bar and not a lot comes up. A little like the plot of this film and the script it adheres to. It is a bit depressing to see Danny Glover reduced to playing these types of roles. Although he has aged well and still looks good onscreen.

Sadly, this type of film misuses his talents. Trejo has been in enough cheesy films to overlook his participation in this low budget followup to a film based on a mentally ill man who shot to fame via YouTube back in 2010. The stuntman turned actor has made a career out of playing oddball parts and when his Frank Vega says, full of outrage, “you shot my fanny pack,” we chuckle and nod our heads accepting this cockeyed attempt at humor by the screenwriter who is relying on Danny’s delivery to make this amusing.

This film ends with the promise of yet another sequel, this one possibly starring Glover, Trejo and Amos. While all three actors may welcome the income this would generate, the idea of one more abysmal repeat of marginal humor and three old age pensioners doing their version of Dirty Harry fills me with dread.

Bad Asses on the Bayou, aka Bad Ass 3, is a 2.5 out of 5 stars. This third in the series is as tired looking as its two stars. Perhaps the specter of Tommy Bruso can be put to rest now.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Beyond the Lights Minnie Driver vs Nate Parker in Singer Love Story

Beyond the Lights Minnie Driver vs Nate Parker in Singer Love Story

Beyond the lights stars Gugu Sophia Mbatha (Odd Thomas, Belle) as Noni, Minnie Driver as her stage mother Macy Jean who takes on the world and the record company for her girl, later it is mother vs. Nate Parker (Non-Stop, Arbitrage) as the cop, Kaz who saves Noni’s life and the two fall in love. Danny Glover is the police captain father of Kaz, Captain Nicol, who has big plans for his son in the world of politics. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees) Beyond the Lights starts with a young Noni winning first runner up in a local talent show in England and her mother telling her to throw the award away.