Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Action/Adventure - Marty McKee ""

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Marty McKee

Marty has cinema love pumping through his veins and he's seen more flicks than you can shake a stick at in his lifetime. He writes about movies at Marty's Marquee (film reviews):
and Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot (blog):

One of Cannon’s best action movies is, inexplicably, not yet on Region 1 DVD or Blu-ray, though it’s finally coming later this year. A reunion of AMERICAN NINJA stars Michael Dudikoffand Steve James and director Sam Firstenberg, AVENGING FORCE is another ripoff of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but set in the Louisiana bayou. It features some of the most vicious antagonists of any action film of any era: members of The Pentangle, a secret and influential organization of white supremacists and child sex slaversFirstenberg stages several exciting setpieces and martial arts battles in some of New Orleans’ seediest locations, culminating in a wild standoff against John P. Ryan (DEATH WISH 4) and three of his best warriors in the filthy, rainy Louisiana bayou.

John Carpenter contributed to the screenplay, but chose not to direct, this entertaining B-picture starring Tommy Lee Jones(THE FUGITIVE) as a master thief and Linda Hamilton (THE TERMINATOR) as a sexy car thief who come into position of the Black Moon: a super high-tech racecar built by engineer Richard Jaeckel (THE DIRTY DOZEN) that reptilian businessman Robert Vaughn (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.)wants badly enough to kill for it. Not a high-budgeted movie for Harley Cokliss, the director of MALONE and BATTLETRUCK, but it has some wit, original touches, and a cool exploitation cast that also includes Keenan Wynn and Bubba Smith.

This beautifully photographed and edited action picture features seminal tough-guy performances by Rod Taylor (THE BIRDS) and former football pro Jim Brown (THE DIRTY DOZEN), who play mercenaries who board a train to rescue citizens and $25 million in uncut diamonds from the war-torn Congo before the invading Simba force gets to them first. Excitingly lensed in Jamaica, DARK OF THE SUN is fast-paced and loaded with rich dialogue. Blistering action scenes include epic-looking raids, a chainsaw fight, Taylor bouncing his Jeep down a rocky stream in pursuit of an enemy on a raft, and particularly a suspenseful sequence in which Brown and Taylor infiltrate a grisly Simba celebration. DARK OF THE SUN is one of the toughest, most violent adventures of the 1960s.

I had to get at least one direct-to-video actioner from PM Entertainment on this list, and this is a favorite from the studio’s peak period of the late 1990s. It’s got more squealing tires than a half-season of Stephen J. Cannell shows, and producer/directors Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin routinely managed to get more thrilling action and stunts on the screen than most movies with literally 100 times the budget. This one casts Michael Madsen (KILL BILL) as a stunt driver trying to prevent the U.S. President (Roy Scheider) from being kidnapped by a megalomaniac (Keith David) with an underground lair and an organized gang of commandos. Dozens of vehicles are flipped upside down, fly through the air, burst through exploding fireballs, screech around corners, smash into each other--often in glorious slow-motion and at multiple angles. Honorable mentions: RAGE, THE SWEEPER, and THE UNDERGROUND.

One of Chuck Norris’ best pre-Cannon outings, AN EYE FOR AN EYE makes good use of its star’s unique skill set by staging several exciting fight scenes and surrounding him with a more-than-capable supporting cast, including Christopher Lee, Mako, Richard Roundtree, Matt Clark, and Professor Toru Tanaka. Chuck plays a San Francisco cop tracking down his partner’s killer, which leads to a climactic battle scene featuring dozens of cops and thugs shooting it out while Norris fights the major players in a breathtaking hillside mansion. Unfortunately, the MGM DVD is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, but with Norris’ other early films getting quality releases, such as THE OCTAGON and A FORCE OF ONE, there’s hope for EYE.

The great David Janssen—pre-FUGITIVE—stars as a rural police officer in this thrilling B-picture shot on location in Oregon and Washington. He’s kidnapped by three juvenile delinquents (one played by Frank Gorshin!) who try to escape through the Olympic Mountains during a raging forest fire.Miniature and optical effects are good, and it sure looks as though the stars are very close to real flames. RING OF FIRE’s biggest action sequence finds Janssen and leading lady Joyce Taylor trying to save the town from a roaring fire by herding the citizens onto an abandoned train and across a blazing bridge, and it’s a real corker of a climax. To sell it, director Andrew Stone destroyed a real train and trestle, and the remains of the locomotive and two passenger cars still lay at the bottom of that gorge more than fifty years later. Not on DVD, but try to catch it on Turner Classic Movies.

A plane carrying six men and a woman crashes in the African desert. The pilot dies, but the rest of the party manages to salvage some equipment and hike under the blistering sun to a mountain containing fresh water and a cave for shelter. There are no good guys or bad guys, just human beings who sometimes act selfishly and sometimes nobly. Director CyEndfield's intense desert locations (Spain?) add to the audience's discomfort, as the castaways not only face internal battles, but also a wild pack of baboons! Stanley Baker, Stuart Whitman, and Susannah York star in this suspenseful British production that looks fantastic on Blu-ray.

The first Tarzan adventure aimed at adults since Johnny Weissmuller’s earliest days under the loincloth is also the best Tarzan film ever made. And it still would be even if it didn’t contain the novelty of Sean Connery in a pre-007 role as a nasty henchman. Director John Guillermin (THE TOWERING INFERNO) and producer Sy Weintraub took the company to eastern Africa, where Guillermin helmed one exciting action sequence after another, particularly a spectacularly brutal battle between Tarzan (Gordon Scott) and main heavy Anthony Quayle on a rocky cliff. Tarzan chases Quayle’s gang through a jungle stocked with pythons and tarantulas and quicksand, accompanied by smart, sexy, sharp-tongued pilot Sara Shane.Scott’s next, sixth, and final Tarzan film, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, is almost as great.

Not Steven Seagal’s best movie, but in his Top 5 and his most underrated. It’s DIE HARD on a Train with Seagal up against glib terrorist Eric Bogosian (TALK RADIO) and his intimidating henchman, Everett McGill (TWIN PEAKS) in a Doc Savage haircut. The barreling train allows director Geoff Murphy (YOUNG GUNS II) to stage creative action sequences within confined spaces. Of course, much of it takes place outside the train, which allows Murphy to stage some nasty deaths, such as Seagal tossing one villain off the front of the train to get run over and another thug off the side of the train to smash painfully into a wooden shack. Except for his brief appearance in EXECUTIVE DECISION, this 1995 film is, unfortunately,Seagal’s last very good film.

A perfect example of what can happen when talented, ambitious filmmakers hired to deliver a cheap exploitation movie decide to add some elbow grease and try just a little bit harder than they're expected to. Led by Wings Hauser, whose gonzo performance as a sadistic pimp named Ramrod steals the picture, VICE SQUAD is sleazy, hitting the damp, hard-bitten streets of Los Angeles, wallowing with the perverts, hookers, pimps, reprobates, oddballs, degenerates, and outcasts that make up the L.A. nightlife. No doubt about it--Wings dominates the film, and Ramrod is one of cinema’s great villains, alternately charming and sadistic and absolutely single-minded in his nocturnal crimes. With the great John Alcott (BARRY LYNDON) manning the camera, VICE SQUAD looks stunning, capturing late-night L.A. at its slimy worst/best. You can practically taste the grit from the streets and smell the neon in the air.

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