The Bad Pack

Cost: £1.09 (Play.com)

Tag line: A crack team of elite mercenaries… A deadly group of desperate terrorists… There is only one outcome!

Sample dialogue: “The great turning point in our lives is when we gain the courage to accept our evil as what is best in us.”

Robert Davi does not like you. He does not care about you or whether you have a good time. You may have seen him in ‘Die Hard’, ‘The Goonies’ or ‘Licence to Kill’ and thought to yourself “Hey! This guy’s cool. I like him.” Well he’s not cool and you shouldn’t. He is seriously uncool. Nothing will ever illustrate this more clearly than his participation in a little film called ‘The Bad Pack’.

I don't know. Maybe he's wearing it ironically? Which I guess would make him the first hipster action hero.

The ‘Bad Pack’ in question are a team of seven ‘elite’ mercenaries hired to defend a village of Mexican illegal immigrants from a fanatic militia group who’ve been terrorising them – mostly by riding dirt bikes through their fruit stands.

If you think that sounds suspiciously like the plot to ‘The Magnificent Seven’, you’d be right. If you thought it sounded suspiciously like the plot to ‘Seven Samurai’ or ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ you’d also be right, but I don’t think the makers of ‘The Bad Pack’ set out to rip off any of these films. In fact, I’d wager they haven’t seen any of these films. If these guys are intentionally ripping off anything it’s the original pilot of ‘The A-Team’. So it’s worse than you might fear. Instead of diluting Kurosawa or John Ford, what we actually get here is a half-assed and generally incompetent riff on Stephen J Cannell.

No offence to the late Mr Cannell (or, as some like to affectionately refer to him, 'God').

Instead of cigar-chomping Hannibal Smith we’re presented with Confederate-hat-wearing James Mcque (Davi), who works at a motorcycle shop and hangs out at a diner that is never more than five minutes from being robbed. When a masked assailant puts a gun in Mcque’s ear and demands he give up his wallet and valuables, he responds: “I don’t mind you taking this stuff. Just leave the sunglasses. They’re my favourite pair.” What follows is a fight scene so woefully inept that it’s depressing more than laughable.

Rowdy Roddy Piper steps into the ‘Face’ role, which might seem odd at first. Given his wrestling persona, you might expect Piper to be more suited to filling the boots of ass-kicker Mr T or ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock, as opposed to a smooth-talking ladies’ man. In the context of ‘The Bad Pack’, however, it makes sense, as he’s the only member of the entire cast to display one ounce of charisma.

As for the Mr T position? Ralf Moeller takes that, while our Murdock surrogate is Latrell Hoffman (Patrick Dollaghan). How much is Hoffman like Murdock? Well, you remember that scene in the original ‘A-Team’ where they had to break Murdock out of a mental hospital? Well if you liked that, you’re going to LOVE the scene in ‘The Bad Pack’ where they have to break Hoffman out of a mental hospital. It’s the same scene, is what I’m trying to say here. Basically, somebody, probably a 10-year-old kid (and not a very bright 10-year-old kid), saw ‘The A-Team’ and thought “I’m going to write that movie”, and so that’s exactly what they did.

The world wouldn't see an A-Team rip-off this shitty till, well... 'The A-Team'.

Anyway, to round out the cast we also have a woman, a black guy and a traitor from the militia side. None of these characters are very interesting, with the possible exception of the Black Guy (Larry B Scott), an acquisitions agent with no field skills who speaks primarily in abbreviated slogans he must immediately explain (“That’s I.N.G.T.H. It’s not going to happen.” “I’m a C.D.M. A can-do man.”), which seems to me to defeat the time-saving point of abbreviations.

He’s also interesting for the way in which other characters relate to him, i.e. pure, seething hatred. This is especially true of the Mexican villagers. When the plane carrying our intrepid band of killers-for-hire arrives at the village, a crowd of farmers and their wives rush to greet them. First out the door is Roddy Piper, who they cheer (as anyone surely would). Next is Ralph Moeller, and again they cheer. Then comes Black Guy, and the crowd fall silent. He steps down from the plane bemused, as the villagers gaze at him, apparently ready to murder him if he so much as opens his mouth. Now, these people don’t know Black Guy. They don’t know how irritating he is. They’ve never met him. They only know that they’re paying him money to save their lives AND that he’s black. That’s it. Apparently that’s enough to hush the hell up and stare him down like he’s a piece of shit on a shoe. I’ve watched this scene a couple of times and there’s simply no valid interpretation other than this – these Mexican villagers are a bunch of racist bastards.

This isn’t limited to one scene, either. It continues at the town meeting where Black Guy tries to lead the audience in a round of applause for Mcque… and they sit and stare daggers at him. They may want to be rescued, these villagers. But not if it’s by a black guy. Seriously, these ungrateful, hypocritical ass-holes are a lynch mob waiting to happen.

NOT PICTURED: The greatest action cast ever assembled.

So the Bad Pack set about gathering together some weapons and putting a plan together to stop the militia, led by professional Kurt Russell look-a-like (and sound-a-like) Marshall R. Teague. All in all, this section of the film takes about 7 to 12 hours. I’m not sure. I wasn’t counting. But that’s what it felt like.

By the way, did you know Vernon Wells (Commando, The Road Warrior) is in this movie? He’s close to unrecognisable, playing a biker militia henchman with about four lines, but I looked it up on imdb. It’s definitely him. Which begs the question: What’s up with that? Vernon Wells is awesome. If I were making an action movie I’d kill to have him play the villain. But here he’s not the villain. He’s not even Henchman #1. Four lines and we never see him again. That’s the kind of behaviour that unfairly raises a person’s hopes and then dashes them. You know who else is in this crap? Clifton Collins Jr.

In the prestigious role of Townsman 1, no less.

Eventually, the Bad Pack storm the militia compound and it is even more tedious than you could possibly have imagined. Every fight seems deliberately choreographed to be as slow and clumsy as possible. Every action sequence is edited so that any hint of excitement or immediacy is removed.

This all builds to a showdown between Davi, armed with a pistol, and Teague, armed with a knife. Forgoing any sense of sportsmanship, Davi shoots Teague in one knee-cap (“That’s for the first amendment”), then the other (“That’s so you never walk on anyone again.”). The whole compound is rigged to explode and Teague has no chance of escape. Davi tells him: “You’ve got two minutes before you’re pixie dust. How fast can you crawl?” He then makes his escape, leaving Teague to his doom.

It’s not much of a showdown, granted, but it’s not as bad as it could have been. But then, with 30 seconds left, Davi reappears over Teague, who I feel I must reiterate is unarmed, crippled and doomed. “One more thing,” he says, “This is because you’re a lousy card player,” and SHOOTS HIM DEAD. Now, first off, that “lousy card player” comment refers to a scene earlier in the film where the two men play one round of Blackjack, Teague ends up on 20 and Davi on 21. That’s not lousy. It’s not a winning hand, but it’s about as close as you can get. Secondly, Davi’d already done his whole quip thing while dooming Teague to death a minute and a half earlier. There was absolutely no need for him to go back. It plays as though he said the bit about pixie dust, ran out of the room, then thought “Oh shit! I know what I should have said. I should’ve called him a lousy card player!” then TURNED BACK and killed him. That’s not cool. That’s lame and pathetic. It’s not even a good quip!

And this is, above all, the greatest crime committed by ‘The Bad Pack’. It’s boring, it rips off ‘The A-Team’, it’s badly directed and poorly acted, but, most importantly, it presents a vision of Robert Davi that the world was not meant to see. Specifically, it is the vision of a man dressed in a pink, long-sleeved shirt, with chinos, white sock and black shoes, sunglasses and a Confederate cap. A man who is described as a mysterious bad-ass, but in practice is a lumbering bore who, when offing his enemy, can’t even come up with a half-decent pun. There are a hundred reasons why every copy of ‘The Bad Pack’ should be confiscated and burned, why it should be erased from the memory of humanity. But this one is the most serious – it is the film which took Robert Davi and turned him shit.

Please note - this film is not fit to lick Con Air's sweaty balls.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Bad movie

[John McNee]

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Hemoglobin (AKA Bleeders)

Cost: £1.46 (Play.com)

Tag-Line: It’s in the blood

Sample Dialogue: “And even though she could have sex with herself…”

The DVD cover for Hemoglobin proudly states that it is from the creators of the classic Ridley Scott masterpiece Alien. And indeed the back of the cover reveals the names of Alien producer Ron Shusett, and writer Dan O’Bannon.

Furthermore, Hemoglobin, also called Bleeders, is a very loose adaptation of a HP Lovecraft story entitled “The Lurking Fear”. Which would have been a much better title than Hemoglobin. Actully most words would have made for a better title then Hemoglobin.

With these elements in place you would be led to believe the film might be half decent.

You would be wrong.

The film opens in 17th Century Holland, where a family high in the social elite, called the Van Daams, has begun to engage in sordid, and incestuous, activities. In fear of prosecution, they flee to the New World, and specifically New England, to continue their practises.

Flash-forward to the present day (well, the mid 1990s), and a boat carrying a mysterious man named John Strauss, and his wife, arrives at a remote island. Strauss, an orphan, suffers from a blood disease that is slowly killing him. His only chance for a cure is to trace his relatives whom he believes live on the island.

No, I don't know what is up with his noise either.

At the same time this is happening, the local grave site is being dug up, and the coffins moved elsewhere.

It soon transpires that the grave site was the main food source of the Van Daam family, which has now regressed to a point where they have become a race of mutant midget hermaphrodites. Yes, really.

Using a complex web of underground tunnels these creatures roam the island looking for fresh meat to replenish their dwindling supplies.

Wilderness-era Rutger Hauer turns up as the local Doctor, but the majority of the cast appears to come from Canadian TV and low budget movies.

The director of the film, Peter Svatek is a veteran of straight to DVD movies, most notably the Roddy Piper film, Sci-Fighters, which I am sure we will review in the near future.

After losing out on the role of Yoda, Cecil Harlow was forced into a career starring in B-Movies.

It is no wonder the film carries with it a TV Movie feel for much of its runtime. Characters stand around in rooms, and talk an awful lot. And talk. And talk some more. It doesn’t help that our main hero looks like a cross breed of someone out of Twilight and Tommy Wiseau, of The Room fame.

That said, in the final twenty minutes things start to happen. There are some half decent creature effects for the monsters, and the death toll rises nicely. Even a couple of kids get killed!

It is refreshing to see practical effects done to a higher than average standard, and the final showdown, set around and inside a lighthouse, is actually pretty good. It is just a long slog to get there.

The film also throws in two sex scenes which feel like they were forced in by one of the producers wanting to make sure that they got a return on their investment.

The first, during the prologue, undercuts the voice-over talking about the depravity of the Van Daams, with soft focus lighting, and good looking people having it off. The second occurs near the very end and is utterly baffling.

Our hero, Mr. Strauss, has become ever weaker, and needs help to move. His wife, finding a foetus of one of the mutants in a jar, sets it down on a table and tells him to eat it. Cut to the aftermath of this feast, and her husband has regained his strength. So much so he wants to have sex. His wife complies; obviously not minding what must be a fairly yucky smell coming from his mouth.

The acting is pretty much dire all around, with most of the townspeople giving off an air of an amateur theatre group being given the chance to star in a movie. And I am further sad to report that the usually dependable Hauer looks bored for most of the film’s running time. The one and only highlight I can think of is an elderly actress whose name I have sadly not been able to locate, who knows what this material is, and cuts the ham thick.

The sequel to Hobo With a Shotgun didn't command quite the same budget...

I am not sure what the details are about the involvement of Dan O’Bannon, but his career as a writer was somewhat uneven. Yes, he came up with the concept of Alien, but you compare his script to the substantial re-write that Walter Hill undertook, and you can see clearly which script the film was based on.

His other writing included Dark Star, Return of the Living Dead, Lifeforce and Screamers and range from bad, to ambitious but uneven.

The thing about Hemoglobin is that O’Bannon had already written a much better version of this film, in the 1981 movie Dead and Buried. Again it was set on a remote part of New England, and had a creepy town, and secrets that went back generations. And it was done so much better.

I choose to believe that O’Bannon’s draft of this script was a somewhat different beast (the man was an expert on Lovecraft), and was given re-writes. There is no other way to explain the final lines of this film which are amazingly bad. So bad that even thinking about them makes me laugh.

When all is said and done, Hemoglobin stuck the golden rule about cheap horror films. It doesn’t matter if you bore an audience for the first half of the film, as long as you give them what they want in the second half. And on that basis the film did deliver, albeit sometimes unintentionally.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer Movie

[Robert Girvan]

Spiders

Cost: £1.23 from Play.com

Tag-line: Something very hungry’s about to hatch

Sample dialogue: (Agent Gray) “You contradict me in front of your men again, I’ll shoot you on sight. Is that clear?”

When you’re making a movie – especially one about mutant space spiders injected with alien DNA – it’s always important to have a likeable, compelling protagonist. Audiences love having a hero who they can identify with, somebody with that every-man quality that just makes you sympathise with them and want to see them succeed. ‘Spiders’ offers a different, entirely radical take, presenting one of the most dislikeable protagonists I’ve ever seen in a film that wasn’t about the life of Hitler. I am referring to Hamden College newspaper ‘reporter’ Marci Eyre (or ‘Glasses McBoobs’ as she is more commonly known among fellow beer movie aficionados)

In her telling first appearance, Marci is seen reading a beaten-up copy of ‘Conspiracy Theories for Idiots’ or something similar, brow furrowed in deep concentration as she takes in every earth-shattering revelation. She then turns to the chapter on ‘Close Encounters’, and a quote from one Uri Adamski (that’s right, THE Uri Adamski), which says: “Aliens are real, they are here and the Government knows it!” Reading this, McBoob closes the book, smiles thoughtfully and nods.

"Quick! Get me a postcard the size of a football pitch and the biggest glass in the world!"

In an expert piece of film-making which perfectly encapsulates the mantra of ‘show don’t tell’, this silent few seconds informs us of everything we need to know about our heroin: She’s a moron.

She’s also a terrible journalist, with no understanding of news values, who, when ordered to cover a story about a space shuttle mission to test new fertility treatments on spiders (!) declares: “That’s not hard news.” Her own scoop, an interview with a delusional man who believes he’s from another planet is, however, “front page stuff”.

Her kooky fascination with UFOs and Little Green Men is probably meant to be endearing, but in practice she comes off as a selfish, gullible borderline lunatic – a problem attributable both to the scriptwriter (who makes the classic Hollywood mistake of thinking “strong female character” equals “possible lesbian who is pissed off at everyone and probably on her period”) and actress Lana Parrilla, who plays her part with all the charm and nuance of a vending machine wearing lipstick.

A sexy, sexy vending machine...

Anyway, when the mutant spider-infested space shuttle she doesn’t consider newsworthy crash- lands next to the same secret government base Marci’s investigating, she sneaks in for a closer look. With her college buddies Dead and Meat along for the ride (at least I think that’s their names), she infiltrates the base and within a few minutes is battling to survive an outbreak of deadly mutant space spiders AND the heavily armed clean-up crew sent in to eradicate them.

Leading this team is the real star of ‘Spiders’, Agent Gray (Mark Phelan), a government operative so focused on getting the job done that he won’t think twice about killing one of his own men. In fact, he seems to think that’s the best way of getting the job done, as he seems to be executing a subordinate every other scene. This is typical movie bad guy behaviour, of course, often associated with Bond villains and unhinged Nazi generals, but Agent Gray takes it to a whole new level.

Within moments of arriving at the crash site he’s already gunning down his own people, starting with an unarmed doctor who did nothing more than talk back to him. You’ve got to admire that kind of dedication to a strategy. I mean, that doctor probably had years of experience and medical knowledge that could’ve come in handy, not to mention a wife and kids back home who’ll have to be compensated. But when Henchman #1 questions Gray about why he had to shoot him, he simply answers: “Get used to it.” And he ain’t kidding. Gray seemingly answers to nobody, unless its maybe the President himself, who in this universe is almost certainly a homicidal douche-bag (albeit a douche-bag who still pledges funding for manned space missions so, y’know, not all bad).

So for the next hour everyone’s running around in the underground levels of the base getting in and out of various scrapes with arachnid foes. These effects-heavy encounters range from laughable to fairly effective, including one scene where a giant spider crawls up through one victim’s throat and bursts out of his mouth. It is, to be fair, genuinely disgusting.

"All right, Mr Smith, the Doctor will see you nnnwwwWWHATTHEHELLISTHATTHING?!?!?"

Dead and Meat die horrible, horrible deaths. Marci doesn’t seem all that bothered. Agent Gray continues to execute more of his men until it’s just him and Henchman #1 left, at which point Henchman #1 (perhaps sensing the way things are going) teams up with Marci and the pair escape the base in time for a spider the size of house to unleash itself on the city, destroying Hamden College and going on a murderous rampage. I won’t lie – I found this whole section pretty entertaining. Maybe that makes me a retard. I’ll let you decide.

There’s actually a fair amount to like in ‘Spiders’. It’s violent enough, with a few good gross-out moments. The plot is stupid but it at least doesn’t waste any time on character backgrounds or romantic sub-plots (Marci’s too focused on getting her story for any of that). The effects may not always be great, but they’re usually good enough. And there’s Agent Gray, obviously.

In fact, there are enough good elements at play here that with a compelling enough lead this could’ve become a modern B-movie classic. But no. We’re not lucky enough to get Bruce Campbell or Roddy Piper. We get Marci – a woman so arrogant, unpleasant and single-minded that she’s impossible to like even when she’s bouncing around in a wet t-shirt. Throughout her ordeal in the base – during which her only two friends in the world are killed – all she cares about is making it back to the college newspaper to file her story before deadline. She is, of all the characters in the movie, the one who most deserves a violent death by mutated spider. Naturally, this seems to guarantee she is the only character who is never in any danger of getting killed off.

Believe me, I'm just as shocked as you.

Her final words are the most infuriating of all. “Get me down from here,” she yells. “I got a story to write!” By this point her editor is dead, most of her colleagues on the paper are dead, the entire news building has been destroyed and the level of city-wide carnage means every national news service in the country will be swarming upon the scene almost immediately. There is no scoop here. Nobody is printing a damn thing that she has to say. But she’s still “got a story to write”. Moron.

Still, if you’re prepared to put up with her and you need something to watch while you’re on your 15th, 16th and 17th beers, you could do a lot worse than ‘Spiders’.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer movie

[John McNee]

Blue Jean Cop (AKA Shakedown)

Cost: £2.99 (In DVD double-pack with ‘One Man Force’)

Tag-line: Whatever you do… don’t call the cops!

Sample dialogue: “You drive, I’ll shoot!”

When George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was released the distributors made an error with the film print which meant (for some crazy reason) that the film wasn’t copyrighted, entered the public domain and, when the time came around, any Tom, Dick or Harry could burn a copy onto a DVD and sell it without consequence.

Now, obviously, that never happened with ‘Blue Jean Cop’ (aka ‘Shakedown’). It’s not in the public domain. But something just as catastrophic must’ve gone down behind the scenes that meant that a film this well made, with a good budget and a cast full of well-known names (not to mention possibly the greatest trailer ever cut – see it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXRalGmRWdk ) should end up languishing in the bottom of bargain buckets in corner shops and all-night petrol stations up and down the country.

The copy I found is double-sided, complemented by ex-American Football star John Matuszak vehicle ‘One Man Force’ in an action double bill, implying the good people at Hollywood DVD believed this is the only way anyone could be persuaded to part with £2.99 for the flick.

"You know what we should've seen? Robocop 3. I hear it's REALLY good."

‘Blue Jean Cop’ deserves better than this. It’s the simple story of Roland Dalton (Peter Weller, who the DVD case informs us was in ‘Robocop’ and ‘Robocop 2’), first seen blending a milk/orange juice/coffee/egg smoothie for breakfast to the strains of Jimi Hendrix. He’s a successful defence attorney, one week away from leaving criminal litigation and joining his girlfriend’s father’s law firm. Before that, though, he has to take care of just one last case (ain’t it always the way?) in the form of Richard Brooks, a crack dealer who shot and killed a cop in Central Park. The prosecution say it was murder, but Brooks says the dead man was a ‘Blue Jean Cop’ (an officer who robs drug dealers) and he was acting in self-defence.

Sam Elliott plays a renegade detective – introduced sleeping off the night before’s brown-bag booze binge in the cinema-cum-crack den he calls home – who day-by-day is growing more uncomfortable with the corruption he sees all around him in the department.

Together the unconventional lawyer and the plays-by-his-own-rules cop find themselves teaming up to take down an alliance of drug pushers and dirty cops led by kingpin Antonio Fargas and smarmy detective Larry Joshua (who we all know is evil before he opens his mouth because of his mullet).

This is all great fun. Things explode, cars get chased, women take their clothes off and people die in a variety of entertaining ways – my particular favourites include the bondage freak being electrocuted by his own hand-cuffs and the poor guy flying into the night on a runaway roller-coaster.

Every so often we have to check back in at the court to see how the case is going and these scenes certainly slow things down (as do the scenes focusing on Weller’s hectic love life), but Weller is always fun to watch. Everyone, in fact, does a great job, and the cast is peppered with even more familiar faces including Jude Ciccolella (24), David Proval (The Sopranos) and the almost-obligatory John C McGinley (Scrubs).

"I'm in EVERYTHING!"

It all looks great too, with director James Glickenhaus making the most of New York’s sleaziest locations, including neon-lit brothels, rain-slick shanty towns and one nightclub where nice white college kids drink, watch snuff films and prostitute themselves for cocaine, while Huggy Bear counts his money in the back room. It’s all very well put together.

That is to say… maybe 89 minutes are well put together. For some reason that I can’t hope to comprehend, it all falls apart right at the climax. Right at one of the most pivotal moments of the film, at what should be one of the best stunts, it all collapses on its arse.

I’m not kidding about this. It really needs to be seen to be believed, but there is a single effects-heavy minute right at the very end that nearly sinks the entire film in just how shockingly, appallingly shoddy it looks.

As the villains of the piece prepare to make their getaway on a private jet bound for Costa Rica, Weller and Elliott speed onto the runway in a red Porsche convertible, top down. In a sequence that deserves its place in the Hall of 80’s Action Movie Legend, the Porsche races after the jet and, just as it begins to take off, Elliott leaps out and grabs onto the landing gear. So far, everything’s shot for real, exciting as hell and looking good, good, good.

Then… BAD! BAD! BAD! And suddenly Sam Elliot is dangling from a fake wheel in a studio somewhere as New York bounces around on a rear-projector behind him. As if that weren’t bad enough, we then cut to some cut-and-paste hack job that sees the jet awkwardly winging its way towards the North Tower of the World Trade Centre and narrowly avoiding a collision – a shot now cringe-inducing thanks to certain historical events, as well as because of how lousy it looks.

"I'm going to ask this one more time... Nobody else thinks this looks stupid?"

And yet, as laugh-out-loud mind-bogglingly awful as those few seconds are, they are not enough to ruin this film for me and they shouldn’t be for you.

This is the film where Sam Elliott rides a motorcycle while Peter Weller fires a .45 hand-cannon from the back seat. That’s always going to be worth at least  £2.99.

"Don't you dare judge us..."

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Good movie

[John McNee]