The Alternate (2000)

Cost: £1.23 (Play.com)

Tag-line: “In the tradition of Die Hard…”

Sample Dialogue: “I’m getting tired of being killed…”

Film company Nu Image (now known as Millennium Films) have in recent years reached a certain level of respectability in the film industry thanks to movies such as The Expendables. But they are best known for picking up the market that had been left in the wake of the collapse of Golan-Globus/Cannon Films.

Make them cheap; get some famous people to come in for a few days between some proper gigs and have enough action to cut together a decent trailer is still the strategy of most B-moves. And thus it is here with The Alternate, featuring that old war horse, Eric Roberts.

Eric Roberts is one of those actors who you always enjoy seeing on the big screen, but who never really managed to rise above making cheap crap. He is perhaps best known to younger audience members for playing mob boss Maroni in The Dark Knight, and stealing the limelight from The Expendables.

Sadly he was never able to really trade in his chips that these two films gave him, and he has quickly gone back to playing roles such as that of the President of the United States in the movie First Dog, a movie about the President’s dog, which has gone missing. I hope he got a nice extension to his house for that one.

The Republican field of candidates for the 2012 election was somewhat weak...

In The Alternate he plays a character I am told is called The Replacement. This is frankly a bit up itself. I will call him Ralph instead.

The film begins with a long, long sequence in which Secret Agent Ice-T is testing the security of a building which the President is about to visit as part of his re-election campaign (which is not going well). But a team of super agents (which Ralph has just recently joined) who are there to test the security measures put in place, manage to beat the secret service and “kill” the fake-President. Ice-T is not a happy bunny. At least I don’t think he is. He isn’t a very good actor.

But none of this matters anyway, because the President’s Chief of Staff has come up with the brilliant idea of pretend kidnapping the real President to boost his election chances. To do this she recruits the team that Ralph is working for. Only problem is, the team decides that perhaps it might be better to hold him to ransom for reals. Thus the board is set, and Ralph has to take down his former partners…one by one.

The DVD proclaims that this film is in the tradition of Die Hard. A bold claim and one you know going in that it couldn’t possibly live up to. The “Hollywood DVD” banner on the cover should be enough of a clue.

But you have no idea how bad this film is.

The kidnapper’s big plan to take out the secret service? Smuggling in blow pipes with little darts and knocking them all out. There is what feels like a ten minute sequence of people running around blowing darts. None of the secret service agents, who are equipped with actual guns, notice this bunch of characters standing in front of them.

Ice-T leaves the film early, his weekend’s worth of shooting wrapped up quickly. Following him, Michael Madsen enters the frame, in the role of Cop On The Outside Who Talks to the Hero on a Walkie-Talkie.

What? I actully get to live with Frankie from the X-factor for 2 weeks!?! Sign me up!

But for the most part the film is Eric Roberts vs. the main bad guy, played by Bryan Genesse, who is also the films writer and fight coordinator.  What this means is never ending monologues from Genesse who either genuinely believes that this stuff is script writing gold, or knows he has to pad out the film to fulfil a 90 minute run time.

Writer. Poet. Action Hero.

There isn’t very much to talk about. The shoot outs are mostly in small rooms, and no one gets hurt. Roberts does get the snot beaten out of him in one, kind of decent, fight in which a female member of the team beats him with a pipe (I like to think Genesse thought that was clever subtext. He typed that scene, got himself a drink and relaxed for the rest of the day), but it is mostly just dull and cheap.

Part of the problem is that most of the bad guys are taken out early. If you are claiming that your film is like Die Hard, then you should appreciate that one of things that made Die Hard so good was Alan Rickman’s gang, and how their deaths were spread across the film in order to keep tensions high. If McClane had killed all the henchmen, and it was just him and Gruber running around Nakatomi Plaza for most of the running time then you get an idea about what this film is like.

Why have a burger when you can have steak?

Director Sam Firstenberg, who made the film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, doesn’t seem much bothered by things such as continuity or moving the camera. Everything is directed in a flat unengaged style, which doesn’t help to hide the cheapness of the production.

I saw The Alternate over a month ago, and it has taken this long to actually type up the review because I was so utterly bored by it. On the Millennium Films website, they list the film, but do not provide a trailer. I cannot say that I blame them.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Bad Movie

[Robert Girvan]

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]