Three Action Films from Sony
The Detonator (May 26/06)
Not only is The Detonator the worst film of Wesley Snipes' career, but it's also one of the most inept and shockingly dull action flicks to hit the scene in ages. Like the majority of its straight-to-video brethren, The Detonator features a ridiculously convoluted storyline and performances that are almost uniformly awful - to the extent that there's virtually nothing here worth recommending (even the action sequences, generally the one saving grace in a film of this ilk, are overblown and incoherent). Snipes stars as Sonni Griffith, a cunning secret agent who finds himself hunted by a dangerous arms dealer after agreeing to escort a mysterious Russian woman back to the States. Filmmaker Po-Chih Leong infuses the film with one questionable directorial choice after another, and relies far too heavily on action-movie cliches to propel the story forward (ie slow-motion cinematography, choppy editing, etc). Snipes is clearly cashing a pay cheque here, as evidenced by his flat-out refusal to create a compelling character - though one can't help but marvel at the sheer offensiveness of the actor's brief turn as a flamboyantly gay arms dealer (why Sonni would make this choice during a pivotal undercover operation is never explained). And as if that weren't enough, The Detonator has the added obstacle of having been shot in Romania - an extraordinarily tedious locale that's cropping up with alarming regularity in lousy straight-to-video actioners such as this.
With a cast that includes Cuba Gooding Jr, James Woods, and Burt Reynolds, End Game doesn't immediately come off as a typical straight-to-video actioner. The relatively taut and suspenseful opening half hour, however, is eventually replaced by a far more conventional and unevenly-paced sort of vibe, with the end result a film that's sporadically intriguing but ultimately forgettable. The story revolves around a secret service agent (Gooding Jr) and an investigative reporter (Angie Harmon) who team up following the assassination of the President, and soon find themselves embroiled in a far-reaching conspiracy. End Game marks the directorial debut of stunt coordinator Andy Cheng, so it comes as no surprise that the film's action sequences are exceedingly well done and genuinely exciting. The filmmaker proves to be far less adept at handling the talkier aspects of the screenplay, and the various contrivances within the story become more and more difficult to overlook as the movie progresses (did we really need so many references to Harmon's dying cell phone?) Worse than that, though, is the anticlimactic third act - which, when coupled with an awfully abrupt conclusion, leaves the viewer with a less-than-clear explanation of the motives behind the assassination. Still, Gooding Jr is quite good as the grizzled secret service agent, and James Woods deftly steals every one of his scant scenes as Gooding Jr's disgruntled boss (Burt Reynolds, on the other hand, looks creepier than ever).
Second in Command
Given that Jean-Claude Van Damme's last straight-to-video effort was the surprisingly decent Wake of Death, it's difficult not to feel a tinge of disappointment at just how lackluster Second in Command ultimately reveals itself to be. Filmmaker Simon Fellows' astonishingly inept directorial choices play a substantial hand in the movie's downfall, though the incredibly tedious storyline and unimpressive supporting performances undoubtedly go a long way towards cementing Second in Command's status as an utterly forgettable actioner. Van Damme plays Sam Keenan, a military official who's must protect the President of a small European country from a band of increasingly violent band of insurgents. With a setup like that - it's essentially The Alamo in contemporary times - Second in Command certainly had the potential to be a gritty, exciting little action flick. But it's obvious right from the start that Fellows is the absolute wrong choice for the material, as the director infuses the movie with a sort of faux-documentary feel that's completely inappropriate and thoroughly distracting. This is compounded by the total lack of compelling characters, something that's true even of Van Damme's Sam Keenan (the actor delivers an atypically stiff and uncharismatic performance). Even the fight sequences aren't terribly engaging, thanks mostly to Fellows' astoundingly misguided decision to inundate such moments with slow-motion cinematography and point-of-view shots - although, admittedly, one can't help but admire the duel that ends with Van Damme gouging out his opponent's eyes.