Movie Review: Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)


January 20, 2018

When it comes to a fighting movie, whether it be a boxing or martial arts, the viewers already know the end result: The protagonist comes out victorious by defeating the villain. Moreover, it usually happens in dramatic fashion, where the protagonist suffers a major beat-down by the villain initially and, at the end, he miraculous recovers his strength to win the fight. It’s a premise that is not a secret and has been witnessed in a plethora of fighting movies. In Kickboxer: Retaliation, the second installment of a possible trilogy, that script remains true.

However, it is up to the director to present a storyline that creates interest, leading up to a climatic fight and happy ending. Unfortunately, Kickboxer: Retaliation does not have an interesting storyline. The script, in fact, presents an unoriginal storyline that has been told many times, simply executed with different actors. Unlike the first installment, Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016), which was written by Dimitri Logothetis and directed by John Stockwell, Logothetis plays the role of both director and writer in the sequel; Jim McGrath serves as co-writer. Still, the film is not very good, despite being better than the first.

Alain Moussi (Kurt Sloane) reprises his role as the protagonist from the previous film. His new formidable enemy – Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson as Mongkut – represents a colossal of a beast who stands 6 feet and 9 inches tall and weighs over 400 pounds. Jean-Claude Van Damme (Master Durand), Sara Malakul Lane (Liu), and Sam Medina (Crawford) return to reprise their respective roles. Notable newcomers include boxing legend Mike Tyson, Christopher Lambert, former soccer star Ronaldinho, and MMA fighter Roy Nelson.

The film starts off with an interesting pre-induction scene, where Kurt and his wife Liu are salaciously slow dancing inside of a moving train. The mood represents a festive atmosphere until a man enters the train, walks behind Kurt, and points a gun behind his head. Chaos ensues. Chud (Wanderlei Silva) and a few other fighters enter, swinging around sharply large ax-like weapons, and Kurt defeats them. During this chaos, Liu is kidnapped and taken out of the train. A woman wearing dark-shade eyeglasses enter the train, and she too is defeated but not out. Kurt goes outside of the train to find his wife, and climbs atop the moving train, where it is heavily pouring in the night, and meets the woman again with another foe. He fights them both and defeats them. Thereafter, his leg gets caught up in a chain, causing him to fall off the moving train and into a body of water. (This scene, which happens to be a dream, is pretty good.)

The film officially begins by showing flashbacks of Van Damme’s classic 1989 Kickboxer movie, along with the reboot Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016). The scene then transitions into an octagon ring in Las Vegas, where Kurt is fighting an opponent he defeats via an armbar submission. Thereafter, two U.S. Marshalls are waiting to arrest Kurt for the murder of Tong Po (Dave Bautista) in Thailand, his foe in the prior installment. Their weapon of choice to bring him in is none other than a Taser, a very familiar scene from the past. While one Marshall shows Kurt his badge to confirm his identity, the other Marshall sneaks behind Kurt and Tasers him.

This scene resembles Van Damme’s 1988 classic Bloodsport movie, where two U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) officers, Rawlins (Forest Whittaker) and Helmer (Norman Burton), are ordered to track him down in Hong Kong and bring him back to the U.S. When Rawlins and Helmer locate Frank Dux inside of a hotel, they pull out Tasers to subdue him, but he escapes.

The unoriginal scene can not be ignored, not to mention the strange dialogue and poor acting skills – two issues that seem to be prevalent throughout.

The subsequent scene shows Kurt in shackles on the ground, getting punched by Crawford, while looking up at fight promoter Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert). As Thomas speaks, Crawford takes joy in beating Kurt into submission. For the killing of his former foe, Tong Po, Thomas proposes that he must defend his title by fighting again; Kurt replies, “Never again!” While Crawford continues with his onslaught, Kurt, in handcuffs, states: “Touch me again and I’ll break your nose.” He keeps his words by head-butting Crawford. The dialogue is so ridiculously silly, it’s funny, even Thomas laughs.

Thomas then takes Kurt, in shackles, to meet his opponent – and Mongkut steps out shirtless. Not only does Mongkut embody an unhuman-like frame, he looks dangerously scary; the man is a massive of a mammoth. More frightening, his chemist provides him performance-enhancement drugs via needle injections to improve his strength. According to his chemist, he’s “a superior human specimen.” It’s hard to deny such statement, for he represents a tank.

To sweeten up the proposal, which happens to be an ultimatum, Thomas entices Kurt with a $1 million (tax-free) prize to regain his freedom by accepting the fight, or he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

During his prison stay, he gets into his first fight with fellow inmates. Fellow inmate Roy Nelson (appearing as himself) wants to help, but Kurt says “I got this” and telegraphs the injuries that will be inflicted upon his foes and defeats them. The fight continues as more challengers come forth and each man is dispatched accordingly, in a fight sequence that renders no excitement. For his disruption, Kurt is punished by being violently lashed on a wood apparatus that forms the letter X, where he screams with each whip as blood drips from his body.

Thomas wants an answer from Kurt and convinces him to take the fight to no avail. However, Kurt has a question for Thomas via an insipid one-liner: “When you were a kid, did you get your ass kicked much?”

Kurt finds himself in trouble once more after stealing a prison guard’s cellphone. Again, he is tied against the X-shaped, wood, apparatus and violently lashed.

As expected, he gets into another fight with an inmate named Nunchaku Man (James P. Bennett), who wields a nunchuks and defeats him quickly. During this fight, he comes across Briggs (Mike Tyson), who angrily tells Kurt the following: “You’re interrupting my meditation.” Kurt responds with the following line: “Meditation, really; does that help you stay calm?” This dialogue is truly inane but funny; it would be criminal for viewers not to laugh. Nonetheless, Briggs punches him in the stomach and they begin to fight. This fight scene is pretty interesting and lasts about two minutes, where Briggs executes a flurry of hard punches, leaving Kurt stunned. The fight comes to an end with a super uppercut which causes Kurt to go into a slow-motion backflip effect in defeat.

For a third time, Kurt finds himself tied up – with Briggs – against the X-shaped apparatus, where he screams in agonizing pain as the lashes open deep wounds and bloody his back. Briggs, on the other hand, takes his violent lashing without making a sound. (They ultimately become friends.)

Eventually, Kurt meets his long-time trainer Master Durand (Van Damme) inside of the prison, and shockingly finds out that he is blind at the hands of Thomas for taking part in the death of Tong Po.

After two weeks in jail and still unwilling to fight Mongkut, Thomas goes to the extreme and orders his underlings to kidnap his wife to convincingly infuriate Kurt to fight. To some degree, this tactic resembles the same plotline that happens in the original Kickboxer (1989), where wheelchair-bound Eric Sloan is kidnapped with the intent to blackmail Kurt into losing the fight against Tong Po. Unsurprisingly, Kurt agrees to the fight and begins to train. His trainers are both Master Durand and Briggs, the former obviously serves as his primary trainer. Other inmates within the prison also help him prepare for his fight such as Roy Nelson, Ronaldo (Ronaldinho), Fabricio Werdum (appearing as himself), etc.

When Durand and Briggs come together to converse about Kurt’s training, it renders a dialogue that is hilariously stupid-funny and must be detailed herein in its entirety. While Briggs trains Kurt, Durand shows up and prompts a dialogue by asking:

“How’s the training going?”
“He’s getting it,” Briggs responds with a smile on his face.
“Oh yeah? He’ll never get it,” Durand replies.
“Oh, he got it in him,” Briggs says with confidence.
“Listen, Briggs! I know his skills and he may never be that good,” Durand exclaims fervently.
“He’ll beat Mongkut; guaranteed,” Briggs responds with passion.
“You mention Mongkut one more time, I’ll smash your big face,” Durand says with anger.
“Oh, really?”

Thereafter, the two get into fighting position and begin to fight, a very brief (and harmless) fight sequence that Kurt stops by getting between them. (The platitude of their back-and-forth dialogue will definitely be remembered.)

With permission from fight promoter Thomas, Kurt takes his training outside of the prison walls, while being shadowed by one of Thomas’ underlings. Durand and Gamon (Jessica Jann) accompany Kurt to an underground fighting venue, where Joseph King (Steven Spadling) sets up an impromptu fight against his best fighter named Moss (Rico Verhoeven). Expectedly, Kurt wins convincingly in another uninteresting fight scene.

After the fight, with a predetermined plan, Gamon causes a commotion which allows Kurt to escape with one of Thomas’ men, beating him into submission to reveal his wife’s whereabouts. When he reaches the proximity of where she is being captive, Kurt fights his way through enemies that are trying to prevent him from reaching the location. This choreographed fight scene represents absurdity at its finest, and musically supported with The Surfaris’ 1963 song named “Wipe Out.” To select this song for a fighting scene, out of all the songs in the world, is incomprehensible.

When Kurt finally reaches the destination, where his wife is located, he meets Thomas along with two half-naked women (with fluorescent back tattoos) who challenge him to a fight. The women run into a gloomy room filled with mirrors, where Kurt follows but gets confused because of the illusion of the mirrors.

This fight scene mirrors that of Bruce Lee’s 1973 movie Enter the Dragon, where Lee chases Han (Shih Kien) into a room occupied with many mirrors, serving as an illusion to confuse Lee. However, Lee breaks the mirrors to find Han and kills him. In Kickboxer: Retaliation, the same thing occurs: Kurt looks confused with the various mirrors; therefore, he breaks a few mirrors to locate the women and defeats them.

At the end, Kurt and Mongkut finally meet in a fighting scene that runs over twenty minutes. In Bloodsport, Bolo (Chong Li) threatens Frank Dux with the following words: “You break my record; now I break you like I break your friend.” In the original Kickboxer, Tong Po taunts and insults Kurt by naming his girlfriend after raping her: “You bleed like Mylee; Mylee good fuck.” Likewise, in Kickboxer: Retaliation, Mongkut threatens Kurt and brings up wishes to satisfy his wife sexually: “When I kill you, I’m gonna keep that sweet ass warm at night.”

During this final battle, there are some good scenes and other ridiculous scenes (especially Kurt’s revival via a needle); nonetheless, the fight represents a satisfactory ending to a film that runs longer than it should have.

As a whole, Kickboxer: Retaliation represents an unexciting film – despite a few occasional good scenes. In fact, the film provides sequences of other films which are told and visually shown in a different manner; the originality that every film deserves is simply absent. The Taser scene in the opening, the constant kidnapping plot from prior movies, and the usage of Lee’s mirror illusion from Enter the Dragon are clear examples. The acting and dialogue are problematic throughout the film. Some scenes are bad while others are awfully terrible.

Alain Moussi (as the protagonist Kurt) is a great fighter, but he does not have enough charisma and acting prowess to carry a film. He’s not believable. There is no other way of characterizing his performance; it’s honestly boring and brings no excitement. Van Damme is not an excellent actor, but when he plays a protagonist, his charisma shines; his believable personality carries the role he is assigned to portray and makes it interesting, which is why many of his films in the 80s and 90s are classics.

In regard to the script, written by director Logothetis and co-writer Jim McGrath, it fails badly and represents a lackluster manuscript filled with an assemblage of humdrum wordplay that serves as a fodder for laughter. Moreover, the editing of the film does not present a bright spot, because it seems to be all over the place. The transitions from scene to scene present a clumsiness of unorganized disorder. With the exception of the pre-induction dancing scene, which provides a musical that properly supports the slow dancing, the music selection (or lack thereof) does not complement the fight scenes whatsoever.

As stated in the forefront, the protagonist of a fighting movie usually comes out victorious at the end, a statement that renders truth in this film. As a result, a robust and interesting script must be executed to help the characters grow (and showcase some charisma) as they move along with their respective roles. Moreover, a robust script keeps viewers entertained and connect with the protagonist through the character he portrays. Unfortunately, writer and director Dimitri Logothetis’ Kickboxer: Retaliation fails to capture any spark of interest, for the script represents an unoriginal mess and the main character is vapidly bland at best. (This film releases in U.S. theaters on Friday, January 26, 2018.)

On a scale of A+ to F, Kickboxer: Retaliation receives a D+ grade.


Movie Review: Molly’s Game (2017)


January 13, 2018

Molly’s Game, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, stems from the real-life story of Molly Bloom, a former competitive skier turned entrepreneur through an exclusive underground high-stakes poker games she formulates and manages after moving to Los Angeles.  Her games are driven by the rich and famous such as Hollywood actors, business titans, professional athletes, politicians and, unbeknownst to her, Russian mobsters.  The film presents a pictorial crime-drama narrative of Bloom’s 2014 memoir titled Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker.

The two main characters that drive the film are A-listers Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba – but stars Kevin Costner, Jeremy Strong, Michael Cera, Brian d’Arcy James, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Claire Rankin, and Joe Keery.

Fittingly, Molly (Jessica Chastain) narrates her own story throughout, while Sorkin employs a flashback and flash-forward device to provide more depth to her story.  The opening scene begins with Molly, employed as a cocktail waitress, trying to save enough money to move out of her friend’s home where she sleeps on the couch.  She takes on a second job as an assistant to Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), a self-centered real-estate agent who pretends to have more money than he actually has.  Dean represents a loudly rude, vulgar, and a condescending character; his mannerisms are unbecoming.  His anger stems from naturally breathing, for everything that comes out of his mouth vociferates vulgarity.  Sorkin effectively depicts his rudeness via a food errand regarding bagels.  Disgusted by the name on the bag that holds the bagels, he berates Molly with a profanity-laced tirade for buying the wrong type of bagels – and violently throws the bag near her face which falls onto the floor.

He then orders Molly to manage his poker night games held at the Cobra Lounge with an entry fee of $10,000 – and firmly orders her to not tell anybody.  Knowing nothing about poker, she diligently researches everything about the game, including the type of music poker players enjoy and creates a playlist.  Wanting to impress and look her best, she brings a cheese platter and wears her best dress.  She appropriately greets each player as he hands over the buy-in fee, totaling $90,000 from nine players.  As they play, she focuses intently on the table, listens carefully to every word spoken, and simultaneously Googles those terminologies for clarification.  She marvels at the room, occupied by men with deep pockets, and knows she stands in a position to capitalize one way or another.  Player X (Michael Cera) becomes her focal point due to his wide-reaching celebrity.  After the game, Molly generates $3,000 from tips.  This night marks her introduction to the underground world of high-stakes poker with the rich and powerful.  In due time, she banks enough money to own an apartment, a new car, and $17,000 worth of shoes.

At this juncture of the movie, it’s hard not to be drawn in, because it is captivatingly entertaining.  The film has not clocked the fifteen-minute mark, but it has an “I want to see more of this” sensation.  The opening renders an attention-grabbing desire that keeps viewers intrigued to witness the forthcoming scenes.

The following scene cuts to the present day.  It shows Molly, in desperate need of representation, at the law office of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), after being denied by various lawyers.  He makes it clear that his services are not cheap and will cost $250,000 to defend her.  More important, Charlie questions her veracity for not providing more celebrity names in her book and her failures to address the mobsters that played her games.  Molly argues that she knows nothing about the mobsters, but Charlie thinks otherwise because the names are countless.  He continues questioning her regarding the Russian mob, believing she knows more but unwilling to divulge any information out of fear of retaliation or possible collusion.  Charlie asserts his time will not be spent defending violent criminals.  In the verge of tears, Molly begs for his assistance.  After careful assessment of the case, Charlie initially refuses to represent her; however, he makes the choice to appear on her behalf at the arraignment.  Once in the courtroom, he changes his mind and decides to become her full-time lawyer.

Throughout Molly’s Game, her parents and family members are basically absent and only shown through the flashbacks, until the latter part of the movie where she faces her federal charges.

One early flashback shows the childhood of Molly (Piper Howell), where she practices downhill skiing while being encouraged by her intellectual father Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner), a therapist and a psychology professor at Colorado State University.  During this flashback, it shows a strict father who wants the best for his daughter, not only athletically but educationally as he questions her to provide an equivalent to the word “tired” after she becomes exhausted of practicing.

Another flashback shows Molly (Samantha Isler) in her teenage years, sitting at a table, eating dinner with her family.  This scene proves to be crucial because it shows her rebellious energy, talkative attitude, and her willingness to provoke and challenge her father with glee into a verbal argument.  Her desire to offend works when her father asks a question regarding school; she responds with contempt: “Sigmund Freud was both a misogynist and an idiot and that anyone who relies on his theories of human psychology is a quack.”  Unpleased, her father continues to question her and they begin to argue, precipitating unpleasant language Larry disapproves of.  In response, he angrily tells Molly to never disrespect him and the kitchen table again.

The father-daughter relationship in this flashback does not present a sense of warmth.  It shows a relationship that is cold and disconnected.  In fact, most of the men that she encounters in the film shows signs of coldness.

After managing Dean’s game for a period of time and dealing with his brutal coldness, Molly moves on.  She uses her entrepreneurial skills to create and manage her own game with Player X (Michael Cera) being the focal point to bring in new players, due to his Hollywood fame.  She pays for a hotel suit at the Four Seasons to host her games, lavishly decorates it with pricey drinks and foods, employs attractive bartenders to accommodate the players, and cunningly guides all of the players from the Cobra Lounge to her hotel room.

When game night arrives, Molly walks into the room, wearing an above-the-knee black dress, beautified by her personal stylist, and the men take notice.  They pause – they eye her – and listen to what she has to say.  The beauty that Molly exudes is obvious and some of the men want her, including Player X who has a smile on his face.  Nonetheless, Molly’s poker game has now become a brand, an incorporated business registered under event planning, and she pays taxes.  To assure legality of her business, she visits a lawyer who claims no laws are being broken.

However, he says a phrase that is quite funny and memorable – not to mention convoluted: “Don’t break the law when you’re breaking the law.”

Molly believes she holds power, because she owns her business.  In truth, her power represents an artificial and fleeting notion – and Player X will prove that with his immorality.  Player X represents a character that embodies the combination of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, and others.  His performance is morally scary but captivating.

Nonetheless, during these hotel games, Brad (Brian d’Arcy James) and Harlan Eustice (Bill Camp) are introduced: The former represents a horrible player that constantly loses, and thus given the name Bad Brad; the latter represents a skilled player and one of the best at the table.  Unfortunately, great players do not always win and Harlan learns that the hard way.  The following scenes show a man who is mentality broken and physically exhausted.  Player X sits back and watches Harlan’s demise with pure elation.  Player X, the best player, claims he does not like playing poker; in truth, his gameplay stems from seeing people suffer and their lives destroyed in defeat.  Seeing people in pain brings him happiness, and he abuses his powers to ruin their lives even more with some immorally criminal acts.

From the onset, Molly made a promise to herself to not mix business with sexual pleasures, and she upholds that promise.  Still, it does not stop the famous men from approaching her with sexual intimations in person and with love letters via text messages and e-mails. Remaining firm on her decision, she turns down each man that makes any sexual advancements.  Strangely, Player X becomes angry at Molly through jealously, claiming she shows the other men more attention than he, which prompts an argument.

At this point, Molly’s so-called power as an owner is rendered fruitless, because her power comes from the rich men that play – and Player X exercises his true powers ruthlessly by punishing her.  It’s no different than an organizational founder who believes he holds ultimate power because he created a corporation, until he learns that the board of directors of the company no longer needs his service, and thus his status and powers are revoked.  The anger and defeat she displays are palpable as she visits a therapist to pacify her sorrows.

However, Molly’s persistence precludes her from folding because, in her mind, she will win.  She moves to New York to rebuild her poker brand.  Unbeknownst to her, it will be her permanent downfall.  She employs a few Playboy models to recruit rich players from Wall Street and across the world – even a famous New York Yankees player.  One characteristic about Molly that shines is her will to succeed.  She rebuilds her game and goes big with a buy-in of $250,000, and employs a woman dealer named B (Angela Gots); yes, the letter B.  She personalizes her poker chips and cards to present a flair of elegance and uniqueness.  After a year, she records an income of over $4.5 million.  Her games attract players worldwide – including the Russian mob.

With so much money being generated, Molly illegally decides to take a piece of money to keep the business afloat and supplement her outstanding money.  Knowing her rake is illegal, she continues because the money is too great to pass.

Money usually drives people to do crazy things and serves as a catalyst for criminality – and in Molly’s Game, it’s obvious.  Despite having far-reaching wealth in the millions and billions, some of the rich players partake in some form of criminality such as betting on sports games, extortion, Bad Brad’s Ponzi scheme, drug abuse, the natural criminalities of the Russian mob, and more.  When millions of dollars are changing hands during illegal poker games, it causes desperation, anger, and an underlying feeling of revenge (from those that lose money).  Moreover, it puts a target on everyone’s backs, not only from the federal government but from unsavory characters.  Molly, without any protection, learns that painfully when she becomes a victim of a robbery inside of her home; she is violently beaten, and has a gun jammed into her mouth with threats of retaliation on her family if she reports the incident.

Eventually, Molly faces federal prosecution with multiple charges after being arrested by a gang of 17 federal agents with high-powered machine guns pointed at her.  Unsurprisingly, her bank account is frozen by the government.

Her lawyer Charlie, throughout, serves as her champion and urges her to cooperate with the prosecution to avoid a lengthy federal imprisonment.  Elba does an amazing job portraying Charlie and shows appropriate aggression when required.  In the latter scene, his frustration boils over as he listens to federal prosecutors badger Molly with questions.  He stands ups, vocally displays his displeasure with the government’s case by firmly stating that Molly is not a criminal; he continues by stating she knows nothing about mobsters, and the criminal activities players engaged in away from the poker games she managed.  Charlie’s passion deeply shows and he really wants to help Molly.

Charlie’s passion continues during his final plea to Molly, stating why it would be advantageous for her to cooperate through a deal provided by the government: release the hard drives and gain full immunity, along with the restoration of a bank account of $5 million, plus interest.  Molly listens to the deal with coldness and states that the lives of these millionaires and billionaires would be ruined, including their families as a whole – because the information in the hard drives are damning.  Facially incensed, Charlie responds by passionately making it clear that she needs to think about self-preservation, because those rich guys are neither her priority nor her friends.  Molly finally says she needs to protect her name (and reputation), for that is the only thing she owns.

Unlike Player X, and most of the rich players, Molly has a caring soul and her morality remains intact and uncompromised.  The government provides her full exoneration on a platter, but she refuses to take a bite; she does not even taste what’s on the platter.  That represents integrity.  If she must go down, she will go down on her lonesome without bringing others down with her.  That decision says a mouthful about her character.

This film occupies a collection of richly powerful men.  They are egotistical and only care for themselves.  Money drives their actions.  They do not play by the rules, because in their world, rules are irrelevant.  Right is wrong and wrong is right; bad is good and good is bad.  The concept of morality does not register in their minds.  Their main goal is to get money and make more money.  If hurting others will garner more money, they will proceed without care.  If they must retaliate, they will act accordingly without care.  However, Molly does not represent a victim and should not be treated as such; she is a victim of her own actions and decisions, which caused her arrest and indictments.  During her ten-year reign of running an illegal game, which she masterfully created, she built a relationship with powerful men and became rich herself and ultimately failed.  That exemplifies the perils of life when money becomes priority and blinds one’s vision.

Molly’s Game represents an interestingly entertaining depiction of a real-life crime drama.  The characters should be applauded for their roles, from the main characters to the players that surround the poker tables.  Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba’s back-and-forth dialogue on the screen shows a passionate connection from their first meeting in the opening to the last meeting in the courtroom and subsequent dinner.  Their adaptations of the real-life characters are striking.  Moreover, Michael Cera as Player X represents a weirdly scary but effective character as he depicts the moral emptiness of the Hollywood celebrities.  Jeremey Strong as Dean Keith, Kevin Costner as Larry Bloom, Bill Camp as Harlan Eustice execute their roles effectively.

For a directorial debut, Aaron Sorkin shows that he has the talent and script-writing skills to keep viewers engaged; his final product of Molly’s Game represents an impressive film.

Movie Review: Speed-Dating (2010)


December 25, 2011

Speed-Dating CoverWritten and directed by Joseph A. Elmore Jr., the romantic-comedy Speed-Dating centers around three friends – Too Cool (Wesley Jonathan), Dog (Chico Benymon), and  Beaver (Leonard Robinson) – who concoct a speed-dating event to meet as many women as possible. In truth, this speed-dating event is more of a ploy, because its main objective is to sweet talk each woman and get her into bed for sex.  The premise sounds interesting; unfortunately, Speed-Dating hits many speed bumps throughout with overacting, weak storyline, boredom, and dry comedy, leading to the inevitable – a crash.

The three friends/roommates are described as follows:  Too Cool, a millionaire playboy who’s just not that into you; Dog, a freeloading friend who favors “the R-Kelly tapes”; Beaver, a culinary enthusiast who is suspected to be a “man-tickler?”  Both Too Cool and Dog suspect Beaver’s homosexuality and pester him in various scenes, but he strongly denies being gay (but questions himself).  His sexuality is tested in two scenes: the gay club and the house party.

(Note: Spoilers will be revealed, mainly the speed-dating happenings with the various women they meet.)

The movie begins with the three roommates on a track field in sprinting position.  As they sprint, the scene cuts to a speeding car and shows each character engaging in two activities: posting flyers and talking to women.  The following scene focuses on Too Cool who is accompanied in his bedroom by a fake-accent-speaking white woman in lingerie named Frenchita (Mary Alexander Stiefvater).  She claims to be his girlfriend, but Too Cool denies any relationship and claims she is only a sex partner and forcefully removes her from his house. While he argues with her regarding their relationship, Dog and Beaver are playing Halo on the Xbox 360 while simultaneously talking about their failing-club venture.  The game suddenly stops because Dog accuses Beaver of cheating and calls him gay, which precipitates a silly play-fighting scene that supports Dog’s suspension of Beaver’s sexuality via his mannerisms.

Too Cool finally gets Frenchita outside and tells her to never come back again.  She responds with anger by minimizing his manhood and stating she will be back to “watch [his] heart break into a million little pieces.”

This entire opening presents the tone that the movie will carry throughout, and it’s not a pleasant one.  The segments and spoken lines that are supposed to garner laughs fail badly, for they are overdramatized; the Disney-sounding instrumental, supporting the fight scene and Too Cool’s attempt at rebuffing his little manhood, also does not help and sounds cheesy.

In the following segment, the story introduces Inspector Green (Chris Elliot) who is literally blue in the face; he looks sluggish, odoriferous, walks in a clumsy manner, and looks like an otherworldly creature.  Not only is this character a paradox, but he is not funny; his acting is also horrendously bad.

In no time, week one of the speed-dating scam arrives and the three friends admire the dozens of women with drooling smiles – and converse about their prior scams to sleep with women.  Dog makes quick progress by talking nasty to one girl and gets a kiss.  Beaver appears unsuccessful and looks bored with the ladies and is seen standing near the bar.  Too Cool meets a beautiful woman named Kelly (Tanisha Lynn) in a tight-fitting Lycra dress and starts to break her down through sweet talk and his charms. Kelly has a gold-digging mentality but appears very strong, not to mention a woman who would reject a one-night stand.  Unfortunately for the curvaceous beauty, her strong personality is overpowered by Too Cool’s charms as she is seen leaving his bedroom and taking the Walk of Shame.

Unlike the first week of the speed-dating scam which garners dry comedy, week two presents a bundle of laughs through Kiki (Camille Mana) while meeting Too Cool.  Her entire scene garners laughter from start to end; her forgetfulness at the bar and the sex scene present the first real sense of true humor and does not seem forced.  Her lines are funny and flow naturally and her character does an amazing job.

The real comedy continues when Beaver meets an attractive Latina named Geraldine (Natalia Guslistaya) who speaks violently blunt regarding what she wants in a man and how she will manhandle him if he decides to cheat on her. Not only does she have a scary sharp-tongue, but she also displays an overpowering personality.  Surprisingly, he takes her to his home but, unsurprisingly, he can not handle her rough foreplay.  Thus, she tries to stimulate him with a slap to the face and forceful kisses and tells him “shut up” as he tries to slow her down by speaking.  She then throws him on the bed and jumps on him.  However, her attempts to stimulate him are unsuccessful as he cries, whines, and questions her the entire time.

Dog gets himself in a precarious situation when he introduces himself to Sage (Karen Yelverton), a woman with a gruff laugh and a deep voice; her voice gives it away and one thing comes in to mind:  her appearance is misleading. Dog ignores the clear signs of her true identity and continues chatting her up, because his ultimate goal is sex.  The ensuing scene shows both he and Sage tousling on a bed with joy.  Like the Latina, she is rough in the bedroom, but it’s a different kind of roughness that reduces Dog’s joy into a loud and funny scream when realizing they both share the same external organ.

As Dog and Beaver fail to score with the women they meet through their speed-dating scheme, the ultimate player Too Cool finds himself sexually pleasured constantly.  His latest victim presents herself as an easygoing woman, but she is not the usual.  However, her condition does not deter him from getting into her panty.

As the speed-dating game comes to an end, co-stars Danielle (Mekita Faiye) and Elizabeth (Vanessa Simmons) are introduced and remain constant until the film ends.   Danielle settles with Dog and Too Cool settles with Elizabeth throughout the film.  When Dog first meets Elizabeth, her beauty fittingly leaves him tongue-tied with his mouth wide open.  She doesn’t believe he can be faithful and knows his true motives, so she questions him: “You wanna sleep with me?”  Dog answers “yes,” but tells Elizabeth that she is not the type of woman that he would mistreat.  With a smile, she asks him a final question:  “Would you give up sex for God?”  An answer is not given, because the camera pans to Beaver, but his answer becomes clear later in the film when he visits her church, listening to a silly pastor’s self-glorifying sermon, which is an attempt at comedy that fails miserably.

Speaking of Beaver, he meets the hyper-lively Emily (Gavin Turek) who is enthralled by compliments, prompting her to deliver a hilarious scene filled with strange noises as she squeaks with happiness.  She completely leaves him dumbstruck and confused.  This memorable scene represents one of the best moments in the movie.

Meanwhile, Too Cool whose eyes are fixated on Danielle the entire night finally meets her.  She knows his womanizing ways and intentions to get her into bed through the gossip of other women.  Despite knowing this, she, like the prior women, stupidly falls victim to his scheme.  While standing outside of his house, she has ample time to make a decisive decision as her conscious tells her it’s a “bad idea” and not the right thing to do, but her hormones force her to give up her body to him.  After having sex, Too Cool becomes a change man when he sees stars (simultaneously shown with the support of a holy music)?

This scene becomes more ridiculous when it is revealed toward the end that her meeting with Too Cool at the final speed-dating event was not by chance but actually via a ploy, devised by her friend Frenchita.  What type of woman would sleep with her friend’s ex-boyfriend, knowing that she was only a device used to break the heart of an ex-lover?

For some odd reason, Too Cool is infatuated with Danielle but does not want to accept his feelings, so he tries to erase her from his memory by going to a club in search of women. He brings home a striking Asian woman named Jasmine (Natasha Yi), but he cannot muster his libido to have sex with her. He then meets the gorgeous Christine (Esther Baxter) who plays the role of a dominatrix; nothing happens due to the interference of a man who rushes into the bedroom holding a shotgun, causing Too Cool (in a diaper) to make his escape through a window.  With the exception of eye-catching Christine, this entire scene is stupid and unfunny.

The strangeness continues as Too Cool claims he hates Danielle for ruining his sex life; however, he makes her “the one” and their relationship blossoms as they spend more time together.  They go out sprinting on track field; she invites him to her home and shows him her artwork; he literally falls for her; they cuddle and kiss under the bed sheets, and have a great time.  Out of nowhere, he plans a trip to Hawaii for them both.  Frenchita overhears his conversation and renders a “what?” outburst.  During this trip, the audience witnesses the first sign of a subdued playboy as he shares his upbringing with Danielle.  This segment reveals that his wealth comes from his Aunt B’s former occupation as a game designer.  Moreover, it reveals his biological mother named Gayle (Holly Robinson Peete) who gave him up as a kid.  He yearns to see her and does so, only to learn that she is married and has two kids.

The scene with Gayle leaves a major void in the story, because it goes nowhere.  Being in the movie for about four minutes at most, the Gayle character is pointless and fails to display any connection to her son.  For example, when Too Cool enters her home, she looks shocked, frozen, afraid to speak, sad, and breaks down in tears when he leaves.  She acts as if she does not recognize him, but why?  Why isn’t her back-story presented, allowing the viewers to see and understand the reasoning behind her decision to give up her son? Only the director knows.

After giving him up and not seeing him for years, she does not even approach him.  Approaching him with a hug or some kind of affection would have been fitting, but the character shows no physical interaction.  Her presence shows nothing but aloofness.  She does, however, mail him a letter stating that she told her family the truth and explains her sorrow for giving him up.  Still, it does not make up for her story, because it’s empty and unknown, rendering her character senseless.

While Too Cool moves on with his life, he and Danielle celebrate their love for one another via dinner at a restaurant, which is first interrupted by Danielle’s ex-boyfriend Kenneth (Chingy) and later by Too Cool’s ex-girlfriend Frenchita and her friend Samantha.  Frenchita reveals to him that Danielle is her friend and the entire meeting at the club was a setup to punish him.  In essence, she uses Danielle to get back at Too Cool as she promised she would do in the opening of the film:  “I’m gonna watch your heart break into a million little pieces” when [you] fall in love.  Her promise materializes as Too Cool looks at Danielle with pure sadness.

Does the director expect viewers to feel sorry for Too Cool after manipulating and using women only as his sex object majority of the film?  If that is what he intended when writing the script, it does not work because it is not believable.  His character as a playboy does not deserve sympathy for his sorrow from a deception by one woman, considering the fact that he has deceived many women.  Had the director made the story of his mother the focal point of his sadness (by giving her an actual story), it would have been more interesting and believable, unlike his sadness via Danielle.

Nonetheless, he leaves Danielle but his heart leads him back to her at the end.

Speed-Dating has an interesting premise and could have worked; however, it falls flat because some of the plots were not strong enough, convoluted, and unnecessary to the overall story.  The scenes involving Inspector Green, the dancing routine by the cooks, the conversation that wheelchair-bound Don has with Too Cool in the club, the gay-dancing routine with Beaver, the foul-speaking and blasphemous pastor in the church are a few examples of worthless scenes that add nothing to the story.

These scenes are obviously in the movie to make people laugh, but the overall comedy is simply dry, weak, and presents many unfunny scenes, thanks to the horrendously fatuous one-liners and dialogues.  However, to claim that this film did not have several funny scenes would be untrue, for there are some scenes that showcase humor remarkably (mainly the speed-dating events via the women).  Not only are the jokes and useless scenes problematic, but the acting is as well; at best, it is mediocre and downright awful by some.

All in all, there are many excellent romantic comedies released independently by Black directors; two notables are All About You and Hav Plenty.  Unfortunately, Joseph A. Elmore Jr.’s Speed-Dating does not represent one of them.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this movie receives a woeful 2.

*  *  *
Originally published Dec. 25, 2011 via now-defunct writing Web site

Movie Review: Blood and Bone (2009)


September 7, 2009

Directed by Ben Ramsey, Blood and Bone is a direct-to-DVD martial arts movie, released on September 15, 2009 via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.  The movie stars Michael Jai White, Julian Sands, Eamonn Walker, Dante Basco, Nona Gaye, and Michelle Belegrin.

Leading character Michael Jai White, assuming the role as Isaiah Bone, delivers a stand-alone and explosive performance like none other.  The tagline of the movie, In A World Without Rules, He Makes His Own, and subtitle, Destroy Your Enemy, say it all and could not be more fitting.

When Bone is released from prison, he rents a small room in a moderate house from Angela (Nona Gaye), a foster mother, and prepares his mission.  He later goes to an underground fight scene and watches from afar.  He makes his way into the car of Pinball (Dante Basco), a fight organizer, and convinces him to put him in a fight with any fighter to prove himself.  The fight is quickly organized and he wins.  Thereafter, Pinball not only becomes his friend but his unofficial manager.

Although Bone wins money through his fights, these fights are not driven primarily by money but rather a “take care of my wife and kid” promise – a promise that he realizes will only be fulfilled if he gets into the underworld of street fighting and befriends and shakes hands with the enemy.  Thus, that is exactly what he does.

Blood and Bone is no doubt one of the best martial arts films in years.  It is not the typical fight movie, where the main character goes to various scenes to fight the best fighters and crowned the champion after he defeats the most-feared/best fighter at the end.  Blood and Bone is much more; it has a story line (that is well written), a purpose (that is driven by reunion), and a promise (that Bone fulfils at the end).

When he completes his mission, he leaves.  Instead of taking a ride from Pinball, he walks down the street and into the sunlight with his backpack on his back like a lone warrior.  This scene resembles the final scene of Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie, where Ryu takes the same route (until evil Bison comes driving down the road in a semi truck with a wicked smile on his face).  This film ends perfectly and has room for a sequel.

In fact, Blood and Bone typifies a perfect film for White, because he is a professional martial artist who holds seven black belts in various disciplines; again, 7 black belts.  More important, what he shows in this film is something that should not be missed by anyone with an eye.

White lights up the screen with his awe-inspiring fighting style from start to finish.  The first scene (i.e., prison bathroom) of the movie depicts that when he takes out five-plus antagonists in quick fashion, leaving them bloodied, mangled, shocked and confused.  As the storyline progresses, White continues his damage in every fight scene.  Not only does he destroy his contenders, but he obliterates them and leaves spectators dumbstruck and looking at one another with the “who-what-when-where-how” questions:  who is this guy; what is he made of; when did he learn these killer moves; where did he come from; and how in the world did he do that with his hands and feet?  In no way is this an exaggeration; viewers who watch this film will perhaps have the same sentiments and ask the same questions and more.

Besides his prowess in martial arts, White’s acting should not be overlooked, for he delivers his role flawlessly.  He is nefarious when he has to be, kind when he has to be, passionate when he has to be, and cool and subdued when his role calls for it.  He excels in every facet and brings character Bone to life.

Some may assume that White is a newcomer, but he is not; rather, he is a veteran in the movie industry and his filmography speaks for itself with more than 30 appearances (e.g., Spawn, 1997; Universal Soldier: The Return, 1999; Trois 2: Pandora’s Box, 2002; Undisputed 2:  Last Man Standing, 2006; Why Did I Get Married, 2007).  He may not be as famous as Denzel Washington or Will Smith, but he represents a great actor.  When he is featured in a film (or TV series), he does a noble job and delivers; his lastest role is no different.

In closing, Blood and Bone typifies the ultimate example of how a martial arts film should be made, with a passionate storyline and purpose, and not just a fight-only movie that ignores plot and reason.  This movie is bursting with action and entertainment, not to mention, it is the real deal.  Director Ben Ramsey, writer Michael Andrews, and every soul that participated in completing this film did an amazing job by rendering an A+ film.

However, there is one major flaw with this movie; it has nothing to do with the movie itself but rather the movie’s distribution and handling.  Surprisingly, this movie is a straight-to-DVD release and was not shown in theaters.  With so many terrible movies being channeled through movie theaters, it is a shame that this movie, which is directed by a Black man and stars a Black man, did not have that chance.  Movie studios need to get their act together, because this film should not have been allocated straight to DVD.  If studios can waste time and money releasing trash for public view in theaters, there is no doubt that a studio could have given Blood and Bone a proper big-screen presentation. Hollywood needs to wake up.

(This film also features MMA fighters Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson, Bob Sapp, and the beautiful Gina Carano; the striking new face of “All My Children,” Shannon Kane, makes a brief appearance.)

*  *  *
Originally published Sept. 7, 2009 via now-defunct