Wheels here with a look at a new action film from Mark Dacascos!
SHOWDOWN IN MANILA is a low budget action film that gathers together a bevy of 80's and 90's DTV stars under the direction of one of their own, Mark Dacascos (CRYING FREEMAN). The line up of DTV names is impressive. It includes:
Don "The Dragon" Wilson (BLOODFIST 1-4)
Cynthia Rothrock (RIGHTING WRONGS and MARTIAL LAW)
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (MORTAL KOMBAT and SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO)
Tia Carrere (RELIC HUNTER)
Olivier Gruner (NEMESIS)Matthias Hues (I COME IN PEACE aka DARK ANGEL and NO RETREAT/NO SURRENDER 2)
This nostalgia parade is really just a backdrop for a story fronted by Casper Van Dien (TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY) and, Russian bodybuilder, Alexander Nevsky (MOSCOW HEAT). They play a pair of ex-pat detectives, in the Philippines, who are hot on the trail of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's drug kingpin (?) human trafficker (?)... It's not entirely clear what Tagawa's criminal nature is exactly. It's just certain that he's the bad guy and he's going down before the end credits roll.
Here in the beginning of the film, it's clear that things are going down a bad path. Nevsky is not great at reciting his lines and comes across as wooden more often than not. He has moments where he shows sparks of being the 1980's style action hero he so clearly admires but mostly his line readings are just unconvincing and awkward. He would do well to study early Arnold Schwarzenegger performances to see how to work around his deficiencies as an actor. He has a unique look and a man of his size could be utilized well by an action director with experience (ie. Isaac Florentine or Jesse V. Johnson, for starters). Nevsky just speaks too often when his performance would have been improved by saying far less and being more physical.
Van Dien gives it his all and is passable as the sidekick to Nevsky's brutish lead, but it's not really enough to carry the film through the very slow first half. The story shoehorns in a side plot where Tia Carrere and her law enforcement husband (played by Dacascos) run afoul of Tagawa while on vacation in the Philippines. This incident leaves Dacascos's character dead and Carrere turns to our leads for help in tracking down and stopping Tagawa. Tagawa, for all his DTV experience, does not really put much effort into his performance. He perpetually looks like he's just been woken up from a nap and then forcefully shoved in front of the camera to film his scenes.
Things do not improve as the film moves into its second half, where we are introduced to the rest of our DTV superteam. They are introduced as former colleagues of Nevsky's character that were brought in to help raid the jungle stronghold of our villain. It's at this point I feel like I should talk about the actual action in this action film. Everything about the film could be atrocious but if the action was serviceable or even good there would be a reason to recommend it but the action is mostly boring and at times even terrible. Dacascos shoots the film with all of the style of a daytime soap opera and when the action happens, it is either poorly framed in the shot, badly edited, or just poorly performed. You would imagine with Dacascos's film fighting background he could at least had one of these aspects down and maybe it's the failure of his aging or uncoordinated cast or production limitations but it is nearly all bad. There is one scene early in the film where Nevsky picks up a machete to fend off attackers and they seem to just fall around him as he swings it around in a lumbering fashion in their general direction The action does not improve when firearms are involved either. All the gun battles are filmed with the grace of an episode of THE A-TEAM, except occasionally there will be a distractingly bad CGI blood spray, bullet spark, or explosion. I consider myself a Mark Dacascos fan and it pains me to see how poorly this turned out.
The only actor who comes out of these scenes looking competent is Olivier Gruner. He brings believable emotion and intensity to his performance and his actions scenes outshine the more well-known screen fighters in the cast, but sadly his part is merely an extended cameo and I'd be surprised if he was in the film more than five minutes total. The whole team up aspect of the film is around twenty minutes of the film's ninety-minute runtime and none of them, except Gruner, leave much of an impression.
The film is just incompetent in nearly every way. It's the kind of movie that mistakes people yelling "are you threatening me" at each other as drama and awkwardly mumbled attempts at banter as comedy.
As the credits begin to roll at the end, a song plays that starts with the lyrics "Was it good or bad...".
I think the answer is pretty clear.
SHOWDOWN IN MANILA is available on VOD January 23.