Urban Action

Mafia

mafiaonest

2011

Levine Pictures/Jamie Kennedy Entertainment

Directed and Written by Ryan Combs

Produced by Phillip Glasser and Brian Hartman

When I first heard about this movie my interest was immediately piqued. A urban crime thriller set in the 1970’s starring Ving Rhames, Pam Grier and Robert Patrick? Why had I not heard about this movie before now? I mean let’s consider the star power involved here for a minute:

Ving Rhames has worked with high octane directors such as Quentin Tarantino, John Woo and John Singleton. He’s proven himself to be an exceptional capable and memorable actor in many movies and I always like to point out to people that besides Tom Cruise, he’s the only other actor to have been in all four “Mission: Impossible” movies. He’s also well known for that incredible moment when he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor back in 1998 and gave his award to Jack Lemmon:

Don’t worry, Ving got a duplicate award later on.

If you’ve known me for any length of time then you know I worship Pam Grier and have ever since I started seeing her movies back in the 1970’s. Her legendary movie career during the 70’s and 80’s has enshrined her as the Queen of Blaxplotation and over the years she’s continued to flourish, demonstrating an acting ability that proved she had a range and talent that has taken her far beyond that period.

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Robert Patrick’s career took off with his role as the T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and just kept on taking off. I really enjoyed him when he joined the cast of “The X-Files” and I actually liked the show a lot better when he was there. So we’re agreed that we’ve got three of the best and most talented actors working today, right? Actors who certainly have no problem finding work, right?

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So what are they doing in a movie like MAFIA?

I highly suspect that Ving Rhames asked Pam Grier and Robert Patrick to do him a favor and co-star in the movie because he’s recently been making quite a few movies with MAFIA’s writer/director Ryan Combs. Movies such as “King of The Avenue” “Caged Animal” and “Animal 2” Ryan Combs is an African-American writer/director I wasn’t aware of until I saw MAFIA and even though this movie doesn’t hit the bullseye I’m sufficiently intrigued by what I saw in MAFIA to check out some of his other movies. And if that was the intention behind having actors like Ving Rhames, Pam Grier and Robert Patrick in this movie then it succeeded.

Set in 1975 the movie recounts the last few days in the career of crime boss Renzo Wes (Ving Rhames) as he sets about obliterating his rival crime bosses. Renzo is in turn being pursued by police detectives James Womack (Pam Grier) and her new partner Jules Dupree (Robert Patrick) Renzo killed Womack’s ex-partner and she’s on a holy rampage to do everything and anything she can to bring him down. Dupree just wants to take it easy as he’s planning on getting married soon and doesn’t want anything going down that will interfere with that. He’s got enough on his plate as his fiancée (Melanie Marden) has told him that her brother is viciously racist.

The turf war escalates, jeopardizing Renzo’s criminal empire and straining his relationship with his right hand man Train (Sean Derry) who is rightly concerned that all the killing is going to bring the cops down on them with both feet. Renzo continues his war against his rivals while being plagued by visions of a chubby little boy holding a yellow toy truck and looking at Renzo with accusing eyes. And are his other visions of him in prison memories or premonitions?

First off, I have no idea why this movie’s title was changed to MAFIA as there is never so much as a mention of that criminal organization in the movie’s entire running time. The original title of “The Consequence of Renzo Wes” is a much better, more original title and fits the tone of the movie much better.

The movie obviously doesn’t have the kind of budget you would think a movie starring these three would have. The 1970’s period flavor is invoked strictly through the cars that are driven along with the appropriate clothing and hairstyles. In particular Pam Grier sports an afro that I would swear is the same one from “Foxy Brown” she used to hide a gun and razor blades in. But the slang used is contemporary (we didn’t say “ya feel me?” back in the 1970’s) and the music used is that fake pseudo 70’s music filmmaker use when they don’t have the budget to pay for the rights to use music and songs from that period. In addition, the city the action takes place in is never named or identified and there’s never any landmarks or anything mentioned or technology (outside of rotary phones) specific to that time period.

With a larger budget and better script, MAFIA could have been more of a notable movie. Combs deliberately films it as if it were a 1970’s exploitation crime thriller and I respond to the sincerity of the intent. But the movie is too laid back and too restrained. It doesn’t have that manic quality true 70’s exploitation B-movies had where you feel as if anything could happen at any time. Renzo has an enforcer who carries two double barreled shotguns who could have been turned into a memorable supporting character but he just stays in the background most of the time. And why is Pam Grier’s character’s first name “James”?

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And this is the main impression I got while watching MAFIA : that the writer hasn’t read any real hardboiled crime/gangster stories or novels and not really all that much of any sort of crime fiction at all. MAFIA feels to me like it was made by somebody who’s simply seen a bunch of 70’s black exploitation movies and said, “yeah, I wanna do that.” The problem is that there’s no heat, no passion in the movie and no originality brought to the story or the characters. This movie really needed a writer who could have fleshed out the thin story, given the characters some dimensions and brought some much needed energy to the plot and make it sing and swing instead of just going from one predictable point to another.

So should you see MAFIA? If you don’t, you won’t be missing a thing. The only actor bringing their A-game to this is Ving Rhames himself. Pam Grier and Robert Patrick stay safely on autopilot for this one. And it’s got a mercifully short running time of 82 minutes so you won’t waste too much time if you do.

Rated R

82 minutes

Code of Silence

1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Andrew Davis

Produced by Raymond Wagner

Written by Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack and Mike Gray

Today Chuck Norris is best known as the star of the CBS television series “Walker, Texas Ranger” which ran from 1993 to 2001 and the subject of the Internet phenomenon known as “Chuck Norris Facts.” Most people know he had a very successful career as an action star during the 1980’s but when asked to mention what movies they’re familiar with, I’m betting most will cite the “Missing In Action” movies or “Invasion U.S.A.” since those are the ones that seem to get the most airplay on cable/satellite movie channels.  And that’s really a daggone shame as Chuck Norris starred in some really superior action movies during that period.

“Good Guys Wear Black” has a government conspiracy tied to the Vietnam war and “Expendables 2” has a nice call-back to that movie in that Chuck Norris’ character in both movies has the same name. “The Octagon” has a strong plot about private citizens taking it upon themselves to do something about terrorism and co-stars Lee Van Cleef. “The Delta Force” co-stars Lee Marvin and is based on the real life U.S. Army Delta Force. “Silent  Rage” is a sci-fi slasher flick and my all-time favorite Chuck Norris movie, “Lone Wolf McQuade” is a way more badass version of his later Cordell Walker character.

The point I guess I’m trying to make here is that while Chuck Norris can and has been dismissed as an action hero who gets through his movies with his beard and roundhouse kicks, that’s simply not true. Chuck Norris has made a number of movies that are significantly several levels above the standard action movie and the best example of this and undoubtedly the best movie he’s ever made is CODE OF SILENCE. While “Lone Wolf McQuade” remains my favorite; in terms of acting, writing and directing, CODE OF SILENCE is the better movie. Chuck Norris does bust some martial arts moves and even throws his trademark roundhouse kick but that’s only in one major fight scene. CODE OF SILENCE is a straight-up urban cop thriller with good, solid performances and a great story.

Sgt. Eddie Cusack (Chuck Norris) is a Chicago narcotics cop who speaks softly but when he does, everybody listens. He’s a straight arrow, incorruptible hardass but his men respect him. He and his squad have spent a month setting up a big drug bust in order to take down Victor Camacho (Ron Henriquez) of the notorious Comacho family who run the cocaine trade in the city. Cusack’s big bust is ruined by Tony Luna (Mike Genovese) of the Scalese family. Luna raids the meet and greet exchange, killing everybody involved and taking the coke and the money. Cusack’s partner Dorato (Dennis Farina) is shot and there’s a fatality but one that has nothing to do with the bust. A member of Cusack’s squad, the alcoholic, burnt-out Cragie (Ralph Foody) accidentally shoots and kills a teenager who simply steps out of his apartment into the hall to see what all the yelling is about. Cragie plants his throwaway piece on the kid and his partner Kopelas (Joseph Guzaldo) backs him up.

Now here’s where the situation really gets serious. Victor survives the raid and along with his psychotic older brother Luis (Henry Silva) declares war on the Scaleses. Luna decides to leave town as the Camachos go on a rampage, brutally wiping out the Scaleses. They also try to kidnap Luna’s daughter Diana (Molly Hagen) to bring her father out of hiding. Cusack rescues her and tries to keep her alive and safe while also trying to stop the vicious gang war and persuading Kopelas to do the right thing and stop lying for Cragie.

As you can guess from my plot summary, there’s an awful lot of story we’ve got going on here but CODE OF SILENCE is never confusing or gets lost. The three major plots interweave seamlessly with no problem at all. If the movie had just been about the gang war, it would have just been an average movie. But the Cragie subplot, which deals with the “code of silence” police officers have to cover and protect each other is examined here in far greater depth than you would expect from your typical Chuck Norris kick-and-punch flick.

I attribute a lot of how good CODE OF SILENCE is to the director, Andrew Davis who knows how to make a thriller and has made a lot of good ones set in Chicago where he was born and grew up. He directed “Above The Law” which is for my money still Steven Seagal’s best movie, “The Package” with Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones, “Under Siege” and “The Fugitive.” So he knows how to make this type of movie sing and swing.

I give Chuck Norris a lot of credit for not playing Cusack as an invincible superman. There’s a scene where Cusack goes into a pool hall full of bad guys and gets into a brawl with them.  Even though Cusack gets in some good shots what happens is what we know happens in that type of situation: Cusack gets his ass whooped. Norris doesn’t try to out act any of the more experienced actors he’s working with such as the terrific Dennis Farina, Henry Silva, Bert Remsen or Ralph Foody. Most of the time he’s simply reacting to what they’re saying or doing and it works for him.

Some people criticize the movie because of the robot Cusack uses to help him rescue Diana and take down the Camachos in the movie’s final shootout and back in 1985 The Prowler robot might have seemed like science fiction but this is a rare case where reality has caught up and since now we do have police departments using robots like The Prowler it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

And CODE OF SILENCE has what is one of the funniest scenes in movie history when two bumbling hoods try to stick up a bar where all the customers are cops as well as what has to be the biggest car explosion I’ve ever seen in a movie.

So should you see CODE OF SILENCE? Absolutely. It holds up surprisingly well after all this time with its performances, production values, terrific action sequences and story. If you’ve never seen a Chuck Norris movie, watch CODE OF SILENCE. If you have seen other Chuck Norris movies and didn’t like them, watch CODE OF SILENCE. This one is worth your time, trust me.

Rated R

101 Minutes

Shoot ‘Em Up

2007

New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Michael Davis

Produced by Susan Montford and Don Murphy

I’m going to give you the best recommendation I can give you for SHOOT ‘EM UP and it comes from my wife Patricia.  We went to see this movie and I was fully prepared for her to hate it.  86 minutes later the credits are rolling and I asked her what she thought of it.

“I loved it.” Says she, taking me totally by surprise and yet again reminding me that I should never be so arrogant as to presume to predict what a woman will think.

“What did you like about it?” I ask.

Patricia smiles at me and says quite seriously: “I like a movie that gives you exactly what the title says it will give you.”

And she’s right on the money: SHOOT ‘EM UP is exactly that and nothing more: a series of gloriously over the top, spectacularly inventive and violent shootouts that is hung on a plot so bizarre and outrageous that it leaves you with only two options: sit back and have a good time or just eject the DVD and watch  another movie.  Really.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is just that kind of movie.  It makes no apologies for what it is.  You either just have to go along or go home.

Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) is sitting on a bench waiting for a bus, eating raw carrots when a bleeding pregnant woman runs past him.  Five seconds later a bunch of guys with guns in a car screech past him, waving guns out of the windows and following the pregnant woman.  On an impulse, Mr. Smith follows and in a devastating gun battle wipes out the guys in the car and delivers the baby, severing the umbilical cord by firing a bullet through it.  The mother catches a round through the forehead and Mr. Smith goes on the run with the child.  He’s being pursued by Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) a former FBI forensic profiler gone bad who now leads a team of badass gunslingers whose only job is to recover the child Mr. Smith is now caring for.

Mr. Smith enlists the aid of Donna Quintano (Monica Belluci) a prostitute whose specialty really comes in handy: you see, she fulfills men who have breast feeding fantasies.  So Mr. Smith offers her $5000 dollars to breast feed the baby while he goes about the business of annihilating the army of killers Mr. Hertz sends after him and maybe while he’s doing that he can find out why everybody seems intent on killing this baby.

If I told you that Mr. Smith eventually learns that the baby is tied into a dying Presidential candidate whose life can be saved only by the bone marrow of infants and his campaign is being bankrolled by a arms merchant you’d call me crazy. But it is what it is.  SHOOT ‘EM UP is the kind of movie that John Woo used to make before Hollywood destroyed his talent.  It’s a ‘movie’ movie if you know what I mean.  It makes no pretensions at being realistic.  It throws the most improbable characters, situations and plot twists at you and you either say; “What the hell, I’m having fun” or you say ‘Screw it.”  You kinda get what writer/director Michael Davis is going for in the first confrontation between Mr. Smith and Mr. Hertz when they’re pointing guns at each other while Mr. Smith, who is chewing a carrot says; “What’s up, Doc?” and Mr. Hertz responds with: “You wascilly wabbit, you” Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti are playing live action versions of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd who are really trying to kill each other with no bullshit.

Clive Owen is one of my favorite actors and he is obviously having a fun time playing the stone-faced hero who can escape from any situation and who handles a pair of 9mm Berettas almost as good as Chow Yun Fat.  He and Monica Belluci make a great team as the dysfunctional surrogate parents of the child that they have inherited and there is something honestly redeeming about the way they determine to protect this child.  Paul Giamatti is the one actor who is having the best time in this movie.  It’s so unlike anything he’s ever played before and you can see it in his eyes how much he’s enjoying himself.  And yeah, Giamatti makes for one great bad guy.

And how about those gunfights?  Take it from me: every single gunfight in SHOOT ‘EM UP is good enough that any other director would have ended his movie with any of them.  But here, they come one right after another.  Just when I thought the one I just saw was so outrageous that it couldn’t be topped here comes another one that  not only thrilled me with the sheer energy and audacity of the choreography but made me giggle like a schoolgirl as well. The daddy of ‘em all has to be the gunfight that takes place between Mr. Smith and a dozen assassins who have all jumped out of a plane and are plummeting to the ground while blasting away at each other. It’s a sequence that absolutely has to be seen to be believed.

So should you see SHOOT ‘EM UP?  If you’re an action movie junkie like me, you probably already have.  SHOOT ‘EM UP doesn’t have a single realistic moment in the movie.  But I enjoyed the hell out of the fact that the actors and filmmakers were willing to throw everything out the window and just have a good time telling a really out there story and do it with incredible action and their collective tongues firmly in their cheeks.  SHOOT ‘EM UP gives you exactly what the title says it’ll give you and if you expect any more than that then you paid your money for the wrong movie.

86 minutes

Rated R for graphic violence and language.  And I mean it.  There’s an extraordinary amount of violence here as well as a pretty graphic torture scene near the end.  And don’t even get me started on the scene where Clive Owen and Monica Belluci are having sex and he has to fight off half a dozen guys trying to kill them and continue having sex with her. They tried to copy this scene in “Drive Angry” but trust me, SHOOT ‘EM UP does it way better.

Full Clip

2004

Lions Gate Films

Directed by mink

Produced by Happy Walters and Scott Nemus

Written by Kantz

Usually when looking through the $5 bin at Wal-Mart or Target or browsing through Netflix looking for something good, I steer clear of urban action movies starring rappers.  Why?  Well, because most of them aren’t good. I’ve seen some of them and it always strikes me that more work was spent on the soundtrack than on a decent script.

So how did I end up watching FULL CLIP? Because I recently watched the 1975 Blaxplotation classic “Bucktown” and while doing research for the review I read FULL CLIP being mentioned as a remake of that movie so I figured why not give it a watch.  And you know what? I’m glad I did. FULL CLIP surprised me by being a really entertaining B-movie.  It’s got enough of the heart and soul of “Bucktown” to make it a legitimate remake but it also stands as its own movie. It’s not necessary to watch the movies back to back but I certainly would recommend it as a Saturday night double feature.

FULL CLIP is presented as the film adaptation of a graphic novel that actually doesn’t exist.  Scene changes and transitions are done as comic book panels and it’s just enough to give you that sort of flavor and put you in the mindset of how you should take this movie. In fact, some of the transitions reminded me of the transitions Ang Lee did in his “Hulk” and raises the look of the movie up a couple of notches.  Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that FULL CLIP rises to the same level of artistry and sophistication as “Hulk” but it is nice to see a director working to create a unique look and style for his movie.

Joshua Pope (Busta Rhymes) returns to his Alabama hometown for his father’s funeral. He intends just to stay long enough to bury his father and then leave. But then he finds out that his father has left him $250,000, a classic Cadillac as well as the ownership of a dilapidated hotel managed by Sleepy (Bubba Smith).  It’s going to take some time for the paperwork to be processed so Joshua is persuaded to stay and help run the hotel. It’s not just Sleepy who persuades him to do so.  The gorgeous Simone (Shakara Ledard) is also a powerful reason for Joshua to hang around.

But there’s just as powerful a reason for Joshua to leave: Sheriff Wallace (Mark Boone Junior) and his right hand man McCloud (Shaun Baker) who make it clear they don’t want Joshua around.  Turns out that Sheriff Wallace and McCloud are as crooked as they come, shaking down the whole town for protection money as well as controlling the prostitution, gambling and drug trade.  The elder Pope tried to stop paying and got killed as an example to everybody else.

Joshua realizes he’s going to need help and one phone call later he gets it. His buddy and fellow ex-Green Beret Duncan (Xzibit) arrives to provide that help. And along with his crew of mercenaries (Tiny Lister’s one of ‘em) they help Joshua take down Wallace and his corrupt cops.

And that’s where Joshua’s problems begin. Duncan realizes that this is a pretty sweet set-up and he steps right into the place once occupied by Wallace.  And in fact, Duncan and his crew are even worse as they really start to screw the town for every last nickel.  Joshua soon comes to realize that he brought this trouble to town and he’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it once and for all.  Which means a bloody showdown with Duncan and his mercenaries.

What makes FULL CLIP enjoyable for me is that the writer, director and actors apparently all are familiar with the genres of Blaxplotation and Grindhouse as this movie fits comfortably in both genres.  If they took this too seriously it wouldn’t work. But everybody is having just enough fun to let us know we should sit back and just enjoy the story and performances.  This movie wouldn’t have been out of place playing in a 42end Street theater back in the 70’s.

Busta Rhymes, Shakara Ledard and Xzibit are basically playing the same roles Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Thalmus Rasulala did in “Bucktown” and while none of them make movie history, their acting is adequate enough to support the material and that’s all I ask from a movie of this type. Bubba Smith reminds us that when he gets the chance he can be quite funny. And it’s always a pleasure to see Tiny Lister in anything and any role.  Wyclef Jean is amusing as The Narrator who pops up from time to time to comment on the characters and the action.

But we must take bitter waters with the sweet and the bitter comes in the form of Bobb’e J. Thompson who is one of those annoying child actors that we’re supposed to think is so cute because he curses and is disrespectful to every adult in the movie, even his mother. Cute isn’t the word I would use for him.  And I wish that Ellen Cleghorne had played her role without the unnecessary Jamaican accent that sounds as if she’s doing a bad Miss Cleo imitation.

So should you see FULL CLIP?  I will be the first to say that this movie is not for everybody.  Some people just don’t take to urban action movies starring rappers and I’ll be honest: if it wasn’t for the fact I like Busta Rhymes and Xzibit, I’d probably have given it a pass as well.  But given that the cast has such solid players as Bubba Smith, Mark Boone Junior and Tiny Lister present, I gave it a try.  And I wasn’t sorry I did. I don’t think you will be either.

95

Rated R