Monday, August 9, 2010

Special Forces (2003) - By Mark Oswald

Well I said in my review of Attack Force Z that I was going to be reviewing some more group-based Action films in preparation for The Expendables, which comes out in a few days. Now I haven’t exactly filled my quota, so to speak, but I’ve at least got a cheesy but good one here to tell you guys about, and hopefully I’ll get another one done before taking in Sly’s newest Action extravaganza this Thursday at Midnight.

Special Forces is the first Action/Martial Arts collaboration from Israeli DTV auteur Isaac Florentine, and ass-kicker Scott Adkins. The film actually stars Marshall Teague (Armageddon, some episodes of “Walker, Texas Ranger”) and his merry band of Army Special Forces (!) soldiers, assigned to missions involving the infiltration/elimination of enemy targets and whatnot. The team is first introduced mid-mission by the old freeze frame on their face while the character’s name is plastered on-screen beneath them. In this first encounter, they offer an impressive display of silenced-shootings mixed with a quick martial arts move here and there and this is basically the form of combat they stick with for the remainder of the film. I also must say that regardless of a serious lack of character depth and/or development, they come across as a very tight-knit group of military bros.

The main story revolves around a power-mad Russian military guy who decides to take a female journalist hostage after she and her photographer witness the slaughter of a few dozen peasant villagers. After a video tape is sent to the American government, demanding a ransom for her life, the Special Forces team is dispatched to Russia in order to rescue the girl. While there, they must rendezvous with the surviving member of a British SAS team that had been sent into the country on a previous mission. Scott Adkins (with native accent for once) plays the sole survivor as a charismatic loner who is willing to help out the SF team when needed, but is primarily interested in exacting his revenge against the evildoers responsible for the slaughter of his unit.

Adkins, of course, really steals the show from the Americans. Because like, you know, they are well trained and kick a lot of ass and everything, but it doesn’t really matter, because he’s Scott Adkins. Whenever the film goes back to the SF members fighting after watching him do his thing, it just doesn’t compare. Adkins is always impressive, but here he seems faster than ever since it was before he bulked up a little more as to not look scrawny in comparison to Michael Jai White in Undisputed II. I mean he’s a very muscular guy anyways, but Jai White is just fucking large. Adkins’ acting in his native voice is overall pretty decent. You can tell he’s more relaxed than in his stiffer American roles, but maybe not having as much fun as in his aggressive Russian ones. You can tell he’s more comfortable fighting than in the dialogue scenes, probably because: A) He was only 26 and less experienced at the time, and B) the actual dialogue isn’t exactly what I’d call “rich”. I also found it kind of funny how the script had him calling people “chaps” and “blokes” and stuff a non-British writer would probably think he would say, but none of that shit sounds natural coming out of his mouth for some reason, so I thought that was pretty funny.

The requisite evil Russian in this movie is played by Eli Danker, who went on the play the mystical, wheelchair-bound inmate who helps out Michael Jai White in Undisputed II. In that movie his character was a grumpy, but sad-eyed old man, whose subplot added some heart to the film’s third act. Here he plays the typical evil foreign military bad guy; but he’s a solid actor, so he makes a memorable role out of one that would have otherwise been cliché and forgettable. Marshall Teague, as our main heroic type, does a solid job playing the uber-patriotic squad leader who is still scarred from a devastating previous encounter with Danker’s character. He has the utmost respect for the men under his command, but doesn’t baby them when they’re feeling less than optimistic about the mission. You know; tough love and all that…

The highlight of the film was during the final battle(s), which consisted of a fight between Teague and Danker shown parallel with a fight between Adkins and Danker’s right-hand man, who it seems was the one responsible for the assassination of Adkins’ team. The juxtaposition between the two encounters works well because of the different fighting styles being used. Teague and Danker duke it out in more of a clumsy brawl; punching, kicking, and utilizing improvised weaponry whenever possible. Meanwhile Adkins and the other dude (couldn’t figure out the guy’s name from the movie’s IMDB page) go at it in a highly-stylized and excellently choreographed martial arts battle of epic proportions. It is seriously fucking awesome. I absolutely did not want it to end and I should’ve been counting the times I let out an exclamation of “Whoa!” in addition to tracking the film’s impressively high body count. I’ve enjoyed immensely the fights worked out in the Undisputed sequels, but when the fighters actually get to perform in an outside-the-ring capacity, able to utilize and react to objects around them in inspiring ways, it is even more captivating.

Isaac Florentine, as usual, demonstrates some of his patented directorial flair. Lots of energetic camera movements and “whoosh” sound effects whenever something is swung, thrown, etc. The editing again is stylish and fast-paced, but never convulsive or disorientating. The film’s weaker moments reside mostly in the scripting department. The dialogue is nothing special, and often very cliché, except for a few golden nuggets sprinkled throughout. The look of the film exhibits its lack of a big budget. For example, even though this film came out three years after Proof of Life, it looks like it was shot ten years prior. A lot of the acting of course fails to reach the heights of Brando, Pacino, and at times even a young Seagal, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse too. Another thing that might bother some people is the balls out sense of American pride on display here. The SF guys are so gung-ho and stereotypical that it might turn some people off, but I thought it was all just corny enough to work. Plus none of them talk too much so I wouldn’t let any of that stop you from seeing this thing. Also, there is more than enough action on hand to help you overlook these detractions.

Next up is probably Florentine’s U.S. Seal’s II. No Adkins in that one, but oh well. You can’t have it all.

Body Count – 175! (Not including the lives lost in the peasant village massacre, since there were, sadly, just too many to count)

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