Deep Star Six (1989)

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Starring Greg Evigan, Taurean Blacque and Miguel Ferrer.

    A big alien attacks a secret undersea research facility. That's it really. The one line pitch is the entire film.

What's wrong with it?

    Along with the mis-matched partner action/comedies, the 80's were rife with low rent 'Alien' knock offs. And this is one of them. With an equal measure of 'The Abyss' thrown in.
    Almost identical to 'Leviathan' of the same year, it has not one original idea. All the characters are cardboard (as are most of the actors). The plot is ludicrous, sets wobbly. And the film's special effects would shame the makers of 'Stingray'

What's right with it?

    Not much.

How bad is it really?

    It's a 'killer Alien' film where the killer Alien kills 2 out of the 11 disposable crew. Very poor indeed.

Best Bit (if such there is)?

    The nasty British (or is it South African?) Doctor accidentally impales himself onto Miguel Ferrer's explosive CO2 harpoon spear and his lungs explode. Then Miguel Ferrer goes crazy from the guilt, gets into the escape pod, heads to the surface without decompressing and his brain explodes.

What's up with?


Production Values - Bad. The interiors are bearable, but exterior shots are clearly 'Airfix' models. There's a hilarious swimming pool with fake sky backdrop used for the finale and the killer monster looks like a Cornish Pasty. Say no more! 17

Dialogue and performance - The dialogue is of the "So what does it mean Doc?" variety. The actors shuffle about being generally crap then dying in stupid ways (and screaming unconvincingly in pain). As soon as the Captain starts to become remotely interesting he gets his back broken (then he drowns) And Miguel Ferrer (from Robocop and Traffic) is caught acting and gets his brain exploded. 13

Plot and execution - The plot is blagged from Ridley Scott and James Cameron. And is directed with no sense of narrative, space or suspense. 17

Randomness - Underwater researchers researching nothing in particular. Killer Cornish Pasties from nowhere in particular. Captains with numeracy problems. Self induced exploding lungs. It's all here! 18 (would have been 20, however the dream sequence didn't include a midget in a bikini)

Waste of potential - Let's face it, this was always going to be shite whatever way you look at it. 5

Overall 70%


Trancers III: Deth Lives (1992)

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by C. Courtney Joyner
Starring Tim Thomerson, Andrew Robinson and Helen Hunt.

    The third part of the increasingly silly Trancers series (we are up to part 6 I'm told).
    For the uninitiated 'Trancers' are super strong zombies mind controlled by evil megalomaniac 'Whistler' and Jack Deth was a Trancer hunter from L.A (c.2247) who went back in time (in the 1st film) to present day L.A to stop him forming an army of Trancers.
    In the 2nd film, it was Whistlers brother (no really!)
    With the 3rd film Jack Deth is now a seedy struggling private eye, slowly drifting apart from his wife Lena (Helen Hunt in an extended cameo role). Until he's beaten and drugged by a large purple-faced android, taken into the future where there's a Trancer war being raged on mankind. So Jack is sent back to 2005 to destroy the Trancer army network while it is still in the development phase.

What's wrong with it?

    Sure the 1st Trancers film was no Schindlers List, but it rose above it's low budget B movie roots and actually came up with a nice premise, some wit and was moderately well acted.
    Sadly, the sequels each come with increasingly implausible storylines, pointless breasts and tired explosions just started to get a little tiresome.
    This one, with a plot about government trained killer zombies, with lots of guns and a secret base under a strip club, it's safe to say it's lost it's spark for ideas.
    The acting ranges from wild overacting (mostly from the chief bad guy Colonel Daddy Mutha) to the Steven Seagal School of emotional expression (the rest of the cast).
    The action scenes suck and the finale is the biggest anti-climax since Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and this isn't even funny.

What's right with it?

    Tim Thomerson once again playing the permanently pissed off laconic Jack Deth (although has little to do in this other than scowl and get kicked to the ground by women zombies in lycra).

How bad is it really?

    Not bad, but very bland.

Best Bit?

    After creaming the Trancers and saving mankind Jack is partnered with 'Shark' (the giant purple faced Android) to become peace officers of space and time.
    Deth "You know Shark I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful…(looks at camera) Oh forget it."

What's up with?


Production values - Sub Star Trek corridors, black eyeliner for the Trancers, a few fake guns and a purple monster mask. The film looks like it was filmed over a weekend on the set of Star Trek when they weren't looking. 17

Dialogue and performance - The script isn't much to write home about, mostly mumbling about ultimate armies and steroids. The writers seem to have forgotten that Tim Thomerson has excellent comic timing for dry retorts (by which I mean there aren't any in the film). Thomerson once again as Jack Deth, playing his preferred role of 'mean and moody whilst waving a gun about'. Helen Hunt has one scene of explanation (clearly wanting closure from the Trancers series, so she could move onto those better Hollywood films like Twister and What Women Want). The rest of the cast were obviously hired for their looks (in Lycra and eyeliner). 12

Plot and execution - The plot is just a rehash of the first two films. The narrative is spotty at best and nothing really makes sense (staple requirements for 'Charles Band productions'). 16

Randomness - As I say, it's a 'Charles Band production', randomness is their mission statement. 14

Waste of potential - The following Trancer films actually (sort of) got better. This is a slight improvement on the 2nd film, but still could have been so much more (or maybe I'm just being naïve). 14

Overall 73%


Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Who is Lara Croft? (And yes, this is the best of the film's dire taglines)

Directed by Simon West
Starring Angelina Jolie

    Lady Lara Croft (Jolie) is an orphaned, aristocratic shut-in with a tough 'tude and serious daddy issues, who lives in a near-deserted mansion with faithful family servant Hilary (Christopher Barrie) and techie hanger-on Bryce (Noah Taylor). Not having to work for a living, she whiles away the days as a tomb raider; a mercenary specialising in the plundering of ancient artefacts from sites of archaeological significance; like Indiana Jones without the reverence.
    Then one night, she finds a clock concealed by her late father (John Voight, Jolie's real life dad), which itself hides an ancient device, which is used to unlock the resting places of the two halves of the Triangle of Light, an artefact of vast cosmic power forged by an ancient race from metal taken form a fallen meteor, broken in two after the abuse of its power almost destroyed the world, and now sought by The Illuminati, the secret society's secret society, although in this film played by the Freemasons. The Triangle allows its possessor to travel through time, and thus to - dare I say it - rule the world, but it can only be restored if the Key is used to unlock two separate vaults at two precisely defined points in an astrological conjunction of all nine planets which occurs every five millennia.
    The Key is promptly stolen by a goon-squad sent by Illuminati chief bruiser Max Powell (an evilly oily Iain Glen). A message left by her father guides Lara to intercept Powell, and rival tomb raider Alex (an American played by Brit actor Daniel Craig), as they try to claim the first piece of the Triangle from a Cambodian temple. She proves her superiority by solving a part of the puzzle Alex missed, then snags the Triangle half, although the Illuminati retain the Key.
    Making a deal with Powell to join forces in exchange for the restoration of her long-lost father, Lara heads off to the Siberian meteor crater where it all began, with Bryce in tow for no reason whatsoever. She retrieves the second piece from a giant solar system model with optional deadly crushing features, which seems to have been borrowed from The Dark Crystal. Powell betrays his Illuminati masters - no enlightened tyranny for our Maxie - but finds he can't join the two pieces.
    To force Lara to reveal the Triangle's secret, Powell kills Alex. She retrieves a third piece form inside the Key, but beats Powell to the prize. Visiting her father before his death, she is told that she can't save him, because it would be wrong to meddle with the passage of history. She thus returns to her own time, meddles with time anyway to save Alex, smashes the Triangle to smithereens and has a fight with Powell who - quelle surprise - is the one who killed her father, a traitor to the Illuminati. Then she skates out of the collapsing ice cave, being pulled by sled dogs like some refugee from a tampon commercial, comes to terms with her father's death and goes back to her life of wacky adventure and franchises.

What's wrong with it?

    Tomb Raider is a collection of insipid action set pieces, bound together by a weak plot, linked by fairly unenlightening exposition and populated by dull characters. Lara has no real interaction with anyone that goes deeper than casual badinage, and shows almost no humanity, even in confronting her dead father. The claim that to have allowed her to show emotion and have feelings would have weakened a strong female character is undercut by the fact that throughout the film she is purely her father's instrument. She solves - and decides - nothing for herself, simply following her father's guidance and instructions.
    Alex, the rival-cum-love interest, is portrayed as being nowhere near Lara's equal, making their three minutes of verbal 'sparring' even more tedious than it would be otherwise. She is also - in keeping with the general refusal to allow Lara to display human weakness - completely immune to his charms, making her willingness to reveal the secret of the Pyramid to save him - yet not her father - utterly unfathomable.
    The set-pieces are clunky and over-orchestrated, almost leisurely affairs lacking the flow which audience have come to expect in the post-Matrix era. Moreover, they do no fit smoothly into the film's narrative flow, but rather are included purely for their own sake. This goes double for the wire-work scene, where Lara exercises suspended from bungie ropes, purely so that when the goon-squad bust in - naturally making no attempt at stealth - she can battle them wuxia style, because that's cool, right?
    The accents are crazed, with Jolie's plummy tones fair but inconsistent, and her father's deeply dodgy. The casting of the Brit as Alex adds a kind of perverse symmetry to the proceedings. The villain of the piece meanwhile trades slimy Englishness for true menace, apparently too bored to make much effort in establishing his scumbag credentials.
    Also, the pneumatic breasts really do nothing for Jolie, and the 'visit interesting places and smash them to smithereens' motif is deeply offensive to the archaeologist in me.

What's right with it?

    Well, no evening with the Freemasons and quinmillennial, wacky world-ending fun is ever completely wasted, although for the same money you could instead see The Mummy Returns, which at least has some likeable characters.
    Some of the supporting players are actually pretty decent, although given little to do. Chris Barrie, of Red Dwarf fame, is especially good as the long-suffering butler, striving to turn the plummy-voiced hellion into a lady, although one can't help feeling that the character should have been a little older, specifically have been old enough to realistically have been Lord Croft's butler before his demise.

How bad is it really?

    Tomb Raider is pretty  much hokum; an undemanding adventure yarn which asks little of its audience, but delivers not much in return. The greatest failing of most movies based on computer games is that they end up feeling like a game where you have no control than like a proper movie - or at least of the ones that aren't simply so terrible that nothing about them could ever be considered as good, Super Mario Bros, I'm looking in your direction - and this is one trap the Tomb Raider fails to evade.
    It's not truly dire, in the manner of some would-be Indiana Joneses, but it's really not very good at all.

Best bit?

    When the goon-squad bursts into the mansion, Hilary rushes to defend it with a shotgun and a bullet-proof vest strapped on over his Noel Coward dressing gown. It's kind of charming.

What's up with...?


Production values - So-so. Decent SFX is squandered on fairly mediocre direction, static choreography and over-excited editing. Plus anyone who feels Angelina Jolie's breasts need to be enlarged plainly has their priorities wonky. 12

Dialogue and performances - Weak, at best. Limp badinage, convoluted exposition and lame faux attitude, all delivered in a collection of dodgy accents by performers who all seem to be phoning this one in. Jolie has at times shown signs of some serious acting chops, but her portrait of Croft consists solely of pouting, speaking with an accent and assaying the occasional feral snarl to show she's tough and dangerous. 17

Plot and execution - The plot could cheerfully form the basis of a forty-five minute Outer Limits episode, but barely makes the stretch to movie length. The film is essentially a series of action scenes, with little overall flow, and the direction is somewhat lacklustre. 16

Randomness - Aside from Lord Croft's rather bizarre series of cryptic messages from beyond the grave, and the random Cambodian/Inuit girl who pops up every now and then with flowers and wisdom, the film basically sticks to it's fairly pedestrian mystery-cult guns. Oh, and the big-ass training robot. And the dog-skating; what was up with that? And the wire-work scene. 15

Waste of potential - Two words for you: Indiana Jones. Tomb Raider could have been a much better film if it had simply taken the plunge and divorced itself a little further from its computer game origins to have an actual narrative and a little humanity. It probably wouldn't have been great, but it probably could have been good. 12

Overall 72%