The Hunted (1995)

Directed by J.F. Lawton
Starring Christopher Lambert, John Lone and Joan Chen

    Paul Racine (Lambert) is an American businessman. On a business trip to Tokyo, he sleeps with a Chinese...sorry, Japanese woman named Kirina (Chen), only to witness her death at the hands of Chin...Japanese master ninja Kinjo (Lone, who does at least get a 'why yes, I am of Chinese descent' speech).
    Racine is left for dead, but survives, and his doctor calls in a master swordsman from an ancient Samurai family, Takeda (Yoshio Harada) and his wife to protect him when the ninjas start falling out of the woodwork - sometimes literally; they're not terribly good ninjas.
    It turns out that Takeda is actually seeking a showdown with the supposedly unbeatable Kinjo, and eventually he calls him out. Kinjo brings a cohort of ninjas to the 'fair fight', and slaughters all of Takeda's followers. The ninja then get wiped out by Takeda, who is in turn killed by Kinjo. Racine - having taken some kenjutsu lessons from the drunken old swordmaker - then kills Kinjo.

What's wrong with it?

    The Hunted is pretty slow-moving in places. In particular, it takes too long to get started in the first place, spending far too long faffing about with Racine and Kirina to try and establish that it's not just a shag, it means something. Then Kinjo poses for ten minutes. The ongoing failure of the ninjas to kill the schmuck bait Racine pretty much saps their credibility, and their assault tactics - kill everyone on the train, just to be sure - are just there to make them marginally less pleasant than Takeda. Also, the ninja only appear to know one move - an overhead swing that gets them chopped in the gut every time.
    The score is nothing to write home about.

What's right with it?

    Well, the samurai is very good. A veteran of Japanese cinema, Yoshio Harada plays the role to the hilt, and carries off the swordfights with aplomb (especially compared to his rather useless foes). Also, the finale has some nice touches, with the ninja turning up to the duel with a dozen cunningly concealed buddies. There's also some decent bits on samurai honour.

How bad is it really?

    The Hunted is dull. It has some decent ideas, but does next to nothing with them. While technically interesting, even the best of the fights lack real dynamism, and the score does nothing to cover.

Best bit?

    The ninjas popping up to interrupt the duel are pretty good, and the female ninja slicing off her own face to avoid identification is pretty good in a wince-inducing way.

What's up with...?


Production values - Not bad, but let down by the samey choreography. The lighting is also not the best, and the score is unmemorable. 14

Dialogue and performances - Nothing to write home about. Grumpy old samurai is pretty solid, and John Lone acts his little heart out in a limited role, but Lambert just does his usual thing, and Joan Chen is barely in the film at all (c.f. Judge Dredd). 16

Plot and execution - An interesting idea squandered in a meandering mish-mash of dull fight scenes. There's little character development, and frankly you might not care if there was. 15

Randomness - The crapness of the ninjas, rivalled only by the crapness of everyone they off. The little girl. The instant sword master. Suspension of disbelief was an early casualty. 12

Waste of potential - The Hunted had some solid ideas in it, but there was just bog all done with them. 18

Overall 75%


Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986)

"The Ultimate Adventure"

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by John Hough
Starring Neil Dickson, Alex Hyde-White and Peter Cushing.

    1917, and the Germans have created a super weapon that uses high frequency sound that could win them the first world war.
    1984, and Jim Ferguson, a whiny New Yorker who makes TV dinners, keeps getting zapped back in time to team up with his 'Time partner', the legendary flying ace Biggles to battle the Germans and restore the balance of time and history.

What's wrong with it?

    One of those big(gish) budget mega flops that you can't really imagine being made in any other decade other than the decadent 80's.
    The plot doesn't make any sense, and many interesting premises are frustratingly left unexplored. Why Jim as Biggles' time partner? Did the Germans use the time travelling rip holes to help create the weapon? Why does time randomly jump our two heroes back and forth? And so on.
    Plus the guy playing Jim (actually a Brit with a cod American accent), with as much charisma as a 2x4 plank of mahogany, looks (and acts) like the bastard love child of Face from The A-Team and Jake Speed.

What's right with it?

    Neil Dickson is every inch the part of Biggles, with the right mix of stiff upper lip and 'tally ho' daring-do.
    The 1917 scenes are well recreated and the dogfights are exciting.
    Peter Cushing, in sadly his last film (not the best swansong really).

How bad is it really?

    Not bad as in Battlefield Earth bad, but with most of the screen time taken for Jim and his whiny girlfriend to mug at the camera, and a subplot involving a stereotypical 'Fat sleazy American' played by William Hootkins ('fat sleazy American in British movies extrodinaire') it's not until we get to the trenches that is starts to get good. But even that isn't that good.

Best Bit?

    Biggles (after being zapped into 1984) leaping into a police helicopter and proclaiming: "If you can fly a Sopwith Camel…You can fly anything!" Whilst some naffly heroic 80's disco rock plays. (The funky 'Do you wanna be a hero?' by Stanislas)

What's up with…?


Production Values - Nice World War 1 period recreations, groovy stunts (abseiling down Tower bridge. Natch!) and some cool flying scenes. Naff 80's music and pants special effects though. 8

Dialogue and performance - A couple of nice one liners courtesy of Biggles, everything else is a bit cheesy (How many times have we heard the crap girlfriend saying "Take me to the American consulate!" after appearing in an alien hostile environment). Only Dickson and Cushing just about scrape through with any dignity in the acting stakes. 14

Plot and execution - Come on plot, I know you're in there somewhere! The film drags horribly in the middle, and pulls itself out of the slump with some impressive flying stunts at the end. Oh and some hilariously shite religious metaphors (Biggles girlfriend lies dying in a church, but wait…Organ music and angelic shafts of light…And Surprise! She wakes up!). 17

Randomness - No explanation (who invented, or even controls the deadly super weapon) no narrative thread (right it's 1917, no wait it's 1984…), hell no real ending (clearly hoping for a franchise series). Even the annoying American girlfriend turns British at the end for some reason. This film is very random indeed. 20

Waste of potential - If it had been set solely in 1917 it probably could have been a corking (if a little cheesy) action adventure (and it's not like there's a shortage of source material to base a plot on). But instead they decided on 'Biggles goes time travel with a bunch of annoying 80's idiots and some terrible disco rock tapes'. Very poor. 17

Overall 76%


Earth vs. The Spider (2001)

Reviewed by Simon Drake

Directed by Scott Ziehl
Starring Dan Ackroyd, Devon Gummersall and Theresa Russell.

    Hapless nice guy Quentin Kemmer has a fairly dull life. He is a security guard for a bio-technology lab and spends his time reading his favourite comic 'Arachnid Avenger'. Until one day his friend and partner is murdered by a couple of random terrorists and Quentin is blamed and subsequently fired.
    So, as you do when going through the mourning process of a friend, he injects himself with some random genetically enhanced spider blood in the hope that he will become a superhero and fight crime and avenge his partner's death. Before long he is superstrong, firing webs from his solar plexus and saving his sexy neighbour Stephanie from serial killers. But his arachnid tendencies soon begin to take a more nasty shape as Quentin begins to chow down on the local neighbourhood pimps and crackheads and turn into a 8 legged Quasimodo looking, Baron Greenback sounding insect with killer instincts.
    Enter Det. Grillo (Dan Ackroyd, seriously miscast as a grizzled cop) who just happens to be an expert in Molecular biology and deduces all the clues (webs containing human DNA, victims being sucked to death (oo-er), suspects with superhuman strength climbing up walls) point to a giant man spider.
    The film culminates in a warehouse set with a rubber web where Stephanie is caught and all the nasty characters get shot or sucked alive (including Grillo's drunken floozy wife) and Grillo shoots Quentin in the back.
    And the poor guy hadn't even avenged his partners' death.

What's wrong with it?

    A film that is too serious to be ironic and too dull to be…well anything else. It starts with the promise of a comic book style with the opening credits of images from The Arachnid Avenger, garish colours and over egged jazz soundtrack, but then suddenly switches track and becomes quite dark and nasty which gives it a vaguely unpleasant tone. It is clear it has no idea what it wants to be and it completely fails to work on any genre level.
    The narrative is ponderously slow, with zero tension and the acting is lame (poor old Dan Ackroyd in a wannabe Tommy Lee Jones role, more suited to the likes of B-Movie hams like Bruce Payne, Lance Henrikson or Tim Thomerson).
    The lead is like a cross between Edward Norton (without the charisma) and Craig Maclachlan from Neighbours and the girlfriend in peril looks and acts like Denise Richards.
    The film ends with no climax and no conclusion.
    And Quentin is hardly 'vs. the Earth' is he?

What's right with it?

    The idea of a nerdy teen gaining superpowers and being completely unable to control them and turning evil is quite an intriguing premise, but sadly the director (and four scriptwriters) totally fail to make anything remotely interesting from the concept.
    The spider effects and costumes are suitably yucky.

How bad is it really?

    Not even funny bad. Just boring bad.

Best Bit?

    The comic shop owner using a toy lightsaber as his weapon of choice when investigating a possible break-in of his shop. (It is at least mildly funny compared to everything else in the film)

What's up with?

Ratings :

Production Values - The effects (seeing as it was a FX film company production) are good, and the soundtrack is quite funky. The rest of the production reeks of Z-movie grade (about three sets, shoddy camera work, awful lighting etc) 15

Dialogue and performance - Nothing at all memorable in the script, lots of bland actors reading bland lines from cue cards. The performances range from disturbingly tragic (Poor Dan Ackroyd), embarrassing (Theresa Russell as a drunken trollop comes to mind) to cardboard blandness (everyone else). 18

Plot and execution - Lordy what a mess. The entire film only makes sense if you are aware about comic book mythology (namely Spider Man). And even if you are, the film has nothing to say about it, this isn't even homageing (or even poking fun at) comic books. The director has no clue how to create or execute suspense, and the scriptwriters clearly hoping no one will notice if they have no explanation or conclusion. 19

Randomness - There is no reasoning or explanation why anything is happening at any one time. This film is even more random than Ice Pirates…Those may be big words, but it's true. 20

Waste of Potential - It may have come from a special effects production company so I wasn't exactly expecting Unbreakable 2 but this could have been a trashy fun comic book horror with a spin on the mythology. But no. The one vaguely interesting theory was flushed down the bath like the wretched creepy spider that this film is. 20

Overall 92%