OCTOBER 25 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : LETHAL TENDER (1997)
Lethal Tender (1997)-***
Directed by: John Bradshaw
Starring: Jeff Fahey, Kim Coates, Carrie-Anne Moss, Karyn Dwyer, Jonathan Potts and Gary Busey
"Money is the most explosive element."
When a team of terrorists take over a water filtration plant and start holding hostages from a tour group, only one man can stop the madness: police detective David Chase (Fahey, not the guy who created The Sopranos playing himself). He has to go up against not just the main hostage taker, the unbalanced Montessi (Coates), and his team of underlings with wacky code names such as Sparky (Dwyer) and Pogo (Potts), but the TRUE mastermind of it all, the sinister Turner (Busey). Luckily, Chase has a few tricks up his sleeve to deal with the baddies before they contaminate the water supply (he only has about four hours or so), and he has teamed up with Melissa (Moss), a plant worker, to save the day.
It’s Die Hard (1988) in a water filtration plant (I just filled in the blank from our Crackerjack, 1994 review). Off the bat, we know this is going to be an odd one. Starting with, believe it or not, some close-ups of Gary Busey's teeth as he talks to no one in particular, with some pounding music behind it, very soon we see something we know isn’t good: nefarious-looking men in overcoats and sunglasses walking in slow motion. Those have to be the bad guys. Kim Coates puts in a noteworthy performance as Montessi. He must have known he was doing the role many people have done before, so he tried to change it up. He has all these little jokes, strange vocal inflections and tics to try to put a spin on the “hostage taker” part. He does wave his gun around a lot, but he at least tried to do it differently, which is a good thing.
Jeff Fahey has a cool jacket and cool hair, and generally just seems “too cool” for the supposedly urgent situation. We always like seeing him. Carrie-Anne Moss is on hand as the romantic interest/sidekick, and we don’t normally see her in DTV product such as this, so that was a nice change as well. Gary Busey is his normal, unhinged self, and from the bad guy team, Karen Dwyer as Sparky stands out from the crowd.
However, this came out in 1997, meaning the influence of Quentin Tarantino must have proved too hard to resist for the filmmakers. For no apparent reason, instead of action scenes or plot points, characters just start talking about The Jeffersons and Good Times. That now seems somewhat embarrassing, and unnecessary. We don’t want pop culture references, especially apropos of nothing. We’d rather hear Jeff Fahey try to woo women talking about his brie omelets. (Don’t forget, we’ve already seen teams of men walking in slow motion that have code names...but I’m sure Reservoir Dogs, 1992 never played into the equation here).
For a goofier-than-usual, shot-in-Canada DTV product, Lethal Tender (gotta love that title) is actually pretty entertaining.
OCTOBER 25 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : LETHAL TENDER (1997)
In quite a few ways, Lethal Tender is in the top of its field when it comes to movies that rip-off Die Hard. But I'm not recommending it, for reasons which I'll get to later.
This is a production of Le Monde Entertainment, a division of Alliance, a Canadian company. Alliance likes to brag about how they make "quality and distinctively Canadian movies", and prevent American culture from fully infiltrating Canada, while most of their assets come from distributing American movies (from New Line and Miramax) in Canada, and much of their TV and movie productions being set in America or some generic setting. I wrote to them about this discrepancy recently, but they didn't reply. Wonder why.
Jeff Fahey plays Chase, a Chicago cop who we first see accepting a bet by other cops at the precinct that think he can't get out of a pair of handcuffs within a time limit. Of course, he succeeds in time, just like Mel Gibson did in a similar scene in Lethal Weapon 2. Well, this movie also has the word "lethal" in its title, so I guess it's okay, even though the audience will have correctly guessed that later in the movie Chase will find himself in handcuffs once again after the bad guys catch him. Afterwards, he and his partner take their assignment to go to a water filtration center out in the country to keep an eye on some striking workers outside, which has the center's management worried.
While Chase's partner keeps an eye on the strikers, Chase is given a quick tour of the filtration plant by employee Melissa (Moss). During the tour, several vehicles with a number of occupants approach the security gate outside and are let through. As you've probably guessed, these are the bad guys (and one bad girl), who shortly let down their guises and proceed to take control of the plant, take hostages of the employees and a group of visitors, and turn off the filtration system. While this is going on, Chase and Melissa have already stepped out of the building for several minutes. Returning to a side door, they discover explosives attached on the other side, and immediately deduct something is not right. Fortunately, Melissa conveniently has a key for a convenient hatch that the terrorists might not have discovered just yet. And since she knows more about the plant than Chase, he is then forced to let her tag along so that he might just put a few dents in their plan - and quickly, because the water supply of Chicago will be infected if the filtration system isn't turned on before four hours are up.
Lethal Tender is the slickest and best shot Die Hard rip-off not made by a major studio. For what was undoubtedly a low budget, it doesn't show it at all, having production values looking equal to the major studios. The location work is excellent as well; none of the locations happening in the filtration center appear to have been faked (the credits thank two real water purification plants), and the screenplay takes these actual locations to both add authenticity and to use what is in these areas (for example, a moving platform crane) as part of the story. I don't know how the heck the filmmakers managed to use all these locations to their potential without disrupting the actual work at these purification plants, but they somehow did it. I tip my hat to them for these exceptional points.
But the movie overall doesn't work. Why? Let's start with the characters and actors. Fahey is quite a boring action hero. Believe it or not, he doesn't do much more than run around and spy on the bad guys for the first hour - he doesn't even kill anyone, while Melissa manages to make a mark on her own kill list! No surprise then then Fahley seems really bored here, and seldom speaking beyond a monotone. I like Gary Busey, and it's always fun to see him play either good or bad guys. In Lethal Tender, he plays "Mr. Turner", the ringleader who radios instructions to the henchmen from his nearby location. There's another problem: Busey for most of the movie just sits there radioing his team to give instructions, and working at his desk on another plan of his. Eventually he does get pissed, and kills a few unlucky people, though Busey's performance never rises above going through the motions. He's done so many psycho roles in his career, it takes a good director to make him rise above his instincts. At least Busey's drug addiction, which he still suffered from during the making of this, isn't apparent here.
The movie also has some really bizarre attempts at humor, which fail to get laughs and quite frankly left me bewildered. One scene early in the movie has a villain tormenting a captured worker by picking up the corpse of his dead co-worker, and speaking to the tormented worker in a squeaky voice, as if he was a ventriloquist. Another scene has one bad guy shooting two guards, and his terrorist partner claiming he didn't have to do that. "What are you complaining about?" answers the killer. "Their union's got great life insurance coverage!" Such scenes are not just unfunny, but seem out of place.
But what about the action? Sorry to tell you, there's not much of it anyway. The little action there doesn't usually go beyond one-on-one shootouts or hand-to-hand fights. I knew it was doomed from the start when I observed that there weren't many terrorists. If Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal were in that building, the movie would have been finished in 45 minutes. So it's fortunate that this movie had an inept hero to stretch things out - fortunate for the filmmakers, not the audience.
UPDATE: Special thanks for William Norton for finding out a very interesting story about the making of this movie:
"I heard from a late actor who knew Gary Busey. He told me Busey was "tacked-in" on the film Lethal Tender. To get a tax break you have to get a Canadian actor/actress as second billed/second highest pay. Kim Coates isn't worth as much money as Busey, so they shot him separately so they can still get the tax break. Busey is also friends with Jeff Fahey so he kind of helped get Busey in the film for the producers. The producer of the film, Julian Grant, labeled himself in a interview as "The Roger Corman of Canada", even though he only did a handful of movies. (I think Peter Simpson or Paul Lynch is more Corman). (Note: I agree) So this film was made with a hack mentality. Odd now, everyone is ga-ga over Carrie Ann Moss, and getting a lot of interviews in Canada, yet like Alliance, all she did was American films for her resume, nothing really in Canada, yet I heard she is looked up by Canadians for The Matrix!"
This story is probably true, since during the film, Busey's character mostly stays in one room, far away from where Jeff Fahey is doing his stuff.
The difficulty of making movies in Canada (and trying to get tax breaks at the same time) has generated a lot of ludicrous and true stories. For example, in the movie Tanya's Island, the story was supposed to totally take place on a desert island. Then the Canadian government required there to be "Canadian content" in the movie. So they quickly shot a few minutes of footage of a couple of the characters in a Toronto TV station, pretty much doing nothing but sitting and standing around.
Later on, the Canadian government made a rule stating that in order to qualify for a tax shelter, producers couldn't disguise Canadian locations as American. So producers then set their movies in unidentified locations, assuming (probably correctly) that audiences would assume the movie was set in America.
OCTOBER 25 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CYBER TRACKER
Can the premise even be articulated?
Sort of. Mix Robocop with The Terminator and cast the robot with a big bald fucker that looks like Steve Wilkos. Add a real life kickboxer Don “The Dragon” Wilson as a human who is targeted by the Steve Wilkos which is controlled by his former employers (a senator and some other miscellaneous trash) and you basically have a movie where a guy beats the crap out of robots and Australians while proving his innocence with kickboxing. All you need to know is that the film has a wannabe Sasha Mitchell that makes Van Damme seem like the next coming of George C. Scott.
Well there is Richard Norton, who plays the Aussie martial artist who takes on Don “The Dragon” Wilson in the climax. Apparently Richard Norton was a bodyguard for some music stars and was in Gymkata and a whole slew of 90s Inaction flicks. This guy is also much bigger in Hong Kong where he’s been a villain in Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung flicks. He’s also a better actor than The Dragon and much sexier.
Evidence That The Script was written by a robot that looks like Guy Ritchie:
The movie rips off so many other movies it’s not even funny. No wait, it’s actually very funny. You have a rebel underground opposing the totalitarian corporation running the world (Max Headroom). You have a robot that is used for law enforcement to execute without prejudice (Robocop or Universal Soldier) a hero that finds out that his employer is corrupt (any conspiracy movie) and faces an enemy that can’t be stopped with bullets and is merciless, invincible and emotionless (The Terminator). Cyber Tracker also borrows thematically from Bergman’s Faith Trilogy without contributing additional insight.
Bargain Bin Quality:
Again, the funniest thing about the movie is that the robot looks identical to Steve Wilkos, without the bowling shirts. Seriously the way the robot walks, talks and fights reminds one of Steve Wilkos so much that I half expected him to throw a fucking chair. Also our hero is so lame and boring that he actually gets drunk with the A.I housekeeper he lives with. That’s the state of action. Our heroes can’t find a man, or even a woman to bond with so they program a robot to get drunk with them. Sad. (Note to self: program robot to be drinking buddy.)
We do have lots of explosions and fight sequences but let’s be candid. This movie is so fucking bored with itself that its tired plot threads weave into a moronic and boring knot. An underground rebellion, boring bad guys (Steve Wilkos aside) and a lead performance delivered by Wilson, possibly the worst actor to ever recite from cue cards. The film has cars flipping over, apparently has a decent budget for explosions, but isn’t gay enough, dumb enough or fun enough to be anything but a mindless curiosity to 80s action fans.
Vestiges Of Glory
I counted 31 but most of it is routine, though the special effects regarding the Wilkos robot are so blatantly unconvincing and cheap that the fight sequence is laughable instead of awe-inspiring. That being said I always love it when cars do flips do somersaults like 20 times before easing to a stop and then exploding on contact.
The film sort of has the gayness going on, but is really an example of the decline of homoreoticism in the genre rather than anything genuinely arousing. There’s a hot blonde love interest and, while she doesn’t have sex with our hero, she is seen kissing him and it’s clear Donny-Boy wants a piece of her action. Of course it’s probably because he’s just happy for any human interaction that doesn’t involve DVDs, credit card numbers or drinking with tameguchis. Richard Norton, Steve Wilkos-Droid and Don Wilson are all shirtless in battle but it strikes one as a hollow act of obligation. It’s as if 80s Action hero were forced to go to the straight camp that worked so well for Ted Haggard.
Dragon reaches inside the Steve Wilkos-droid, put a bomb in his abdomen and blows him in half and we can see his legs spark before it falls down and circuits out dead.
“You are to be executed NOW!” said over and over again by the Steve Wilkos droid.