Plot: Super-Marine Dolph Lundgren is the World’s Last Hope against a horrible biological weapon. By which I don’t mean Dolph Lundgren.
There’s a film production company named Phoenician Entertainment that basically functions as a modern analog to Roger Corman. Final Voyage was one of theirs. They stitch together massively and often surreally derivative action movies as cheaply as possible.
To further this goal they incorporate as much stock footage as possible to stretch their meager budgets and shooting schedules. Anytime you see airborne or maritime vessels or explosions or, really, anything even remotely expensive it’s almost certainly shots from another movie.
Presumably the company makes their nut from cable TV showings and DVD and video rentals. Despite the fiscal austerity of their product, however, the company’s DVD releases generally include commentary tracks (!!). These tend to be funnier the more honest they are, such as the one for Final Voyage.
I’ve seen a couple of Phoenician films that left me too weary to review. This includes Submerged, a recent trapped-in-a-sunken-airliner movie built around huge chunks of Airport ’77. Agent Red proves no better (or much worse) than these. Still, my batteries are recharged a bit, so let’s take a flyer.[Future Ken: Actually, the film did prove to be rather worse than those â€“ which is saying something. Hence the length of this review, which started out as an intended Video Cheese article.]
Agent Red is largely set on a submarine. Ship-based movies, including the two mentioned above, seem a Phoenician specialty. Probably because of the availability of lots of suitable stock footage from previous and much higher budgeted movies.
Also, one assumes, the cramped nature of such a setting allows for a minimum number of sets. The ‘engine room’ scenes can be shot in any factory with a boiler room. What sets they do construct (or, more likely, rent) can be used over and over in the course of shooting, since ship compartments tend to look fairly identical.
We open with a Super-Secret Military Team â€“ we can tell from the black streaks of makeup each member has on his or her face â€“ flying via stock footage helicopter to a military base in some foreign land. There they sneak around and take out guards via a humorously broad array of methods. This includes shooting, slitting necks with knives, that obligatory head twisting/neck breaking thing, blow guns (!) and others, including some weird device that I guess injected poison into a guy.
Meanwhile, team member/super-pilot Dolph gets the ‘cream’ of what one-liners there are. He also gets to spout dialog like “Don’t wait for me!” when warned of the critical timing of the mission. There’s an original line.
Anyhoo, it turns out that some (maybe) vaguely Middle Eastern bad guys have somehow gotten their hands on a stealth fighter. Apparently we’re not meant to worry about how this all came about. More stuff happens, like the killing of all of those guards. Dolph tries to push his way through a door patently made of a half-inch slab of balsa wood — its ‘window’ appears to be made of waxed paper — but is momentarily defeated when its inadequately planed bottom catches against the floor.
From here he emerges in a helmeted flight suit, his face obscured. In the aircraft hanger he murders about ten cowering guys with a pistol and knife, apparently for no real reason. He manages to get the plane up as the airstrip is blown up under him. Oddly, the runway ends at the edge of a cliff [!]. I guess you don’t taxi around for another try here.
I have to admit, I was really confused by the bit where the helmeted Lundgren brutally murders those in the hanger. First of all, it seemed somewhat less than heroic. Second, all his victims appeared to be American soldiers and mechanics. (!!) For instance, they not only wear American fatigues and bear American military weapons, but one guy is wearing a security pass that’s quite evidently in English.
Then I realized that this whole sequence was likely removed from another film and inserted here in its entirety. In that picture, presumably, an Evil Foreigner or whatever murdered a bunch of Americans to steal the Stealth Fighter that Lundgren and his comrades are supposedly rescuing here.
Once I figured this out, things made a lot more sense. Not internally in regards to the movie, but at least I knew what was going on. Later, when I subsequently backed up and re-watched the scene, I noticed that the guy in the flight suit is shorter than all the other actors in the scene. Which is a bit strange, since Lundgren is 6′ 6″! Also, and no insult intended to the makers of Agent Red, but this borrowed sequence is much more stylishly directed and edited than anything actually shot for this film. This is especially noticeable when watching it again after sitting through the rest of the movie.
The rescue of the stealth fighter turns out to be a teaser sequence. Cut to the Pentagon, or stock footage thereof. Lundgren is meeting with General Stillwell. Here a parade of inordinately hoary clichÃ©s begins in earnest, with the long-suffering Lundgren learning that yet another hot assignment is to cost him his long-delayed vacation. Considering that is this trope has been featured in such films as Double Agent ’73 (!!) â€“ made by Doris Wishman back in 1974 — you’d think they’d have laid this one to rest by now.
Somewhat newer, if equally tired and enfeebled, is this supposedly funny winking-at-the-audience ‘joke’:
General: “Have you ever heard of ‘Agent Red’?”
Lundgren: “It sounds like a bad action movie!”
Ha. I get it. This is a bad action movie named Agent Red. (Thank you, Scream.)
Lundgren’s being sent to Russia to take control of Agent Red. This proves to be an especially virulent viral weapon the U.S. created in the ’50s. The Soviets got a hold of it some time ago, but it’s so deadly that the post-Soviet Russians want the Americans to take it back. Dolph is to provide security as it’s transported back to the States on the New Orleans, an American nuclear sub. (Shades of Octopus.)
To prove how bad the stuff is, we watch a rather elaborately produced black and white sequence — considering it was supposed to be filmed onsite in 1971, apparently via camcorder (!!) â€“ of Soviet soldiers in chemsuits killing all infected survivors in an isolated Russian village that was accidentally exposed. (How were they exposed? We’re not supposed to ask questions like those.)
Lundgren is taken for a briefing to Dr. Baker, who as a military bio-weapons expert is, of course, a hot chick. She expositories that Agent Red has a 100% mortality rate and kills in twelve minutes. (Which means the above sequence in Russia makes absolutely no sense. Let’s see, an isolated Russian village is accidentally exposed to the agent, and then specially trained soldiers were assembled and sent in within the next five to ten minutes? And even if this did miraculously happen, why bother shooting those still alive if they had less than a couple of minutes to live?) In an amusing bit, they relate the history of the chemical’s development with the phrase “rumor has it.” This for a weapon that we ourselves supposedly created.
Russia now wants to get rid of the virus because — three guesses â€“ some terrorists are after it. (Is this stuff really so deadly that nobody created anything better in the last forty years?) I don’t know, wouldn’t the Russians have a big furnace or something to destroy such stuff? I mean, they’ve been conducting their own chemical and biological experiments for fifty years or so. What do they do with their own stuff when they don’t want it? Anyway.
Lundgren is given a shot. “It’s the only known antidote,” the General advises. “Supplies are limited.” Yes, they always are. Let’s not ask why they can’t whip up some more if it, I mean, IITS. Also, Lundgren has to keep injecting himself, and is given a seemingly meager three day supply. (Apparently supplies really are limited!) “Does it work?” Our Hero asks. “We don’t know,” the General replies. (!) Yeah, that’s reassuring.
Then Lundgren gets serious. “I assume you’re expecting trouble?” he inquires. “You attract trouble,” the General answers. Huh? Then whyâ€¦oh, never mind. They also give him a “miniature satellite transmitter,” because you’re supposed to have cool gadgets in these things. Perhaps ones that don’t sound like you could buy them in a Sharper Images catalog, but still. [Future Ken: By the way, this device never comes into play in any manner at any time.]
Here I about fell over. Dolph asks who his liaison on the sub will be. Now, your first guess is probably that it’ll be Lundgren’s out-of-left-field embittered ex-wife. That would be a little corny, though, to say the least. Instead, it’s Dr. Linda Christian, his out-of-left-field embittered ex-fiancÃ©e. See, that’s much more fresh.
Cut to a decrepit freighter. A group of six Russian Terrorists is entering the *cough, cough* engine area — which weirdly sports concrete walls — guns at the ready. If you guessed that they’re all attired in black leather jackets, give yourself a cookie. They’re looking for the containers of Agent Red, but they’ve been removed. (They must have expected the Agent to be well guarded, what with sending six whole pistol-packing terrorists to get it.) Now, they explain, they’ll have to steal it off the submarine.
Nicolai — gee, Nicolai, that’s original — the fanatical leader, is asked by his lover Nadia — gee, Nadia, that’s original — whether they can do this. “I spent so many years in a Russian submarine,” he answers. “So have some of my friends.” Well, that certainly sounds like an airtight plan. Anyhoo, because they’re terrorists, and have some spectacular explosion stock footage, they blow up the defunct freighter as they leave. It’s amazing how you can get such a result â€“ one not only levels an area equaling a city block, but that goes off in a series at least six or seven escalating blasts â€“ from one medium-sized package of explosives.[Future Ken: I should interject here. It turns out that the terrorists not only want the Agent Red, but also are planning to fire it via missiles from the New Orleans. In other words, if they had procured it here as originally planned, after a gun battle, then the Americans and Russians would have of necessity scrapped the submarine transport. Which means all their plans would have come to naught. Of course, their blowing up the freighter and calling attention to themselves would, at the very least, increase security all around. Andâ€¦my head hurts.]
It turns out that Nadia is sleeping with the loose-lipped Russian General Minowski. (This knowledge, amazingly, is revealed to us at the same time as Nadia’s breasts.) Quite the Einstein, Minowski doesn’t seem to think it strange that terrorists went to, and then blew up, the same ship he had earlier mentioned to his mistress. Maybe this is why the Soviets lost the Cold War. Anyway, Nadia gets a last piece of information out of him. Then Nicolai pops into the room and kills him. Luckily, Minowski was carrying all the papers they needed in the pocket of his uniform jacket. Maybe this is why the Soviets lost the Cold War. Lucky, though, considering that they killed him before making sure he had the documents on him. Anyway, using the papers, and some stock footage of guys in chemsuits, they soon have procured the containers of Agent Red. It’s just that easy.
(Earlier, we had met Minowski’s right hand man, Col. Korsky. We knew right off that he was Russian, because he spoke his V’s as W’s and dropped the articles from his sentences: “You have served with Gen. Minowski for wery long time.”)
Cut to some stock footage of helicopters buzzing around and landing on an aircraft carrier. We then cut to the latter’s, uh, oddly generic bridge. The onboard Admiral (Randolph Mantooth!!) is learning of Minowski’s fate. “He was shot three times in the face.” Leading me to wonder about that last bullet, as Nicolai was clearly shown shooting him twice. Oddly, despite the fact that the General’s ventilated body has been found, no one on either side has stopped to consider just who it was that picked up the Agent Red.
After some more stock footage — naval ships in the Black Sea, an airliner landing — we see Lundgren ‘arriving’ in Russia. He stops for some banter with a *sigh* comical Russian taxi driver (who between fares occupies himself with, what else, a chess board â€“ because he’s Russian, get it?!), and soon, although none too soon, they are on their way to the docked New Orleans. Making the taxi driver guy even more humorous is his name, which is Ziggy. See, it’s a funny name for a funny character.
Still, Ziggy did actually get me to laugh out loud at one point. It was when he listened to Dolph’s heavily accented English and asked, “You’re American, right?” Yes, we Americans are known all over the Continent for our heavy Swedish accents.
While this goes on, we occasionally cut to outside the sub. There waiting is the aforementioned ex, Linda Christian, a Naval officer who:
Given the “estranged fiancÃ©e” bit, I thought the winner of the ClichÃ© Derby Cup was pretty solidly locked in. However, the film fooled me. I realized this upon learning that the submarine’s fatherly Captain not only happened to be an old friend of both Dolph’s and Linda’s â€“ boy, it’s a small world, isn’t it? — but that the current mission represents his very last before retirement. (!!) Eyes rolling, I listened as he extolled the beautiful sunsets they have in Arizona, where he and his long-waiting wife are planning to move. “I’ve missed a lot of sunsets,” he wistfully notes. Gee, what’s gonna happen to this guy, I wonders.
A side note: I know it’s necessary to the script, but isn’t it unlikely that the U.S. Navy would allow a team of Russians to carry the Agent Red onto one of our nuclear submarines? Of course, this is what gets the terrorists on board, but still, it seems to me that we’d take possession of the containers outside the boat and carry it in ourselves.
Also, we’ve three separate times cut to the Russian terrorists â€“ ‘disguised’ in chemsuits â€“ carrying the containers of Agent Red through the corridors of the ship. Why’s it taking so long? Probably because each time we see them they’re walking in slo-mo. Well, that’s one way to eat up some running time. Luckily the two guards with them turn their backs while the Agent’s being stowed, allowing the men in their clunky suits to sneak up and kill them.
Dolph and Linda have hooked up, and she’s discussing their romantic problems in a passageway in front of a couple of sailors. Bittersweet music plays, so that we realize how close to the edge they are. “No phone call,” she complains. “Nothing.” Now, wait. She herself is a Naval officer, right? And she knows that Dolph is some sort of Marine Special Forces guy, correct? And that he’s often called away at a minute’s notice on super-secret missions? So what’s she bitching about? Also, it was here that I deduced why they hired this particular actress to play Linda. I believe her overly exaggerated thesping is meant to make Dolph, the film’s star, look like he’s cannily underplaying everything rather than just not acting.
Linda, in emotional turmoil — which is certainly more than I can say for Dolph — runs and hides in the ship’s biological weapons containment area (!). This is easy because the hatchway is unsecured and no one is guarding it. Dolph follows her in and finds that she’s being held at knifepoint by Nicolai. He and his fellows are dressed in American Navy uniforms, which I guess are pretty easy to come by. Dolph kills of one of the attackers before one big terrorist â€“ he’s the huge bald guy with the beard, every group of Russian toughs has one â€“ tosses him over a catwalk to his apparent demise. As for why Nicolai allowed Dolph to put up all this resistance while he was holding his fiancÃ©e with a knife to her throat, well, ya got me.
Here the film got rather more unpleasant that I thought it would. Nicolai starts pumping it through the boat’s air vents. Of course, Linda can’t be killed, she’s the Hero’s Girl. So Nicolai has a gas mask put on her for some reason. (IITS.) You know, if someone had just thought to assign a security detail to the containment area, this might all have been avoided. Of course, the reviving Dolph was given the temporary antidote (I know the supply of this stuff was ‘limited’, but no one on the crew could be afforded any?), so he’s fine. Also, despite all the talk of Agent Red victims spurting out copious amounts of blood, no one here does so. Guess they didn’t want to get that gross.
We get some time-wasting action stuff with the terrorists walking around shooting survivors, of which, of course, there shouldn’t be any. Dolph, meanwhile, is running around doing hero stuff. He quickly takes out two more terrorists and grabs one of their pistols. Not both, mind you, nor does he search for extra clips of ammunition. Now by my count, of the six terrorists we saw bringing the Agent Red on board, three are dead. Assuming they plan to do something with the boat, this doesn’t seem like enough.
Oops, there went two more. Yet we know Nicolai and Big Bearded Bald Guy (hereafter BBBG) are still around. And presumably Nadia’s running around somewhere, so as to be an eventual foil for Linda. How did all these guys get on board? This is moronic. Even buying that security allowed a small number of men aboard to carry in the Agent Red containers, there’s no way that this amount of people would have been given access. And all of them with Naval uniforms. By the way, when Dolph earlier saw two guys walking around and shot them, how did he know they weren’t real American officers? They weren’t wearing gas masks. And how would that work? Why weren’t they dead?
Let’s keep track. Nicolai and BBBG. That’s two. Dolph killed one guy in the containment area. That’s three. Two more in the passageway earlier. That’s five. Then these two. That’s seven. And they were found by another guy â€“ that’s eight. And again, I have to assume that Nadia’s somewhere. What the hell?
By the way, when the eighth guy found some bodies, they should have been of the second and third guy killed. However, the body we see seems to be one of the pair he killed after that. The only problem is that Dolph is still standing next to those two when next we see him. This is very poorly edited. Anyway, Dolph does grab a second gun, as well as, of course, their radio headset. Every action hero since Die Hard has to be able to cut into the villain’s communication system for taunting conversations. See, for just examples to be found here, Final Voyage and Face The Evil.
Oops, there’s two more terrorist guys. Maybe one of them is the fellow that found the bodies. To be extremely fair, I’ll assume that’s so. Still, that’s at least ten terrorists (counting the still AWOL Nadia) aboard and counting.
I still don’t get it. Why weren’t those last two guys Dolph killed wearing gasmasks? Here’s my theory. We’ve got about fifty minutes left to go here. They’re not going to want to have the villains (and Linda) in gasmasks for the rest of the movie, so at some point they’ll say something like “The gas should be filtered out of the air system by now.” Or along those lines, even though this makes zero sense given what we’ve been told about Agent Red. Then the characters will be free to remove their masks.
Anyhoo, I think they got their continuity screwed up, and that Dolph was supposed to kill these guy after this. Only they probably have a scene coming up where he uses the radio headset. Since this is when he gets the headset, they needed to cut this sequence in, whether it made sense or not. That’s what I’m thinking.
Nicolai, the sole terrorist up on the bridge, single handedly surfaces the sub. It’s just that easy. Whereupon the Admiral in the aircraft carrier orders it immediately sunk by attack helicopters. Oh, wait. He doesn’t. First, anyway, Nicolai gives the order to “open all hatches,” even though he’s still the sole guy operating the submarine. (Damn featherbedded Navy crews â€“ one person can run this thing and look how many dozens of guys they stick aboard.)
Now, this would hardly clear out the Agent, even if you “purged the exhaust,” for obvious reason. I mean, if it was introduced into a building, could you instantly clear it out by opening all the windows? Probably not, you’d have to think. Still, that’s what we’re told. And off come the masks. (My previous theory regarding poor editing is looking pretty good at this point. Except that it doesn’t explain why Dolph isn’t shown killing the guys now, when it would make sense. He hasn’t, after all, used the headset yet.)
Dolph is now seen (wearing the headset, but I still say they could have edited this together less sloppily) running down another passageway and killing yet another Russian. I’m not sure why this one was assigned a Naval uniform, since he sports a beard and a long ponytail. In fact, BBBG is, obviously, bearded, and beards are not currently regulation, so why is he in a uniform? Boy, this thing sucks.
Hey, there’s Nadia on the bridge, so that’s at least ten or eleven terrorists. Despite my best intentions I’m starting to lose track. She and Linda, who tries to escape, get into a martial arts catfight. This is why you have to include a female villain nowadays. The hero’s girlfriend can’t just stand around screaming anymore, so they have to be provided with someone they can ‘fairly’ fight, i.e., another woman. Being too early in the movie to kill Nadia, the fight is quickly broken up. Meanwhile, the submarine submerges again. Too bad the Admiral didn’t do anything when it was surfaced and vulnerable.
Anyway, the terrorists here prove to be of the Wrongheadedly Idealistic sort. Their families lived in that village that was wiped out by the Agent. Instead of money, they intend to fire warheads containing Agent Red into both New York and Moscow. This to alert the World to the dangers of chemical warfare or something. I’m still not getting it. According to everything we keep hearing, once Agent Red is introduced anywhere it should run rampant. Yet Linda doesn’t argue that the virus will spread past New York and Moscow and throughout both continents. Whatever.
There’s Dolph killing another guy. I give up. Let’s just say there’s between fifteen to twenty terrorists on board, note that this is impossible, and let it go. Also, Dolph just grabbed a third pistol. I could see two, but shouldn’t he just be grabbing spare ammo clips at this point?
Here Dolph starts communicating with Nicolai over the headset. Of course they engage in the de rigueur quipping Archenemy Banter. Nicolai sends two more of his presumably dwindling pool of henchmen down into the passageways with Linda, hoping to draw out Dolph.
Let’s give the devil his due. All in all, Nicolai is an impressive fellow. First there’s his amazing ability, although trained on Russian submarines, to operate an American nuclear sub all by his lonesome. Moreover, he’s willing to be left on the bridge with only a guard or two, despite knowing that a massively lethal enemy agent is running around. There are, however, flaws in his current strategy. Sending Linda out this way means that if Dolph manages to kill her two guards she’ll be rescued and no longer a card Nicolai can play. Which is what happens in like two seconds.
The couple stops for a romantic kiss (!!), and then he gives her a shot of the anti-virus. “Ow!” she yells. “That’s what you said the last time I put it in,” he replies. What a charmer. Anyway, hearing of all the casualties, Nicolai and yet another henchdude start hunting Our Hero down themselves. (Who’s driving the boat during all of this? And what happened to BBBG?) One recurring problem in this movie is that the interior of the boat seems both too big and too small at various points. Anyway, despite Dolph being this super-dude, he lets Linda run way ahead of him. This allows her to get re-captured by Nicolai. Good one, Brainiac.
Dolph shoots a steam pipe, Nicolai’s henchdude gets kacked, and Linda escapes while Nicolai and Dolph exchange gunfire. Now, admittedly, Dolph is doing that John Woo two-gun thing, which he at least learned from Woo himself, while filming the TV pilot Blackjack. And while this is cool looking, it makes it hard to hit anything. (On the other hand, if your intention is to fire to suppress, it’s not a bad idea.) However, even given this, he and Nicolai are in a narrow passage and blazing away at each other from about a ten to fifteen foot distance. So how they both manage to keep missing each other remains a mystery.
By the way, I’m a bit confused at this point. I’m assuming that we’re finally down to Nicolai, BBBG and Nadia. Maybe one or more generic henchguys, since they seem to be magically abundant. Even so, and even assuming a really long end credit sequence, we’ve still got well over half an hour of running time left. That’s a lot, and I’m not sure how they plan to sustain it.
One way, of course, is a long scene spelling out the whole virus-on-the-missile threat — at very great length, just in case we didn’t get it the first time this was explained to us — via a conference the Admiral is holding topside. Needless to say, not only will Dolph and Linda have to stop the terrorists, but do so in a manner that, at the very last second, will avert the sinking of the submarine by our own forces. Or so we can safely assume.
Indeed, we learn, the Admiral plans to sink the New Orleans via the escort submarine Indiana. This will take place if no communications has been received from the New Orleans within the next thirty-five minutes. Now, thirty-five minutes is when, we’ve been told, the New Orleans will be in position to launch missiles at U.S. targets. I have to think the Admiral is cutting things a bit fine. Under the circumstances, he should sink the boat immediately. The New Orleans must already be in position to launch at any number of European cities, since it was docked in the Black Sea. Imagine the uproar if an American submarine fired virus-laden missiles into Berlin or Paris or, duh, Moscow.
(You know, it’s kind of funny. This mission is so important that the New Orleans is being escorted by entire aircraft carrier — one with an Admiral onboard, yet — and a second nuclear submarine, the Indiana. And maybe other ships besides. Yet the Captain of the New Orlean’s couldn’t be bothered to assign more than a couple of guys to watch the containment room. Penny wise and pound foolish, if you ask me.)
Meanwhile, in New York (stock footage), the media is reporting the capture of the sub. They are even reporting that the group plans to fire missiles at New York and Moscow. The dissemination of said info all being part of the terrorists’ plan. Here certainly the order would be given to immediately sink the boat, by the President if nothing else. Which is, in fact, what happens, so they got me there. Now, if they have Nicolai’s few remaining teammates manage to sink another nuclear submarine, one fully manned by an actual trained American crew, I’m gonna plotz. But given the half hour of running time remaining, that’s all I can figure.
Dolph decides that he and Linda will have to split up. Why? IITS. He tells her that they’ve got to take out the remaining terrorists, an idea to which she reacts with much incredulity. Given that Dolph has single-handedly killed off three-fourths or more of them already, I don’t see why she’s so flabbergasted by the idea. He then asks her if she knows how to use a pistol. “I’m a biochemist,” she whines. Because, as we all know, Scientist Don’t Like Guns. (Although earlier she got into a kickboxing match with Nadia. Who the hell wrote this?) “You’re also an officer of the United States Navy,” he replies. Which is exactly what I was thinking. Maybe she’s not comfortable with handguns, but she would have received training on them. In other words, yes, she should know how to use it.
Yet another henchguy on the bridge notices the pursuing submarine on their tail. “Prepare to launch countermeasures,” Nicolai orders. Again, although I’ve been beating this horse, I feel that once more I have to point this out: The New Orleans is being controlled by, at this point, two guys. Neither of whom has trained on American submarines. Despite this, Nicolai manages to use counter-torpedoes to keep from being destroyed. (Needless to say, all this submarine footage is stock stuff, from, if I’ve not mistaken, The Hunt on Red October.)
Meanwhile, Dolph is clanging on pipes with a big wrench, sending a message via Morse Code. (!!) This is intercepted by the aircraft carrier. “It’s an SOS,” the Admiral is told, whereupon he orders the Indiana to break off its attack. (!!) This after, mind you, he got a direct Presidential order to sink the New Orleans. I really see no possible way an SOS would change the situation. And how does he know the terrorists aren’t sending this message to confuse things?
Down in the bowels of the ship we see Nadia, BBBG and two other (!!) henchguys â€“ OK, I give up â€“ bringing up canisters of Agent Red. Hilariously, the guy carrying the container is in a chemsuit, but the others aren’t. Yeah, that makes sense. Dolph jumps out and shoots down BBBG. Boy, that’s sure an anti-climatic demise for the only differentiated henchguy. Whereupon we see yet another terrorist lurking nearby with an M16. I swear, these guys are like the hydra’s heads.
Oops, M16 Guy isn’t near Dolph after all. Instead, he’s walking past a slightly hidden Linda. Who instead of shooting him, runs up from behind and pulls his own rifle up under his throat, strangling him with it. You know, I actually watched this, rather than reading about it, and it still didn’t make any sense. Also, was this the woman whining that she was only a biochemist? Yet her first impulse on seeing an armed adversary isn’t to shoot him, but to kill him hand-to-hand? And then, to top things off, she manages to get a hold of the rifle in time to mow down yet another henchguy. You know, I think the terrorists put more guys on this boat than the U.S. Navy did.
Dolph, meanwhile, is shooting down another fellow, who helpfully jumps out into the open for no reason. Meanwhile, Nicolai has figured out that Dolph’s sending the SOS means that the Americans won’t try to sink the sub again. Which is more than I can figure out.
Ordered to break off the attack, the Indiana’s captain orders her to surface, rather than maintaining pursuit from a safe distance. Which is utterly moronic. (Well, you can’t say the film isn’t consistent.) By the way, isn’t the President waiting to hear that the sub’s been sunk? Also, since Nicolai knew that he’d be capturing the sub a ways from where he could launch the missiles â€“ according to the script, anyway â€“ and given that he knew it would be escorted by other Naval vessels, how did he plan to keep from being sunk? The film ignores this completely, presumably because there’s no good answer.
Anyway, the Indiana begins to surface. Here, for no sane reason whatsoever — except that they had spectacular stock footage of a submarine being destroyed by torpedoes — Nicolai fires on the Indiana. Now, when two Russians used the anti-torpedo countermeasures, they worked. When a trained American crew uses them, they get blown up. Go figure.
Oh, and I wouldn’t want to be in the Admiral’s shoes right now. Cripes. I mean let me clarify this. The Admiral, for reasons that would make no sense whatsoever to any halfway rational person, called off the Indiana. Because of this order, the Indiana was destroyed with its full complement of men. Now, admittedly, in real life there’s no way the Indiana would have left itself vulnerable to being torpedoed like that. Or that the Admiral would ignore a direct Presidential order. So this whole thing is just beyond belief. It’s amazing what you get when you tailor your script to the stock footage you have on hand.
More stupid stuff happens. Nadia, the only surviving person down below (finally!), is trying to get to the missile room to load the virus onto the missile. Dolph has left a suddenly enthusiastic Linda â€“ so much for consistent characterization â€“ blocking her way. However, although in a protected position, Linda decides to keep trading shots with Nadia until Linda’s gun is out of bullets. Good one, Brainiac. This being one of those rare times when the Heroines’ gun runs out of bullets while the villains magically continues to fire forever. Gee, maybe Dolph should have grabbed more spare clips. And where was that M16 that Linda had earlier? And she never actually fired the pistol she was given earlier, and Dolph just gave her anotherâ€¦how wrote this crap? And did they even have a token continuity person?
The Admiral, oddly not in irons down in the brig, is again conversing with the President. He’s explaining the possibility (!!) that the Indiana has been destroyed. I’m no Tom Clancy, but you’re telling me the sonar and all that other gear on a nearby aircraft carrier can’t confirm if a nuclear submarine has just been destroyed? In any case, until he knows whether the Indiana is gone, the Admiral wants to hold off on again attacking the New Orleans. (!!) “It’s the only thing that makes sense to me,” he has the gall to say. What a maroon. Instead, the President orders him to launch an air attack. You’d think he’d want to very carefully emphasize this order, given how the first one was ignored. But maybe he didn’t want to be rude.
Soon a single stock footage jet fighter is in the air. (Why the hell would you send only one plane? How many fighters are stationed on an aircraft carrier?) However, the sub manages to knock it out with stock footage sea-to-air missiles. By the way, don’t you need some kind of codes or something to fire all these torpedoes and missiles and things? Man, we’ve really got to get our security protocols up to date. And, again, and I’m sorry to keep beating this drum, but this is all being done by two people who aren’t even trained on this boat. All while the sub is still heading to the launch site.
Anyway, the fighter goes up in a stock footage explosion. Oh, but we didn’t actually see the sub’s missile breaching the water. Presumably in the movie where the exploding jet footage came from it was actually shot down by a surface-to-air or air-to-air rocket. Anyway, having lost one plane, the attack on the New Orleans is no further pursued. It’s quite a statement, but the Admiral is undoubtedly the most inept officer in the long history of warfare.
Cut back to the New York City newscast, which is noting that the need for evacuations is now certain. New York City. Evacuated. In under half an hour. I won’t even comment on this, it’s so dumb. (I guess they didn’t have ‘urban panic’ stock footage on hand, because we don’t see any rioting or traffic jams or anything.) Meanwhile, the President, still amazingly polite given the circumstances, is finally clearly, slowly, and in small, easy-to-understand words ordering the Admiral to launch an all-out attack. Which hopefully he won’t interpret to mean sending two fighter planes out. To our immense surprise, this is followed by various bits of military-themed stock footage.
OK, Nadia’s still blocked by Linda, who’s out of bullets. Nadia’s presumably not a brain surgeon in real life. Nicolai decides to go down to the containment room and “download” the missiles himself, whatever the hell that means. Last henchman guy is given sole command of the bridge, although at this point I imagine it could run itself if he gets killed. And Dolph is standing around not doing jack, as far as I can tell.
Having heard Nicolai’s plans over the headset, all he would have to do is lock himself in the containment room, or jam the hatchway, which would screw Nicolai’s plans completely. Or he could block Nicolai’s path with suppressing fire, like Linda was/is doing with Nadia. Orâ€¦ Instead, he jumps out at Nicolai for a little martial arts action. Very little. Meanwhile, the planes are slooooowly getting in position to shoot their anti-sub missiles. Boy, it’s all very suspenseful, isn’t it? Well, OK, not really. Whatever.
However, we still have running time left (!!), so Nicolai manages to lay Dolph out â€“ but not kill him, of course â€“ with, what else, a fire extinguisher. Boy, it’s amazing how many uses those fire extinguishers have. It’s kind of weird, actually, that Nicolai would win this fight. Given that Dolph is a covert-ops trained super-Marine and Nicolai is a doctor of some sort who’s only a terrorist in his spare time. And that’s Nicolai’s about six inches shorter and forty pounds lighter than Our Hero. And it’s too bad Dolph didn’t do that “jamming the hatchway to the containment room” thing I mentioned.
Meanwhile, the stock footage air-to-sea missiles keep missing the sub. All like three of them. Even odder is that the rockets turn into completely differently shaped torpedoes once underwater. That one’s really weird.
Downstairs, we see Linda firing at Nadia again (?) and running out of bullets a second time. Odd. And have they really been exchanging shots like this for the last ten minutes? At the rate we’ve seen them squeezing off shells, they should both be ankle-deep in spent bullet casings. And why is Linda shooting back anyway? She shouldn’t be firing unless Nadia tries to move towards the missile room, since that would leave her totally exposed.
Out of bullets (again), Linda easily sneaks around behind Nadia and gets the jump on her. Too bad she didn’t think of this when she still had a loaded gun. Of course, Nadia didn’t think of it either, so there you go. And so the two beauteous women bio-chemist/martial artists engage in a bit of a melee. Gee, who would have predicted that the two women would end up going at it one-on-one?
During the fight, Nadia’s small vile of Agent Red â€“ which was made of glass!!!! â€“ shatters. Exit Nadia (eventually). By the way, was that teeny thing all the Agent Red they were going to load into the missile? Man, that was powerful stuff. Also, hatchways or no, now that the virus is loose in the sub, all the Russians should quickly die. Right? I mean, they’re not wearing their masks anymore. And only Linda and Dolph are inoculated. Soâ€¦end of movie, right?
Back to the newscast. We learn that both New York and Moscow are “in the midst of being evacuated.” Hmm, I wonder how many thousands would die during all of this. Not that we see anything like that. No stock footage, other than some normal looking ‘heavy traffic’ stuff. All very orderly, considering. Oh, wait, there’s a mild sort-of-rioting shot, if a bunch of smiling people (just watch in slo-mo) running left to right and then right to left in front of the camera constitutes rioting. Onlyâ€¦ohmygosh!!! Hahahahahahaha!!! Uh, OK, the establishing shot of New York we just saw, and the following traffic shot, were daylight ones. But the rioting is taking place at nighttime!!! I meanâ€¦did somebody get paid to make this thing?!
Meanwhile, we deal with Nadia and Nicolai’s headset-relayed angst over her fate. I must say, she’s pretty tough. The crew died almost immediately just breathing in some of this stuff. She shattered a container of it, cutting herself and putting it directly into her bloodstream, and she still just seems scared. And, uh, why aren’t Nicolai and the other last Russian guy dying? I thought that one vial was enough to wipe out New York or Moscow. What the heck? And this was right outside the missile room. How is Nicolai planning to get in there without his mask and load the missiles still?
Meanwhile, the time elements here are way off. Supposedly, Nicolai has to run back to the containment room and get more virus. (Too bad Dolph didn’t think of blocking the hatchway.) Then he has to run all the way back to the missile room. Let’s grant that he, unlike the ship’s original crew, could last long enough after being exposed to get in and prep the missiles for firing before expiring. Meanwhile, the fighters would be pumping dozens of missiles at them, as they’ve apparently been doing for some minutes now. I mean, this should be dozens and dozen of anti-sub missiles.
For the second time, meanwhile, we see the left-for-dead Dolph rise from the floor. Too bad Nicolai didn’t take ten seconds to pump some bullets into him or stove his head in with that fire extinguisher. He finds Nicolai in the containment room, collecting more vials of the virus. Of course, Dolph could just close the hatch and jam it from the outside, locking Nicolai in there, but he jumps him instead.
Cue another lame brawl. Nicolai tries to shove Dolph’s face into the virus vials. Which, by the way, would kill Nicolai, even if it did kill Dolph too. Again, Nicolai doesn’t have his gas mask and he hasn’t been inoculated. Instead, Dolph shoves a vial into Nicolai’s mouth and smacks up on his chin. It’s sort of like how Roy Scheider killed the shark in Jaws. Exit Nicolai, who apparently goes much, much quicker than Nadia did.
Now that the plan’s been foiled (and with twelve minutes of running time left!!), Dolph and Linda run to the bridge to send a message to call off the attack. Some thoughts:
Dolph and Linda approach the bridge and the remaining, still armed Russian. As they do so, they pass some of the ship’s concrete bulkheads. Must be a new design for submarines I haven’t heard of before. Doing that silly two-gun thing, Dolph mows down the last guy.
Outside we see that the six hundredth missiles approaching (and missing) the boat. Using the bridge’s telephone, they call the aircraft carrier’s control room. I’m so tired I’m going to assume it’s a direct line. (Although it wasn’t earlier. But I’m tired. So, so tired.) Upon hearing a woman say that she and a marine are in charge of the boat â€“ and not asking after the rest of the crew â€“ the Admiral calls off the attack. Boy, would his face be red if the Russians were playing a trick on him and got those missiles off after this.
“I’m going to bring the sub up now,” she tells him, assuring him she can manage. This from the woman who, asked if she could use a pistol, said “I’m a biochemist.” (So, so tired. This is why I shouldn’t spend an entire Saturday writing these pieces.) Then Dolph pulls out her engagement ring and proposes to her anew, in person, as she had wanted him to the first time.
Just then, however, Nicolai comes staggering onto the bridge (!!), also firing with two guns, and of course not hitting anything. (Where did he collect these weapons, by the way? Maybe he was carrying one, but two?) Still, he manages to drive the two of them into a niche off the bridge.
“When we surface,” he screams (boy, is he tough!), “and they open the hatch, the virus will be released!!” Uh, except that you’d already loosed the virus onto the boat earlier to kill the crew, and then pumped out the hatches, AND NOTHING HAPPENED!! YOU MORONS!!! (So, so tired.)
What’s weird is, the boat shouldn’t be surfacing now anyway. Dolph and Linda were going to do this â€“ so much for Linda’s ‘biochemist’ credentials â€“ but now Nicolai’s warned them of the danger. Meaning that if he had just stayed where he was Our Hereos would have released the virus for him. And if Nicolai goes for the control, Dolph can jump out and shoot him. And Nicolai should be dead in about ten seconds anyway.
Despite all this, Dolph jumps out in slo-mo, sailing through the air and firing bullets # 30 through 40 from each of his two guns. Oh, John Woo, what you have wrought? So goes Nicolai. Again. All we need now is for Nadia to show up for her last bow.
Linda runs to another bridge phone (!) and pumps in the phone number to the bridge of the aircraft carrier. HOW THE HELL WOULD SHE KNOW WHAT IT IS??!! (So, so tired.) Then she informs the Admiral that they’ve managed to again recapture control of the sub. Now that’s Nicolai’s warned them against surfacing — good work, ya maroon — they realize they have to stay under for another seventy-two hours, after which the virus will dissipate. EXCEPT THAT DOLPH WAS GIVEN A THREE-DAY SUPPLY OF THE ANTI-TOXIN AND HE ALREADY SHARED A THIRD OF IT WITH HER AND SO THEY’D BOTH BE DEAD BY THEN!!! YOU MORONS!! (So, so tired.)
Plus earlier someone said the virus stayed live for six hours. Plus Linda hung up without informing the Admiral that they’d have to stay under for a while. Which you’d think he’d want to know. And that Linda told him she’d call back after doing a damage assessment. A Marine and a biochemist. Doing a damage assessment on a nuclear submarine. Whatever. (So, so tired.)
The intimation is, and this is soooo gross, that the two are going to spend the seventy-two hours doing the nasty. (At least until the anti-virus runs out and they horribly die.) Cue swell of romantic music.
Now, think about all they’ve been through. Think about their dead friends, like the sub’s Captain. And the ship’s entire crew. And all the people they’ve killed. And the way all those dozens and dozens of bodies are going to fester after seventy-two hours. Yep, sex would sure be on my mind. Oh, sorry, not ‘sex.’ Making love. They’re reunited and it feels so good. The couple that slays together, stays together. Whatever. (So, so tired.)
Oh, on a last note, one reason I was so confused by the amount of remaining running time is that over six minutes are dedicated to the credits. Six minutes!! Amazing. A thick slab of this is because all the featured players get a personal credit, played over footage of their characters. Including the New York broadcast reporter and Ziggy the cab driver, who was onscreen for like two minutes tops. In all, sixteen actors get afforded this lavish treatment, which I’m assuming was in lieu of pay.
The guy’s playing Minowski, by the way, is shown with his make-up facial bullet wounds, footage we didn’t see in the movie. Sure enough, there are three of them. Despite the continued fact that Nicolai only fired at him twice. Maybe this is why the footage wasn’t used.[Future Ken: Actually, this isn’t true. Watching the scene again in slow-mo, you can see and hear Nicolai fire his pistol once. We then elliptically cut to Minowski being flung back onto the bed by the impact. In slo-mo, you can see that Nicolai’s one shot has, sure enough, resulted in three bullet wounds. (!!)
Then, after this, Nicolai squeezes off his second and final shot. As if that’s not enough, he fires the second bullet while keeping the gun aimed at the same level as the first one, despite the fact that Minowski has been shown to us falling backwards. Isn’t it amazing how many details you can get wrong in three seconds of screentime?]
This still leaves four minutes (!!) for the more regular kind of credits. It’s simply amazing how many people worked on this thing, especially considering that only half of it was newly shot. Boy, imagine if they included credits for all the people who worked on the stuff they borrowed!!
In my reviews of Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and Gold of the Amazon Women, I commented on the malaise that their star Bo Swenson exhibits. I theorized that he’s purposely acting in as lazy a manner as possible in these, partly to signal to the viewer his knowledge that he’s stuck making tiresome crap.
Lead actor Dolph Lundgren exhibits the same condition here, squeezing out his lines as if he can barely rouse enough interest to pump the air in and out of his lungs. Think about that. Dolph Lundgren is making movies that he’s embarrassed to be appearing in. I mean, this has to be a guy who knew that he was never going to be the next Robert DeNiro or anything. Of course, at least he used to appear in theatrically released films that took over ten days to shoot.
The second credited lead? Randolph Mantooth! Has that guy even had a job since Emergency back in the early ’70s? He plays the Admiral, interacts with none of the primary cast members, and has maybe five minutes of screentime.
Also of note is the special credit for “ALLAN KOLMAN as Ziggy”.
Ah, produced by Noble Henry, better known to us as Jim Wynorski. See again Final Voyage.
Things I Learned: America’s female commandos wear their hair very long and unfettered whilst on covert missions.
Things I Learned: Guards on foreign bases always face away from the areas from which an enemy might approach.
Why are the foreign troops wearing American army fatigues? To match the scenes with ‘Lundgren’ inside the hanger, which, as I noted above, are almost certainly stuff from another movie.
I guess those last two killed guards were identical twins. It’s eerie, they almost could have been played by the same actor.
Why did Lundgren’s thumbprint pass the security scanner? Couldn’t they at least have shown him being issued with a fake print or something? (Answer: Because, as noted above, this footage is from another film. Although they still could have shown Lundgren with a fake thumbprint.)
Why does the one talking guard have a Russian accent? Isn’t that a little out of date, the Russians stealing one of our jets? (Or maybe it’s not a bad Russian accent, maybe it’s a really bad something-else accent.)
Actors running in slow motion before a big fiery explosion? There’s a new one.
Why is that “High Voltage” sign on this secret Russian (or whatever) base in English and Spanish? And why do people grab a hold of the supposedly electric fence as they run past?
If you were really bored enough, you might try to use a watch and figure out how much of these Phoenician films are composed of ‘original’ footage. I’ll bet this one is at least 30% stock footage, meaning the 30% were anything vaguely expensive looking happens. Here’s a good rule to start with: During any action sequence, whenever you can’t see the actors’ faces, that’s stock footage.
Another fun game (depending on your defination of ‘fun’) would be to pick out the various ways the stock and newly shot footage don’t match. For example, take the bit where the team is loading into their helicopter to make their escape. On the outside of the vessel, they’re all wearing stocking caps. Yet as ‘they’ scramble inside seconds later none of them are. Also, their combat make-up jobs don’t match.
Did the Soviets really have camcorders back in 1971? If so, they must have needed a truck to move them around.
Why are those Naval officers walking around outside without their covers on?
According to Linda’s run-down on Agent Red, its victims are soon bleeding around the eyes (and other less pleasant places). Again, when we saw the Russian soldiers liquidating the villagers in that film earlier, the exposed party we saw wasn’t so bleeding.
How funny is Ziggy the Great, the Russian taxi driver? Well, he’s a real motor-mouth type, right? (There’s an original idea for a movie cab driver.) So as he’s dropping off Dolph, Ziggy compliments him on being a “sparkling conversationalist.” Get it? Because it was Ziggy who talked the whole time, while Dolph said nothing! Komedy!
Things I Learned: Captains of nuclear submarines, whilst on the bridge, will loudly gossip in front of the crew about Admirals.
Things I Learned: Officers on a nuclear submarine have the kind of loose schedules that allow them to be killed and not have their absence be noticed for a good long stretch.
Things I Learned: Naval and Marine officers, on a nuclear submarine and engaged on a top-secret mission, will carry out screaming lover’s spats in front of whatever enlisted men and officers are walking by. And no one will chastise them for this.
Things I Learned: The presumably air tight, massive steel hatchways to a biological weapons containment area can be talked through.
Things I Learned: Such areas will not be guarded, nor will the access hatchway be locked in any way.
Things I Learned: And no one will think this is weird.
I’ve formulated a new theory. When people think someone is unemotive, they call him ‘wooden.’ When trees think one of their fellows is unemotive, they call him “Lundgrenesque.”
Things I Learned: If it comes down to it, any one person with some submarine training can operate an Ohio-class nuclear sub.
Things I Learned: Sustained bouts of gunfire in the bowels of a nuclear submarine? Not a problem.
So let me get this straight. The Indiana is told to break off trying to sink the New Orleans, so the ship’s captain decides to surface while he’s still in torpedo range of the other ship?! Huh??
But wait, there’s more!
Those who come across Agent Red on DVD will learn that it’s the film that keeps on giving. Admittedly, what it gives is pain. Still, it can’t be accused of stinting.
See, the disc not only provides the film, but an accompanying commentary track. (!!) This is courtesy of Mr. Damien Lee, who boldly opens things by proclaiming that he’s the fellow who wrote and directed this movie. Considering the brickbats he must have expected upon making this assertion, I can only assume it was made during a twelve-step meeting for the makers of awful movies. “Hi, I’m Damien L., and I wrote and directed Agent Red.”
Mr. Lee’s bona fides as the writer of Agent Red are established when he immediately starts getting details wrong about his own film, made of all a year or two ago. About fifteen seconds into things and he’s describing Lundgren’s character as someone fighting against “his former Russian allies.” Huh? What? Former Russian allies? What, is Dolph supposed to be a WWII vet?
Then ten seconds later Lee is referring to the character of Nadia as “Natalie.” All this in less than half a minute. Surely this displays the sort of mental acumen we’d expect of a man who could write a film such as Agent Red.
Roughly a minute into things and I became flabbergasted. Mr. Lee begins noting the immense amounts of military hardware we’ll be seeingâ€¦planes, ships, helicopters, etcâ€¦which he implies were actually filmed by him for this very movie. (!!) “We’ve worked with a lot of the military in the U.S.,” he proclaims, “to get their cooperation in terms of allowing us to shoot their equipment, their facilities. That has been a very, very interesting and educational process. The size of the aircraft carriers, and the facilities they have on board are absolutely outstanding.”
I’d like to point out that during the four solid minutes of end credits, in which the chefs who worked for the caterers were named, there’s no credit to indicate the involvement of any military service. Even during the ‘Special Thanks To’ section, where the filmmakers tip their collective hats to such luminaries as “Loonie Bins” and “Rapid Copier Repair,” no credit is provided to any federal agency, much less a military one.
I’d also like to note that not once do we see any member of the cast in the same shot as this hardware. They’re always filmed on interior sets. In the words of a local Chicago sports radio station, “Mr. Lee, who you crappin’?” Needless to say, I about bust a gut (and that’s a big gut to bust), when he allowed, “We have used some stock footage, obviously, throughout the movie.” Yeah, no sh*t, Sherlock.
Mr. Lee’s hallucinatory oration continues apace. “Dolph Lundgren,” he opines, “has had a very good run over the last ten years.” Presumably he means as a marathoner, and not as the star of such recent fare as Hidden Agenda, The Last Warrior and Jill Rips. But wait, there’s more. “I think as Dolph matures, both as a human being and as an actor, we’re beginning to see, I think, a deeper quality in his performances.”
As noted, Red Agent undoubtedly sports the worst Lundgren performance I’ve yet seen. And I’ve seen Red Scorpion. [Note to Dolph Lundgren: Stay away from movies with the word ‘Red’ in the title.] Mr. Lee is of another opinion, however. “I think over the next ten years we’ll see his star rise quite a bit,” he prophecies. Yes, once he’s hitting the mid-century mark he should be at his professional peak.
The laughs continue as Mr. Lee maintains that the “genesis” of Agent Red was “somewhat owing” to the Esquire article ‘Crisis in the Hot Zone.’ If he means that article inspired the film Outbreak, and that this is partially a rip-off of that film, then he would be technically correct.
To be fair, he does sort of go into this, but how can you take seriously a statement that includes the phrase: “The basic concern of ‘Crisis in the Hot Zone,’ and of Agent Red, is what if a disease were chemically engineeredâ€¦” Yes, in the same way that All’s Quiet on the Western Front and Stripes are both anti-war films.
Meanwhile, his musings that AIDS is possibly one of these engineered diseases is pretty offensive, especially in the context of this piece of cinematic crap. “There are many articles” exploring his topic, he notes. Yes, and many articles have been written about the Jewish plot to take over the world via the Trilateral Committee. What’s your point?
In any case, there is no doubt that Mr. Lee is up on the topic of epidemic diseases and engineered viruses, since he goes on at some excruciating length discussing this and other even less related topics. It’s all right up there with Steven Segal’s apparent belief that On Deadly Ground represented an important environmental ‘statement.’
This rambling about Hot Zone-type issues goes on for over fourteen solid minutes. I’m not saying this isn’t an important subject, because these are very real concerns. But cripes, we’re listening to a commentary track for Agent Red, for Pete’s sake! A fifteen-minute lecture on the history of chemical warfare and epidemic disease isn’t really what we signed up for.
The capper of this is his elaborately related fears that terrorists will use biological weapons at some point. “Maybe I shouldn’t even be putting these kind of ideas out there,” he notes. Yes, heaven help us if Saddam Hussein ever spends an evening kicking back and watching Agent Red and starts getting ideas. Remember when Hitler saw Things to Come? And look what happened there.
Mr. Lee does, at long last, turn his attention back to the actual movie. He talks about the difficulty of competing with major studio action movies when working with a small budget. “The audience does not excuse production limitations or production mistakes or lack of thematic unity [!!] because of budget limitations.” Which is presumably his way of saying “There is now a warrant out for my arrest.”
Of course, Mr. Lee is exactly wrong. This is the kind of film one rents from dollar shelf of the local video store or sees at 2:00 AM on Cinemax. In neither case is the average viewer of such material expecting Exit Wounds, much less The Matrix. How can you compare, he asks, “a film in the five million dollar range” with a hundred million dollar one? If Mr. Lee is trying to suggest that the budget for this movie in any way approached five million dollars, then he must be tremendously high.
At the twenty-something minute mark we get some actual meat. Mr. Lee describes how films of this sort are strictly budgeted according to monies raised by pre-selling the rights. The funds are then banked and a bonding company, employed by the investors, watches over things to make sure that spending limits are adhered to.
In other words, unlike a major studio, there is no mechanism for drawing on additional funds once the budget has been set. (In the commentary track for the Roger Corman produced Hollywood Boulevard, director Joe Dante explains how he had to pay for optical wipes he wanted as segues out of his own pocket.) This is the sort of stuff that I think films buffs enjoy hearing about, at least if the explanation is brief and lucid as it is here.
Also amusing is the identification of a bit player to be Mr. Lee’s father-in-law. (Later Mr. Lee identifies himself doing a quick cameo.) That’s the kind of thing you can do on a low-budget movie, I guess. More of note is Mr. Lee’s candor regarding actress Meilani Paul, who played Linda, suggesting that he “might have put her a bit over her head.”
As noted, Ms. Paul is a tad overstated in her thesping here, and it’s nice to hear Mr. Lee copping to this, although he does so in a gentlemanly enough fashion. His main point is that her role required her to spit out large wads of exposition, such as her briefing of the sub’s XO on the effects of Agent Red. Such exposition scenes are generally awkward (tell me about it!), and that therefore you should assign them to more veteran actors whenever you have the chance.
After a bad start Mr. Lee’s commentary shapes up fairly nicely. One thing I will say is that he’s perhaps a little too general. He doesn’t talk about this particular film in much detail, and backstage stuff is almost non-existent. Instead he discusses broader issues, like what tools a director has at their disposal and his own inclinations and techniques when helming a film. While I personally would have appreciated a bit more awareness of the film’s flaws, and what perhaps lay behind them, it’s a decent intro into low-budget filmmaking for the interested novice.
Other comments of note:
Mr. Lee’s contention that stock footage here was “used very judiciously.” (!!) He also credits John Woo with the two-pistol thing, which is nice.
Near the end he again starts talking about how having good relationships with U.S. military branches made the film possible. I really wish I knew what he was talking about, because I don’t see anything in the film that would seem to be provided by the military.
“I don’t think it’s an excessively violent film,” Mr. Lee contends. This in a film with a body count well over a hundred. Perhaps he means it’s not an overly graphic film, and certainly its fairly restrained in terms of onscreen gore.
I had to laugh when he started musing about the film’s “strong mythic aspect,” dropping, of course, Joseph Campbell’s name while he’s at it. Please.
Mr. Lee also finishes things by discussing Legion, another film he was making (at the time of the commentary, that is) with Dolph Lundgren. Describing the plot, he notes it’s “obviously an homage to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.” Obviously. He also mentions that he’s making a film with Steven Segal. Dude, my money’s already in my hand.
Summation: Quite a lot dumber than I anticipated.