Earlier in the year saw the release of Dolph's latest movie, Detention. That was a disappointment to say the least but his next effort; Direct Action is far more like the good old days for any Dolph fan. Over the last 6 years Dolph has been starring in considerably cheaper and poorer movies than he used to. Aside from recent highlight Hidden Agenda it has been pretty much all poor. The thing is the producers have been tying to give him characters with a different dimension, with some more depth and not just a hard-ass. This is all very well and good but the films are trying too hard to move with the times and B-movies have a tendency to do things badly. Hidden Agenda was a good little thriller, nothing exceptional and Dolph was good, playing someone with some intelligence and a different kind of intimidating presence. It's been the only transition from all out action that has worked for Dolph in recent years. Now there seems to be resurgence in these brainless, guilty pleasure action fests in the vein of Sly and Arnold in the 80's, just look at the Rundown. This film is very much like the old Seagal films, you know that string of films he did in his earlier career that were violent and simplistic and almost all the same. The plot of Direct Action could almost be typical Seagal fodder from that period with corrupt cops and FBI officials and Dolph as the moralistic cop who'll take them down. This brought back good memories for me of films like Nico, Out For Justice and Hard To Kill. Simple story, plenty of action and a bad-ass cop who scowls throughout the movie (in fairness Dolph does more than that though.). This is miles better than Detention but what I did find with Detention in any case was that Dolph had a new found enthusiasm. After nearly 2 years rest from the business he came back leaner, more fired up and for the first time in years was doing his own stunts. Direct Action continues that trend and filmed a year after Detention, Dolph is further enthused and in even greater shape. He's a lot slimmer than he has ever been in his movie career, very svelte and has a more sprightly presence. He looks better than he has done in almost 10 years. Dolph seems to be having a new lease of life and while these last two films aren't his best they have bigger budgets and are more old style action than he has done recently. His next few are promising a good amount of action too and Dolph will probably be playing the tough man again, it does seem the way forward for the DTV action men, doing films they used to keep the fans happy. Hidden Agenda was good but it didn't sell, for the simple fact that if you are trying for something with depth and intelligence then there is little hope that people are going to look for a straight to video movie, whereas these brainless fist-fests still seem to sell. Van Damme is back to his revenge movie trademark and Seagal has left his eco warrior image behind for more conventional ideas.
The plot follows Frank Gannon, a veteran police sergeant who is to testify against his co-workers in the Direct Action Unit because they are being investigated for links to drug lords, extortion and murder. Gannon (Dolph) has seen this stuff first hand and wants to testify. On the day of the trial he is threatened and to make matters worse he has to take a rookie around with him all day (Polly Shannon.). Basically the film plays out with Dolph taking on his co-workers head on with help from his partner and the young rookie Billie Ross along the way. When they kill three cops in a bloody shootout, a failed attempt on Gannon's life Gannon is in trouble because he is wanted for the murders and now his word is going to mean little against the testimonies of the guys in the Direct Action Unit who have heroic reputations, despite the dark dealing in the background. There are the usual amount of twists and turns but there are no surprises. It all rounds off to an action packed climax rest assured though.
The action is decent. It's all shootouts or fist fights and while there are no really big set pieces the action is plentiful and nicely spread out. This is perhaps the most action Dolph has had in a movie for ages. Fistfights cost nothing but the time to make so they have put plenty in which is good. What is good is that Dolph gets to use his martial arts here. The action is similar to Seagal's was in Nico etc too, with plenty of throw movies and bone breaking. It is good to see Dolph using his Karate so prominently here. Dolph is really looking in prime action man form here and looks tough. The shootouts are okay, nothing great but at least there was money on them. Of course we have some explosions too.
The film has a smaller budget than Detention did, which was 10 million while this was between 5 and 8 million dollars but this looks far more polished and there is more bang for your buck. The key thing is that the action is far more imaginative and well handled. It is strange because almost the entire cast and crew of Detention worked on this and it was shot in the same place. Everyone does their job far better it must be said, particularly veteran director Sidney Furie who shows more flair and assurance in the action while he has upped his game on the more dramatic scenes too. A downer in the look of the film was the dull cinematography. The film looks drab and the lighting is poor. It is made to look cheaper than it is because Curtis Peterson has seemingly not even turned up to shoot it and left it to the camera operators to shoot it themselves without any lighting. He did a similarly no existent job in Detention. I know this is low budget but they could still make it look better, Hidden Agenda had very good cinematography. Another improvement though was the score, with Adam Norden taking over from the composer of Detention and doing a much better job. The score wasn't great but it knew the limitations of doing it cheaply and didn't try to recreate an orchestra on a computer like many DTV movies do, and badly. This is a synth score that acts like a synth score. The cast are good. Dolph holds the movie, his role is straight down the middle and simple but he does it with conviction and coolness. Polly Shannon is okay as well as Billie, she's pretty and gives a good enough performance. I also thought that Conrad Dunn was very good as Captain Stone, the ring leader of the corrupt cops. He has a slimy villainy that works well. He gives the role a conviction and classiness that none of the support in Detention did. All the returning actors from Detention are much better, particularly Alex Karzis who played the lead villain in Detention atrociously. Here he plays a good guy and does it well.
Overall this was a pleasing movie for me. It's the most pure and entertaining action movie Dolph has down since Peacekeeper and the best he has looked in terms of action since Silent Trigger. Dolph is looking cool and modern these days and I eagerly await his next two movies, Defender (with, get this, Jerry Springer) and Retrograde (with Gary Daniels), which fingers crossed could appear this year. That would be 4 new Dolph films I have seen this year and after a lengthy spell of nearly two years without one before that I'm a happy Dolphamaniac people. ***
23 out of 29 found this helpful