El Gringo (2012)

El Gringo (2012)- *1\2 

Directed by: Eduardo Rodriquez

Starring: Scott Adkins, Yvette Yates, Bashar Rahal, and Christian Slater

A mysterious man, known only as “The Man” (Adkins) arrives in the small Mexican town of El Fronteras with a duffel bag filled with cash. He finds the town less than hospitable, and as the local gang tries to steal his loot, through a series of flashbacks, we find out how he got into this predicament. With Lt. West (Slater) of the New Mexico police crossing the border to go hot on his trail, The Man has plenty to contend with, but with the help of local barmaid Anna (Yates) he just may ride off into the sunset with everything he wants. But can this happen in such a violent place?

Sadly, very sadly, we found El Gringo to be a disappointment. You’d think having Scott Adkins and Christian Slater in a movie together would be a surefire winner that could overcome any potential drawbacks elsewhere. It turns out that assumption was incorrect, and you know what happens when you assume. The problem is, it’s weighted down with those annoying modern, overly-slick editing tricks that we’re not in love with, to say the least. Why directors and editors feel they need to do this remains unknown. (It should be noted that the editor’s name is Don Adams, and he does indeed need to get smart). They must think it’s helping, but it’s really, really not. With a bunch of quick cuts, seizure-inducing flashes, CGI all over the place, and self-consciously “wacky” music and situations, the movie dooms itself. The whole outing has a vibe that it’s trying super-hard to be cool, but it’s trying too hard. All it had to do was let the magic of Adkins and Slater happen. And get out of the way. But its obsession with being a post-Tarantino irony-laced jaunt puts the kibosh on that.

And it had so much potential for being genuinely cool. The movie sabotages itself by setting up a potentially cool situation, then squelching it, almost out of spite. So it sets itself up for failure, because even if something awesome does indeed happen, the overall tenor ruins it, because you can’t go back and un-see what uncoolness you just saw. And at 103 minutes, it wears out its welcome. Besides having to witness the character of “The Man” (which isn’t at all stolen from Sergio Leone) in a variety of situations frustrating to him, the viewers also get frustrated. The whole thing has a distasteful Missionary Man (2007) vibe, and director Rodriguez even made a movie with Dolph, Stash House (2012), which is acknowledged to be one of Dolph’s worst, even worse than Missionary Man.

Of course, Scott Adkins is always boss, and he does execute some outstanding moves on the baddies in the beat-em-up scenes, but, ultimately, it’s very hard to care. Despite some classics like the “walking away from an explosion” and the “sideways jump/dive while shooting”, it’s just not enough this time. Even the fruit cart cliche is here. But a dud in the Adkins canon was bound to happen eventually, as he has had a long string of winners, and no actor, or gambler for that matter, has had an unbroken streak. But perhaps the most unsettling thing about this particular Adkins performance is that his distinctive British accent is gone, in favor of an unnecessary American voice. Just another El Gringo misstep, it seems.

Speaking of missteps, there’s the matter of the title song. One of the best and most noteworthy aspects of the movie was the song by Manowar, but it’s only heard during the end credits. It would have been awesome to hear it during a shootout or training sequence. But no, another wasted opportunity. Despite the titans Adkins and Slater, there’s actually very little to recommend about El Gringo, as much as it pains us to say it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum!


Battle Creek Brawl (1980)

Battle Creek Brawl (1980)- * * *

Directed by: Robert Clouse

Starring: Jackie Chan, Michel Quissi, Mako, H.B. Haggerty, Kristine DeBell, and Jose Ferrer 

 Set in the 1930’s, Battle Creek Brawl is the tale of one Jerry Kwan (Jackie), a young man who loves Martial Arts. When the classic gangsters of the day threaten his father’s restaurant, Jerry fights back, finally using his much-practiced skills. Head mobster Dominici (Ferrer) sees his abilities as a fighter and, using strongarm tactics like kidnapping and threats, forces him into participating in the “Battle Creek Brawl”, an event in Texas where the top fighters of the day go at each other in a big free-for-all. While he does have allies like Herbert (Mako) and his girlfriend Nancy (DeBell) on his side, it’s going to take all of Jerry’s tenacity to beat strongmen like Billy Kiss (Haggerty) who is known for his infamous “kiss of death”! Can Jerry do it? Find out today...

Battle Creek Brawl is an interesting spin on the Punchfighting genre. Not only is it set in the 30’s, with all the period garb and cars that would entail, but we also liked the idea of a town-wide Punchfighting event. The aptly-named Battle Creek, as a whole, comes together in the streets to watch the grown men pound on each other. So rather than take place in a dank cellar, it’s out in the open with the whole town watching. We thought that was a nice difference. The “forced to fight” plot we’ve seen many times before, most recently in...well...Forced To Fight (2011), but this came out an amazing 31 years before that, and of course features a young Jackie Chan in the lead, who you can’t help but love.

We’ve always been fans of Jackie, and while this is such an early American movie for him, his English would improve in later years, his humorous/acrobatic/highly enjoyable fighting style is on full display. Because the plot of the gangsters taking over the restaurant is so similar to fellow Golden Harvest production The Return of the Dragon (1972), it could honestly be said that Jackie was taking over the mantle of top Martial Arts star worldwide from Bruce Lee. Jackie’s rigorous training sequences are here as well, something he brought over from Asia. Jackie is backed up with some great co-stars: the ever-present fan-favorite Mako is on board, as is the cute Christine DeBell as Jackie’s girlfriend, and a young Larry Drake as well. And of course Jose Ferrer as the main baddie. But who could forget H.B. Haggerty as Billy Kiss? He has a black cape that says “KISS” in huge letters, and his finishing move is to make out with his burly male opponent. How much of that Gene Simmons borrowed from, we’ll never know. But the period setting and the way he looks must have influenced Van Damme for The Quest (1996). JCVD’s final villain looks very similar, and is even played by Michael Qissi! Coincidence?

Another difference between this and the much-later Forced To Fight is that this has clearly identifiable fighters with their own personalities and quirks. The FTF baddies are generic thugs. See that review for a further discussion on how Punchfighting opponents have gotten more generic over the years. The Lalo Schifrin music is typically excellent and raises the bar for the movie as a whole. Other highlights include the roller skating scene, and the fact that the crowd chants “Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” many years before Springer. Maybe they’ve been chanting for Jerry Kwan all along. In racism news, perhaps no other movie we’ve seen has had characters that say the word “chink” quite as many times, and by as many different characters, as Battle Creek Brawl. Maybe that was the only epithet they had back in the 30’s. It was during the depression and all. But the movie as a whole is lighthearted fun and it’s all done very well and professionally.

Finally after years of awful-quality VHS tapes, a widescreen DVD was released in 2004 by Fox. Pick this up, and get your Jerry Kwan on today.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty