When you think of great martial artists certain names always come up. Norris. Lee. Chan. Trimble? Jerry Trimble to be precise. He is (or was in 1993) PKC Light Welterweight World Kickboxing Champion.
Now I am not sure if this is good or not because I am an uneducated sort, but it certainly sounds very impressive. The filmmakers think so too, as they make a point of flashing this information up on the box art, and in the actual opening credits of the movie.
The movie focuses on Luke Powers, a young scallywag who, while returning to his hometown in the ghetto (I don’t think the location is ever revealed or I just missed it as it was mumbled in the dialogue – either way it’s a dump) to find out his brother Johnny Powers has been murdered after winning a big score in an illegal bare knuckle fighting tournament. He soon makes friends with a local deadbeat named Pepper, who helps save him from a beating (from an incredibly campy looking Asian gang) and his roommates Albert and Tori.
Luke finds out someone who is involved in fights by the name of ‘The Black Cobra’ killed his brother, and he goes through a ruthless training regime with Pepper acting as his trainer. Luke and Albert then join the tournament. To cut a long story short, Albert dies, and Luke wins the tournament, only to finds out his trainer Pepper killed his brother because Johnny was a jerk who Pepper’s brother in a coma after their last fight. Pepper gets stabbed in the chest with a big pipe and cue the credits.
This all seems like a near perfect plot for a good action flick, right? A young, naïve fighter, made to better himself through a personal tragedy, quirky side characters, deaths, treachery and resolution. However, the problems really start to emerge later on with the actual execution of said plot. It’s going for a darker tone than most action movies, and feels a lot grittier, much like the movie Street Trash (which was set entirely on the streets and in run down warehouses and the like). To further make this film seem grim, everyone is always angry. Luke cannot go five minutes sighing to himself how depressed he is and how much his life sucks, before someone leaps on him and tries to give him an ass kicking. The photography of these scenes is stunning though, with some amazing shots of light bleeding through half graffiti walls and bleak car park lots filled with people who have no purpose in life. It creates a great atmosphere, for about ten seconds until the other faults kick in.
Acting and characterization are again things I’m not necessarily looking for in this type of action movie, but it would help if there were at least a few people who could perform. The movie just seems to suffer from a lack of established acting talent to help pull it forward. The supporting cast for example is comprised of Tori, who we are first introduced to doing an erotic dance in an abandoned building.
In this scene Luke’s eyes bulge out his head as he perv’s on her from the sidelines, only to swiftly be met with a knee in the nuts for his trouble. Tori’s next big scene is doing a pretty awesome strip tease in a club where Luke is (yes gents the boobs do come out to play), which he interrupts with a sad and angry gaze. Bit tricky to support Luke on the moral high ground after he spends all his time watching her dance in the street, then paying to go into a strip club to see her again – get a job man. Eventually we get the inevitable love scene, in which she is shown in an angelic white light, and they do the nasty. She really has nothing to do after that.
Her brother Albert has a similar problem. This is a character that is meant to be the wacky sidekick, but he comes off more embarrassing than anything. He’s like that friend who always gets too drunk, and you then have to sit there watching him make a fool of himself until you get him home. His death is actually a relief in a sense as he does not appear in the movie anymore. If the writers had reined him in a bit more, and made him a more likable character, then Albert would have been some great comic relief, but he is too sleazy and embarrassing to really be someone you can root for.
Pepper’s character has this problem also. He is made out to be this street wise philosopher, and again a comic relief style performer. He has fought before and knows the ropes, but doesn’t take any shit. Truth is though, he actually just comes off a bit bland and irritating. Its only when he turns heel that he actually seems like a good villain. He also seems quite a menace when he turns as his humorous façade is ripped away to show this mean, cold person with dead eyes. It’s a great turn, but let down by the fact that Pepper was incredibly annoying before hand, and really isn’t a strong enough actor to pull it off convincingly.
The real travesty here is the action scenes suffer a lot. In your traditional fight flicks the action is something to be reveled in, it zooms into the kicks and punches and you can feel each punch to the face. This film wants to do this, but just keeps falling at every hurdle. All the fights feel really staged rather than organic, like they have been choreographed a little too much. Kicks to the head for example are spoiled because of the way they are shot.
One kick will have the actual kick, then it repeated from a different angle, then a slow mo kick of the same scene, then some blood being spat out from different angles, then the guy falls down. This happens in every scene pretty much and it loses is magic early on. The camera has an annoying habit of cutting the kicks and punches at the last minute so you very rarely see them connect. It’s meant to make them seem faster but it makes the action disjointed.
Also the fights are very short. A minute or so tops discounting the final battle. This is because the film is not separated out well enough. It instead spends over 45 minutes on the training aspect and the rest on plot development and the tournament. So each fight is rushed and lacks the punch it should have.
The music sucks as well. It starts off with this great fusion of drums and saxophone, but then degrades into essentially the same tune repeated over and over in a variety of different ways. It’s really intrusive. In one instance the music leads into a love scene between Luke and Toni, there is a slow drum beat and violin style music, then just as they kiss it leaps into a massively loud sax solo which made me leap out of my chair in shock! The music works great whenever some of the support characters come into play. For example a young Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite) pops up as the match announcer and it seems to suit him great. It’s not a great sign of a movie when he is the most interesting and sadly best acted character.
Finally we have the main problem of the film, which is Luke himself, or the way he is acted out by Jerry Trimble. Now this is not Jerry’s first film, he made five more before this, though I could not find out how much involvement he had in those movies. But acting is not really his strength. The script requires him to emote a lot about the death of his brother, but he always comes off as a bit bored by the whole thing, his starring at old photos may as well be him starring at the paint peeling off the walls. He does this a lot.
The fighting scenes are where he feels most comfortable and you can see his body physically loosen ready for a ruckus, but as I mentioned before the camera does not flatter his style of fighting, and the short fights don’t give any fun at all. The longgggg time we see him train does little to make us feel more engaged with him as the training regime he goes through is daft. Outrun a bus, hit tomatoes with your fist, and stop a condom from hitting the ground. They all reek of attempting the magic Rocky had and failing.
His acting style comes across as being similar to cardboard but it’s more than that. It just seems like his heart is not in it and he would rather be somewhere else, and he is the lead star! Most of the people in this flick act the same, but it’s in Jerry’s characters we see it the most. You just cannot get behind someone who seems like they just don’t care either way.
It’s almost like the people involved had a ‘how to’ guide book for how action movies should be made, but had never actually seen one. So you have all the things you expect to see but it just feels like its missing something. This is a shame as it really good have been an amazing movie instead of a below average one. There is some good news to this tale though. Jerry is still acting and has been in such hits as Heat, Green Street 2 and The Green Hornet, so it seems this film was a stepping stone for his acting career and hopefully he seems a bit happier in those movies than he does in this one!