What do you think is scarier - 40 foot tall mummies with anger management issues, or Casper Van Dien acting in a film? Okay, here's another one for you...what is more unbelievable - 75 year old Robert Wagner as an action hero, or 27 year old Casper Van Dien in the champion role? All right, last one, honest - what is tougher to swallow - Tom "Fr. Howard Dowling Cunningham" Bosley as a Jewish rabbi with an expertise in translating ancient scrolls, or Casper Van Dien as an Indiana Jones type archeologist who teaches courses at a local university? Depending on how you answered these questions, you will either love or loathe The Fallen Ones, the latest installment in that newfound form of creature feature - the angry Egyptian effigy film. The difference here however is that the fabric fiend with a spiced onion for a brain is located in "the West", is somehow linked to the Good Book, and is the brother of yet another villain in the film (talk about overloading your logistics).
Directed by Kevin VanHook best known as a visual effects fashioner (he worked on Daredevil and I, Robot) and occasional moviemaker (helming the laughable Frost: Portrait of a Vampire in 2001), what we have is the perfect example of something that is unexplainably enjoyable. This time around Van the Man's got Biblical prophecy, egomaniacal fallen angels and a King Kong sized sarcophagus running around a desolate tract of wilderness doing his deadly bid-ness. While his directing style can be called scattershot at best, and his movies in general stink of the kind of cinematic cheese that leaves some fans fainting while others drink in the heady horrid stink, you can't fault VanHook for trying. Indeed, The Fallen Ones may fail on dozens of direct and distinct levels, but you still somehow find yourself entertained and intrigued by the rich ripeness of its desire to delight.
Hoping to avoid trouble with the environmentalists, Big Generic Corporation has employed Professor Matt Fletcher (Van Dien), archeologist supreme and expert sporter of fashionable facial stubble to search for ancient lawsuit fodder. Along with his scientific comrades, Gus and Mickey, they are clearing the antiquity path for BGC's new water pipeline. Naturally, the team butts heads with Morton, the powerful CEO of the company, and with Angela, the sweet young thang put in charge of the dig. While incessantly arguing over gender issues, an earthquake opens up a secret cave, and inside the team discovers a mummy the size of Montana.
Soon, site workers just up and disappear. Then the oversized bandage boy turns up missing. Morton hires an angry Arab security chief named Ammon to investigate, but like most corporate big wigs, Mort fails to get the proper references. Turns out this Persian poseur is actually a fallen angel, and the giant wrap job is his son. Somehow, through impregnating Angela, Ammon will bring about the fall of Sodom - or in this case, the next best AND closest thing, Las Vegas - and eventually rule the planet. It is up to Matt, his merry men, and a quirky Rabbi with a tendency to talk in a highly stereotypical accent to save the day.
You have to admit, The Fallen Ones is good old fashioned goofy cheddar cheesiness. The combination of sloppy science and even more ridiculous religion results in a kind of crappiness not seen since The Omega Code and its miserable Megiddo follow up. It is hard to tell if director Kevin VanHook is hoping to corral some of the born-again audience with all his Bible thumping and demon drivel, but one imagines that any added audience would be a benefit to this confusing and amusing mess. Indeed, while the link to the Gospels is good and spelled out, it's actually the same one used in that Arch Hall hokum Eegah!, which does not bode well for your narrative's wisdom or well-being.
But The Fallen Ones doesn't really need to get its Revelations right to churn out some slaphappy stupidity. Reminiscent of the current crop of 'made for Sci-Fi Channel' chum that graces that one time outpost for true speculative fiction fun, there is a great deal to get good and guiltily pleasured over here. First up is the casting. Casper the Friendly Farce hasn't made a good film since Paul Verhoeven offered him up as that square jawed bit of neo-Nazi soldiery in Starship Troopers. Here, he is as hokey as one of your Granddad's groan-inducing puns, and about as intelligent. He is supposed to be an archeologist, but with a vocabulary that runs out of nuance after two or three syllables and a personal demeanor that borders on the brackish, he's like a pissed-off supermodel moping about the desert - and it's delirious to watch.
Joining him in the unintentional joking around is Juliette's own personal parentage of shame, Geoffrey Lewis. As Gus, this once likeable actor now seems lost in a rather noticeable lisp and lots of baked baldhead flashing. Not a scene goes by where old Geoff doesn't doff his chapeau and give his juicy pate a good sleeve wipe. As Mickey, Scott Whyte is as weird as the strange spelling of his last name. It is unclear if this was a performance choice, or a scripted character quirk, but when Mickey takes on the enemy, his natural tendency is to bite them - either in the leg or on the wrist. He says it comes from a childhood of living with all sisters, but it's still a very sissified way of playing action hero. Even Robert Wagner gets to haul out the ham as the 'should have been crooked but actually is truthful' CEO Morton. Watching this almost octogenarian roll around while fighting with the bad guys (it's a very obvious stunt double) is one of The Fallen Ones many bits of fraudulent fun.
Sadly, the bad guys all play it deadly serious, never once giving in to the possibility of piling on the hyper histrionics. As Ammon, Navid Negahban thinks he IS the Devil (or some underwritten faux facsimile thereof), essaying the role of 'the Destroyer' as if he really has snakes coming out of his fingertips (one of the films many cut rate CGI highlights). His minions are men of varying believability, all chanting like Krishna's at an airline convention. The fight scenes feature clunky choreography and in true clichéd manner, there is always time for exposition before dealing the deciding deathblow (Negahban tells his entire story to a very attentive Tom Bosley before giving the old coot a fatal feel). But this raises a rather interesting question. Would Van Dien and his dunderheaded helpers be better or worse had Ammon and his cronies camped up the circumstances. It's hard to imagine this movie benefiting from anything, but one gets the impression that, perhaps, too much crackpot kitsch would have been a bad thing.
Which brings us, naturally, to the special effects. VanHook may be a CG maven when he's got the money to blow up the bitrates, but with a buck and a quarter, the Intel entities here are laughably lame. They look decent, but they have none of the nuance or potency of their big budget brethren. We know we're in trouble when Ammon sees a cat and allows his inner demonoid skeletal self to show through. The supposedly horrifying bag of bones in The Golden Child looked better than this wounded winged joke. Then there is the giant mummy. Oddly, enough, VanHook doesn't think one oversized novelty is enough. Ammon's followers craft a metal effigy of their beloved gauze guy and in a scene straight out of an even worse version of Wild Wild West, this mechanical "man" walks around the nighttime desert with a decided strut in his step. Since we can see inside this hulking steel surreality, we witness all the static CGI men at the controls. It's classic. But the ghoul with a glandular problem is the best aspect of this films flimsy F/X. He looks like something Stephen Sommers scrapped off his shoes, and emotes with all the effectiveness of a bunch of until recently buried rags.
Still, for some strange and unsettling reason, The Fallen Ones is fun. It's the kind of amusement you feel icky about enjoying afterward, but you like it nonetheless. There is no real intellectual challenge here, no chance you'll witness art of cinematic aesthetic - and for a while, you wonder if all the sacrosanct speak is ever going to pay off or just continue plodding on. But if he's anything, VanHook is a doer. He never gives up, never gives in, and fills his films with the kind of noble intentions that hardly lead to logic, but can often careen over into passable popcorn pleasure. Since the story is set up to become a series (something about there being similar giants in the "four corners" of the globe) it is possible that we might see three more installments of this amazingly mindless mess. As long as VanHook is at the helm, there will at least be someone in the director's seat trying. If you can link into his varied volition, you will get a giddy kick out of The Fallen Ones.
Visually, this movie looks pretty good. Every dollar of its decidedly low budget is up on the screen, and then some. Presented in a 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer, the image is bright, colorful and filled with details. The CGI is not overtly fake (unless otherwise indicated or noted) and the desert locations give off a nice arid atmosphere. Overall, there is a big look to this little movie, and the picture goes a long way toward maintaining the scope and sense of scale.
Depending on how much you like your sound effects, you can chose between a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Surround mix. While the multi-channel effort adds very little to the sonic situation of the movie, the 2.0 does have some directional elements. Dialogue is always clean and discernible, and the musical scoring is above average. Overall, from a completely technical position, this is a pretty good DVD package.
Anchor Bay attempts to flesh out its digital offering by jazzing up the added features. There are several here, and many are quite good. We are treated to a commentary (more on this in a moment), a Making-Of featurette, a look at the CGI work that went into creating the mummy, some previsualization, a storyboard and production stills gallery, a trailer and some DVD-Rom content (including the screenplay?!?). Overall the Behind the Scenes documentary is 30 minutes of EPK goodness. There is lots of backslapping and glad-handing in this genial helping of happy talking heads. The computer graphics segment is a couple of minutes of character mapping and rendering that's interesting, but nothing we haven't seen before on other supplements.
The best bonus by far is the alternate narrative track. It features writer/director VanHook, producer Karen Bailey, cinematographer Matt Steinauer and visual effects supervisor Chadd B. Cole. Naturally, there is nothing but good thoughts and happy campers present here, each one wanting to praise and proffer their own accolades on this totally average film. Amazingly, a few failures are pointed out, and there is a decided tone of confusing self-importance that kind of clouds the conversation. Still this is a nice piece of context that helps sell what is actually a harmless chuck of choice cinematic schlock.
One of the main reasons people hate bad b-movies, aside from the obvious aesthetic displeasure they create, is the fact that more times than not, the filmmakers are basically being lazy. They don't even try. Instead they rely on the barest minimum of moviemaking manipulation to get their 83 minutes of mindlessness in. That is why something like The Fallen Ones, and someone like Kevin VanHook, stands out. Certainly, this film is as lame as a hobbled horse, and offers up minimal thrills for its significantly stunted chills. But - dammit - VanHook is striving. He wants to make something entertaining. He's endeavoring to keep you locked in a state of suspended disbelief. And he's getting his cast and crew to go along with his cinematic cheerleading. The end result is a brainless, bloodless exercise in moderate amusement that often strikes you in oddly endearing ways. Logically, this chaos should just rove around the small screen until it lays its narrative turd and slowly ambles away. But The Fallen Ones is actually a loony lark. You may feel artistically bankrupted during the indulgence, but there is no filmic crime committed in enjoying this giant mummy mash.
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