Sometimes, being a film critic is like playing the lottery. You never get rich, but on occasion, you strike cinematic gold. It usually only happens when dealing with independent or homemade movies. With DVD allowing every Tom, Dick and Harvey to make their own damned diversion – and better yet, finding a way of getting it distributed and to audiences – the critical crapshoot that occurs when a disc darkens a reviewer's door is amplified exponentially. Sometimes, the results are surprisingly sound. Filmmakers like Chris Seaver, Mark Savage and Brett Kelly argue that great things can be done with limited funds and a large amount of personal creativity. But elsewhere, festering under the filmic skin like a sore that just won't heal, are efforts as awful as Live Feed, Dr. Hackenstein and Last eXit. Joining their rotten ranks is something called UKM: Ultimate Fighting Machine. Continuing proof that Canada hates us, this specious speculative fiction is a failure on almost every level. Yet thanks to the egalitarian approach to entertainment in our modern media mindset, unsuspecting genre fans might discover this dreariness in their next Netflix order. Here's hoping such a potential apocalypse can be avoided.
When Project Havoc, a secret government plan to turn soldiers into ultimate fighting machines fails, the military needs some new "recruits" to experiment on. The foursome eventually chosen include: Waylon, a petty criminal; Zoe, a smart ass crackhead; Buddy, a dorky gung ho goof; and Carrie, a crater-faced runaway. They are told by Major Blevins that they have "volunteered" for some extra training, and before they know it, a pair of Russian scientists are drilling holes in the back of their necks and injecting them with super stem cells. These biological bombs cause reactions in the body, rendering the quartet practically superhuman. Not really understanding their newfound powers, and desperate to escape, Waylon and Zoe accidentally "free" the previous foul-up, an angry ex-war hero named Sgt. Dodds. Soon, the genetically altered warrior is wasting guards left and right, leaving a bloody trail that leads right back to Blevins – and his new recruits. Who lives and who dies is merely subjective. After all, turns out there may be more than one UKM: Ultimate Killing Machine, among the group.
UKM – which could easily stand for Unbelievable Krappy Movie – is an interesting idea poorly realized and haphazardly executed. Showing off its low budget boundaries by keeping its action locked into a single location, and resorting to a cast of nobodies, d-listers and icons opting for a paycheck (read: Mr. Blonde Michael Madsen) to sell its suspense, this wannabe horror action adventure ends up feeling like the result of a bad wager among friends. Director David Mitchell, responsible for some real winners in the overall history of cinema (Frat Fright, Ski School 2, Downhill Willie) tries to compensate for his lack of technical prowess by amplifying the atmosphere of dread and fear. This means that most of the movie is drastically underlit, and utilizes that by now cliché color scheme of green and brown to make everything appear rotted and decayed. Even worse, many of the murders occur off screen, and while the special effects artists get major credits during the opening scroll, very little of their gruesome handiwork is on display. In general, UKM plays like a basic b-movie rocket, waiting for some manner of entertainment fuel to send it sailing into the schlock-mosphere. Apparently, the mission was scrubbed before any fun or freshness could be located.
Individuals eager to see Madsen turn on the typical tripwire personality thang should really keep looking. His is mostly a performance done via lifeless line readings. Though it's not that obvious, one can actually pick up an occasional hint of embarrassed ennui in the actor's efforts. He is matched in mediocrity by the talentless teenagers who are supposed to be our amiable anti-heroes. Someone needs to inform screenwriters Tyler Levine and Tim McGregor that individuals with substantial sociopathic tendencies do not make for likeable movie characters, no matter the amount of soul searching and agreeable about-facing they go through during the course of the narrative. An arrogant a-hole remains such even when he's scared spitless, and a slutty crackwhore will have a hard time playing gallant when she's constantly kicking people in the privates. Even our super duper uber nerd Buddy, a guy whose so green than he doesn't understand the basic slang for sexual congress, pushes the limits of likeability by constantly prattling on about duty, country and his longed-for "HARLEEEEEEY" (as in motorcycle). Again, it's really not the actor's fault. You know you're dealing with a butthead-level storyline when the villain is described as homicidal...and horny. Yep, the UKM gets some involuntary wood during his regular rages, and those moans we hear coming from his cell aren't the pumping of iron.
In the role of universal soldier...oops, sorry, ULTIMATE killing machine, some Canadian stunt man named Simon Northwood is merely adequate. Looking like Charles Napier after some badly botched botox injections, the title terror gives good grimace, and that' s about it. His motivations are all over the map. First he slays his fellow military men, then he only goes after the civilians. Before you know it, he's back picking on GI Joes again. Equally unclear is the motivation behind the experiments. Madsen argues it's for the creation of bigger, better grunts. The obviously Soviet scientists working on the program seem at confusing cross-purposes, however. Dr. Stroheim wants the trials to succeed so he can cure his bad heart. His assistant Lena is malpracticing medicine so that...um...who knows. Instead of giving us a clear set of goals and a non-stop rollercoaster ride toward achieving them, UKM just meanders along, hoping that its hit or miss approach leads to something somewhat likeable. It doesn't work. By the end, we aren't cheering on the kids and hissing the bad guy. No, we keep wondering what's taking the self-destruct mechanism so long to fire. We were promised some building-leveling pyrotechnics during the middle act, and if Mitchell is concerned about keeping us interested, the least he can do is blow stuff up. By now, you've probably guessed how that turns out, huh?
Genius Entertainment's presentation of this Canadian made production is actually pretty good. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is decidedly on the dark side, but the overall transfer is free of defects and other digital flaws. Colors are crisp and well maintained, and the contrasts do reveal some minor details. Though it occasionally plays like a made for the Sci-Fi Channel style chiller (lots of medium shots and unnecessary close-ups) the visual element of UKM: Ultimate Killing Machine is properly professional.
One of this entire production's biggest mistakes is the decision to go with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. It amplifies everything except the dialogue, which Mitchell apparently allowed to be spoken in a whisper to maximize its inherent drama. This means the music, various sound cues, attempts at spooky ambiance and the random bodily noises made by the cast get highlighted over material we actually need in order to understand the movie. Talk about your fundamental bungling of DVD basics.
It would be easy to comment on the quality of the added content for UKM, if there were any. Sadly, this epic science fiction suspense yarn is given short shrift in the bonus features arena. Go figure.
If you forgive the sloppy filmmaking, the less than appealing characters, the illogical plotting and irritating technical specs, you'd still have a massively mediocre movie that avoids many of the artform's entertainment requirements. On the standard DVD Talk scale for measuring a disc's desirability, there's not much here to suggest a score other than Skip It. Still, there may be a few of you out there who don't mind if your motion picture experience is crude instead of compelling, insipid instead of intriguing. For you, UKM: Ultimate Killing Machine is going to get a Rent It. Here's a clear caveat, however. If you plunk down your dough and end up getting nothing but 90 minutes of tiresome tripe, don't say you weren't warned. This review has made it abundantly clear that the only thing the title murder mechanism is good at is putting people to sleep – not permanently, but out of boredom. When a film makes you yearn for the thespian grace of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, you know its time to jump cinematic ship. UKM is B-A-D.
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