Jim Wynorski is definitely not a filmmaker for all tastes, but he has without doubt had an impact on the world of movies. From Chopping Mall to the 1988 Not of this Earth remake, and several dozen other exploitation films, he's put out a lot of content, some of it awful, some of it decent, but all with a tongue in cheek and a wink. The Lost Empire is his first directorial effort. It's unfocused, scattered, and sometimes goofy, but almost despite itself it is rather enjoyable.
Inspector Angel Wolfe (Melanie Vincz) is a beautiful police officer who (surprise) doesn't always play by the rules, though she is devoted to her boyfriend Rick (Paul Coufos), who is a federal agent. When Angel's younger brother, also a police officer, dies after responding to a robbery report at a jewelry store, Angel begins her quest to find the mysterious cult leader / crime lord Dr. Sin Do (Angus Scrimm).
In order to participate in one of Sin Do's death match battles on his hidden island redoubt, Angel has to recruit two more women, because only trios are allowed to compete. Angel teams up with beautiful Native American Whitestar (Raven De La Croix) and convicted felon Heather McClure (Angela Aames). McClure is actually in prison at the time, so we are treated to a nice women in prison fight scene. Wynorski is about nothing if not responding to what his fans want.
The three women proceed to the island lair, and compete in athletic trials with other women, under the watchful and vindictive gaze of top henchman Koro (Bob Tessier), but they manage to catch the eye of Sin Do himself while investigating his evil ways.
From this point, a lot of craziness goes on. Battles to the death, escape attempts, mystic jewels that are part of an ultimate weapon. Angus Scrimm seems to be enjoying himself as the evil mastermind, and everyone else appears to be having a good time as well. And that's really the spirit in which to take this film, as a lark. At times, the production values are laughably bad. Koro's bushy eyebrows appear and disappear. The matte paintings of the island hideout are starkly unrealistic. But the film is enjoyable nonetheless. Wynorski knows he doesn't have the budget to make everything look slick and professional, so he throws caution to the wind and generates an insane romp with references to every possible pop culture curiosity that catches his fancy.
Wynorski's enthusiasm permeates the film, and provides much of the energy and entertainment we see. No real effort is made to keep the plot coherent or believable. (At one point, Whitestar fights with, and defeats, a gorilla.) But the viewer can't help but smile at the goings on, even while never for a moment suspending disbelief. This is far from a perfect or even accomplished film, but it is an enjoyable one. Recommended, but especially for fans of Wynorski's particular way of making movies.
The image is 2.23:1 widescreen, and has some issues. Lens dirt and scratches are visible from time to time, and there is aliasing throughout, more visible at some times than at others. But that's to be expected with a movie from this time period with this budget. The flaws are relatively minor and don't detract appreciably from the experience.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and sounds okay. Nothing really exciting is attempted. Dialogue can generally be understood, though no subtitles are included. No alternate language tracks are included.
There are a few extras included. They are:
Just what it sounds like, 1:25 of stills from the film.
A large chunk of the score is presented here for listening. The score is actually pretty good, so this is an enjoyable extra.
Jim Wynorski himself provides an informative and engaging commentary here, with set anecdotes and details such as shooting locations (they shot in the Thai area of L.A. because the Chinese area was too expensive) and reminiscences of working with the various actors. (Bob Tessier was apparently less than pleasant to work with.) Wynorski is an interesting guy who knows a lot of people and a lot of stories. This commentary enhances the enjoyment of the film considerably.
Jim Wynorski makes a particular kind of film for a particular kind of audience, and if you aren't in that audience you won't get as much pleasure out of his films. Regardless, The Lost Empire is a fun movie that doesn't take itself terribly seriously. You won't find high drama, but you will find beautiful women fighting mechanical spiders and mysterious death cults, always with a dash of humor. You could do worse.