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Den of Lions

List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted March 15, 2006 | E-mail the Author
"Den of Lions" is another one of those we-get-a-hefty-tax-break-if-we-film-in-eastern-Europe movies. It comes from the experts in the genre, Millennium Films, which has built a reputation in the past few years as being the home of cheap direct-to-video actioners, all of them shot in Hungary, Romania, and the like, and most of them starring Jean Claude Van Damme. This time, we get Stephen Dorff in the lead role (Stephen Seagal must have been busy), with Bob Hoskins slumming as the Russian mob boss.

Needless to say, Hoskins is the only thing worth watching here. His is obviously one of those jobs that found the actor filming all of his scenes in just two or three days, and he clearly doesn't care how well anything else turns out. There's a goofy scene where his character, quite angry, tears a phone in half, then stomps on the remains for good measure. It's an apology of sorts from Hoskins to the viewer, as if to say, "Sorry you're stuck watching this garbage, here's one wacked-out scene to make up for the pain."

And what pain it is. Dorff plays Mike Varga, an FBI agent who - you guessed it - Doesn't Play By the Rules. When we first meet him, his unauthorized rescue of a kidnapped woman results in plenty of property damage, car stunts, and big 'splosions, which, of course, does not make his grumpy boss happy. Dammit, why can't Varga play by the rules? Anyway, for reasons the plot sorta requires, the Hungarian government, having problems dealing with the Russian mafia, has called for help from the FBI. And so they send Varga, who was born in Hungary and who speaks the language (never mind that the entire film is in English, with only a few kinda-thick accents telling us where we're supposed to be). Varga goes undercover, working for godfather Darius Paskevic (Hoskins); his main job is watching over Darius' sexy daughter, Katya (Laura Fraser). Varga falls for Katya, has a crisis of loyalty, blah blah blah, etc., etc., etc.

If you're still not convinced just how shoddy and clich├ęd this feature is, consider the screenplay, which tosses us such brilliant lines as "I didn't want to fall for you, but I did." Yeesh. Should I also mention that scene in which Dorff says "the gig's up" instead of "the jig's up?" Yes, I probably should. Oh, and what about the scene in which a character is shot, with one more squib exploding on his chest than there should be if we're counting the sounds of gunshots? Yeah, that definitely deserves a mention; as movie goofs go, that's a biggie.

Director James Bruce tries to hip things up (or, at least, hide his low budget) with a series of flashy jump cuts, quick zooms, and other such gimmickry. It's designed to make things look all actiony-cool, but it's actually just tedious. Bruce's only other trick in getting the viewer's attention is through flesh - the backdrop of prostitution allows for random gratuitous nudity that's bound to please the DTV renter who picks this sort of title up just to see some quick, cheap action and maybe some skin.

Then again, "Den of Lions" might not even win over the B movie crowd after all, not even those renters willing to keep a heavy thumb on the fast-forward button. The plot-heavy storyline is too uninspired and downright dull to keep one's interest, while the action sequences are weak and lacking in many thrills.

The DVD

Video


The 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation is pretty good, as is expected from a recent feature. Aside from a rare grain-heavy shot here and there, the transfer is clean and impressive, far better than a movie this lame deserves.

Audio

This is one lousy soundtrack, but I'm hesitant to blame the DVD itself. (After all, the Dolby 5.1 mix is clean and makes decent use of the surround feature, when it can, at least.) Many of the actors seem to be dubbed over, either with new voice actors or in post-production looping; in both cases, the sound quality often fails to match the rest of the scene. It's very off-putting - as is the tendency for the overall sound to come in and out at odd times. I'm going to chalk it up to lousy production values. Also at issue is the musical score, which sounds like it's being played on a cheap tape recorder with a broken motor. That this warble sounds intentional only makes it more obnoxious.

Extras

None.

Final Thoughts

"Den of Lions" was produced over three years ago, only to join the ranks of low budget efforts purchased and then shelved by Miramax. While for some films, this has been unfair treatment, here it's a well-deserved delay. That this movie has been unceremoniously dumped onto bare-bones DVD under the Dimension label so long after the downfall of Miramax is probably the best treatment a movie this lame could hope to get. Even if you're a hardcore direct-to-video B movie junkie, there's no reason not to Skip It.
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