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Lethal Force

Unearthed Films // R // November 14, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted June 15, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Intentional or not, Lethal Force acts much more like a backyard hodgepodge of carbon-copied action "tributes" existing atop a cracker-thin plot than a film with any form of direction. Brittle and crumbling underneath the endless stream of odes to famous action flicks, you're not liable to find much of anything solid this vapid, airy snack has been bitten into.

The Film:

Just like the light and fluffy aforementioned nibbles, director Alvin Ecarma's vastly independent and sparsely funded action flick leans upon the sparse atmosphere of a 70s style kung-fu action escapade. And, much like the films it repeatedly jabs at, an uninteresting and simplistic plot surfaces. After his wife and child get kidnapped, small-time mobster Jack (Frank Prather) is brought before his family with a task that shall ensure the safety of his brood. To show the seriousness of this villainous task, Jack's wife is executed before his eyes, leaving only his son to fend for himself under their evil clutches. The job at hand for grief-stricken Jack? Bring an old buddy of his, uber-assassin Savitch (Cash Flagg, Jr.), to his knees and fully prepared for execution before these forces of evil.

Savitch, however, isn't having any of that. From the get-go, we see Savitch as a cool cat who would rather go down with blood on his feet and bruises on his knuckles than succumb to the powers of evil. Clear from his entrance into Lethal Force, he's also savvy with a loaded weapon in his hand. Enter a kaleidoscope of violence and exploitation, ranging from blitzed bolts through strip clubs and mob houses to impromptu martial arts fighting in construction sites, parking lots - hell, anywhere with a flat surface. Betrayal, murder, and all-around deception ebbs and flows with force through this little cinematic firecracker.

Filled with lunacy highlighted by zany plot twists and atrociously assembled dialogue, Lethal Force's tortuous attempts at charm wear thin very, very quickly. Overuse of the cheeseball slow motion and excessively peculiar quirks mar the potential for an appealing parody. Now, that all probably sounds like a naysayer to what the film seems to be about, right? Lethal Force attempts to explain that it's to action movies like what Scream is to horror flicks. What it ends up doing is accentuating the fluff from those films within its paradoxical meddling, in turn making that engorged filling inside Lethal Force as piercingly bothersome as possible.

Sure, there's a sense of the independent spirit spiraling within Ecarma's flick. Cheap, well placed firecracker special effects and choreographed martial arts sequences wiggle into Lethal Force, much to the audience's amusement. For the most part, these well-greased fundamentals harness the true nature of independent shlock. Even with the choreographed fighting, there's speckles of panache and sparse joy that pops up sporadically. However, plenty goes awry in this parody, namely the character depictions. Instead of punching out a chuckle here and there with caricaturist charm, the full breadth of asinine exaggeration stomps and dances on the nerves to a point of declaring mercy. It's more grating than gleeful.

As long as there's a story to relax your attention back upon after the lunacy, then to smugly mirror and mock flicks in jest is quite welcome. However, there's where Lethal Force, like a Wheat Thin trying to balance an anvil, crumbles. Without any tension, a sensible plot, or any kind of substance lying underneath all the sprinkles and confections, Ecarma's indie poke fest at action movies works purely as a series of strung together odes to better films. Instead of wanting to indulge in this spoof, you'd much rather pop in the originals and enjoy a bit of guilty pleasure from the real deal.

The DVD:

Lethal Force comes equipped from Unearthed Films / Divergent Thinking in a standard keepcase presentation with 70s-inspired art.

The Video:

Presented in an ugly full frame image, Lethal Force adheres quite stringently to its source filming. Murky and blurry throughout, it's not a very pretty movie to watch, though not at fault from the cinematography. Judging by some of the production stills, it looks like this flick could've been much more attractive. Interestingly, the full screen negative sits a bit higher on the screen, leaving a thin black bar underneath the image. Color levels generally looked okay, as did the depth of darkened scenes. But, overall, this film was not a very pleasing meal for the eyes.

The Audio:

Equally as hard to stomach is the popping, suppressed Dolby stereo track. Let's get the positive out of the way. Lethal Force's score sounds great. Each little nuance of the music adhered to the mood of the film and echoed quite well throughout each scene. Even through those scenes in which the music paired with a nauseating turn of events, it still sounded fine. Where the problem lies is within each and every voice and explosion. Crackling yet weighed down, Lethal Force didn't pack much quality spring with its audio presentation.

The Extras:

Here's where the fans of this flick shall gets the lion's share of quality material. It's pretty surprising to see the extensiveness that Lethal Force stretches to in the extras department: A Commentary with Directir Alvin D. Ecarma (also including other production participants) makes certain that all of the references throughout the film are catalogued and seen. If you're at all curious as to what portion of the film spoofs what other film, then flip on this track. Ecarma is clearly passionate about his work and a lot of fun to listen to. Furthermore, the other commentary from the stunt coordinators is pretty insightful.

Three (3) of the Director's Shorts, ranging from the brief and bizarre to the lengthy and bizarre, are featured. Everything from a swollen dog abscess to a scolded superhero adorns these little nuggets of weird. Since their stay on-screen is short-lived, they can be remotely entertaining for the duration.

Here's my favorite feature on the entire disc: the Production Photos. Even though the film itself didn't deliver much for me, some of these photographs taken during the shoot are actually quite attractive. Most of the images on the back of the DVD are taken from this gallery and are definitely worth a look.

Honestly, I wasn't certain whether the Action Figure Gallery was really a gallery of collectibles available to purchase or not. Now, after doing some searching online, I'm leaning towards not. It's an entertaining little slideshow featuring mock-ups of each character in action figure form.

The Art Gallery shows the progression of Lethal Force's posterart, from the rough sketches of the faces all the way to the layered coloring. Lots of thought poured into that poster.

Closing out the extras are a few Trailers, one of which being for Lethal Force and the others for more films coming from the distributor that might appeal to similar fans of the Lethal Force, including Nails, Visions of Suffering, Frankenhooker, City of Rott, Bone Sickness, and Das Komabrutale Duell.

On the Bonus "Bootleg" Disc included with this package, a few more extras are available, including:

An Original Trailer shows up first that suits the kitschy, goofy, 70s inspired demeanor of the film quite well.

Some very entertaining Audition Footage showcases several members of the cast reacting with facial expressions on the fly with different "moods" dictated by the casting directors.

Some Behind The Scenes Footage showcases the wonderful indie spirit hard at work during some of the more action-packed sequences. It's great to see the heart and soul of the film pour out through these assembled scenes.

Two More Short Films from director Ecarma are included, The Kindest Cut and You Come A Long Way. One taps into a macabre, darkened humor about the sequence of events, while the other one leans on old school silent fright fest demeanor.


Final Thoughts:

Name something that's enjoyably bad about kung fu / action flicks from the 70s, and Lethal Force probably served up a heaping helping of trite homage for it. For those who are die-hard fans of that goofiness, Lethal Force might be worth a rent just to see a splatterpaint portrayal of these varied odes. However, the average moviegoer probably won't find much to identify with, whether it be the lack of a discernibly attractive plot or the daffy, singular humor. Skip It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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