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"NORRIS! McQUEEN! SWAYZE!" touts the promotional materials for this straight to video actioner directed by R.J. Kizer (the man who gave us Hell Comes To Frogtown) in 1992. You'd figure Chuck, Steve and Patrick were already to go (which would be a neat trick given that Steve McQueen was dead by this point) but nope, instead we get Chuck's brother Aaron, Steve's son Chad and Patrick's brother Don. It's a fun watch and a more than serviceable B-grade action picture, but keep your expectations in check.
As to the story? Well, a former special forces operative named Matt Collins (Norris) who isn't really doing so well when it comes back to reclaiming his place in every day society. He's also not cool with the fact that his fiancée, Lauren Sadler (Isabel Glasser), is the one bringing home a paycheck. But then Matt finds a way to put his talents to use. He enters and wins a survival competition and is dubbed ‘the toughest man alive.' This brings him to the attention of Danton Vachs (played by Billy Drago, which somehow makes perfect sense), a filthy rich jerk who, with some help from Ms. Ling (Elizabeth Sung), hosts a yearly hunting competition amongst his wealthy jerk friends, for a modest entry fee that keeps him in mansions and bad clothes. And you know what they hunt, right? Of course, they hunt men, because this is basically The Most Dangerous Game starring the less famous relatives of legitimately famous people coasting on name recognition.
At any rate, Vachs' hired goons kidnap both Matt and Laruen and whisk them off to his private hunting grounds. One of Vachs' pals, Mr. Cross (Branscombe Richmond), wants to make sure that the upcoming competition is better than last year's lackluster affair and Matt just might be the key to ensuring that happens, but Vachs, being a psychopath, kills Cross for his less than stellar review. Meanwhile, Matt's old army buddy, "Skylord" Harris (McQueen), is tyring to figure out where his pal has run off to. He and a cop named Jack Crawford (Harrison Page), start putting together the pieces of the puzzle. While this is going on, Matt and Lauren befriend another contestant named John Blackwell (Swayze), who managed to escape from the last hunt and hide out in a cave all this time.
Death Ring is pretty generic action fodder but at least it's fun. It has sex, it has violence, it has bad dialogue and equally bad action, but it does manage to deliver some pretty decent action set pieces. Billy Drago is pretty amusing here as the film's main villain. His acting style has never been subtle, but you don't want subtle in a movie like this and delivers the goods. He and Elizabeth Sung, who is as beautiful as she is deadly, make for a pretty great team of villains and really, they carry the movie. As to the good guys? Well, Aaron Norris is okay. Don Swayze is also flat out bad, but amusingly so and often times overshadowed by his ridiculous ‘beard,' and Chad McQueen is… okay. They handle the material well enough, but the material isn't particularly complex.
R.J. Kizer does a decent job with the pacing here. He keeps things moving quickly enough and knows to throw in enough action now and again to keep things from getting too stale. The cinematography is pretty solid, the score is generic but effective and the filmmakers chose from pretty solid locations to work on, the movie looks better than you'd probably expect it to.
Death Ring arrives on Blu-ray for the second time via Code Red Releasing who offer up the film on a 25GB disc framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taking up 22GBs of space. The picture quality here is pretty strong despite what looks like some very mild digital noise reduction applied to the image (this isn't a total wax fest but it does look a little unnaturally smooth at times). Detail still handily beats the DVD that came out about twenty years ago (as, obviously, it should) and sometimes it looks quite impressive. There's decent depth and texture here as well, and both the color reproduction and black levels look very good as well.
The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, in the film's native English, sounds just fine. There are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion and while range is understandably limited by the original recording, dialogue is clean, clear and audible throughout. There are no alternate language or subtitle options provided.
There isn't much here in the way of extras. Aside from menus and chapter selection the disc includes trailers for Death Ring, Toy Soldiers, Guyana: Cult Of The Damned, Walk Proud and Almost Summer.
Death Ring isn't the most original story ever told but it makes good use of its B-list cast and offers up a decent amount of action and exploitation. It isn't a thought provoking movie, but it never tries to be, it's just a fun way to kill ninety minutes. Code Red's Blu-ray release is light on extras but the presentation is pretty solid. Recommended to those with a taste for low budget action films.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.