REVIEW: Beyond The Law (1993, Larry Ferguson / C. Sheen, M. Madsen)

Tuesday, 26 March 2013





Prologue

Ahh, Beyond The Law, one of the less known movies of early 90s that was one of my favourites out of that era when I was a teenager. I finally managed to pick up this movie in DVD format quite cheap and have been eager to see the movie for a while, since last time I saw this was, what, fifteen years ago? At least.

Beyond The Law holds quite 80s-flavored vibe within, presenting long asphalt roads in beautiful desert-filled environments, motorbike gangs, leather jackets, guns and drugs. But this movie is not quite as speedy as it sounds. Beyond The Law can't be called an action movie exactly. As much as the setting of the movie screams for high speed action sequences, the movie is more of an crime/drama-type movie with some comedy and no-guts-no-glory-attitude thrown in. But mostly, the very vibe of it is quite dark and serious, drama-like. The movie is based on true story, but quite loosely.

Beyond The Law is being starred no than Charlie Sheen, who finally picks up a bit more serious-toned, gutsy role after his comedic run on previous roles in Hot Shots! and The Rookie. Sheen plays a police officer who goes undercover to bust an infamous motorcycle gang for guns and drugs. Other stars feature Michael Madsen as motorbike-gang leader "Blood", Courtney B. Vance as agent who hires "Dan" for undercover work, sexy Linda Fiorentino as a photographer who makes a document of Blood's gang, and Leon Rippy as "Virgil", a nut and goofy mechanic who introduces "Dan" into motorbikes and gangs.

Plot

Sheen plays Daniel "Dan" Saxon, a police officer, who wrestles with nightmares and trauma of his childhood. Dan's uncle was a police officer too, and his mother was of native blood. Therefore his uncle used to lock Dan up in a cellar and beat him up for years while handcuffed, leading Dan eventually to steal a gun and shoot his own uncle. Due his painful memories, Dan has grown up hot-headed and short-tempered man. 

When he gets fired from police due brawl between him and his commanding officer, he is offered another chance to work for police force as an undercover agent. Dan's new task is to bust local gun- and drug-dealers. After hesitation, Dan agrees the job. He meets a guy, biker named "Virgil" in a bar, who has a dream to become a deputy sheriff, and after Dan naming him such, he agrees to teach Dan thing or two about local motorbike-gangs and motorbikes.

Soon after Dan learns that the biggest drug- and gun-markets are running wild within local motorbike gangs. Assigned to bust one of such gangs, Dan comes up with false identity and personality and goes to infiltrate a local motorbike-gang called "The Jackals"  (lead by "Blood" starring Madsento stop gun and drug business, introducing himself as "Sid" from now on. After getting himself sucked too deep into the gang's criminal business and becoming some sort of friends with gang-leader "Blood", Dan who is already struggling with his childhood trauma and hatred towards police, becomes hesitant to turn Blood and The Jackals in. Who are the real friends of his now?

Review

When I was a teenager, this movie was one of my favorites at the time, which I recorded into VHS when it aired on television, and watched the movie over and over several times. I can see why. There's rock'n'roll, motorbikes, some tough attitude (could had been pushed even more far), few but clever parts of comedy, and nice desert views.


Lets start with the image quality, however. This version is nowhere near a "DVD standard" that you would expect from a DVD-movie. Image is even slightly pixelated in some scenes that's clearly visible with my 42" regular television,  and it's overly soft and blurry too. It's not totally bad, but it sure as hell doesn't look like something standard that could be cranked out with DVD from a movie from 1993. Was the original movie this bad image-quality-wise too, or is it just this DVD-version? However, it's still watchable, but surprisingly blurry. Also Finnish version was cut to 97minutes. Not sure what they cut out here, as I cannot remember (hopefully not much of the best parts!).

Charlie Sheen plays Dan Saxon and his fake-personality "Sid" very well. I can only think quickly one role that I remember, where he acted even more better, and that was in Platoon. The "childhood-trauma" of Dan does make sense, but it perhaps contains too little underlay. The trauma could had been used more effectively, and it could had played perhaps bit more large part. It had more potential to Sheen's character than how much was used. 

Sheen plays hot-headed undercover officer "Dan" very well, and it's enjoyable ride to see him adapt his undercover-role of a tough motorcycle-man, while being mentored by a nut mechanic called "Virgil". Dan starts to struggle between the line of his two personalities: his own as a cop, and his fake-personality as a motorbike-gang member called "Sid". Being constantly demanded to act respectably towards the two, his supervisor, agent Convey Price, and his new friends in "The Jackals" keeps things interesting all the way until the end of the movie, as Dan tries to hang on with the both of the parties, who tear him into two morally different directions. 

Madsen also plays "Blood" enjoyably well, certainly much better than in the much newer "Hell Ride" where he played a bit similar role. Well, Madsen always almost plays this sort of a though-guy. If you've seen his role once, you know what to expect. Well, at least in Beyond The Law it works. Madsen is calm, but insane and evil similarly. He could kill you just like that, smoke a cigarette, and walk away. As a gang-leader his quite believable.

But perhaps even more shining star is Leon Rippy as that goofy and nut mechanic "Virgil", who introduces Dan into the world of gangs and motorbikes, but then realises that the going gets too tough, and he isn't enough of a bad-ass himself after all. Lets just also add that Linda Fiorentino is quite sexy in the movie with her long legs and wicked smile.

The plot in Beyond The Law is very enjoyable, although what shines the most is bad-ass setting of the movie that almost screams for "cult" with it's bikes, guns, and the endless desert. The setting and Sheen's more thoughtful yet hot-headed role-play are truly quite memorable. Although the setting is quite dark, the vibes in the movie are really more "uplifting". This is not your violent movie number one, where motorbike gang brutality is shown realistically per se. Not, even though some gutsy scenes included. The style actually works great in Beyond The Law, and doesn't leave me complaining for more violence. The movie is more like relaxing ride than hectic adrenaline rush, with some great scenes to laugh at and it works like charm. Beyond The Law is more attitude, and how far it can take you within the motorbike gang hierarchy, than about actually showing the gruesome deeds done by the members.

As much as I love the plot about a trauma-driven police officer going for undercover work in the world of motorbike-gangs, so deep that he actually starts to forget who he really was, I think that the movie falls a bit short on it's underlay-work with the plot. Plot's idea is great, but it should had been expanded! Movie is just a bit short in terms of running time, because I feel that there's a HUGE potential in Beyond The Law that could-had-been, and partly it was left unused by shortening/cutting the plot down from it's potential length. Still, the attitude of the movie and Sheen's acting as well as the fantastic setting makes this movie very enjoyable.

Beyond The Law deserves more recognition than it got. It has all elements to make a true classic, but it falls a bit short on plot underlay and cut length making now "only" a good movie. The movie mixes well darker more thoughtful drama-like side of things with uplifting feeling of good old 80s-style biker-gangs, balls, and some gutsy comedy. It's not a violent way "gutsy" movie, but more like attitude based way. Beyond The Law comes with a few flaws but leaves you wanting more. Recommended!



The Good
  • Sheen's memorable role
  • Bikes, guts, and rock'n'roll
  • Desert-setting is beautiful
  • Dark, thoughful, yet uplifting plot


The Bad




  • Falls a bit short on length
  • Unused potential is huge
  • Bad image-quality (at least reviewed version)


6 Bullets out of 10

(memorable and fun even with unfilled potential)
Buy Beyond The Law as DVD disc from Amazon.com




REVIEW: Dredd 3D (2012, Pete Travis / K. Urban, O. Thirlby)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


  • Original Release: 2012
  • Director:  Pete Travis (Endgame etc.)
  • Starring: Karl Urban (Doom, Red, Priest etc.), Olivia Thirlby (Being Flynn)
  • Running Time: 95min
  • Rated: R
  • Reviewed format: Blu-Ray (3D)
  • Budget: $50,000,000
  • Gross: $13,401,683 (USA, 26 October 2012)
  • Buy DREDD 3D as Blu-Ray+DVD disc from Amazon.com

Prologue

Dredd 3D is based on Judge Dredd comics. As I'm not too familiar with original comics, I won't be drawing comparison on how well this movie succeeds to adapt their spirit, but rather rate and review this movie as a stand-alone film. The future America is one big wasteland and within is located one cradle of violence, "Mega-City", ranging from Boston to Washington DC. When criminals are bursting out and violence is reigning, it's time to call "judges" to take a hold of situation! Judges are the future police, law enforcement of the toughest kind.

I ended up watching this movie as my brother had bought it and suggested that we'd finally try a movie with my "3D-television", that would be designed and made for 3D. Those movies have been quite rarely made and released so far, of which some include Piranha 3D, Saw 3D, and Conan 3D. Saw's 3D adaptation was a big disappointment. Not so because of the 3D technology, but because the plot and movie stunk. Therefore I did not have high expectations for another movie made for 3D technology, especially since it was a recreation of an old classic, "Judge Dredd", starring none else than Sylvester Stallone. Not that the old one was actually one of Stallone's best movies, but at least it had it's share of good laughs and action.

This day we had few beers and some sauna, and after that it was time for the new "Dredd". So we threw the movie into Samsung's Blu-Ray -drive and turned 3D mode on. The 3D -glasses of LG's HD-TV were quite comfortable. And after all, I had used them a few times previously.  I wasn't in the mood for very complex movie anyway, and Dredd handled the job of quite brainless action-piece rather fine.

Plot

Dredd is a simple movie by it's plot. Nothing too fancy about it. In short. Judge Dredd ends up investigating case about a new drug called "Slo-Mo". Tracks lead to a 200-level slum tower called "Peach Trees", where suspected drug-lord Madeline Madrigal alias "Ma-Ma" produces the drug and leads his gang. Ma-Ma executes mercilessly rogue drug dealers skinning them pale and infusing the with Slo-Mo, then throwing them down from the top-floor to the bottom level of the tower.

A rookie law enforcement officer called Cassandra Anderson is ordered to help Dredd with the mission in Peach Trees, which forms sort of rookie-veteran controversy between Dredd and Anderson, as Anderson keeps freezing in tough situations and messes things up time to time. This works okay, but doesn't add anything too incredible to the movie's plot. We also learn that rookie Anderson possesses helpful skills after all, as she can read and enter into peoples mind to find about their thoughts. She's some sort of a psychic.

While investigating Peach Trees slum tower Dredd and Anderson find a guy named Kay, who is revealed by Anderson's mind-reading skills to be one of the men carrying out rogue drug dealers executions for Ma-Ma. Kay is arrested and when Judges try to get him out of the tower, Ma-Ma becomes aware of their plans and decides to seal every door and window of the tower by using the towers blast shields under the pretence of a security test to prevent Judges from getting out of "her slum". She then enforces every slum citizen, mostly thugs and scum, to chase down and kill the Judges.

And this is the time when Dredd 3D takes it's pace and never really slows down. Dredd and Anderson are out to get Ma-Ma through his several thugs and bodyguards since they have no way out really either. Later in the movie they will face corrupt Judges bribed by Ma-Ma, and their arrested hostage Kay breaks free disarming rookie Anderson, but when trying to shoot Anderson with her pistol, the gun is triggered with DNA scanner that does not recognise Kay as the owner of the weapon and blows his hand off. That's one of the more memorable events in the movie.

Review

Dredd's approach to action is perhaps bit more old-school and low-budget style and camera angles than in many other newer action movies. There isn't many of those highly detailed isometric CGI (computer generated imaginary) views in the movie, but rather many cheaper looking close-shots and close quarters fighting scenes. This works quite well for Dredd, which creates it's atmosphere by hectic fight scenes and quite brutal violence. Plot could had been expanded a little more tough, since the movie is now just a brainless action film taking place within one location only (Peach Trees tower) that repeats the samey looking themes and rooms as it's shooting place for the scenes. Nevertheless, it's action is quite enough entertaining for that one drunken Saturday evening with your friends.

If you're looking for a movie with intelligent plot that builds up the tension as the movies goes on, forget Dredd. Dredd's tension comes from it's action, not from the plot. I actually felt like plot was quite meaningless in the movie, and just an excuse for some action scenes. Character backgrounds and controversy between Dredd and Ma-Ma, or relationship between Anderson and Dredd could had been built up with more time and care. Now it feels a bit too much like characters are thrown into middle of action without really building up their backgrounds. But, action itself can hold it's own. I give Dredd that much.

3D technology was taken into consideration quite nicely, and several scenes of the movie were obviously made with the technology in mind. While in most scenes 3D visuals were easily recognisable, there were many of the scenes where they really stood out nicely. All the "slow-motion" sequences with 3D technology looked great, like breaking glass in slow-motion and such. Dredd mixed nicely bit more old-school style closeup shots rather than isometric, with fine usage of 3D visuals.

Acting in the movie was decent but nothing too memorable. Karl Urban, also known of Doom (the movie), plays Dredd, well, averagely. He does his job of filling up the actor's shoes for the main character but never really stands out. And since he's wearing the mask all the time, there's no much emotion to be seen of him at any point anyway. He's a bit like Stallone in Dredd, but just not as funny, though he comes close in toughness. Olivia Thirlby also does decent job as rookie Cassandra Anderson with psychic skills, and looks quite pretty too. Little complaint goes for Lena Headey as Ma-Ma. She isn't close as tough main anti-hero that this movie would had needed. She looks more like an "emo-girl" than a tough drug lord and remains totally unmemorable.

Summary

Overall, Dredd 3D is quite average action movie. Plot doesn't give much joy, but doesn't really stink either. It's just there so that we can have a bit of action. Action? Well action sequences are enjoyable and violent, driving force of this movie. 3D technology is used well and scenes that take most out of the technology are enjoyable to watch even in home theater with your own 3D television. Nothing too spectacular, but enjoyable addition to Dredd nevertheless. Actors remain bit faceless throughout the movie but do decent job, except forgettable Headey as Ma-Ma. As negative thing there's not enough emphasize on character backgrounds and relationships. The movie feels a bit like one very long action sequence (no plot diversity, but is it bad?). Also bit more rough/dark comedy would had been nice addition in my opinion. One more thing that I didn't discuss yet is that the movie is a bit short, only 95minutes, but then again what would you expect from a bit thin plot?

A modern era action-movie which nods slightly towards more old-school action films in terms of filming-style and adds some scenes designed for 3D era on top of that. Dredd is fun to watch once if you don't set your hopes too high, and bit of a brainless violent action in this futuristic slum-shooter is enough to satisfy your adrenaline needs for an evening. Don't expect too memorable one-liners and scenes though.

The Good

  • Brutal action and violence
  • Filming style fits well
  • 3D visuals are nice when used


The Bad

  • Too thin plot and it's build-up
  • Headey as Ma-Ma
  • A bit short
  • Bit repetitive scenes and locations (Peach Trees)


5 Bullets out of 10

("about average, enjoyable for what it is")
Buy DREDD 3D as Blu-Ray+DVD disc from Amazon.com