REVIEW: MAXIMUM FORCE

CAST

Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon)
Sherrie Rose (Unlawful Entry)
Jason Lively (Brainstorm)
John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Richard Lynch (Puppet Master 3)
Mickey Rooney (The Muppets)
Michael Delano (Oceans Eleven)

At first glance, “Maximum Force” is a standard action B-movie, but while it probably never aspired to be more than a direct-to-video adrenaline package, what we have here is actually a missed opportunity at a potentially great action outing. With a fantastic cast to its name and action filmmaker extraordinaire Joseph Merhi directing, this should have amounted to a higher rating than I’m giving it now. The film has its moments, but loses out due to misuse of its performers and a mediocre plot.

The story: In a last-ditch effort to apprehend an untouchable crime lord (Richard Lynch, Invasion U.S.A.), a secret strike force of dedicated cops (played by Sam Jones, Sherrie Rose, and Jason Lively) is assembled to take the fight directly to him. I like seeing Sherrie Rose in action roles and Jason Lively is fun enough to watch, but Sam Jones’ staid role stifles his usual charisma and likeability. Richard Lynch can play an evil character with the slightest of effort, but he hardly does anything here besides hold ominous meetings with other bad guys. Other members of the dramatic cast include John Saxon, Mickey Rooney, Sonny Landham, Ken Davitian, and Michael DeLano, and while they do well enough with the screentime they have, they are all relegated to fairly limited roles with little to no action. This is all the more disappointing when considering that this is one of PM Entertainment’s “serious” action films – one that tries to convey moments of genuine drama and some semblance of a social message. Why have all these cool actors if most of them are only in one or two scenes?

I had not expected this to be a martial arts movie, so imagine my surprise when the number of full-length karate fights neared a dozen. The extended martial cast includes Ken McLeod, Steven Ho, Dino Homsey, Dennis Keiffer, Zak Lee, Satch Williams, and Roger and Ron Yuan: a genuinely good hand for martial arts enthusiasts. The fights scenes end up being hit-and-miss, partially due to the fact that not all of the abovementioned performers get to fight. Sam Jones and Sherrie Rose look surprising adept at martial arts and both get at least one decent match; Jones’ showdown with Jeff Langton (Final Impact) probably constitutes the best brawl of the film. Nevertheless, a bit more flair in general would have helped make more of the matches memorable. The non-kickboxing action portions are even blander and consist mainly of explosions.The storyline tries to make its points about police corruption stick and make some of its deaths meaningful, but the film simply lacks both the finesse and the legitimacy for that.

REVIEW: CONAN THE ADVENTURER (1997)

MAIN CAST

Ralf Moeller (The Scorpion King)
Danny Woodburn (Watchmen)
Robert McRay (Legend of The Phantom)
Jeremy Kemp (A Bridge To Far)
T.J. Storm (VR Troopers)
Andrew Craig (The Toxic Avenger)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Ally Dunne (V.I.P.)
Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster)
Edward Albert (Power Rangers Time Force)
Arthur Burghardt (Transformers)
Mickey Rooney (Nationel Velvet)
Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2)
Brad Greenquist (Alias)
Andrew Bryniarski (Batman Returns)
Paul Le Mat (Puppet Master)
Matthias Hues (Star Trek VI)
Ali Landry (Eve)
Brooke Burns (Baywatch)
Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk)
Eric Steinberg (Stargate SG.1)
Anthony De Longis (Masters of The Universe)
Angelica Bridges (Mystery Men)
Scott MacDonald (Jack Frost)
Claudette Mink (Children of The Corn 7)
Justina Vail (Seven Days)

xb3aghiq2wii23iaSyndicated television is often called the last bastion of poor writers in this modern age, much like the pulp fiction writers of years gone by were back in their day. This is not to say that syndicated television is always bad, just that the odds greatly favor such a global statement. The first example that comes to mind would be Black Scorpion but I’m sure you’re familiar with other shows like Sinbad, Robin Hood, and Lost World (an admittedly guilty pleasure). The 1990’s were the best years for fantasy shows in syndication due in large part to the success of Hercules and Xena; both of which proved profitable beyond the imagination of their creators. Is it any wonder that other producers sought to cash in as well? Such was the case with a single season show by the name of Conan The Adventurer, based on the writings of famed 1930’s pulp fiction writer, Robert E. Howard, a young man from the desolate plains of Texas.

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Mr. Howard created the mythic hero Conan as a character that could help free him from the shackles of poverty.His character of Conan evolved from another, King Kull, set in the same age of Atlantis era of 10,000 years ago, in epoch known as the Hyborian Age. Conan was a thief, a liar, and a barbarian in every sense of the word. His code of conduct was generally considered less than chivalrous with a “me first” attitude befitting the wild imagination of his writer, a man caught in the trappings of his time. Howard’s own description of the character was: “Some mechanism in my subconsciousness took the dominant characteristics of various prizefighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen I had come in contact with, and combining them all, produced the amalgamation I call Conan the Cimmerian.” The world-view of such a man can only be placed in the proper context by understanding the effects of where he lived and the conditions the entire country were in, making more understandable the type of anti-hero that later was popularized in the Marvel comic books and art of Frank Frazetta. I think the rise of the anti-hero in the 1960’s attributed much to reviving such characters as Conan, a being thought up in 1931 by Howard, who only wrote 22 short stories in his later years (before he killed himself). With this in mind, let me turn to the television series this review is about:

Keeping in mind that the original character was a thief, cutthroat, mercenary that did anything asked of him for a price and ignored all social conventions that didn’t suit him (similar to the original Hercules being a power mad rapist drunkard), the show started off on the wrong foot with me by suggesting his “destiny was to free the oppressed” in the opening monologue since there’s nothing further from the truth in the original stories or in the previous movies starring famed bodybuilder-turned-Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Given that a kinder and gentler version of the character would probably be the only way to get the series made, I started off watching the episodes a bit disgruntled but content that a watered down Conan might be better than no Conan at all, I figured how bad could it be considering all the other shows I enjoyed (even as guilty pleasures).
Conan (1997)
The show focused on Conan’s quest to find, and kill, a wizard, Hissah Zul (that was responsible for the death of his sweetheart and the guy responsible for all the ills in the world. Each week would find Conan and a mish mash of odd companions  fighting the minions of evil and cheap CGI effects as they continued on a path to dethrone the wizard. I watched the generic exploits of the cast as they went through the motions and about midway through the series; I actually started enjoying it way too much.
Conan (1997)
So, after watching the episodes as presented in the set (which were out of order from the air dates) and then as they were originally shown, I found the plot to make at least a little more sense in the DVD order they were aired in syndication. Keeping in mind that most, if not all, of the episodes borrowed heavily from the Marvel Comics versions as opposed to the pulp works of Howard. The show tried to be in line with a modern sensibility imposed on the age old character, an uneasy fit at times. While the humor was often as dry as Dilbert in its own way, I think this was what was lacking compared to the movies. Regardless, it was nice to see a show long lost into the archives of some vault given new life for fans of the genre, if not the actual character himself, and I doubt Robert E. Howard would’ve lost any sleep over the way his characters were evolved.