SHOWDOWN IN MANILA: Plenty Of Manila, Not Enough Showdown

Fun Cast Of Action Legends, Though…

I appreciate what bodybuilder-turned-action star Alexander Nevsky is doing. I really do. Between Black Rose and Showdown In Manila, it’s clear that he’s got similar cinematic tastes to my own. (And, you know, basically the same physique as well). He’s putting his time, energy, and efforts into projects that are love letters to 1980s and 90s action cinema. And it’s no small effort. Directing Black Rose, and co-writing and exec producing Manila, Nevsky is doing double or triple duty in front of and behind the camera. It’s just too bad that neither project really lands.

Showdown In Manila offers something that was simply too tantalizing for me to pass up: A rogues gallery of action movie legends that never made the cut in any of the Expendables films. And, for one segment of Showdown In Manila, it really is a poor man’s Expendables film with a team up of beloved action stars gathering to kick some ass. Then there’s the fact that action wunderkind Mark Dacascos makes his directorial debut with Showdown In Manila (along with a brief role in which he’s given the very best action scene of the whole film). Throw in Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Matthias Hues, Tia Carrere, and Casper Van Dien as Nevsky’s sidekick, and Showdown In Manila became like cinematic catnip I could not resist.

But it’s all in the execution, isn’t it? That Expendables-lite sequence? It’s like the whole script was written with a siege set piece designed to feature whatever action stars the production could round up for a day or two. Cynthia Rothrock, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, and Olivier Gruner show up to join Nevsky and Van Dien on a massively generic jungle raid and then literally swift boat off into the sunset. It’s certainly wonderful to see these stars show up and be treated with reverence, but the best way to honor them would have been to design a real killer set piece that gave each of them a chance to highlight their skills. Instead they all roll around behind some crates and fire automatic weapons off screen a bunch of times at faceless jungle villains until they win, bro-hug old pal Nevsky, and vanish.

Dacascos’ character is a bit of an “inciting incident”. He’s attacked by Tagawa and Hues’ gang, setting his wife (Carrere) on a quest for vengeance in which she hires down on their luck private eyes Nevsky and Van Dien to find them. Dacascos displays more grace, fluidity, and presence in his brief on screen role than anyone else in the cast by a mile. Then he disappears behind the camera where, despite his literal decades of action filmmaking experience, he struggles to assemble anything truly compelling. It’s the kind of action film where explosions happen, guns are fired, punches and kicks are landed, but any sense of urgency or excitement never rears its head.

Nevsky and Van Dien are a kind of delightfully un-PC pairing of jokers, and the naked influence of 80s buddy cop movies is appreciated. Van Dien actually comes off as willingly self deprecating in a surprising way. But in both Black Rose and here, Nevsky just does not have the acting chops or screen presence needed to anchor an action film. He’s big, but that’s about it. There’s a persistent smirk on his face that an acting coach needs to intervene on immediately, and aside from his passion for the material and clear willingness to put his money where his mouth is, he doesn’t display much in the way of the charisma or badassery needed to become an action star.

That smirk, tho…

What’s nice about Showdown In Manila is that everyone seems to be having fun, and talented action heroes who never quite gained mainstream respect are treated with reverence. You get the sense that Nevsky is very much behind that ethos. Perhaps Dacascos was given the chance to direct for the very same reason. And when you assess the film from that perspective, you’re kind of happy it exists. It also makes it hard to acknowledge that the film really isn’t very good and offers little of value beyond the gathering of the heroes.

And I’m Out.

Showdown In Manila released Digitally and On Demand on January 23rd here in the US, so it’s available now!

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