Sometimes it’s hard being an Albert Pyun fan
Albert Pyun is best known for his 1980s output, and has earned an eternal fan in me for those films. Such films as The Sword & The Sorcerer, Cyborg, and even the early 90s Nemesis (not to mention his infamous Captain America film) will always endear him to me. The fact that he’s currently still working even amidst a fairly devastating health diagnosis, and being very open and candid with his fans is also quite brave and meaningful to me on a human level. So yeah, I’m a fan of Albert Pyun, and I always will be.
That said… it can be tough to be an Albert Pyun fan. As technology has changed throughout his career, and budgets have lessened, the films have largely struggled to match the quality of his earlier output. I have virtually no interest in seeing his most recent stuff because what “low budget” looks like today is more green screen work than I can stomach. Whereas “low budget” in the 1980s still involved shooting on film with actual sets or locations, which made a lot of difference.
I’m still thrilled that a group like the fine folks at MVD have chosen to release more of Albert Pyun’s work on Blu-ray, however, and jumped at the chance to review a couple of titles of his that I frankly had never even heard of. As you’ll see, I didn’t count myself a big fan of either film. But God help me… if MVD keeps releasing Pyun films, I think I have to keep reviewing them. There’s a spark in him that I can’t ignore.
I am sad to report that I found virtually nothing of interest in 1997’s Die Hard clone Blast. Well, that’s not entirely true. I found precisely 2.5 things of interest, and I’ll focus on those positives. Blast stars Linden Ashby (who had played Johnny Cage in the Mortal Kombat movie just a couple of years prior) as an injured former martial arts Olympian who is now working a security detail in the swim complex in Atlanta where “the games” are being held this year. Of course, some bad guys are going to show up, take the building under their control, make terroristic threats, and only Ashby’s Jack Bryant will be able to stop them.
Pyun has always been a master at cranking films out on a budget, and I won’t deny him that. But the low budget is painfully obvious here. It’s as though the production secured the use of precisely one location, a drab and colorless swimming pool complex, and did their best to shoot an entire action movie within its walls.
The biggest positive and only true spark of life to Blast is the presence of Rutger Hauer. It’s extremely clear that Hauer only had a day or maybe two days on the set of the film as he’s shot mostly alone by a radio communicating his wisdom as some kind of expert on these terrorists. He gets to be the mentor to Bryant. I fully assumed he would stay behind the radio for the whole film, but when his character, Leo, finally gets in on the action… it is not disappointing and serves as the lone true highlight in an otherwise dull film. That isn’t to say that the action beat Hauer gets is “good” per se, or well executed… but it is certainly memorable. Hauer plays Leo as some kind of Willie Nelson looking guy with long braids and, apparently, an explosive wheelchair?! I’ll leave it at that.
The other element of interest in Blast is that it very specifically takes place in Atlanta, and the opening text crawl talks a little bit about the rising threat of terrorism and seeks to tap into the tragedy of the bomb explosion that occurred at the real Atlanta games (and perhaps the even earlier hostage situation at the games in Munich in 1972) to put forth somewhat of an “alternate reality”. The opening crawl indicates that this movie isn’t intended as a mere Die Hard rip off, but an actual approximation, based on “research”, of what an actual hostage situation might have looked like in Atlanta’s “games”. I find this approach fascinating, if somewhat disingenuous. There’s a degree to which the real Olympic tragedies that have occurred are slighted by this lightweight movie pretending to be something more serious than it actually is. But at least it was an angle.
The thing I find at least “.5” interesting is how clearly Pyun and his team did not clear the rights to reference or use the word “Olympics” in any way. There’s no visual queues featuring the famed interlocking circles, and characters strictly refer to “the games”. It’s occasionally humorous listening for the various ways the script has to contort to avoid using the “O” word, and would almost make for a great drinking game if the rest of the film offered anything to recommend.
Alas, Blast is anything but. It lifts its entire rhythm whole cloth from Die Hard. There’s even an “Ellis” character who slimily tries to negotiate with the terrorists and gets himself blown away. And with Hauer playing the film’s Al Powell, and even an ex-wife character standing in for Holly Genero, Blast not only pales in comparison to Die Hard, but stands as one of the most lifeless rip offs of that formula I’ve ever watched.
Crazy Six (1997)
Right off the bat, Crazy Six displays more of Albert Pyun’s heart and style than anything found in Blast. With a music video flair, Crazy Six immediately throws viewers into a stylized Eastern Europe in another vaguely alternate future where drugs have run rampant and devastated Europe after the fall of communism. There’s original music, a frankly unbelievably stacked cast, and the whole thing drips with atmosphere. I don’t know which film was shot first, but it’s almost impossible to believe that these were shot by the same guy in the same year with how much more care seems to have been given to Crazy Six.
That’s not to say that Crazy Six is good. It’s not quite that. But it’s filled top to bottom with curiosities and clearly has a heart.
Let’s talk about the cast. Rob Lowe plays the titular lead, a burnt out junkie who is wanted by rival drug kingpins and the cops. Those warring kingpins are played by Mario Van Peebles (as Dirty Mao, always holding and stroking a tiny dog and always talking about said dog) and Ice T (as Raul, who doesn’t have a tiny dog, but who still shows up and performs here). With just those three leads, you’d already have a more memorable picture than Blast. But then you throw in the man, the myth, the legend: Burt Reynolds as Dakota, a mythological American lawman complete with a cowboy hat and a duster jacket, just traipsing around Eastern Europe for no discernable reason. What on earth?! This cast is crazy stacked with performers that are instantly fun to watch and clearly were enjoying themselves here.
As the film plays out, Crazy Six falls in love with a beautiful musician (Ivana Milicevic as Anna) who herself is sober and rebuilding a relationship with her daughter in her sobriety. But Crazy Six is also dealing with the fallout of having robbed one of the drug lords to appease the other one, trying to kick his habit, and trying to steer clear of Dakota (who has a fatherly eye out for Anna). Lots of musical montages and shoot outs and drug binges occur. Six doesn’t seem to have a whole lot going for him, so I’m not quite sure what Anna sees in him. But they fall in love, and that’s the central thrust of this story.
As I mentioned, Crazy Six has heart. All of these performers are all in, even if the script and plotting are a bit of a slog. The film clearly has a “style over substance” issue and often feels like an overlong music video. But at least the original songs are catchy and emotional. Crazy Six wears its heart on its sleeve and ultimately wants to be a redemptive tale about the power of love and human connection to overcome addiction. It’s the kind of film where love triumphs over all, no matter how devastated the world around you is. I can’t be mad at a movie like that right now.
So, in the end, Crazy Six gets a mild recommendation for fans of any of those lead performers. And it even earns a recommend for folks who really love Albert Pyun the way I do. I’m ultimately glad I watched it and happy to see a personal film such as this one, with a somewhat unbelievable late-career Burt Reynolds turn, no less.
Blast, however, I can’t recommend to anyone. Just watch any of the dozens of other Die Hard clones and you’ll find something there that’s just missing here.
Though I ultimately come down not loving either of these films, I still applaud MVD Marquee for taking aim at this area of the film history catalogue and bringing this type of picture into the HD era. I can’t wait to see what titles they continue to select for this kind of loving care.
And I’m Out.