Sunday, 29 January 2012

Showdown (1993)

Ken Marks (Kenn Scott) arrives at his new school and quickly makes enemies of Tom (Ken Mcleod) who not only happens to be the toughest bully in school but a top underground fighting champion. One day Ken is saved from a beating by the school janitor Billy Grant (Billy Blanks) and he decides to train Ken so he can defend himself. As it turns out Tom's martial arts teacher is a man called Lee (Patrick Kilpatrick) who is out to take revenge on Billy for being the man responsible for his brother's death.

Right, this is going to be a tough one to review because having just finished watching this only ten minutes before I started writing this review, I'm actually struggling to remember everything that happened. Not because the plot was dense or that the story moved at a lightening pace but because Showdown is so bland and unoriginal, there's not a single original idea in the whole thing. As you can tell from the plot outline, it's Karate Kid all over again but what makes this one different to other Karate Kid clones like No Retreat, No Surrender, is that particular movie has a lot going for it.

Showdown does not. The film was released in 1993 among the huge glut of martial arts movies that followed the release of the Van Damme movie Kickboxer. Film makers all over Hollywood were looking for the next big action star and what followed was awful, derivative crap that was released quickly to video and took up valuable shelf space in video rental stores. There were a few exceptions here and there but you would have to wade through lots of terrible movies to find them.

As for as the cast goes. They're okay for the most part. Kenn Scott, who played Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II isn't a great actor by any stretch but he does okay in most of the fight scenes he's given. The most hilarious thing about him though is that they try and hide the fact that he has an athletic physic for most of the film to create the illusion he's a skinny loser so when later on when he's being trained by Billy, we're meant to buy the fact he did a few press ups to get some muscle. It's silly but very funny at the same time. Blanks gives his usual calibur of acting. Being one of the few black action stars of the 90's he gets the better fights in the film and he has talent but very few of the movies he made actually knew how to tap into it. 

Since Ken attends one of the most cliched high schools in movie history, he inevitably gets the goofy best friend played by John Asher. Surprisingly John gives what is probably one of the better performances as he doesn't go too over the top with it and shows that he can be funny, only he didn't get good material to work with so his talent is somewhat hampered by the clunky dialogue. One definite thing that surprised me was the actress who played Julie, Ken's love interest. Why was it surprising? because she is played by Christine Taylor. That's right, Ben Stiller's wife is in this god awful movie. Of course this was very early in her career and she does fulfill the role well enough but you get the feeling she's bored throughout the whole thing.

That leaves us to talk about the villains of the movie. Firstly, Tom played by Ken Mcleod. If high school movies taught us anything, it's that school bullies are complete psychopaths and Tom doesn't do anything to buck the trend. Whenever he sees Ken talk to Julie he goes into a complete psychotic rage and tries to beat the crap out of him, how someone like this is able to attend high school is very strange but then again, this is the world of movies so stupid things that defy logic always happen. He's a very angry character and is essentially there to earn the audience's scorn, which he does. So mission accomplished I guess.

Rounding off our comic book villains is Patrick Kilpatrick as the big bad Lee. Another familiar face who has appeared in a huge number of movies and TV shows. You thought Tom was a whack job? just wait till you see Lee in action. His personality makes Kreese from Karate Kid look like a boy scout leader. He delights in hurting his students and expects them to show no mercy to their opponents, even going so far as to endorse them fighting to the death. Why people would want this man to be their martial arts teacher is beyond me but you can see the actor playing him is having fun. 

Which leaves us to talk about the action. Now given the involvement of Blanks and it being primarily a US production, I knew what to expect. Flashy round house kicks and telegraphed punches. I was right. For the most part at least. Stunt legend Jeff Imada was behind the choreography and this is one of his weaker efforts. The man is capable of doing stellar work. Just look at the man's IMDb page and you'll see what I'm talking about. The one thing that always disliked about most of 90's American martial arts movies is that the stars never really get to show off their full move set. Scott, Blanks and Mcleod are all impressive practitioners but it seems that most of the director's they worked with refused to really let them cut loose during the fight scenes.

Which is odd when you consider that the film was directed by Robert Radler. The man who directed Best of the Best and Best of the Best 2. Two examples of some of the better action movies of that era. I get the feeling they were working to an incredibly tight schedule and as a result the quality of the action suffered. There's a nice sequence in which Billy fights two hit men sent by Lee. It starts out pretty bad with horrible camera work but it's when Billy goes against Hollywood stunt man James Lew that it actually becomes much better, there's a particularly painful moment when Billy throw a knee in Lew's face. That kind of down and out brutality would have been most welcome in the other action scenes.

This being a Karate Kid rip-off it wouldn't be complete without the obligatory training montages. These are actually my favourite moments from these movies. It's hilarious seeing our hero training hardcore, all the while listening to some cheesy late 80's rock ballad play over the top. It's a shame this is a convention that is mostly ignored by modern movies these days. Thing is though, the reason it isn't used is because it has become so cliched that the only time you're likely to see it is when it's being played for laughs in a show like South Park. Not that I'm condemning that sort of thing. Far from it. I just think it would be so good to see taken seriously again. Imagine a scene in The Bourne Identity in which we see Matt Damon throwing kicks to Paul Stanley's Live To Win. Not only does it create excitement but is just prime piss-take material.

After these scenes we're then treated to the finale. Ken gets tired of Tom's mentally unstable behavior and challenges him to a fight. Meeting in an underground fighting arena they decide to finally resolve their issues. Using their fists. This was where things picked up slightly. You can tell Imada and his crew had a little bit more time to work on the fighting. Both Scott and Mcleod get to show off a little bit more of their repertoire and while the end result isn't spectacular it's still satisfying to have these two finally get to stretch their legs considering they've been forced to hold back the entire time they've been fighting in the movie.

So the fight ends just as you'd expect but rather ending right away with the crowd raising Ken on their shoulders. Lee goes into a crazed rampage and tries to kill Tom for failing. Billy intervenes and we get trained martial artist vs trained actor. While Kilpatrick is most definitely a good bad guy, he's not very impressive as a screen fighter. Imada obviously tried to hide this by having him not do any kicks but instead concentrate in punching and throws. This is actually a good idea as it's a good contrast to Blanks' exaggerated kicking style. Kilpatrick goes in for close up back fists and hip-throws complimented with head stomps and gut kicks. Imada does know, like most choreographers are supposed to, how to play to the actor's strengths.

Like I mentioned earlier this where the fights get amped up a little. Toward the end Billy unleashes a series of palm strikes to Lee's abdomen followed by a swift kick. It was extremely impressive and is just disappointing that kind of choreography was not utilized for the rest of the flick. Blanks is an impressive screen fighter and he really deserved the chance to really go all out and show his audience what he can do. He got to do that in a couple other of his films but sadly, what could have been added to that extremely short list, Showdown falls into the other category of forgettable, unoriginal and bland.

I can not recommend you watch Showdown. Not unless you're a junkie of 90's martial arts movies or a serious Billy Blanks fan. You may wish to avoid this one as there are tons of other movies out there that are actually entertaining, if not on a purely leave your brain at the door kind of way. So, join me next time folks where I'll be posting the first entry in a new series I will be calling Jeturary!

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