Lethal Force (2001) — An underdog indie action parody

“Would you like a cookie?”

Justin’s rating: Better dentistry through home appliances

Justin’s review: For the record, Lethal Force is the third indie screener that we’ve received at Mutant Reviewers, and by far and away the best. While it’s always very cool to get free movies sent to you by mail, as if you’re some sort of important big-shot film critic, it also means you’re typically in for a world of pain. Indie films do not have an excellent track record for being, say, watchable. They are movies made by first time film students who think they can do everything better, yet just end up making a slag of celluloid. Horror and real-life vignettes are the two biggest genres in indie fare. People that do the former rarely have the know-how and SFX budgets to make it any good, and people that do the latter are just trying to make me commit suicide. This is all to say that I really wasn’t looking forward to Lethal Force, a movie with a title that sounds like Steven Segal’s latest endeavor.

Two things (bad) typical to indie productions stand out from the start of Lethal Force. Well, three things (bad). The first is the obvious use of local spots and mothers’ houses for shooting locations. It’s hard to take a bad guy seriously when he’s in someone’s dolled-up living room. The second is that the sound typically sounds echo-y. The third is uneven editing. It’s a great testament to Lethal Force’s watchability that all three of these factors can be overlooked for the pure enjoyment within.

Lethal Force is both a satire and a take-off of many Hollywood action staples: the buddy picture, the John Woo film, the Shaftesque blaxsploitation movie, the NinjaFest. Our antihero Savitch (who sounds for all the world like Clint Eastwood smoking many packs of something) is a no-nonsense assassin with a lot of enemies. Actually, everyone else in the film, more or less, is his enemy. His former partner Jack has had a bad day. His wife and kid were kidnapped, then his wife executed before Jack’s eyes. To his credit, Jack hardly even winces when the bullet rings out. He’s got a mildly frustrated look on his face that says, “This is the last time I order extra pepperoni on my pizza, cause my gut is killing me.”

Jack is forced to lure Savitch into a trap, and then there is much fighting. The end. Of the movie, not the review.

Why Lethal Force was worth my time (I plan to watch it again soon) and perhaps yours, is that for an indie film the action is pretty darn good, and for ANY film, the humor is gangbusters of laughs. Cash Flagg Jr. (Savitch) does his own fighting and stunts, and while there is some awkward editing in the fight scenes (you know, where someone standing fifteen feet away is suddenly in the good guy’s face), I was pretty impressed. Gotta love the loud slaps and grunts that are heritage from all kung-fu flicks, too. There were even a couple scenes that managed to pull of some impressive stunts, such as when Savitch drops a clip from his hand, kicks it back into his gun, and drops three bad guys in as many seconds. The gore — and there is a gutful of it — is blatantly fake, but works as well.

Remember how I said that there was a problem with the sound? Well, it’s only noticeable when the music soundtrack lulls, and to the film’s credit, that’s hardly ever. This film has an incredible soundtrack that keeps the action going, ranging from hokey songs to ’70s-style scores. The soundtrack alone saved the movie from being subpar; let this be a lesson to others.

While undeniably cheesy, the farce factor of Lethal Force is intentional, at least for the most part. This really wouldn’t have worked if played seriously. But once you realize that Jack is playing ridiculously straight-faced because it comments on the typical male stoicism of action films, it gets better. There are some awesome lines that will be soon inducted into my speech patterns (although the dialogue is only funny in sparse spots). The action is much more hilarious, such as when a strip club girl keeps losing her clothes during a fight sequence (in which both people end up fighting while doing the splits, no less) or the running gag that Savitch is pretty much invincible: immune to car crashes, seven story falls, and numerous drill bits to the skull.

The all-time best moment, however, is when Savitch enters a church and stares up at the crucifix in a decidedly John Woo homage. Then both he and the crucifix start talking in subtitles, and I just lost it.

While it suffers from the crutches of being an obvious indie production, it’s amazing what humor, stunts and outright parodies the filmmakers of Lethal Force were able to produce. My main regret is that it will probably never see festival circuits — let’s only hope and pray that some distributor will pick up LF for video retail.

Didja notice?

  • Is this the cult of Michael Myers with those masks?
  • The nod to the final battle of Big Trouble in Little China
  • Jerking the gun wildly will actually make it shoot straighter

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