action stars

Conan the Barbarian

Sword and sandals, vixens, Vandals…however, Conan the Barbarian is more than just Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a broadsword to baddies…it’s a bundle of thrills, stuffed to the brim with as many ancient myths as humanly possible.

At its heart, it’s a son avenging the death of his father, which we can trace back to Homeric times (Orestes) and all the way up to The Princess Bride (Inigo Montoya) or The Godfather 2 (Vito Corleone).

And when pops is killed, mom shepherds Conan away to safety like the Arthurian legend of Lancelot (and that’s just one of the innumerable Knights of the Round Table nods).

The culprits? A vicious army of black-clad cavalrymen who look like they’ve got horseshoes on top of their heads, led by the one, the only, floor-shaking CNN voice, James Earl Jones (sporting a ludicrous Planet of the Apes mullet-extension wig). He plays Thulsa Doom, a wham-bam villain name if there ever was one, which could easily double as a death metal act or a motorcycle stunt driver.

The village’s sons/daughters are sold into slavery, and Conan is put to work as a mill grinder (which accounts for his ridiculously pumped up physique. Queue the latest late-night infomercial fitness fad: Grain Mill Pushing DVDs?).

Conan grows up to become a gladiatorial warrior, besting all the competition in pit fighting clashes to the death.

After he’s accidentally released, he connects with a couple of thieves (Subothai and Valeria), turning Conan the Barbarian into a buddy pic. Together, they help our heroic strongman solve the mystery of exactly who the black-clad villains were who killed Conan’s father.

This involves a sinister snake cult and its white-shawled acolytes (and Egyptian myths aplenty) and lots of ass-kicking by Conan.

Co-written by of all people, Oliver Stone, Conan the Barbarian wears its heart on its jerkin arms, celebrating its pulp origins.

*** 1/2 (out of 5)

[Be sure to check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast for a discussion of Conan the Barbarian]

Assassination Games

assassination-games-dvd-packshot_09,11The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.

Assassination Games begins with a quote from everyone’s favorite cranky syphilitic German, Friedrich Nietzsche — a line which sounds like it’d work well, badly dubbed in a Hong Kong kung fu caper.

But this film is a gangster flick starring Ubermensch Jean Claude Van Damme as Vincent Brazil, who’s a heartless murder-for-hire type and not a Chippendale dancer like his name would suggest.

Brazil lives a furtive existence in a hidden apartment, accessed by a lever in an abutting bathroom, complete with lovely art and violins (he’s an amateur violinist) and a pet turtle.  Somewhere in Romania (that Eastern Euro action hero tax shelter purgatory), he fashions an existence, identity mostly obscured by a ridiculous poor boy cap. His neighbor is a pimp who beats one of his women (a gorgeous brunette of course), who then takes shelter in Vincent Brazil’s palatial pad. (Now, we’ll let it slide at the moment that a guy whose life is perpetually in danger and whose pad contains what look like priceless museum artifacts, would take in a lady of the evening and give her free rein of the place).

Brazil is given an assignment (“double his normal fee” — Van Damme’s character is paid in diamonds) to take out a drug kingpin, only to find out that someone else wants the same people dead. And that guy is willing to do it for nothing, waiving the usual fee. Why? Because they did something nasty to his wife and she’s ridiculously hooked up to an IV and being tended to by this personal support worker, also with a background in ass-beating.

Now, Assassination Games could’ve had both Steven Seagal AND Vinnie Jones, that perfect second-rate action duo but instead we’ve got Scott Adkins (Expendables 2) as our man Flint, JCVD’s competition.

Assassination_Games_1Eventually, the hit-men decide it’s in their best interests to work together to take out a common enemy after some disagreement (“Excuse me, a partner with a vendetta? Just what I need.”)

Minus a half a star for that hackneyed staple of action films, the “you know what? the two of us aren’t that much different” but Assassination Games is a minor treat, with lots of intrigue, double-crossings and even some corrupt Interpol cops for good measure.

Van Damme uses poison-tipped arrows, pistols that look like they might’ve seen action robbing trains during the Great Depression, as well as AKs and high-tech laser guided weaponry.

And of course, Assassination Games comes with lots of ass-kicking.

*** (out of 5)