identifying die hard-ish movies is kind of a crapshoot, especially when it comes to the lesser known d-t-v movies. instead of the class three-action-set-pieces structure, action movies then evolved into the action-scene-every-ten-minutes assembly. some time in the 90s, the climatic action sequence became longer and longer, usually takes place in one confined setting (abandoned warehouse, hospital, football game, an airplane…etc). the short synopsis on imdb or dvd back cover doesn’t help much either (perhaps intentionally worded to sound like a die hard scenario), neither does the often unreliable netflix summary. it also, of course, depends on your definition of die hard-ish, a phrase which i am pretty certain i coined.
to put it briefly, just because a movie shows up on our blog during die hard-ish month doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s die hard-ish, even though i tag it as such. presented by lions gate television and premiered on tbs (superstation), 2003’s counterstrike is only seemingly die hard-ish. so thanks, imdb and netflix plot summary writers.
the pre-title action sequence has the bad guys taking over a chinese submarine in the philippine sea. you’ll notice i didn’t call it the inconsequential opening action sequence (i.o.a.s.), another phrase that i think i coined, because it actually is related to the plot, and it’s not much of an action sequence.
this is usually followed by a few quick exposition scenes introducing team mcclane and team gruber. alas, we are treated to more inconsequential exposition sequences. the first is a flirt-racing bicycle scene that is funny because it reminds me of that motorcycle/horse riding scene in hot shots. this couple’s destination is a kid’s birthday party. there are so many characters introduced during this long party scene that it’s hard to tell what their relations are. it does establishes that there is a sibling rivalry between the two brothers, thomas and vince kellogg, played by rob estes (from tv’s original melorse place, tv’s 90210 reboot, and usa network’s silk stalking) and joe lando (no code of conduct, tv’s dr. quinn medicine woman). lando’s vince is the family man with the kid and estes’ thomas is the hotshot bicycler with rachel blakely (mr. nice guy, australian tv’s neighbours) as brittany the love interest. the two brothers work for different agencies of the u.s. government. they also manage to work brittany into the plot by having her as a security personnel.
though these scenes are way too long, they do establish the best thing about the movie. from that pre-title sequence we kind of figure that it has something to do with china. we learn in the party scene that the two brothers and brittany are leaving on a mission where the u.s. president is meeting the chinese president on the ocean liner queen elizabeth ii. most die hard-ish movies use clichéd groups like russians and middle easterners. this one has partygoers discussing u.s. policies with china and in relation to taiwan. it’s more realistic and less sensational. action heroes may not take sides in politics but rarely would they actually say “since when does being a secret agent means that you had to agree with the president’s policy?” maybe that explains why later in the movie he’s the only one who’s not doing the tai chi/martial arts.
another thing i like is that, made in 2002, the u.s. president is a woman. this usually raises a red flag for me, and i was kind of cringing but thankfully, unlike most disaster porn purveyors (see the jackal remake, the transformers movies, 2012), there are no cheap jokes that try to remind us of any specific female politicians. yes, there is a female president and she’s not like any female politicians we now have, you got a problem with that? president shaw is played by another australian, carmen duncan from tv’s farscape.
it gets harder and harder to find things to like as the movie goes on. it almost feels like they are delaying the premise on purpose. it takes about twenty minutes before they get on the ship and about 45 minutes (half of the movie) for the terrorists to take over the ship. there is a pretty unnecessary musclehead character thad burrows, a popular american action star with an accent (played by brad mcmurray from the condemned). it’s kind of funny on paper but his only function in the movie is to bring his girlfriend monica (played by marie matiko from the corruptor and the art of war) to be the taiwanese villain to prevent the u.s. and china to have a peace treaty. though they did manage to create a funny moment when a reporter mistakenly assumed that she’s from china instead of taiwan. it’s not mentioned in the movie but i’m going to go ahead and say that she works for fox news.
you might think that once the pieces are in place, it’s smooth sailing from there. but unfortunately, once the die hard-ish situation kicks in, the movie’s in autopilot, or cruise control in this case. none of the action scenes are memorable (though there is a pretty cool scene with one of the brothers parachuting onto the ship).
every character and situation introduced in the first half of the movie end up exactly how you imagined. there’s a radio in the opening party scene that you know is going to be put to use as described. characters are introduced in such a way that they might as well have the good guys/bad guys labels on their foreheads.
the u.s. president plays ping pong with the chinese president on the ship, which i guess makes sense cause the chinese president is definitely asian. i don’t know, maybe she can show the chinese president how to order supersized things, watch reality shows, or be internet famous. there is another scene with the movie star character teaching a martial arts class on the ship (taught by the movie star and his girlfriend). monica and brittany has a practice fight scene that you know is going to come back later, in a different context. what makes it memorable is the reactions of the men in this scene. i don’t know what they were told by the director but every one of them has the “hehe look, a catfight” grin on their faces.
there are also scenes with the vice president, played by christopher lawford (son of rat packer peter lawford) that are supposedly inside the pentagon/central command, a room that looks smaller than a community college lecture hall. the terrorists somehow only use bombs that have countdown timers, so when they push a button, the bombs explode 2-3 minutes later, instead of right away. good for the heroes, not too smart on the villains part.
it’s kind of strange that no one seems to break a sweat throughout the movie. suspense and tension are taken away by splitting the mcclane character into two brothers, who as different as they are, are nevertheless heroic. another annoying thing is that even though it’s a tv movie, counterstrike fades to black every ten minutes. it may have been okay if you watch it on cable with commercials but it’s just annoying watching it by itself. there’s nothing horribly wrong about the movie, nothing particularly memorable about it. it would work fine as a tv pilot, maybe something on cbs along the lines of nash bridges, walker texas ranger, martial law, jag, or ncis, in the 90s.
the pitch: die hard on queen elizabeth ii: the ship
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: the kellog brothers (rob estes and joe lando), and brittany (rachel blakely)
the gruber factor: marie matiko
the hans objective: the multicultural group is led by matiko as the taiwan separatist. hard to tell why the other terrorists would want to help her. it’s all for political reasons, there’s no hidden monetary motive.
wrong place at the wrong time: the brother who’s on the ship already left the party and is in a room when the terrorists take over. the other brother parachutes onto the ship.
the help: there are two submarines, one for the good guys and one for the bad guys. other than the brother, characters not on the ship are more like the typical disaster movie bureaucrats, looking concerned but don’t really help.
the family element: one brother going into the hostage situation to save the other, and also his love interest. there is a son but he’s pretty safe at home.
bonfire of the weaponry: punches, kicks, guns, the usual. submarine missiles. a surprisingly effective use of a fire extinguisher.
last man standing: the love interest is the only one who has a one on one fight, interestingly.
unbearables: um, not much. there’s a hostage situation eventually…and one of the brothers leaves the party to go into a room when the terrorists take over. the movie is based on a novel (and better title: attack on the queen) by richard p. henrick, who has a story credit on crimson tide, kind of a die hard on a submarine.
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