once again misled by the netflix synopsis, best of the best 4: without warning is not quite die hard-ish, at least not in the sense that people are trapped somewhere. i was actually expecting more of a die hard-ish with a vengeance-esque citywide situation. as in most cases, the netflix summary only describes the opening scenes. yet if we’re grading on a curve, best of the best iv ultimately feels more die hard-ish than most die hard-ish candidates i’ve seen this month.
it also helps that the movie itself is surprisingly good considering it’s the third sequel in the d-t-v series. i also haven’t seen any of the previous best of the best episodes, so my expectation was set somewhere between low and no. based on what i read, part 1 and 2 are punchfighting movies like the original karate kids or 80s jcvd movies, which is not my favorite subgenre. part 3 i think has the hero fighting white supremacists/neo-nazis, which doesn’t differentiate itself from most 90s d-t-v action movies. as with episode iii, b.o.t.b.4 is directed by the star of the series, korean-american martial artist phillip rhee. while that may usually be a warning sign, especially in this arena, without warning is actually better than most directed-by-star d-t-v action movies and escape the vanity project trappings. it’s more laudable than say, on deadly ground, or the quest.
right off the bat it warms the heart of every 80s action fan (after getting over the shock of seeing the miramax logo): the v formation of a gang of motorcyclists, all wearing the same wardrobes, slowly rising up the horizon towards the screen. they are all wearing hamlets so you can’t see their faces, but you’re pretty sure they’re the bad guys. also, easier to film since they can use anyone for the scene. meanwhile, the score to this scene is a bit of hans zimmer mixed with the lethal weapon-ish bluesy/jazzy guitar rock.
next comes the opening action sequence, which turns out more inconsequential that i had hoped. it’s more of a die hard 3-ish i.o.a.s. than die hard-ish. this is not so much a hostage situation but rather the villain’s unnecessarily complicated plan to steal the paper our money’s printed on. this is also later lifted in swordfish.
the hans gruber (though he’s the older brother, his evil masterplan is more gruber jr.) is played by tobin bell (saw 1 – 24), who is surprisingly understated. he doesn’t go the usual route of character-actor-hamming-it-up-in-action-movie-villain mode. like the gruber brothers, he’s more of the sophisticated gentleman than cyrus the virus. i also like the fact that the movie doesn’t explain why he speaks american but his brother has an accent, i thought it’s german but turns out it’s my die hard-ish wishful thinking cause apparently they are supposed to be russian.
an interesting footnote (that appears in the middle of this post) is that one of his henchmen is played by sven-ole thorsen, who worked with every big name in action movies, from joel silver to arnold to john mctiernan to jcvd to steven seagal. most notable though, he’s the head security guy in kevin smith’s mallrats.
things get more complicated as more supporting characters are involved before the hero is introduced. that is usually a warning sign, and a pretty common element in d-t-v movies but it works with the narrative here. it takes its time to tell the story that leads to the hero instead of doing the here’s-the-villains/here’s-the-hero dead zone exposition.
the one thing i have a problem with is the villain’s evil scheme. he seems to go through a lot of trouble (bombing the traffic center in the opening sequence) and killing a lot of people to create the i.o.a.s. traffic jam to steal one truck that is filled with blank u.s. currency paper. it sounds as good an action movie motive as any, but eventually, we are shown that he must have a team of at least ten people working for him, from henchmen to techies. he also seems to rent a warehouse for no particular reason. even later in the movie we see that he and his brother live in a mansion, with flashy cars and the whole henchmen team. but at the end, all he seems to want is the paper so he can, i think, print his own money any time he wants, without any of his techies. it seems to me that he may be set for life if he had just let go of all the henchmen, his crack tech support, his mansion, and his cars. i guess the paper would be pretty valuable but there is no mention of any interested buyers. and i don’t think it can be blamed on bad economy, since this is the late 90s, right before our country started going down the drain.
phillip rhee, who stars, co-wrote and directed this deserves more credits than he received. in addition to the die hards, he also pays tribute to bruce lee, jet li, and jackie chan. at one point he kicks out a light a la lee in the way of the dragon, when he could have simply hit the switch, but if vin diesel can break a car window instead of opening a car door, i don’t see what the problem is. in another scene he tries to escape the villain’s mansion and he ends up in a room of eight or nine pole fighters, a sequence reminiscing chan’s drunken master ii. he is a widower with a daughter who’s birthday is coming up, which reminds me of some of the middle era jet li movies with a kid. he’s just about as good an actor as jet li, though not as fast and furious when it comes to the action scenes.
there’s even a perhaps unintentional seagal-ish action scene where he’s shopping in the corner store and the bad guys come in. less successful is the macguffin disc (hidden inside a cassette tape!) that he didn’t know he had a la enemy of the state. it’s hard to tell why he wouldn’t simply give it up considering his daughter is at risk. but this is more of a nitpick since i don’t think any of the A or B or even C list action headliners can write and direct and star in a movie that not only lacks an epic intro sequence but also be in every single scene of a movie or inject any kind of political or social issues. too bad rhee hasn’t made any movie since this one.
though predictable with its bond-ian reversals amongst good cop/bad cop (you know something’s up when ernie hudson shows up as a bigger asshole than he usually is) and femme fatales, and none of the action scenes are outright spectacular, it’s nevertheless a competent action movie that manages to tell a story. that alone makes it superior to most d-t-v movies. it’s a reminder that not too long ago, d-t-v movies don’t have to look cheap and crude, like a…well…d-t-v movie. it may not have accomplished my netflix-imposed die hard-ish goal, or die hard-ish with a vengeance-esque expectation, it’s overall a fairly fun ride. at least it ends at an airport, which fits the die harder-ish theme.
best of the best: without warning
the pitch: die hard 3-ish, at best
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: phillip rhee, who also directed best of the best 3. his character is unfortunately named tommy lee.
the gruber factor: jigsaw himself, tobin bell,
the hans objective: to print his own money. he doesn’t pretend that there is a political reason a la die hard 1 or 2, or personal reason as in die hard 3.
wrong place at the wrong time: no one’s really trapped anywhere, though his daughter eventually becomes a hostage. he is at the wrong convenience store at the wrong time but that’s more seagal-ish than mcclane-ish.
the help: there are two cops and two femme fatales. ernie hudson is a black cop but he didn’t really help much. he is in the die hard-ish movies hijack aka the last siege, nowhere to land, and 2007’s tv movie final approach starring anthony michael hall and dean cain, also, no escape, which is a potential die hard-ish movie with ray liotta.
the family element: rhee’s daugher is eventually kidnapped. the villain works with his brother, both are supposed to be european but only one has an accent. they are russian instead of german, unlike the grubers.
bonfire of the weaponry: martial arts, guns, bombs, poles, refrigerator door.
last man standing: a pretty outlandish gun battle at an airport. nothing in the way of an one-on-one though.
unbearables: big explostion opening scene a la die hard 3. climatic sequence at the runway of an airport a la die hard 2. paul gleason from die hard 1 (al’s superior) has a small role as a priest. the bad guys are eurpoean, and their master-evil-plan is all about money. tunnel/motorcycle/helicopter action sequence a la die hard 4. i’m sure there are plenty other not mentioned die hard-ish movies amongst the cast and crew.
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