Tom Jolliffe on the must-see straight-to-video action films of 2014…
If you’re a little fed up of the never ending stream of remakes, kid friendly PG13 (12A or 15 here) CGI heavy theatrics and Marvel/DC action films that fill up the multiplexes, or you’re no stranger to the unrepentant, simple delights of a bit of straight to video (or Netflix) action, then here is a list of the best to look out for this year.
As big screen action caters more and more for younger audiences, straight to video still largely offers a bit more adult entertainment. What it might lack in big budget thrills it makes up for with F-bombs and gallons of blood (if that’s your thing). As for myself, alongside a steady upbringing of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone and Bruce Willis in the late 80’s and 90’s, I’ve also had more than my share of video premiere heroism with guys like Dolph Lundgren, later joined by Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal when the big screen was no longer as welcoming to them.
There’s something to be said for the home premiere. There’s also a place in my heart for the guys who made a name for themselves throughout the 80’s and 90’s as video stars. Let them not be scoffed at. I’m talking about guys like (dear 90% of our readers…prepare to scratch your heads quizzically) Olivier Gruner, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Michael Dudikoff and Gary Daniels. Some are still operating and will appear on the following (awesome) list.
Jean Claude Van Damme:
The Muscles from Brussels actually has potentially three home premieres coming out this year, maybe even four. As such he warrants his very own section of the list.
First up will be Enemies Closer. This sees JCVD reteam with his Timecop and Sudden Death director, Peter Hyams, this time playing the bad guy opposite Tom Everett Scott and Orlando Jones. The film has already been released stateside and in some other territories, so expect a UK release shortly. After Jean Claude’s performance in The Expendables 2, this one will be well worth watching to see him back on bad guy duties, as well as completing his Peter Hyams trilogy.
He also has his first foray into comedy, Welcome To The Jungle. JC plays a survival expert who leads a group of office workers out on a team building exercise on a desert island. Expect sometime in the spring.
Van Damme can also be seen later this year in Swelter, an ensemble piece that’s been likened to Reservoir Dogs and History of Violence. Van Damme will be a supporting player in this, but it could well be another change of pace for him. Following that he’ll be shooting Pound Of Flesh, which sounds like an un-ironic version of Crank, but sees Van Damme re-team with director Ernie Barbarash, responsible for two serviceable Jean Claude specials, Assassination Games and Six Bullets.
We also may finally see Van Damme’s long awaited sophomore directorial effort, Soldiers (previously titled The Eagle Path, and before that, Full Love). It first lensed about 5-6 years ago, and premiered in Cannes a year after to awful reviews. Since then Van Damme has re-shot, re-edited, tweaked and twanged regularly but as yet hasn’t released the thing. So holding ones breath for this one, maybe not advised.
Much like his Universal Soldier co-star, Dolph has been busy. He’ll be flirting with the big screen once more too of course, with The Expendables 3. As for home premieres, he has potentially three (possibly four) out this year. First is the more family orientated, action adventure film, Legendary: Tomb Of The Dragon. This co-stars fellow action man, Scott Adkins (Undisputed 2 and 3). As yet no date has been set but this has already had releases in Europe and Asia. A spring release should be on the cards in Blighty.
Next up for the big Swede sees the release of Puncture Wounds, taking on bad guy duties (including a rather fetching long blonde wig and handlebar moustache) opposite MMA fighter turned action man Cung Le (Dragon Eyes). Vinnie Jones co-stars, probably as himself as per normal.
Most excitingly of all is Skin Trade. Dolph teams up with Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Ron Perlman, Peter Weller, Celina Jade and Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, in a film which sees Lundgren heading to Bangkok to take down a gang of Russian sex-traffickers responsible for killing his family, who are operating in Thailand. He teams up with local cop, Tony Jaa to take down the bad guys. This could hit tail end of the year, or early next. The film is helmed by art-house Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham (Beautiful Boxer) and judging by the almost daily set pics posted on Tony Jaa’s Facebook page, is shaping up rather nicely. In addition Jaa and Lundgren also have action/comedy A Man Will Rise shot, but post production and distribution problems may see this one left on the shelf for a while yet.
From trade to traffik. While this one doesn’t boast an arthouse director, or quite as impressive a cast, it does promise an entertaining action film. The cast here is headed by British action star and straight to video legend, Gary Daniels. Having become a leading man throughout the 90’s, he became somewhat relegated to supporting roles in the mid-noughties, however in the last couple of years he’s found a few more leading roles come his way, and this is potentially his biggest film in years. Daniels heads a cast which sees Michael Madsen, Mickey Rourke and Darryl Hannah all popping up to phone in performances. Regardless, judging by the trailer this looks better than your standard straight to Netflix special. No release dates yet, but this should come summer or winter this year.
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear:
One of the best directors currently circulating in the vid premiere realm is Isaac Florentine. He’s the man behind Undisputed 2 and 3, and the previous Ninja film. The man certainly has a gift for filming fight scenes.
Ninja: Shadow of a Tear sees him teaming with Brit action man Scott Adkins once again. The first Ninja film was something of a let-down, following the surprisingly good Undisputed 2, however the second film does not disappoint at all. Chock full of fantastic fights, the action in this is first class, fully utilizing the physical prowess of Adkins and the visual flair of Florentine.
Scorpion King: The Lost Throne:
This might seem like an odd choice; the fourth film in a series that’s a spinoff of a poor man’s Indiana Jones ripoff. However the cast alone makes this potentially essential viewing for B-movie aficionados. Lining up in this film are Michael Biehn, Lou Ferrigno, Rutger Hauer and Don “The Dragon” Wilson. That’s an eclectic mix right there, but an enticing one. Or maybe just to me!
More a thriller but this film, which was released late Jan, is essential viewing for fans of the late Paul Walker. This provides Walker with a platform to flex his dramatic chops in a change from his Fast and Furious theatrics. Walker plays a father struggling to keep his daughter alive in the wake of a Tsunami.
In addition, Walker has a reteam with Running Scared (very underrated film) director, Wayne Kramer called Pawn Shop Chronicles (also known as Hustlers) coming out at some point this year, likely straight to video here.
As yet this Nicolas Cage actioner hasn’t been confirmed as direct to DVD, but given his recent box-office record with similar films like Stolen (which was all but direct to DVD given how few people saw it on the big screen) it would seem highly likely that Cage will find himself become a big name headliner in the home entertainment circuit. Despite the fact that Tokarev seems old hat and a bit tired, and looks pretty cheap (by Cage standards) it looks like it could be good fun and more importantly, Cage seems more engaged than he did in Stolen. The current trailer would suggest a couple of potentially vintage Cage blowout moments. This should hit some time middle of the year.
Aside from these mentioned there will undoubtedly be a few intriguing looking star vehicles appearing on a weekly basis in your local supermarket DVD chart. The likes of Val Kilmer, Ray Liotta, Cuba Gooding Jr are pretty prolific, and generally reasonably reliable. Also expect one or two Steven Seagal epics, but don’t expect them to be very promising. Also expect to see about 50 Eric Roberts films this year, which isn’t a bad thing (seriously…it isn’t). Feel free to let us know of any more in the comments below.