Friday, May 23, 2014

Cinemasochism: DEATH KICK (1998)

There is nothing we love more than a good ol’ vanity project.  Film itself is a self-centered medium, so there is something doubly alluring/repulsive in a person taking the time and money to publically pat themselves on the back while riding on their own shoulders.  From Steve Seagal’s ON DEADLY GROUND (1994) to John De Hart’s GETEVEN (1993), the vanity project runs the gamut big bucks to “here’s a quarter” budgets.  No doubt falling in the range of the latter is DEATH KICK, a low budget action flick from the Show Me State of Missouri. Damn, I wish you hadn’t shown me.

Although the DVD box and IMDb listing have this as DEATH KICK, the actual onscreen title is the super redundant KICK TO DEATH – DEATH KICK.  That is the cinematic equivalent of a “Danger! Rough Road Ahead” sign that you see while driving.  The film wastes no time getting down to business as five folks of dissimilar backgrounds meet in a tile warehouse.  They are there at the behest of leader Robert Tolcou (Jesse Bean) and despite their diversity they all have one thing in common. They all got screwed by divorce lawyer Adrian Lane (Michael Hartig).  Tolcou’s plan is simple – he and his partner, Andrew Teal (Earnest Hart, Jr.), will kidnap Mr. Lane and bring him back to the warehouse.  Each aggrieved person will then get to spend quality time with the Legal Eagle of their nightmares.  And by quality time I mean they get to have a fighter of their own choosing beat the crap out of him.  Each wronged party must give $50,000 to buy into the game and whoever kills Lane will get $250,000 (to be split 50/50 with their fighting avatar). Teal, a former cop, assures them that it will all be kosher because this warehouse was once a Fed safe house and the cops won’t bother them.

Our ambulance chaser is snatched at his home with barely any resistance and soon brought back to the warehouse and tied up.  What happens next is basically a series of the same scene over and over as Lane is confronted by his disgruntled ex-clients one-by-one and they air their grievances in the court of death kicks. All rise! Up first is Alexandria Dunavich (K.C. Carr), who is pissed that Lane cost her custody of her son during her trial.  She shows this by getting topless, mounting him, and then introducing her fighters, two black girls.  Hey, why does she get two? What she (and the audience) didn’t know is Lane, who looks like a wimpier John Astin, can kick some ass and he disposes of her two fighters. Next up is Tolcou, who is pissed that Lane exposed him as a wife beater and pedophile.  Lane tells him off by saying, “You need a ladder to get to the level of shit.” Ooooooooooooh, burn!  Tolcou’s fighter is a big black dude (Terry Cramer) who wields a mighty stick.  Lane gets him to abandon his weapon and, of course, whoops his ass. Client no. 3 is Tracy White (Corinne Malcolm), a sexy socialite whose entrance is followed by an “ohhhh yeah” on the soundtrack (really!). She is pissed that Lane’s divorce has caused her to become a social pariah in her affluent circle of friends.  Not only that, but she is still upset he “spurned my interest” and gets back at him by having a private fashion show where she drapes her naked body over him while saying how much she checked out his ass during the trial. Quick question: can you figure out whose vanity project this is yet?  Below is a video of the fight between her fighter and Lane.

Take that slow motion punch to the balls as a metaphor for me watching this film. Revenge-minded client no. 4 is Melinda “Matty” Kempt (Deborah Loveless), who says “you killed my mother and father.” Seems when she was sixteen Lane worked on a messy divorce that ended up with Matty’s abusive dad killing her mother and then committing suicide. But wait, there’s more!  Somehow after that she entered into a relationship with Lane (!?!) and she still loves him.  You see, she wants to help him out of this situation…and this somehow involves mounting him topless.  Tolcou speeds up the process and brings in her fighter (Michael Stocker) against her wishes. This results in my favorite bit as Stocker makes sure to turn his back to the camera to show off the martial arts school logo on his jacket, but it is unreadable.  Amazingly, this fight is the first time Lane opts to try to buy off a fighter, but his adversary is having none of that.  Until, that is, he tastes some of Lane’s Average White Guy Fists of Fury.  Beaten down, the fighter pleads for the deal again, but Lane says, “You opened this door, now come on in” before knocking him out with a knee to the head.  Does this guy’s lawyer card say “Adrian Lane, Attorney-at-Law and F’n Bad Ass” on it? Finally, we get Teal. He is upset that Lane uncovered some hidden assets of his during divorce proceedings and wiped him out.  Teal chose to go last because he knew Lane would persevere (“You’re like a cat, always landing on your feet.”) and Teal’s reward is not only the money, but the chance to beat up all the other fighters.  Uh, what?  Yeah, for some reason he takes on all the previous combatants and whoops them all (naturally, they all attack one at a time).  Pshaw, the real test of his martial arts mettle is Lane.  Care to guess who wins?

Your honor, request for a mistrial?  Full disclosure – I have no idea how I got DEATH KICK in my collection.  I mean, I have the DVD and inside is a receipt showing I ordered it online in mid-April for a hefty sum of four dollars, but I have zero recollection of how or why I ordered this.  I don’t even know how I heard about it! Maybe I had a THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) type moment and I was stocking up on ‘90s cheapo action flicks while drunk?  Here’s the problem with that theory – I don’t drink.  So this is a film so brutal that my mind actually tried to make me forgot just what led me to this decision to get this film.  Even worse, it took me two weeks to trudge through this.  With 95% of the action taking place in a dreary cinderblock warehouse, the film was a mental endurance test of the highest order with scene after scene of bad fights set to numbing guitar on the soundtrack.  Honestly, I’ve had cavity fillings that were more fun.  Did I finally meet my match?  A film so bad that it would make me tap out? Nah, I’m tough.  Tough and dumb.

If you haven’t already figured it out, DEATH KICK is a vanity project for Michael Hartig.  A former St. Louis police officer, Hartig is not only the lead here but also wrote and produced the film.  Even without the Hartig-centric opening credits, any astute viewer would know something was up during the first attorney/client showdown.  Not only is Adrian Lane presented as a super successful attorney, but he is shown to have a quick wit, is a badass fighter, and irresistible hunk.  This might work if say the litigious lead was Harrison Ford or Gregory Peck, but Hartig’s Lane is no Atticus Finch.  Hell, in terms of legal Lotharios, he’s not even Vinny Gambini! Sporting a terrible toupee, Hartig looks kind of like Bruno Kirby or ‘80s Sonny Bono and is about as attractive as the former and as dangerous as the latter.  So the idea that this man can not only kick ass, but literally get women to drop their panties (yes, that happens!) is ridiculous.  No joke, there are three central female characters in this film and at some point in the film all three press their naked bodies up against Hartig while cooing about how sexy he is.  The film is basically a live-action capturing of Hartig’s fantasies.

Speaking of which, I started to wonder if we weren’t seeing something on a more subconscious level.  Initially I thought Hartig must have gone through a messy divorce, but he has the bloodsucking lawyer the hero here.  Not only that, the film features scene-after-scene of Hartig being tied up.  Now I get that it works in the mechanics of the story, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Hartig is working out some serious mental kinks (emphasis on the “kink”) while making this.  To his credit, Hartig does do his own stunt work and I swear is slammed into the same warehouse door at least a thousand times.  But you just have to wonder how the hell did this get made?  Did no one have the heart to tell Hartig how silly this all looked? Regardless, I have some strange admiration for guys like this who throw it all out there, world be damned. The only thing GETEVEN’s lawyer-cum-leading-man De Hart has up on him is that he sang two songs on the soundtrack.  True story: I got very excited when a song was warbled over the DEATH KICK end credits, but, alas, it was not sung by Hartig.    I was initially sad to see on the IMDb that Hartig had passed away in 2004, but it appears to be an error as his Linkedin page shows he is still around and running his production company.  His main occupation, however, is still law enforcement. Somewhere a collection of ropes and B-movie actresses willing to do nudity breathed a sigh of relief.

1 Reactions:

  1. I wonder if he stole a bunch of drug bust money to finance this?


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