Artisan // 2000 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // February 21st, 2003
The Deadliest Cargo in the Hands of the Enemy.
XXXXXX ALL POINTS BULLETIN XXXXXX
BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR THIS INDIVIDUAL. HE IS ARMED AND DANGEROUS WITH AN UNUSUAL AFFINITY FOR SCHLOCK.
SHOOT ON SIGHT
Name: Fred Olen Ray
A.K.A: Bill Carson
WANTED FOR: THEFT FROM Terminator 2
CRIMES AGAINST CINEMATIC HUMANITY
After terrorist leader Samson (Udo Kier) and his minions steal nuclear material from Cyberdyne Systems (sound familiar?), they aim to take over a deserted nuclear power plant in California and implement a nefarious plan. Naturally, they get quite a shock when they find that their deserted nuclear power plant is not quite so deserted as they were led to believe. A few security guards still keep watch, and on this day a camera crew shows up to film some political propaganda for snooty state senator Cook (Andrew Prine) and his assistant Janine (Lori Loughlin).
If you've seen Die Hard or any number of similar films, you can guess what happens. Tragic events leave only security guard Mike Jeffers (Treat Williams) loose on the inside, with the lovely Janine at his side, trying to thwart Samson's efforts to kill him and to construct a nuclear device, while an army of police led by Sheriff Borden (Blake Clark) impotently wait outside. Samson wants to use nuclear blackmail to extort concessions from the federal government. Jeffers is determined to stop him. Frantic activity and copious violence ensues. Discuss.
My jaw is still on the floor. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that the director has the most aliases I've seen outside of a rap sheet, but Fred Olen Ray has pulled off the most brazen act of movie theft I have ever witnessed. Not infrequently, directors and writers borrow from other creative endeavors in substance or in style, a shot there, a scene here, but usually translated into a new execution of the idea. Still, when was the last time you saw a film that directly lifts entire scenes of footage from another film, adds clips of your own actors on matching sets, and magically melds them in the editing room?
I'm simply stunned.
The first ten minutes of Critical Mass are stolen directly from the raid on Cyberdyne Systems and the subsequent highway chase scene in Terminator 2. Aside from ingenious editing to remove the recognizable actors from Terminator 2 and add the actors of Critical Mass with their own dialogue, it is the same scene. What was Fred Olen Ray thinking? Did he think we wouldn't notice? That no one could possibly remember a scene from a film that made over half a billion dollars? Sure, it is a hell of a way to get an expensive action scene made on the cheap, but at the cost of any shred of creativity and respect for the audience. I don't care that he must have somehow convinced someone to let him get away with this scheme. Legal it may be, but it still ranks high on the all-time list of craptacular decisions.
Quite frankly, Fred Olen Ray did an unforgivable disservice to Critical Mass. By no means is it more than a B-minus film, as my wife put it, but super-gluing that scene onto Critical Mass sets the audience off on the wrong path. Die-hard schlock lovers in the audience might not mind, but the rest just might be reaching for the remote rather than watch a film that is screaming in puke-green neon letters ten feet tall "ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE," and that's just the first ten minutes!
Putting the theft aside, you get a heaping serving of clichés, lame dialogue, flat action sequences, and unerring predictability. Along the way, there is a certain cheesy charm that you might expect, making the time pass tolerably well. If you don't mind a poorly reheated casserole of action/thriller scraps, then Critical Mass is the film for you!
Treat Williams (Hair, 1941, Prince of the City) actually does a good job with at times painful dialogue amidst the slam-bam action. With the looks, physical ability, and a comfortably relaxed attitude, Treat Williams is the best part of Critical Mass. Lori Laughlin (Full House) is suitably endearing, though that is due to her natural looks and good sense in underplaying her role. On the other hand, Udo Kier (FearDotCom, Blade) seems to be aiming for an Oscar for Best Cardboard Evil Kingpin with Psycho Eyes, and Andrew Prine (V, V: The Final Battle) proves that there is no line so trite that overacting can't make worse.
For a modestly budgeted B-minus film, Critical Mass has impressive sound. On quite a number of occasions, explosions, bullets, and other effects come flying out of the rear surrounds, complimenting the main action across the front soundstage. This 5.1 track is not quite up to blockbuster standards, but for this sort of film, it's a welcome surprise.
The video is far less impressive. It is true that the picture is kept quite clean and sharp (though evident line enhancement artifacting rears its ugly head), with richly saturated color of many hues. Regrettably, Artisan decided to release Critical Mass "formatted from its original version to 4:3 letterbox." Translating this back-of-the-box-ese, Artisan took a presumably full-frame film and matted it into a non-anamorphic letterbox, adding insult to injury. If highway robbery from another film isn't hard enough to explain, how does anyone justify this decision? I get it -- they wanted to annoy both the OAR (original aspect ratio) purists and the "get those damn black bars off my screen" crowd? Congratulations! Mission accomplished.
The minor extras include a twelve-picture photo gallery (ooh! ahh!), a brief filmography for the director and three actors, and trailers for Critical Mass as well as fellow B-minus films Double Bang, Wendigo, Hell's Gate, and Gale Force. Color me unimpressed.
The defense waives opening statement, declines to call any witnesses to the stand, and stipulates to the guilt of the defendant. Mercy? For the love of God, can you grant Critical Mass some mercy?
Aside from Treat Williams fans, or someone looking to revel in the schlockiness of a bad movie night, I can't imagine why you'd voluntarily choose to rent Critical Mass with less than a half dozen shots of vodka in your bloodstream. As for purchase, who thinks a $25 list price is a good idea for a B-minus film? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
The Terminator 2 theft alone merits summary execution.
Review content copyright © 2003 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailers
* Photo Gallery
* Fred Olen Ray Official Site