Unearthed Films // 2001 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 4th, 2007
In this town, two wrongs don't make you right -- THEY MAKE YOU EVEN!
As a big fan of action films, I always find it a kick to see indie filmmakers who tackle the subject matter with loving panache, even if it is three-fourths parody. Hot Fuzz (which kicks so much ass) did that and to an admittedly smaller degree, Lethal Force does so as well. Writer/director Alvin Ecarma gets it.
The film follows the exploits of two hit men, Savitch (Cash Flagg, Jr., pretty much the dopest name ever conceived) and Jack (Frank Prather). At one time these two were best friends, but when a gangster executes Jack's wife and kidnaps his son, the two professional killers are pitted against each other. Jack is forced to hand over Savitch in exchange for his son, and when Savitch learns of the betrayal he goes on the warpath. By the time the 67-minute runtime is exhausted, there will be piles of deceased henchmen, pools of blood and some angry strippers.
And that's about it. This film is short and to the point and that point is "Hey, check out our fun, goofy action movie!" Alvin Ecarma is obviously a fan of the action movie -- and there is some grindhouse influences tossed in here as well -- and he flexes his devotion to the genre with gusto here. His action scenes are well-staged and inventive, my favorite being Savitch's big fight with the bad guys with two knives impaled in his hands. As bonus, there's lots of spewing blood and over-the-top violence, giving Lethal Force that "gratuitous violence" tag (and lest you worry about being offended, the gore is so ridiculous it's basically parody; one guy gets kicked in the face and a geyser of blood shoots from his eye). Though most of the mayhem is of the hand-to-hand ilk, Ecarma throws in some inventive gunplay, too, and pulls it off convincingly, impressive when you consider that gun battles often suffer the most from a low production budget. The violent finale flirts with the envelope-pushing, as Jack's young son picks up a .357 Magnum and start blowing away fools, culminating in a Peter Jackson-esque final kill, but the absurdity of the sequence fits the tone of everything that came before it.
Which offers me a decent segue to talk about the humor of Lethal Force: it's a funny film, and a spoof of action movies, but it's not a cheap-gag-fest piece of insufferable claptrap like other genre parody films (Date Movie, Scary Movie, etc.). The actors play it straight, despite the ludicrous situations they find themselves in. Heck, the plot, on paper, looks like something you'd see in a serious bit of hard-boiled action filmmaking, a hit man looking to rescue his kidnapped kid and so forth. But the balance struck between the insane action set pieces/goofy dialogue/kung fu strippers and almost-serious characters and their almost-serious motivations makes Lethal Force smarter than your average parody film.
Look, it's still an obscure low-budget, indie film, but I've got to give props to Ecarma and his crew. They've fashioned a clever, enjoyable, and well-executed take on a genre that often trespasses into the ream of self-parody (even when playing it straight), and a bottom line in the red notwithstanding, these guys should be given credit for that. Translation: if you get a chance, see this movie, especially if you fancy yourself an action movie fan.
Technically, there's not much to clamor for: a muddy full frame transfer and a 2.0 stereo track that merely transmits the audio and video information to your ears and eyeballs, but not much else. A nice set of extras salvage the presentation though: a fun documentary with Ecarma, a pile of director's short films, a making-of feature, audition tapes and still galleries (including an action figure gallery).
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Unearthed Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Filmmakers Commentary
* Making-of Feature
* Short Films
* Audition Footage
* Still Galleries