Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cold Harvest (1999)

Welcome to the double-apocalypse post-apocalypse. First, a comet collided with Earth hiding the sun away behind eternal clouds that just happen to make a film shot in the studio much more believable (in theory). Then, a mysterious virus with symptoms so mysterious the film never shows them or tells us about them rolled around to mop up the rest of humanity. In the end, it’s all darkness, people dressed in your typical post-apocalyptic rags (extra cheap edition) and something called “The Safe Zone”, whatever it may be.

Roland Chaney (Gary Daniels) roams decidedly not safe zones as a bounty hunter, for the world seems to have returned to some kind of frontier law. Being our action movie hero, Roland is of course haunted by a dark past. Things do not get lighter when hilariously sadist evildoer and Chaney childhood playmate Little Ray (Bryan Genesse) ambushes a government convoy in the hopes of picking up some goodies. Instead, he kills a bunch of civilians, as well as Roland’s twin Oliver (guess). Only Oliver’s wife Christine (Barbara Crampton) escapes.

Turns out Little Ray’s murder spree was an even worse idea than your typical murder spree, for the civilians in the convoy were the only surviving carriers of a gene that could make the virus a thing of the past. Thanks to a tracking device with extremely vague operational parameters, Ray follows Christine in the hopes of selling her on to the government; possibly after having had his way with her.

Too bad for him Christine and Roland meet and team up, and Roland’s the kind of bounty-hunting ass-kicker you really don’t want protecting your dedicated victim. Much violence, kidnappings, and a few explosions ensue.

I don’t think Cold Harvest is the biggest milestone in director Isaac Florentine’s decades-long crusade to make US direct-to-video action and martial arts films that are actually worth watching, carry a consciousness of genre history, and handle genre tropes knowingly yet lovingly. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a fun movie. In fact, it’s rather a lot of fun, but it does have a couple of problems.

For one, the post-apocalyptic world the NuImage budget provides is the usual mix of abandoned industrial buildings, and grotty sets, just with no lights in the sky (yet still an abundance of working light sources) and as such not exactly a delight to look at – it’s more than just a bit drab, and there’s very little to actually gawk at. Secondly – and I’m sorry, Gary Daniels fans – dear Gary Daniels only barely manages to get through the moments when the film actually needs him to act (and the script does take care not to put that much of a strain on him), even in scenes where saintly Barbara Crampton puts in rather a lot of effort to make him look good.

Which of course already leads us to some of Cold Harvest’s strong points, namely, Barbara Crampton who’d lighten up a shitty film and surely doesn’t do less to a really fun one like this, Gary Daniels when he’s not acting but hitting, kicking, shooting and pitchfork-ening people, and Isaac Florentine, esquire.

I’m not even sure it’s still necessary for me to praise Florentine’s action direction, but I’ll do it just to be sure: as usual, Florentine’s action scenes are incredibly energetic – it’s difficult not to use the old cliché of them exploding off the screen – yet never feel the need to go for the “cool” cop out shot that makes it more difficult to see what stunt actors and actors are actually doing. The basis of Florentine’s approach to action is based on the idea that the stuff his performers actually do is as cool as things can get, and it is his job to emphasise what they can do instead of hiding what they can’t. This time around, the style feels particularly Hong Kong to me, with 80s and 90s martial arts scenes and gun fu with a Western genre influence being the centre of Florentine’s attention. There’s a lot of action going around too, of course, but, as always, Florentine’s putting creativity and thought into the bits where nobody dies too.

Sure, the emotional parts are consciously cheesy (just look at the hilarious bit where Crampton washes her back while Daniels polishes his gun and watches her in a mirror and oh so many ever so slightly sexually loaded gestures are made) but then, that’s the only emotional content that fits a film like this.

Other joys are Genesse’s awesome and strange performance as Little Ray, a main henchman who is into noses (don’t ask him why), and a whole lot of overdubbed whoosh and swish noises. Turns out Gary Daniels can’t turn his head without the air around him going “woosh” in sheer excitement. And who could blame it?

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