Sunday, March 25, 2018

Deathline (1997)

aka Redline

aka Armageddon

aka The Syndicate

We are in some sort of mildly cyberpunk-y future where everybody’s a bit of a freak. Aging tough guy John Anderson Wade (Rutger Hauer, not doing much, but doing it like Rutger Hauer, which is what we came to see) is smuggling some kind of virtual reality implants into Russia. Alas, he is betrayed by his girlfriend (Yvonne Sciò) and his partner Merrick (Mark Dacascos). Not that his girlfriend has much joy of it, for Merrick guns her down right after Wade.

Wade’s corpse is recovered by corrupt elements of the Russian authorities who use some kind of experimental technique on him to revive him. I’m still not quite sure why, and am not willing to even start thinking about the how, but there you are. Anyway, once Wade’s alive and awake again, he quickly manages to escape captivity and goes on a murderous rampage, I mean, subtly tries to find and take vengeance on Merrick. Only without the subtlety. Merrick for his part is now a middle-sized wheel that would like to be a big one in criminal and corrupt circles, so there are goons to shoot before him.

Wade’s good at that sort of thing, though, so no biggie there. He also quickly acquires the help of one Marina K. (also Yvonne Sciò), who not only happens to look exactly like his late girlfriend but also shares her taste in older men. Oh, and she’s handy with guns and face-kicking, too.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone told me that an earlier script version of Deathline explained all of the weirdness going on in it by most of its plot being an Incident at Owl Creek Bridge-style fantasy in the brain of a dead man. As it stands, the finished version of Tibor Takács film doesn’t explain or excuse any of its weird shit at all; as a matter of fact, it doesn’t even bother to explain much of its plot. Which is fair enough, given that most of what’s going on is only meant to set up various pretty okay action scenes, some hideously bad CGI effects, and a really, really, really long sex scene.

Everything that’s going on between these scenes feels like variously successful attempts by the filmmakers to distract themselves and their audience from the most basic of plots and the vagaries of working on a small budget (but at least shooting in Hungary where you get somewhat more bang for your miniscule buck) by throwing as much random crap on the screen and at the audience as possible. It’s a time-honoured technique which can help enhance a film with snarky dialogue, bizarre satire, or just with a bunch of sight gags. Quite a few Roger Corman productions from the 70s and 80s became at least minor classics of various genres this way. Deathline never manages to do anything quite this successful, but for an action film that obviously can’t afford much action – and even less martial arts action despite casting Dacascos – its general weirdness and distractibility keeps it pretty entertaining. At least if you enjoy stuff like “The House of Culture” being a bordello, a TV re-enactment of Wade’s crimes that shows him gunning down a baby in its cart in a play on exactly the scene you’re thinking about just now, only with a pretty tiny flight of stairs, bizarre dream sequences that feel like set-ups for future psychological depth which will never arrive, and so on.

Too bad that Takács’s direction is atypically bland for most of the time, but I still had a reasonable amount of fun with Deathline.

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