Termination Man (1997) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Tuna's notes in white
Termination Man (1997) is a low-budget Roger Corman direct-to-vid production shot in Russia with a combined US/Russian cast/crew. It is a spy thriller in the Bond tradition. The Bosnians have released a very fatal nerve gas against NATO troops, and are demanding that NATO withdraw and give them a new sovereign state, or they will gas the rest. For some reason, the decision is up to the UN. Steve Railsback is a scientifically enhanced secret agent, who can dissolve bullets in his system, and heal in a few minutes, and run 10 miles in 30 minutes, leap tall buildings with a single bound, and seduce fellow agent Athena Massey.
The script follows the Bond formula to a great extent, including chases, breathtaking scenery, shoot-outs, and clever gadgets. The visuals are wonderful, mostly because of the DP, Yevgeni Guslinsky. Railsback matches Bond in survival, seduction, and cultural sophistication. In one scene, he identifies the vintage and estate of a glass of wine from one sip - but fails to identify the fact that it is full of knockout drops!
I thoroughly enjoyed this film, but you should not take it seriously.
Scoop's notes in yellow
In some ways this movie is sheer genius, a great illustration of how to make a Bond-style movie with no money at all. First of all, you have to film the thing in one of those Eastern Bloc countries where they have an educated population but low wages. This allows the producers (including Roger Corman) to hire major talents at discount prices. The cinematography for this film was done by Yevgeni Guslinsky, an honored graduate of the Russian Movie Institute, and a 30-year veteran of Mosfilm studios.
|Second, scour the Bloc
for a country with spectacular vistas rarely seen by Western eyes. The
ideal location: the resort areas of Southern Crimea. One reviewer
mentioned that this film was made entirely on Russian soil. That's
obviously not correct. Post-production was
done in Moscow, and it features Russian actors, but actually
I don't think any of it was filmed on Russian soil, unless you can trick the people of
Crimea into thinking that they live in Russia. (It is actually an
autonomous, mostly Russian-speaking republic within Ukraine.)
Crimea has some spectacular vistas, like the famous Swallow's Nest castle (right) which was used for a couple of minor scenes in this film. Southern Crimea even has palm trees. Best of all, many parts of the landscape have never been seen by Western eyes. Some portions of Southern Crimea are even unfamiliar to long-term residents of the Soviet Union, because the entire city of Sevastopol was closed for many years because of its importance to Russian naval strategies. Although IMDb dates this film in 2000, Termination Man was actually made in 1997, only about a year after Sevastopol was finally open to outsiders.
|The film had a great
cinematographer and he had beautiful scenery to photograph, so it must
be terrific, right?
Wrong. So very, very wrong. It is one of the worst films I've ever seen. (2.0 at IMDb) The photography is the only redeeming feature.
There was absolutely no budget for action scenes or special effects, and that prevents the Bond action from being Bond-like. For example, the agent (Steve Railsback) is assigned the usual assortment of gadgets, but they are all simply ordinary household objects. He has a camera, a ring, a pen, and so forth. This allows the director to film some "action" with no budget at all. The pen is supposed to have some kind of laser ray in it, so Railsback points it at a bad guy, and then we see the evil dude falling to the ground with his shoulder on fire. Railsback's camera is supposed to contain a blinding flash of light, so he points it at some baddies, the screen goes to white, and then we see the baddies on the ground, rubbing their eyes with their hands.
The chase scenes are even lamer than the gadgetry. At one point, Railsback and his pals are in a tiny car, being pursued by two military vehicles carrying soldiers with automatic weapons. One scene shows Railsback point and fire a hand gun. After the cut, the next scene shows one of the military vehicles with a flat tire. There is no payoff like a crash. The soldiers simply pull over safely to the side of the road. What's even less dramatic is that the second vehicle also pulls over in sympathy, despite the fact that it is not damaged at all and still contains several healthy armed men! Railsback drives to safety in his Lada. That is typical of the action scenes, which often show the moments before and after the action, but not the action itself. We see somebody poised to do something dramatic, like Athena Massey preparing to leap from a precipice, then there is a cutaway, and then we see the completion of the action, like Athena safely in Railsback's arms after he has caught her!
The strangest thing about the movie is that it goes to great pains to establish that Agent Railsback has super powers. He has been "enhanced," ala the Six Million Dollar Man. He can run ten miles in thirty minutes, for example, and dissolve bullets with his body chemistry. But the film makes almost no use of those super powers, and when it does call upon them it is only to avoid action scenes which would have been difficult to film with a 50-year-old star. For example, Railsback gets into a fight with one young bruiser. The guy takes a mighty swing, Railsback ducks. There is an edit, and we see then Railsback breaking the man's neck dramatically in close-up, sweetened by a loud "crack" on the soundtrack. The entire fight lasts about one second, maybe two!
Best of all, Railsback is constantly complaining about having to walk anywhere and is always looking for a chance to rest - pretty strange for a guy who is supposed to be able to run ten miles at super-speed without breaking a sweat. Of course, the one time we could see Railsback running, it was obvious that he was substantially below the minimum super-speed level. The character may have been enhanced, but the actor was about fifty years old at the time, and he ran with his feet pointing outward. He was really struggling to keep up with Massey!
||Like any good Bond
villain, the evil Serbian war criminal has various evil henchmen. One of
them is "Dr. Chu," a sadistic long-haired Asian fellow who plans to
force Railsback and Athena Massey to "talk" by dressing them up in
period clothing and torturing them with a hair dryer, an egg timer, and
a really hungry hamster.
I didn't make that up. There it is to the left. When the timer expires, the hamster is allowed to crawl through the tube into the hair dryer. Honest.
My money says the old-fashioned clothing just happened to be handy and free, since it seemed unrelated to the plot. But if they had to pay for those outfits, the film obviously blew its entire costume budget on the agents' clothing, because the evil scientist is wearing jeans and Nikes!
But very evil jeans and Nikes.
|As for the acting and
characterization ... well, apparently they couldn't really afford any of
those either. The only competent actor in the film is the Russian guy
who played the Serbian warlord, and he couldn't decide whether he was in
an action picture or a comedy, so he served up a little of each. The
alleged plot is laughable. I suppose they made a lot of it up on the
fly. The Serbian warlord - who is threatening and intimidating the
entire U.N. - has only about a dozen soldiers under his command. Despite
their lack of numbers, there are several times when
the bad guys could have killed or captured Railsback and Massey, but
they chose some other action instead, like calling ahead and telling somebody else to be ready! On at least two occasions a baddie saved them
from other baddies, each time with tenuous justification.
Check out the career of director Fred Gallo:
For comparison, here is the career of the legendary John Derek:
There is an uncanny correspondence between the five rated Derek films and the five rated Gallo films, but if you study the two lists carefully, you will see that Gallo's numbers are actually a hair worse. And this film is rated the lowest of the five.
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