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Spoiler
(1998)
 

Director: Cameron Van Daacke                
Cast:
Gary Daniels, Meg Foster, Bryan Genesse


Spoiler is one of the most depressing movies I've ever seen. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad movie - there are many good movies that happen to be given that label. One of my favorite movies is Seconds, a drama with science fiction overtones starring Rock Hudson, that has been called one of the most depressing movies ever made. Spoiler, however, is different from almost all depressing movies by it not really being a drama, but more of a science fiction tale with action/adventure overtones. Plus, the star of the movie is B movie martial arts star Gary Daniels - not exactly the kind of person you'd expect to be in a downbeat movie such as this. Especially since his martial art talents are pretty much ignored here.

The plot: In the distant future, Roger Mason (Daniels), an innocent man, is unjustly imprisoned in the super prison fortress "The Icebox", and subjected to enormous mental abuse. He escapes from prison, and is involved in one or two vignettes along the way. He is recaptured, and subjected to more abuse. If you repeat the preceding several times, you've sort of described the plot of Spoiler, and essentially why Spoiler is so depressing. Mason gets so close to his goal so many times, yet cannot seem to succeed. Nowhere in this movie is there the least bit of hope, or any light at the end of the tunnel. Mason lives in one of the cruelest, most harsh fantasy worlds in science fiction. And he is not just being sent back to prison, but occasionally he is frozen for a length of time, so his beloved daughter (who he is trying to get to) is getting older while he stays the same age, which contributes to the feeling of isolation and abandonment prevalent in the movie.

Knowledgeable film buffs will see a connection between Spoiler and the earlier Demolition Man around both these movies freezing their prisoners. And like Demolition Man, there's even rehabilitation of the frozen prisoners by teaching them to knit. There's a lot of derivative material in Spoiler; the most obvious one is Total Recall, where the lighting and the sets here heavily echo that earlier movie. Unfortunately, the movie is hampered with a ludicrously low budget; though the set designer obviously squeezed every last penny out of the few dollars he had, the sets still have a malnourished look to them. As a result, director Van Daake darkens these sets considerably - or else try to recreate the future in existing locations, which doesn't quite work. We see what is obviously a back alley in present day L.A., a modern subway car, and other quite familiar locations. This movie is so painfully cheap, it hurts the movie considerably. But surprisingly, a couple of spots in the movie have computer-drawn cityscapes with futuristic flying cars. The graphics in these scenes are outstanding, and could have been placed in a big budget movie. Why did the movie spend all that money on these quick shots, instead of devoting more money to the rest of the movie? If more of the budget had gone to the other scenes, the movie on a whole would have been better.

The movie may be cheap and derivative, but in fairness, it does have some interesting material. There's occasionally a memorable scene - one scene has some escaping prisoners must run down a freezing cold 30 foot long corridor. It's so cold, they must run that distance with their eyes closed and while holding their breath. Scenes like this are novel, and they do add some tension or interest. There are also some in-jokes, as when a helpful person tells our hero to, "Go across 110th Street." Though in-jokes like this do seem strange being in such a downbeat movie - perhaps they were placed there so the movie wouldn't be totally depressing. Scattered throughout the movie are several cameos, among them Meg Foster, Timothy Bottoms, and Jeffrey Combs. Combs wisely was given the best and longest cameo, as "Captain", a policeman hunting down the hero near the end. Which brings up the question of Gary Daniels' performance. The best thing to say is that he does the best with what he's given. Keep in mind that in previous movies, he worked best by staying quiet and martial-arting people. So he is very miscast in a movie such as this, where there is mostly talking and running, instead of real action. There are two fight scenes in the movie, but they are so ineptly choreographed and directed, no self-respecting B movie fan would call them martial arts fights. Daniels' character is also very poorly written; we learn in the movie that he was originally sentenced to only one year in prison. So why did he escape, with such little time to go? The movie never gives us a satisfactory answer to this question. Seconds told us a lot about the central character's life, so we emphasized with him, and felt his sorrow. In Spoiler, though most of the blame falls on the system, one can't but help wonder if Daniels must share a good part of the blame. And that reduces the sympathy we have for him.

Though I earlier said that Spoiler was a depressing movie, I didn't say if it was either a "good" downer or a "bad" downer. It's actually a rare movie for me - a movie that falls smack in the very middle between "good" and "bad". The movie is cheap, derivative, and depressing, yes. But it's a movie that I don't think I'll ever forget; it's gutsy downbeat nature is actually a breath of fresh air in the made for video genre, it has some unforgettable moments, and it's never boring. So it's not a terrible movie, but it's not a movie that most B movie addicts will find attractive. I'm confident there will be some people who will really enjoy this movie, but you won't find me listed among them.

Also reviewed by: Cold Fusion Video
 


UPDATE: I received this letter from director Jeff Burr:

"Just a note to say how much I enjoyed reading the review of Spoiler.  I agree with almost everything you said, esp. the casting of Gary Daniels.  He is a great guy, a good action actor, but completely wrong for this role.  He was cast literally at the last second, and I met him for the first time on the set on the first day of shooting.  But thank you for noticing the effort that was put in the film.  The budget was ridiculous...around a half-million or so, shot in 18 days.  But we really tried to give it maximum atmosphere...all of it had to be shot in a warehouse in Burbank, using cannibalized sets from two other movies.  (Spoiler was the third of three movies shot back to back.  The others were Convict 782 and Absolution.)  I was more or less removed from the film right after shooting...hence the pseudonym.  I never really got to put together a cut of the movie.  The producer had wanted to direct the movie, but couldn't due to schedule...so he ending up trying to direct in post.  He did pay attention to an editing memo I sent him (ala Welles' Touch of Evil)  Anyway, thanks for writing about it, and if you want another unknown film to check out, see The Offspring, with Vincent Price.  My first movie, made for about $350,000 but with a lotta love."

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See also: Cross Mission, A*P*E, Dark Planet

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