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Body Armor
(a.k.a. Conway [Canadian title]
& The Protector)
(1997)
 

Director: Jack Gill                                  
Cast:
Matt McColm, Annabel Schofield, Ron Perlman


That's not a misprint above; director Jack Gill does indeed have his name underlined in the opening credits of Body Armor. I guess he must be proud of this movie, and/or he wants to bring attention to himself. I have kept the underline under Jack Gill's name, to bring attention to it, but probably not for the reason Jack Gill intended - that's because I thought Body Armor was the absolute pits, a dreary excuse for so-called heavy mystery intercut with sporadic bits of so-called action. Everybody should protect themselves from watching it.

Ken Conway (McColm) is, according to John Rhys-Davis in a quick cameo, "the best." More specifically, he is the best bodyguard/private detective/martial artist/commando/etc. that you could possibly find. Despite being "the best" that he is for his yet to be named profession, he has ethics. When he finds out what scum his boss Rhys-Davies is, he shows his ethics by hurting his boss real good and chopping the other bodyguards in the building on his way out of there. However, he's careful not to be too ethical, for when he's next offered a job from the Red Cross to guard medical supplies in Sri Lanka, he refuses, saying that if he went to Sri Lanka, "I'd get a disease!"

The refusal of jobs like this worries Hutch, Ken's accountant, who is played by Clint Howard. Hutch is as dumb as Ken is supposedly smart; the only reason Hutch seems to be in this movie is to make Ken look smarter than he actually is, and to provide some minor (make that extremely minor) comic relief only someone like Howard can provide. When we find out that Hutch drives around in a station wagon that's greatly loved by his wife, you can guess what happens to it later in the movie, with a hothead like Ken around. Anyway, Hutch doesn't have to worry for long, for Ken's old girlfriend Marissa (Schofield) comes out of nowhere to buy his services. See, her friend Dr. Stanly Erhardt has gone missing after going to work at the KRAGO laboratories, and she's worried about him. Of course, she left him at the altar years ago, and he's still resentful, resorting to mock her as to if Stanly is really more than just a "friend". She doesn't bother to answer that, and we never find out any clue one way or another in the course of the movie. However, we do know already what's happened to Stanly, from the opening scene of the movie where he's seen running from the lab with armed personal ordered to kill him in hot pursuit. When they caught up with him, they seemed to have had a change in plan, and shot a tranquilizer dart into him instead. Incidentally, Jack Gill plays the part of the missing doctor.

Have you got the idea how lame this movie is yet? Probably. And it just gets worse from here. There's a dumb subplot concerning two mysterious people watching Ken conduct his investigation and his interactions with KRAGO lab owner Dr. Ramsey Krago (Perlman). Eventually, we (sort of) find out who those two people are, and they get involved more in the plot, but then there's only about twenty minutes left in the movie - so we've spent a long time with shadowy figures who don't really do anything. The dumbest thing that happens in the movie is when Ken is purposely injected with a lethal virus, and is told he has only a day or two to live by the good guys. Of course, he goes to the bad guy's island fortress to get the antidote, but beforehand he is allowed to go home and rest for several hours! With a lethal virus in his veins? I don't think so. Maybe Howard finally saw the stupidity in this movie, for his character suddenly disappears around this point and is never referred to again.

With some good action scenes, this movie may have (barely) made it, but the action is badly handled. The martial arts scenes are well choreographed, but they are edited so fast, they almost become a blur. (This rapid-fire editing is also used in an exercise sequence.) A chase scene in a back alley with two black vans almost works, but is deflated by the fact that no tension is built in the sequence - you never doubt Ken will emerge unharmed. There are the classic scenes of machine-gun wielding henchmen shooting thousand of rounds at the hero, while he picks them off with a handgun. And some shootings are made goofy by seeing the cables, that are hooked up to the squibs under the actors' shirts, coming out from the bottom of the actors' pants.

I suppose Matt McColm really isn't that bad an actor for this genre; he looks good, shows that he knows a fair bit about martial arts, and he does seem to be putting some effort in his performance. Unfortunately, he can't do a thing about the way his character is written. Ken is kind of smug, arrogant (whispering "asshole" after meeting someone he dislikes), and selfish, showing no real concern for his friends or anyone else - it all seems to be just about the job. John Rhys-Davies is wasted in a part so small, you have to wonder why he was hired to be in a small and unadvertised role. I was really disappointed with Ron Perlman's performance. It's true that he might have had some difficulty with the fact that his character has no real personality. However, he doesn't seem to be putting any effort here. Except for the one scene when his stiff character has an unintentionally amusing make-out session with his secretary in the back of a limo, his bad guy might be the most boring villain I've ever seen.

Surprisingly, this ultra cheapie actually has some good production values. The night scenes are surprisingly well shot; the blacks are very black, the limited lights that shine in these scenes stand out, and you can easily make out what is going on in these darkened scenes. The scenes during the day look just as good as the night scenes, with each shot seemingly shot when no clouds cover the sun, and seemingly during the time of day when the sun is highest in the sky. Jack Gill also shows some resourcefulness in the locations he chose; if you look carefully, it is obvious that Jack Gill had only a handful of locations to choose from, and ordinarily not very attractive. But he took the time to light each shot and position the camera so that each scene looks more spectacular than it would have been otherwise on camera. All of this eye candy, however, is pretty much for nothing. There is a Hollywood saying that goes, "No matter how much you try, you can't polish a turd." With the inept script for Body Armor instantly dooming the chances of the possibilities of the finished product being any good - as well as the poor acting, lousy action sequences, and everything else bad - a few merit points really doesn't change my rating for this movie.

Though I didn't like Body Armor, I was sorely tempted to give it a recommendation anyway. Confused? Let me explain. After the movie suddenly ends, and the end credits start to roll, the movie actually starts up again - with a conversation from the unseen Conway and Marissa. What they talk about - and the words they use to talk about this subject - is stupendously ludicrous. It's one of the most craziest and silliest conversations I can think of. I'm not telling you what it's about, maybe because deep down I have a secret wish for you to rent the movie and find out for yourself. But to absolve myself of any possible future blame, I must ask you to read the above paragraphs again. You've been warned.

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See also: Year Of The Comet, Sword Of Honor, Soldier's Fortune

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