Back In Action

Director: Paul Ziller, Steve DiMarco            
Billy Blanks, Roddy Piper, Bobbie Phillips

YES!!!!!! Action fans, here's a movie that's sure to satisfy your bloodthirsty cravings. If this doesn't get your blood pumping, nothing will. It's your dream come true - a bare minimum of plot, a little sex, and the rest of the movie is just gunfights, explosions, and people beating the crap out of each other. These are not just regular made-for-video-wimpy-ass-Lorenzo-Lamas fights - no sir, these fights are *bone breaking* fights, with more bloody noses and broken bones than you can shake a stick at. It seems like on an average of every five minutes, there's a scene where at least one person gets the tar beaten out of him. Believe it or not, this movie somehow has way more BIFF! SMACK! WHACK! CRUNCH! than Martial Outlaw.

I'll get rid of this bare minimum of plot right away, so I can get back to discussing the goods Back In Action has to offer. Piper plays cop Frank Rossi, who at the beginning of the movie is undercover at a secret drug deal so he and his fellow undercover cops can bust Kasajian (Nigel Bennett), the mob leader of the unnamed city. (If you have concluded from this that this movie must be Canadian, give yourself five bonus points.) What Frank, Kasajian, and the other cops and goons don't know is at the same time, ex-Special Forces member Billy (Blanks) is sneaking in to rescue his beautiful but stupid sister, who is girlfriend to one of the goons. What Billy doesn't know is that his sister doesn't want to be rescued, there's a struggle that the cops and goons hear, and the inevitable opening shoot-out begins. (Just in time, because the movie seconds before just barely passed the mark for minimum needed opening explanatory dialogue.) Perhaps afraid the audience is bored at this point in the movie, we're treated to a shoot-out big enough to be used as a climactic shoot-out in another movie, with bullets and bullet holes galore, with a healthy serving of blood on the side. We now know we can safely turn off our brains for several moments, which means we won't be bothered with the shot where an obviously phony tombstone gets shattered by gunfire.

During the gunfight, Frank's partner gets wounded by gunfire, then gutted and killed by Chakka (Matt Birman), a particularly sadistic knife-wielding goon working for Kasajian. Of course, he swears revenge, vowing to take down Kasajian and inflict some pretty heavy brutality on Chakka in the process. Billy has his own problems still with Kasajian; though he escaped the gunfight with his sister (who witnessed the killing of Frank's partner during the escape), she quickly runs back to her goon boyfriend! Well, I said she was dumb. Especially since Kasajian soon after puts a price on her head, wanting no witnesses. Billy vows to find wherever she and her boyfriend are hiding, battling Kasajian's goons along the way. As you've guessed, it's inevitable that Billy and Frank should cross paths sometime in the near future.

Naturally, each man is not exactly thrilled to have the other interfering with their plans. In most other action movies, this would result in arguments, maybe a punch or two thrown in along the way. That's not how it goes in Back In Action. Instead, they exchange a few nasty remarks in their first meeting and they start to beat the s**t out of each other. When Billy tries to escape, Frank clotheslines(!) him, saying "I hate that karate s**t! Now, you're under arrest for assaulting an officer with that crap! Now get your fat ass up now!" (Such colorful dialogue is frequent in Back In Action*) Then the two start to kick, punch, and smash each other in the most savage way you can think of, and for some length of time. To make the fight look more realistic, the directors have the actors get progressively tired as the fight goes on, which you don't see very often in a fight scene. The sheer power of the action somehow manages to come across despite the otherwise badly handled construction - the camera frequently seems to be in the wrong place or angle, and some of the editing is jumbled, making some of the actions a little confusing.

Elsewhere, there's more confusing editing. One scene has Frank knocking on the door of his reporter girlfriend's apartment, saying he has to talk to her, and being let in. End of scene. Later on in the movie, we are given out of nowhere a shot sequence where Frank is in his girlfriend's arms and bed. Were these scene originally shot to be in one sequence at the apartment? It seems like maybe there was a third scene linking the two that was shot, but not used in the final cut. Another scene, where Frank and Billy are blowing up and shooting goons in a warehouse district ends so abruptly, it's almost like it was edited with scissors. What's worse is that it's revealed that Billy escaped the scene but we don't see how he did this. Although there are no other scenes either as badly edited or as directed as this, there are enough little glitches not seeming right to be a little distracting. Sometimes the colors on the screen don't seem quite right, or the director hasn't pulled his camera back enough. I suspect that maybe some of the people who made this movie were newcomers or relatively inexperienced.

The minor distractions will be quickly forgotten by action fans, because Back In Action gives them what they want, and in spades. Numerous heads are heavily smacked on walls, posts, doors, and other objects. The camera lingers on broken limbs and bloody noses being crunched against windshields, with the camera shooting from the other side as in order to get a good shot of the scrunched-up face wiping blood all over the glass. Someone is beaten with a lead pipe. People fall from buildings and splat on the sidewalk. People are machine-gunned in their backs while fleeing. At times, the violence rises to levels that may be considered fascist. For example, there are some scenes when Frank pops up and shoots the bad guys without identifying himself as a cop. Of course, when he's being hunted, you can't expect him to yell, "Police!" But there are some scenes when he tracks down the unsuspecting goons and immediately shoots them. Another scene, when he arrives at a house to arrest someone, has him first beating up and kicking the guy down a flight of stairs. Then on the ground floor, he beats him up some more. Then he pulls off two wrestling moves on the guy. Then he beats up the guy some more. Then he burns the guy's ass on a barbecue. Actually, I think this scene - and much of the other violence in the movie - is simply too over the top to take seriously. It's goofy fun to see Piper do a drop kick on the guy he's going to arrest.

As for Piper's acting skills, well, I don't think he's a great actor, but he does okay here. He brings a likeability to the movie, and he seems to fit better in this wonderful nonsense than a more serious actor would have brought. He's having fun in this movie. I've never been too impressed with Blanks as an actor. Including this movie, he seems to have a problem with scripted dialogue, and sometimes seems to speak like English isn't his native language. Blanks compensates for this, however, by bringing in an intensive animal magnetism that almost provokes awe; he is one mean S.O.B., and he really looks like he means to kill or badly hurt anyone who gets in his way, making his fights all the more realistic. So realistic, I'm not sure if I'd want to get near Blanks in real life - he's that convincing. And when he teams up with Piper, you know that absolutely nothing will stop them in their pursuit. So go see them Back In Action, even though their other movie pairing, Tough And Deadly, came out after this movie.

* The wit of the screenplay also includes a scene with a business with a big neon sign reading JACK ASTOR'S - and the part of the lettering reading TOR' is burned out. (Note: Shortly after originally putting up this review, reader "T-Bone" informed me that Jack Astor's is a legitimate restaurant chain in Canada, with many of the franchises intentionally turning off the TOR' part of the sign.)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check out Billy Blanks' greatest role to date - Tae-Bo! (Download)

See also: Expect No Mercy, Martial Outlaw, Mission Of Justice