The Tracker

Director: Jeff Schecter                
Casper Van Dien, Russell Wong, Francois Robertson

I tried, you know. Honest, I did. As a reviewer of unknown movies, I know it's my job to stay out of the mainstream. But recently, the forces of darkness were starting to surround me like never before. I knew others like me had tried and failed to hang on, so I was trying my hardest to stay pure. Still, the influence was growing, and it finally occurred to me that if I did"I have so much star power, I was put in the background so I wouldn't obscure my co-stars!" manage to hang on, one day I might find myself out of touch and out of date, too late to learn the trade of the opposition. And life is all about constant changes, anyway. So I concluded it was time for me to change.

In other words, I bought a DVD player.

Now, before you scream that I've sold out, that I've become one of those DVD snobs, hear me out. First of all, I've got a ton of unwatched movies on videotape sitting on my shelves. So I won't be abandoning my VCR for a long time. (Also, remember when CDs came to replace audio tapes - audio tape is still used to make copies a heck of a lot more than other recordable media.) Second, the DVD player I bought is actually a Playstation 2, so I really bought the machine for the games, not the DVD player. Last, I knew there was only one right choice for me for my first DVD rental:


So I went down to my favorite video store to find something suitably unknown for me to review on DVD. Looking at what was available, another reason comes up as to why I won't be abandoning VHS for some time - there presently aren't very many unknown movies on DVD. But I found one that day, The Tracker, with Casper Van Dien, who I consider the biggest named B movie star that you've almost certainly never heard of. His one shot to glory was to appear in Starship Troopers, but it's been a long descent since then, this movie being no exception. The fault here doesn't just lie in his choice of a script, but himself, period. Simply put, it's simply the way he looks in this movie that turns you off, especially since he is supposed to be the hero! He looks very freaky here, with his piercing eyes, slicked-back hair, teeth gnashing together, chin jutting out, and having the unfortunate luck to have a face that looks like he has five o'clock shadow despite being clean shaven. Take a look for yourself:


Creeps you out, doesn't it? (Incidentally, this being physically miscast has happened before; remember  when he was oddly cast as a small and unmuscular Tarzan in Tarzan And The Lost City?)

Anyway... Van Dien plays Spears, a LA.-based private detective who isn't exactly the most endearing guy around. That's evident from the obligatory introduction-via-unrelated-case, where he drops in at a wedding to expose the bride's secret past, and expose just what a real jerk he is. After that's, what comes is the obligatory plea-for-help-from-former-friend, this one being Rick (Wong), the brother of Kim, the obligatory former-girlfriend-hero-once-had. We had previously seen in the obligatory opening-action-scene (a very silly and unbelievable sequence that, among other things, shows us a fragile-looking maid doing a John Woo with two guns) where she was kidnapped by some gun-wielding thugs from her New York home. Of course, subsequently as the two former friends talk there is the obligatory revelation where we find out Rick's family is connected to the Chinese mob, and the obligatory statement from the hero that he doesn't want to get involved. But of course, there's the obligatory protest from the former friend that the hero must still love her because etc. etc. etc.

Of course you know how it is, and that our hero does go back to New York. It was clear at this point of the movie that this movie's ambition wasn't going to be much more than by-the-numbers. When the two fly to New York, guess who they immediately hire to help them out? That's right - a cabbie outside the airport. The only difference this time around is that the cabbie is a woman, and she is assigned to do laborious comic relief like punching a fellow cabbie in the nose when he pinches her butt. Apart from that, the only thing she gets to do is keep repeating an annoying routine she has with her lighter. There's no real reason why she is here - she isn't a love interest, she doesn't affect the plot at all, and she only seems to be there to provide work for a hungry actress.

Speaking of things that are essentially useless, take a scene that happens not long after that meeting, when the trio go to the cops to try and find some clues. This scene is the obligatory revelation that the hero used to be a cop at the precinct, and all the cops there now hate him. And that's it. No, there's nothing introduced or hinted in this sequence that comes to play later on in the movie. All it provides is the obligatory sequence when a high-A typical action sequenceranked police officer sneers and snarls at our hero. There are other scenes where there's also a general feeling of uselessness; the visit to the mansion of the leader of the Chinese mob family, and a visit to the warehouse owned by the rival Russian are both intended to uncover clues about the kidnapping, but reveal none. It seems the actual intentions of both scenes are to provide fight sequences. If you think that sounds bad, you haven't heard the worst; Spears at one point has a flashback about a sexy hot tub encounter he once had with Kim, and the only intention this flashback seems to have is to provide some gratuitous nudity.

And that nudity can be called fleeting at best. You have to wonder why they even went to all that trouble to do that scene, as well as every other scene in the movie. The Tracker is completely filled with elements that are either unimaginative or downright tiring to see again. The martial arts sequences are brutal yet dull, with the heroes pounding the bad guys (and sometimes themselves) with moves that Jackie Chan could do in his sleep, and include familiar sights like someone being kicked into an electrical box. The characters are given as little exposition as possible, resulting in them being thoroughly unlikable, so much so that you wouldn't mind if the bad guys killed them off, as long as the movie would end. And the story - well, I wonder if it can even be called a story, with the movie being filled with scenes that serve no purpose to the story. But also because there is no surprise with what happens near the end. Even if the back of the DVD case didn't more or less reveal what happens, there are some painfully obvious clues that will have you knowing what will happen far, far before the heroes find out.

If I was one of those DVD snobs that you occasionally come across on DVD movie review sites on the Internet, this is the part of the review where I'd say something like: "The Tracker is presented in 1 x 1.33, an outrageous decision, even though with the central positioning of everything onscreen, it's not like letterboxing would make much of a difference. The image is somewhat dark but When you enjoy seeing the hero in this kind of situation, something is very wrong clean, with none of those grimy icky things that you find on other prints. Sound quality is decent enough to make it seem like a thug fearfully urinating in his pants is right next to you. Aside from brief biographies of Van Dien and Wong, this is a bare-bones disc - how dare they selfishly not include director's commentary even if it would surely be boring? As well as the fact there is no trailer, even though there would never have been a point in this film's history for it to make economic sense to make a trailer for it. To think that there used to be days when the movie itself would satisfy consumers; how glad I don't live in those barbarian days anymore!" But I'm not a DVD snob, so I won't say all that.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Body Armor, Chance, The Mercenary