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The Silencer
(1999)

Director: Robert Lee       
Cast:
Michael Dudikoff, Brennan Elliott, Gabrielle Miller


With his most recent efforts including such dreck as Gale Force, Ablaze, and Fugitive Mind, can Michael Dudikoff really be considered a "star" nowadays? For that matter, was he ever considered a star? Oh sure, after several years of struggling to make a living as an actor in the '80s with forgettable roles like "Young Man In Bar 2" and "Boy On Bus", he finally got a big break with landing the leading role in American Ninja, which turned out to be a respectable hit at the box office. However, I am confident that it was actually the title and the marketing campaign that drew customers to the movie. Even if Dudikoff's far more talented and charismatic sidekick (played by Steve James) hadn't been there at his side for comparison, I was actually trying to capture something a few frames later - but I knew perverts in my readership would like this stillI am also confident that audiences would still have realized just how bad Dudikoff was. Not just with acting, but with martial arts, since Dudikoff had no martial arts training before signing on. So it's pretty easy to conclude just why the public didn't seem very interested in seeing Dudikoff's subsequent movies for Cannon. The poor quality of those movies (with the exception of the not-bad Avenging Force) just further tarnished his reputation.

After finishing making movies for Cannon, Dudikoff entered the straight-to-video market, but even there the bad movie stigma stayed attached to him. In just a few years he reached the bottom of the barrel, making movies for Phoenician Entertainment and Royal Oaks Communications - two of the worst straight-to-video companies currently around. It probably comes as no surprise that until recently I had long given up on Michael Dudikoff movies, just like I have long given up on Lorenzo Lamas movies. A combination of an inability to act and an inability to choose good scripts is always a deadly one. Anyway, recently I realized that I hadn't yet reviewed a Michael Dudikoff movie (I don't think Cross Mission doesn't count.) Since I had sampled at least one example of each of my B-movie enemies - Lamas, Cynthia Rothrock, Andy Sidaris, etc. - it only seemed right that I handle Dudikoff once, at least as a warning to unknowing readers. Around that time, fellow Internet critic "Kenner" of Movies In The Attic and Ziggy's Video Realm told me my best bet would be with reviewing The Silencer, adding that (shock of all shocks) that it was actually pretty good. A good Michael Dudikoff movie? I could hardly believe it, but that's the best bit of news I have heard about any Dudikoff movie for years, so I figured choosing that movie would be my best bet.

The first indication that suggested to me that The Silencer may very well not be another dreary Michael Dudikoff movie was that it was made by Prophecy Pictures, a Canadian outfit that makes well-crafted genre pictures (such as The Barber) on low budgets, and without funding from the (ick) Telefilm bureau. Minutes later, my interest level was perked up even further by the fact that Dudikoff, while top-billed, was not playing the hero of the movie. Instead, he was playing a villainous role, a professional hit man working for a dangerous right-wing terrorist group. The movie starts with him killing an FBI agent who had been trying to infiltrate his group. But just before his death, the agent had managed to pass word to the FBI that the group has been planning an assassination on a high-profile senator who has made plans to "I've got me a date with some panhandlers!"run for president. The urgency of terminating this terrorist group is now more than ever, but since the death of the agent suggested there is a mole in the agency, they dare not try again - officially. The FBI director recruits agent Jason Wells (Elliot, Strong Medicine) for a top secret operation only they and one other agent will know of. Jason's death is faked, and with a new identity as a hitman he gets himself recruited by the group, being personally trained by Dudikoff's character.

You might think that you have a good guess as to what happens next. You're probably thinking that Jason, while gathering evidence of everyone in this group, joins the group in a bunch of different activities like robbing banks, blowing things up good, etc. You are probably also thinking that just before the assassination, Jason's identity gets blown, and he finds himself alone and having to take down the group by himself at the scene of the planned assassination. Gunshots, a big explosion killing the last surviving group members, and the hero walks away as the credits start to roll. And you would be wrong. For starters, The Silencer can not be considered an action-packed movie. In fact, the total amount of action in the movie is limited enough that for a while I seriously considered labeling this movie as a drama. (Various factors, like Dudikoff's involvement and the B-movie origins, ultimately made me decide otherwise.) While there is little action in the movie, it actually is pretty well done. The actual action is well crafted. We've seen cars propelled and spinning in the air, but here it's given some extra flash with its nighttime setting and careful lighting. But one big difference this movie has with others is that none of the action sequences come across as gratuitous. All the action comes from drastic and desperate actions the characters are forced to take, whether it's an escape or a life-or-death struggle.

The final action sequence is pretty impressive in that it doesn't resort to spectacle (explosions and the like), but actually seems focused more on being as realistic as possible. When a gun is shot, for example, the firing noise sounds more like a pop than a brief explosion. There is also a feeling of real tension coming from both the protagonists and the antagonists; both Dudikoff takes aim at his critics - but the critics prepare to fire backgroups of people feel danger coming from the other party, and are desperate both to survive and to persevere. Though much of this feeling is generated by the actor's performances in this sequence, a good part of this comes from what the screenplay has been doing all along up to this point. The screenplay for The Silencer was written with an atypical amount of credibility, not just for a B movie but for a major studio production. Everything that happens in this movie is presented in a way that comes across as surprisingly believable. Certainly, this is not the first movie to have a conspiracy plot that in some part involves the assassination of President Kennedy, nor one that has ties going all the way back to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. But in this case, the ties this plot has concocted to link these two real-life figures do not sound labored and outlandish. They come more across as a-matter-of-fact, but at the same time reveal very human motives - motives you can identify with, and thusly believe the actions that were taken to get them.

Seeing a movie that presents not just a plausible situation, but is directed in a manner that has everything in this situation unfold as it could happen in real life, I often can't help but get a little more involved in what I am watching. Of course, the characters are an essential part of this "everything" I am talking about. How often have we've been frustrated by characters (good or bad) in movies who, at key moments, don't do the most obvious thing or things that would quickly end the situation to their favor? The Silencer seems aware of this, since the actions its characters take are often the most obvious anyone would do, or else are given enough explanation so that we can understand what they choose to do. (Though the explanation as to why some of the characters late in the movie just don't go to the press with what they ultimately uncover is uncharacteristically brief and stupid, when you think about it.) Also, the way the characters execute their actions sometimes have some primitive but very believable emotion attached to them. Take the time when Jason gets his hand on a very important document, and he decides to let his adversary know this by sending a copy through the fax machine. He not only faxes the document, but adds a personal touch of some kind that is really not more than an exclamation of "Ha ha, gotcha". Yet if I were in Jason's situation, I must admit I would do more or less exactly what he did, to get extra pleasure from twisting the knife after its plunge.

The characters here are very human - even the ones that you may initially consider "bad guys". As Dudikoff says at one point, "Not everything is black or white," and that's especially true with his character. At the beginning he seems to be If he was *really* smart, he'd know he'd look better with contact lensesquite the despicable type, seeing him assassinate an FBI agent and his subsequent cold and mechanical teaching of his craft to Jason. But as more of his character gets revealed, he starts to drift into that grey area. Though he tries to maintains a stony facade, we see that it's starting to crumble after a long time in this business. We see that he is starting to hate his job, and is unable to stop thinking of the consequences of what he's done. He even has a girlfriend of sorts, though seeing his near-desperate efforts to get her to stay in this on and off again relationship makes him almost a sad figure. As for how Dudikoff handles playing this multilayered character, it probably isn't a surprise that his performance leaves a lot to be desired... though he actually isn't as awful as you might think. Dudikoff does give a low-key performance that's appropriate for this character, though sometimes he is too low key - seeing him almost timidly interacting with his girlfriend, it's amazing his character even has a girlfriend. On the other hand, Dudikoff does some surprisingly convincing facial reactions when his character is silently seeing or thinking of things so horrible that not even someone as desensitized as this hitman could keep a stone face.

Even then, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Elliott manages to give a better performance than his top-billed co-star. Though in its own right, the performance is still very impressive. For one thing, Elliott has the challenge of playing two different characters, in a sense. More exactly, he plays a character who must attempt to play someone completely different from him. He pretty much nails it, not only able to give this second character a personality that can be accepted, but also adds in the panic and quick-thinking the character could not completely be able to hide when feeling his real identity is in danger of being exposed. The no-name cast (appearing on Canadian TV shows does not make you "known", in my opinion) give equally strong performances in the movie's other roles, major or minor. But the movie's other "star" that really deserves mention is director Robert Lee. He has a visual eye, finding some nice-looking Vancouver locations to provide some eye candy. Even better is the fact that it's really clear he knows how a story should be told. Every scene serves a purpose, whether its to directly advance the story or give us details about the characters that serve a later purpose. Every scene is precisely at the length it should be, with no padding and no lack of explanation. Though the movie is mostly talk, the situation is always changing in some aspect, and your interest is kept up. Congratulations, Mr. Lee, for making a Canadian movie that defies the norm and is instead a real movie - and a good one at that, too.

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See also: The Mercenary, Sabotage, The Violent Professionals

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