Forced To Kill

Director: Russel Solberg   
Corey Michael Eubanks, Michael Ironside, Rance Howard

I think it's safe to say that the idea of being cast in a movie or television show - especially if the part one gets is a major role in the production- is very enticing. Who amongst us has never imagined even once in their life about being cast in a dream role in a movie or television show? I know I have many, many times. Among all the possible roles I have imagined myself in, which one would I really like to be asked to play in real life? Well, my first instinct would be to be cast as a no-nonsense guy who totes a sawed-off shotgun packed with silver dimes so I could blast all my enemies into mangled flesh peppered with bloody holes, while I am not entertaining a dozen or so young women with my "personalized equipment" that would shame Dirk Diggler. But when I think about it, I probably wouldn't accept such a role in the end. You see, that role would hit home really well, and I am the kind of person who values his privacy and would not like the very personal parts of my life broadcast to a wide audience. Another reason why I would probably reject a hero role like that, or a completely different kind of cinematic hero, would be because over the years, I have found that many cinematic hero roles are not that colorful - at least to many different kinds of other characters. I am talking about antagonists, bad guys, whatever you want to call them. Just think about it - villains in movies and television show are more often than not more colorful than the protagonists in the same productions. The most obvious examples can be found in the James Bond movies, with villains and henchmen with such attributes as steel teeth, or hats that can chop off heads with the flick of the wrist.

Yes, there can be a lot of fun if you choose to act as a villain in a movie. Of course, there is the danger of being typecast if you hit the right note. Actor Andrew Robinson once said in an interview that after he played the role as the psycho in the Clint Eastwood movie Dirty Harry, he was flooded with second-rate scripts that more or less asked him to be the same kind of psycho, and it took him years to shake the typecasting. But for a surprising number of actors I've observed over the years, I've haven't heard much protest from many actors you associate with bad guy roles. Richard Lynch (Invasion U.S.A.) in one interview I read stated that he didn't mind constantly being cast as a bad guy, as long as he kept being offered work. On one TV interview I watched, Jack Palance said that in about half of his roles he had been cast as a good guy, so he didn't mind being thought of as playing a villain many times. Another actor who has over the years been cast in a number of bad guy roles is Canadian actor Michael Ironside. Starting his film acting career in his late 20s, it didn't take him very long to be thought of as a great bad guy, namely after the effective one-two punch of Scanners and Visiting Hours hitting theaters close to each other. (Ironside, incidentally, got a lot of fan mail from women after Visiting Hours, despite the fact that he had played a killer misogynist.) True, he has managed to play some good guy roles (Nowhere To Hide, Neon City), but I think that if you mention Michael Ironside to anyone who has heard of him, the roles of his that first pop up into mind are those where he has played a bad guy. And no wonder: He is a great bad guy when cast as one, even if the rest of the movie surrounding him is garbage.

From what I've gathered over the years, Ironside doesn't seem to mind being repeatedly cast as sick and twisted individuals. He once said, "I like to play bad guys, since good guys are always beaten up several times during the movie. Bad guys are beaten only once, in the end." Knowing Forced To Killthat he loves to play bad guys just adds to the fun he brings to a movie. You can bet that whenever I get a chance to see a movie with Michael Ironside, I take it, especially if he gets to play a bad guy. And that is what he plays in Forced To Kill, the movie I'm reviewing here. Actually, there was also another reason why I picked up this movie when I found it. That reason being that Forced To Kill is a movie made by PM Entertainment, the maker of top-grade direct-to-video action movies in the 1990, with such triumphs like Last Man Standing and The Sweeper. Combining Ironside with PM Entertainment was impossible for me to resist, and I was sure that at least some of the end results would be entertaining. The plot: Californian repo man Johnny (Eubanks, son of Bob), accepts what seems to be an easy assignment, driving the car he repossessed the night before to its legal owner in Utah. While taking a break in a small town he stops in for a meal, he uses his fighting skills to beat up a few punks who are harassing a homeless man. The fight catches the eye of local resident Rance (Howard, father of Ron), who in short notice contacts his hillbilly sons Dwayne (Don Swayze, brother of Patrick) and Neil (Mickey Jones) and orders them to capture Johnny... the reason being that Rance wants Johnny to fight for him in an upcoming fight tournament that promises a big payday for the winning team. Johnny is captured, and soon finds out that escape will be difficult, if not impossible, because local sheriff Wilson (Ironside) happens to be Rance's partner in this scheme.

Usually when I review a PM Entertainment actioner, I immediately get right down to the nitty gritty and first examine the quality of the action in the movie. Though for a change of pace, I'll start my examination with the movie's other trumpeted feature, that being Michael Ironside. In Forced To Kill, Ironside may play yet another bad guy, but there are a few novelties to this particular character and performance that differentiate him from his other bad guy roles, though at the same time don't deprive us from still enjoying him. His character here, for one thing, isn't a totally despicable guy. In fact, for a long time the movie makes us believe that he'll be one of the good guys. In the first part of the movie, we see him twice trying to get an armed robber to surrender peacefully instead of simply blowing him away. A little later, when Ironside's character bumps into the homeless man that Eubanks' character later saves, Ironside reaches into his pocket and gives the homeless man some money when he sees that the unfortunate man is a vet. He is also polite to waitresses and other townspeople he bumps into. During all of this, Ironside gives his character a soft-spoken casualness that fools us into thinking he's decent, making the revelation he's really bad a surprise. But how is Ironside in the latter part of the movie, when he acts bad? Actually, pretty effective. He doesn't chew the scenery like he's done in some other bad guy movie roles, but he has a wicked grin he flashes occasionally, and even during his more quiet moments he gives his character a bluntness that makes clear he is a ruthless character who will do whatever it takes to succeed in his schemes.

There is one disappointing thing about Ironside's performance, however - we don't get to see quite enough of it. Ironside is offscreen for some major chunks of the movie, so he doesn't get as much focus as in his other movies. Fortunately, there are some other performances by some of the movie's other actors that manage to be somewhat entertaining. As the patriarch of the hillbilly family that imprisons Eubanks' character, Howard wisely doesn't go over the top, possibly knowing we've seen plenty of overdone hillbilly characters in other movies before. His character actually shows some smarts several times during the course of the movie. While Swayze's and Jones' characters may be of a more cretinous nature, they don't overplay their roles either. They are pretty fun to watch as they abuse Eubanks and a few other characters, so viewers will be entertained by them while at the same time hoping they will get seriously punished by the end of the movie. But a movie like this doesn't just need good villains, but also a protagonist that viewers will get behind. At first, Eubanks comes across as a very unlikely hero. He is somewhat short, scrawny, and looks like he would better be cast as a Ratso Rizzo-type of character. But it doesn't take too long for Eubanks to win over the audience. He may look unlike a regular B movie hero, but we can identify with him better because of that - he's more like one of us. And his actual acting isn't that bad. For one thing, he brings to his role a refreshing amount of humor. No, he (wisely) isn't constantly cracking jokes, but he delivers a number of lines in a somewhat low-key manner that is amusing to hear. And being trained as a stuntman in real life, you really see that it is him being dragged from speeding trucks and involved in fights instead of being doubled. Seeing all this real stuff really happening to the protagonist makes this character more real, and as a result we get caught up in his plight more than usual.

Besides being the lead actor and performing his own stunts, Eubanks also was Forced To Kill's screenwriter. Although the screenplay does have a few novel touches like those interesting character quirks I discussed before, the rest of the screenplay is a combination of elements we have seen in other B movies before, like the idea of a character being kidnapped and forced to fight in a tournament. And there are a few questionable character actions, like the fact that when Eubanks escapes and Ironside calls in other cops in the area to help him capture Eubanks (telling the other cops that Eubanks is a dangerous criminal), Eubanks instead kills several of these innocent cops instead of trying to communicate to them who the real criminals are. And the fight tournament is a public tournament, making it very unlikely someone would force someone else to participate in it with all those avenues available to request help from the authorities. But if you can stomach all that and the script's other weaknesses, you might still enjoy Forced To Kill. The script may be weak, but the people participating in its execution make the final results enjoyable. Not just with the actors, but with the director and the stunt team as well. As weak as the script might get, it still manages to make a lot of excuses for action sequences, most of which are pretty well executed. The fight sequences are pretty well done. Although the fighting moves may not be very spectacular (most of the moves the participants make while fighting are simple punches), they come across as realistic and believable, and we feel the sweat and strain the fighters are going through as they fight for their lives. As well, there are several vehicular stunt sequences that aren't bad for what must have been a limited budget. So as you can see, there's enough entertainment for your video rental dollar here. Still, it could have used a lot more Ironside - there's no such thing as a movie having too much Ironside.

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See also: Neon City, Raw Force, Shootfighter