Death Chase
(a.k.a. Chase)

Director: David A. Prior   
Paul Smith, Jack Starrett, William Zipp

I've told a lot about myself in my past movie reviews. Several years ago, I confessed one of my biggest fears, which was to be incarcerated for a crime I did not committ. Well, I am equally fearful of being imprisoned for something I did do, but you know what I mean. There's one thing that worries me just as much as being arrested and imprisoned for a crime I did not commit. And that is to be on the run from forces determined to imprison or kill me. In this day and age, it's not like the good old days when you saw the title character in the TV series The Fugitive getting into multiple romances along the way. With advanced technology, it's harder for a fugitive in the twenty-first century to stay hidden. Not long after a fugitive starts his run, his picture would be instantly distributed across television and the Internet. You might get a slight boost if your picture showed you wearing a beard that you can subsequently shave off, but not everyone is fooled by a shaved beard. (Neverless, I am thinking of growing a beard just in case.) Anyway, not long after you're on the run, it is inevitable that you'll need money to support your fugitive status. How will you get money? If you use a credit card, computer technicians working for The Powers That Be can instantly find out where you are and what you bought. I guess the best thing to do would be to go to a bank and use your ATM card to withdraw a lot of cash at once so you don't have to get more money for a long time... but even then, those computer technicians will be scanning your bank account and find where you withdrew your money. That is, if they haven't already closed your bank account and cancelled your credit card already.

I don't like to dwell on situations like that. Instead, I try my best to think of stuff that makes me happy, namely movies - all different kind of movies. That's why my site has a lot of very different movies. Recently, going through a pile of used videos I had picked up at pawn shops and thrift stores, one title I came across made me realize that there was one kind of movie I had not reviewed yet. And that was an action movie by the studio A.I.P. No, I am not talking about American International Pictures - I've covered them already several times. I am talking about Action International Pictures. The founding and running of the studio is an interesting story. The studio was founded in the late '80s by a fellow named David Winters, who previously had made a mark as a former dancer and choreographer, starring as "A-rab" in the movie version of the Broadway musical West Side Story and choreographing a wide range of things including Donnie & Marie and The Star Wars Holiday Special. With partners Peter Yuval and David A. Prior, the three of them took turns with the duties of preparing, writing, directing, producing, and ultimately distributing product. As you might have guessed by the name of the company, their focus was action movies aimed at the video market. Though their product was significantly cheaper than many other straight-to-video movies of the time - the typical budget of one of their movies was less than a million dollars. You might think that with their skinflint budgets they didn't find success, but they did, at least at first; at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, Winters bragged to one observer, "We made three million in our first three days."

In 1992, Winters renamed Action International Pictures to West Side Studios, in part to show that the company was deemphasizing the making of action movies. Several years later, West Side Studios suddenly disappeard with no announcement, like so many other companies making Death Chaselow budget straight-to-video movies. Part of it was no doubt due to the fact the video market had at this point become saturated with product. But I think another reason is the general quality of their movies. I have seen several other A.I.P. movies, and I have found them all to be extremely cheap and shoddy, even for my taste. Their movies at times come across as glorified backyard productions. All the same, I knew right from the start of running this web site that I would have to cover at least one of their action movies eventually. (In the past I reviewed the company's horror movie Elves.) Which is why I am reviewing Death Chase. As you probably guessed by the opening paragraph of this review, it concerns an innocent man who suddenly finds himself on the run from some big power. That person is Steven Chase (Zipp), who is riding a bicycle one morning with his sister in a city park as the movie begins. Their peaceful ride is interrupted by the arrival of a man in a speeding car being pursued by two men in another speeding car. The cars stop just a few feet from Chase and his sister, gunfire is exchanged, and Chase's sister is killed in the crossfire. When the gunfire ceases (with all three shooters wounded), an angry Chase goes to the man who was being pursued and demands an explanation. The dying man slaps a gun into Chase's hand, and croaks, "You're it... good luck."

I don't know about you, but I found this opening a pretty good one. It made me wonder just what was going on, and what on earth this protagonist suddenly found himself tangled in. As it turns out, it doesn't take long for Chase to find himself pursued by the police, who think he's some kind of cold-blooded killer, though one Lt. MacGrew (Starrett, who directed Race With The Devil) suspects there's more to the case than meets the eye. But there are also by some additional gunmen pursuing Chase for reasons that are initially mysterious. Chase has several encounters during his fugitive journey with a mysterious figure named Steele (Smith, Sonny Boy) who hints that Chase is participating in some sort of sick "game". Is it really? But more importantly, can Chase prove his innocence to the authorities as well as escape from all those gunmen? I will answer the first question for you, to not only decrease your curiousity about the movie so it's less likely that you'll seek out and watch it, but to also point out some very big plot holes that the screenplay has. As it turns out, it is some kind of game; the person who is to be pursued is the one who carries the gun that Chase now has, and the party that kills the person carrying this particular gun gets a million dollar reward. When all this is made clear, a bunch of questions filled my mind. Like: How did the game planners get the original guy with the gun to go along with this game in the first place? How did the game planners find people to play the pursuers? Didn't the game designers realize that a lot of attention would be raised by the sight of people shooting each other in public places? And what is in it for the game designers to run this game, especially considering they would be losing a million dollars in the end?

As you might have guessed, at the end of Death Chase, none of these questions is even half-heartedly answered to the audience. But the screenplay is not only flawed when it comes to explaining this so-called game, but in a number of other ways as well. It seems that the three credited screenwriters (including director Prior) never did the trick that many successful screenwriters do when writing good scripts - to ask yourself what you would do in the same situation. Take, for example, when Chase discovers that the gun that he's been carrying around has a transmitter that gives a signal to the pursuing gunmen that tells them where he is. (Chase is mighty slow to figure this out, despite unsubtle clues like the fact his gun periodically makes beeping noises... but I digress.) Okay, what would you do? Two ideas immediately come to my mind: (1) Smash the transmitter and immediately get out of the general area, or (2) Throw the transmitter into a passing vehicle to draw away the gunmen. But guess what Chase does right there and then with the transmitter? Nothing! Yes, he keeps it around, even when not long afterwards he's attacked by another team of gunmen. Such dumb behavior like that made it hard for me to sympathize with Chase and get involved with his plight. The screenplay is further flawed with general stupidities. We are supposed to believe that Chase's compact gun can go through multiple gun battles without once being reloaded... that a flare gun can blow up a speedboat... that no one can hear the noise of an Uzi being fired in an adjoining room... that a man would express regret about not being as close to his sister as he should have been right before putting the moves on a woman... and much, much more.

Maybe, just maybe, the movie could still have been salvaged had it contained a number of well-executed action sequences. It's been done before. But the action scenes in Death Chase are so ineptly done that they will provoke annoyance and anger from the audience rather than excitement. There are several car chases, but each time it is very obvious, despite the editing, that the vehicles are only going about half as fast as they should be going. The same thing happens during the movie's motorboat chase. The movie also has a number of gun battles, but the movie's very low budget works against them, since a number of times we don't see muzzle flashes or bloody squibs exploding on shot victims, as well as little to no visible damage on vehicles that are shot up. It also doesn't help that the music score (composed by three composers) playing under all this "action" constantly sounds wrong against what is happening onscreen and is very distracting. Another thing: the locations chosen for the settings of the action (and non action) scenes hurt the movie. Almost the entire movie is shot in crumbling buildings, back alleys, junkyards, and weed-infested fields and train yards. These shabby locations make the movie look even cheaper than it probably was, not helped by the fact we seldom see any innocent bystanders in the locations - it's just the major players for the most part that we get to see. By now, you are probably wondering if there's anything of merit to be found in Death Chase. Well, for a low budget movie, it's decently photographed for the most part. And director David A. Prior occasionally uses a striking camera angle to capture what's happening on the screen. But the rest of the movie is an utter travesty, enough to make you realize that A.I.P. more often than not stood for "Awfully Inept Pictures".

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See also: Elves, Night Of The Running Man, Outlaw Force