Command Performance

Director: Dolph Lundgren
Dolph Lundgren, Melissa Smith, Hristo Shopov

One question that I am sure I would get if more of my readers actually took the time to write me an e-mail (hint hint) would be, "How do you decide which movies you will watch for your web site, as well as which movies you will watch during your private time?" That's a good question, as well as a question I have to admit that is not easy for me to answer. One reason that it's hard to answer is that the circumstances that I am in when I come across movies change all the time. There have been some movies that I have turned up my nose against when I first came across the opportunity to watch them, but years later I eagerly snatched them up when I came across them for a second time. Maybe in some aspects I became more mature between those opportunities, or less mature. But there has to be something about the movie that interests me, that makes it stand out from the other movies in the shelf. The plot, for instance, or even the studio that made the movie are some factors I use to judge the movie before picking it up or not. What about the people in the movie who are in front of the camera, the stars? Well, I have to admit that for the most part I don't judge whether to see a movie by the people in its cast. Many actors I find to be interchangeable, and with plenty of actors out there who are unknown but very talented, I am more than willing to take a chance on a movie that has actors that I haven't heard of before. Another reason I am usually not swayed by the star system is that many big actors seem to have lousy taste when it comes to picking movie projects. I don't know about you, but if I were a famous actor, I would try hard to sign on projects that were a lot more high quality, even if they didn't pay as much as schlocky projects.

However, I have to admit that there are a few actors who interest me enough that I actively seek out their movies whenever they make a new one. Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away and Didn't You Hear) is one such actor, though he doesn't make that many movies nowadays. Another actor that I like, and one who is more prolific, is Dolph Lundgren. I have to admit, however, that Lundgren didn't instantly win me over when he first started to appear in movies like A View To A Kill and Rocky IV back in the '80s. He looked appropriately thuggish in those movies, but otherwise he didn't come across as very appealing. Years later, when I first started this web site, I still didn't think much of him, finding his choice of projects dubious, as well as his performances. But slowly, my opinion of him started to change as I watched more of his movies. I learned more about his personal life, and was pleasantly surprised to find out he was a devoted family man, and that unlike many other action stars he took martial arts very seriously. His acting seemed to improve, and showed that he could play a good guy as well as bad guys. Also, his choice of projects seemed to improve as well. He was also starting to appear in some genuinely entertaining movies such as Bridge Of Dragons and The Peacekeeper. While not all of his movies at this stage were turning out to be gems, Lundgren himself made up for some of these shortcomings, coming across as a genuinely appealing fellow that you would root for and give another chance the next time a new movie of his appeared at your local video store.

So you can see that while Lundgren is not perfect when it comes to picking projects, he brings in a lot of appeal to his movies, enough that if you are in the mood for B movie action, there's a higher chance than normal that you'll be entertained by one of them. Anyway, I want to now talk about Command Performancewhy some of Lundgren's movies are more interesting than others. Unlike most action stars, Lundgren has worked behind the camera as well as an actor. For starters, he has written the screenplays for several of his movies. Not only that, he has sat in the director's chair on several occasions. Command Performance, the movie being reviewed here, is a movie he starred in, directed, and co-wrote. That was enough to make me seek out a copy, but what made the movie appear even sweeter in my mind was that it was a Nu Image production, a company that typically makes high quality B movies. The combination of Lundgren and Nu Image seemed like a sort of marriage in heaven. In the movie, Lundgren plays a fellow by the name of Joe. When Joe lived in America years ago, he had a violent life in a biker gang. But when his brother was killed by some rivals, and after Joe subsequently avenged his brother's death, Joe quit his violent lifestyle, and became a drummer in a rock and roll band. (I'm not making this up - more on this plot point later.) Joe's band eventually got the fortune to be chosen to open for famed singer Venus (Smith) on her worldwide tour. As the movie starts, Joe and his band are with Venus in Moscow preparing to perform for Russian President Petrov (Shopov, Shark Hunter) and his two daughters. But as the concert at the Moscow stadium subsequently starts and progresses, a big problem comes up. A mysterious man by the name of Oleg (Dave Legano, Snow White And The Huntsman), accompanied by a band of armed and murderous henchmen, manages to take complete control of the stadium, and takes among others Venus and the Petrovs hostage. Joe is lucky enough to avoid being taken hostage, being in the bathroom when the terror starts, but realizes that hiding and waiting out the crisis simply won't do. He knows it's up to him to resurrect his tough guy past and take out one by one every terrorist - with Oleg at the top of his list.

I know, I know - Dolph Lundgren obviously got the core idea of Command Performance from the movie Die Hard. But Lundgren apparently wasn't just inspired by Die Hard, he was also inspired by movies that ripped off Die Hard before he did. For example, the setting of the movie (a stadium), as well as the terrorists' plot to kidnap a big shot politician, are obviously derived from the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Sudden Death. Later in the movie, Joe comes across someone else hiding from the terrorists (Zachary Baharov, Universal Soldier: Regeneration), and the two team up to fight their common foe - a plot turn that happened in the two Steven Seagal Under Siege movies. But Lundgren wasn't just inspired by Die Hard and its imitators - the climax of Command Performance has some remarkable similarities to the climax found in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Commando. I have to admit that all of these similarities to other movies didn't bother me too much - B movies do this all the time. I just demand that if you get your ideas from elsewhere, you do them well. Still, there were some things in Lundgren's script that I do wish were done better. For starters, there is the character of Joe. Apart from learning that Joe was looking for a peaceful life after he avenged the brutal murder of his brother, that is pretty much all that we get to learn about him. He does crack the occasional joke, seems dedicated to both his music career and he subsequently has to bring up his combat training when the bullets start flying. But none of this stuff really tells us what he is thinking at any point. As a result, his character to some degree is kind of vague, and it's a little harder to cheer on Joe when he starts to do his thing.

It isn't just with the chief protagonist where the script of Command Performance is somewhat lacking; the chief antagonist also is inadequately written. True, the movie has a flashback sequence that explains Oleg's motivations for taking the President hostage, but when it comes to portraying Oleg in the present, the writing is a disappointment. Most of Oleg's dialogue is simply barking orders to his fellow terrorists or demands to the military outside of the arena. He gets very little showing any kind of personality, and the little there is just makes him to be a brutal thug. This may explain why actor Dave Legano can't seem to do anything with the role, giving a very forgettable performance. On the other hand, while Lundgen may have given himself a somewhat inadequately written role, he does compensate for it with a pretty good performance. He seems very comfortable in front of the camera throughout. When his character is with his bandmates, his banter and joking around is convincing and make him come across as a very likable person. When the terrorists start shooting, at one point we can see on his face genuine fear, which adds to the feeling of sympathy for his character. Of course, Lundgren soon shakes off his fear and his character returns to his old ways, killing off the terrorists one by one. And as the 52 year-old actor throws himself into various violent acts, Lundgren shows that he is in great shape and is utterly convincing beating and shooting the crap out of various bad guys. By the way, while the idea of his character being a drummer might sound silly, it turns out that Lundgren in real life is skilled at that, and he successfully sells the various scenes of his character pounding away with his drumsticks.

In short, Lundgren is solid in front of the camera as usual. But what about the work he did behind the camera, both as a director and co-screenwriter? Well, in the writing department, I already noted problems with the characters. On the other hand, he does start the action fairly quickly, with the terrorists starting to take over the area at the eleven minute mark. (Though I would have been willing to wait more had there been more character development before the action started.) However, between the taking over of the arena and the final twenty or so minutes, there are some significant chunks of the movie where things essentially come to a halt, with no action or anything else exciting or tense happening. More than once I found myself urging the movie to get back to delivering action and tension. Still, when the action does come, it is generally well done. Lundgren comes up with a couple of killings that are unlike any killings I've seen in thousands of movies before. Also, there is often a very effective feeling of chaos in the action, no feeling of forced choreography in the various violent acts. Part of this comes from Lundgren's decision to shoot much of the movie with hand held cameras, which often give the movie a cinéma vérité feeling. Lundgren also makes the movie constantly look good despite its low budget (six million dollars), ranging from good photography to elaborate concert sequences. There are a significant number of instances when Lundgren zooms in too close to the actors when a wider shot would have been more appropriate, but fortunately for the most part it's not too distracting. Command Performance isn't a classic in the Die Hard rip-off genre. But if you don't mind seeing the same plot elements again and you like Dolph Lundgren, it manages to get the job done adequately enough.

(Posted March 10, 2017)

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See also: Act Of War, Bridge Of Dragons, Chain Of Command