The release of The Expendables and its sequels helped give direct to video action movies a bit of a popularity boost over the last few years. This seemed to be a double edged sword though in my opinion. It rejuvenated the careers of a couple of nigh on forgotten action heroes like Dolph Lundgren and helped keep Schwarzenegger and Stallone still relevant as on-screen ass-kickers. However, in dragging out the careers of these men now in their late 50's and 60's (Stallone will be 70 next year!), I feel as though some deserving new action stars are being held back. One of these is Scott Adkins, whose film Ninja: Shadow of a Tear I reviewed a while back and enjoyed a lot. He was in the second Expendables film, which likely helped his career, but he's still not quite risen to top billing in any notable successes or theatrical releases (although the days of cheesy action movies playing in theatres has pretty much been and gone).
The second (not necessarily meant in that order) DTV star I always feel deserves more recognition is Michael Jai White. He had top billing in Spawn back in 1997, but the film hardly set fire to the box office and he spent most of the film in OTT make-up, so his face never became a part of the public consciousness. In 2006 he received acclaim in action movie circles with a starring role in Undisputed 2 (alongside Adkins) and this helped give his career a boost. Since then he had a small role in The Dark Knight and made a few great DTV gems like Blood and Bone and the wonderful blaxploitation spoof, Black Dynamite (which White co-wrote).
Action aficionados might know him then, but once again he hasn't starred in a big commercial success yet. Hoping to change this and create a whole series of action vehicles for White is Falcon Rising.
In this action thriller, White plays John 'Falcon' Chapman, an ex-marine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. At the end of his tether and contemplating suicide, he is kept alive largely through the love and support of his sister, Cindy (Laila Ali, Muhammad Ali's daughter, a boxer like her dad). When she is almost killed and left on for dead on a beach in Rio De Janeiro, where she had been doing charity work, John flies straight over to put her would-be killer to justice. Through his detective work in the favelas, he soon learns that Cindy was investigating some dodgy goings on herself, which led to her assault. Of course this means John has an excuse to shut down an evil syndicate as well as wreak bloody vengeance.
After loving White's starring roles I mentioned earlier, I was very excited to check this out, but it didn't quite live up to my high expectations. That's not to say I wouldn't recommend it to action junkies like myself though. The fight scenes are very good, adding a healthy dose of gunplay to the mix and throwing in some capoeira to represent the country in which the film is set (it was actually shot in Puerto Rico). Jai is an accomplished martial artist and the action choreography/direction allows him to show his skills, pulling off some impressive kicks and even getting to use some makeshift weapons. There aren't a huge number of action scenes in the first hour, but there are enough to keep you excited and they're sensibly spread out. The finale makes up for any doubts you may have about the action quotient, with an impressive showdown in a warehouse (where else?).
Away from the action, the film has a surprising amount of depth, briefly bringing up an interesting view of the drug trade in impoverished communities and giving a corrupt cop character more layers than usual. It also hits a few social issues without rubbing them in your face or getting sentimental about it. Don't get me wrong, this isn't going to trouble your brain cells or inspire a revolution, but it's refreshing to see a low budget action movie put a little more effort into building characters or delivering a message than usual.
Saying that, on a whole the film is quite bog standard though and that's what disappointed me. Visually there's nothing special going on and it has that DTV look. The plot, dialogue and performances are quite functional too. White is a charismatic lead as always, but his co-stars aren't amazing and the more serious tone keeps the quips and bad-assery (I'm going to make it a word!) scaled back a little.
It's solid enough and will keep action fans happy for an hour and half with some decent action scenes and a star you can get behind, but it lacks that extra bite to rise it to the levels of the Raid films or Isaac Florentine's recent DTV work which seems to be leading the pack in that field these days.
Falcon Rising is out now in the UK on DVD & VOD, released by Spirit Entertainment. I watched the DVD which looked and sounded decent enough.
You get a few special features on the DVD. A 14 minute making of is more of a promo piece than a documentary, but it's worth a watch and contains some fun anecdotes as well as thoughts for possible sequels in the future. There are 7 and a half minutes of deleted scenes. These are actually pretty decent, with some extra Middle East flashback sequences, some fleshing out of Neal McDonough's character and a torture scene featuring the dodgy cops. You can see why they were left out as they would have slowed the pace down a bit and in the latter case affected character arcs, but it's great to see them included here.
You also get 5 minutes of bloopers which are fun and seem to show a light mood on set, as well as the customary trailer, which you can see below: