It’s taken a few years for this 2014 production to make it to US cinema screens (on April 28) – and it’s not much of a surprise that it’ll then head swiftly (May 2) to other platforms. The surprise, perhaps, is that it’s not of older vintage because – perhaps unintentionally – it’s as perfect a pastiche of a certain strain of video rental era programmer as, say, the more overtly satirical Manborg or Turbo Kid.
The poster proudly boasts that it’s ‘from the creator of Double Impact and Rambo III’ – which turns out to mean co-executive producer Sheldon Lettich, who wrote and directed the Jean-Claude Van Damme as twins Double Impact in 1991 and scripted the Rambo-joins-the-Taliban threequel in 1988. Lettich didn’t write and/or direct this, though – the script is from Brent Huff and George Saunders, writer-actors you might remember from such fodder as Street Angels, The Force, Bloodsport 4, Nine Deaths of the Ninja, Final Examination and Final Justice while director chores go to hulking Russian-born star Alexander Nevsky. He’s teamed up with such big box cover ‘names’ as Kristanna Loken (the terminatrix from Terminator III Rise of the Machines), Adrian Paul (the TV Highlander), Robert Davi (of License to Kill and the Maniac Cop sequels) and Matthias Hues (a string of 90s action schlock – Digital Man, Kickboxer 2, Talons of the Eagle, Death Match, etc).
The plot is straight off the peg – leggy Russian hookers are being tortured and killed in Los Angeles, with a rare black rose (that either grows only in a small village in Turkey or can be mocked up by planting a regular rose in an inkpot) left on the bodies. Because ‘the community’ is unhelpful and the cop on the case (Paul) is getting nowhere, the desk-sitting boss (Davi) – perhaps inspired by the Walter Hill classic Red Heat – sends out for the toughest Dirty Harry-esque cop in Moscow, Vladimir Katatov (Nevsky) to catch the killer. We meet Vlad on a regular day when he passes by a bank robbery siege and drives a 4×4 through plate glass to gun down the baddies (bossed by Hues) and save a little girl. Naturally, he gets told off for this – and the fact that he kills or cripples muggers on his first day in Los Angeles only adds to his rogue rep. He teams up with a rookie profiler (Loken) and starts hanging around a club where all the victims worked – which makes them a target for the mystery killer (there’s only one suspect so don’t hold out for any surprises). The deadpan comedy stretches to Loken doing a valley girl impersonation that makes one miss the subtle thespic charms of Cynthia Rothrock while Nevsky hulks his way through fights and deductions alike with the kind of low-wattage muscularity that distinguished Olivier Gruner back in the day.
It’s sort of a follow-up to Moscow Heat (2004), though Nevsky played Vladimir Stepanov in that – but doesn’t think to give its hero much to do in the way of amazingness except stand there like a tree and look intimidating. Welcome back to your old favourite cliches — a killer’s lair in a deserted factory … the threatening phone calls with a distorted voice doing a Russian accent … the significant clue (‘the Russian notes on the victims are full of grammar and spelling mistakes’) which the hero doesn’t bother mentioning until it’s too late to be any use … the rookie heroine patronised for not having field experience and set up as bait for the loon … the title-pin serial killer signature that turns out to have nothing to do with anything … the unmasked villain rant (‘don’t you call my mother a whore!’) … the psych profile which boils down to ‘he’s nuts’ … and the hero who sneers at a regulation LAPD sidearm with ‘don’t you have anything bigger?’ (Davi keeps a hueg gun handy for such occasions) and the parade of slender, accented, uncharacterised kill-fodder.