Filmmaker Andrzej Bartkowiak hasn’t been hugely heard of since the dismal-performing Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li. Going forward, the Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 The Grave helmer’s latest comeback, Maximum Impact, is also a testament of…well, a few things since then.
The film proved pivotal to action star import, actor and producer Alexander Nevsky’s reception at this year’s Action On Film International Film Festival in Las Vegas. He swept up a raft of awards and even laid claim to the prize of Breakout Action Star, and so goes the ceremony he’s earned from it in his own right. That said, far be it for me to assume how any festival awards its recipients, but Bartkowiak’s re-emergence into directing was insufferable for most of its duration.
You can say what you will about Nevsky’s oftentimes “wooden” acting when juxtaposed to co-stars half his size and height; I didn’t mind this sort of thing when watching Black Rose a few years ago or even at this juncture given his chemistry with other actors. The remainder of Maximum Impact was an inevitable measure of my own patience as a fan of the genre – one who has often touted hopes of seeing a once-favored director return on a meaningful and solid note. Unfortunately, my patience has just about waned.
Written by Rush Hour writer Ross LaManna and hailing from CineTelFilms and Nevsky’s Hollywood Storm production banner, Maximum Impact takes off as tensions between the U.S. and Russia are worse than ever before. The optimism is slim, but the Secretary Of State Robert Jacobs (Eric Roberts), nonetheless, sets course to Moscow with his team, aided by CIA agents. This happens just as FSB agents Maxumim Kadurin (Nevsky), and Andrei Durov (Yevgeny Stychkin) have already stirred the pot in investigating a possible terroristic threat looming in Russia.
What ensues only complicates things further when the beleagured Secretary’s spoiled, feckless and incorrigible granddaughter, Brittany (Polina Butorina), is discovered stowing away on his private plane. Intent on meeting her Russian celebrity rock star love interest and with her grandfather wrapped around her little finger, she keeps her teen romance a secret from her pre-occupied grandfather who is all but left in the dark as she sneaks off with Paparazzi and her father’s security detail in her wake. In the midst of all this, further shenanigans are abound as failed actor Tony Lin (Mark Dacascos) initiates a terrorist plot against the Russian economy at the behest of a shadowy shot-caller (Billy Baldwin).
With Brittany’s whereabouts unknown, it’s a race against time ad Kadurin and tough-as-nails CIA agent, Kate Desmond (Kelly Hu) join forces with the Secretary’s fast-talking intern to size-up the streets of Moscow and find Brittany. Making matters worse is that neither our heroes nor villains know where she is with the latter now looking to seize the Secretary’s granddaughter as an asset, and with the hours of a crucial day in international politics winding down, so is the clock before a deadly radioactive explosion threatens to set off World War III.
Oftentimes I screen these movies twice before drafting a review of some kind. The first time I tried to watch this film was on Tuesday and sixteen minutes in, I was just about drained of all hope. LaManna’s script is rife with forced humor, inadequate dubbing where it’s placed, and terrible structure amid a select number of poorly cast characters in this line-up. Tom Arnold is a walking pee joke, Billy Baldwin is a talking TV, Matthias Hues is… trying really hard, and Alphonso McAuley is relegated to a low-rent Kevin Hart stereotype who gets to be office-seduced by a gropey-as-hell Bai Ling, hideously dubbed to a T.
Dacascos’, an astute martial artist with a cult following that is dying to see him back in stronger roles (I’m looking at you, John Wick: Parabellum), had no business in this movie with the role he gets. The bulk of his character is that of a cliché kung fu TV star of yesteryear who is often mistaken for other actors. It’s also a sordid attempt at meta humor that utterly fails in supersonic fashion past the sixteen-minute mark, although it’s an arguably fun role that, with a few tweaks, would have best gone to Sense8 series headliner Miguel Ángel Silvestre considering the writing here would have suited him PERFECTLY.
The action mostly culminates the latter in a hit-or-miss situation almost every time. It starts off on a high note with James Lew serving as fight coordinator, and with Stychkin’s character front and center. The moment is respite, however, as we meet Danny Trejo’s character – a local businessman who, as far as I’m concerned, is only in this film to add to the air raunchy comedy that, like with the rest of the hijinks in this film, just isn’t funny. And I like raunchy!… Just not when it’s not funny.
Kelly Hu, a woman nothing short of her beauty and grace as a fitting actress and deserving action star in her own right, deserves a quality solo outing after this. Much like her fellow Cradle 2 The Grave co-star, her lack of posterity in action cinema beyond the 2003 film along with X2 and a recurring role with Sammo Hung in CBS series Martial Law is, in a word, unsatisfying. Her opening sparring scene with Arnold’s character and that of actor Keith Powers is pretty low brow and cartoonish with its clear reliance on sound next to choppy editing. It does her no justice here. Not even a little, and though her action scenes eventually improve as she commands more screentime, that she’s virtually the best character in the film hardly makes up for its massively cheap assembly. The final fight alone should have been worth our while to get to watch Hu take on Dacascos, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, Dacascos fights Nevsky who is the film’s star, which is nice and all, but you have to be off your rocker to not want to see two disciples of Sammo Hung and Corey Yuen Kwai go toe-to-toe in a stylish martial arts fight scene. Really, it’s a missed opportunity.
From there, we can pretty much lay to rest any suspension of disbelief. The core addition of the aforementioned Ms. Boutina is the most egriegious in the role of Brittany following her previous irritating snare on my senses in Dacascos’ own debut, Showdown In Manila. Not that I wouldn’t mind seeing a character like this in an action comedy, but she’s as horrible in this role as is the writing and dubbing, and it’s all just plain unacceptable. She didn’t win me over in Showdown In Manila and she especially fails to do so here.
This is the film that won Best Action Sequence, Best Special Effects and most significantly, for Best Action Film of the Year at the Action On Film International Film Festival this year; FYI, the special effects are just as mediocre and subpar, and so with that, I have no idea of the metric system used in deciding who wins what at these festivals. This isn’t the first time I’ve been left feeling peculiar about these things either (ask anyone my feelings about the award-winning, god-awful as balls Mortal Kombat: Fates Beginning fan film and its reception at the Urban Action Showcase several years ago), and it’s quite frustrating. Alas, hat tip to Nevsky who deserves all the accolades he’s continued to work hard for. As for my metric, it stands accordingly – this isn’t the comeback celebration I expected from someone who once directed movies for a major Hollywood studio, and it’s not like he would need one in order to make a fantastic film again. Just look at almost any independent filmmaker and creatives worth his/her salt and you will see what I mean.
Anyone who has seen Bartkowiak’s work will have mildly positive-to-high expectations going into Maximum Impact. Simply, it should have been a film with a solid premise that sees protagonists from two rivaling nations joining forces to kick some ass and save some lives in the process, and perhaps with some rich surprises along the way. If LaManna’s script focused on this instead bathing neck-deep in bottom-of-the-barrel, cinematically depricating excesses of unrepentant mediocrity, I’m keen on believing that this is the Bartkowiak reprisal folks like myself had might have all loved to see.
I enjoyed what he accomplished at Warner Bros. and I’m honestly open to seeing this director try again with something better from here lest he make himself scarce again. It’s just a shame that after so many years of waiting, this lugubrious, lacking dissemination of creativity topped with bewildering acclaim is what action fans are left with.
Maybe it’s time to bring Dark Deal back into the fray and get serious for a change. Yes?
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.