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Hipster Holy Grail: Hawk's Vengeance (1996)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

You know a movie is bad when you fall asleep while the protagonist is snapping a guy's neck.

My Rating: 1.5 / 5 (WBM)

The Part Where I Summarize the Plot

Hawk's Vengeance is a bit of a misnomer.  It's about a guy named Hawk (Gary Daniels), but he rarely - if ever - wears an expression that looks like vengeance.

Hawk's alleged bloodlust derives from the film's opening scene, in which his brother (a cop) is gunned down by a couple of thugs: Duquesne, a schlubby hitman, Blade, the schlubby hitman's businesslike assistant, and some random skinhead from a gang called the "Death Skulls."

(Quick aside: who the hell came up with the name "Death Skulls?"  Were they thirteen?  If a bunch of gang members broke into my house and smashed up a bunch of my windows and pointed a knife at me, I'd be terrified, but the second one of them says, "We're the Death Skulls!", I'm just going to start laughing in their face.)

Anyway, Hawk is out of the country when this murder is going on - he's in England, serving as one of their elite soldiers in an anti-terrorism unit.  But as soon as he gets word of his brother's murder, he hops on a plane and joins the movie already in progress.  He quickly meets up with Lizzie, his brother's former partner, and hits on her at his brother's funeral.  Stay classy, Hawk.

Lizzie gives Hawk a quick run-down of the plot, but he basically just writes her off, so she actually leaves for about the next hour.  You might think she's going to serve as an exposition vehicle or something, but no.  She's literally only in this movie to a) have sex with Hawk right before the final action scene, and b).... never mind, I guess it's really just the sex.

All the exposition is actually going to come from Lipo, a roommate of Hawk's brother who becomes Hawk's sidekick.  Lipo tells him all about how there's a bunch of different gangs that have been at each other throats, including the... sigh... Death Skulls.  The Skulls (y'see how much tougher that is just by dropping that stupid "Death" part?) are notorious for kidnapping people rather than killing them, but nobody knows why because no ransoms are ever demanded.  Hawk's brother was investigating him when he disappeared, so naturally, Hawk decides to pick up there.

He and Lipo team up to investigate the Skulls, beginning with one of the stupidest ploys I've ever seen.  Get ready for this.

Hawk puts on a fire marshall costume and goes to the Skulls' hideout, then tells them he has to inspect their smoke alarm.  They let him in (because they're stupid) and he swaps out their smoke alarm with one he's carrying.  Then he allows the Skulls to bully him into giving them a box of cigars that he just happened to be carrying around with him.  Hawk goes outside, and then we cut back to the Skulls all sitting around smoking their recently-stolen cigars.  The smoke alarm goes off, but instead of just making a sound, it sprays out knock-out gas that incapacitates the entire gang.  Hawk and Lipo go inside to search for clues, and the only clue they manage to snag while their highly improbable scheme worked is a flyer for a heavy metal show that the Skulls' leader is playing in later that night.

It's aggravatingly terrible.  If you were just going to use knock-out gas on them in the first place, why not just put the smoke alarm up to their window or something?  Or take the mechanism out of the smoke alarm and surreptitiously drop it down through a vent?  Lipo even asks - rightly - "what if they didn't take the cigars?"  To which Hawk answers, "The alarm was on a ten minute timer."  Which means that literally none of his plan was necessary as long as he could direct the gas at them.

And the only reason this scene exists is so he can see a flyer, which shouldn't even be on the wall in the first place because that's not how flyers work!  You don't print them out and put them on your own goddamn wall!  Jesus Christ, this is a black hole of stupid.


There's one brief scene where those goons from the beginning - Duquesne and Blade - try to kill Hawk at his apartment, but Hawk gets away and goes to the club where the Skulls' leader, Clay, is playing.  He beats up some people and kidnaps Clay, then takes him to an abandoned warehouse where he can torture him to find out what happened to his brother.  This is how he learns about the connection between the Skulls and Mr. Elias Garr, the movie's primary antagonist.  Garr has been paying the Skulls to kidnap people and take them to his lair, but Clay doesn't know any more information than that.  So, Hawk burns him to death.  Naturally.

(One more quick aside: this scene was memorable for me.  Not because of the actors or anything happening in the plot, but because Clay is tied up to a really crazy canvas of some sort.  It looks like an oversized replica of somebody's skin with a large gash in it.  Creepy, but neat, too.)

Hawk plans to strike Garr's HQ to put an end to all the madness and get his final revenge, but first... he has to have sex with Lizzie.  So he does.

So then Hawk goes to Garr's HQ to put an end to all the madness.  He gets immediately captured and locked up in a holding cell with some of the Skulls' other recent victims.  They team up to break out, and that's when they discover what Garr's plot was all along: he's got a full-time surgical staff at his lair that gasses the victims, then cuts out their organs and sells them on the black market.

Hawk doesn't seem to care so much about this angle, which is unfortunate because it's one of the only truly interesting things in the movie.  Nevertheless, he beats people up anyway.  There's an extended action sequence in which Duquesne and Blade are killed, Lizzie decides to stage a one-woman raid on the lair (I guess the SWAT team was busy that day), and most of the victims survive.

Finally, Hawk and Garr face off on the roof of the HQ and have one of the slowest martial arts fights ever committed to film.  Garr dies, and the movie ends.

The Parts That Were Almost Good

This is a really dull movie.  Perhaps its biggest problem - you know, other than the acting and plot and all that stuff - is that all of the fighting is stilted and awkward.  And considering that this is a martial arts action movie, that's devastating.

It's not that the fighting has been over-rehearsed.  It's more like they were still rehearsing it when they started filming.  Everybody moves at a snail's pace and telegraphs every move they make.  It's rare that I see people punching and doing spin-kicks in a movie and I think, "Hey, I could probably block that!"

But despite that major handicap, there are moments where it looks like they could have made something at least somewhat enjoyable.  I don't have a good segue for any of these, so I think I'll just list 'em out.

First, there's a neat take on the ol' cliche of a barroom brawl at the beginning.  Hawk is having an introductory drink with Lizzie and some asshole on the other end of the bar keeps making gross gestures at her.  Hawk goes up to the guy, puffs up his shoulders, and... buys him a drink.  It's a neat little moment of high road chivalry.  Except that in the next scene, he beats up the gross guy, anyway.  Plus, Hawk is kind of an asshole - he tortures people, has no qualms about hitting people when they're down, and is generally awful.  So, this moment is really out of character for him.

Next, Duquesne was kind of an interesting goon.  He's a clumsy fat nerd with bubble glasses and a bad back.  He's tired of being a goon and wants to retire, but unfortunately, he's partnered with Blade, and Blade keeps trying to stab people and missing.  Every time he misses, he stabs or cuts Duquesne.  So, the running gag is that Duquesne is slowly but surely falling apart until finally he is accidentally shot to death - not by the heroes, but by his dumbass partner.  This almost works.  Maybe if Duquesne was more active in the plot, they could've pulled it off.

Third, there's a pretty funny scene right after Hawk and Lizzie have sex where he's watching TV and the news is showing a report on the discovery of Clay's body.  Hawk doesn't want Lizzie to see it, so he keeps changing the channel, but she insists on watching.  Then we get a brief snippet of the news that's ridiculously over-detailed.  "We think the fire was set by a crude incendiary device constructed by somebody with guerrilla warfare training, most likely from England, probably about six feet tall with a vaguely Australian accent....

And finally, there's one really tiny moment that ended up being the highlight of the movie for me.  (This should tell you how bored I was most of the time.)  When Duquesne and Blade are waiting at Hawk's apartment to kill him, they have a fight that spills into the kitchen.  There's a brief break in the fight, so Duquesne turns around and grabs a microwave out of the wall, then throws it at Hawk.  But it's not bolted down or wired in or anything - it just kinda looks like a styrofoam block that was painted black to look like a microwave.

I guess I just enjoy the thought that either a) Duquesne is a Hulk-like beast who can easily rip appliances out of the wall, but chooses not to do so unless he's really mad, or b) Hawk's apartment is so cheap that he only has pretend appliances.  They should've shown him cooking on an E-Z Bake Oven in the next scene.

The Part About Gary Daniels

So... apparently Gary Daniels is a working actor.  I had no idea.

Mr. Daniels, I apologize in advance for all of the shit I'm about to talk.

Y'see, when the movie first started and Daniels entered the movie, I was immediately thinking, "Wow, what a terrible choice for the lead role."  He's so flat and uninteresting.  He says all his lines and moves around like he's on Ambien.  Of all the stilted fighting, his is among the worst (maybe second to Garr).

It's like he's a really indecisive fighter and keeps changing his mind mid-swing about whether or not he wants to hit a guy.  At the last moment he always decides, "Yeah, I do," but by that point he's already lost his momentum, so it doesn't actually look like he's going to inflict any pain - except he does, apparently, because the bad guys will do flips and wince and scream.  Through magic, I guess.

By twenty minutes in, I was so convinced that this was just one of those Workman Bad Movies where some aspiring actor is lucky enough to score the lead role, but he immediately vanishes into obscurity after the movie fails.

Then I looked him up on IMDb.  Holy shit.

Gary Daniels has been in over seventy movies, the majority of which meet the second half of my Holy Grail criteria with less than a thousand ratings apiece.  In fact, I'm certain that if you added up all the user ratings for Gary Daniels's entire filmography, it would still be less than a third-tier Seagal movie.

I'm not trying to harp on the dude.  According to his bio, Daniels was a hugely successful MMA fighter and kickboxer with a nearly-undefeated record.  That's impressive - I just wish those skills actually translated to the screen.  Maybe I just picked his worst movie as my introduction.

I'm kind of thrilled to find out that for the last thirty years or so, there's been a JCVD action movie star knock-off cranking out an average of two movies a year and I never even heard of him until this week.  I'd have expected to see him pop up in at least one movie I recognize.

Okay, okay, to be fair, he was in The Expendables.  Somewhere.  I don't remember him in that one.  Apparently he was in City Hunter, too, and you'd think I'd remember the white guy from a Jackie Chan movie... but, nope.  Nothing's coming to mind.

It's like he's got this incredible talent for disappearing into the background.  It makes me think about how Hulk Hogan somehow manages to have no screen presence whatsoever, despite being a physically intimidating dude who could easily break my neck.  What is it with fighters not making good actors?  You'd think they'd at least be fun to watch in an action scene.

Sigh.  I feel like I need to watch a couple more Gary Daniels movies just to be sure.  I don't know that I'm going to like it.

Now I'm Going To Complain About the Cliches (One in Particular)

Holy crap, this movie is riddled with cliches.  Like it pretty much is just a series of action movie tropes stuck together with scotch tape.  Almost the only thing that's interesting about watching it is just how many cliches it manages to pack in.

In the first fifteen minutes alone, you get:
  • The murder of the protagonist's brother, thus calling him to action;
  • A tough-as-nails female cop who has to put up an icy exterior to make it in man's world;
  • Drunk townies at a bar who serve as an opportunity for the protagonist to show off his awesome kicking abilities;
  • A villain who gets his morning exercise / martial arts training by beating the shit out of a bunch of his goons while his assistant briefs him on his money affairs; and
  • A bunch of on-screen deaths that seem really violent and bloody, but which turn out to be a staged training exercise.
That last one especially bothers me.  I think of all the movie cliches, the "surprise training" one is the worst.  No, I can't let this go and move on - I have to bitch about this.

Y'see, the reason a "surprise training" sequence happens is because the filmmakers want to show early on how the protagonist(s) will act in a tense situation, such as a hostage negotiation, but they can't open a movie with any of the characters actually being killed or else there won't be a plot and they're afraid that you might be put off by seeing the hero taking whatever terrible actions they take.  So they pull back at the last minute to say, "None of this is actually serious - they were just playing!  The main character's a good guy, I promise!"

It's self-defeating.  If you're revealing that scene to be staged, then we don't know for sure what the character would actually do in a tense situation, because they know from the beginning that they're just role-playing.  The exercise is meaningless to us as far as true characterization is concerned.  And since it's such a predictable trope, it always plays out like a fat waste of your goddamn time.

"Oh, hey!  It's the cast of the movie I'm watching!  Hey, are you guys going to start the movie now?"

"Not yet.  We thought we'd fuck around for a few minutes first.  That okay with you?"

"....I guess.  You're not going to have one of the people pretending to die smile and say something about 'their performance,' are you?"

"That's non-negotiable."

Just get on with the goddamn movie already!  Either open with an actual tense situation so we can see some honest-to-God reactions from the characters, or cut to the chase and get them involved in the main conflict!  If you open up with the main character somersaulting through a plate glass window and shooting three terrorists, then spin-kicking one to death, I'm already on board.  What on earth makes you think I'd lose interest unless I found out that whole scene was fake?

You know what would be a better way to end that scene than revealing it was just a training exercise?  Having the guy drive to a second hostage situation and beating up those terrorists, too.

Where You Can Watch

I don't know why you'd want to do this to yourself, but you can stream Hawk's Vengeance on Netflix right now.

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