Film: Direct Contact ***
Release date: 13th June 2011
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Danny Lerner
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Gina May, Michael Pare, Bashar Rahal, James Chalke
Reviewer: Daryl Wing
A quick flick through perennial tough guy Dolph Lundgren’s back-catalogue makes for depressing reading. Superior movies like Masters Of The Universe (1987) and Rocky 4 (1985) are few and far between - even The Expendables (2010) and Universal Solider (1992) are standouts. Where did it all go wrong for this eighties action hero? Or did it all go wrong? His films (47 and counting) may not be appreciated by an audience force-fed by Michael Bay, but he’s still doing what he does best. With The Expendables reviving interest in his career, Lionsgate Home Entertainment have decided to release 2009’s Direct Contact, in which Lundgren ditches his trademark scowl and plays the good guy, but does he still have the power?
Mike Riggins (Lundgren), an imprisoned ex-Special Forces operative in Eastern Europe, is offered his freedom (and lots of cash) to rescue an American woman, Ana Gale (Gina May), who has been kidnapped by a ruthless warlord.
Shortly after freeing her, Mike discovers that the kidnap story was just a ruse to bring Ana out into the open. Riggins suddenly finds himself and his feisty charge being hunted by ruthless government and underworld organizations - all who want him dead and the mysterious Ana under their control.
With no one to turn to, and the enemies closing in, Mike must uncover the truth about Ana, gain her trust, and bring her to the safety of the U.S. Embassy…
Arriving nearly two decades too late, Direct Contact isn’t going to appeal to anyone under the age of twenty-five. Made with very little money it fails to revel in the spectacle of Transformers (2007), doesn’t have the brains of The Bourne Identity (2002), and isn’t as much fun as either. For those raised on Commando (1985) and Hard Target (1993), however, it will certainly cater for some fleeting, good old-fashioned entertainment, sparing enough time throughout to reminisce about the good old days when your dad would joyously accede to an eighteen-certificate instead of homework.
In today’s climate it’s impossible to watch Danny Lerner’s actioner without chuckling at the cheapness of it all. But for some, that’s also half the fun. And yet, through it all, Direct Contact cleverly insists on taking itself seriously. It’s a gripping, intensely harrowing film with a solid emotional core as both the hardened Mike and sympathetic to her captors Ana find the conflict mirroring the transformations occurring within themselves. Or maybe not…
What you do have is a movie with no interest in dimensional characters. A permanent resident in the “worst prison in the world”, Lundgren’s Riggins doesn’t believe in small talk (his American accent more convincing than his real one), has no enthusiasm for anything other than money, but can dodge a speeding bullet and pulverize his foes with considerable, engaging ease. He also struggles to climb into a parked car, but the old-timer is approaching sixty so let’s cut him some slack.
His compatriot, meanwhile, certainly looks the part, but don’t expect any acting fireworks from an almost mute Gina May – leave that to the countless car chases and gun fights that thankfully distract from inflammable cardboard characters and dodgy dialogue (“I don’t care who the hell you are, I’m just damn glad I met you”). May’s performance does improve, but it’s debatable whether even a young Jodie Foster could persuade us that their character has fallen for her new captor quicker than you can say buckle up, and then go on to deliver such a wonderful chat-up line as, “How’s your wound?” with such sincerity. Luckily for her, James Chalke’s support performance as villain Uncle Trent is simply embarrassing.
The only way to enjoy Direct Contact is to embrace its utter nonsense. Revel in the shabby dialogue (“I just happen to have an extra ten grand” and “This guy’s a loose cannon” are up there with the best); ignore the illogical as a tank is called in to take down Riggins on a motorcycle, a guard fails to hear a door slam ten yards away as the big fella creeps around like a clumsy battle droid, and the action is foolishly sped up to make some scenes look that much more dramatic. It also fails with simple back projection techniques (Lundgren’s driving would surely send them into a ditch), and in this day and age, surely it’s cheaper to whack a camera on the bonnet of the car. It certainly disrupts an audiences’ ability to suspend disbelief.
But then, the damage has already been done, with a couple of inspired shots: firstly, the aptly named Lerner introduces the classic point of view action sequence, as if we were in fact the motorcycle, terrorizing the unsuspecting public minding their own business on the sidewalks. He dares to do it again, this time the shot taken over the shoulder of a missile launched from the tank, missing its intended target, the bike, by miles. They don’t make them like this anymore. Or, rather, they shouldn’t make them like this anymore.
Sniping aside, Direct Contact is blessed by some decent fight choreography, plenty of half decent car chases and worthy shootouts (the standoff in the football stadium is extremely satisfying), and even surprises with its sporadic brutality. For some reason the air turns blue after the half hour mark, with characters deciding to unleash the f-word for no other reason than to convince us how angry they are, but there’s still room for Lerner to at least get something right when a car flips over in near-silent slo-mo, and then delivers his piece de resistance during the final act when Uncle Trent makes an explosive exit, and Lundgren delivers a truly killer line.
No one would ever call it good filmmaking, but Direct Contact is old school trash of the first order. In short, this one’s for those raised on Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Seagal; the action is passable, and Lundgren is surprisingly good. Remove a star if you’re under twenty-five.