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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CONTOUR -- DVD review by porfle

It's high-octane martial arts excitement vs. no-tech filmmaking in the stunning action-comedy blow-out CONTOUR (2006), with the former beating the latter into submission through sheer determination and skill. 

The flick gets off to a shaky start with a shot-on-video look that may bring the word "unwatchable" to mind.  But once it gets cranked up and you get used to the el cheapo production values, it begins to yield enough thrills and laughs to transcend its almost non-existent budget.

Producer-writer-director Eric Jacobus stars as Law, a freelance mercenary whom we first see trying to make off with the McGuffin during a warehouse exchange between two groups of bad guys.  This leads to the film's first fists 'n' feet tussle, which is just a warm-up for what's to follow.  Law returns empty-handed to crooked Vietnamese entrepreneur Tuoc (Stephen Reedy), who reminds Law that he still owes him several thousand dollars.  Deep in debt but finished with his dangerous way of life, Law returns to his former occupation--running a rinky-dink tour van through San Francisco.

His latest batch of customers consist of hyperactive, cartoon-voiced young Alfonso (Ed Kahana), who claims to be the prince of a tiny country called Uruvia, and his Chinese bodyguard Lei Tak (Andy Leung).  Also along for the ride is the cute Renee Wilder (Tyler Wang), a Christian missionary and writer for WWJT ("Where Would Jesus Travel?") magazine.  When Law discovers that Al's father, the king of Uruvia, has offered a two-million-dollar reward for a mysterious videotape that's been stolen from him, he goes after it with his tour group in tow.  It turns out that both Tuoc and a suave gangster named Ticker (Dennis Ruel)--who obtained the tape during that original deal--are involved and the eventual result is a return to the warehouse where the two sides engage in a battle royale.

On the comedy front, CONTOUR is delightfully absurd.  Kahana is hilarious as hyperactive motormouth Prince Al, a big kid who turns into a martial-arts killing machine whenever he eats anything with sugar in it.  One of my favorite scenes occurs after Al scarfs down a Twinkie and then hallucinates that he's battling evil enemies of Uruvia, when he's actually beating up scores of people waiting to get into a Japanese tea garden. 

As it turns out, Al's hero is none other than Tuoc, who sells instructional videos for a fictitious fighting style known as "Tae-Pho."  Scenes from Tuoc's delightfully stupid infomercial feature several of his techniques, one involving a bowl of soup ("Do you like soup?  Soup can fight too!").  Al sits in front of the TV practicing these moves, which actually pays off later in the final battle after he accidentally gets a mouthful of Colombian "sugar" and goes nuts.

Amidst all this goofiness, CONTOUR features a steady succession of thrilling fight scenes that elevate it to the near-sublime.  At one point, Law punches Al in the face simply to test the skills of his bodyguard Lei Tak.  Later, Ticker's men and a rival gang of thugs go at it with baseball bats in an office building.  But all of this is merely a warm-up for the 17-minute free-for-all that erupts in the big warehouse and contains some of the best martial arts action I've ever seen.

Everybody gets into the act here, including the deceptively petite Renee and the sugar-charged Al, as the film intercuts between four separate battles involving a variety of found weapons.  The result of two grueling months of shooting, the prolonged action and stunts during this sequence are brisk and often breathtaking.  These furiously-paced fights, packed with precise, acrobatic choreography, sharp editing, and teeth-rattling hits, are downright exhilarating to watch as well as being consistently funny.  A driving musical score adds to the excitement. 

Even after the main action is done, a final melee breaks out during a party in Al's apartment.  These actors just love to fight.  Members of a group of martial artists and filmmakers known as The Stunt People, they're devoted to honing their onscreen fighting skills and displaying them in front of the camera.  As it stands here, their physical talents far surpass their cinematic abilities, but their fearless enthusiasm seems boundless.

The DVD from Indican Pictures is in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  No subtitles.  A bundle of extras includes cast and crew commentary, a half-hour "making of" featurette, a deleted scene, trailers and sneak peeks at other films from The Stunt People, CONTOUR training videos, and a stunt demo reel.  My favorite extras are a blooper reel containing some of their more painful goofs, and the entire seven-minute infomercial for "Tae-Pho."

Bursting with enough blazing beat-em-up action for ten movies, CONTOUR is one of the most enjoyable comedy-action flicks I've seen in a long time.  It may be lacking from a technical standpoint, but the fights and stunts are fiercely first-rate. 

Buy it at
The Stunt People official site

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