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Thursday, February 13, 2014

BATTLE OF THE DAMNED -- DVD review by porfle

A modicum of exposition comes flying at us with the breakneck succinctness of a movie trailer before we join BATTLE OF THE DAMNED (2013) already in progress as a squad of mercenaries, hired to enter a beseiged city in Southeast Asia and extract a millionaire's teenaged daughter from a biological nightmare zone, find themselves up to their necks in crazed, highly manic zombies.  And yes, these are the fast-running kind of zombies.

I'm a Dolph Lundgren fan, and, as I stated so eloquently in my review of MISSIONARY MAN, I think he's a good actor, a capable director, and a crackerjack action star.  So whenever I get a new Dolph Lundgren action DVD to review, it gives me somewhat of a giddy feeling of anticipation that only the potential crappiness of the actual movie can eventually ruin.

Fortunately, BATTLE OF THE DAMNED manages to maintain a passable interest level  as Dolph's character, Major Max Gatlin, stumbles upon his target and finds that she has become somewhat of a junior commando herself in order to survive on the mean streets of Zombievania. 

As Jude, Melanie Zanetti does a good job of playing the headstrong teen brat without making us hate her.  She takes Gatlin to meet the group of survivors she's been staying with, including quietly calculating leader Duke (David Field), swordsman Elvis (Jen Kuo Sung), babes Lynn and Anna (Lydia Look, Oda Maria), and THE MATRIX's "Mouse" himself, Matt Doran as Jude's boyfriend Reese.

This development not only gives the plot a whole new direction--Gatlin must now convince Jude to leave her comrades and go with him, although we pretty much figure he'll end up leading them all in a frantic exodus--but now there suddenly seem to be large, stormtrooper-esque robots marching up and down the streets.  Wait a minute...did I just say "robots"?  Yes, robots.  Or, as one character puts it: "What the hell...robots?"

These robots end up being part of the action in a big way, which, after you get used to the movie suddenly being a lot science-fictionier than it started out, doesn't really do much besides give the SPFX guys a chance to pack in a bunch more CGI that would've looked a lot more impressive back in the 80s than it does now.  The robots do have  some pretty engaging personalities, however, and give Dolph a comic foil or two with which to demonstrate his lighthearted side.

As for the film's zombies, which are technically not the actual living dead but just brain-dead people with a kind of zombie-rabies, they start out vaguely Romeroesque--there's the traditional zombie feast upon a screaming victim early on--but ultimately just become a non-scary horde of relentless attackers to be mowed down en masse.  And since they're not dead they don't rot, so we don't get much elaborate makeup.  Most of the violence and gore are of the standard action-flick variety, with massive amounts of shooting and stabbing with the kicking and the hurting.

After a slow-paced middle third in which various issues are hashed out between Gatlin and the others (including the revelation that Jude's evil-businessman father started the whole biological disaster in the first place) it's time to get the hell out of Dodge before the whole place is firebombed.  Before this extended action sequence begins we already suspect several things in advance, including (1) it will have shaky-cam, (2) it will have wildly hit-and-miss editing, (3) it will have dumb dialogue, and (4) it will be an uneven mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

What usually makes the difference in a film such as this is whether or not its director can assemble all those elements into a watchable and hopefully fun flick.  I haven't seen either of Christopher Hatton's other directorial efforts (ROBOTROPOLIS, SAMMYVILLE) but here he demonstrates the skill necessary to put together a direct-to-DVD shoot-em-up that qualifies as a worthwhile time-waster.  And without a lot of crappy slow-motion, too!

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. 

Sometimes a movie like this happens to hit so many of the right buttons that I say to myself, "Damn!  This is cool!"  BATTLE OF THE DAMNED doesn't quite reach that level,  although I did find myself thinking, "Damn!  This is mildly entertaining in a satisfactory kind of way!"  And also, robots.

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