HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, November 19, 2011

VENICE UNDERGROUND -- movie review by porfle

The first thing I thought after watching VENICE UNDERGROUND (2005) for a couple of minutes was, "This looks like an episode of a TV series."  But after awhile I began to realize that if this were indeed the pilot for a series, no network executive in his right mind would pick it up.  In fact, if your dad had followed you around with a movie camera when you were a kid and filmed you and your friends playing cops and robbers, he would probably accidentally make a better movie than this one.

A prologue takes us to the office of police captain John Sullivan (veteran character actor Ed Lauter) as the mayor chews him out over the phone because of the ongoing carnage caused by two Venice Beach gangs, the Northside Surf Crew and the Southside Crips, who are waging an ongoing battle to control the local drug trade.  It seems like a hopeless situation until one of his underlings, an ambitious young sergeant named Frank Mills (Randall Batinkoff), waltzes in with a peach of a idea -- they will pluck a group of raw but attractive cadets out of the police academy, set them up in a beach house, and have them go undercover! 

That, of course, will be a lot better than putting experienced cops on the case, because, as Mills explains:  "The kids are all instinct and street smarts.  They know no boundaries."  Visions of "The Mod Squad" and "21 Jump Street" begin to dance around in Capt. Sullivan's head, with a little "Charlie's Angels" and "Baywatch Nights" thrown in for good measure.  What a great idea!

With their origin story out of the way even before the day-glo main titles have hippity-hopped their way across the screen, we are thrust right into the non-action as we join the J.N.F. (Junior Narc Force) keeping tabs on various gang members and trying to fathom their nefarious activities.  But they must deal with their own raging hormones as well, as Agent Tyler (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) jealously observes her heartthrob, Agent Gary (a not-looking-too-good-these-days Edward Furlong), cavorting with a bikini babe.  It's all part of his cover, of course, but darn it, he just seems to be enjoying it a little too much.

Meanwhile, Agent Samantha (Nichole Hiltz) just failed her home pregnancy test, and isn't quite sure whether the father is Agent Danny (Eric Mabius), who wants to marry her, or good ol' Sergeant Mills, who just can't seem to keep his own member away from certain other members of the task force. 

These romantic entanglements play like a bad script from "Beverly Hills, 90210" performed by a grade school theater group, and the scenes of actual detective work that we witness from time to time seem to have been inspired by random episodes of "Scooby-Doo."  They even have their own mystery-mobile, a candy-apple red, mid-60s Mustang convertible, in which they all sit in broad daylight brandishing their guns as if to announce to any passing bad guys, "Yes, we are undercover narcs." 

Amazingly, though, no one ever figures this out, except for a mysterious figure who seems to anticipate their every move as he secretly watches them through blurry POV-shots like a stalker in a slasher flick, and, early in the story, actually kills one of them with his gold-plated revolver.  Who is this unknown enemy?  You're not supposed to know until the end, so try to act surprised.  Here's a hint:  it isn't the old caretaker at the haunted amusement park.

Director Eric DelaBarre is your basic point-and-shoot man but tries to "hip" things up with shaky camerawork, scattershot editing, and various other effects cribbed from music videos.  The acting, except from old pro Ed Lauter and Robert Rodriguez stock player Danny Trejo, is hopelessly amateurish, and the dialogue they're forced to recite is frequently laughable. 

This film resembles the kind of cheap exploitation flick they used to show on USA's "Up All Night" -- you know, the ones with all the good R-rated nudity and violence cut out and just the boring junk left in, although a few bare boobies make a cameo appearance about halfway through.  Soon after that we see a brief fistfight, and then later there's a small shootout, and at the end the mystery bad guy gets shot and a car blows up.  Actionwise, that's about it. 

I kept thinking about what Andy Sidaris, the guy responsible for all those great low-budget sex-and-violence thrillers like PICASSO TRIGGER and SAVAGE BEACH, could've done with a premise like this.  He wasn't a great filmmaker, but at least he gave us something fun to look at. VENICE UNDERGROUND barely even makes an effort.

Buy it at

No comments: