Rocks Reviews: Desert Heat (Inferno)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Danny Trejo
Director: John G Avildson
What do you get if you cross some Native American mysticism with an ex-Army veteran who is soaked in so much booze he could become a Christmas cake for Amazonian cannibals and put him in a film version of For a Few Dollars More, written by Lee Child and produced on a budget of $40 and whatever the cast could pull together?
Welcome to the Desert Heat Fan Club, we’ve got coasters and we all sit around excitedly replaying our favourite scenes whilst sitting cross-legged on top of custom made countertops.
I stumbled upon this film as I was recommended it was even worse than Double-Team. I was even told that it might touch the depths of The Patriot — which retrospectively is far worse than Double-Team purely for the fact that it doesn’t even attempt to entertain in any way shape or form. Surely not I thought as I plunged into the final cinematic work of John G Avildson. That’s right, the man responsible for ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Rocky V’ seemingly churned out something that makes Seagal look good….
Well its fair to say that if we based this film off the first 5 minutes alone we would be in that territory as Van Damme plays drunk like he’s Jack Sparrow in an amateur production of Pirate of the Carribbean as he talks to the dead/alive Danny Trejo and genuinely makes a complete prick of himself. At the point that some rednecks turn up and beat the living shit out of him before shooting him and nicking his bike, its almost blessed relief. End of film. Tight 8 minutes. Everyone happy.
However, after cutting to a small town an introducing us to the supporting cast, we find out Van Damme is alive — and as he wanders into the village looking for his bike he appears to have had a complete personality transplant — setting about taking apart the local hoodlum industries one-by-one in pursuit of his motorbike, but with the cheeky nudge-nudge-wink-wink of a young Terry Wogan after ingesting some viagra.
Yes — its an utterly shocking development here and goes against pretty much every critical reception of this film that was printed (It went straight to DVD) but I think this film is extremely stupidly fun.
I like the town it takes place in, with its dusky backdrops and 1920s in the 80s interiors, even if the camera work leaves a lot to be desired. The soundtrack is also very very fun at points — if drawing quite heavily on Miami Vice/Soft Porn at points which jars with the thematic western sensibilities until you remember this is a stupid film and we should let it be stupid. LET THE STUPIDITY COMMENCE!
Firstly, the sidekicks. Eli Hamilton and Jubal Early (think a septugenarian ‘Short Round’ with an early onset brain disease) are both completely over the top and completely wooden, and both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious. They may well be Schrodingers Sidekicks — both being awful and brilliant simultaneously.
There is something intensely funny about JCVD being forced to pull an oxygen tank about for Eli (which the old bastard deliberately makes funnier by chain smoking in between gulps), and Jubal becoming Winston Wolf played by the Major from Fawlty Towers is certainly something to behold. Perhaps the standout bit of Dialogue comes from between them when Jubal remarks on JCVD’s chances with women. I’ll let you watch to find this gem out for yourself.
The overall plot is fairly standard fare in the end. JCVD comes into town and within 5 minutes has worked out that there are two major criminal enterprises at play in the area, so immediately decides to play them off against each other in order to let them destroy each other, free the town and get him his bike back. But like all great films, it isn’t about the plot, it’s about the journey — which gives us a few interesting stops along the way.
We legitimately see a man shooting at people’s feet to make them dance outside a strip club owned by a horribly caricatured Indian man after a drunken dispute, to which JCVD turns up and shoots 3 men, 6 bikes and saves two women — leading to a sex scene which is so awkwardly hilarious I couldn’t move for several minutes. All I will say is:
- Crank and Crank 2 owe their semi-legendary sex-scenes to this film
- Thank You.
And Jason Statham didn’t put a blanket over a drunk old woman at the end of Crank’s scene.
JCVD’s action sets off a chain of 40 minutes of utter carnage with the local Hogan boys faced with a biker gang led by an absolutely unhinged Brett Harrelson (brother of Woody) who looks like Robert Patrick and acts like he’s got a car battery attached to his testicles. The whole fight between the two gangs is utterly stupid and no one can act and there are several short scenes that appear to have been written by Thursday evening scriptwriting classes given by a hologram of Michael Bay shouting ‘Bigger-BIGGER’ every 5 seconds. And that is both in relation to the size of the action scenes, explosions and the performances given by the cast.
This is brought down somewhat by Danny Trejo, who appears to be a fun vortex every time he is on screen and starts using words instead of flinging knives at people or firing acid out of his shins. Instead him and JCVD attempt to have some meaningful conversations, watching the two gangs fighting from a distance through a sniper lens when JCDV should be roundhouse kicking the fuck out of everyone in sight. I like Danny Trejo a lot, but this film and his character are wedged in like a late-career John Belushi waistline. When he died I was delighted, other than the fact it meant 5 minutes of JCVD being a whiny little bitch looking at sunsets.
There is an absolutely wonderful piece of acting late on in the piece when Trejo plays distraction and gets caught by both gangs. Jeff Kober, a seasoned actor from many distinguised shows such as Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and China Beach, actually punches Trejo and says the word “Thud” as he punches him. The timestamp for this piece of glorious action is 1:01:05 into the Youtube link. It’s sensational.
But this film is solely about the absurdity of Van Damme. When he is onscreen and not with Danny Trejo he is a lot of fun. His facial expressions in this movie alone could be a coffee-table book of emotions whilst on class-B narcotics. Van Damme is always more fun when he is a bit unhinged (not completely Oliver Reed-ing it up as per the opening scene) and he prowls around bad guys with the dexterity of a panther with balls the size of fucking Neptune. He is deliciously watchable in this film and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.
The finale is a bombastic monument to why this film should remain stupid. For the last 15 minutes every single villain acts like they have been up for 5 nights taking methamphetamine and listening to 10 hour Baby Shark videos such is the hysteria injected into every performance. In lighter news, our heroic Muskteers — Eli and Jubal - get a third partner in the Indian Strip club owner, who turns up out of nowhere and guts a villain with some kind of longsword.
In Van Damme’s world, he sets off an explosion at a motel killing 14000 bikers and breaks a guy’s neck with his ankles as he somersaults into him. He’s then assisted by his devoutly Christian voyeur from earlier, who lobs a snake at Harrelson and watches whilst shouting scripture as it kills him. Van Damme then somersaults down a corridor and shoots another baddie in the chest from point blank range as Jubal wraps a corpse in clingfilm and whistles an old war theme.
And then in the final bit of fighting he uses the noise of a jet on military exercises to distract the bastardest Hogan and then many-kick him to the ground. He picks up a gun to shoot him, before performing the weakest homage to Point Break ever seen until they actually remade Point Break. Fittingly, the final shots are fired by Jubal and Eli, who then have an argument about who shot Hogan more fatally as Van Damme hops on his Motorbike and rides off into the sunset with the local diner maid. VAN DAMME!
This film is the reason why single-template actions stars can only be a good thing if they are given the right role. Van Damme fucking excels here in a B-Movie with several absolutely fucking awful actors, and manages to make everything he does on screen (other than when its with Trejo) fucking tremendously fun.
Is this a good film? No. Of course it fucking isn’t.
But it is a good film.
Positives: Everything Van Damme does after the 7 minute mark, Eli and Jubal, The Soundtrack, the setting.
Negatives: Trejo’s character, every single villain in this film cannot act (and whilst its not that annoying it is kind of annoying)
Rating: 7/10. I will die on this hill.