For $20, this might be a good pickup for some, but if you already have any of these titles on other releases, the value obviously diminishes. The high definition transfers are fine, but there are no bonus features.
Vertical Limit (2000)
Plot: Climbers braving K2 get stuck in an avalanche and another team must use nitroglycerine to rescue them.
Review: A National Geographic photographer named Peter (Chris O’Donnell) and his sister, an experienced climber named Annie (Robin Tunney) converge at the base of K2, the second highest mountain peak in the world. They’ve been estranged for several years after the traumatic death of their father while climbing, and fate seems to have brought them together again. Annie is accompanying a billionaire named Vaughn (Bill Paxton) on his publicity stunt climb to the top of K2, and when their expedition goes bad real fast with a terrible storm and an avalanche, Peter quickly assembles a team to rescue them. In the second team is grizzled hermit Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn) who is the only man on Earth willing to lead the group up in record time, but with every second counting against them, Wick’s unorthodox methods could get them all killed first. They are carrying three vials of unstable nitroglycerine stored by the Pakistani Army, and the closer they get, the more exposed to the sun they become, which could be the end of them all.
Expertly directed by action filmmaker Martin Campbell, who’d scored big points with No Escape, Goldeneye, and The Mask of Zorro, Vertical Limit has some great camerawork, special effects, and a big score by James Newton Howard, all working in tandem to make the film as thrilling and exciting as possible. This is a good runner-up to the superior mountain climbing action film Cliffhanger, but without terrorists or a despicable villain (Paxton is the closest thing to a villain this movie has), the movie relies on the environment as its antagonist. Still, this is a solid film, and it’s aged very well.
Plot: An ex-soldier with PTSD arrives at a small town to do a favor for a friend, but finds that the town is not what it seems, and his friend has vanished.
Review: After a horrifying and scarring ordeal in the Middle East, seasoned soldier MacPherson (Val Kilmer who hardly utters a word in the movie) is discharged with severe PTSD, and he spirals in an endless state of numbness and loss. He gets a call from a soldier he saved, and he agrees to travel by bus to a remote desert border town near Mexico on the side Arizona where his friend needs his help. Mac sells his handgun (the only thing he still owns worth anything) to pay for his bus ticket, and when he arrives at the town, he finds that it’s basically a brand new town with sparse inhabitants, all of whom regard him with suspicion, fear, and disdain. When he begins asking questions about his friend, no one can tell him anything, and when he begins investigating what might have happened to him, he’s met with hostility by the local law enforcement and the owner of the town, a white supremacist billionaire (played by Gary Cole) who would rather kill Mac than allow him to continue to upset the natural order of things in town. But no one realizes how intense and formidable Mac is, and when he breaks free of the jail cell he’s been confined in, he unleashes hell on the town when he finds out that his friend was brutally murdered by the cops who run the town.
A tried and true formula in the vein of Walking Tall, First Blood, and any number of rogue soldiers who return home to hatred types of movies, Conspiracy is a tight little action film with an appealing Val Kilmer, who was right at the beginning of his straight-to-video days in his career. He might be a little miscast, but I liked what he did with the underwritten role, and even though it’s obvious he was stunt doubled for all the fight scenes, I really did like watching him in this. When this was originally released to DVD, I didn’t like it, but watching it now with a different mindset and with a new appreciation for Kilmer and movies like this, I enjoyed it much more. Director Adam Marcus (Jason X) gives the movie a bit of edge, especially with the graphic violence, and the film has a bit of a downbeat tone, despite being an action movie with some redeeming qualities.
The Hard Corps (2006)
Plot: A bodyguard for a boxer gets more than he bargained for when the boxer’s life is under threat.
Review: Writer / director Sheldon Lettich and star Jean-Claude Van Damme reunited for this great vehicle featuring Van Damme as a PTSD-rattled soldier who becomes a bodyguard for a former heavyweight champion turned business mogul. Phillippe Sauvage (Van Damme), whose best friend – a Vietnam vet – is killed while protecting his client Barclay (Raz Adoti), a millionaire mogul who has an enemy in the form of a famous gangster rapper named Singletery (Viv Leacock), a fresh parolee with a plan to assassinate Barclay. After the first attempt fails (but with Sauvage’s vet friend killed), Sauvage is hired on by Barclay’s sister Tamara (Vivica A. Fox) to protect her brother at all costs. The police are no help, and Sauvage has a hard time getting his employer to trust him, but when he starts showing results and making sense in how he handles his boss’s safety, Sauvage becomes an essential asset to him. All clashes with his boss aside, once they start working together they become a great team – the hardest of the Hard Corps.
It mystifies me that this one wasn’t released in theaters. It’s a great action film, and it might have put Van Damme back on the map if it had gotten more of a push. He works really well with Lettich – their films Bloodsport, Lionheart, and Double Impact are fan favorites, and their direct-to-video efforts Legionnaire and The Order are solid entries as well. The Hard Corps will reinstate faith in Van Damme as an action star if any of his fans have fallen by the wayside.
The Contractor (2007)
Plot: An assassin becomes a liability for his employer, the US government.
Review: An assassin named James Dial (Wesley Snipes who barely says a word in the movie) is called in to snipe an international terrorist who is being arraigned in London, and he performs the job, but his escape gets messy when his contact / driver is killed by the London police. Wounded after a car crash, Dial retreats to a safe house, which is inhabited by an old woman and a 12-year old girl who takes a liking to him despite that she should be afraid of him. He’s bleeding, wielding a weapon, and sirens are blaring outside when they meet, but never mind. She likes him. She helps him with getting supplies and even though he continues to shrug her off, she keeps helping him. Meanwhile, Dial’s boss is working with the police to find and kill or capture him because Dial has become a liability for the American government. The British detective on his trail is played by the lovely Lena Heady (from Dredd).
Muted and casually uninvolving until the last act, The Contractor isn’t special in any way, but by the end I realized that I kinda liked it. Snipes is okay in the movie, but this movie could have starred anyone, and if not for a last-second fight scene, the movie would have had almost no action in it at all, aside from a car chase and some periodic shooting. I liked the London locations, I liked the awkward relationship between the girl and Snipes, and ultimately, the movie made a simple sense that many direct-to-video action movies of this caliber simply don’t. It delivers what you want from it, at a level that I was willing to accept. Directed by Josef Rusnak (The Art of War II with Snipes).
Mill Creek’s two-disc Blu-ray set of these four Sony titles are packaged without any fanfare or rhyme or reason other than the fact that they’re all Sony catalogue titles. Vertical Limit has been packaged with other titles before, but if I’m not mistaken this might be the first time Conspiracy gets a high definition release. The Hard Corps was on another Mill Creek 5-film set of other JCVD titles, and The Contractor was made available on another Mill Creek release that paired it with The Fan with Snipes. For $20, this might be a good pickup for some, but if you already have any of these titles on other releases, the value obviously diminishes. The high definition transfers are fine, but there are no bonus features.