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DVD Review: Wrong Side of Town
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Wrong Side of Town dvdWrong Side of Town
DVD
Directed by David DeFalco
Starring Rob Van Dam, Dave Batista, Lara Grice, David Bautista
Lionsgate Entertainment

I love all kinds of movies but some of my favorites are B-action movies. Comparable to junk food for some, but I always saw them as a better form of cinematic escapism than the majority of Hollywood’s bloated and over-budgeted FX wank fests. In my book, the worse that a movie can aspire to be is dull. Hell, even so-called “bad movies” contain loads of prime entertainment value and you can have some fun with them. In the case of Wrong Side of Town, a movie directed by a former wrestler and that’s painfully apparent from the first scene, you could have more fun sitting in a waiting room before you get a vasectomy. It’s paced like a televised golf game, poorly shot and acted, and frontloaded with every conceivable verbal and visual cliché and racial stereotype in the B-action movie playbook. You would think a movie featuring a cast of wrestlers, rappers, and porn stars all trying [and failing] to act would be better.

Former Navy SEAL Bobby Kalinowsky (Pro wrestler Rob Van Dam, a.k.a. Mr. Thursday Night, Mr. PPV, The Whole Dam Show, The Whole F’n Show, and soon to be known as Can’t Act Worth a Dam) has given up his life of silently slitting throats in the name of democracy to enjoy a comfortable and happy life as a landscape architect in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his loving wife Dawn (Lora Grice) and nubile teenage daughter Brianna (Brooke Frost).

One evening Bobby and Dawn are invited by their new neighbors Clay (Edrick Browne) and Elise Freeman (Ava Santana) to dinner at a high-end nightclub operated by local gangster Seth Bordas (Jerry Katz), but owned by his coked-up screwball brother Ethan (Ross Britz). While Dawn is using the ladies’ room Ethan notices her and invites her back to his office to do some cocaine. Despite understandably refusing, Dawn is attacked by Ethan and dragged into the office to be sexually assaulted. Bobby hears her screams and quickly comes to her aid and in the process gets into a fight with the crazed Ethan. During the fight Ethan pulls a knife and Bobby throws him onto a couch, causing the young junkie to fall on his own knife and die.

Angered by his brother’s death Bordas places a $100,000 bounty on Bobby’s head and orders his goons to get the word out to every thug and gangbanger in the city. After leaving the police station the Kalinowskys and Freemans are on their way home when the attacks begin, which they manage to survive for a while thanks to Bobby’s military training. Soon discovering what Bordas is prepared to do in the name of avenging his brother’s death, Bobby approaches Big Ronnie (Pro wrestler David Bautista, a.k.a. Batista), an old friend from the SEALs who’s now running a strip joint in town, for help but finds that because of some bad blood between them Big Ronnie is a little reluctant to help out. On top of that, Bordas’ gang (which includes Scott Schwartz from the late 90’s Steven Seagal actioner Fire Down Below and all three of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films, and Marrese Crump) invade Bobby’s home and kidnap his daughter. In order to rescue Brianna and defeat the vile Seth Bordas and an endless array of armed criminals out for an easy payday, Bobby must take the law into his own hands in standard action movie fashion: get out the guns, strap on the body armor, and charge the villains on his trusty motorcycle.

Wrong Side of Town isn’t just boring, it’s shockingly ordinary. From the first shrill scene with Bordas and his goon squad strapping a cinder block to a bound informant and yelling at him before throwing him in the river, David DeFalco‘s cheap, sad, leaden, and pointless entry into the direct-to-DVD action genre never once aspires to any kind of greatness nor does it express the desire to be anything but a run-of-the-mill chunkhead chase flick with absolutely nothing cool or unique to make it stand out from the pack. If you’ve seen any action movie made in the past four decades you will be able to figure out what happens in Wrong Side of Town before the opening credits roll. The clichés are endless and the plot holes would require a Nobel Prize-winning physicist to explain. Everywhere Bobby and his friends and wife go they seem to come across random groups of money hungry thugs. Either word of the bounty was spread telepathically or Bordas has these guys on an e-mail list. Every time one of these bands of knuckleheads encounters Bobby, they don’t rush him at once but instead take him one at a time in the time-honored tradition of cheesy action flicks giving our intrepid hero the opportunity to defeat these idiots easily. Anyone who’s read Seagalogy will notice when Bobby gets his own “Just How Badass is This Guy” moment but he hardly deserves it. As lackluster as the action scenes are at least the final throw down between Bautista and Crump gets a little brutal and bloody at times, a real David versus Goliath brawl. For a few brief minutes Wrong Side of Town gets to be a real action movie and I humbly appreciated DeFalco throwing me that little crumb. I even got a little laugh when one of Bordas’ henchmen falls for the old “Hey look over there” trick.

As I mentioned before, David DeFalco is a former wrestler who used to wrestle under the name “The Demon” before taking on the world of filmmaking. Prior to making Wrong Side of Town, his third film as a director (which he also co-wrote with Marquito Sanchez), DeFalco achieved a minor notoriety in 2005 when he made an ultra-violent unofficial remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 horror classic Last House on the Left called Chaos. The movie would have gone by unnoticed except by the most rabid gorehound hungry for new product but when several major critics ripped his film apart DeFalco singled out one in particular to incite a war of words, the legendary Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and one time co-host of his own television movie review show (with his fellow critic, the late Gene Siskel). Ebert was especially harsh to Chaos and although he did praise DeFalco for making an effective film, he still gave it a zero star rating. Of course DeFalco wasn’t exactly the first filmmaker to get a lousy review but he seemed to take Ebert’s personally, writing the noted film critic an equally harsh rebuttal letter and even devoting an extra feature on the Chaos DVD to refuting every fault Ebert found with the film. DeFalco was proving to be better at shameless self-promotion than at film directing, a tactic he was likely retaining from his days as a wrestler. The whole controversy reeked of those raging blowhard pre-fight wrestler interviews and it didn’t do DeFalco any good. Now that the fog of his own self-satisfaction has faded, Dave the Demon can be seen clearly for who he really is, someone who should’ve never quit his day job.

Wrong Side of Town is a failure on every conceivable level, from its criminally misleading cover to the cheaply produced opening credits to its droning hard rock and rap soundtrack featuring a bunch of no name acts screaming and busting idiotic rhymes over nearly every scene, making the movie even more unbearable than it already was. Let’s start with the cast. As DeFalco has shown it’s not easy making the transition from the wrestling ring to moviemaking. Many have tried and with the exception of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper most have failed. There are several pro-wrestlers in the cast of Wrong Side of Town and they’re not given anything challenging other than to show up and kick ass, which would’ve been great if they had been successful at that. Rob Van Dam is the star of the show despite being second-billed behind the better-known David Bautista and he looks like a strange amalgam of Brian Thompson (the head-banging villain in the 1986 cheese ball action classic Cobra) and Leif Garrett with a little Jean-Claude Van Damme thrown in for good measure. An odd pedigree to be sure, but unfortunately Van Dam has nothing much else going for him. He can’t act, has zero screen presence or charisma, and looks uncomfortable during the repetitive action scenes. If the hero of the movie can’t look like he’s having some fun then there’s little hope for the rest of the movie. Bautista fares better as the requisite old friend Big Ronnie. He gets to have a little fun in his scenes, makes a few choice wisecracks at the expense of his opponents, and definitely has a better screen presence than Van Dam. There’s little wonder he got top billing despite being in less than a third of the movie.

I couldn’t take Jerry Katz seriously as the main villain Bordas. He spent most of his screen time standing around yelling at his flunkies and demanding revenge without projecting an ounce of the intelligence and menace a good film baddie needs. Edrick Browne made a decent go of playing his square peg character Clay, but he’s basically in the movie to make Van Dam look manlier. Needless to say, he doesn’t succeed and DeFalco does Browne no favors by saddling him with painfully unnecessary comic relief beats such as a scene midway through the movie when Clay lectures a trio of gangbangers on their use of the “N-word.” Lara Grice and Brooke Frost are okay as the women in Bobby’s life who exist to be endangered and rescued. Third- and fourth-billed rappers Ja Rule and Omarion clock a single scene each and were no doubt hired for what little name value they could bring to the movie. They’re not even given actual characters to play, just more disposable thugs for Van Dam to beat up. Porn star Stormy Daniels shows up to show us two of her precious gifts (hint-one of them isn’t acting) before realizing she’s just eye candy and promptly vanishes from the movie.

Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s DVD presentation of Wrong Side of Town features a decent 1.85:1 widescreen picture and an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track that is solid, but ultimately wasted since the movie doesn’t make good use of the aural boost. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The extras are as slight and wasteful as the movie itself. Besides the theatrical trailer there are four brief and uninformative mini-documentaries devoted to the making of the film and the stunt work that run a combined twelve minutes. Upfront previews for Shoot First and Pray You Live, Death Warrior, Four Dragons, and Fireball round out this bonus feature set.

Wrong Side of Town could have been a kickass entertaining flick, but it’s too dull and lifeless to even qualify as dumb fun. Don’t waste your time with this one.

1 Comment »

  1. If this film doesn’t justify the launch of a new Mystery Science Theater 3000, I don’t know what does!

    Comment by burning_chrome — June 29, 2010 @ 11:43 am

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