Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Gary Daniels, Tina-Desiree Berg, Jason Johnson, Neeta Kim, Desi Singh, Daniel Phinnessee, Ben Schwagrowski
Written & Directed by Desi Singh
Those of you who haven’t read my reviews of “>GiAnts and “>The Abominable… may not be familiar with the films of Cine Excel Entertainment, a little San Francisco-based film company that is sort of like The Asylum in that they seem to be very ambitious in the scope of some of their movies yet they do so with budgets that are probably the equivalent to the catering budget of your typical Asylum production. When you’re making a movie about giant ants on a rampage in San Francisco or a King Kong wannabe with a 60-foot yeti running amok in San Francisco and doing so for the price of a used automobile, that kind of moxie at least deserves some credit if only in a “Little Engine That Could” sort of way. You have to admire their spunk even if their movies tend to be junk.
Then there’s the interesting footnote that they’ve had a whole bunch of films listed on their website for years yet few of them have ever seen the light of day in North America. Most of them have yet to see the light of day anywhere. GiAnts and The Abominable… are only available on Japanese DVD and now Reptilicant has finally gotten a DVD release – in Hungary and the Czech Republic. Why Hungary and the Czech Republic only? Beats me; maybe Gary Daniels has a strong following in those countries.
You are familiar with Gary Daniels, aren’t you? B-movie martial artist who starred in the live-action Fist of the North Star and a string of other low budget action flicks with titles like Firepower, Heatseeker, Rage, and American Streetfighter. Let’s just say his filmography has been a hit & miss affair. His career highlight was when he fought Jackie Chan in the memorable “Streetfighter” live-action video game sequence from Chan’s City Hunter flick. Daniels has said that he only did Reptilicant because he was friends with the producer and reportedly gave an interview to a Russian martial arts website calling it the worst film he’s ever done and that he was considering quitting the film business. IMDB has him listed as appearing in a slew of upcoming movies so Reptilicant clearly did not kill his career. As for it being his worst movie, I cannot say since I have only seen a few of his previous movies, but I’m willing to bet it definitely falls somewhere towards the bottom of his barrel.
Gary Daniels’ role for the majority of the first 70-minutes of Reptilicant consists of sitting in a chair interrogating a woman in a gaudy red wig named Dannie, the sole survivor of a team of fortune hunters that fall victim to an alien monster while scowling the infamous Alcatraz prison for diamonds left behind long ago by an inmate. Dannie is played by Tina-Desiree Berg, a former writer for Femme Fatales magazine and an actress I’ve seen in two other Cine Excel productions where she was the most competent actor in the film – not this time though. Wonder if she would also consider Reptilicant the worst film on her resume too?
To be honest, all of the acting is uniformly bad but not for lack of effort on the part of the actors – call it enthusiastically bad acting if you must. Even then you can’t fully fault the actors because they’re working with a script that is utter nonsense overloaded with heinous dialogue like the following two examples.
“The last time I was afraid of shadows I was a snot-nosed kid.”
“The only way we’re going to get any truth out her is to hold her down and squeeze her head. You lie like a rug!”
Heck, there’s even a line where Gary Daniels jokes that he should nab the film rights to Dannie’s tale of hidden diamonds, Alcatraz, and alien identity thieves, to which one of the other federal agents snipes about how audiences “won’t be standing in line to see that movie”. For a line of dialogue like that make it into a film of this caliber, I really hope that was just the filmmakers’ cheeky way of conceding they were well aware their movie was rubbish.
Daniels and the two federal agents accompanying him don’t even bother taking this woman to a police station; they just find an interrogation room right there on Alcatraz island and start questioning her. Most of the film is told in flashback as Daniels interviews her about what happened. These flashbacks will contain their own flashbacks, as well as a couple flash forwards; the structure of the film being not so much confusing as it is simply a jumbled mess.
Dannie’s story begins with her dying grandpa telling her about the diamond thief in the cell next to him when he did time in Alcatraz. That thief managed to smuggle in $20 million in stolen diamonds by ingesting them. Then he hacked them up and hid them somewhere in the prison where they remain today.
To give you an idea how inept the filmmaking gets, when the grandpa in the wheelchair starts telling Dannie about how the diamond thief one night whispered secret clues to him from the next cell, the director dissolves to a flashback of this very scene playing out, a flashback of an old man whispering his secret so softly that even we cannot hear what is being said. What the hell was the point of showing us this flashback if it’s just a shot of an old man’s mouth moving with no audio and not even a voiceover by grandpa explaining what was being said to him either? What the hell, people? Geez, Louise.
Now even though Alcatraz has been abandoned for decades and is pretty much just a tourist destination sitting in San Francisco Bay gathering dust, and, according to this movie, only inhabited by a security guard or two and a janitor, Dannie still calls in her old buddies to help her get the diamonds as if this were a full-fledged heist. Her old buddies happen to be a heavily-armed team of mercenaries, including her conniving ex-husband, whom she and the others are convinced will eventually double-cross them because he always double-crosses them and, sure enough, he’ll end up double-crossing them. My favorite of the lot though was the eye patch-wearing, shirtless, musclehead lovechild of Ashton Kutcher and John Cena who looked very much like someone who had gotten lost on his way to the set of an Andy Sidaris movie.
Not sure why she needed a team of commandos to storm an almost completely empty Alcatraz other than to give the monster some people to kill off. There wouldn’t be much of a movie otherwise, and considering there isn’t much of a movie here to begin with … This is a movie where she’ll tell someone to secure a particular area of the empty prison and the director will then cut to that gunmen standing in an empty room declaring it secured. Thrilling stuff, I assure you. Almost as thrilling as all the perfunctory walking about the cramped prison sets waiting to be picked off by the alien creature, sometimes cutting away from the action right when the action begins. Dannie and the remaining commandos will eventually decide that the only way to survive and stop the extraterrestrial monster is to outsmart it, so you know they’re doomed.
Dannie is also the world’s nicest diamond thief in charge of a heavily-armed commando unit you’ll ever see. She’ll actually tell them once their monster troubles begin that they’re getting off the island because the diamonds aren’t worth risking their lives. Don’t hear that very often in movies with scenarios like this.
Now let’s talk about the Reptilicant itself; the director did double duty also playing one of the characters and putting on the monster suit, too. Somewhere in heaven Don Dohler is smiling upon this foam rubber monstrosity that looks like a jacked-up Sleestak with some vaguely simian and Klingon features to it. In this day and age it’s hard not scoff at something that is so obviously a man-in-a-rubbersuit, but given this is also the age of computer generated overkill I can appreciate a man-in-a-rubbersuit. It may not be the most realistic monster but at least it’s tangible, something on the set the actors can actually interact with, or in the case of Gary Daniels, do some man vs. monster kickboxing.
The Reptilicant gets its name – a name never actually uttered in the film itself – from its ability to take on the physical appearance of anyone it comes across. A “shape-shifting replicating reptile” as the artwork describes it, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of the Reptilicant but I can’t help but find some logical flaws in how it’s utilized here. Why does a seemingly unstoppable, bulletproof monster with superhuman strength and claws that can cut metal need to disguise itself in the first place if it’s just lurking within a very isolated complex with so few people to interact with? It’s not like the creature is wandering the public streets where it needs to go unnoticed. And why bother taking on the physical appearance of others if when you do so you’re going to be, say something, or behave in such a manner as to make it apparent you’re not really the person you’ve taken the form of?
Reptilicant is for most of its running time a pretty deplorable bit of filmmaking. Cramped quarters and limited sets severely cripple whatever action there is, all of which prior to the final showdown is so poorly staged it isn’t even worthy of being laughed at. Scenes often feel cobbled together with jarring transitions, at least when there are transitions. There’s just something so very clumsy about how the whole movie has been put together.
But all is not a total loss. While Cine Excel’s flicks tend to be quite bad, they also tend to boast a certain degree of Ed Wood enthusiasm. This one saves it all for the climax. I’m telling you right now if the first hour of Reptilicant had been as zany as its preposterous final 25-minutes then it would have at least been worth whole heartedly recommending for the schlock value alone.
Turns out the only thing that can penetrate the Reptilicant’s hide are diamonds. First we’ll get to watch a diamond thief make like Super Mario swinging a diamond-encrusted mallet that he uses to smash the Reptilicant’s toes while taunting it with lines like “How’s that for toejam!” Then, when Daniels finally finds himself confronted by the alien, he’ll run off to a boiler room where he’ll promptly rip his shirt off and super glue some diamonds to some rags that he’ll tie around his fists (shades of the climactic Taipei deathmatch of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer) so that he can fight the Reptilicant in hand-to-claw combat. It also helps that there’s a raging thunderstorm brewing and Gary Daniels knows how to quickly “MacGyver” up a lightning rod tripwire deathtrap so that the film can also pay homage to the finale of the original version of The Thing.
Any motion picture that can pay homage to both a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and a 1950’s science fiction classic while at the same time giving us a shirtless British beefcake with cubic zirconiums glued to his fists and a guy in a rubber lizardman costume going all Rocky V in the bowels of Alcatraz deserves some extra credit. I’m going to bump the rating up one full star just for that alone.
2 out of 5
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