Tag Archives: Michael Jai White

The Guns of Navagroan

Come Out Fighting

by Daniel Baldwin

War movies have been an action cinema staple since the dawn of filmmaking and men-on-a-mission movies are perhaps the most popular form of war film. Writer/director Steven Luke has carved out a niche for himself on the DTV action circuit making bargain budgeted World War II tales. Come Out Fighting is the latest of these.

As he did in his previous outings, Luke has assembled a nice, recognizable cast of genre actors. You’ve got indie martial arts superstar Michael Jai White (Blood & BoneBlack Dynamite), Kellan Lutz (The Twilight Saga), Tyrese Gibson (The Fast & Furious Saga), and an ever-grizzled Dolph Lundgren (no introduction required). All in all, not a bad assortment of fisticuff-throwing fellas to send into battle against a Nazi horde!

On paper, Come Out Fighting sounds like a fun little flick. In execution, however, it is anything but. The good news is that all of the men above have roles that are larger than cameos. The bad news is that they’re all too good for this film. Try as they might to hold it all together, their collective efforts cannot turn the tide on a bad script and even worse direction.

Anyone who watches the occasional direct-to-video actioner of this type knows to expect things like production design, costuming, and special effects work to not be on par with similar studio-produced fare. The best directors in this field still manage to overcome such limitations with sharper scripts, small but still thrilling setpieces, and low budget movie-making ingenuity. Jesse V. Johnson’s Hell Hath No Fury is an excellent example of this, managing to check off that entire list in spite of its miniscule budget. Come Out Fighting, however, manages none of these things, instead serving up heaping helpings of bad blocking, poor scene geography, and some pretty glaring historical inaccuracies.

It does at least have something on its mind, as it digs into the prejudices that African American soldiers faced from their own white compatriots during the war. As commendable as that is, that simply isn’t enough to salvage an otherwise inept picture. If you’re in the mood for an engaging new slice o’ action-filled WWII entertainment this weekend, you’re better off seeking out the aforementioned Hell Hath No Fury or Jalmari Helander’s now-on-VOD revenger Sisu.

Shotgun Safari

Dragged Across Concrete

by George Wolf

Songwriter Jim Steinman, best known for baroque and dramatically verbose musical epics often belted out by Meat Loaf, has said in interviews that he would love to write 3-minute pop toe tappers, he just doesn’t know how.

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler can probably relate. Dragged Across Concrete is his third feature as writer/director, and he’s still clearly invested in the long game. Like Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler’s latest is full of strangely indelible characters and memorable dialogue, a film anchored in creeping dramatic dread that finally explodes with wonderfully staged brutality.

Brett (Mel Gibson) and Anthony (Vince Vaughn), street-smart cops in a fictional urban jungle called Bulwark, get popped when a bystander captures one overly zealous interrogation on video. A suspension without pay is something they’re forced to accept, but it isn’t long before Brett has a plan to make up for the lapse in funds with a little “proper compensation” on the side.

But of course, they’re not the only ones looking for a score.

Henry (a terrific Tory Kittles) is fresh out of the joint and needs money for his family. His old friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) hooks them both up as drivers for a lethal bank robber (Thomas Kretschmann), and the long fuse to a standoff is lit.

This is Zahler’s slowest burn yet, but he keeps you invested with a firm commitment to character, no matter the screen time. From a new mother with near-crippling separation anxiety (Jennifer Carpenter) to a loquacious bank manager (Fred Melamed) and a shadowy favor-granter (Udo Kier), nothing in the film’s 159 minutes feels superfluous.

In fact, quite the opposite.

As Zahler contrasts the cops with the robbers, the sharply-defined supporters orbiting the core conflict only add to its gravity, despite a few moments than seem a bit too eager for Tarantino approval.

Gibson is fantastic, drawing Brett as the real bulwark here, defending what he feels is his with a savage, unapologetic tenacity. Vaughn, re-teaming with Zahler after a standout turn in Cell Block 99, again shows how good he can be when pushed beyond his default setting of “Vince Vaughn.”

Finally, the steady march of battered souls, desperate measures and eclectic soundtrack choices comes to a bloody, pulpy head, staged with precision and matter-of-fact collateral damage.

Zahler’s command of his playbook is hard to ignore. Though the glory of Concrete‘s payoff never quite rises to the breathtaking heights he’s hit before, his confident pace and detailed observations make for completely absorbing storytelling.

And two out of three ain’t bad.


For Your Queue: Who’s the smoothest, baddest mutha to ever hit the big screen?

Django Unchained releases this week. Woo hoo! Quentin Tarantino’s first Oscar winning screenplay since Pulp Fiction unleashes a giddy bloodbath that’s one part blaxploitation, two parts spaghetti Western, and all parts awesome. Astonishing performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz might keep you from noticing the excellent turns from Sam Jackson, Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington. That’s why you’ll need to see it again. Lucky for you it’s available on DVD today!

For an homage with a more comical edge, we recommend 2009’s Black Dynamite, a hilarious send-up of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Co-writer Michael Jai White is perfect as the titular hero who is out to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of..who else?…The Man. With character names such as Tasty Freeze and Cream Corn, and B.D. seducing the ladies with “you can hit the sheets or you can hit the streets, ” you can bet you’re last money this flick is superbad, honey.