Tuesday, 22 March 2011

VHS Quest #5. Zero Tolerance (Joseph Merhi, 1994)

Robert Patrick gets rough in Zero Tolerance (1994)

Zero Tolerance - which on my VHS copy has the tagline 'One man. A thousand bullets... It's gonna be a long weekend.' - is one of the most incoherent, laughably scripted action vehicles of the 1990s - the decade of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Forget plot holes - this hopeless exercise in cliché is so staggeringly stupid it's hard not to take it as the work of an ironic, tongue-in-cheek art terrorist. For example - F.B.I. agent Jeff Douglas (Robert Patrick), after being involved in an explosion that knocks him at least twenty feet in the air and hit by a car moving at least 35mph, manages to walk from Las Vegas to Washington D.C. overnight - and without the surrounding bad guys noticing, or even seeming to care. Which is odd, given that they miraculously organized an ambush in the middle of the New Mexico desert, learnt the location of Douglas' family and then forced him to escort chief bad guy Manta (Titus Welliver) to Vegas for a drug deal in pure neon-light. Incompetent? Ain't the word...

Of course this kind of trashy, bargain bin star vehicle should probably be taken with a pinch of salt anyway - it was never trying to be Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) - but when you look at the pedigree of Patrick's action credentials (T2, Cameron, 1991) it's hard not to be offended by how regressive and boring this is. The setup is as follows: Jeff Douglas is in New Mexico to transport drug kingpin Manta to federal prison - he is believed to be part of the White Hand gang. Things go awry, Manta escapes, kills Douglas' family and so the embittered agent goes rouge and attempts to kill the gang one by one. The problem is that there's absolutely no character development whatsoever; Douglas is just a seemingly invincible killing machine so there's no reason to root for him, or feel any sense of danger. It's also not explained how he tracks down each of the drug lords, or keeps finding new weapons and ammo. Not that guns are his first weapon of choice - in one scene he punctures the gas tank of his car, throws a lighter outside and drives the car into the base of the bad guys, niftily escaping just as it blows up. He should have been dead ten times by now, but there's another totally self-contained action sequence to shoot, so the filmmakers choose to keep our bland protagonist alive. There's no continuity or coherence between the set-pieces either. In one scene Douglas hitchhikes to Manta's secret location and just walks through a little forest path to assassinate the entire building - how does this make any narrative sense? It's like nobody's even trying! There's no dialogue between scenes either, just a definite rhythm. Douglas turns up, shoots six or seven henchmen (one with a grenade launcher), kills the head honcho, catches a plane to the next location and repeats.

The screenplay is witless and embarrassing. An example: Manta: "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I learned all that in Drug Dealing 101." Is that supposed to be funny? Manta is an over-achiever in the gnarling tough-guy stakes to the point of being a laughable caricature. Seriously, he's more like a character from a parody or a sketch, and overplays a level of charisma that clearly doesn't come naturally to him... it's awkward. And then Mick Fleetwood turns up for a while! What for? To get shot, like everyone else in this movie. Somehow there's zero consequence to Douglas' actions - he lays waste to entire states, flipping cars and blowing up buildings. But whatever, as long as he gets the bad guys, right? The one scene that does attempt philosophical debate (right vs. wrong, who has the power to judge) just comes across as false moralizing; it's almost like the filmmakers did this in reshoots because test audiences were so baffled by the (unimpressive, blandly choreographed and shot) relentless violence. It just rolls on and on making 88 minutes seem like a lifetime, and Patrick is clearly in it for the money.

In summation: this is a movie which literally ends with Douglas throwing Manta out of a window and saying "it's over." On that condescending note we cut to him riding through the desert to a cheesy rock tune, and the credits roll over the screen. It's shoddily written, directed, acted and edited - in fact, I can't think of a single positive thing to say about it. Zero Tolerance is what I have for an action film this clichéd, lazy and boring... Van Damme, I take it all back!

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