Stars: Vinnie Jones, Michael Matthias, DMX, Rachelle Leah, Michael Madsen, Kat von D and Armand Assante
There are times when, however bad it's likely to be, you know you have to watch a movie purely because of something mentioned on the DVD cover. Well, this has two such examples. Could you resist a movie that has Vinnie Jones as a vampire king? I know I sure can't. How about one with Michael Madsen as a rogue priest with a taste for machine guns? Read that twice and don't lie to me. Add Armand Assante into the mix, plus a varied set of niche icons like DMX, Kat von D and UFC's Rachel Leah and this is a must see that, yes, is surely going to be truly awful. 'Surrounded by carnage, slaughter, brutal crashes and total mayhem,' the IMDb synopsis reads, 'Shawn Black is in a race to save the world from pure evil.' Tell me there's not going to be testosterone galore. Even the production company is called Iron Bull Films. Don't be surprised to find that we start off with a chase scene featuring vampires, guns, motorbikes, a cute chick and a jackknifing truck.
Our hero is Black, Shawn Black and he's trying to be Diesel, Vin Diesel. No, he's not a good actor in the slightest but he has a bald head, a tattoo and a lot of muscles, so he's perfect for this film. Oh, and he's a SEAL. With a spacious garage full of sports cars. Actor and co-producer Michael Matthias attempts a partial explanation as we skip back three days to find him breaking out of a hospital, and he just about makes his way through it without tripping over his tongue. He's lost his entire family. His parents were brutally murdered in Transylvania, though they were Irish and Italian. His brother was killed on duty in Afghanistan but his body was never found. And he's just about to be thrust into some sort of war between the good angels and the bad angels. You know, 'good and evil shit'. Everyone keeps talking about a whole world that nobody knew exists. He understands about enough to pack lots of guns before he heads out in his Shelby Super Snake.
The explanations are taken up by Tagg, after Black rescues him from being tortured beneath a tattoo parlour by a vampire. DMX does a much better job at this than Michael Matthias, enough for us to realise that this is one of those destiny deals, where Black is the Slayer and his missing brother will be reborn as his arch nemesis. You know, because it's meant to be, or something. It's good to see attention given to the back story but we're hardly buying into it as being some sort of redefining legend for the modern age. It's a rehash of pretty much every cliché you can think of, combined with just enough fun to make it worth watching if you like so bad it's good movies. At least it doesn't fall prey to the cardinal sin of being boring. There's always either something bad or something worse going on with a host of great character actors having wild fun while slumming it. It's a real shame they don't each get a lot more time to strut their stuff.
In fact these cameos are the main reason that most people are going to make it to the end, for Michael Matthias is certainly not going to become next year's action hero du jour. He's capable at the one look he's expected to use but he hasn't figured out how to find another one. He uses it as consistently as Zoolander uses Blue Steel. He's a poor man's Vin Diesel and yes, I realise fully how that sounds, or maybe Kurt Angle's stunt double. I'm no DMX fan but he's much more watchable in his brief couple of nonsensical scenes than Matthias can manage throughout the entire picture as its lead. Vinnie Jones is stunningly awful as Cain, the king of the vampires. You won't believe his accent, which keeps changing from English to Mexican to Irish to New Orleans to I don't know what. He obviously had a blast though, hamming it up in a pimp jacket and hat that's there only to keep his hair attached. Their showdowns, plural, are truly, indescribably bad.
Armand Assante and Kat von D are both wasted, bookending the film with small cameos that do nothing but get their names on the DVD cover. Rachelle Leah gets more screen time than both put together but it still isn't enough. She's better than I would have expected from someone who made her name as a model and presenter of TV shows like Spike's Sexiest NYC Bartenders. She's best known for hosting UFC but could easily make the transition to acting. I hope so. It's Michael Madsen who saves the day though, as Father Roy. We discover him sleeping on a grave with an empty bottle of Jack sitting next to him, like Jack Palance playing Johnny Cash with dialogue by Quentin Tarantino. He gets kidnapped by a carnival parade, he drives a bulletproof hearse and he keeps a blessed arsenal, a 'vampire's worst nightmare'. He knows full well how bad this is and so he has fun with it, overdoing everything gloriously. That's what I'll take away from it.
Director Charlie Picerni actually does a capable job of keeping things interesting. He's a vastly experienced name in film but mostly as a stuntman, as which he's racked up literally hundreds of credits, including what looks like everything that might have influenced this: The Fast and the Furious, Demolition Man and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'm sure most of the names in this film are there because of him. I wonder if he supplied his own cars. The trainwreck that it becomes is more due to Lance Lane's screenplay. Admittedly it does cram into an hour and a half everything that it could possibly wish for, but it feels like he pieced together an action movie jigsaw without realising that someone had swapped out half the pieces from a bunch of other boxes. That sort of patchwork filmmaking can work, just look at From Dusk Till Dawn, but it doesn't here. It should be watched only in company with pizza and a sizable supply of alcohol. Then it might work.