Monday, 2 December 2013

Intergalactic Combat

Director: Ray Brady
Writer: Ray Brady
Producer: Ray Brady
Cast: Gordon Alexander, Elizabeth Tan, Tom Wu
Country: UK
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: festival screening (FFF 2006)

There’s plenty of combat in Intergalactic Combat - you can’t fault it on that. Well over half the 92-minute running time of this low-budget British indie feature consists of people kicking, punching or otherwise fighting each other. They barely pause for breath. Unfortunately, precisely none of this combat is intergalactic. Ah well.

I will admit to missing the first minute or so of the prologue so I don’t know exactly how the aliens arrive on Earth or how they are received, but the message they bring is that Earth must assemble a crack squad of warriors to take part in some sort of, well, intergalactic combat. I think participation in this interspecies fight club is mandatory for any sentient race which wishes to join in galactic society. Or something.

The problem is that, although there are occasional references to this set-up in the film, including a few shots of aliens and CGI alien worlds, the truth is that the entire sci-fi aspect could be removed from this film without affecting the storyline one iota. You wouldn’t even need to rewrite or shoot any pick-ups, you could just take out the sci-fi bits in the edit suite. The resulting film would make as much sense, possibly more, and it would still be feature-length too.

For reasons that are not explained (unless it’s in the first minute of the prologue), rather than some world martial arts federation simply assembling the current champions, there will be a series of trials, pitching various combatants against each other and the victors will face the aliens. Except they won’t because the trials are being held at a national level, with an international contest to follow and only then will any ETs be confronted. So this isn’t even a film about selecting a world squad, it’s a film about selecting a British squad (or English - the script is rather confused on that point).

The closest thing we have to a central character is ‘Alexander the Great’ (Gordon Alexander: Sucker Punch, The Purifiers, Underground), a former champion who retired after breaking his leg in a road accident. He is given the task of assembling the squad by Andromeda, a beautiful alien who has ‘morphing technology’ and takes the form of Asian actress Elizabeth Tan (Dirty Sanchez: The Movie). This ‘morphing’ is limited to some CGI-work on her hair in two scenes near the start and one right at the end. For most of the film, Andromeda’s extraterrestrial origins are never explained. Andromeda and Alexander later fall in love and end up shagging without either commenting on the ethics of inter-species relationships.

I say ‘closest thing’ because one of this film’s biggest faults is the enormous cast of characters, which means that even Alexander gets very little actual screen time. Andromeda and sharp-shirted smoothie Ryk Barbados (New Zealander Nigel Wilson) pop up frequently as presenters of ‘Combat TV’ to commentate on the fights and the fighters; Barbados also seems to be organising the whole thing and presumably runs somewhere called ‘Barbados Bar’ where we meet barman Kenny Mac (Kevin McCurdy), a good-looking black guy who kicks some trouble-makers' arses. McCurdy is easily the best actor in the movie and also one of the best fighters - or at least, screen-fighters. He actually looks as if he is really fighting rather than just going through a series of predetermined moves.

I’m not qualified to say how well most of these people can fight in genuine combat, but when performing for the camera they are as wooden on the mat as they are when they open their mouths.

We also meet an Asian businessman called Paul (I think - can’t find him on the IMDB cast list), saving a homeless guy from being beaten up. Next thing we know, Paul and Kenny Mac are on a rooftop sipping cocktails when a gang of goons arrive, line-up and fight them. There is no indication of how the two good guys know each other as they have no other scenes together, either before or after. And when the last goon falls down, it is revealed that this is all a scene being shot for a movie. This is doubly curious, because not only is there no explanation of this ‘film within a film’ - I mean, none; the scene is just stuck in there - but it also contradicts how action movies are shot. The fans who might watch this are savvy enough to know that it’s all done in bits with close-ups and two-shots and whatnot, but this ‘film’ is one of those impossible ones which has lots of action shot from every angle which all stops when the director yells ‘Cut!’

It doesn’t make any sense and is entirely removed from anything else in the movie, just like the scene in the Barbados Bar and the scene with the homeless guy. In fact, like just about every non-fighting scene throughout the film. We also meet a blonde girl, Nadine (Katie Cecil), who is groped on a tube train and then learns self-confidence in a martial arts class run by Zulu (Tom Wu: Mutant Chronicles, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers). Then there’s Trojan (Troy Titus-Adams, who was in EastEnders a few years ago), a single mother who manages a lap-dancing club (or is she a single mum - a scene at the end suggests that Kenny Mac is her other half). Then there are two twins, George and Lewis Long, (Neil and Adrian Rayment, who were in The Matrix Reloaded) who fall out over a woman, or something, and one of them is evil, or turns evil, or something. Oh, and there are some racists conspiring to keep the British team entirely white, and they get supplied (by aliens, I think) with some sort of goop they can put on their hands that will weaken their opponents muscles. There’s someone called Billy Boy too (Silvio Simac: Black Mask 2) but he doesn’t seem to do anything except the fighty bits. Oh, and a girl with braided hair called ‘The Bitch’ (Cathy Brown). And probably one or two others that I have forgotten.

There is just way, way too much here. Too many subplots with too many characters all crammed into the 30-40 minutes of the film that isn’t fighting. Literally, you get a few minutes of one subplot - twins or racists or whatever - and then it disappears for an hour while we get clips of other subplots and lots and lots of fighting before re-emerging briefly when we have forgotten about it. This also makes keeping track of who’s who difficult; interestingly, in defiance of accepted beliefs, it’s possible to distinguish the black and Asian characters but all the white blokes look the same, as do all the white birds. Maybe if one of them ever smiled, that might make them stand out. Or if any of them could act.

Oh, and a bloke in a military uniform pops up on screen occasionally to talk to camera but I have no idea who or what he is - I guess that was in the prologue too. He is credited as ‘Commander X’ and played by Michael Chomiak, who is a regular in Ray Brady movies and also gets a ‘casting' credit here. (The prologue, incidentally, has a guy with a machine gun being chased by two cars, one of which does a pretty spectacular crash before bursting into flames, leading to a pretty well-done man-on-fire stunt. This all appears to be from a different movie and is explained as the first attempt to find combatants before it was realised that they had to be unarmed.)

Despite the vast number of characters, there’s no characterisation on show here. Nothing ever gets resolved, or even developed. Anything which isn’t two or three folks kicking the shit out of each other is rushed past like some sort of formality, which wouldn’t be so bad if the fights were interesting or entertaining. I love a good martial arts film as much as anyone but this isn’t a good martial arts film. In fact it’s a terrible martial arts film though it is still a better martial arts film than a science fiction film. Indistinguishable ‘main characters’ square off against indistinguishable, nameless opponents and there’s something wrong when we only know slightly more about our main characters than we do about the non-speaking parts who are there merely to be beaten, because we don’t care a jot about who wins in any fight.

However many opponents are lined up, there is never any sense of danger or threat as they calmly step up to pretend to slam their face into someone’s foot or fist. Green screens on the walls (the director can’t decide whether they really are green screens used as an effect for Combat TV or whether they’re an effect for him to matte in cheering audiences) fail to distract us from the ‘action’ which is a shame as the fights, for the most part, are as thrilling and exciting as an exercise video. There’s not even any shouting or yelling or foley work or anything, just people taking it in turns to strike martial arts poses until one of them falls over.

It’s difficult to know who this is aimed at. There is a sort of genre of indie martial arts film-making in Britain, something which rarely gets written about outside of specialist websites and Impact magazine. Through my association with Steve Lawson and his films, I have glimpsed a little of it, but for the most part it remains a mystery, an insular subculture with its own heroes and villains. It’s a curious thing that you never meet people who do kickboxing in the real world, yet there are all these kickboxers - they are among us! - who make kickboxing movies about kickboxers for other kickboxers to enjoy. But I can say with all honesty that I have never met anyone who kickboxes and wasn’t involved in some way in indie film-making. (To be fair, as this is a film about kickboxers, it’s not unreasonable that that’s what the characters do.)

That’s not to say this is a kickboxing movie, or even a KCM. It’s a sign of a bad film when you find yourself wishing, “Christ, I really hope one of these people turns out to be a cyborg” - but no such luck here. There are various martial arts on display and occasionally Andromeda even pops up on Combat TV to explain the history of ju-jitsu (or whatever), thereby eating still further into running time which could be used for plot or characterisation.

Instead we have three ‘zones’ of varying stupidity. The first is a straight fight in a gym against two (or three - difficult to tell) opponents. There is some guff about treading on different parts of the mat determines who can fight, but it’s not clear and makes no difference anyway.

Then the really dumb ‘second zone’ requires the competitors to run across London, occasionally being waylaid by costumed groups of two or three opponents: the Ninjas, the Masked Maniacs, the Heavy Brigade, the Ninjettes and the Schoolies (two girls in Britney Spears get-up who backflip endlessly across a tennis court before Zulu knocks them out with one slap). Despite the complete absence of camera crews in the alleys where these fights take place, this is all somehow broadcast on Combat TV. Finally, each of the combatants must face off against two guys in stupid make-up. The make-up varies, so are they the same two each time? Who knows...

The more I think about Intergalactic Combat, the more I wonder about how and why this film was made. There’s just no plot. You expect to have a hero who overcomes adversity and the injured Alexander would seem to fit that role, except that, like everyone else, he is off-screen for most of the film. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is resolved, apart from a list of seven names which appear at the end as the selected British team. The racists? Who knows? The twins? Not sure. The film-within-a-film? Completely forgotten. At one point, Andromeda finds a morphing device (a spiky pink ball) and muses that she’s not the only alien in town. So we wait to find out which of the other characters is secretly a morphed alien - but guess what? It’s never mentioned again.

This whole inept shambles just flipflops back and forth between the badly acted ‘character/subplot’ scenes and the staggeringly badly acted and deeply dull fight scenes, neither aspect capturing our attention. Adding to the problem is the never-ending use of captioned flashbacks. Every ten minutes we get ‘one month earlier’ or ‘eighteen years earlier’ or ‘yesterday’ or ‘next week’ or ‘eighteen years later’. Enough already, tell your damn story! Oh, I forgot: you don’t have one.

Now here’s the irony. It may seem (actually it does seem) like this movie was cobbled together without any actual script. And guess what? According to the film’s website, that’s what happened! And I quote:

‘INTERGALACTIC COMBAT’ is reversing the usual process of scripting and casting for a Martial Arts movie in that we have cast several highly talented leads that each have the chance to deploy their own personal best moves. We have asked the leads to really show us what they can do, including other talents unrelated to combat and we've attempted to include them within the framework of the film's treatment and structure.

This organic process has meant that the full narrative has only emerged as the film is being produced. But each of our leads has the unique opportunity to shine and let a wide international audience see how talented they are.

Which is not only plain wrong (guys, write a damn script, you can’t make a decent movie without a script) but also bizarre because what are these “talents unrelated to combat” around which the film has been based? Tom Wu does an impressive series of cartwheels just before punching the backflipping Schoolies and Gordon Alexander spends one hilarious scene identifying and ‘preparing’ tropical fruit(!), but apart from that...? Nobody sings, nobody dances, nobody does any magic tricks - and very few of them bother acting.

Ray Brady, the writer, director and producer of this sorry mess, first came to attention with the controversial horror flick Boy Meets Girl in the mid-1990s. Since then, according to the Inaccurate Movie Database, he has made about seven other films but none of them seem to have had a proper release and some of them, such as the 2003(!) vampire picture Cold Dark (not to be confused with the Kevin Howarth/Luke Goss film Cold and Dark) have clearly never got past development hell.

Intergalactic Combat isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen but most of the ones that beat this do so by being as bad despite huge budgets. This shot-on-video cheapie, which was variously known during its four years or so of production as First Intergalactic Strike Team, F.I.S.T. and Team One, was clearly shot for about twenty quid, but unfortunately Brady only got a tenner’s worth of film for that.

A non sequitur to finish. Jerry Seinfeld has a routine about the emotions you feel when you get most of the way through a TV episode and realise that there’s not enough time to wrap up the story so you’re going to get a ‘to be continued’ caption and have to wait a whole damn week to find out how it ends. I felt something very similar about two thirds of the way into Intergalactic Combat when I realised that we wouldn’t even see any international combat, let alone any intergalactic stuff. I realised that I was watching the first part of a trilogy and I oscillated between two conflicting emotions: annoyance at having to wait for the film after next before any actual alien fighting would appear (something which has, of course, already been done perfectly well in Arena) and relief that Intergalactic Combat is so poor that there is next to no chance of Ray Brady and his pals ever making the other two films.

MJS rating: D
review originally posted 4th September 2006

Addendum: After I originally posted this review, I had a very curious e-mail from Ray Brady claiming that the film had never been shown in public, despite the fact that somebody had clearly submitted the completed movie to the Festival of Fantastic Films. Brady thought that a negative review like this would damage his chances of finding a distributor so, for a quiet life (and despite my personal doubt that anyone would touch a movie this bad with a bargepole) I took the review down. A couple of years later, with the film available to download from Amazon or to watch for free, in segments, on YouTube, I think it’s safe to put the review back up. One thing I must point out is this ‘poster design’, used on the Amazon download page, with its unique spelling of ‘Intergalactic’ which I think ably sums up the care and attention that went into making this tripe.

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