By Scott Tre
The B-Movie has lost it's luster and it's uniqueness. Years ago, one could always count on the local video store or pay cable to serve up a dependable revenge tale or genre flick. Over the last few decades, the obscure treasures that could once only be found in the grindhouse have been swallowed whole by the Hollywood machine and spewed out in retooled and souped up versions for consumption by mass audiences. A once exclusive club populated by geeks is now open to the general public.
The biggest example of this is how the attributes of Hong Kong action cinema have become the norm for American Action Blockbuster in the wake of The Matrix. While the Bourne trilogy points the way to a very healthy direction for American action cinema, it would seem that straight forward fight scenes and shoot outs have become a thing of the past. Hollywood has taken the more obvious elements of Hong Kong films and used them to stylize American action films to the point of incoherence. The laws of physics no longer exist, and the plastic sheen of CGI has created an impenetrable filter that removes all sense of reality and consequence. In such an environment, sidekicks executed without the aid of wires and the like are welcome.
The relative simplicity of old school B-level action movies now seems antiquated, while the fight scenes of Segal and Van Damme left a lot to be desired in terms of choreography and film-making, one has to appreciate the relative simplicity of them. The stars of those films kept their feet planted firmly on the ground and while they're techniques weren't exactly realistic, they only stretched believability to a degree. In today's world of stylization, inflated budgets and four quadrant films, the old school approach just isn't flashy enough. When will filmmakers realize that parlor tricks are not always necessary to provide action junkies with adequate oohs and aah's.
Ben Ramsey and Michael Jai White seem to understand the charm of a good B-Movie and the thrill of well executed fight scene. What else can explain the cinematic left hook that is Blood and Bone? I say left hook because only that phrase can convey the shock that I felt as I watched it for the first time this past fall.
Many of us simply know Michael as the guy who played Spawn, or for his starring role in the HBO film Tyson. Little did we suspect that Michael was capable of so much more. I had come to associate Michael's name on a marquee as an indicator of B-Level status of the worse sort. I had never thought of him as a "bad actor". His screen presence is obvious. At the same time I have never been a fan per se. After a recommendation from a knowledgeable friend of mine, I decided to Give Blood and Bone a chance. From the opening in the county jail bathroom I was hooked. Seeing Kimbo Slice in a cameo appearance had me unsure about what to expect.
Then, the action starts. I was hooked from that moment. I saw an agile Michael Jai White executing kicks with lightening speed and amazing force. No "unrealistic" techniques (relatively speaking). No under-cranking or "tricks" were evident. Sure,it's still slight of hand trickery, But Michael sells it along with the editing, sound FX, and cinematography. The camera remains stationary and allows stunt men and physical performers do their thing. "Finally" I thought to myself. "Someone has figured out what true action junkies want to see".
The sequence ends with Michael kicking straight into the camera as the title card bursts onto the screen. Fairly corny in and of itself, but its as if Ben Ramsey realized that there was no way we'd stop watching after what we just witnessed. The style of lettering also firmly establishes the main character Bone as inhabiting a B-Movie comic Book world. This movie accepts it's origins and is content to frolic in that particular playground. What joy!
The film immediately goes into it's story. The newly released Bone (Michael Jai White)finds room and board in a house run by Tamara (played by the lovely and voluptuous Nona Gaye). He then enters the Los Angeles underground fighting circuit with the diminutive Pinball (Dante Bosco) as his manager. Bone demolishes one opponent after the other in order to draw the attention of local crime Lord James (Eamonn Walker), who manages the current champ Hammerman (Bob Sapp).
More I will not say for fear of completely spoiling the film. Not that their will be many surprises as Blood And Bone unfolds exactly as one would expect. You've seen this story countless times before. What matters here is not the destination but how the cast and crew get us to that point. Ben Ramsey and Michael Jai White realize that this type of Loner hero is in short supply these days, as are action stars who are also physical performers. They use those notions as a steady foundation for this well worn story.
While the opening bathroom brawl snapped us to attention, each one of Blood and Bones fight scenes ups the ante in some way. Certain scenes show Bone making smooth transitions from aerial acrobatics to intricate ground fighting and grappling techniques. It is quite amazing to see someone with Micheal's Physique moving like someone half his size. He easily enters the pantheon of top physical performers in modern American action films.
As Bone, Michael brings more than his physicality to the table. The character is something of wrecking ball that obliterates everything in his path. He doesn't so size his opponents up so much as he looks directly through them. Before the first blow is struck the battle is fought in mind. Michael's glare projects a confidence and determination that drives the physicality of the character. It's nothing Oscar worthy, but the film would scarcely work without it.
No B-movie would be complete without a scenery chewing, hammy villain. Eamonn Walker offers up a doozy with James, a cold blooded crime lord with delusions of grandeur. Though the film shows him to be a violent sociopath, James clearly sees himself as the sort of modern day warrior that Bone clearly is. It looks as though Eamonn was encouraged to cut loose with his distinctly English brand of method acting and the film is all the better for it. Dante Bosco is a riot as Pinball, a fast talking opportunist who looks to have devoured too much black pop culture as a kid.
What more can be said about this B-Movie masterpiece? It offers everything we look for in this type of film and then some. Blood And Bone begs to sequelized and repeat viewings are an absolute must. The fight scenes will leave you giddy with disbelief. The story will draw you in despite your better instincts. If your not an unapologetic Michael Jai White fan after watching it, you should seriously consider swearing off action films for the rest of your life.