I don’t watch a great deal of straight-to-DVD films, as it’s usually a sign of poor quality. There are of course, exceptions, with some gems to be found, but often that’s more a case of a film being originally planned for a theatrical release then flopping in its country of origin, ultimately emerging later on disc. Now with VOD services getting bigger and bigger, skipping the (or just having a very small) theatrical release looks to no longer be the mark of shame it once was, but that’s another story. There are still plenty of crappy films being made purely for home viewing.
Christian Slater was, of course, quite a big name in the eighties and nineties, appearing in such major films as Heathers, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Interview with the Vampire, and a personal favourite of mine, True Romance. Earlier this year, he had a small role in the Stallone film Bullet to the Head. At the time of seeing it I recall thinking how long it had been since I’d seen him in a big movie. The last new film of his I could recall seeing was the low-key He Was a Quiet Man in 2007. So had a quick look on Wikipedia and my goodness, the guy has been working constantly, appearing in an astonishing 17 films between 2007 and now, not to mention numerous TV episodes. (This is not including Lars Von Trier’s upcoming 2-part Nymphomaniac, which Slater also has a role in and could well be quite high profile).
As chance would have it I caught one of his recent films on TV in a hotel a few weeks back, and thought; why not check out a few more? Unlike fellow has-been now straight-to-DVD stars like Steven Seagal, Slater was at least once in a lot of good films.
Guns, Girls, and Gambling (2011)
Guns, Girls, and Gambling (2011) is an eccentric crime film in which Slater plays a man called John Smith. He turns up at an Indian casino to play some games but ends up entering an Elvis impersonator competition, along with the likes of ‘Asian Elvis’, ‘Gay Elvis’ and ‘Little Person Elvis’. Soon however, a priceless Native American artefact vanishes from the chief’s office, and all the Elvises (Elvii?) find themselves being hunted down by different assassins. There are a good deal of characters that all have names like ‘The Blonde’, ‘The Rancher’, ‘The Indian’ etc.
The film employs some visual trickery, and jump-cuts, occasionally non-chronologically while often maintaining a snarky voice over from Slater. It’s fun enough for a while, with a few jokes about political correctness working well, but is easy to lose interest in by the time the twisty plot comes together at the end. The strangest thing about it is that Gary Oldman turns up as one of the Elvis impersonators. It’s a pretty small role with little dialogue, goodness knows how he ended up playing it.
It’s trying to be original and inventive, but very much feels like one of the dearth of self-consciously hip, comic, crime thrillers that emerged in the 1990s, mostly following Pulp Fiction’s success. If it had been made back then, it might have gained a little more attention and become a minor cult item, nowadays though, it seems unlikely.
Dawn Rider (2012)
While Guns, Girls, and Gambling might be trying to be inventive, the same can’t be said of Dawn Rider (2012), a Canadian film which aspires to be a traditional style western. It’s actually a remake of a relatively obscure old John Wayne film from 1935. The story is very simple, Slater plays a gunslinger called John Mason, who returns to his home town and meets up with his father. A short while later, there’s a robbery, it goes wrong and his father ends up getting shot and killed. Slater then sets out to find his father’s killers and seek vengeance. Also there’s a bit of a love triangle as he gets involved with a local girl his best friend also likes.
The film unfolds exactly how you would expect it to; there are no surprises and little tension or excitement. There’s nothing terrible about it, just nothing particularly good either. Slater’s performance is likewise serviceable, he doesn’t attempt any kind of John Wayne impression (sensibly) and just plays a standard cowboy archetype, and Donald Sutherland pops up for a couple of minutes too. An occasionally diverting but wholly unremarkable western with little to really recommend.
El Gringo (2012)
El Gringo (2012) is an action thriller coming from Joel Silver’s After Dark film’s new line ‘After Dark Action’. It stars former martial artist and frequent Van Damme co-star Scott Adkins (who on a more respectable note also appeared in Zero Dark Thirty). Reminiscent of Desperado, he plays a nameless character with a mysterious past, who wanders into a Mexican town. He carries a bag full of money but is greeted with hostility by all, unable to even purchase a glass of water, let alone a ticket out (his aim is to reach the beach resort of Acapulco). The town, you see, is run by the drug cartels, who don’t take kindly to foreigners. The only friendship comes in the shapely form of Anna (the camera lingers on her quite shamelessly), a sexy but tough local bar owner who dislikes the cartel (again, rather similar to Salma Hayek in Desperado). Adkins doesn’t want any trouble, but its intent on coming after him in the forms of the local gangs, thieves, and a corrupt sheriff. Soon, he has to reveal that his past included a considerable amount of armed and unarmed combat experience, which he puts to good use in dispatching the locals. The plot is flimsy to say the least, but it’s fairly entertaining for a short while, and Adkins really isn’t that bad for a straight-to-DVD action lead. Unfortunately his battling the bad guys soon becomes repetitious and a little tiresome, not to mention the inevitable love story that culminates in an awfully edited sex scene.
Christian Slater is featured prominently on the poster but has a relatively minor role, as Adkins’s former boss who’s also after him. It’s not an interesting character or a noteworthy performance and you could easily forget he was in the film afterward.
Dolan’s Cadillac (2009)
Dolan’s Cadillac (2009) features another villainous, but more significant role for Slater. Adapted from a Stephen King short story, it stars Wes Bentley (American Beauty) as Robinson, a school teacher in Las Vegas, who’s trying to have a baby with his wife, fellow teacher Elizabeth (Emmanuelle Vaugier). Slater plays the Dolan of the title, a sharp-suited, ruthless mobster whose primary business is human trafficking for sex slaves. When one of his shipments goes off course, he turns up to clean up the mess by killing everyone on board. Elizabeth happens to be hose riding around in the desert at the time and witnesses the slaughter, but gets away. She and her husband go to the rather useless local authorities to report the crime to no avail. This leads to her agreeing to be a witness and testifying against Dolan. Even though the pair is put into protective custody, Elizabeth soon winds up dead via a car bomb, leaving Robinson to swear vengeance.
Though it’s based on a Stephen King story, this isn’t a horror film, it goes for one scare early on but that’s about it, unless you count Robinson’s occasional visions and talks with the charred corpse of his wife. It’s a pretty standard revenge thriller. I feel I could describe the subsequent events in a manner that would make it sound more interesting than that, because it has some more original ideas at its core, the revenge plan itself for example, it not something we’ve seen before, and Robinson is hardly your typical protagonist, with no badass backstory to draw from. However the film doesn’t really convey any of this well, leaving it feeling like any typical vengeance story. Part of the problem is Robinson himself; the early scenes with his wife aren’t up to much and don’t get us invested in him or their relationship at all, then even when he’s going through with his plan he’s still a very boring character. Bentley gives a lacklustre performance that makes it hard to care about him whatsoever, especially during his showdown scene, itself a needlessly protracted affair. On the other hand, Slater is actually quite good as the vile, selfish Dolan, but he can’t save the film.
(Hey, every film got 2/5, at least he’s consistent.)
There are plenty more straight-to-video Slater films out there, I could easily do a ‘part 2’ of this feature, I doubt I will any time soon though. (Some other actors you could try this with; Val Kilmer, Cuba Gooding Jn., Wesley Snipes)