• 9 Lives Movie Collection (Mill Creek Entertainment) Blu-ray Review



    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: March 6th, 2018.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal, Chuck Norris, Jan Michael Vincent, Rutger Hauer, LL Cool J, Samuel L. Jackson, Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Biel, Bill Paxton, Scott Glenn, Arnold Schwarzenegger
    Year: Various
    Purchase From Amazon

    9 Lives – Movie Reviews:

    9 action movies from the Sony/Columbia Pictures catalogue spread across three Blu-ray discs! Here’s what you get and how it presents…

    DISC ONE:

    S.W.A.T.:

    S.W.A.T. barely lasted two seasons on TV in the late 1970’s, and the movie version spent many years clawing its way out of the fiery depths of Development Hell before it hit theater screens at the tail end of the summer of 2003, where it was forced to duel with the likes of Freddy Vs. Jason and the Freaky Friday remake for box office supremacy. Its performance at the ticket booths was nothing to write home about, but the film has proven to have a strong and lasting shelf life in the nearly fifteen years since it first debuted to a collective “meh” from exhausted summer moviegoing audiences.

    Disobeying direct orders in ending a deadly hostage situation during a bank robbery, Los Angeles Police Department officers Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) are removed from the S.W.A.T. team and reassigned, but Gamble opts for quitting instead. Street refuses to follow his partner’s lead, resulting in the end of their friendship. Months later, Street is recruited by department legend Lieutenant Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) for an elite, diverse new S.W.A.T. team that also includes Deacon Kaye (LL Cool J), Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles), and Street’s ex-girlfriend’s brother Boxer (Brian Van Holt). The team is assembled and whipped into fighting shape just in time to take charge of escorting the international drug lord Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) to a federal penitentiary.

    In full view of television cameras, Montel announces a $100 million reward for anyone who springs him from police custody while he’s in transit. The unexpected bounty brings out a small army of desperate criminals with guns blazing to make the task of Hondo’s team even more difficult than before. Among them is Street’s former partner Gamble, leading a heavily-armed force of his own in a last-ditch effort to extract Montel and claim his reward before S.W.A.T. gets him safely and securely behind bars for good.

    The feature directorial debut of actor-turned-filmmaker Clark Johnson (Homicide: Life on the Street), S.W.A.T. earned decent critical notices and a $207 million international haul, but a big screen franchise wasn’t happening. A better reception on home video and cable television resulted in two direct-to-video sequels that involved neither Johnson nor anyone who worked in front of or behind the camera on the original feature. In a summer dominated by the likes of X2: X-Men United, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Bad Boys II, and Finding Nemo, Johnson’s film couldn’t help but look like an expensive, glorified pilot for a TV reboot of the 70’s series. But its emphasis on likable characters and practical action sequences that were thrilling and easy to follow has helped S.W.A.T. endure after all these years.

    Johnson set out to make a well-crafted cop thriller as grounded in reality as the demands of Hollywood would allow, and he pretty much succeeded on that front. The script by David Ayer and David McKenna (with story credit going to Jim McClain and Ron Mita) keeps things street-level and luxuriates in presenting a convincing depiction of the day-to-day activities of the police and the rigorous recruitment and training processes that go into building a strong S.W.A.T. We’re not exactly in documentary territory here, but Johnson adeptly keeps his film from wallowing in the clichés of the cop movie genre, though there are still some old narrative standards that can’t be avoided. The first half wisely spends its time introducing us to Hondo, Street, and the other members of the team while cutting back and forth between their training and bonding and the series of unfortunate (but hilarious) events that result in the arrest of the arrogant drug kingpin Montel, while the second brings the two plot threads together in a way that makes perfect sense and allows the rest of the story to progress organically.

    Now let’s get to the good stuff – the action! Fueled by a hard-driving score composed by Elliott Goldenthal that sounds like his soundtracks for Heat and Alien 3 were thrown into a blender along with a bunch of Joe Satriani guitar solos and a funk-a-rific cover of Barry DeVorzon’s original theme for the S.W.A.T. TV show, the gun fights, hand-to-hand brawls, car and foot chases, and multiple explosions help make the 117-minute running time fly like a bat out of Hell. Johnson was permitted the privilege (which seems rare these days) of shooting on location throughout Los Angeles, a creative decision that gives the excitement an iconic background to play out against and helps to set the movie apart from most big-ticket action movies that, despite having larger budgets than what Johnson had at his disposal, are forced to film mostly on isolated sets and studio backlots. There is no city on this planet like L.A., and Clark Johnson skillfully makes the sun-kissed metropolis and its unmistakable vibe another character in his pulpy thrill ride.

    The director’s background as an actor served him well in extracting believable performances from his cast, with Colin Farrell serving as a competent lead, Samuel L. Jackson playing his trademark commanding authority figure with the ease of a confident professional, and Olivier Martinez and Jeremy Renner suitably slimy and despicable as the movie’s heavies. I enjoyed Michelle Rodriguez and LL Cool J in their slighter, but still noteworthy, roles as younger L.A. cops who waste no time accepting Hondo’s invitation to join his S.W.A.T. team, while Josh Charles and Brian Van Holt offered some durable support of their own as the veteran cops the audience can never fully trust. The cast is rounded out by reliable turns from famed character actors Reg E. Cathey, Denis Arndt, Larry Poindexter, and Ken Davitian. Johnson and his former Homicide: Life on the Street co-star Reed Diamond appear in brief cameos as cops, as do future Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and original S.W.A.T. TV series stars Steve Forrest and Rod Perry.

    S.W.A.T. review written by Robert Morgan.

    STEALTH:

    Directed by Rob Cohen in 2005, Stealth takes place in the ‘near future’ where a trio of Navy pilots - Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Lt. Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Lt. Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx) – have been tasked with essentially beta testing a new generation of fighter jet, one that comes complete with its own AI system. What could go wrong?

    Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard) lets them know all about the new UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) technology – nobody really likes the idea. This doesn’t stop Wade and Gannon from getting it on after hours, however. Soon enough, some terrorists do some terrorist stuff in a skyscraper in Rangoon and our team is sent into action. The computer helps them take down the building and the bad guys in it but there are complications.

    The story progresses, sort of. The plane gets hit by lightning and the UCAV starts acting more like HAL, except nowhere near as cool and as creepy as HAL. The team is sent to Thailand for a break but is soon called in to combat a would-be nuclear plot about to be hatched somewhere in Eastern Europe. It kind of hits the fan here when Wade goes down and Gannon, with the UCAV going rogue to save him. A bunch of stuff blows up and blah blah blah.

    This movie is terrible. It blends Top Gun and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I guess could have worked, but no, it’s bad. The CGI looks its age and by this point in history, it’s very Playstation 2 looking, never convincing. The dialogue is poorly written and never believable. The pacing is okay but the story is just plain dumb. Logic is tossed out the window so many times that believability ceases to actually exist in the context of this movie.

    The acting is bad as well. This includes Jamie Foxx, who has won an Oscar and who is typically pretty dependable. No one here is relatable or interesting, they’re all one note stereotypes but they’re not even fun stereotypes, they’re just bland. Unless you’re a serious glutton for punishment, give this one a wide pass.

    VERTICAL LIMIT:

    Martin Campbell has directed a few good movies in his career, but Vertical Limit isn’t one of them. The story introduces us to Peter Garrett (Chris O’Donnell). He’s a hotshot mountain climbing tough guy whose sister Annie (Robin Tunny) gets trapped at the peak of K2 with a few other characters - a rich dude Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) and a guide named Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea). Peter decides to launch a rescue mission and in typical rescue mission movie fashion, soon finds himself in a race against time to get to his sister and the others before they fall prey to the horrifying power of wintery mountain elements.

    As Peter makes his way up the peak to them, he realizes just how dangerous this really is, and that he may have very well endangered not only his own life, but the lives of the other hearty mountain-savvy crewmembers he’s recruited to help. And there’s something about highly explosive nitroglycerine going on here too.

    The best way to describe vertical limit is bland. The story is bland, the direction is bland and the acting is bland. The characters are uninteresting – and bland, matching the performances – and the story is pretty predictable, adding to its aforementioned blandness. Even the score, it’s unremarkable and it just doesn’t stand out in any way. That said, while it’s playing out, if you’re not easily distracted, it can prove passably entertaining. Once it’s over it’s one of those films that you’ll probably pretty much instantly forget but there’s some good cinematography here and if you snowy mountains there’s lots of snowy mountains.

    I like snowy mountains. I also like Scott Glenn, and he’s got a decent supporting role here as one of Peter’s eccentric climber pals. Glenn is good in this role, he’s really the only one of the cast members that stands out. Bill Paxton is usually awesome but here he’s just okay. It’s hard to find much of anything interesting to say about this movie, really.

    DISC TWO:

    LAST ACTION HERO:

    A fun mix of action, comedy and satire, The Last Action Hero should have been an action movie fan’s dream come true, what with Arnold Schwarzenegger, then the biggest star in the world, getting in front of the camera for director John McTiernan for the first time since they made Predator. The guy who made Die Hard directing the guy from the Terminator? Sign me up! What the made together, however, was a PG-13 rated kid friendly comedy that at the time seemed to take a lot of people by surprise with its playfulness and its flat out goofiness.

    The movie follows a kid named Danny (Austin O’Brien) who loves the action packed Jack Slater movies so much he’s seen the third one six times in the theater. With the release of the fourth film just around the corner, Danny’s pretty stoked, especially when the local theater’s weird old projectionist invites him to a special advance screening of the movie. What kid wouldn’t want to see the summer’s hottest film before everyone else on his block? What Danny’s doesn’t realize is that Houdini once played in this same theater and that his magic is still alive and well. Before you know it, Danny’s in the film with Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) himself. Once he realizes he’s in the movie, he’s able to help Jack solve crime after crime but Jack, not knowing anything outside of his movie life existence, doesn’t believe Danny when he continually tries to prove to him that what’s happening to them isn’t real. Soon, however, Jack starts to realize that Danny really does know more than a kid should and starts to give his theories a bit more credence. The two pair up to stop the criminals in Jack’s world from ruining the day while trying to figure out how to get Danny back to his own world without bringing any of the villains back with him.

    The film is full of references to Hollywood blockbusters, action films specifically but not wholly. Watch when Danny and Jack show up at the police station for the first time and you’ll see Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick reprising familiar roles and Jean Claude Van Damme pops up in a small cameo as do MC Hammer, Chevy Chase, James Belushi and more. The scene in the Blockbuster Video store features a cardboard stand up display with Sylvester Stallone in place of Schwarzenegger promotion Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Arnold uses pretty much all of his catch phrases, ‘I’ll be back’ in particular while on the shelves in the video store VHS boxes for Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October, both directed by John McTiernan, are prominently displayed. There’s even a reference to Amadeus. Little bits like this make the film a lot of fun for movie fans, as much of the referential humor is on the subtle side and isn’t always obvious. Referencing everything from buddy cop movies like the Lethal Weapon films to The Twilight Zone, there’s always something going on in the movie, be it an appearance from Humphrey Bogart himself or a fun poke at one of Schwarzenegger’s own filmography.

    The film suffers from pacing in some spots and maybe runs a little longer than it needs to, but Schwarzenegger and O’Brien have a surprisingly good chemistry together there, both handling the comedic aspects of the picture better than you’d probably expect them to. The plot is interesting in that it takes all of the action movie clichés we all know so well and essentially turns them into a large part of the story, but there are still enough fun twists and surprises worked in the script, which was rewritten twice before filming started, that the movie works quite well.

    Lots of big, dumb action ensures that the film is a pretty exciting one while some fun supporting performances from the likes of F. Murray Abraham, Sir Ian McKellen, and Art Carney round out the cast nicely.

    UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN:

    A few years have passed since the events in the first Universal Soldier film came to an end. The story catches up with Luc Devereux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who now works as government agency technical expert. Along with his lady partner Maggie (Kiana Tom), the pair have undergone rigorous combat training together to make sure that they're still at the top of their game, as they're the pair who are going to be responsible for tweaking the government's top secret UniSol program. The purpose of revamping the program? They want to make a more advanced breed of soldier - stronger, better, smarter, faster.

    The results of the program are evident immediately. The new breed of UniSol subjects are not only more physically advanced than those that came prior, but they're also connected to one another though a massive artificial intelligence network known as SETH (which stands for Self-Evolving Thought Helix). Unfortunately, the government has run out of funding for the project and needs to shut it down. When SETH learns of this development, it goes rogue and sends out all of the new Universal Soldiers to stop the shut down and kill anyone who gets in its way. The leader of the UniSols is Romeo (Bill Goldberg), a massive hulking man machine, who is seemingly impossible to stop. Only one man can stop SETH and his army before it's too late, and that's Luc, who is the only one who knows the code that can deactivate SETH and shut down the program. SETH has a few more tricks up his sleeve, however, when he teams up with a human computer hacker who goes by the name of Squid (Brent Hinkley). Squid allows SETH to take on a humanoid form (played by Michael Jai White) and head after Luc himself. Meanwhile, Luc has to deal with a nosey reporter named Erin Young (Heidi Schanz) who wants to 'get the scoop' and the overly ambitious General Radford (Daniel von Bargen) who wants to completely eliminate all of the UniSol's as soon as possible.

    What Luc doesn't count on, however, is how cunning SETH really is. When SETH kidnaps Luc's teenage daughter Hillary (Karis Paige Bryant), he leaves Luc no choice but to take him down once and for all.

    Directed by Mic Rogers and co-written by William Malone and John Fasano (the director of the immortally awesome Rock N Roll Nightmare), Universal Soldier: The Return takes the cool concept of the original 1992 Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich film and milks it for all it's worth. The film is entertaining enough if you can get past all of the bad science and horrible computer logic required to suspend your disbelief, but it lacks the potency of the Van Damme-Lundgren team that made the first in the series so much ultra-violent fun. That said, Michael Jai White makes for a decent enough foe for Van Damme's Devereux, and Goldberg is pretty impressive in his role as the ultra-macho killing machine that is Romeo. Hinkley tends to overdo it a bit as Squid and the hacking scenes are completely ridiculous by today's standards, but the movie is what it is, an incredibly ridiculous follow up to an already ridiculous, albeit very fun, premise.

    The hand to hand combat scenes are handled well here, showing off some impressive fight choreography. The shoot outs lack the tension and excitement that they should have had to really successfully pull us in to the picture, and at times you'll feel like there's too much exposition and not action. A lot of the film is characters running around various labs avoiding conflict rather than reveling in it or embracing it. If the movie is going to go for a dumbed down script, as this one does, it should at least deliver some quality thrills, chills and spills at a good pace to make up for it and hold our attention and Universal Soldier: The Return doesn't quite get there. It has moments that impressive and the finale is fun but these moments don't add up to enough of a whole to really make for an essential watch and the picture is a mediocre effort because of it. It's well shot and hammy enough to make for an okay time killer, but little more than that and odds are pretty good that if you haven't seen the first film, you'll be left scratching your head a few times. There's little here to make this picture stand out and as such, you're not going to find yourself pining away for it time and again.

    INTO THE SUN:

    In this 2005 straight to video action movie extravaganza, aging ponytail man Steven Seagal plays Travis Hunter, a master martial artist who just happens to be of Japanese heritage and a man who has a strong understanding of the Yakuza and their mysterious, eccentric, and sinister ways.

    When a Japanese federal official is assassinated, the C.I.A. figures that the Yakuza might play a part in the reason for his death, and they call in their man Travis to handle the job to head on over to Tokyo and sort it all out. Hunter won't be alone on his mission though, thankfully the Feds have had the good sense to send a new recruit named Agent Mac (Matthew Davis of Legally Blonde) along with him to learn the ropes (and maybe keep him in line a little bit too).

    When the two super cops start their investigation, it doesn't take them long to find out that the Yakuza are undergoing some serious restructuring within their organization. One of the young upstarts has teamed up with a Chinese crime lord and together they're making short work of the competition…

    Into The Sun has a little more of a story to it than most of the recent Seagal action films. It also has a lot more of Seagal's own music playing throughout it as well, which is, well, odd. Throw in the seemingly required 'Steve sleeps with a hot young chick' scene and a more or less disposable supporting cast that are there to either have their asses kicked or provide an outlet for some comic relief and you've got yourself a standard Seagal actioner.

    While story wise it isn't anything to write home about, the movie does deliver a couple of remarkable action set pieces that lend some credence to the rumor that maybe the man hasn't lost his touch after all. Seagal is moving pretty fast and looking a lot better in this movie than his other recent efforts and the movie does benefit from that. A fantastic fight scene that takes place at a big shopping concourse ends too soon but does a nice job of setting up some of the action to come, and when the big finale finally hits the screen and Seagal pulls out his sword, well, let's just say if you were ever a fan of his earlier films, you won't be disappointed in the way this one finishes up.

    Directed by the filmmaker known only as 'Mink' (he also directed Busta Rhymes and Xhibit in the gangsta rap action fest Full Clip), the film runs at a nice, quick pace and if nothing else it always looks quite slick. The visuals are handled nicely, with some very fluid camera work and the color scheme is quite complimentary to the action.

    DISC THREE:

    Blind Fury:

    Australian director Phillip Noyce (who broke through with Dead Calm then rose to the top with Patriot Games) helms this Rutger Hauer starring action movie. The film is, at its core, a remake of an early Zatoichi film, the long running samurai series made famous by Shintaro Katsu and semi-recently revitalized (some may say bastardized… but I digress!) in the land of the rising sun by Takashi Kitano.

    Hauer plays Nick Parker, a man who served his country in Vietnam and was blinded during a fire fight. Some local villagers take him in and help him recover from his wounds, but his sight is gone for good. Luckily, those very same villagers also teach Parker how to use a sword and soon he's mastered the techniques which they've instructed him in.

    Parker, no longer missing in action, eventually finds his way back to America. We catch up with him when he's decided to go out and visit an old war buddy named Frank (Terry O'Quinn of Harsh Realm and The X-Files). Nick shows up but finds that Frank has moved off to Reno. While in town though, Parker meets up with Frank's wife Lynn (Meg Foster who earlier starred alongside Hauer in Sam Peckinpah's The Osterman Weekend) and son, Billy (Brandon Call). They've found themselves in some hot water as a hired goon named Slag (Tex Cobb of Ernest Goes To Jail) has come calling for Frank. It seems he owes Slag’s employer, a casino owner in Reno, a big chunk of coin for his gambling debts. When Frank turns up AWOL, he decides to kidnap Billy and hold him hostage so that he can force Frank into making him some fancy narcotics that he can in turn use to pay off his gambling debt. Lynn, sadly, is killed in the fight that ensues.

    Nick vows to protect Billy no matter what, but Slag and the rest of his cronies are going to do everything in their power to grab the kid and exact this evil plan. Parker fights off an army of mullet clad thugs and eventually shows down with Sho Kosugi (Revenge Of The Ninja), dodging bullets and kicking ass in no small quantity along the way.

    While the story is a little farfetched (though no more so than many other action films, really) Hauer does a commendable job in the lead and is reasonably convincing as a blind man. Like its Japanese predecessors, there is some humor interjected into the storyline that is handled well without becoming overbearing or taking over the action sequences. The scene where Parker has to drive a van and ends up doing so down the wrong way of a one-way street is just one example. If Rutger Hauer isn't really known for his comedic timing or slapstick sensibilities, he does a good job with the physical comedy in this film.

    Hauer is likeable in the lead – his character never asks for our sympathy despite his disability, and he proves that his training and his prowess with his caned sword make him more than a match for even the best trained mullet-thug. It's a blast watching him tear through the bad guys and make it look so easy – this is also a testament to the solid direction during the action scenes. The pacing is quick, and while a lot of the time child actors can really mess up an action movie with the 'sap' factor they inevitably bring with them, Brandon Call doesn't do too bad a job in his role. You wind up wanting Parker to make sure he got the job done and make sure that the little guy got out of the evil Slag's clutches safely. Throw in fine supporting work from Meg Foster, Terry O’Quinn and yes, Sho Kosugi (who really has a cameo here more than a proper supporting role) and this one remains a lot of fun. The Reno locations add some nice color to the proceedings as well, and you’ve got to love the fight choreography and stunt work on display here.

    Silent Rage:

    "Science created him. Now Chuck Norris must destroy him."

    The second film begins at a suburban home where a man named John Kirby (Brian Libby), fed up with his wife and kids, calls his doctor – he’s cracking up, he can’t take it anymore. Cops are called and the doctor heads over as fast as he can but it’s too late, John takes out his axe and murders his wife. Ace sheriff Dan Stevens (Chuck Norris) takes Kirby down with some help from his crew, leaving the man near dead… but not quite dead.

    Kirby’s doctor, Tom Halman (Ron Silver) along with two of his associates at the unnamed experimental medical center where he works – Phillip Spires (Steven Keats) and Paul Vaughn (William Finely) – operate, but can’t save him in time. Once his heart stops beating, however, Spires decides that it’s time to inject Kirby with an experimental serum that they’ve been working on, one that will allow his tissue to regenerate almost immediately. At first it doesn’t seem like it worked, but after it has been given enough time to do its thing, voila! The only catch? Kirby wasn’t right in the head to start with, and this serum has done further damage to his already fragile mind.

    Stevens leaves the hospital with some help from Halman’s sister, Alison (Toni Kalem), an ex-flame only too keen to reignite what they once had together. What neither of them know is that Kirby is still alive – a lesson they learn the hard way when Alison returns to the home she shares with her brother and sister in law to find them the victims of the maniac’s handiwork. With a seemingly unstoppable killing machine murdering everyone he comes into contact with, Stevens and his portly deputy Charlie (Stephen Furst) will have to do everything they can to keep Alison safe and stop Kirby before he kills again…

    If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to see Chuck Norris (who produced through his own Topkick Productions company) square off against Michael Myers, this is the movie for you. Somewhat reminiscent of Halloween (or more specifically Halloween II given how much of this film takes place in and around a hospital), Silent Rage gives us a kinda-sorta scientific explanation for how and why Kirby becomes a Myers-esque killing machine, but otherwise follows a lot of the slasher tropes that Halloween and other early slasher pictures laid down in the years prior. As such, it’s a fairly predictable movie, but don’t let that lead you into thinking it isn’t a fun way to kill an hour and forty minutes.

    The action scenes here are pretty solid, highlighted by the final fight of course but before then a great sequence in which Chuck takes on a bar full of biker trash, with some help from Furst, an actor almost impossible to not associate with his role as Dorfman in Animal House (he’s here mostly for comic relief if you couldn’t figure that out). Furst’s comic release, through no fault of his own (blame the script) is pretty bad, however – at the biker bar when he’s told to radio for help he instead describes the breasts of the biker woman, and at one point he does a really terrible De Niro/Taxi Driver ‘Are you talkin’ to me?’ bit in front of a mirror.

    Also worth mentioning is the fairly strong nudity here, at least strong by Chuck Norris movie standards. Not only do those aforementioned biker babes seem to prefer chugging their Coors without impeding shirts, but Chuck gets pretty Toni Kalem (who made her feature film debut in Family Honor of all places but who probably remains best known for The Wanderers) in the sack for some quality naked time not once, but twice! On top of that, the movie also features some pretty great kill scenes and murder set pieces. While this is hardly a gore fest, it’s definitely bloody enough to qualify as much as a horror picture as it does an action film. As to Norris himself? His performance here is on par with… pretty much every other performance he’s ever given. He doesn’t have a lot of range but the movie plays to his strengths and he handles himself in the action scenes well, spin kicking and drop kicking and punching the snot out of all sorts of bad guys.

    Toss in some fun supporting work from the great William Finely of The Phantom Of The Paradise and an almost silent but genuinely impressive turn from Libby as the killer? Yeah, Silent Rage kicks all kinds of ass.

    White Line Fever:

    Directed and co-written by Jonathan Kaplan hot on the heels of the success of Truck Turner a year prior, 1975’s White Line Fever stars Jan-Michael Vincent as a man named Carrol Jo Hummer. He’s just returned home from serving his country overseas and the first thing he’s going to do now that he’s back? Slap a ring on the finger of his pretty lady friend, Jerri Kane (Kay Lenz), of course! They get themselves a nice little house and take out a loan so that Carrol Jo can fulfill his dream of driving a big rig – that’s right, he gets himself a truck, dubs it ‘the Blue Mule’ and sets out to enjoy life as an owner/operator.

    Everything is going just fine for Carrol Jo until he shows up at the loading dock of a local warehouse to pick up his first load. While he’s in the office talking shop, a bunch of goons led by Clem (Martin Kove) try to stash some untaxed cigarettes and slots machines in the back of his trailer. C.J. catches them doing this and – NO – he’s not cool, he plays things straight. He talks to the foreman, Duane Haller (Slim Pickens) about it, but this is the way it is. C.J. leaves in a huff, orders the guys to unpack his trailer and finds that they’ve replaced the load with… cow manure. A quick skirmish finds Clem laying in the poop and C.J. off to find work somewhere else. Only it doesn’t work out that way. Duane has made some calls to higher ups like Buck (L.Q. Jones) and no nobody in the business will hire the poor guy – all because he tried to do the right thing.

    As time goes on, C.J. starts to do things his own way. It starts with a surprise appearance at the warehouse, shotgun in hand, to force Duane and Buck into giving him a job. It works, but it puts him in a bad spot. He teams up with an older black dude named Pops (Sam Laws) for the haul but the bad guys have got trouble waiting for them around every corner. It doesn’t help that the local cops are on the take too. When Jerri Kane gets pregnant and the Hummer’s find themselves in a cash crunch, things go from bad to worse – the powers that be are going to set C.J. up, they don’t want him spreading his ideas around and getting the drivers organized. But Carol Jo Hummer isn’t the type of man to just lie down and take it – he’s a working man who’s had enough!

    A genuinely entertaining mix of action, drama, romance and big ass trucks, White Line Fever is a bit deeper than you might expect, but probably not by much. The story is fairly cliché ridden, but it works. We feel for the Hummers, they seem like good people just trying to earn an honest living. The movie is at its best when Vincent is kicking the shit out of people, but in the quieter scenes he shares with Lenz the movie still holds out attention easily enough.

    Some decent stunt work is featured in the film, especially in its surprisingly dark conclusion. Trucks drive through stuff, and into stuff, and there are quite a few brawls and even some gun play here and there. The movie also benefits from a pretty fun cast. Vincent is just fine the in the lead, fairly charismatic here and handling himself well throughout. He shows good chemistry with Lenz, who manages to craft a genuinely sympathetic character here. The supporting cast is great – not only does Slim Pickens get to play a dastardly snake the grass type but we get Peckinpah regular L.Q. Jones playing the bad guy with an evil glint in his eye. Sam Laws (who also played a character named Pops in the aforementioned Truck Turner) is a blast as Hummer’s comrade in arms while Martin Kove and an underused but still appreciated Dick Miller are a lot of fun to watch, both men playing truckers too.

    9 Lives – Blu-ray Reviews:

    This set contains three 50GB Blu-ray discs, each containing three movies all presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen. The first two discs look okay. Not amazing, but okay. They clearly utilize older masters and there are some noticeable compression artifacts but the movies are more than watchable. There isn’t much in the way of print damage to complain about color reproduction, while never on the ‘amazing’ side of things, is fine. We get okay skin tone and okay black levels and a level of detail that, if never reference quality, easily surpasses what DVD could offer.

    Note that the third disc in this set seems to mirror Mill Creek’s Payback Time Triple Feature Blu-ray release. Mill Creek presents those three features on a single 50GB Blu-ray disc (thankfully they opted not to cram them onto a 25GB disc), each in MPEG-2 encoded 1080p high definition. All three features are framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and exhibit similar qualities. The images are reasonably grainy but never distractingly so, though some compression artifacts can be spotted here and there (though they are usually minor – the ending of White Line Fever being an exception, you can see it in that last screen cap below). Colors look fairly good, never too bright but rarely faded, while detail is solid in each film, though it never approaches reference quality. Black levels are good, there’s fairly nice texture and depth to each film and skin tones look just fine. There’s no evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement. Honestly, these could look better had they been given restorations or had some minor cleanup work done, but for the most part they look just fine. Any print damage that shows up is minor, just small white specks, the source material used for these transfers was obviously in pretty nice condition.

    Audio on disc one and two

    All three films on disc three are presented in English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo tracks. Optional English subtitles are provided. Obviously lossless audio would have been ideal here but the Dolby Digital tracks are at least free of any problems even if they fail to take advantage of the format. Dialogue remains clean, clear and easy to follow and the levels are properly balanced. Additionally, there are no audible problems with any hiss or distortion to report.

    Outside of a basic menu offering movie selection on each disc, there are no extra features on this disc at all.

    9 Lives - The Final Word:

    Mill Creek Entertainment’s 3-disc 9 Lives Blu-ray set offers up a decent assortment of action films at a seriously impressive price point. The technical presentation isn’t Criterion level but there’s a whole lot of ‘bang for your buck’ here that should appeal to those who want a quick, cheap and easy action movie fix.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!