by Adam Riske
Nowhere to Run (1993) – This is one of my favorite Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. He’s Mr. Sensitive Convict Man in Nowhere to Run and that’s a good look for him. Plus, Nowhere to Run is from one of my favorite subgenres of action (aka Farmhouse Fury). Ted Levine is a great bad guy here, there’s a cop that looks exactly like Michael Bay, some terrible/great one-liners by JCVD (the best being “Au revoir, fucker!”), steak cooking, hardware store scenes (I enjoy those for some reason) and Draft Day’s own Rosanna Arquette! Plus, she and JCVD have a love scene that’s like Fifty Shades of Hay. If you don’t like farmhouse sex scenes, there’s something wrong with you.
Higher Learning (1995) – I have no idea why this movie means so much to me but it does. I have watched it, no joke, maybe forty times in my life. It’s an all-time remote dropper. I was so relieved when I went to college and discovered that it was not as stressful (usually) as the one depicted on a day-to-day basis in Higher Learning. It has everything: Omar Epps being a badass, an over-the-top Michael Rappaport (which is like saying cold ice cream), a terrifying Cole Hauser (he is never not scary to me) and Laurence Fishburne speaking in a Caribbean (?) accent that I have imitated for 23 years (“Mister Big Time Track Star!”). I love the message John Singleton era (era) so much!
Heat or City Hall, so I was super excited to see Eddie Murphy’s action-comedy Metro in theaters. This was his first movie off his comeback in 1996 with The Nutty Professor remake and he had that movie star swagger back. I was so excited to see this movie. THEN I GOT SHUT DOWN FROM SEEING IT AT THE MALL BECAUSE IT WAS RATED R AND I WAS ONLY 14! Talk about blue (as in, police) balls. I mean we’re talking a movie with a Michael Rappaport (he’s a January staple) sidekick character (I imagine him on set being like “Yo Eddie. I’m Michael. I followed you forever, man. I play homeboys.”) and a villain turn by one of my favorite character actors: good old gravel mouth Michael Wincott. Dude is like if a sore throat took human form. I ended up seeing Metro on video and didn’t love it at first because it’s more action-drama than comedy (which is sometimes jarring in Eddie Murphy vehicles), but nowadays I’ll watch it when it’s on cable once every two years. It’s a good little forgotten action flick.
Jackie Chan’s First Strike (1997) – Aka the movie I saw instead of Metro. After not being able to get in to see the R-rated Rumble in the Bronx or Supercop in 1996 (what were cinemas trying to protect me from?), First Strike was the first Jackie Chan vehicle I could see with friends in theaters because it was rated PG-13. I was blown away by how much fun it was. At the time, I remember telling my friends in high school that First Strike was a better spy movie than GoldenEye, to which I got many sideways glances. Whatever, dudes. First Strike has some awesome set pieces of Chan snowboard-fighting down a mountain, beating people up with ladders and hanging out in his hotel room with a Koala bear. 1997 was a good year for Jackie Chan U.S. releases, because six months later the equally fun and underrated Operation Condor came out. I want to double feature those two right now! Hmmm…maybe I should pit them against each other in a future scorecard article?
BloodRayne (2006) – This pick is, of course, mostly ironic, but of all the Uwe Boll movies I’ve seen, BloodRayne is the only one I enjoyed. Some of it has to do with it being head-scratchingly entertaining, some because it’s like an R-rated ‘90s WGN syndicated fantasy show, and the rest because it’s not much worse than many other video game film adaptations. The cast is really weird (e.g. Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez play Russians), the trailer is incredible (I like how the Matt Davis name card is all “WE GOT MATT DAVIS!” and how it follows none of the beats of a typical preview) and it’s the perfect movie to see in January at a dollar theater two weeks after it was in first-run theaters. I haven’t revisited BloodRayne since 2006 and I’m sure I’ll never have the same WTF-fun experience I had with it on the initial viewing, but I will say I recommend it if you have a good sense of humor and know what you’re getting into.
Smokin’ Aces (2007) – It’s a shame Joe Carnahan isn’t one of the biggest directors in Hollywood. The Grey (another January release!) is, I think, his best movie but Smokin’ Aces is the one where he became a director I’ll watch make anything. It’s mean, it’s violent, it’s funny and it kicks all kinds of ass with great energy and an amazing ensemble cast including Taraji P. Henson, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia and many more (often in roles we don’t expect the actors to play). This is a perfect weekend action flick. I’ll always remember seeing this in theaters because I had a hiccup fit the entire night I saw it. It drove my cousin nuts. Every thirty seconds, I would hiccup to the point where I eventually closed my mouth and sort of hopped in my seat, hiccupping non-verbally. Oh, to be young again.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) – I will never forgive the world for not making this movie a hit. It is basically hand-crafted to please me. It has my boy Chris Pine as Jack Ryan (he’s not the best Jack Ryan, because Harrison Ford, but he’s my Jack Ryan), the lovely Keira Knightley in great dresses and KEVIN COSTNER as CHRIS PINE’S MENTOR! Because this movie failed at the box office, now we have Jim from The Office rebooting Jack Ryan as an Amazon series. That’s not the same! In the words of Kenneth Branagh’s villain: “You think this is game?” I’m gonna watch Shadow Recruit again. I’m so mad right now. It’s like…you’ll blow nearly $1B collectively on another DCEU movie but couldn’t spare enough shekels to give Pine Ryan a second mission? Ugh!
What January release do you love and/or feel are underrated?