The name Mark Lester seems to be forever suffixed with the bracketed addition of Class of 1984 (1982), Firestarter (1984) and Commando (1985), which are all rightly considered momentous motion pictures. But, this being Zombie Hamster, our main focus of Lester-led adoration lies firmly in the nineties, where film for film, he hit a ten year streak that is overwhelming in its B-movie brilliance. Indeed, Albert Pyun aside, it’s hard to think of a helmer whose celluloid output was of such a consistently remarkable standard.
The decade in question began for Lester with his last theatrical release, Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), a somewhat hellish affair for the Ohioan, with Warner Brothers expressing their dissatisfaction by butchering his cut of the movie and giving it only a limited release. In the wake of such interference, the following year saw the director form his own production company, American World Pictures, a move that gave him greater creative freedom and a real increase in productivity as he harnessed the demand of the home entertainment market.
An awesome double-header with Scott Glenn followed in the shape of Extreme Justice (1993) and Night of the Running Man (1995), before Lester then embarked on a quartet of successive pictures during the second half of the decade that fall snugly into Zombie Hamster’s Schlock and Awe remit. While it’s undoubtedly a thrill to spend so much time celebrating this tremendous tetrad, it’s quite shocking to think that twenty years on, this era of Lester’s career is yet to make the leap to disc in either the US or UK. With detailed appreciations of Public Enemies (1996), The Ex (1997) and Misbegotten (1998) to come, it’s Double Take that falls under the microscope first.
What do the Vice-President of the fabled market information company, Nielsen Entertainment, and the director of the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank have in common? They’re the Rugoff brothers, Ed and Ralph, who despite their current highfalutin career’s, penned the script for Lester’s addictively cheeseball ‘98 DTV’er. Ed had previous with creating dialogue with a degree of corniness by writing that pinnacle of eighties nausea, Mannequin (1987), not to mention its sequel Mannequin: On the Move (1991), as well as the forgettable Hulk Hogan vehicle Mr. Nanny (1993) a couple of years later. While Double Take contains splashes of such trifling dialogue, it’s perhaps Ralph, in his sole feature credit to date, who brings an element of gritty finesse to this tangled web of deception and intrigue, interspersing it with some snappily noirish prose.
“I read your book, Unscheduled Landings”
“It’s out of print!”
“Yeah, but I’m a good detective, and you’re a good writer. Let’s keep it that way.”
The writer in question is Connor McEwen (Craig Sheffer), a published author who seems to be more renowned for being the husband of an heiress than for anything he lays down in print. That moniker however is soon to begin ‘ex-husband’, as he’s embroiled in a messy separation whereby the conjugal apartment is currently on the market, with prospective buyers stumbling in unannounced as he sleeps.
A hopeful late night trip to a jewellery store though is poised to be a bridge building venture, until an armed gunman enters the place, shoots the owner, but uses their round of bullets before they can eradicate McEwen. As an eye-witness with a crystal clear look at the hood, the line-up, trial and conviction is a whirlwind process, but in the days after the sentencing, McEwen is convinced he’s seen the man responsible walking the streets. As he begins to doubt his recollection of the perpetrators appearance, his girlfriend Nikki (Brigitte Bako) arrives on the scene to further plant the seeds of doubt, and before we know it, double takes become double crosses and we’re knee-deep in doubt and uncertainty.
I really have a fondness for Sheffer, but then if you’ve cast your eye over the inimitable Nightbreed (1990), and perhaps also Rory Kelly’s Sleep with Me (1994) and Scott Derrickson’s Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), I’m sure you’ll be nodding in agreement. It would be remiss of me though not to say his appearance here conjures up the notion of a William Butler and Andy Warhol love child dressed in a David Byrne suit, with hair that seems to possess its own gravitational pull, but nevertheless he’s always a first class leading man.
Support comes ably in the shape of the nubile Bako, along with the Aussie actor Costos Mandylor, a journeyman thesp of the highest order whose career is so much more than just simply Mark Hoffman. There’s a feisty role also for Torri Higginson of Stargate: Atlantis notoriety, who is seductively alluring as Peggy, McEwen’s affluent ex who still has eyes for her former beau.
The charm of a Lester film comes with his unwavering consistency. Granted, the quality may dip ever so slightly, but rest assured a game of roulette over his lengthy resume will always provide something tightly structured, well-paced and unfailingly gripping; attributes that ensure Double Take zips along with an irrepressible b-movie zeal.
It skips leisurely from playful thriller to courtroom tension to sultry softcore to blackmail led intrigue, while all the time having this Argentina-centric political undertone – a heady mix of idiosyncrasies, but they’re all balanced with finesse and dexterity. The neon sign-posted reveal may not exactly qualify as a Keyser Soze moment, but that’s forgivable, as is its library-set ending which verges on toe-curlingly cheesy. By the last reel though, Lester’s film has infiltrated your overly-critical disposition, and hooked you in to the degree that if you caught it in a nightclub necking your lover, you’d likely forgive it and invite it home for coffee.
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