Matty gives some love to Jim Wynorski’s thrilling cut of B-action.
In the abridged version of his sprawling career, Jim Wynorski’s late ‘90s/early ‘00s period can be described as a time when the prolific helmer was belting out a string action/military hardware flicks for Franchise Pictures’ straight-to-video subdivision, Phoenician Entertainment. His Phoenician joints are an embarrassment of riches for connoisseurs of late night viewing, with Wynorski’s expert use of stock footage, cribbed from bigger budgeted movies and seamlessly woven into the rapid-fire narratives of Rangers (2000) and Ablaze (2001) et al, boosting their production value no end. However, while Andrew Stevens and Elie Samaha’s company got the lion’s share of Wynorski’s millennial output, the director did provide Roger Corman’s Concorde New Horizons and Paul Hertzberg’s CineTel with a similar service, assembling Desert Thunder (1999) and Raptor (2001) for the former, and stitching together Stealth Fighter (1999) and MILITIA for the latter.
One of Wynorski’s best of the era, Militia is a cracking bit of robust tomfoolery with a remarkably prescient edge. Written by Steve Latshaw and a pseudonymously credited Fred Olen Ray (as ‘William Carson’ — the nom de plume he used on his and Wynorski’s Scream Queen Hot Tub Party (1991), and John Terlesky’s CineTel production, Judgment Day (1999)), Militia concerns a prickly Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent (Dean Cain) trying to infiltrate a domestic, far-right terrorist cell of supposed ‘American patriots’; a premise that seems all the more plausible and terrifying in the age of Donald Trump. Cain’s novice partner, Jennifer Beals, hits the nail on the head early on when she tears into the warped belief system of Stacy Keach’s talk radio host. “He’s clever,” she says of the sinister conspiracy theorist. “Dressing up antisemitism and racism as anti-government anger. He’s really a piece of work.”
To discuss Keach’s seemingly incidental role any further would spoil the surprise, but the hints at where he fits within Militia’s story are all there, teased in Latshaw and Ray’s snappy dialogue. Better still is how character focused their script is, particularly when it comes to the ‘we’re not so different you and I’ interplay between Cain and a captured right-winger (Frederic Forrest) who’s been recruited to help the ATF in some freedom-seeking bargain. While performances are solid across the board, Forrest is Militia’s scene-stealer. Clearly having a tremendous amount of fun, the only thing that tops him is Wynorski’s unwavering commitment to spectacle — his decision to stick the snarling Keach in a beret during the film’s final third included.
The sort of movie where something is always happening, be it a shoot out, parking lot brawl, or car chase, entertainment-wise Wynorski is on fine form throughout, keeping things moving and bouldering over Militia’s less, erm, ‘logically sound’ moments with gusto. Technically, Militia is gifted a bright, full-bodied look by cinematographer ‘Mario D’Ayla’ (another assumed name, likely cover for either Zoran Hochstatter or Andrea Rossotto — Wynorski’s then go-to DPs), and, as already mentioned, Wynorski connects his material with the hyper-violent off-cuts from a wealth of more heartily financed actioners — Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), American Ninja 2 (1987), and Delta Force 2 (1990) among them — brilliantly. Well, if you discount the sight of James Cameron’s crew lurking at the bottom of the frame in the helicopter B-roll very obviously pinched from Terminator 2 (1991) anyway…
Premiering on HBO on the 4th August 2000, Militia landed on US video and DVD through Lionsgate the following October before arriving on British tape and disc via Global Video perennial Film 2000 a month later. As of this writing, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime.
Also known as ‘Undercover’.
USA ● 2000 ● Action ● 85mins
Dean Cain, Frederic Forrest, Jennifer Beals, Stacy Keach ● Dir. Jim Wynorski (as ‘Jay Andrews’) ● Wri. Steve Latshaw and Fred Olen Ray (as ‘William Carson’)
Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz