Blast (2004): Boom and Bust

Matty examines Anthony Hickox’s zestless and disappointing action flick.

Having navigated the evolving landscape of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, whereupon he brought in steamy neo-noir Payback (1995); comic strip adap Prince Valiant (1997); and horror-adjacent thrillers Invasion of Privacy (1996), Jill Rips (2000) and The Contaminated Man (2000), former fright meister Anthony Hickox found a secondary groove as a director of B-tier action. No surprise in hindsight. Calling cards Waxwork (1988), Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), Warlock: The Armageddon (1992) and Full Eclipse (1993) are laced with action licks, and Hickox’s obvious affinity for the booms and bangs genre extends to gun-for-hire work on episodes of TV shows Extreme and Pensacola: Wings of Gold.    

Hickox’s first action movie proper, dud military hardware potboiler Storm Catcher (1999), and a happy union on The Contaminated Man led to the latter’s producers and, eventually, an associate of theirs called David Lancaster employing the helmer to shepherd Last Run (2001), Federal Protection (2002) and Consequence (2003). Following this trio of generally pretty good Armand Assante programmers (the messy and unfocused Consequence is the runt of the litter), Hickox and Lancaster reconvened for BLAST. Like Consequence, Blast was lensed in South Africa and, at the time of its making (the film started shooting in January 2003), was Hickox’s highest profile and most heavily publicised project since the difficult production of Prince Valiant. A shame, then, that as far as other ‘mosts’ go, Blast is the most thoroughly ordinary offering on Hickox’s resume.

Though not his worst in terms of quality, Blast is an utterly by the numbers experience that lacks the idiosyncrasies that position Hickox as such a perpetually fascinating talent. Technically and structurally, Blast is better than the dreadful Storm Catcher; and yet at the same time, that ramshackle merc job still possesses a personality of sorts, regardless of its many flaws. Blast, on the other hand, might be competently done and deliver the meat n’ potatoes but it could have been tackled by anyone so anonymous is Hickox’s touch. The carnage is solidly staged but hollow. There’s no heart or willingness to connect with us on an emotive or even visceral level. It’s as if the set pieces have been assembled at arms’ length.  

Blast’s shoddy screenplay doesn’t help. Its premise, ‘Die Hard (1988) on an oil rig’, is irresistible and all the more enticing when you realise that the film is the only Die Hard riff in existence to be penned by one of the Bruce Willis classic’s actual writers, Steven E. de Souza. Alas, de Souza’s script is what the description ‘as flat as a fart’ was invented for. An Americanised overhaul of the enjoyable German TV movie Operation Noah (1997) [1], and supposedly intended as the first instalment of a proposed Lethal Weapon (1987)-esque, action-buddy franchise, Blast is plagued with rote plotting, dull characters and lame dialogue that leave both Hickox and its ludicrously era-specific cast with little to do.

Taking the nominal John McClane role, Eddie Griffin is, as always, excruciating. Quite why he ever succeeded has long been a mystery to me. His motor-mouthed prattle is annoying and deeply unappealing, and I’d rather be Maced than ever have to watch Undercover Brother (2002) or John Eyres’ horrendous non-comedy Irish Jam (2006) again. Vinnie fackin’ Jones meanwhile, with whom Hickox would reteam on troubled Steven Seagal vehicle Submerged (2005), has the acting prowess of a coffee table. Still, he’s an entertaining enough car crash and his performance as Blast’s eco-terrorist villain is fun in a ‘throwing a grenade and sitting back to watch the explosion’ kind of way. Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister Jr. pops up as a rent-a-goon; It Wasn’t Me singer Shaggy, Fred Olen Ray regular Hannes Jaennicke, and Vivica A. Fox, fresh from Kill Bills Vol. 1 (2003) and 2 (2004), are underused; and Road Trip’s (2000) Breckin Meyer — seemingly in everything for the first five years of the new millennium — appears majorly out of his comfort zone as Griffin’s foil.      

Blast was released on DVD in the U.S. on 19th July 2005 through First Look Home Entertainment as part of their First Look Media / DEJ Productions pact. Here in the U.K. Blast was issued on disc by Paramount on 6th November 2006 — over a year after Hickox’s next film, the aforementioned Submerged, had landed on shelves.

USA/South Africa/Germany ● 2004 ● Action ● 88mins

Eddie Griffin, Breckin Meyer, Vinnie Jones and Vivica A. Fox ● Dir. Anthony Hickox Wri. Steven E. de Souza, based upon the film Operation Noah (1997) written by Horst Freund

[1] Written by Horst Freund and directed by acclaimed artist/filmmaker Akiz (nee Achim Bornhak), Operation Noah was produced by Werner Possardt. A notable figure in the German TV and film industry, Possardt, who’s credited as an exec producer on Blast, is probably best known to international audiences as the producer of slasher flick The Pool (2001). Given The Pool’s swimming bath location and Blast’s out-on-the-water setting, it’s a particularly cruel irony that Possardt was killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. On honeymoon in Thailand when the tsunami hit, Possardt survived the flood on 26th December ‘04 but was buried under debris for two days and subsequently died from his injuries on New Year’s Eve. He was fifty-three years old.

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