Thursday, September 04, 2014

Falcon Rising: Taking Down the Brazilian Yakuza

Brazil has one of the largest Japanese expat communities outside of Japan. Unfortunately, that also entails a Yakuza presence—or at least it used to, until the Rio clan nearly killed the wrong ex-marine’s sister. They will soon learn John Chapman’s martial arts skills and PTSD death wish make him all kinds of deadly. He even has a codename to dig out of mothballs in Ernie Barbarash’s Falcon Rising (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Haunted by his experiences in the Middle East (refreshingly, these seem to be more about what they did to his men than what he did to them), Chapman is essentially trying to booze his way into an early grave. However, he manages to pull himself together when his NGO do-gooding sister Cindy blows into town for a quick visit. She should have stayed longer. Soon after returning to her favela nonprofit, a violent attempt on her life leaves her in a coma.

Somewhat put out by this news, Chapman hastens down to Rio, where his old service buddy Manny Ridley is a senior Foreign Service Officer. Ridley cannot get too involved in the smackdowns, but he can point Chapman in the right direction. Before long he will be shaking the Yakuza’s tree, while their crooked minions on the police force try to finish off both Chapmans. Good luck with that.

Right, we’re talking total B-movie here, but Falcon harbors few illusions about where its comparative advantages lie. Michael Jai White brings plenty of heat as Chapman and develops some pleasant bantering buddy chemistry with the ever-reliable Neal McDonough’s Ripley. However, one would think the film could have better used retired boxer Laila Ali (daughter of Muhammad), who spends most of the film hooked up to tubes.

Instead, Hazuki Kato gets to be the action femme fatale, displaying some nice chops and an intriguing presence as Yakuza lieutenant Tomoe. In contrast, Masashi Odate is a little too icy and reserved as her master, Hirimoto, but he swings the samurai sword with credibility and authority. However, Lateef Crowder arguably shows off the best moves as Carlo Bororo (a.k.a. crooked cop #2).

As a journeyman action helmer, Barbarash (whose credits include the similarly entertaining Assassination Games) is clearly in his power zone. He stages some pretty impressive fight scenes (choreographed by Larnell Stovall) that eschew shaky cams in favor of full body shot clarity. Barbarash also soaks up the local color, giving viewers a good feel for the Rio’s teeming sprawl.

This is a small film even in the world of action movies, but it is still a lot of fun, sure-footedly following in the spirit and tradition of the American Ninja franchise. Recommended for fans of White and unpretentious martial arts films, Falcon Rising launches today on VOD (where it should do the lion’s share of its business) and opens tomorrow (9/5) in New York at the AMC Empire.