Death Grip (2012)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/2/12
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Written And Directed By: Eric Jacobus
Cast: Eric Jacobus, Nathan Hoskins, Johnny Yong Bosch, Rebecca Ahn, Ray Carbonel, Chelsea Steffensen, Alvin Hsing, Edward Kahana Jr.

Kenny (Eric Jacobus) is a brooding loner, troubled by his past and burdened with an autistic brother named Mark (Nathan Hoskins). When he brings Mark to a last minute catering job at a museum exhibition, Mark innocently and unwittingly gets involved in an attempt to steal the exhibition's prized Judas Coin. A religious cult known as The Knights Of Judas requires the coin in order to perform a certain sacrificial ritual, and their leader, Torch (Johnny Yong Bosch), will stop at nothing to get his hands on it. Additional complications result in Mark and museum curator Rindi (Rebecca Ahn) being kidnapped, forcing Kenny to infiltrate the cult's hideout and rescue them in a flurry of martial arts goodness.

This latest offering from Eric Jacobus and The Stunt People is nothing short of amazing, and the groundwork laid by their previous films is finally bearing fruit. Eric has grown and matured as a filmmaker, writer, and actor, and the entire production is first rate. Excellent cinematography and a complimentary musical score mask the film's impressively lean $100k budget, and you can tell that all of the money is on the screen. Nearly everything is shot in camera in real time, which adds an extra sense of authenticity to the production. The acting is surprisingly good, and bolstered by a script that allows for character development through body language and minimal exposition. And being that the cast is made up almost entirely of stunt people, body language is what they excel at. The ground based fight scenes in the film are both stylish and hard hitting, evoking the look and feel of classic Hong Kong action cinema. Shot in chronological order one angle at a time, the rhythm and cadence are perfect, and the give-and-take progression creates an excellent sense of dramatic tension. The speed, precision, and complexity of the knife fight between Eric and Alvin Hsing is so intense that you almost wish it were slowed down a bit so you could see more of the individual moves. The final showdown between Eric and Johnny Yong Bosch is also extremely satisfying for those who appreciate the skill and craft of thoughtful fight choreography and editing.

Jackie Chan's "Heart Of Dragon" (1985) immediately comes to mind when watching the film, but it wisely stays away from the melodrama and overwrought sentimentality that weighed that movie down. While the story maintains an appropriately sober and serious tone throughout, brief moments of humor help to alleviate the tension here and there, including a wonderfully realized showdown involving an auto-flush toilet. What's brilliant about this sequence is that it's not treated as a gag, but rather as an unusual (and absurd) situation that requires a unique solution (another nod to Chan's genius). Thankfully, the film is free from tough guy mentality and macho posturing, which is where most domestic action films go so terribly wrong. The intelligent and minimalistic dialog does an excellent job of establishing the characters, keeping them self consistent, and maintaining a good pace, but at the expense of not fleshing out the larger world. You leave the film wanting to know more, which I suppose is ultimately a very good thing. Especially in American films, which nearly always tend to divulge too much information. But there seemed to be areas that I wanted more background on, like what happened to Kenny during his prolonged absence after the accident, and what was Rindi's relationship with Torch? Of course, these are simple little nit-picks that don't affect the overall enjoyment of the film, and the fact that I'm bringing them up at all is a good indicator that I was emotionally engaged enough to care about the characters. Definitely worth checking out if you enjoy and appreciate the cinematic flair of 1980's action cinema.