X-Treme Fighter

Dir: Art Camacho
Star: Don 'The Dragon' Wilson, Dan Mayid, Aki Leong, Cynthia Rothrock

If computers have been a threat in cinema since 2001, VR seems likely to suffer the same fate, and the nightmare of being trapped in a CPU world dates back at least to Tron. This take on the subject sees a rebellious teen, Brad (Mayid), sneak a shot at a VR martial arts game, a birthday gift from his eccentric grandfather (Leong). But the game has a virus in it, which traps the boy, and only his father (Wilson) can save him. And hey, wouldn't you know it, dad just happens to be a black belt.

It seems aimed at a teenage audience not quite bright enough to deal with the philosophical complexities of The Matrix. Have to say, we found the young hero obnoxiously whiny - if we caught our kids lounging in a hot-tub with a floozy and beer, the week's grounding given here, would be replaced with a flogging. Still, as an excuse for a serious of almost entirely disconnected fight sequences, it's not bad. The supporting cast is a - pun not intended - virtual who's who of the martial arts world, with enough black belts to stock a department store, covering a whole range of styles.

Not all are equally effective, however: "King of Kata" Eric Lee is great, but as shown here, the "monkey style" of Michael Matsuda looks like nothing more than a guy doing a primate impression. Director Camacho also pushes the camera in too close, often losing the impact. My other gripe is that, for a virtual realm, it's prosaic stuff - anything could happen, yet rarely does: Rothrock (a supporting role in both worlds) skipping lightly across water, and the trails of light left by the virus's blows are about it. Mortal Kombat showed you can mix imagination with martial arts skill, and that would have helped this be more memorable. While never actually boring, "X-Treme" it certainly isn't; the original title, Sci-Fighter is perhaps more accurate.

[This film was released on May 17th in the US: the DVD has bloopers, making-of footage, and commentaries by Camacho, and Wilson with Rothrock - the latter in particular is worth a listen. for more information, visit MTI's website.]

May 2005

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