Saturday, 25 September 2010

Best of the Best 2 (1993)

Brakus cunningly uses his shiny codpiece
to distract the enemy

After Best of the Best passed the test, I figured I might as well watch the rest of the Best of the Bests, and this was the last theatrical release before the series was banished into direct-to-video pergatory. They managed to get back the same director (Robert Radler) and much of the original cast, including Eric Roberts, Chris Penn and Phillip Rhee, but they take the series in a very different direction. The first film was more of an inspirational sports movie, but Best of the Best 2 puts those same characters into a crazy action movie, with highly entertaining results.

After successfully beating the Koreans in an exhibition match, Alex (Roberts, now with a more sensible haircut) and Tommy (Rhee) have opened up a Karate school of their own. Alex's son Walter has matured into a budding martial artist and an entirely different actor, and although he fails to pass the final exam for his black belt, Alex gives a big tearful speech about how proud he is anyway. Walter has also found companionship in a new, much-older looking girlfriend, a TV sports reporter named Sue (Meg Foster).

The only other returning character is the All-American egomaniac and reformed racist Travis (Penn). He has been moonlighting at the Coliseum, supposedly a dance club but really a front for an underground fighting tournament for the super-rich. According to these types of movies there's a big demand for black-tie, no-rules deathmatches. Of course, these movies were made before things like UFC hit the mainstream, so we hadn't yet realised that, despite how exciting a kung fu vs capoiera fight might seem, these kind of tournaments always end up with a grappling expert pinning the other guy to on the floor and punching him repeatedly in the face and/or balls.

Anyway, the Coliseum is owned by a giant German bodybuilder named Brakus. Some of his henchmen call him "Mr. Brakus", but mostly it's just Brakus, like he's the bad guy from a barbarian film. He lives up to the name too, dressing his combatants up like gladiators and presiding over the fights from a big throne surrounded by beautiful women. The audience loves him too; whenever he waves at them they go nuts. He's played by Ralf Moeller, who you might remember from the terrible Conan TV series (but probably don't) or his many appearances in Uwe Boll films. He gets a more substantial role than usual here.

Since Travis beats the first round of the tournament easily, he acts like a conceited asshole and demands to fight Brakus in the next round. Brakus agrees, and Travis sneaks Walter into the Coliseum so he can watch the big fight, slipping some cash to one of the stagehands so he sit up in the scaffolding. Of course Brakus whips Travis's ass and, at the crowd's command, snaps Travis' neck. When Walter sees this he runs out into the street, the stagehand somehow not anticipating that Walter might freak out upon witnessing his friend's execution, and, after narrowly avoiding by a creepy pervert, manages to run home and recount the story to his father.

Tommy and Alex confront Brakus's manager/ring announcer (Wayne Newton), who denies the whole thing, so they fight their way inside and speak to Brakus directly. When Alex gets up in Brakus's face and asks if he killed Travis you expect him to deny it too, but instead he sneers "Easily" and starts beating the shit out of them. Tommy and Alex manage to escape the club, mildly injuring Brakus in the process, and the next day Travis's body shows up in a car wreck in the lake. The police write off Travis's death as an accident and Brakus sends his men out to murder Alex and Walter. Since Tommy gave Brakus a minor cut on his cheek, he orders that they bring Tommy back alive, so he can be put to death in the ring of combat.

After a run-in with Brakus's men, Alex and Tommy decide to hide out with some of Tommy's family way out in the country, and it's here that we get the bizarre revelation that Tommy Lee was raised by Native Americans. I don't get this part, since the first film had multiple flashbacks to his brother's fatal match with the villain Dae Han, and there it was clearly shown that he had Korean parents. I don't know, maybe they died from grief.

Tommy is also reunited with his brother James, played by Sonny Landham. It seems when they were young James fell in with a bad crowd and disappeared, returning many years later a thieving, violent drunk. Way to reinforce cultural stereotypes there, movie. James drunkenly challenges Tommy to a fight, repeatedly getting his ass kicked until he's spitting up blood and teeth and vomiting on himself. It's all rather pathetic and disgusting, but Tommy, Alex and even grandpa have a good old chuckle about it. It turns out that the car accident that ruined James' life was actually a death match with Brakus. This makes him one of only three people qualified to help them defeat Brakus, and since James never explains who the other two people are it looks like he is the one who is going to have to train them.

It's pretty weird that the only way they can think to resolve the situation is to engage in a brutal training regimen (plus the obligatory native American vision quest) so they can defeat Brakus in hand-to-hand combat. It never even occurs to them to go to the police or find a gun. I understand warrior's honour and all that, but since Brakus is sending waves of armed assassins after your 10 year old son, I think you get a pass. Besides, if they had gone to the police instead of spending weeks performing in grueling training montages, Brakus's men wouldn't have found them, Tommy wouldn't have been kidnapped and Tommy's grandma's place wouldn't have been incinerated in a huge, fiery explosion.

You'll probably remember the somewhat unconventional ending of Best of the Best, where the villain Dae Han (played by Rhee's actual brother) apologises for killing Tommy's brother and offers himself as a replacement sibling. Well here he makes good on that promise of brotherhood, helping Alex fight his way into the Coliseum so he can rescue Tommy. Like in the first film, Eric Roberts is totally unconvincing in a fight when stacked up next to his Korean counterparts, and it's only when Phillip Rhee steps up that the fight choreography gets interesting. The highlight is during the last part of the film where Brakus forces Tommy to face a string of opponents in the ring, each with a different theme and fighting style, before finally facing off against Brakus himself.

Unfortunately this film does not end with Brakus breaking down and apologising for killing Travis, offering himself as a replacement BFF. It's a shame; it would have been cool to see Brakus wearing a cowboy hat and listening to country music on a boom box. Instead Tommy kills Brakus in one of those bits where the bad guy feigns death so he can attack the good guy when his back is turned. Thus Tommy takes him out with a Bruce Lee style neck stomp and still maintains his honour. As part of the house rules Tommy is offered The Coliseum as a prize, but he turns it down. Who wants to run one of those underground death arenas anyway? So much stress. Plus I don't think Tommy would look as good in a shiny cape.

Apart from the unusual ending, the first film stuck to a predictable sports movie formula. This one sticks to a predictable action movie formula, so it's a lot more ridiculous but also more entertaining. A lot of this comes down to Brakus, who is a surprisingly memorable bad guy. I liked the idea of this fierce warrior with an anachronistic code of honour being the one in charge, and Wayne Newton's character being the level-headed henchman keeping his shit under control. A lesser film would have made Brakus second fiddle to some asshole in a suit, but this film knows that when it comes down to a guy in a cape versus a guy in a suit, the cape is always going to win.

1 comment:

Ty said...

Wayne Newton must have said the name Brakus a million times in the movie!

Lost count after 30.