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18 Fingers Of Death!

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Apr. 14th, 2006 | 08:40 am

James Lew seems like a nice guy...but his movie blows.

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Whenever my employer is looking for an assistant, I marvel at some of the morons that show up for an interview. Some of them show signs of life, while others simply don't have what it takes to be an active member of society. Then, every so often, you'll run across those who are nice enough for the position, yet they don't quite have what it takes to get the job done. That's kind of how I feel about veteran extra James Lew's ambitious yet incredibly flawed chop-sockey spoof 18 Fingers of Death. I mean, James has certainly put in his time as professional wallpaper, starring as Ming Gang #3 in Seagal's Today You Die and as Freighter's Captain in Lethal Weapon 4, so it's high time he decided to strike out on his own. And while Lew is quick to make fun of his career in show business -- as well as a few questionable jabs at his contemporaries -- the movie is never funny enough to make these ideas work. Because, you know, the main ingredient in comedy is laughter. Unfortunately, trying to find a laugh in this 90-minute mess is a truly daunting task.

The movie starts out okay, I suppose, with Lew having a bit of fun with the roles for which he's usually cast. In 18 Fingers of Death, however, Lew assumes the role of Buford Lee, a low-rent kung fu star with a small yet devoted cult following. But nobody seems to adore Mr. Lee more than amateur filmmaker Ronald Mack, who wants to shoot a documentary about his hero's life. However, when funding for Lee's next picture, 18 Fingers of Death, suddenly pulls out, it's up to Ronald, Lee, and a cast of zany characters to come up with the money, cast the film, shoot it, and get it ready for Sundance in no less than one week. Hilarity ensues. Or at least it should have.

There are a number of potentially funny gags in 18 Fingers of Death, and I'm not really sure why they all fall flat. For instance, there are several parodies of other kung fu movie stars, such as Steven Seefood, Jackie Chong, Billy Buff -- and many more that simply aren't worth mentioning. And while poking fun at others working in the industry is always good for a laugh, I don't think the jokes in Lew's directorial debut are going to settle well with those who are going to check out his movie. As I've learned with my silly Seagal reviews earlier this year, his fans are a loyal, devoted lot, and they don't take kindly to some wannabe on-line critic making fun of their favorite aikido master. It's the same with Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, whose fans are just as committed to their action hero as, say, Joss Whedon fans. Have some fun at their expense, yes, but don't make fun of their weight to the point of cruelty, you know? Lew acts like he doesn't respect them, which makes the comedy more sad and depressing than side-splitting. There are many other attempts at humor -- including a Drunken Master parody that involves flatulence -- but I'll spare you the details. I definitely don't want you falling asleep during MY attempt to entertain you.

The cast, sadly, is just at weak as the script. Though Pat Morita is in top form, everyone else is just okay. Some of dialogue appears to be improvised, since most of the actors -- even the professional ones -- often stumble and struggle with the material. Not everyone is great at improv, mind you, and it all comes to a head as Don "The Dragon" Wilson delivers the in's and out's of "martial arts acting," ending on a note that's either comedic genius or old fashioned bad acting. And while it is kind of fun watching Lorenzo Lamas pretend to be Antonio Banderas, you can tell all of these B-Grade cameos were nothing more than favors. I guess it's not unlike refusing to buy a cup of homemade lemonade from your neighbor's retarded kid; sure, you don't want that cup of lemonade, but you'd be a dick for not doing it. Lastly, there's a reason why James Lew has never risen above his station as a disposable extra: he can't act. I can't say for sure if Buford Lee is supposed to make fun of that fact or not, since everything about the movie is flat, flat, flat.

Since this is a spoof, we are presented with a number of martial arts parodies, ranging from Buford Lee's stunt doubling of Steven Seefood to the aforementioned Drunk Master parody. Lew's a decent martial artist, I guess, but he's NOT a director. Just like the comedy, the action is simply underwhelming and poorly executed. What's worse is that the movie flip-flops between being an actual film and a documentary about Lee's life, making for a very uneven night at the movies. It's often confusing how Ronald is capturing some of the footage, only to discover that neither he nor his cameraman are anywhere near the scene. Sometimes Lew snaps out of it, throwing a few wonky voice-overs into the mix to remind you that you're watching a documentary, as opposed to a straight-forward narrative. Bah, why am I dissecting this garbage? I'm wasting my time.

Because I think James Lew had good intentions with 18 Fingers of Death, I don't want to be too negative, but I just can't help it. I mean, it REALLY should have been good, but his mean-spirited jabs at more successful martial arts actors and his inability to create energy ultimately sinks this ship long before it ever had a chance to sail. The only part that made me laugh was the Water Buffalo Bo-Bo Balls bit, and it was more of a confused chuckle than a full-on laugh. Don't believe the blurbs on the DVD cover, as this one has NOTHING in common with the likes of Kung Fu Hustle or This is Spinal Tip. In fact, such a comparison should be punishable by death. Someone was obviously aiming to get their name on the cover with such a bold-faced lie, and I'd hate for it to rope you in, too.

Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I'm a sucker for DVD cover quotes.

Thanks a lot, Lew.

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Comments {6}

18 Fingers of Death!

from: anonymous
date: Apr. 16th, 2006 01:27 am (UTC)
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Regarding the parodies of Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, and Chuck Norris, I don't think they were meant to be as mean spirited as they were perceived to be. James has been close friends with Jackie for over 20 years and got his permission to parody him. He also has worked with Steven several times, including after 18 Fingers was filmed, so Steven was aware of it. As was Chuck Norris I'd guess, whom James has worked with and known for many years. He'd have run things by all these guys rather than risk doing it without their knowledge and offending them. Just too bad that apparently the movie did not come off as well as James had hoped for considering he financed it himself.

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Hmmm...

from: filmfiend
date: Apr. 16th, 2006 12:06 pm (UTC)
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That's great that Lew is friends with the likes of Steven Seagal and Jackie Chan, but the fact remains that if I poked fun at my buddy's weight in a movie that will ultimately seen wide release via DVD, I'd still be a jackass for doing so. On top of that, the jokes are just way too obvious; I can read funnier bits on the IMDB message boards regarding Seagal's weight problem.

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Re: Hmmm...

from: anonymous
date: Apr. 17th, 2006 09:37 pm (UTC)
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I'm sure Mr. Seagal has heard way worse things about himself over the years, unfortunately. The weight gain, among other things, did throw his career completely off track. And it would be awesome if he could get things back on track. All I'm saying is that James probably did not intend for the parodies to come off the way they did. I don't think he realized how they were going to look to some folks. I get the point you're trying to make, but you express it within a film review that comes across as meanspirited itself. You freely ridicule James. Why is ridicule ok in a film review if it's wrong in a film? And don't say because James asked for it with the film, that's no excuse really. You could have written the review and made the same points, without the ridicule. And your point would have had much more weight to it had you not used ridicule and sarcasm yourself. You had valid points but you used the same technique you were slamming in the film in your review.

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Re: Hmmm...

from: filmfiend
date: Apr. 17th, 2006 11:25 pm (UTC)
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The reason I slam Lew for his mean-spirited attacks yet turn around and do the same thing is because I'm a walking, talking hypocrite, not to mention a vile little prick, as well. You seem to take my "reviews" -- if you could honestly call them that -- more seriously than I ever would, and while that's oddly flattering, it's also kind of sad. Do I care that my points could be strengthened by presenting them in a conventional, straight-forward manner? Not really. Besides, if I didn't go that extra snarky mile, we wouldn't be having this splendid conversation, now would we? I'm just a guy with a blog and some free time to burn. Don't put too much stock into what I have to say. But if you do, hey, that's great. Super. Swell, even.

Oh, and thanks for reading.

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Re: Hmmm...

from: anonymous
date: Apr. 18th, 2006 12:44 am (UTC)
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Oh no, I haven't read any of your other writing. I came across this review or commentary, whichever you prefer, via Google while doing a search on James' movie. So since your commentaries are just for your exclusive entertainment, I'll just wish you good luck and leave ya to it.

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Thanks!

from: filmfiend
date: Apr. 18th, 2006 12:58 am (UTC)
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Well, you read THIS one, and I'm oh-so happy you did. Words cannot accurately describe the sensation. Have fun with your Lew search, as you'll probably encounter more reviews just like this one. Hey, they can't all be winners.

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