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Evasive Action

aka Con Train; Steel Train

D: Jerry P. Jacobs / 91m

Cast: Dorian Harewood, Ray Wise, Roy Scheider, DeLane Matthews, Ed O’Ross, John Toles-Bey, Clint Howard, Don Swayze, Richard Foronjy, Steven Barr, Blake Gibbons, Mallory Farrow, Keith Coogan, Bill McGee

An unabashed mash-up of Con Air and Under Siege 2 but with a tenth of either movie’s budget (or inventiveness), Evasive Action pits con-with-integrity Luke Sinclair (Harewood) against prison big wheel Enzo Marcelli (Scheider) during an attempted escape from the train carrying them both to a new prison.  Sinclair is doing time for the murder of the man who killed his wife and child, while Marcelli’s crime is never revealed; he’s just a very bad man.  Sinclair’s integrity is shown by his refusal to admit remorse for his crime at his parole hearings; Marcelli’s evil nature is shown by…. well, he queue jumps in the prison yard.

Once Sinclair and Marcelli, along with additional convicts Tommy (Toles-Bey), Ian (Swayze), and Hector “The Director” Miller (Howard, on Steve Buscemi psychopath duty), are on the way to San Diego and their new “home”, what has been up-to-now a fairly unremarkable thriller with some daft dialogue, moves quickly into the outer reaches of low-budget silliness.  With the aid of accomplices Vince (Foronjy) and Joe (Barr), Marcelli et al are freed from the high-tech (but actually low-tech) carriage they are being transported in.  With a plan to rendezvous with a helicopter and flee to Mexico, it’s up to Sinclair and plucky train employee Zoe (Matthews) to save the day and thwart Marcelli’s (slightly) evil plan.

Evasive Action starts promisingly but soon resorts to desperate measures to keep itself “on track”.  With the convicts taking over the train, Zoe manages to contact the police; soon Sheriff Blaidek (Wise) is heading to intercept the train and save the day.  What follows is a series of incidents that demand such a massive suspension of disbelief, the viewer is in danger of self-inducing a migraine.  For example, Blaidek commandeers the helicopter and orders the pilot to get him onto the train; Sinclair jumps from the train and reconnects with it after travelling across the desert on foot before reaching a town and stealing a motorbike; and the train company has only one worker, Anthony (Coogan), who can help the police keep track of where the train is headed and/or located (and he’s inexperienced).

Evasive Action - scene

As an action thriller, Evasive Action sets a robust pace once the train sets off but the audience is unlikely to connect with any of the characters.  As Luke, Harewood is earnest and just a little bit stuffy; plus in the fight scenes it’s clear he hasn’t squared up to anyone since he was probably five.  Wise acts like a man who hopes no one he knows will see the movie, while Matthews shows no fear, merely a kind of mild exasperation at what she has to go through.  It’s left to Scheider to raise the acting bar but even he can’t salvage a character so underwritten he has to resort to snarling his way through the movie as a way of keeping him interesting.

Jacobs’ direction lacks focus and substance (he’s better known as a producer, albeit of movies such as Vampires Suck and Disaster Movie), and the photography by Ken Blakey too often resorts to shaking the camera in order to make it look like the train is moving.  The script plays fast and loose with its own timescale, and makes Passenger 57 – another movie it’s been partially cloned from – look like Oscar-bait.  The movie looks bland and lacks any kind of zest.  And the movie’s big set-piece moment, when the train crashes through a terminus at high speed, is reduced to three poorly achieved shots involving model work.

While Evasive Action does try hard to entertain its audience, what you’re left with is a sense that this was a movie that was made quickly so as not to burden its cast and crew any more than it had to.  And whoever came up with the poster design has made it look as if Scheider is some kind of spy dealing with terrorists (maybe), or, as some reviewers might put it, is “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.  (Well, yes he is, but only in the “whoops-I-should-have-passed-on-this-one” sense.)  All in all, the best thing about the movie is that it moves with a sense of urgency, even if that urgency is to get things over with as quickly as possible.

Rating: 4/10 – saved from a lower score because its very inoffensiveness is a kind of relief from the madness of most direct-to-video releases, but only worth a view if every other variation on Con Air is unavailable.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.