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Showdown in Manila

D: Mark Dacascos / 86m

Cast: Alexander Nevsky, Casper Van Dien, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Matthias Hues, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Olivier Gruner, Dmitriy Dyuzhev, Maria Bravikova, Iza Calzado, Jake Macapalga, Hazel Faith Dela Cruz, Mark Dacascos

There’s a saying that if it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and looks like a duck then it must be a duck. But if the ‘it’ in question walks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger (in certain circumstances) then it must be Alexander Nevsky. The Russian-born former body builder turned actor/writer/producer has modelled his acting style so closely on that of the former Governor of California that if make up was judiciously applied in the right places they could pass for brothers (or maybe even twins – sorry, Danny DeVito).

In Showdown in Manila, this is most apparent during the extended showdown that happens not in Manila but in the jungle. Here Nevsky adopts Schwarzenegger’s trademark stance from his Eighties heyday, fires off rounds one-handed, and turns his whole body to face a new opponent. Nevsky also sounds like Schwarzenegger, his phrasing and accent often completely the same. If it isn’t intentional then it’s an incredible feat of unconscious mimicry.

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But Nevsky’s troublesome performance aside, the movie has several other distractions for the viewer to contend with. Following a botched mission to apprehend local crime kingpin the Wraith (Tagawa), Nevsky’s character, Violent Crimes Unit detective Nick Peyton, takes the rap for his team being wiped out and leaves the force. It’s a strange reaction for such a tough guy, and if it’s intended to provide the character with a degree of debilitating guilt (or any kind of guilt), then it’s soon abandoned. Instead, we fast forward two years. Now we’re introduced to vacationing FBI agent Matthew Wells (Dacascos) and his wife (Carrere). Spotting the Wraith at the hotel where they’re staying, Wells engages his men in a fight but ends up being killed by the Wraith himself.

As a witness, Mrs Wells is soon targeted by the Wraith, but a VCU agent (Calzado) has the bright idea of putting her in the safe hands of Nick (now a private eye) and his partner, sex addict Charlie Benz (Van Dien). At this point, viewers might want to hit the pause button and ask themselves, he’s a private eye? With a sex addict partner? And he’s the first choice to protect the chief witness in a murder investigation? Against an untouchable crime boss? Am I hearing this properly? Well, yes. But things get even more incredible. Mrs Wells then hires Nick and Charlie to track down the Wraith and bring him to her alive.

Cue a series of scenes where Nick and Charlie intimidate various low-level criminals about the whereabouts of the Wraith and his principal henchman, Dorn (Hues) (and which also feature Charlie letching at almost every female he meets/sees/catches a brief glimpse of). Eventually they apprehend Dorn and they learn about the Wraith’s jungle hideout. Nick contacts his old captain at the VCU (Macapalga), but instead of passing on the information, he asks for help, and that help proves to be his “old team”.

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It’s at this point that fans of Eighties/Nineties action flicks will smile appreciatively at the introduction of Messrs, Rothrock, Gruner, and Wilson. Together with Dyuzhev, they join Nick and Charlie on a raid on the Wraith’s hideout that involves lots of shooting (at unidentified targets), and get to show off their trademark moves. It’s a lengthy sequence, choppily edited and lacking exactly the kind of thrills that low budget Eighties action movies lacked. There’s a less than satisfying coda to wrap things up, and the moment where full effect of Nevsky’s “impersonation” of Schwarzenegger is cemented for all to see.

Unsurprisingly, Showdown in Manila isn’t the best example of the dozens of Philippine-based actioners that are made each year for the international market. Even with the presence of Rockroth, Gruner and Wilson, the movie slips into first gear early on and never manages to reach second, settling instead for an even rhythm that robs the action sequences of any excitement, but which also highlights the paucity of Nevsky’s story idea. The script, by Craig Hamann, who co-wrote Quentin Tarantino’s very first, uncompleted movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday (1987), takes the usual continuity short cuts in connecting the dots of Nick’s search for the Wraith, and the distractions mentioned above include a foot chase that couldn’t have been pitched at a faster pace if Nevsky and Hues had been using zimmer frames, Dacascos orchestrating the best fight sequence for himself, and Tagawa’s disinterested performance.

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Alas, Tagawa isn’t the only one. Van Dien, employed to provide a degree of comedy via Charlie’s sex addiction, looks bored and resigned for most of the time, while Hues merely looks smug for no reason at all. Nevsky is as wooden as you’d expect, Carrere does crazed, vengeance-seeking widow as if her life depended on it, and the inclusion of Rothrock, Gruner and Wilson is brief enough that they avoid having to make too much of an effort and in doing so remind viewers why they never won any acting awards back in the day. And Dacascos does a perfunctory job behind the camera, but doesn’t engage enough with his cast to make a difference.

Rating: 4/10 – forgettable and unrewarding, Showdown in Manila acts as a showcase for Nevsky, but the actor/writer/producer lacks the necessary screen presence to make that much of an impact; once again, a low budget actioner that never overcomes or exceeds its limitations, despite having more potential to do so than most.

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