To Be or Not To Be DTV: The films of WWE Studios - Part 2
After the WWE's success with The Call, they would stay in thriller territory for the much darker No One Lives (2013), an extremely violent genre movie from director Ryuhei Kitamura. Like The Call, No One Lives only features a wrestling star in a small supporting role. This time it was the turn of Brodus Clay, making his film debut.
There aren’t any heroes in No One Lives, with the film based around a group of criminals who try to rob the wrong guy. In this case it is serial killer Luke Evans, who wastes no time in setting up traps and dispatching his would be attackers.
Kitamura had previously helmed another American feature, The Midnight Meat Train (2008). Like that film, No One Lives is filled with violent action, only being slightly let down by its apparent low budget. Even with this in mind, the film is an enjoyably trashy revenge movie with a different type of protagonist than usual, and with a brief run time of around eighty minutes, keeps the pace tight.
Luke Evans relishes the chance to play the deranged villain/hero. Known only as The Driver, his character proves to be truly sadistic, with him killing and torturing who gets in his way.
Of the supporting cast, only Adelaide Clemens gets a decent role with Lee Tergesen and the like being one note villains that are easily dispatched.
No One Lives had a limited cinema release, with it making around $75,000, quite a bit under its reported $2.9 million budget. The film would perhaps fared better if released as a DTV feature, as home video seems a more suitable place for this particular type of entertainment.
As well as their own productions, WWE contributed towards the production of French comedy, Queens of the Ring (2013). The film focuses on the adventures of a mother training to become a female wrestler and features appearances from WWE Wrestlers Eva Torres, CM Punk and the Miz. The movie was released straight to DVD in the states.
The company then decided to return to one of their more successful films, with them making a sequel to the John Cena starrer 12 Rounds. Like The Marine sequels, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded (2013) is an in name only sequel, with Randy Orton now in the lead.
Originally Orton’s fellow wrestler CM Punk was going to play the lead, but his commitment to the WWE European tour made this an impossibility, which resulted in his replacement by Orton. Orton had already acted in one of WWE Studios earlier films That’s What I Am, but this was his first leading role in an action movie.
Unfortunately, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded pales in comparison to the original film, with Orton being cast in a role that he isn’t suited to. Orton is a Paramedic that finds him-self playing a deadly game with a criminal mastermind, who like in the first film wants our hero to play a game called 12 Rounds.
Fans of Orton’s wrestling will be disappointed, as he is only given the briefest of chances to get involved in fight scenes, with the majority of the action he is involved in of the running and chasing variety.
This time the individual rounds are smaller scale with less action due to the restricted budget, although director Roel Reine does make the proceedings look more professional than some other WWE releases, betraying the film’s low budget. This is an area the director continually excels at, even though his last WWE Studios film, The Marine 2, was a more enjoyable outing.
WWE Studios rounded out the year with a television movie, the seasonally themed Christmas Bounty (2013). It was quite a bland production for the studio, with it closely resembling every other similarly themed movie that is shown on the Hallmark channel at Christmas time.
There is some fun to be had, with a good amount of action for a television movie, and it did give The Miz a chance to act in something a bit lighter than his previous Marine movie, with him being the main highlight.
WWE Studios haven’t only stuck with live action, with the company going on to co-produce their own animated features. The first of these was Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery (2014), which they co-produced with Warner Bros animation.
The film was the 22nd in a long list of direct to video Scooby Doo films, but the first to feature the likenesses and voice talents of WWE wrestlers like John Cena, Triple H, The Miz, Kane and even Vince McMahon. There are additionally non speaking appearance from a number of famous wrestlers such as The Big Show, Sin Cara, Jerry Lawler and Sgt Slaughter.
Clearly Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery was made with children in mind, but adults will still find some things to enjoy in the film, with the odd joke slyly being added for adults.
At this point, WWE Studios would dip their toe once again into the horror pool, with better critical results than the earlier See No Evil. Oculus (2014) was director Mike Flanagan’s remake of his earlier short film Oculus: Chapter 3 (2006). The short film gathered critical acclaim with Flanagan finally getting the chance to extend his idea into a full length feature.
Based around a supernatural mirror, Flanagan has commented that he was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and this is why he didn’t bother explaining the reasoning behind the mirror.
Oculus is perhaps a tad overrated, but is still a better than what constitutes as a horror film these days, with effective scare, a good atmosphere and good performances from Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff. Like WWE Studios last horror film, Barricade, no wrestlers appear in the movie.
Oculus was a co-production for WWE Studios, along with Blumhouse Productions who are known for their horror fare. It opened to generally positive reviews and was popular enough to warrant an Indian remake, Dobaara: See Your Evil (2017), where Flanagan acted as executive producer. Unlike the original film, the remake was met with poor reviews.
WWE Studios would have less success with their next venture into horror territory, with them making the inexplicable choice to reboot the Leprechaun franchise. Leprechaun: Origins (2014), is possibly the poorest feature to ever be produced by WWE Studios, with terrible acting, poor production values and an endless supply of clichés all contributing to the films downfall.
The film was envisaged as a more serious return for the franchise, with the film makers removing the humour that made the original series at the very least memorable. One of the major issues of the film is the replacement of original Leprechaun Warwick Davies for wrestler Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl.
Davies was quite a verbal character with many a one liner. This time the filmmakers went with the decision to make the Leprechaun a non verbal character, with the audience only seeing him fleetingly. Due to the actor’s diminutive size, it is hard to generate any scares or suspense around him, with there really being no reason in casting Hornswoggle as the title character. And the less said about the terrible Irish accents the better.
In between Oculus and Leprechaun: Origins, WWE Studios distributed Road to Paloma (2014), a low budget drama that marked actor Jason Mamoa’s directorial debut. A labour of love for the actor, it is an interesting watch with good performances but may disappoint those expecting an action movie.
As if to make up for the travesty that was Leprechaun: Origins, WWE Studios returned to their first foray into horror, with them producing a sequel to See No Evil. Unlike the first film, See No Evil 2 (2014) was made for the DTV market, but is an improvement on the original in most regards.
Kane returns as the deadly Jacob Goodnight, this time stalking his victims around the hospital he has been taken to after the events of the first film. This is where issues with the film start, as there is a need to connect this to the first film instead of being stand alone. Still incoming directors The Soska Sisters manage to fill the film with enough slasher conventions to keep horror fans happy, with them surpassing the work of the first films director Gregory Dark.
Another improvement over the first is the accomplished cast of recognisable horror actors, with Danielle Harris and Katherine Isabelle amongst them. There is also Michael Eklund making yet another appearance in a WWE movie, that only slightly pales in comparison with his work in The Call.
After a brief upturn in quality with See No Evil 2, the studio was back to the bottom of the barrel with the unfathomable Jingle All the Way 2 (2014). It is hard to see any business reason in making a sequel to one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poorest films , especially 18 years after it was released.
Not only that, but the film doesn’t even have the advantage of Schwarzenegger starring, with the sequel being tailored to the comedy styling’s of new star Larry the Cable Guy. If anything, the sequel makes the first film look like a major accomplishment, with Jingle All the Way 2 only being beaten by the same years Leprechaun: Origins, as one of the poorest WWE films made.
Like a lot of the studios films, Jingle All the Way 2 was released to poor reviews, but unlike some of their other films, the majority of the reviews were justified.
The one noteworthy fact of the film was that it marked the movie debut of wrestler Santino Marella, it is just a shame it was in this forgettable DTV effort.
Thankfully, things would get better for WWE Studios in the following year, with each of their releases of 2015 having something to recommend. They would start the year off with the release of another of their animated endeavours, The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown! (2015).
Like their earlier co-production with Warner Bros Animation, The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown! features a host of WWE voice talent like John Cena, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan, Vince McMahon and more.
The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown! manages to be more successful than the previous Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery, with it more closely emulating the Flintstone cartoons of old, just with the addition of the WWE.
The Studio would finally return to the action genre with DTV offering The Marine 4: Moving Target (2015), a low budget but mostly successful addition to The Marine franchise. Differing from the previous films, which all focused on a new incoming star, the fourth part sees the return of the Miz from part 3, with him getting a better opportunity this time round to show his action credentials.
New director William Kaufman is a terrific action director, who always manages to stretch the low budgets he is given to create something memorable. The Marine 4: Moving Target is no different, with no shortage of action, with the low budget only being evident at certain points.
Setting most of the film in a forest helps cover up the lack of location, and probably helped keep the budget to a minimum.
The film favours more hand to hand fight action than gunfights which is a bonus, as the gunfights have fake looking gunfire that was added digitally in post.
In addition to the Miz, the film also sports an appearance from female wrestler Summer Rae, who was the first ever WWE Diva to feature in a feature film. Considering her image features prominently on the advertising material, she is just another in a long line of enemies that The Miz has to deal with, not even having a full line of dialogue in the film.
After the minor success of See No Evil 2, directors the Soska Sisters would return to work for WWE studios, this time directing action thriller Vendetta (2015). Like the directors previous films, the film is extremely violent, with some scenes being on par with their horror films.
Less stylish than the directors earlier films, Vendetta still makes for a visceral ride, with the Sisters even making lead actor Dean Cain look a badass. The plot is based around Mason Danvers (Dean Cain) getting himself imprisoned on purpose, so that he can confront his wife’s murderer, Victor Abbot (Big Show).
The Big Show makes for a terrifying villain, with his role here better suited to his persona than what he had previously played in the embarrassing Knucklehead. His introduction in the film is especially brutal with him murdering Cain’s pregnant wife.
When the two are in prison they also have Warden Snyder to deal with, played by WWE Studios veteran Michael Eklund in another of his trademark slimy roles.
The script may be no great shakes, but does its job of getting the characters to the next action scene, giving its lead suitable motivation as well as an increasingly unlikeable villain.
As the film moves on each fight scene gets bigger and bigger until the film climaxes in an expected prison riot, with many character being beaten, slashed and stabbed before it’s over.
Afforded a limited cinema release as well as going the VOD route, Vendetta was the first in WWE Studios proposed Action Six-Pack, a series of unconnected action movies. Like most of the company’s movies, it opened to mixed reviews, but did find its fans.
After returning to the Marine franchise at the start of the year, the studio decided to delve back into one of their other popular series, with the release of 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown (2015). A more worthy sequel than the second film, 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown makes the most of its limited budget, restricting most of the action to the one location ala Die Hard (1988).
In its favour, the film makers decided to move away from the original 12 Rounds idea, with the title this time pertaining to how many bullets the lead has left in his gun instead of a game he has to play. This is down to the original film being developed as just Lockdown before it was decided by the studio to tie it into the 12 Rounds franchise.
Taking over where John Cena and Randy Orton left off is WWE wrestler Dean Ambrose A.K.A. Jonathan Good, who makes his movie debut. Ambrose makes for a likeable screen hero, looking more of an everyman than some of his more bulked up fellow wrestlers.
Ambrose takes a good deal of punishment in his variety of action scenes, with the most memorable being his fight against man mountain Daniel Cudmore.
The supporting cast made up of the likes of Roger Cross, Lochlyn Munro, Ty Olsson, Sarah Smyth and the afore mentioned Daniel Cudmore all do decent work but aren’t exactly given well written characters, with some only there to get our hero to the next action scene.
Director Stephen Reynolds handles the on screen action well, creating some enjoyably violent action sequences, which makes up for the somewhat lacklustre script. And while no one will win any awards his actors are thankfully able to rise above their material.
Like Vendetta before it, 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown was given a simultaneous cinema and VOD release, with this forming the second release in the studios Action Six-Pack.
The studio would continue adding to their franchises with their next film. The Condemned 2 (2015), comes eight years after the first film, with the only connection to the original film other than its title is that it is based around a televised fight to the death.
Steve Austin doesn’t return this time, making way for Randy Orton who plays a former bounty hunter who finds himself on the run after being targeted by the producer of the new Condemned tournament.
Orton is better served her than his last starring vehicle, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, with him getting involved in many one to one fight scenes and gun fights. Unlike Austin in the first film, Orton doesn’t imbue his character with much personality, but goes in some way of making up for this in the action scenes.
Orton’s co-star Eric Roberts at least has some personality, being the most fun character in the film, and easily stealing acting honours from the films leading man. Steven Michael Quezada of Breaking Bad (2008) fame makes for an unremarkable villain, with Wes Studi’s small appearance during the opening the film being more memorable.
Director Roel Reine returns once again to WWE Studios, re-teaming with Randy Orton after working together on 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded. As expected, Reine gives the film an overall impressive look, better than its low budget would imply.
The Condemned 2 still falls way beneath his work on The Marine 2, but is a better overall experience than 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, with him at least able to fill the film with decent but not great action scenes that should keep WWE fans happy.
Like the studios last two films, The Condemned 2 was given both a limited cinema and VOD release on the same day.
The year was rounded off by another festive film from the company, Santa’s Little Helper (2015). Made for the DTV market, Santa’s Little Helper fortunately turned out to be an overall better experience than the company’s last foray into festive entertainment, Jingle All the Way 2.
Saying this, Santa’s Little Helper is still just a piece of family fluff, but it is well produced fluff that features not only The Miz in another light-hearted role but also female wrestler Paige making her movie debut.
Fans of the studios more action orientated material didn’t have that long to wait, with WWE Studios returning the next year with DTV action thriller Countdown (2016), with wrestler Dolph Ziggler playing his first leading role. Ziggler had made his movie debut the year prior, with an un-credited part in Max Landis’ Me Him Her (2015).
Including Ziggler, there is a supporting role from Kane, in a role far removed from his Jacob Goodnight character in the See No Evil series. It may not be the best written role but at least he gets a chance to talk this time round, with him even facing off against Ziggler in one of the more memorable parts of the film.
There are also cameos from wrestler Rusev and Lana in addition to a number of famous WWE wrestlers appearing in the background such as Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns and much more. This is due to one particular sequence in the film taking place at a WWE event, where Ziggler’s character is trying to diffuse a bomb.
Ziggler makes for a likeable screen presence, and whilst not the most accomplished of actors, fares better than his co-star Katherine Isabelle, who seems uncomfortable in her role.
Director John Stockwell is very similar to Roel Reine, in that he usually makes his films look more expensive than they are, with accomplished cinematography. This is true of some of his DTV output such as the enjoyable Cat Run (2011) and In the Blood (2014).
Unfortunately the low production values let Stockwell down at points in the film, and whilst he does good work overall, there are certain scenes where the lack of finances are plainly obvious, with a notable lack of extras during the scenes taking place in the arena being one of the most notable sequences.
However, Stockwell manages to keep the pace moving, with the action picking up as the film progresses, with only the lack of a worthwhile villain being the main drawback. Additionally it works as a good introduction to Dolph Ziggler, where hopefully further films will follow.
Following on from Countdown would be Term Life (2016), based on the graphic novel of the same name. Like some of the company’s more recent films, Term Life would feature no wrestling stars in its line up, favouring more accomplished actors like Vince Vaughn, Hailee Steinfeld, Jonathan Banks and Bill Paxton amongst others.
The film has Vaughn as a criminal who sells heist plans to whoever is willing to pay. After one of his jobs turns sour he is forced to go on the run along with his estranged daughter (Steinfeld). On his trail is a gang of dirty cops led by Bill Paxton, as well as assassins and mob bosses.
As well as the main cast there are small roles from the likes of Jon Favreau, (sharing the screen with Vaughn for the first time since Couples Retreat (2009),Shea Whigham, Taraji P Henson and Terence Howard that manage to liven up the film. As well as those, look out for a small role from DTV action star Daniel Bernhardt who plays one of Paxton’s fellow cops.
Actor turned director Peter Billingsley does a good job of directing, shooting the film in a simple but effective fashion and getting generally good performances from his cast, with only Steinfeld being a disappointment in the annoying daughter role, but this is more the fault of the writing than the actress.
Vince Vaughn is especially good considering that he is saddled with one of the worst haircuts in recent memory. It takes an actor of great skill to look serious with that hair.
More of a thriller than an action film, there is still some small burst of violence throughout to keep fans happy, even though overall Term Life is more of a drama/thriller. Like some of WWE Studios more recent releases, Term Life was given a simultaneous limited cinema and VOD release.
After the success of the studios last two animated features Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery and The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown!, it makes sense that they would continue to produce these features.
Scooby-Doo! and WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon (2016) is superior to WWE’s last Scooby Doo movie but fails to live up to The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown!, with the Scooby Doo characters almost fading into the background at certain points of the film.
It will entertain those who were fans of the previous films and like them features a host of celebrity voices such as Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, The Undertaker as well as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes who actually makes his final film appearance here as he sadly died of stomach cancer before the film’s release.
Notable by his absence is Hulk Hogan who was announced to appear in the film. Due to racist comments made by the wrestler at the time, the WWE terminated his contract, with him having no involvement in the finished film.
To date there has only been three films released in the company’s proposed Action 6 Pack. Vendetta, 12 Round 3: Lockdown and lastly Interrogation (2016) have been the only films released under this banner. Unlike the last two films in the Action 6 Pack, Interrogation was given a straight to DVD release.
Interrogation isn’t a bad film, giving wrestler Adam “Edge” Copeland a much better starring vehicle than his last WWE film, Bending the Rules, but considering it is part of the Action 6 Pack, it is considerably light on action compared to previous WWE productions.
More of a thriller, Interrogation has Copeland as an interrogator, who is brought in to interrogate a suspected terrorist. Nothing is black and white, and the film manages to fit in some surprising twists and turns during its runtime. There are some short action scenes throughout to keep things interesting, but nothing too elaborate.
This was director Stephen Reynolds second film for WWE Studios after 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown. He directs the film in a competent fashion, but the pace is a good deal slower than his last film. He does get good performances from hi s actors, with Copeland being a charismatic leading man.
Female wrestler Lana has a small role as an I.T. Specialist who is assisting Copeland in his mission, but surprisingly she doesn’t really get involved in the action, with there being no real reason in her casting other than name recognition.
The main standout of the cast is Patrick Sabongui, who plays the suspected bomber. He seems to enjoy running rings round his captors and gets to deliver some good lines. He even gets to go one on one with Copeland, with him being surprisingly adept at action. He is probably best known to viewers for his recurring role in the television show The Flash (2014).
The company would find itself working alongside Blumhouse production once again with their following co-production Incarnate (2016). Taking inspiration from many better horror films, Incarnate still manages to be enjoyable thanks to a great lead performance from Aaron Eckhart and some effective scares from director Brad Peyton.
The film took some time to reach the screen as it was shot way back in 2013, but shelved until 2016. In that time director Peyton went on to helm the big budget disaster movie San Andreas (2015), working with a much larger budget afforded him in comparison with Incarnate’s budget of $5 million.
The only notable wrestling talent on screen is a blink and you’ll miss it role from wrestler Mark Henry, who plays a bouncer during the opening sequence of the film.
Having a brief cinema release, Incarnate didn’t open well, getting poor reviews and making less at the box office than hoped. This could have been down to shelving the film for so long, which implies that there must have been issues with the completed film.
Coming only a few days after Incarnate was another of the company’s DTV efforts, the superior Eliminators (2016). The film has the advantage of being headlined by one of the best martial arts stars currently working, Scott Adkins.
Adkins plays former U.S. federal agent Thomas McKenzie, a single father currently living in London along with his daughter, with the two of them under witness protection. While working as an agent he fell in love with the daughter of crime boss Charles Cooper (James Cosmo), turning her against him before going on to have a daughter together.
Cooper has made it his mission to track him down and get revenge on McKenzie for turning his daughter against him. After a case of mistaken identity, McKenzie ends up on the news. This leads to Cooper hiring British hit-man George Edwards (wrestler Wade Barrett) to kill McKenzie and bring him his granddaughter.
Like a lot of WWE productions, the script is slightly lacking, but does have enough drama to keep things interesting. It does help that the film has the great James Cosmo chewing the scenery as the villainous Cooper, who is always able to rise above the material.
Adkins has had more interesting parts, such as his popular Boyka character from the Undisputed series, but the role does give him ample chances to display his martial arts skills, even if the action is more grounded than his other films. The best action scenes are when he goes up against Barrett, with the two of them getting to show off their considerable fighting skills.
Barrett is afforded more screen time than his last film for WWE, Dead Man Down. Next to Adkins he probably has the most screen time of the supporting cast, even if his character is pretty one-note.
Director James Nunn certainly has a handle on the action, and has upped his game since his last collaboration with Scott Adkins, Green Street 3: Never Back Down (2013). Another area that sets the film apart from other WWE films is the fact that it a lot of the film was shot in and around England, giving the film a different feel from other DTV actioners.
As the company started of the new-year, they would release another animated feature. Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania (2017) comes almost ten years after the first film, being released straight to DVD. It was an attempt by WWE to expand their brand so they would be able to reach new untapped audiences.
It’s not totally clear if Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania carried this out, but it is still a fun family film that should please fans of the previous animated films from WWE Studios. Differing from their usual animated fare, Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania is computer animated, so does look more expensive.
Like the studios previous animated films, the film is filled with WWE wrestlers doing voice over work such as John Cena, The Undertaker, Paige, Triple H and Vince McMahon.
As well as their own productions, WWE Studios have distributed a number of films made by other companies such as the The Day and Road to Paloma. They would do the same for Christian themed comedy-drama The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (2016). This isn’t that surprising as the film features a co-starring role for WWE wrestler Shawn Michaels, who himself is a born again Christian.
Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania wouldn’t be the only animated film to come from the studio in the year, with it being the Jetsons turn to team up with the WWE in The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania! (2017), marking the fourth co-production between WWE Studios and Warner Bros. Animation.
The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania! marked the first Jetsons production in twenty seven years. It may not feature any of the original voice cast, but the new cast do a good job of emulating the originals. The film is good fun, both for fans of the Jetsons and WWE, with enough sly jokes just for the adults and with a good number of WWE talent providing their voice talents.
Clearly WWE Studios were happy with the work James Nunn carried out on Eliminators, as they hired him to helm the fifth part in the Marine franchise. Once again The Miz was back in the leading role for DTV release The Marine 5: Battleground (2017). Along for the ride are fellow wrestlers Bo Dallas, Naomi, Heath Slater and Curtis Axel. There is also a small cameo from Maryse, who is married to the Miz in real life.
Like the previous entry, The Marine 5: Battleground is mainly restricted to one location. This time it is the parking lot of an amusement park. This does make the film look slightly cheaper than the last film, with each floor of the car lot looking the same. Thankfully they leave the car lot for the finale, moving into the empty amusement park.
The Miz returns as Jake Carter, who is now working as an EMT. He ends up having to protect someone from a group of bikers, played by Bo Dallas, Naomi, Heath Slater and Curtis Axel. The Miz proves once again that he is a great action star, with him getting involved in numerous fight scenes, each more violent than the next. His fellow wrestling stars unfortunately get somewhat short changed in terms of action, with only Bo Dallas getting a fair share of screen time.
Following on the heels of The Marine 5: Battleground was an altogether different picture for the company. Sleight (2017) is a low budget drama about a street magician, who finds himself in trouble with local criminals.
Made independently for the paltry sum of $250,000, the film was acquired and distributed by WWE Studios along with BH Tilt, a subsidiary of Blumhouse Productions. It opened to generally good reviews, with most critics commenting on the quality of the acting and script, with only the frustrating finale being an issue.
The company would also contribute towards the musical drama Pure Country: Pure Heart (2017), the third part in the Pure Country series that started way back in 1992. This time the plot revolves around two sisters who decide to travel to Nashville after finding out their father was a Country singer.
As expected the film is mawkish to the extreme but should please country music fans, with it even having an appearance by country legend Willie Nelson, starring as him-self. To make it interesting for WWE fans, Shawn Michaels also has a supporting role in the film.
Pure Country: Pure Heart may be no better than a glorified TV movie, but is a masterpiece in comparison with WWE Studios next feature. Armed Response (2017) should have been better, with bona-fide action star Wesley Snipes in the lead with support from Anne Heche and wrestler Seth Rollins, making his film debut.
It was also directed by John Stockwell who can usually be relied on to at least make his films look good. It would seem that he brought none of his skills to the table, with him shooting the film in a totally anonymous style, with the lowest of the low production values and some of the poorest special effects used in a modern day film.
The whole production is visually on par with what film company The Asylum regularly produce, with the majority of the film taking place in a faceless facility, with only a brief flashback towards the end of the film offering a change of location.
Snipes may get top billing, but the lead role is given to television actor Dave Annable, who isn’t terrible, but is not exactly leading man material, especially when you having him going up against the likes of Snipes or even Rollins.
Armed Response was the first production by Erebus Pictures, a company formed by WWE Studios and rock star Gene Simmons, who has a small cameo in the film. The purpose of the company was to make horror fare, with the first of these films being Temple. Temple eventually became the more generic sounding Armed Response.
The film also marked the first in a multi-picture deal with Wesley Snipes, but the film-makers don’t exactly use the actor to their advantage, with him having only the briefest of action scenes. Let’s hope that both Snipes and Simmons future endeavours with WWE Studios are better realised.
To put Armed Response into perspective, WWE Studio’s other release of the month; Killing Hasselhoff (2017) puts the film to shame. In no way could Killing Hasselhoff be mistaken for a good film, but it is certainly enjoyable, with a game David Hasselhoff hilariously sending up his own image.
The film is pretty much split down the middle, as the main plot featuring lead actor Ken Jeong is uninteresting until Hasselhoff shows up. There is even cameo’s from the likes of Michael Winslow of the Police Academy series and even Justin Bieber, who voices Kitt the car for no apparent reason.
There are humorous turns from Jim Jefferies, John Lovitz and Rhys Darby as well as Colton Dunn who is hilarious as a gay hit man who is in two minds whether to kill Hasselhoff or have sex with him.
The release of Killing Hasselhoff was put back due to the film originally featuring wrestler Hulk Hogan. He would find himself being cut from the finished film over his racist comments, which led to his WWE contract being terminated.
In between the company’s own productions they co –distributed, along with BH Tilt, the martial arts movie Birth of the Dragon (2017). Based on the supposed fight that took place between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man, the film has been regarded with disdain for its apparent whitewashing of the story, with the film-makers finding it necessary to create a fictional white man to base the drama around.
Hopefully the film will open up both Philip Ng and Xia Yu, who play Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man, to a wider international audience. Ng in particular has shown his martial arts skills in a number of previous Chinese production, the best of these being Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014), and with him being brought up in America, seems tailor made for international stardom.
At least the producers took the fight scenes of the movie seriously, bringing in top fight choreographer Yuen Kwai to create them. Birth of the Dragon was originally shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, but due to its poor reception, the film was re-cut to focus more on Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man this time round.
This brings us up to date although WWE still have a few films in production awaiting release. There is the gangland thriller Blood Brother (2017) directed by John Pogue. The film stars rapper Trey Songz in the lead role, with a supporting part for WWE wrestler R-Truth.
There is also the upcoming comedy drama Fighting with my Family (2018), based on the life of female wrestler Paige. Coming from director Stephen Merchant, the film stars English actress Florence Pugh as Paige, with Lena Heady, Nick Frost and Jack Lowden as her family members.
Superstar Dwayne Johnson is executive producer on the film and will also be appearing as himself. Most interestingly is Vince Vaughn who is starring in the film as famous wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
I would like to give a shout out to my friend Martin McNeill, a much bigger wrestling fan than I could ever be, who helped clarify some of the information in this article.