Summer 2001

AGENT RED  (2000) 1 star

Director: Damian Lee
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Randolph Mantooth, Meilani Paul

Early in Agent Red, when Special Ops Commander Matt Hendricks (Lundgren) is asked if he knows anything about the titular biological weapon, he quips, "It sounds like a bad action movie." Amen, Dolph, amen. This third-rate Under Siege rip-off has Lundgren accompanying a devastating virus from Russia to the U.S. via submarine. It seems our government developed the weapon and then the Russians stole it, but when it's accidentally unleashed on a small village and everyone is killed, the Russians want to give it back (um, what exactly did they think the virus was going to do?). This backstory is so noteworthy that two different characters give lengthy verbatim speeches about it within ten minutes of each other, which you can chalk up to either lazy writing or something I like to call "filler." Anyway, the transport is going fine until terrorists kill the crew and hijack the vessel, threatening to unleash Agent Red on New York. That leaves Dolph and his ex-fiancee/scientist (Paul) to save the day, with predictable results. Believe it or not, Agent Red is actually worse than it sounds, but there are a few bright spots: Lundgren's English has improved immensely, Ms. Paul looks great in the tightest-fitting Navy uniform since Demi Moore's in A Few Good Men, and writer/director Lee generously provides future filmmakers with a perfect example of how not to make a movie.

CIRCUS  (2000) 2 stars

Director: Rob Walker
Starring: John Hannah, Famke Janssen, Amanda Donohoe

Here's something I thought I'd never see: a movie that's way too clever for it's own good. In Circus, Leo (Hannah) and Lily (Janssen) are a happily married couple yearning to escape the everyday life of petty cons and scams they have to pull in order to make ends meet. Financial salvation seems to come when a man hires Leo to kill his wife (Donohoe), but the man videotapes the murder and blackmails Leo. To make matters more complicated, a loan shark is after Leo for non-payment, Lily's ex-boyfriend is back in town to settle an old score, and overseeing it all is a crime boss who has his own plans for the couple. The first half of the film is quite good, introducing a few plot twists that take the story to intriguing heights. Unfortunately, the twists keep on coming, and coming (and don't know when to stop) as characters double-, triple- and quadruple-cross each other for reasons that become increasingly murky (and very tiresome) as the movie goes on. By the end, you're not sure what was real and what wasn't, but what's worse, you probably won't care. It's a shame, too, because the movie boasts some fine performances from the ensemble cast and a high-gloss look that belies its low budget. If the filmmakers had been more straightforward with the story instead of hellbent on dazzling us with unnecessary plot contortions, they might have made this Circus worth attending.