Director: Ernie Barbarash
Writer: Y.T. Parazi
Producer: Shahar Stroh, Etchie Stroh
Cast: Michael Jai White, Neal McDonough, Laila Ali, Lateef Crowder, Hazuki Kato, Millie Ruperto, Masashi Odate, Jimmy Navarro, Jazmín Caratini, Daniel Cardona, Arzoris Perez
Running Time: 100 min.
Back in May of 2013, the producers of Falcon Rising boldly announced that the film – which hadn’t released a single image yet – would be the beginning of a series of action movies, with 1-2 entries planned for release every year. The lead character of John Falcon, to be played by Michael Jai White, was billed as America’s next action hero: a new hero for a new age.
To say that the producers behind Falcon Rising were ambitious would be an understatement. It was impossible to predict whether the film would strike a chord with audiences – all they really had to bank on was the marketability of leading man Michael Jai White, who was admittedly beloved by action fans for movies like Undisputed II and Black Dynamite. But was White’s star power enough to base an entire movie franchise around?
Apparently, yes. Here we are, over a year since the film was first announced, and Falcon Rising has finally arrived on DVD as well as Netflix’s streaming service. And after watching it, I have to admit…hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel.
Of course, as Falcon Rising opens, the character of John ‘Falcon’ Chapman is in no shape to be a hero. He’s a suicidal ex-marine suffering from a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A few minutes into the movie, Michael Jai White encounters a convenience store robbery – and actually begs the armed robbers to shoot him in the head before he takes them down. Now how’s that for a twist on the kind of scene you see in every Steven Seagal movie?
But as alone as he is, Chapman still has someone he cares about: his younger sister. A kind soul, she’s off doing volunteer work in the crime-ridden favelas of Rio de Janeiro. When his sister is viciously attacked and left for dead, Chapman boards the soonest flight to Brazil in order to track down her mysterious assailants. Along the way, Chapman is bound to draw police attention and crack a few skulls, but he might also find the very thing he so desperately needs in life: a new mission.
I was a bit worried when the movie started and I saw the credit ‘directed by Ernie Barbarash.’ Barbarash can be a hit-and-miss kind of filmmaker. While his most recent effort with Jean-Claude Van Damme, the respectable 6 Bullets, somewhat redeemed him in my eyes, I hold a bit of a grudge that he united two action stars as great as Van Damme and Scott Adkins and still delivered a movie as dull and action-less as Assassination Games.
A part of me wondered which Barbarash was behind the camera for Falcon Rising, and the first 30 minutes or so did little to ease my fears. There’s very little in the way of action during the opening act, which seems something of a crime when you have a leading man as buff and formidable as Michael Jai White (seriously, the guy is as big as the Hulk in this movie). While it’s admittedly interesting to see White play against type – we rarely see him portray a character as troubled and despair-ridden as John Chapman is at the beginning of the movie – viewers are likely more interested in watching White display his karate chops than his acting chops. At least when Falcon Rising is promising to launch America’s next great action hero.
But I’m pleased to say that once the story does get rolling, Falcon Rising gains momentum in a big way and the final thirty minutes deliver plenty of well-shot fight scenes. Michael Jai White is once again reunited with action choreographer Larnell Stovall (Mortal Kombat: Legacy, Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown), and the dynamic duo do not disappoint. During his fight scenes, White moves with the confidence and stopping force of a bulldozer; like any great action star, White displays a fighting style that’s all his own. At this point in his career, Michael Jai White deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Donnie Yen as one of the greatest martial artists working today.
Being a low-budget production, Falcon Rising is not without its flaws. The nonstop action in the third act is something of a double-edged sword: as soon as the violence picks up, White’s character loses a lot of what made him interesting – the inner turmoil, the suicidal behavior – as Falcon Rising begins to resemble your standard revenge movie. And I’m convinced Ernie Barbarash could have lobbed off a good 10 minutes of scene padding, easily, and resulted in much faster-paced and more exciting movie overall. There are also a few weak performances, and Barbarash continues his trend of using garish color coding. The visual palette in this movie is super-saturated, likely to emphasize the hot temperatures of its Brazilian setting, but it has the unfortunate result of making poor Neal McDonough look like an Albino.
Still, Falcon Rising offers enough to recommend for those in the mood for the simple pleasures of a solid direct-to-DVD action movie. Much like eating fast food, you may slightly regret watching it after the fact, but you’ll definitely enjoy yourself while it’s in front of you. Even if Falcon Rising doesn’t offer as much blistering action as Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear or boast the artistic aspirations of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, the movie does feature Michael Jai White doing what he does best – which is its own reward.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 6/10