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Plot: paranoid delusional drives aimlessly around the Nevada desert.

If it weren’t for eloquent film vlogger Georg Rockall-Schmidt we probably would never have been exposed to the deranged world of independent Las Vegas filmmaker Neil Breen. Breen was an architect, and one-time real estate agent, who like entrepreneurs-turned-filmmakers Hal Warren and H.B. Halicki before him took to writing, producing, and directing his own films as a bizarre part-time hobby. Since debuting with the opaque Double Down in 2005 Breen has directed an additional four features. Double Down has all known Breen-isms that would make their return, in one form or another, in I Am Here… Now (2009), Fateful Findings (2013), Pass Thru (2016), and Twisted Pair (2018). Once you see a Neil Breen film you can never unsee it again. It has the power to ensnare, or to annoy.

While other directors dabble in easily exploitable genres (action/science fiction or fantasy/horror) Neil Breen is, like Gabriella Cilmi, on a mission. Almost every one of his productions has been thinly-veiled Christian propaganda, filled with heavy-handed, overt symbolism; a gratuitous helping of stock footage and PG-13 nudity (something which has faded out in his post-2013 offerings). Double Down was the first of Breen’s nigh-on inpenetrable metaphorical religious-patriotic-jingoistic supernatural thrillers. Next to Neil Breen, a hack as Tommy Wiseau comes across as soberingly, shockingly lucid in comparison. Truly, Neil Breen is the Christian wingnut reincarnation of Coleman Francis and Double Down is his The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961) for the millennial and Instagram generation. It will make you pine for the competence of Coleman Francis.

Double Down takes the concept of outsider art to whole new, previously unseen levels. This is fringe cinema taken to the utmost extreme. Neil Breen’s debut is so outré that it has to be seen to be even believed that such a thing exist. It makes for compelling viewing to see every written (and unwritten) rule of cinema broken and trampled upon. The Asylum, TomCat Films, and Kings Of Horror have better directors on average. Helming a feature film is a daunting task under any circumstance and it’s probably down to simple economics that Breen has taken to manning every department possible. As the old saying goes, just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.

There’s something endearing about the idealism of the Neil Breen canon. Every one of his productions handles some important socio-political-economical problem and casts himself as a messianic Christ-like figure that prepares mankind for salvation. The Judeo-Christian rhetoric is a constant in every Breen production, as are trashy braless, blonde and brunette women, ostensibly many years Breen’s junior, who will shed clothes in one or more scenes, but never expose themselves. Double Down is the only truly original Neil Breen feature as I Am Here… Now (2009), Pass Thru (2016), and Twisted Pair (2018) all are loose remakes of existing older properties. Fateful Findings (2013) is a loose reimagining of Double Down even though it’s not acknowledged as such. If you’ve seen Double Down you’ve seen Fateful Findings (2013).

In the Nevada deserts a man sporting a black wifebeater, denims, and snakeskin boots clacks away at various laptops and cellphones. He is Aaron Brand (Neil Breen), a much sought-after covert operative and mercenary for the highest bidder, and he’s caught in an inter-dimensional time loop. He’s a decorated military veteran, a genius computer scientist, and a devoted husband to a loving wife (Laura Hale). One day his wife was assassinated by agents of the very government Brand had pledged his loyalty to. Brand transfers his dead wife’s consciousness into his laptops as an AI construct. In the trunk of his car he keeps her lifeless body in hopes of one day reviving her. Vowing to expose the widespread corruption of his government and bringing those responsible to justice, Brand has planned a relatively minor act of bio-terrorism in Las Vegas. That attack will function as a distraction to a much-larger coordinated act of terrorism that will bring the corrupt government to its knees. Under the threat of detonating explosives in seven strategically important cities and massive civilian casualties Brand will coerce the government into doing his bidding. While he’s preparing and putting his masterplan in motion Aaron is constantly haunted by memories of his dead wife, their shared childhood, all while he’s susceptible to periodic blackouts and sudden fits of clinical depression. Every time he blacks out he’s forced to relive a random timeline from his days as a high-ranking government agent and face his various victims.

One day he finds God (George Kerr) in a cave and is given a rock which he believes to have magical properties. A friend invites him to dinner and Brands lays hands on his friend’s daughter Megan (Alexis Fitting) to cure her of brain cancer. She dies anyway. In another hallucination, or alternate timeline, he meets the ghosts of his parents (Maynard and Rose Mahler). Endowed with near god-like powers Aaron allows the hotels on the Strip to be evacuated before he razes the den of sin and secularism to the ground. He does this in audience of the Director of the FBI (Alan Rogers), the Director of Homeland Security (Huel Washington), the Director of the CIA (Bill Frid) and a senator (Marry Taylor). It dawns upon him that all his various lived (and re-lived) timelines share a common element: Nevada. Having exorcised his demons Aaron at long last finds peace within himself. As a result the time loop is closed and Brand is returned to his own time. Now that he’s been imbued with godly powers Aaron resurrects his wife and destroys his laptops and equipment now that her construct is no longer needed. Happily reunited with the love of his life the two walk off hand in hand into the horizon. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and Brand has been reunited with his lost Lenore. Everything is right with the world again…

Either that, or it’s about a paranoid delusional hallucinating from mercury poisoning and driving aimlessly around the Nevada desert. At this point it could be both.

Double Down spends around two-minutes on a stock footage credit montage in which exactly three credits appear: the title card, and two production lines. It then launches into a six-minute monologue that heralds a wave of near-constant stream of consciousness narration that lays out all the backstory and exposition. Not even Coleman Francis had the cojones to do that in The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961). After the credits and opening monologue it takes well over an additional ten minutes before Breen can be seen interacting with another character. Better brace yourself to hear and see Breen constantly narrating himself. Three-quarters of Double Down consists almost exclusively Breen walking and driving around the Las Vegas strip and Nevada desert accompanied by near-constant monotone narration. In a more charitable mood the randomly shoehorned in scenes with the blackouts and clinical depression could be called subtext, except that there’s no main text. Breen obviously cares about mental health and psychological well-being. He’s concerned about the way American society sees/treats the mentally ill. It’s also entirely within the realm of possibility that Neil Breen has had a relationship with one particular woman turn sour, and that he continues to long and pine for said woman. The way Breen agonizingly screams “where are you?!” is probably too melodramatic and maybe a tad too earnest in its sincerity.

It’s fascinating to see one man fumble his way through his own movie so gloriously. The Room (2003) had the good fortune of looking like a particularly deranged Friends (1994-2004) episode, Double Down for most of the time barely qualifies as a movie. That it features but two locations (the desert and the Strip) doesn’t help either. Instead of the Las Vegas of glamour and excess that the late Andy Sidaris captured so well (on similar non-existent budgets) the Las Vegas scenes with Breen are rather flat and sort of mundane in an everyday sense. Laura Hale was the first to be cast as a love interest and despite being a linchpin in the main plot her character is abstract, to say the least. Hale has a scant few lines before disappearing and hasn’t been seen again in the Breeniverse since. It’s a question where Neil keeps finding all these young actresses to appear in his productions. As with anything from Breen it ranges from mildly strange to utterly bizarre and Double Down lives up to its name that it indeed doubles down on the insanity that it promises. Fateful Findings (2013) had better production values, but this is madness unchecked. Perhaps Neil Breen imagines himself as some kind of visionary director who makes important movies. The world may never know.

Plot: lesbian hitwomen face enemies and each other. A cop is caught in the crossfire.

Hong Kong exploitation producer-director-screenwriter and master philistine Jing Wong was never below milking a concept until it was completely dried out. Thus was born the Naked trilogy, a collection of three loosely related HK action movies starring the most beautiful women of the decade they were produced in. Naked Killer (1992), the first of the series, was a valentine to Wong’s long-time mistress/muse Chingmy Yau, and a Category III sub-classic of some repute. Ten years later Maggie Q showed off her acrobatic skills (and, sadly, not much else) in the slick, sexy action romp Naked Weapon (2002). Finally, model-turned-actress Jennifer Tse was Wong’s latest discovery for the milder Mainland China market feature Naked Soldier (2012). Not that everything Wong produces is necessarily an indication of quality or good filmmaking. Her Name Is Cat (1998) with Almen Pui-Ha Wong, the last time Wong re-visited this particular plot, should be indicative of that. Naked Weapon has an abundance of style but precious little substance.

Naked Weapon was the first large-scale production for former Honolulu, Hawaii model Maggie Q. After doing modeling work in Tokyo and Taipei Q headed to Hong Kong where she caught the attention of stuntman/actor, and producer Jackie Chan. Not only for her dazzling appearance but for her potential to become an action star. Q had no formal martial arts training whatsoever but threw herself into an intensive training regimen that paid off in a bit part in Rush Hour 2 (2001). A year later Q found herself back in Hong Kong working with Jing Wong but Maggie would soon be conquering Hollywood with Mission: Impossible III (2007) and the surprisingly solid Live Free and Die Hard (2007). Like Chingmy Yau a decade before in Naked Killer (1992), there’s fair amount of flesh on display but like in its predecessor it rarely involves its name-star Q and what exposed skin does appear stays on the prude end of the spectrum. It’s all shockingly demure. What it does have in abundance is slow-motion and soft focus shots from the finer anatomical points of lead actresses Q, Anya Wu, and Li Fei while doing sexy poses and looking pretty.

High-ranking and internationally wanted criminal kingpin Madeline Ho, only known to the world as Madam M (Almen Pui-Ha Wong), is the head of an assassination agency simply known as Naked Weapon that employs operatives known as China Dolls. When a botched mission forces M to kill her prized asset Fiona Birch (Marit Thoresen) the incident and the collateral damage that results from it draws the attention of CIA agent Jack Chen (Daniel Wu Yin-Cho). Forced to enlist new recruits in the wake of her most important asset being put out of commission M  kidnaps forty pre-teen girls all over Asia. The girls are subjected to an exceptionally brutal and Darwinist training program that will leave only three of their number alive. As the program and training draws to a close after 6 years only Charlene Ching (Maggie Q), Katherine or Katt (Anya Wu, as Anya) and the mentally very unhinged Jing (Li Fei, as Jewel Lee) remain. Now that Madam M has found her China Dolls they are ordered to assassinate a certain VIP (Johnnie Guy) at the prestigious Duanwu Festival, or the International Dragon Boat Festival, in Hong Kong.

It is here that Chen catches a glimpse of Charlene, who has catched a glimpse of her devout mother Faye (Cheng Pei-pei). As Chen connects the spate of disappearances of young girls across Asia, the sudden re-appearance of recluse criminal mastermind Madam M and the string of seemingly random murders of the local underworld he find himself knee-deep in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Madam M gives Charlene and Katt a final mission in which they must assassinate yakuza boss Ryuichi (Andrew Lin Hoi), a contract that will earn them their freedom if they can complete it. When Ryuichi kidnaps, tortures and eventually kills Katt, Charlene departs on a lone mission of vengeance. In the end Jack is unable to reunite Charlene with her mother, but he realizes that Charlene will always be just beyond his grasp, that she will always be with him, but never can be with him…

No Jing Wong production is complete without a bevy of beautiful women and Naked Weapon has no shortage of them. Maggie Q, Anya Wu and Li Fei are the obvious draw, yet Almen Pui-Ha Wong and Marit Thoresen aren’t too far behind. For Almen Pui-Ha Wong is was the second foray into territory she already explored with the thematically similar Her Name Is Cat (1998). Cheng Pei-pei was the martial arts star of the sixties and a veritable monument of Hong Kong cinema now at retirement age. Naked Weapon is one of the better offerings from Wong’s late 1990s-early 2000s slump, although it never sets its goals particularly high to begin with. Those hoping to get a glimpse of Q in the buff will be sorely disappointed as none of the ladies will be shedding any fabric. Wong’s signature pose from Naked Killer (1992) (crossing one arm covering the chest) will not be making an appearance. Likewise are the rampant lesbianism and sapphic liaisons that formed the pulsating heart of Naked Killer nowhere to be found in this iteration. In fact outside of a cop and a team of hitwomen there isn’t much to connect Naked Weapon to the relatively more risqué Naked Killer. On the plus side is that much of the crass humor that has come to characterize Wong’s filmography is thankfully absent as well. As far as slick, kenetic action goes there’s far worse out there than Naked Weapon, but the movie would’ve been relegated to obscurity if it weren’t for Maggie Q’s rise to relative stardom a few years after this had been released.

In comparison to Naked Killer (1992) from a decade prior Naked Weapon is surprisingly prudish. It’s practically free of Wong’s more annoying tendencies and puerile humor and what nudity appears is of the PG-13 variety. It contains but a scant few references to popular culture and other movies. The assassination at the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Festival was a scene lifted directly from John Woo’s The Killer (1989) with Chow Yun-Fat. The service room sledgehammer escape scene was borrowed from Luc Besson’s Léon (1994) with Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman and finally the entire China Doll training/selection vignette condenses Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000) down to a snack-sized segment. The final battle between Charlene and Ryuichi is an obvious riff on the wire-fu duels in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix (1999). Rather typical for a movie directed by an action choreographer (or two, as is the case here) the story in Naked Weapon never gets in the way of the action, of which there is plenty.

What’s supposed to pass for a plot is so minimal and perfunctory it might as well not be there at all. Naked Weapon is first and foremost a showcase for Q, Anya Wu, and Li Fei with the occassional melee/fist – or firefight thrown in for good measure. Apparently Maggie Q fought Wong tooth and nail to excise any gratuitous nudity and to portray the China Dolls and their interpersonal relationships in a more loving light. Wong is known for a lot of things but good writing was never his strong suit, let alone portraying characters that are relatable. At one point an American script doctor was brought in to rewrite the screenplay into something resembling coherence. Obviously Naked Weapon isn’t Wong’s finest hour. It exists largely on the grace of its leading ladies and the role of 1960s martial arts superstar Cheng Pei-pei as Charlene’s devout long-lost mother. It’s slick, it’s flashy and the action scenes are fast-moving – but the writing is pretty terrible on most fronts.

After Rush Hour 2 (2001) a Jing Wong production wasn’t exactly a step up for Q but it certainly wasn’t a step down either. Cheng Pei-pei however was in Ang Lee’s celebrated period costume wuxia Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) with Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh just two years before. If there’s anything to say about Naked Weapon it’s that it’s functional and perfunctory in all the right ways. Jing Wong was never about sophistication and Naked Weapon isn’t out to rock the boat or alter his well-worn mass audience formula. It’s slick, it’s sexy and there’s plenty of action and explosions for fans of the genre. Maggie Q has since gone on to bigger and better things and seems to have it made in Hollywood. For the better too because Q is too much of a talent to waste it on a philistine entertainer like Jing Wong. Perhaps Naked Weapon would have been better had Wong been in the director’s seat, but Wong at the helm is never a guarantee for better quality. After all his God Of Gamblers (1989) and God of Gamblers Return (1994) are more the exception than the rule. That Q fought Wong during the production of Naked Weapon probably explains why they never worked together again. Q after all was well above the lowest common denominator swill that Wong specializes in. Naked Weapon is a lot of things but it’s hardly mandatory HK action cinema. Maggie Q made far better movies once she transcended Jing Wong.