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Plot: lone officer stands between terrorists and apocalyptic annihilation.

Interceptor makes exactly zero qualms about what it is. Described by director Matthew Reilly as a throwback to the late 1980s/early 1990s American action movie Interceptor replaces the retrograde and regressive machismo of the 1980s with progressive and socially conscious (or woke, a pejorative to some) sensibilities of the current day. Savaged by critics and review-bombed into oblivion by irate legions of anti-SJW hordes for all the obvious and not-so obvious reasons the dour reputation Interceptor has managed to garner in record time is entirely (and richly) deserved. Expelled from Hollywood's ever-shriveling creative colon to little fanfare and even littler positive press Interceptor makes Gods Of Egypt (2016) look sophisticated. Contra rationem and all expectations it clocked in a mind boggling 50 million hours viewed almost overnight. Netflix, understandably, immediately greenlit a sequel. Meanwhile, Netflix remains ever silent on long overdue sequels to BuyBust (2018), Furie (2019) and Maria (2019).

A labor of love on part of director Matthew Reilly, producer/writer Stuart Beattie and actor Chris Hemsworth (who executive produced and cameos) Interceptor is as blatant, obvious and naked a homage as, say, Blast (1997). At the very least this one has its heart in the right place as it liberally borrows the central premise (and entire scenes) from Die Hard (1988), the military setting of Under Siege (1992) while lifting a crucial plotpoint wholesale from The Rock (1996). Filmed over a brief 33 days in New South Wales, Australia on a modest budget of just $15 million Hemsworth installed his wife Elsa Pataky as the lead (Netflix would probably have gone with Katee Sackhoff) and was able to attract action director/choreographer Sam Hargrave to the project. And just like Vincenzo Natali’s infinitely superior Cube (997) everything was filmed on a single set. Needless to say Interceptor often looks like a videogame due to an overabundance of blue/green screen composition and digital post-production effects. Lest there be any doubt, this is a low to mid-budget action movie on a tried-and-true formula; one that Hawaiian trash specialist Albert Pyun and Cirio H. Santiago perfected several decades ago.

Reassigned to a remote interceptor launch site somewhere in the Pacific Ocean after the conclusion a high-profile and much-publicized case of sexual misconduct by a five-star general (Kim Knuckey) disgraced captain J. J. Collins (Elsa Pataky) is deployed to be less of a nuisance to the top military brass. After being welcomed aboard and briefed by captain John Welsh (Paul Caesar) J. J. is given her chambers while lieutenant colonel Clark Marshall (Rhys Muldoon) takes the time introduce her team in the command center: signal analyst corporal Rahul Shah (Mayen Mehta) and outwardly bigot corporal Beaver Baker (Aaron Glenane). When she lays eyes upon former military intelligence officer Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey) and Fort Greely in Alaska is overtaken by enemy forces and 16 nuclear warheads are simultaneously seized from Russia she senses something is afoot. Her worst fears are confirmed when Kessel hijacks the platform and Beaver is revealed to be the traitor in their midst. Kessel threatens to annihilate 16 American cities if his demands are not met. Collins first tries to reason with Kessel but when he sends in his goons and second-in-command Kira (Ingrid Kleinig) to kill her, all bets are off. With the warheads set to deploy in 12 minutes, Collins wages a desperate war of attrition to avoid a mass nuclear holocaust.

JJ strips down to a white wifebeater just like John McClane in Die Hard (1988) and like Casey Ryback in Under Siege (1992) she too is a disgraced military operative. Kessel’s threat of nuclear annihilation is identical to that of Francis X. Hummel in The Rock (1996) and Beaver’s ultimate demise echoes that of Karl in Die Hard (1988) and that of a Russian heavy enemy combatant in Rambo III (1988). As a nostalgia throwback this ticks all the required boxes without any grave deviations from the established genre conventions. It’s the sort of thing that Steven Seagal used to make a living at before he descended into direct-to-streaming hell. From the opening scene the plot unfolds exactly the way you think it will and every character conforms to its designated archetype. Naturally there are no real surprises at any point. History seems to be repeating itself as Interceptor is exactly the kind of thing that production companies and distributors shat onto the booming home video market 40 years ago, except now it’s Netflix dumping it unceremoniously onto its once-leading streaming service. If this is any indication of the quality in the future of the service it looks like their best days are now well and truly behind them. Netflix once was better than this.

Not too make too much of a point of it but everything is a bit rough around the edges here. For one the choreography and direction is a lot more fluent and graceful than usual in American action, but it’s still far too clunky and brawly. Pataky does the best with what she’s given and there’s an absolute minimum of cutting during the routines. Can Sandra Escacena, Nicole Bilderback, Ella Hunt or Analyn Barro finally get their big action movie now? The edgy writing is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the temple (or groin) as it duly checks off just about every hot-button issue and controversial political event. It’s all here: #MeToo, the American elections, Russian nuclear armageddon, bigotry, willfull ignorance in the Information Age and right-wing grifters and conspiracy theories. No wonder the MAGA blockheads and anti-SJW crowds went absolutely ape-shit over this. The proselytizing is so much on the nose that it borders on shit-posting. While we’re sympathetic (and very much in favor) of the politics that Interceptor espouses there are more elegant and subtle ways of doing this sort of thing. Pataky’s thick native Spanish inflection occassionally makes her unintelligible and in the tenser scenes Bracey will regress, wittingly or otherwise, back to his Oz accent. Considering the brutally unnatural circumstances under which was filmed, it isn’t half bad. The special effects are a mix of practical and digital which is admirable in and of itself.

What there’s to say about what basically amounts to a direct-to-video mid-budget actioner that’s utilitarian and by the numbers? Well, that. Interceptor is utilitarian and by the numbers. Not once is Interceptor touched by the sacred flame of inspiration. There’s something admirable about doing on a feature on one location and when in the third act JJ does finally break out of the bridge/command center and ventures to the exterior of the platform, it makes you wonder why Reilly didn’t use it more. In Die Hard (1988) and Under Siege (1992) every enemy kill represented a milestone within the larger story. Not so here. While the initial kill of Machale is at least halfway promising the rest of the goons are uneventfully and matter-of-factly killed in close-quarter combat. JJ’s facing off with Kira and finally Kessel feels so underwhelming that it makes you wonder why these two were made out to be supposed formidable adversaries. And that’s the thing with Interceptor. It’s good for what it is, but it never aspires to be anything more than a sum of its parts. Perhaps the proposed sequel will build on what’s set up here – but as a stand-alone feature it leaves something to be desired. Time will tell whether Interceptor will be remembered as the surprise hit of 2022.

Plot: vloggers travel to mysterious island and uncover terrible secret.

Now that the zombie wave following in the wake of The Walking Dead (2010-2022) is finally cresting some interesting outliers have been revealed. Whereas South Korea’s #Alive (2020) went for the introspective approach iZla channels the spirits of old grandmasters Cirio H. Santiago, Gerardo de Leon, Eddie Romero, and Bobby A. Suarez. At 85 minutes it thankfully is mercifully to-the-point and surprisingly clever when it wants to be (which doesn’t happen all that much, sadly). iZla lives (and dies) by its adherence to the exploitation maxim of the three capital Bs: babes, boobs, and blood. And it delivers just what it promises. iZla makes no qualms about what it is. A puerile and low effort romp that’s the closest to Raw Force (1982) as we’re likely going to get in this day and age. Barry Gonzalez must be aware of his country’s rich history in exploitation. Savaged by critics and detested by audiences alike iZla is unadulterated Filipino pulp horror at its best.

iZla opened domestically on 22 October 2021 and premiered internationally on Netflix about a month later. The cleverest thing about it is probably its title. Director Barry Gonzalez seems to specialize in swooning romances and comedies (or some permutation thereof) on both the big and the small screen. iZla appears to be his first foray into horror although here he retains the comedy that’s his comfort zone. Perhaps he had better focused on the romance because the humour here is painfully unfunny. Granted, iZla does work as a horror when (and if) it stops mucking about. Which doesn’t happen near as much as it probably should. Whether you find iZla funny is contingent upon your tolerance for crass and easy boob - and fart jokes. iZla never gets its head out of the female cast’s cleavage long enough to ridicule the inherent absurdities of cheap zombie horror plot contrivances and the tired conventions that come with it. iZla has plenty of story to fumble but not nearly enough to sustain what amounts to an +80-minute skit.

The year is 1942, World War II. The Japanese occupation of the Commonwealth of the Philippines has claimed several of its islands. One of these unnamed and unspecified islands armed forces mysteriously disappear into the blackness of the night by unseen assailants. Guarding the island are Japanese ninjas specialized in guerrilla warfare that the government simply dubs Ninja On Call or Ninja-Call. In the bowels below scientists have developed a serum rendering them impervious to injury and death. The locals soon believe the island to be cursed and the story of Forbidden Island becomes an integral part of native folklore. Decades pass and the legend of Forbidden Island lives on. Badong (Paolo Contis) and Entoy (Archie Alemania) are two orphaned slacker resort workers getting by on tips from odd jobs here and there. Not even the crippling debt they inherited from their absentee parents looming dangerously above them is enough to spring the unambitious and non-upwardly mobile duo into action. The two desperately need something to get out of the rut and the financial hole they’re in.

In Manila Veronica (Isabelle Daza), Valerie (Beauty Gonzalez, as Beauty Gonzales) and Venus (Elisse Joson), or the popular vloggers collectively known as the V-Sisters, are brainstorming ideas for their latest YouTube prank hit video. The sisters and their team - mascot Abi (Aiko Climaco), producer Gina (Sunshine Garcia) and researcher Lani (Analyn Barro) – are about to give up when they run into Badong and Entoy in the city of Kalimliman. Mayor Anding (Niño Muhlach, as Nino Muhlach) (who just so happens to be the V-Sisters’ uncle) has ordered a travel ban to Forbidden Island (whether it’s in the environs of Savage Beach, Warrior Island, or Taboo Island is, sadly, never disclosed) stirring the girls interest in the destination. Badong and Entoy figure that they might as well make a buck from the ditzy girls and brokers a deal with Veronica. The two agree to charter a boat and double as their guides/security detail. Things take a turn for the dark when the group discovers that uncle Anding has a marijuana plantation and his own para-military force. It’s then that the zombie ninjas break loose and left and right people fall prey to the maws and jaws of the undead. Will be Badong, Entoy, Lani, and Veronica be able to ward off the hungry undead long enough to figure out an escape plan?

It took writer Ays De Guzman (as Ice De Gusman) and 5 (!!) others to come up with a halfway coherent “story concept” that’s essentially the first half of Angel Warriors (2013) combined with the second half of Raw Force (1982). Really? That’s not even counting various scenes and plot elements lifted wholesale from Hell of the Living Dead (1980), Cross Mission (1988), Zombi 3 (1988), and After Death (1989). You halfway expect Yvette Yzon to do a cameo but iZla is never smart nor self-aware enough to capitalize on its collective legacy and multiple decades of domestic cinematic traditions. Writer Ays De Guzman and Barry Gonzalez commit to some Claudio Fragasso / Bruno Mattei level hackdom here. It’s perfectly okay if you mistook this for a spoof because iZla seems to operate on that mindset. More charitable and forgiving minds might call this a semi-comedic deconstruction but that’s giving this one far more credit than it deserves. Shaun Of the Dead (2008) this most certainly is not. Nor is it Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) for that matter. The cringe-inducing dialogue is both terribly written and helps nothing with exposition. What passes for humour alternates between fart and boob jokes almost exclusively and some situational slapstick would’ve worked wonders here. Since none of that will be forthcoming we’re stuck with characters either too dimwitted or self-absorbed and ditzy to be of any interest. No amount of boobage and gratuitous fanservice can camouflage writing this half-assed and bad.

And with a cast consisting of Filipino television staples Beauty Gonzalez, Isabelle Daza, Elisse Joson, Sunshine Garcia, and Analyn Barro there’s plenty to be had. These Pinay equivalents of Stephanie Herala or Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang (潘霜霜), Frieda Hu Meng-Yuan (胡夢媛), and Pan Chun-Chun (潘春春) might not be the next Cristine Reyes, Fernanda Urrejola, or Anne Curtis but they acquit themselves good enough. For a movie centered almost exclusively around their shapes and forms they take it all in stride. The emperor might have no clothes but these babes staunchly remain in theirs. For something that tries very hard to be a throwback to the Golden Age of Filipino exploitation there’s an interesting duality to the way director of photography A.B. Garcia films the women. Garcia takes a near-porn level of interest in their curves but with this being a broad comedy and general audience release it shies away from any and all female nudity. Well, there’s plenty of female nudity but most of it is either implied or obscured by strategic props and such. For all the bounce and jiggle there’s precious little bang.

iZla only gains a faint pulse when it towards the end suddenly starts talking body temperature, asymptomatic carriers (of the zombie virus) and 14-day quarantines. Up to that point iZla had concerned itself superficially with mad science worthy of Blood Island (1959-1970), ninjas, and zombies and it’s absolutely the last thing for it to suddenly turn current and political. Yeah, iZla not only steals the Nazi zombie subplot from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted (2007) (completely with celluloid footage in a derelict lab with blood-splattered walls) and the ending from Hell of the Living Dead (1980) it actually has the gall to present itself as a parable or allegory of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. Il faut le faire. It’s handled with all the grace, finesse, and intelligence of someone who considers a bowel movement the apex of humour. Horror movies, especially the sillier ones, often carry big themes or important messages. If there’s anything to compliment iZla on it’s the special effects work. This one is full of old school prosthetics and practical effects with an absolute minimum of digital post-production. Faint praise though that might be, there’s at least something it gets right. It might not be much but you got to take what you can with these sort of things. Here’s hoping Barry Gonzalez makes a full-blown female-centric action movie (preferably with Beauty Gonzalez, Analyn Barro or Elisse Joson) in the old Filipino tradition next.