Plot: disgraced janitor is the only one who can thwart a terrorist plot.
There was more to Hawaiian low budget trash specialist Albert Pyun than cyberpunk, chop sockey martial arts, and post-apocalyptic nonsense. He never shied away from occasionally trying to do something topical and timey. He was early to the virtual reality craze of the early 1990s with Arcade (1993) and, for example, the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong in Hong Kong 97 (1994). Blast was his woefully underwhelming contribution to the cycle of Die Hard (1988) plagiates that was winding down by that point. To give on idea of just how dour and dire the American low budget action filmmaking scene was around this time Andy Sidaris was making far better, or least nominally more fun, romps with Day Of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998), respectively. Old Andy could always be counted upon to hire a spate of beautiful women and his movies were set on sunny Hawaii, also not important. We have spilled a lot of blood on Pyun’s most enduring properties and some select titles here and there over the years but we were nevertheless saddened to hear of his passing on November 26, 2022, age 69, after many years of suffering from dementia and multiple sclerosis. While Pyun actively stopped filming in 2018 due to debilitating health the throne he vacated was usurped by Rene Perez and Neil Johnson, specialists in the kind of stuff he used to excel at.
There are those things that are better avoided. Like things that could potentially damage or ruin your career. One of these things was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997). When offered the role Bridgette Wilson kindly declined to return and played a supporting role in I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) instead. Linden Ashby and Christopher Lambert were given copies of the script as well and they too refused to return. While Wilson actually went up a rung on the Hollywood ladder Ashby and Lambert found themselves in a different kind of hell, the one called Albert Pyun. Of the two Christopher Lambert ended up in the much better Mean Guns (1997) whereas Linden Ashby supposedly landed here to consolidate his status as upcoming action star. Unbelievable as it may sound, Ashby was at one point during the latter half of the nineties primed as the next big action star. Admittedly, he was very good in Mortal Kombat (1995) and Pyun used a torn-from-the-headlines real-life event as the basis of his script for Blast.
Which event? The 1996 Centennial Olympic Park terrorist bombing. To call something as unabashedly drab as this speculative fiction is far too generous. Besides the always charming Ashby regular Pyun warm bodies Andrew Divoff, Tim Thomerson, Thom Matthews, Norbert Weisser, and Yuji Okumoto do their usual spiel, which is really filling up space. Divoff, to his credit, would play a similar role in Air Force One (1997) later that year. Kimberly Warren, Jill Pierce, and Tina Cote were put to much better use, and actually given something to do, in the thriller Mean Guns (1997). Oh yeah, and 23-year-old Shannon Elizabeth – just two years before her big break in American Pie (1999) – stars as one of the hostages. Blast was filmed over a quick twelve days in April 1996 at the state-of-the-art Twin Towers Correctional Facility for around $700,000 and it looks like it too. Famous former and current inmates of Twin Towers include The Game, Paris Hilton, Steve-O, adult performer Ron Jeremy, and predatory film producer Harvey Weinstein. Mean Guns (1997) definitely is the better of the two. Which, while saying not much, unfortunately, says more than enough.
The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. At a pre-Olympic event which the President is scheduled to attend the women’s swimming team is preparing. A group of terrorist headed up Kalal Omodo (Andrew Divoff) infiltrate and seize control of the Aquatic Center with help from a mole and Omodo’s head of security Moses (Jill Pierce). The cell sends a broadcast across the globe that bombs have been planted all over the Olympic buildings, that they hold the US swim team hostage at gunpoint and, in an ultimatum, they vow to start killing hostages one by one if their demands aren’t met. Remaining somehow out of bounds is Jack Bryant (Linden Ashby). Since sustaining debilitating injuries the former Olympic Taekwondo champion has fallen on hard times and is now a recovering alcoholic. He’s currently slumming it up as a janitor but is hired as a last-minute staffer. Once informed of the hostage situation the Mayor (Barbara Roberts) throws together an improved crisis management meeting with help of an FBI agent (Yuji Okumoto), the police commissioner (Tim Thomerson) and a city aide (Tina Cote). Also sitting in is paraplegic wheelchair-bound Native American Interpol counter-terrorist specialist Leo (Rutger Hauer). From a distance the panel tries to assess and diffuse the situation. Only after his black co-worker Bena (Sonya Eddy) is killed and team trainer Bill (Thom Mathews) tries to strike a deal with terrorist leader Omodo does Bryant realize the building has been taken over by hostile armed forces. Things take a turn for the personal when he learns that his ex-wife Diane Colton (Kimberly Warren) is among the hostages. Will Bryant be able to thwart the terrorist plot?
With Chad Stahelski only netting a “special thanks” credit the action direction and choreography is nothing to get particularly excited about. Linden Ashby acquits himself well enough, but imagine what this could have been with an actual action director on board. In recent years Stahelski has risen to fame as a director on his own with the very lucrative (and ongoing) John Wick (2014-) franchise. Not only is the action direction and choreography on the lame side of terrible, none of the kills really mean anything. In Die Hard (1988) every character had a function, was given enough background, and every kill represented a milestone in the trajectory of the main character. Here none of the goons can be told apart and since the villains wear the same blue uniform as the main character at times it’s hard to tell exactly who did what to whom. Divoff plays the bad guy well enough, Ashby has charisma to spare, and the women are uniformly beautiful – but Pyun’s script (under his usual Hannah Blue alias) is skeletal, to say the least. None of the emergency committee members are given so much as a name (“the mayor”, “the police commissioner”, “FBI agent”, “city aide”, etc) which seems pretty… basic?
Pyun always had a bunch of pretty women in his stock company and here Jill Pierce, Tina Cote, and Kimberly Warren embody the 90s definition of hot. Only Warren has a role with some weight whereas Pierce and Cote are stuck in thankless decorative parts. You’d imagine that Pyun would put more focus on either Jill Pierce or Tina Cote but no such thing ever really materializes. For shame, Al, for shame. Tina Cote, whose presence usually lights up any of Pyun's more banal output, has a part so insignificant that it's easy to forget that she's in this at all. Kimberly Warren was the greatest Pyun babe to never go anywhere. Warren is given little more to do than standing around, and occasionally looking misty-eyed. At least Pyun was wise enough to get her white T-shirt wet. Jill Pierce was the reason to see Mean Guns (1997) even if she was only in there for a brief second or two here she has a slightly bigger role. Why Pyun never made her, Cote, or Pierce into his action muse as he did with Kristie Phillips in Spitfire (1995) is a question for the ages. Why we never got a The Doll Squad (1973) or Charlie's Angels (1976-1981) imitation with these three ladies boggles the mind. In retrospect the biggest star here is probably Shannon Elizabeth who was a two years away from making it big and would become a pillar on American television afterwards.
For the most part Blast is a case of wasted (or at least unfulfilled) potential. Nemesis (1992) was the perfect storm and Albert Pyun was never able to recreate that magic. If Blast is shorn of anything it’s Pyun’s usual style and swagger. The Hong Kong aspirations of Nemesis (1992) are nowhere to be found. The gun pyrotechnics are disappointingly flat lacking in both urgency and impact. None of the individual fights carry any weight and have something of an underrehearsed feel. The Twin Towers Correctional Facility was an incredible location but it isn’t used to maximum effect. Say what you will about former Pyun alum Jean-Claude Van Damme but he was at the height of his success and power by 1997, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) was two years old by this point – and even though Steven Seagal begun his decline he was still considered a legitimate action star. Albert Pyun was in the habit of making stars out of the unknown and rehabilitating disgraced (and fallen) action stars but he himself never ascended (or transcended) his low budget roots. Nor was he able to legitimize himself with a big budget production. Blast is emblematic of Pyun as a director and at every point effortlessly fails to deliver that what its title would have you believe. Under Siege (1992), Speed (1994), or Con Air (1997) this most certainly is not. Hell, it doesn’t even come within an inch of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995). Had it been half as cartoony as Air Force One (1997) then at least it had been fun. Alas, it is not.