Friday Fisticuffs: High Voltage (1997)

Right off the bat, I think it’s very important to let you know that High Voltage is not a good movie. I’ve often heard people talk about the kinds of movies that were born thanks to the popularity of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but never really experienced it (or knew I was experiencing it). This flick borrows heavily from both movies immediately with an out of sequence opening that works on three different timelines (the group of cooks talking about committing a crime, the drive to the heist and the heist itself). Hell, during the “discussing the crime” parts, it’s pretty obvious they’re trying to go for the rapid fire dialog Tarantino’s known for. Hell, there’s even a Mexican standoff in the first ten minutes and a foiled heist.

Antonio Sabato Jr. is our hero and leader of the gang of crooks. Amy Smart (interesting that she’s in two movies called High Voltage) and the guy who played the crazy roommate in Dead Man On Campus are part of the gang. When it turns out the bank they want to rob is actually a front for the mob, they’re on the run which sends Sabato on a tour of (I’m assuming) LA and Nevada calling up old friends to help him out, including 80s bully extraordinaire Billy Zabka. Hell, even Ogre from Revenge Of The Nerds makes an appearance as a bartender.

Fun casting isn’t enough to make this a good movie. Nearly everyone involved has trouble delivering dialog. There’s also plenty of nonsensical moments like people not being able to shoot other folks a few feet in front of them, men with AK-47s running like little girls from a guy who just rode in on a motorcycle and Amy Smart marrying her by-then dead boyfriend thanks to Sabato holding a gun to a priest’s head. The film tries really hard to be cool and hip, but the goofy action sequences and bad dialog reveal this dog’s true nature. Just check out this clip, it’s the first 15 minutes of the movie and one of the few I could find on YouTube after a few minutes of searching.

Speaking of action, it’s as disjointed as the film itself. The gunplay bounces between pretty cool looking and laughable, veering into Shoot Em Up territory, but without the winking nods to the audience that let you know this is all a ludicrous, but fun adventure. The hand-to-hand fighting is also a weird mix. There’s all these corny sound effects that sound like they were taken from the Indiana Jones audio library (they work in those movies because they’re over-the-top action movies, but this is supposed to be set in the real world). Every punch sounds like a bag of bricks falling to the ground and every slash of a knife like a samurai sword cutting through the air. It’s too much. At the same time, the recipients of every blow and bullet do these kind of amazing and painful looking flips and contortions smashing into everything from tables and chairs to walls and each other. These are corny moments, but they remind me of great martial arts flicks where it looks like dudes are really getting hurt (made all the better by the Jackie Chan-esque closing credits). This short side-fight between Shanon Lee (who winds up being Sabato’s love interest) and an unnamed adversary winds up being one of the more interesting ones.

In the end, I think a movie like this really relies on its leads and how convincing they are as cool badasses. If Stallone starred in this movie or Arnie, I think I’d be all over it, but Sabato just doesn’t have the chops or timing that those guys did (and do). He’s kind of like Van Damme in that he comes off as kind of a douche, but whereas Van Damme’s earlier roles straddle the line and lean towards the more palatable end of the spectrum, he leans the other way and kind of makes me wish that Billy Zabka had knifed him by the end of the movie.

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