I don’t always jump at the chance to see the latest low-budget action movie. There have been a whole lot of cheap-looking, DV-shot beat-’em-up/shoot-’em-up flicks in recent years, most going direct to home entertainment, and most falling way short of the adrenaline-fuelled entertainment of years gone by. However, in the case of Showdown in Manila, I just had to give it a look on account of it being the directorial debut of Mark Dacascos. In case the name’s not familiar, Dacascos is a martial arts action star who emerged in the 1990s but sadly never achieved the level of fame he deserved, despite scene-stealing turns in Crying Freeman, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Drive (the real one, not that Ryan Gosling bullshit). Factor in that also features a number of other second-tier action stars from years gone by, and that it’s set and shot in the Philippines, home to so much great exploitation cinema, and it’s hard for anyone with an affection for old-school action not to at least have a glimmer of interest.
So, is Showdown in Manila a diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered by action devotees? Well – no. It looks like a low-rent piece of crap, sounds like a low-rent piece of crap; and guess what, it is a low-rent piece of crap. But that’s not to say it doesn’t provide 85 minutes of simple, undemanding fun.
From the title alone, you might be forgiven for noting the influence of 1991’s Showdown in Little Tokyo, a wonderfully ridiculous buddy cop movie which teamed up Dolph Lundgren with the late Brandon Lee (incidentally, Dacascos took over Lee’s role of Eric Draven for TV series The Crow: Stairway to Heaven). Showdown in Manila shares more with Mark L Lester’s movie than a similar name, as we also have Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa on villain duties, and Tia Carrere as the damsel in distress.
This time around, Carrere is the wife of FBI agent Matthew Wells, briefly played by Dacascos himself, who is murdered by Tagawa’s crime boss, known as The Wraith, while the couple are vacationing in Manila. This leaves her with a score to settle – and she isn’t the only one. Two years earlier, The Wraith was also responsible for ending the career of our lead, Manila police task force leader Nick Peyton (Russian bodybuilder-turned actor Alexander Nevsky, also co-writer and producer). Now, Nick has gone into business as a private investigator, alongside ex-LAPD officer Charlie Benz (good ol’ Caspar Van Dien). Fearing that too much of the Manila Police may be on The Wraith’s payroll, one of Nick’s more trustworthy former colleagues brings Mrs Wells (yes, that’s literally the only name Carrere is given) directly to him with the case. Although it’s a somewhat bigger job than Nick and Charlie are accustomed to taking on, there’s no way they can pass up the chance for some sweet payback.
I really wish I could say Showdown in Manila was loaded with the same pulpy delights of the buddy cop comedies, martial arts masterworks and jungle action romps that it evokes. Unfortunately, it’s clear from the word go that it was made for absolute peanuts, and Dacascos seems content to play things as by-the-numbers as possible. It all chugs along agreeably enough, with a simple and largely inconsequential plot, building up to a final showdown which, contrary to the title, takes place outside the city in a jungle camp, replete with cameos from Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock. I’d say it’s not quite The Expendables – but then, The Expendables wasn’t quite The Expendables, if you take my meaning. (My meaning, to be clear, is that all three Expendables movies are shit, even with budgets many times the size of that of Showdown in Manila). This is the kind of movie that’s liable to leave you shaking your head that the action movies produced by Cannon Films were generally dismissed as cheap crap in their day, when by comparison with the low budget action of today they look like epics; after all, they at least had real explosions, prop guns shooting actual blanks, and sometimes reasonably convincing gore, as opposed to the lo-fi CGI that accounts for most of that here.
All that having been said, as basic low-budget action goes, Showdown in Manila is harmless, inoffensive fun. It’s light-hearted and clearly isn’t shooting for the moon, so it’s hard too look unkindly upon its many, obvious flaws; and for fans of the old action stars involved, there’s a simple pleasure to be taken from seeing how they’re holding up today. Just don’t go out of your way to see it.
Showdown in Manila is cinemas in the US on 19th January, followed by VOD/digital download on 23rd January, from ITN Distribution/Hollywood Storm.