EPICENTER

epicenter

EPICENTER (2000)

Tagline: ‘The Quake was Only Half The Battle”

IMDB Rating: 3.0/10

It is said that first impressions last a lifetime. If that’s true, then we’ll be taking ‘Epicenter’ to the grave with us. And in the immediate aftermath of viewing this shocker, we were giving real consideration to hastening that journey.

The crushing inevitability of the catastrophe that awaits us is briefly delayed by the appearance of a magnetic security tag stuck to the cellophane of the DVD wrapper – the temerity of Tesco! To presume that an army of light-fingered supermarket shoppers should have this film at the top of their “To Steal” list gives us the first of many unintended laughs.

The early part of the breathtakingly convoluted plot concerns model employee Nick Constantine (Gary Daniels) half-inching top secret material…on Stealth Fighter technology…(!)…from an evil defence company.  But stealing it as slowly as is humanly possible- and not before he’s discussed the back catalogue of Neil Diamond with an overly curious security guard despite his CD being marked ‘Bill Diamond’. A tribute act perhaps? Personally we prefer the dulcet tones of the peerless ‘Nearly Diamond’ but who are we to argue?

There’s also an undercover FBI agent (Traci Lords, yes that Traci Lords) infiltrating a gang of Russian ne’er-do-wells. We know she’s undercover due to her insistence on bringing it up in every conversation at the drop of a hat – or, in this case, ill-fitting stripper wig.

Basically, Traci catches Gary on the rob, arrests him, and attempts to bring him in to face justice. Whilst avoiding the generic Eastern European baddies who want the stealth secrets for themselves.

Unfortunately, while she’s in the process of doing so, the Earth decides to literally open up and swallow the pair of them along with a decent sized chunk of Southern California. So it’s left to a disparate pair of individuals on opposite sides of the law to come together in order to survive, armed with little more than their own guile and an atrocious screenplay.

At one point – in at attempt at adding some much-needed depth to both characters – Gary delivers an emotionally heartfelt description of his wife’s fatal illness, the very motivation behind his nefarious actions (quite effectively, it should be stated) to which Traci replies:

Touché.

And to which Gary replies:

Yeah, touché.

To which we reply:

Huh?

It’s as though Shakespeare and David Mamet had a dialogue baby and gave it a laptop.

And the ridiculousness continues unabated.

Our Traci, cover now well and truly blown – probably because she’s wearing a T-Shirt with “Undercover” emblazoned across the front in great big black letters –hops onto a San Francisco tram, with a pair of heavies (one black, one white – killin’ in perfect harmony) in hot pursuit. During the ensuing breakneck car/tram chase up and down the undulating streets of the city, the two guys decide to pull their car over to swap seats….. The little white guy – by way of a horribly mangled approximation of an Eastern European accent says something along the lines of “I vant to drive an Ameeeeeeerickahn cahhhhhr.” And so the driver and passenger, right in the middle of an intense chase and with their very freedom dependent on catching and killing their quarry, take the time out to clamber over one another so that the white guy gets a go behind the wheel.

Er…?

Stuff being missed out you can forgive. Unnecessary stuff thrown in, seemingly for the sake of it – a bit like the spelling, punctuation and grammar on display outside every greengrocer’s in the UK – is just plain weird.

It took us a good long while to work out exactly what was going on but in the end it hit us like a… like a..? Well, like the plot machinations of a sh*t film wrapped around half a house brick and launched, point blank, right between the eyes.

There was an American producer back in the 70s who crossed the pond and brought a job lot of those God awful cheeky “sex” comedies that plagued UK cinemas in the middle part of the decade – think ‘Confessions of…’ but even crapper. Taking the film reels back to the US, he hired a bunch of “adult performers” and shot what basically amounted to hours of hardcore extreme close up footage and just spliced it into the movie at opportune moments during what was previously fairly tame Anglo-rumpo.

What the American audience got was a straightforward porno movie but with scripting, direction, production values and acting far in excess of what they were used to, while not scrimping on the nasty. For the British audience – when the films eventually made their way back across the Atlantic on dicey fourth generation VHS – the effect was terrifying. The image of a squeaky clean Doctors star Diane Keen seemingly getting filled out like an application form in gynaecological detail by a Milk Tray-esque cat burglar is something that will forever be etched on my* memory – but then when you think about the wristy-wristy action she employed so effectively in the later Nescafe adverts, perhaps it should come as no surprise.

A similar technique is employed in ‘Epicenter’ as it would appear that there’s a healthy profit to be made by the major Hollywood studios leasing out footage from their vast libraries for use in movies where budgets don’t quite stretch as far as their blockbusting brethren. So, for a fee, the low rent filmmaker can purchase perfectly shot, perfectly lit, perfectly orchestrated stunts, special effects, miniatures or aerial shots and cut them into their film. All you need to do is to shoot tiny little snippets (or “inserts” as they’re known in the biz) of your actors in proportionally similar situations and bang, hey presto, you’ve created the “rollercoaster thrill ride” as promised by the non-attributed quotes on the front of your DVD.

That’s the theory anyway.

A little bit of web-based research reveals that much of ‘Epicenter’s’ car / tram chase has been nicked wholesale from the Eddie Murphy vehicle ‘Metro’ and, unlike the maddening plot of the film we’re now suffering through, everything suddenly snaps into focus.

The material mercilessly hacked from the 1997 action “comedy” has clearly been taken from two different scenes or at the very least from separate parts of the same sequence. In one Eddie Murphy is driving while in the other it’s his white cop partner Michael Rappaport – hence Epicenter’s front seat switcheroo. This would also explain why undercover Traci’s car is so undercover, it has red and blue flashing lights.

It also goes some way to explain why for no apparent reason every single character in the film suddenly ups sticks and relocates 400 miles down the Pacific Coast Highway to LA. It is here – rather than the more earthquake-prone region of San Francisco – that the Epicenter of the title is located. When “The Big One” hits – in what must go down as the most indoor earthquake in film history –the spectacular crash of a subway carriage comes courtesy of the Snipes & Harrelson vehicle, ‘Money Train‘.

If done skilfully, it seems perfectly acceptable to reuse material from one film in another – hell, pretty much all the songs in ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ come from pre-existing, less celebrated movie musicals. Dance music DJs have made careers out of doing it with sound – while producing nothing “original” in the process. Why shouldn’t a film director do the same? At its most basic level, cinema works as an art form purely through its juxtaposition of image. The director shows a man looking off screen at an unseen object – we cut to what he’s looking at – we cut back to see his reaction. By changing the shot of the object you change the meaning of the reaction. Following this theory through to its logical conclusion, ‘Epicenter’ represents one of Sergei Eisenstein’s more vigorous wet dreams.

Make no mistake about it; ‘Epicenter’ is utter, utter bilge – save for a surprisingly appealing turn from Traci Lords and at least one nameless henchman’s haircut – but there’s just about enough going on at both ends of the quality spectrum to keep from kicking in the TV screen and frisbeeing the DVD out of the lounge window straight into the face of passing cyclist.

And we mustn’t fail to mention the most bizarre and creepy scene of any of our films so far- a really weird old man with stripy trousers and a stuffed parrot who gets trapped in a lift with some young children (exterior footage on loan from ‘Speed’). It’s absolutely as unsettling as it sounds. He only appears in this one scene and has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever. But, saying that, pretty much every single aspect of the film has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever – the stolen security files, the rogue FBI agents (yes, AGAIN), the tacked on car chases, the free-for-all shootouts, the helicopter gunship vs. Arndale Shopping Centre denouement – none of them have anything to do with the actual earthquake at the epicentre of the story.

It’s meant to be a disaster movie – they got it half right.

*Michael Papadopoulos wishes to make it known that these recollections belong solely to Mr. Timothy D. Postins

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