TAGLINE: “The business of killing just got personal”

IMDB rating: 5.0/10

 We always thought this project would throw up some interesting discoveries, both good and bad. Little did we know that in the process of trawling waist-deep through this slew of cinematic slurry, we would uncover a brand new action hero – a cut price Seagal, a petrol station bargain bin Van Damme, a past-its-sell-by-date Lundgren if you will. Step forward

Mr. Jeff Speakman.

Forget your Buzz Aldrins, your Pete Bests, your John Adamses. We’re not talking nearly men here. If movie stars were British Prestige cars, Jeff Speakman is an Austin Maxi. So the legend goes: when Chuck Norris jumps in a swimming pool he doesn’t get wet – the swimming pool gets Chuck Norrised, well if Jeff Speakman jumps in straight after him, the water jumps out.

Biographical information – beyond that clearly written by either Jeff or his Mum – is somewhat sketchy but it would appear he needs to wear extra high-waisted trousers to accommodate a bunch of 7th degree black belts in assorted ass-kickery. Safe to say that Jeff is a master of the pub car park rumble. On screen – well – that’s a whole ‘nother story. All we can be sure of is what we’ve seen with our own eyes. And that is that by 1999, Jeff Speakman was 41, slightly the wrong side of trim, and starring in what the back of the DVD acclaims as…

…well, actually there is no quote, no sparkling superlatives – professionally attributed or otherwise – to tempt even the most battle-hardened purchaser. As the filmmakers themselves have clearly discovered, there are literally no words to describe ‘Running Red.’

The film opens in 1988 in a place that, more than any other, symbolizes capitalist decadence and so provides a vital target for Soviet terrorism – Alicante. However, rather than experiencing the infamous party atmosphere of the Costa Blanca – perhaps sampling the local delights of a charming bodega or dancing in one of the many Nite Spotz [sic] – we are instead embedded with an elite Russian commando squad, including our Jeff as Comrade Gregori, as they carry out a daring raid by on a chemical plant – in Alicante. Again, that’s Alicante. There’s precious little time for chatting with locals or throwing up all over a girl in hot pants and L plates for these lads. These are the best of the best – there’ll be no torn condoms and morning after pills when the Eastern Bloc boys are in town. That town being the perennially popular tourist resort… of Alicante.

Why this ultimate fighting force arrive at night – presumably on the Easyjet from Minsk – and then wait until broad daylight to stage a covert raid remains inexplicable, as does their varying age, weight and apparent lack of weapons training. Somehow they’ve also elected to infiltrate this target on what must have been a fairly heavily publicized “Alicante ChemTech Bring Your Child To Work Day” – as evidenced in an early mother-daughter exchange – so either Intel is a little sketchy back at the Kremlin, or else they wish to re-educate these Capitalist youngsters via the medium of lead.

The Ruskie’s plan, such that it is, appears to consist of shooting at heavily armed chemical plant employees – all of whose questionable aim suggests they’ve received extensive training from the Camden Paintball Centre   thus allowing one of their own number to be gunned down in order to supply credible expository Act III revenge material. They will then progress to planting beacons to allow effective targeting for an inbound fleet of MIG bombers – to bomb Alicante. Once more, that’s Alicante. Hopefully, training in the Soviet Air Force is more demanding that their Special Forces counterparts or else half of Sicily would have to make alternative holiday plans next year.

So with the chemical facility now just a big pile of twisted metal – and presumably NATO more than a little pissed off – we flash forward 11 years and Gregori (now just plain Greg) is living happily as an American citizen in the comfortable suburb of Sherman Oaks, California – all picket fences, lawn sprinklers and paperboys flinging the news onto your doorstep at 8am. Family life appears to agree with Jeff – specifically the bright-eyed moppet daughter and crazily hot wife anchoring him to this domestic idyll – as well as the frankly awesome beard he’s now sporting.

Of course, the path of an ex-Soviet commando safely ensconced in suburban America with a family oblivious to his former life and facial hair so neat it should be hung on a wall and saluted is never an easy one. So it’s not long before Greg’s past comes back to haunt him. Enter Alexi – former comrade and Alicante mission leader, now fellow defector and ruthless property tycoon, who needs a little muscle to ensure the construction of a multi-billion dollar sports stadium project. That muscle – cunningly hidden under an XXXXL T-Shirt and a few layers– apparently belongs to Jeff Speakman.

Clearly Jeff’s having none of this and so, first by threatening to expose our man as an ex-Red, then by kidnapping his wife and daughter, Alexi forces our hirsute hero to toe the line. Of course, Jeff ultimately saves the day courtesy of some tedious chop-socky, a bus chase set piece stolen literally wholesale from ‘Red Heat’, and the canny ability to bounce bullets off hard surfaces – surely the worst mangling of cinematic physics since Superman managed to reflect deadly laser beams with a wing mirror. Or any of Eric Roberts’ stunts in ‘The Alternate’.

It’s pretty obvious that the subtleties of a relatable lead character are beyond Jeff Speakman’s acting abilities – even some of his combat moves seem a little over-edited to accommodate both Jeff’s girth and age – but to be fair, the bearded wonder is (slowly and arthritically) fighting a losing battle from the start.

If you’re hoping to infuse what is fairly standard action plotting (Jeff vs. his past), with an effective character drama (Jeff protecting his family), you have to ensure that the audience is prepared to follow their hero to the ends of the Earth. Yes he can fail, yes he can look down and out, but if he’s looking to repent for prior sins then surely he has to remain above reproach.

Unfortunately for the film, Jeff’s hyper-violent personal mission is not only to protect his wife and daughter from danger, it is slaking a borderline psychopathic bloodlust in order that they don’t find out the truth about his past, effectively killing to preserve the sanctity – read “lie” – of the family unit. But then if your fantasy movie world had you paired off with a wife who’s hotter than anyone you could ever dream of getting in a million years, maybe you’d kill to keep the train on the tracks for as long as humanly possible too.

It seems Z-list action movies operate under a similar set of scientific rules to US sitcoms. Admittedly we’re not completely au fait with the exact formula but it runs something along the lines of: the hotness of the wife shall remain directly exponential to the averageness of the husband. In layman’s terms, this translates as: if the guy looks like you, the girl looks like she’s from a Special K advert.

The Hippocratic Oath begins: “first do no harm.” Filtered through Hollywood action movies – as well as their low rent pretenders – the Action Movie Oath is more like, “first do no harm – then do real harm to characters previously illustrated as nasty types. On them you can go apesh*t.”

‘Running Red’ seems to want to add an extra little caveat that also reads: “I, Jeff Speakman, being of neither sound mind nor body, will belligerently continue on the path that best satisfies my own ends regardless of the pain and misery my actions may cause to anyone – ANYONE – who gets in my way”. Maybe this Russian has finally embraced one of the central tenets of Capitalism after all.

And so it is that we bid a tearful – and somewhat fearful – adieu to Jeff Speakman, knowing that like a Ninja, he will be lying in wait to strike again. And he won’t be waiting long…

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