Ireland is home to an Irish kung-fu movie.
That sentence alone–while baffling–is remarkably, entirely true, and prone to multiple iterations of, “What? Huh? The hell? Why? What drugs did you do? ALL OF THEM?!” and so forth. This is not an urban legend, my fellow congregation, nor is it a mythic sermon. This is a cult film, amateurish in every single regard (so much so you can find no trace of it on the distributor’s–formerly known as Rising Sun Productions--website at all), and made by someone whose parents definitely should’ve dashed their son’s dreams of making an action film, for his own good.
This videotaped film, Fatal Deviation, is what we’ll be facing this time out on Woeful Worship, after some extensive delay. Consider this a late Independence Day gift to you, and the worst self-induced birthday gift to myself, “El Sacerdote” (why do I keep doing this?!).
Produced in 1998, Fatal Deviation was conceived, produced, botched by, and stars Irish “martial arts enthusiast” and sentient slab of beef James Bennett, who plays Irish martial arts enthusiast…James Bennett. And, guys, he’s just SO COOL! He does ALL HIS OWN STUNT! And with his thick Irish brogue, he just sounds SO INTIMIDATING AND UNDERSTANDABLE! All the kids want to grow up and be just like their favorite action movie star: JIMMY BENNETT!
Who can forget the scene where Jimmy Bennett’s(!) car ACCIDENTALLY rolls over?! Who can forget the amazing action cuts, where Jimmy Bennett(!) will jump over a stone wall and we CLOSE UP on his foot on the stone?! Who can forget Mikey Graham of Irish boy band Boyzone playing Mikey, the intimidating gangster, who apparently exists in a parallel universe, as he is rarely onscreen with the same characters at the same time?! Who can forget the absolutely true tagline (taken verbatim from the DVD cover): “A classic good versus evil action flick, mixed with kicks, guns, motorcycles and a hot babe!”?
You might be asking yourself if I intentionally make out to poke fun of these films, and the honest truth is: No. I don’t. There is a certain charm to these films that try for sincerity and fail, or try for something grand and just miss the mark entirely. And then there’s The Room, which just goes with whatever the fuck is going on in Tommy Wiseau’s insane head. Fatal Deviation is slightly different, though; it is so amateurish, and so desperate to entertain, impress, and be cool…that there’s a certain sadness to it as well. This film is a prime example of someone not admitting to oneself that no, no you’re not going to “make it”.
In the film, Jimmy Bennett(!) returns to his childhood home, Trim, in County Meath, Ireland, after a decade away at boarding school, and is determined to uncover the killer of his father (he, like his father, is also apparently the only kung-fu fighter in this Gaelic country). He gets followed around by a Celtic Monk (Johnny Murray…or Mattie Finnegan? The only credited monks don’t have names, and there’s only one who’s really important to the story, sorry,) who eventually comes to train Jimmy Bennett(!) for the Bealtaine Tournament, which is an underground kung fu fight club tournament held at some old castle (but advertises openly? In broad daylight?) Along the way, he meets Nicola (Nicola O’Sullivan), as she is accosted by some local gangsters at the supermarket where she works.
Jimmy Bennett(!) and Nicola then fall montage-ingly in love, whereas Nicola’s old fling, Mikey, grows jealous of Jimmy Bennett(!), and concocts a plot with his elderly, confused father, Loughlan (Michael Regan), who also runs the local gang, the Drug Lords Gang (yep. That’s their fucking name. “Drug Lords Gang”…formerly known as “The Bad Guys Villain Club”). Loughlan, as it turns out, had killed Jimmy Bennett’s(!) father some ten years prior, and now wants the man’s son to work for him for…some sort of humiliation? Rather than just killing the giant muscly man whose sole stated purpose is to find out his father’s killer? Seriously, this is the elderly man’s logic:
Loughlan: “Why not? Wouldn’t it be ironic to have the son of the man I killed working for us?”
But then, fuck THAT plan, because two scenes later, when Jimmy Bennett(!) turns down their job offer, Loughlan calls in hit-man “Seagull” (Colin Hamilton) to kill Jimmy Bennett(!) at the Bealtaine Tournament (after threatening him to “loose” the tournament. Something was loose alright…). If his plan was to kill Jimmy Bennett(!), then why not just do it? Do it right after he turns down their job offer. How did this gang leader live to be so old making decisions as dumb as that?
Jimmy Bennett(!) trains with the old monk (who may or may not be his father, living in hiding? I dunno. Fuck it.), and learns the secret “fatal deviation” move (it’s basically an elaborate feint), using it to defeat “Seagull”, and discovers Loughlan killed his pa. All the while this has been occurring (late in the second act, naturally), Nicola had been kidnapped by Mikey and his dangerous cohorts. There’s a shootout, Jimmy Bennett(!) saves Nicola, kills Mikey, shoots an elderly man point blank range, and...yada yada yada…the movie ends.
There’s so much in this film that feels like a high school project that just didn’t die. The concept could work…in theory?…if the production value were even moderately attractive and there was any level of even good amateurism. Seriously, nearly every shot is in fatal need of color correction; the acting is last-community-theater-actor-to-be-picked quality bad (aside from Mikey, who, being the most famous in the production, is shot as if he’s the greatest thing to walk on two legs); the editing is such that it tries so hard to make the action look cool, it actually laps itself and forces the audience to notice the obvious cuts; and everything is shot in the same bland style, not bothering to mess around with depth-of-field, cool lighting, or anything stylistic at all. It’s just all flat and boring. If Fatal Deviation were depicted as a line graph, it’d be a straight line through to the end.
Every single scene looks as if Jimmy Bennett(!) were going to turn to the camera and demand $1,000,000 from whoever was watching, or he’d kill everyone on set. It’s as if the cinematographers (two of them! Shay Casserly, and Simon Linscheid! Working off the same single camera!) both watched two separate ransom videos, and decided to give the film a cheaper version of that look. And it has not aged well (video does not at all transfer well to an HD television). I’d say the film were “workmanlike” and “shot in an economical style”, but a budget of $0 is not “keeping it lean”…it’s starving it entirely. And there are so many odd moments thrown in (any scene with the old, Gaelic monks doing kung-fu is weird as fuck). Take this next sequence for example:
While Jimmy Bennett(!) is infiltrating the Drug Lords Gang base, the scene opens on a bathtub in the middle of a field. Into the frame walks a naked man…who we’ve never seen before, says absolutely nothing, and have no reason to expect…wearing a cowboy hat. He steps into the bathtub and just sits there. Scene cuts. Later on, during a shootout, we cut back to him, and he just runs away. And then we never, EVER see him again, and none of the other characters ever mentions his presence at any point.
That’s ALL that character contributed. They included that bit thinking, “Perfect. That’ll tie the whole fucking film together.” Cowboy Man could be in an entirely different location for how well the scene is shot! Who the is this guy?!
Look…the acting is a joke. Jimmy Bennett(!) has little charisma, so much so that Mikey acts circles around him while paradoxically looking as bored as possible. Other actors say their lines directly into camera, or are visibly awaiting their cues. The “romance” with Nicola is laughable since neither character looks as if they like people in general, to say nothing of each other. Jimmy Bennett(!) has the physical chops, yeah, but when NO ONE else in the film is physically intimidating yet has to act as if they are, it comes off as cheap and sloppy: in a scene where Jimmy Bennett(!) is beating up a henchman, the fight ends with the henchman getting into position on a wall, slowly rolling over it, slowly and gently lowering himself, before pretending…NOT acting, mind you…to be hurt. It’s madness. Usually a fight scene can be improved with proper editing to make it dynamic, exciting, or at the least believable. But not here.
Look, this is the sort of film I’d have made in high school, on weekends, and with the same amount of “Isn’t this SO COOL!?” enthusiasm. But no one in this film was in high school. And at least one member of the film had at least some experience in show business. Which makes this both wistful and sad to watch. They tried SO HARD, and while I’m sure they’re proud of it…this is the result. And it’ll always exist. It cannot be undone.
That being said, I can’t possibly recommend this film any more than I already am, and am imploring you to watch this just to confirm that that cowboy scene actually exists, and nothing I wrote about it isn’t true. One last thing…someone (Shay Casserly or Jimmy Bennett(!), one of them, since they wrote this) actually wrote this exchange, thinking it was a cool enough sendoff for the film:
Loughlan: “You killed my son, now I’m going to kill you, just as I killed your father.”
Jimmy: “You killed my father, now I’m going to kill you, just as I killed your son.”
Bravo, Mr. Bennett. Ascend to B-movie heaven. Next time we’re taking a trip to the 1980’s, where people explode into singing for absolutely no reason.
15/5 Confused elderly gang leaders
Fatal Deviation can be seen in its entirety for free HERE, since all copies have apparently been banished to hell.