Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Cinema File #60: "Rise Of The Black Bat" Review

It's weird to think this is my 60th review for this blog, and I'm pretty sure its the first time I've actually tackled an honest to God mockbuster, especially considering my love of schlocky movies in general and this sub genre in particular. I guess you could call FDR: American Badass a psuedo-mockbuster of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but I think it's more of a straight parody. For those blissfully unaware of this trend in straight to DVD cinema, a mockbuster is a movie purposely made to follow the same theme or contain the same subject matter as a popular theatrical movie, usually released to video just before, to cash in on the coattails of the bigger release with a cheapo imitation. This isn't to say that these movies are always bad, or even unoriginal knockoffs. The production house Asylum is known primarily for these kinds of movies, and they often find interesting takes on major movie concepts that I sometimes prefer even better than the original, while keeping the careers of actors from the 80's and 90's like Bruce Boxleitner and C Thomas Howell alive in the process. Go watch Asylum's Sherlock Holmes and prepare to have your mind blown by killer robot dinosaurs if you don't believe me. Rise of the Black Bat is another such mockbuster, though not an Asylum production, and despite what I consider to be a very intriguing concept for a superhero movie, the execution left me wondering why I like these movies in the first place.

As you might guess, Rise of the Black Bat is a mockbuster of the recent third entry in Nolan's Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises, though really it's more of a general take on the character with an origin story using the name to cash in, with a little Daredevil mixed in for good measure. It follows a district attorney who is blinded by a criminal throwing acid in his face (one tick shy of Two Face's origin now that I think about it), who realizes after an experimental procedure that while he is still blind during the day, he has perfect night vision, which he proceeds to use by becoming a nighttime crime fighting vigilante. This may sound strange coming from me, given my staunch record of defending films on the basis of story and character over budget dependent factors like sets and special effects, but this movie is too poorly made, even for me. Mostly it's the acting, which comes across as if everyone's reading their lines off of cue cards - badly. I get the feeling that many of these people were non-actors, and I can sympathize, having worked on similar amateur productions in the past, but it's just too much. I almost felt like this was a porn parody of The Dark Knight Rises, and I was just watching all the scenes without sex strung together, but then I remembered that I've already seen that this year, and not only was it better than this crap, but it was actually better than the mainstream film upon which it was based. The chintzyness of this production just goes one step too far for me, and I can't take it seriously, which isn't an unreasonable expectation even for something like this.

That being said, I actually love the idea behind this movie. As a set up for a nocturnal superhero, it's so simple and elegant that I can't imagine it hasn't been done before. I kinda wish they would have made it less of a Batman clone and tried to do more of their own thing with it, because it definitely comes across as hamstrung by the need to hit the classic Batman tropes. Plus, unlike Batman, he's less over the top in terms of his origin. He doesn't have a tragic childhood or a massive undefined source of wealth to fight crime. He's just a guy who works in the criminal justice field and decides he's had enough of working within the law, which I can almost believe. And he carries a gun. I know Batman has this whole moral code against it, but it makes things so much simpler, and in this case, adds Punisher to the list of superheroes to whom this character is evoking. Maybe it's the poor production values, but I was reminded of the documentary Superheroes, about real life people donning costumes and patrolling the streets. The Black Bat felt like one of those guys who just decided to trade in his pepper spray for something a little more hardcore, stop building overnight kits for homeless people, and start playing for keeps. What I'm saying is, believe it or not, I actually see potential in this movie, which makes it even more disappointing to see how it is so wasted.

It's not just the cheapy stuff, which ordinarily I am ready to forgive. The story just isn't executed well at all. It takes far too long to set up a story that could have been done easily in ten minutes, and it's paced in such a way as to suggest they really had very few ideas beyond the concept and just needed to fill time, repeating scenes with unnecessary voice over, and having beats go on way too long, as if the actors were waiting for a line reading (which come to think of it, maybe they were). Once we do get into the action, the story is more Darkman than anything else, with a masked man going after the nondescript mobsters that crippled him, and they don't even try to do anything fun or interesting with it. They had so much time to kill with filler, where they could have been establishing an engaging Joker-esque arch nemesis for him to fight. And beyond the fact that he acts at night, the night vision gimmick isn't used in any way. You would think he would use this strength to his advantage, leading his prey into the dark where he can see and they can't, or at the very least, that his blindness in the light might be exploited by his enemy for dramatic effect, but neither is the case. These are simple things that I don't see how they didn't think about when they were writing this, and they would not have needed any bigger budget to pull them off. Altogether, it's just lazy.

While I hate to say it, mostly because I hate the kind of people to whom this appeals to, Rise of the Black Bat is probably the perfect so bad its good rif movie. There are so many scenes that I can just see annoying amatuer comedians lamely joking about MST3K style. The narration by the main character is often unintentionally ridiculous, a quick cut montage of him fumbling into his gear is just pathetic, the back and forth gun fire scenes play out like kids playing make believe cops and robbers, and most of the movie has him patrolling the streets in what I'm pretty sure is just the regular car he owns in his daily life, but in the bat suit. By the time we get to the extended bikini contest sequence, it goes over the edge into an outright acid trip of incomprehensible suck. Google Image Searching this movie for this post, I discovered another movie called Agent Beetle that I think is made by the same production company. Rise of the Black Bat is no where near good enough to recommend as anything other than fodder for mockery, but there's just a twinge of an original premise that makes me want to see their Spiderman clone, to see if they got right what this movie got so wrong.

Stay tuned for that one if I can track it down, but stay away from this trash.

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