Rob Van Dam - Bobby Kalinowski
Dave Bautista - Big Ronnie
Jerry Katz - Seth Bordas
Edrick Browne - Clay Freeman
Marrese Crump - Markus
Brooke Frost - Brianna Kalinowski
Lara Grice - Dawn Kalinowski
Ava Santana - Elise Freeman
Ja Rule - Razor
Genre - Action/Crime/Comedy
Running Time - 85 Minutes
Since World Wrestling Entertainment's "Super Bowl" event, Wrestlemania XXVIII, will premiere on April 1st, I felt it was time to bring back a section many [besides Vince McMahon] seem to enjoy: When Wrestlers Act! You smell the body odor and desperate storylines? That means it's ready to rumble!
This edition of When Wrestlers Act is a pretty special one. It doesn't just involve one wrestler. Hell, it doesn't even involve two. Instead, we have THREE professional wrestlers for the price of one! We have original ECW, former WWE, and current TNA Impact Wrestling star Rob Van Dam. We have former WWE wrestler Dave "The Animal" Bautista. And we have Nelson Frazier, Jr. - best known to fans as Mabel, Viscera, or Big Daddy V. How did we all get so [un]lucky?
Luck or not, 2010 saw the direct-to-DVD release of WRONG SIDE OF TOWN, which stars these three men [along with Ja Rule and porn star Stormy Daniels] in a low budget action film that takes elements from a lot of other [and better] films, like THE WARRIORS. Unfortunately, not many people are going to come out and play-ay for this film.
Bobby Kalinowsky (Rob Van Dam), a former Navy S.E.A.L., has given up his military life to enjoy a regular life as an architect in Louisiana with his wife Dawn (Lora Grice) and his annoying daughter Brianna (Brooke Frost). Bobby and Dawn meet their new neighbors, Clay (Edrick Brown) and his wife Elise Freeman (Ava Santana). The neighbors invite Bobby and Dawn to a popular nightclub that's operated by a big time gangster, Seth Bordas (Jerry Katz), and owned by his junkie brother Ethan (Ross Britz). They're having a good time until Dawn decides to use the bathroom. On her way out, Ethan invites Dawn for some cocaine fun in his office. When she refuses, Ethan tries to rape her. Bobby hears her screaming, which makes him rush to her aid. During a struggle, Bobby accidentally kills Ethan as the cokehead falls on his own knife.
Outraged and distraught by Ethan's death, Seth decides to get revenge on Bobby. He gets the word out to every gang in the area that he's placing a $100,000 bounty on Bobby's head. Bobby tries his best to protect himself, his wife, and his new friends from getting hurt or killed by these greedy gangbangers - even going to an old friend from the S.E.A.L.s named Big Ronnie (Dave Bautista) for help. However, Ronnie doesn't seem so eager to help Bobby due to the past and due to the amount of cash on his head. It's not until Seth's main goons harm his wife and daughter, Bobby decides to take out his old military duds and finish the war he accidentally started.
I have three words for WRONG SIDE OF TOWN:
WHAT THE FUCK!?
I wasn't expecting much from WRONG SIDE OF TOWN. Obviously a film starring wrestlers in the main roles is usually a warning sign, besides a few exceptions. Also, being direct-to-DVD doesn't win it any favors, although that stigma has been lifted somewhat as most DVD titles are better than their theatrical counterparts these days. Figuring it was an action film and wrestlers are pretty good at that type of thing, I was kind of hoping WRONG SIDE OF TOWN would be better than expected. Unfortunately, it's not a good film in any way, even though it's far from being total garbage. But considering who's in it and how they could have been used, it's still somewhat disappointing that it wasn't better than it actually was.
One of the big problems with WRONG SIDE OF TOWN is its screenplay and narrative. Director-writer David DeFalco's script plays it way too safe for the film to really work. It's not memorable. It's not exciting or all that interesting. It's completely generic, cliche, and just goes through the motions of what this type of film is supposed to do. It doesn't help when DeFalco was obviously inspired by other films - much better films - than this one. The main inspiration is obviously the 1979 cult classic THE WARRIORS, with the different gangs going after a certain gang [or in this case, a certain person], as well as some 80s action films that resemble something Steven Seagal would have done in his prime. So if you've seen those films, you'll definitely figure out what's going to go down in exactly what order and how. Even looking at the cover and then reading the synopsis, it's easy to see the pedestrian road WRONG SIDE OF TOWN heads down. Being predictable isn't always a bad thing. In fact, the elements that this movie should have are visibly here. Not every film needs a twist, even though it would help as long as it makes sense to keep the audience invested and guessing what comes next. But if you're gonna keep things this way, then the characters need to be interesting. The situations need to be memorable. And the direction and the fight choreography have to be amazing. WRONG SIDE OF TOWN doesn't have any of these, which is why it doesn't work as well as it should have,
The characters are what really bugged me about this film. I barely cared about any of them really, either because they weren't on screen enough [which is 95% of them] or because they weren't written well. Bobby, who's supposed to be the hero we root for, is pretty dull. He obviously loves his wife and daughter. He's loyal to his friends. And he should be an asskicker because he was a Navy S.E.A.L. But it doesn't seem to translate into a guy we want to watch for 90 minutes for some reason. We don't know Bobby's a S.E.A.L. until a half-hour into the movie, where it just comes out of the blue after he's being interrogated by a detective. This is something you establish from the start, so we can get a sense of why he's trying so hard to stay under the radar and live a normal life with his family. Instead, it feels stuck on just to explain how he handles himself in this dangerous situation placed upon him. Even when we do know who he is, he doesn't really exhibit the traits you would expect out of a Navy S.E.A.L. You could have made the guy a chef and it would still create the same effect. By the time he puts on his military uniform to kick Seth's ass, it's too late to really care. He doesn't do enough or act in a way that we can relate to and want to watch.
Seth, as the villain, is better structured than Bobby. Yet, he's so cliche that we can never take him seriously. We can understand his reasons for revenge. Even though his brother was a horny junkie and was accidentally killed because of it, he was still his brother. Of course he would want some sort of payback. It's just the way he does it that's flawed. For one, I don't get how this dude has so much power in this city. It's not like he's intimidating in any way. He has an average build and doesn't really seem all that intelligent enough to maintain the level of crime boss-ness that you would expect from a villain of his supposed caliber. All he does is scream at people to get the job done and cry about his brother dying. He has police on his payroll. He has two goons [who I call Tweedledee and Tweedledumb] who goof up more often than not. Luckily they happen to be pretty funny, which makes them a welcome presence. He also has a silent bodyguard who could probably kick his ass and/or kill him whenever he wants to. And he has street thugs all over town willing to do his bidding. Hell, Seth even thinks that kidnapping Bobby's daughter will makes things better. Obviously he hasn't watched COMMANDO, TRUE LIES, or any other film where kidnapping your rival's daughter leads to your death. He's a walking stereotype rather than a character.
Clay, the neighbor, is an uneven character. When he first appears, he comes across as such a doof, he makes Steve Urkel and Carlton Banks look as cool as James Dean. But he seems to have connections with powerful people and starts becoming tougher as the film goes out of nowhere. In fact, when some villains use the "N" word, he criticizes them for it. I had no idea who this guy was supposed to be. Was he a wimp? Was he really a hero in disguise? He disappears before the final act without doing much, so I'll never know. Speaking of Clay, his wife seemed to be involved in Seth's world somewhat - at least that was the implication. There was something a bit shady about her that was never developed, or dumped during one of the writing phases. She was kind of interesting too, but I guess that was a dead giveaway to stop making us care about her. She and Bobby's wife, who does nothing but get sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, and nag at her husband, add nothing to the film. At least Bobby's daughter was a little bitch. She had more personality than the adult women.
And you'd think Big Ronnie and Razor would be important and interesting characters, due to the fact that Dave Bautista and Ja Rule are advertised on the cover. Well Razor is in one scene of the film - one of the better ones in the movie - before he exits. And Big Ronnie does get more to do, but not really enough to make his presence all that substantial to the plot. It's too bad too, because Big Ronnie is probably the best written character as he's sarcastic, funny, and just a bad ass. He should have been made the hero instead of Bobby.
As for the rest of the screenplay, it's just full of cliches in terms of dialogue, characters, and situations. It's also too repetitive for its own good. Every time Bobby confronted thugs, they would talk about killing him for the bounty rather than, I don't know, actually doing it? It happens more than once, which is already once too many. These scenes are obviously meant for the hero to get an opportunity to beat the crap out of these guys, but they could have been done in a more constructive and less moronic way. But at least the stupidity of it made me chuckle, so I guess there's that. And the final confrontation between Big Ronnie and Markus [Seth's enforcer] was pretty cool and the most action filled part of the film. So at least it righted itself by the end.
WRONG SIDE OF TOWN is hard to take seriously because there's not enough elements to really complete the genre labels it's trying to fill. There's barely any action in the film, unless you consider hiding and evading "action". Yes, we do get some violence and fight sequences. But it should have done more, considering two of the main stars are wrestlers. There's not enough crime really, besides a few death scenes. And the comedy isn't fully there either. I can see what it wants to be, but it's a few drafts away from getting there. Oh well.
The direction by wrestler-turned-filmmaker David "The Demon" DeFalco isn't anything special. I will say, on a positive note, that the film does have a quick pace and never becomes all that boring. So that's good. But the editing isn't great, as it cuts away from scenes a bit too early. Plus it could use some more energy to make the action feel more action-y. Plus the repetitive nature of things brought things down as well. But I did love the cartoon opening credit sequence. It reminded me of SIN CITY. I thought that was a great touch. Too bad everything after it couldn't compare. Not the worst direction I have ever seen, but definitely something you would expect from a direct-to-DVD action flick.
The acting is a mixed bag. Rob Van Dam isn't the worst actor in the world, but he leaves a lot to be desired as Bobby. He comes across stiff and sometimes bored, which is strange because he's very charismatic in terms of doing action/stunt sequences. I think they should have had RVD do more action stuff and less dialogue. It would have made his performance, and probably the film, better as a whole. He tries at least and he has good chemistry with Dave Bautista, but there's not enough of it. Speaking of Dave Bautista, he's hardly in the film even though he's pretty much front and center on the cover. But he's honestly the best actor in the film as Big Ronnie. He's very natural on camera and has a ton of personality and charisma. I wish he were in the film more because I enjoyed seeing him on screen. It's no surprise why he's getting some good acting roles lately. The guy's got it. Plus he had the best fight scene in the film against Marrese Crump. Jerry Katz overacts as Seth, but at least it made me laugh a few times. He doesn't really make for a compelling villain, but he is entertaining to watch nonetheless. Ja Rule, Omarion, and Nelson Frazier, Jr. are barely in the film to mean anything, but they make the most out of their cameos. The other actors were mixed in their performances. Not the most compelling cast, but I've seen a lot worse.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE BEING THE WHOLE F'N SHOW
- Bobby enjoys using a chainsaw or an axe when dealing with wood. I just use my hand, but we all are made differently I suppose...
- Ethan was snorting some snow white powder up his nose. He may not be an "Informer", but I'm sure he was feeling lickety boom boom down...
- Ethan, high, tried to rape Billy's wife. Usually you drug the person being raped, but I guess we all like a challenge.
- Omarion wants part of the bounty on Bobby. If I were Bobby, I'd just surrender now before Omarion plays some of his B2K music. No one deserves to suffer like that.
- A bunch of thugs tried to shoot Bobby. Looks like New Jack wanted some revenge from their own ECW days.
- Bobby kicked Animal's ass. When it comes to battle, Bobby is the true Man on a Mission.
- Bobby went to seek Big Ronnie for help against Seth, but he refused. When it comes to friendship, Big Ronnie isn't that reliable. See also: Reverend D-Von, Randy Orton, Ric Flair, Triple H, Rey Mysterio, and John Cena.
- There was a pipe with graffiti that read "cum guzzling gutter slut". I had no idea Christy Hemme was competing against this pipe in another Divas Search contest!
THE FINAL HOWL
I really wanted to like WRONG SIDE OF TOWN more than I actually did. It starred wrestlers I actually like. The action and crime premise seemed perfect for the stars, where they can showcase their physicality and prove to us why they were so successful in the square circle. But David DeFalco could have used more time to polish his screenplay to create a compelling movie. But since he didn't, it just comes across as cliche, predictable, and not all that memorable. WRONG SIDE OF TOWN needed more of what it advertised - Dave Bautista, visual energy, and action. Not the worst film I've seen with wrestlers, but not one I can recommend either. Stick to the right side of town. There's nothing to see here.
1 Howl Outta 4