Movie Review: With Berenger and Mandylor after him, Michael Jai White’s “As Good as Dead”

There’s not much point in pleading the case that “SOMEone should offer Michael Jai White better roles” any more. He’s all but given up on that himself, and is back to writing his own vehicles.

White, always and forever “Black Dynamite,” proves just as bad at whipping up a decent story for his muscle-bound martial artist persona as anybody else with “As Good as Dead.”

It’s a stumbling, illogical and silly genre thriller that calls attention to its tropes and its shortcomings, and not in a fun “Black Dynamite” (White also scripted that) way.

A former agent “hiding out in Olde Mexico” thriller of the “We’re in Mexico, so every character we meet speaks English” variety, it features a script that has our hero tell his “story” — in detail to a new acquaintance — only to have them start arguing about which Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone or whoever picture that “story” sounds like.

“Raid 2?” Hell no. “Rambro?” OK, maybe that floats.

That “story” opens with our man on the down-low in Mexico, working on a road surveying crew and not speaking any Spanish. Apparently. Not that he stands out or anything.

Every morning, he strips that shirt off to go through his martial arts workout with his DIY kicking/training post (with car tires), noting only in passing that this skinny Mexican teen (Luca Oriel) is on the hill behind his travel trailer home, mimicking those moves.

Oscar is bullied. Oscar has a brother in prison. Oscar needs to know how to fight. Mr. Davis takes him under his beefy wings.

“When you get hit first?” he recites, “It’s my fault,” Oscar responds.

Bloody nose from a punch? “Never wipe it in battle! It’s a sign of weakness!

One easy martial arts training montage later, and Oscar is whining about “competition,” which Davis dismisses.

But when brother Hector (Guillermo Iván) gets out of prison, Oscar takes on a big bruiser at a bareknuckle prize fighting competition, Cobra Kai’s a guy three times his size, and gets on youtube.

That’s how the bad men in LA — the golfing goon (Louis Mandylor) and corrupt and imprisoned ex-cop (Tom Berenger) find out where “Davis” is. Because “nobody else fights light that. And they want to get even with the big man South of the Border.

On a short C-picture angling for B-movie status, you spend a lot of time saving time, inventing conveniences and contrivances in your plotting.

Bad guys armed to the teeth storm the travel trailer?

“Don’t worry. It’s all steel plated,” and the windows AK-47-proof. Apparently.

The stealthy way to shoot back? A crossbow, of course.

Escape plan? “Drug smuggling/human trafficking tunnels.”

And on and on this stunningly stupid story goes, mowing down, punching out or neck-snapping its way through legions of mobsters and corrupt DEA agents and “cops” as a parade of classic Chevs and Fords are trotted out for the gang bangers to drive and our hero to keep under a car cover until he needs it.

“I KNEW it would be a 68 Camaro SS!”

So did we, jefe. So did we.

The acting isn’t awful, the direction competent, the almost-cute dialogue almost cute and the fights are professionally staged.

White works a lot, but rarely appears in A-pictures, which is a shame. And he wrote “Black Dynamite,” which was a hoot. But I guess if he’s resigned to churning out under-workshopped crap like “As Good as Dead,” we have to be, too. If the best action star not to be invited into “The Expendables” universe keeps slinging stuff like this against the wall, maybe eventually something will stick.


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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