September 20, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

The latest low-budget action movies

Producers of low-budget action movies know they can’t afford Sly, Arnold, Jean-Claude, or Jackie, so they lavish most of their meager resources on stunts and pyrotechnics. As a quartet of new flicks reveal, money allotted for star power goes to once-promising leading men, mediocre performers who have had small parts in big movies, or video-spawned ”stars” whose followings often extend no further than the nearest Blockbuster.

Then there are the directors — mostly Quentin Tarantino wannabes, who (wrongly) believe that attitude counts for 90 percent of anything, or martial-arts specialists, heavily but not exclusively influenced by current Hong Kong cinema. Cable staple C. Thomas Howell, whose mainstream movie career seems to have evaporated, represents the former group as both the star and director of Pure Danger, an ordinary chase film built around rival gangs’ struggle for stolen diamonds. Studded with scenery-chomping Tarantino types — Rick Shapiro as Steve Buscemi, Leon as Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Russo as Michael Madsen — the movie gets most of its oomph from frequent shots of blazing vehicles skidding toward the camera.

The Tarantino influence in When the Bullet Hits the Bone extends mainly to the film’s shocking violence. Prolific homegrown video tough guy Jeff Wincott (The Donor, No Exit) stretches credibility as an ER doctor waging war on drug traffickers, absorbing plenty of punishment and dispensing even more. But he does this without any humor or irony — a deficiency that might keep this ruggedly handsome, taciturn lead mired in direct-to-video dross.

Brimming with nasty bone crunching, Bloodsport II and Shootfighter 2 reach even lower on the B-movie food chain for stars. Bloodsport II‘s box art capitalizes on unknown lead Daniel Bernhardt’s uncanny resemblance to Jean-Claude Van Damme (star of the first Bloodsport), an impression that’s strengthened by his equally distracting accent and minimal acting ability. But he’s Brando next to Shootfighter‘s Bolo Yeung (Fearless Tiger), a frozen-faced, muscle-bound lump who normally plays heavies and appears sparingly in his own star vehicle. Fellow fighters Michael Bernardo and William Zabka try to bolster this silly exercise in kung fooey, something about police-recruited warriors infiltrating a Miami-based gang promoting gladiators. But then there’s Yeung, clomping around gamely if ineffectually, never betraying even the slightest hint that he understands what’s going on. Pure Danger: C When the Bullet Hits the Bone: C Bloodsport II: C Shootfighter 2: D

You May Like