Review By Eric Allen Hatch
No offense to John Waters, but one of
the best Baltimore-set cult films in years comes from an
upstart filmmaker hailing from the Washington suburbs. Alvin
Ecarma's Lethal Force radiates as much self-confidence
as any debut feature in recent memory, regardless of genre,
and as a low-budget romp through the cult-film canon, it's a
psychotronic triumph of the highest order. Ecarma's movie
includes crafty references to B-movie icons such as Jack Hill,
Bruce Lee, James Glickenhaus, and Ray Dennis Steckler.
Thankfully, Ecarma's hilarious script and strong cinematic
sensibility turn what could have been a disjointed parade of
pastiches into a tight and memorable entertainment.
Suburban gangster Jack (Frank Prather) returns home to find
his wife dead and his son Patrick (J. Patrick Collins Jr.)
kidnapped by wheelchair-bound crime lord Mal (Andrew Hewitt).
In exchange for sparing Patrick, Mal demands that Jack lure
his best friend and hit man of choice, Savitch ("Cash Flagg
Jr."--a Steckler homage), into a fatal trap. Meanwhile,
Patrick remains in captivity, protected from creepy pedophiles
by Mal's No. 1 black-and-beautiful henchwoman, Rita (Patricia
Williams). If Savitch manages to escape Mal's clutches, how
will he settle his score with Jack?
Clearly, Lethal Force finds its center in cartoonish
'80s action-revenge flicks like Commando; it's replete
with Ah-noldesque one-liners and a blood-soaked body count. In
parodying this material, Ecarma shows savvy by essentially
making an earnest '80s action-revenge flick and letting the
genre's dated conventions parody themselves. At appropriate
moments, he grafts onto his spartan plot flourishes borrowed
from blaxploitation classics, spaghetti westerns, and Hong
Kong cinema old and new (the last abetted by
professional-looking action choreography by Eric Thornett).
Although Ecarma's movie won both the Jury and Audience
awards for Best Feature at last year's MicroCineFest, it would
be doing Lethal Force a disservice to dwell on its
miniscule budget and cheapo production values. For laughs and
excitement, Lethal Force compares favorably to most of
Hollywood's bloated output. By setting his sights on drive-in
classics and late-night cable fodder, Ecarma knows he doesn't
need to provide polish--just blood, guts, and giggles.