Could a movie be more custom-made for me? Alvin Ecarma's Lethal Force (2001) boasts geysers of blood à la the Lone Wolf & Cub films, blazing guns (and latent homosexuality) from John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, and a bevy of stylistic and thematic nods to other favorite films from Conan The Barbarian to Evil Dead II to Armour of God. Even the temporary soundtrack present when I saw Lethal Force at a riotous MicroCineFest 2001 screening (where it walked away with the Audience and Judges’ Awards for Best Feature Film) possessed musical cues (and sound effects) from Enter the Dragon, For a Few Dollars More, and other films of high regard.
Frank Pritchard stars as Jack Carter. He’s a well-meaning patsy caught between his old friend, Frank Savitch (Cash Flagg Jr.), an unstoppable assassin, and Mal Lock (Andrew Hewitt), a wheelchair-bound super-baddie with a legion of white-masked goons at his command. Director Ecarma does well to keep things fresh in what could otherwise be a staid action film with wonderfully kinetic camerawork and large doses of dry-witted comedy.
The tricky hybrid of comedy and action could have easily failed, turning Lethal Force into a ridiculous farce like The Naked Gun or a silly gest like The Jewel of the Nile. Rather, this small-budgeted film ($12K!) wonderfully succeeds on all levels. The film is technically adroit and chock full of laugh-out-loud outrageousness.
I really can’t say enough good things about Lethal Force. Each time I watch it, I find myself enjoying it even more than the last.
Cashiers du Cinemart:How long did it take the film to come to fruition?
Alvin Ecarma: It took almost two years to write the script, which seems amazing considering its rudimentary nature; the thing was just being able to boil everything down to essentials and keep it simple. If it came down to a “worst case scenario,” I could handle everything myself-something that, in hindsight, I still would not have been able to do.
When it came to crew, I pulled the records I had been keeping of local people who would be helpful in getting the project on its feet. I found my FX/art director Danny Fielding from a five-year-old issue of the Monster Make-Up Journal. My action director/cinematographer Eric Thornett had his first movie Birdheart Pie reviewed in the same issue of Shock Cinema as one of my shorts.
When the time came to start pre-production in February 1999, I dialed them both up and sent them a big package that included my résumé, press clippings, and the Lethal Force script. We all met face to face in March at the 1999 Johns Hopkins Film Festival where they were showing a selection of my shorts. At the same event, I met Kent Bye, the man who would become my line producer. He was an engineer with a hankering to get into film. His left-brain thinking and dedication helped keep things together and running smoothly.
We started casting in April/May 1999, which was uneventful except for the fact that large portions of the actors in the Washington, DC metro area have a gigantic stick up their ass. Anywhere else, people would fall all over themselves to be in a movie; in DC I had to get down on bended knee and kiss the ring of the local dinner theatre prima donna bastard. The amount of static I got was ludicrous. People dropped out from two weeks before we started shooting until the very day before we started actual production. The actors who stayed on are terrific, wonderful people who’ll have a spot in every movie I make from now on (except for the few I’m no longer talking to).
We shot from July to December 1999, and then we came back a year later to clarify a few things and to make the movie longer. Editing didn’t begin until June 2000. It took about a month to edit the picture and three to four months to do the sound since everything was post-synched. After we shot the additional scenes in January 2001, the film reached its pretty-much finished-state in February 2001 and it was in this form that it made its premiere at the 2001 Johns Hopkins Film Festival.
We continued making tweaks until June 2001 so the version that’s playing the circuit now is somewhat different but mostly the same. We still haven’t officially finished posting the movie as we are currently waiting on an original music score. The film should be absolutely finished by mid-to-late 2002.
CdC:How has Lethal Force been received?
AE: Very well. In fact, there has only been one of those “so bad I want to crawl into a whiskey bottle and die” screenings. Every audience I’ve seen it with just loves the goddamn thing.
CdC:Why do you think that so-called “underground” film festivals have overlooked Lethal Force?
AE: I think we could speculate until my liver explodes. My friend Mastah Cow has observed that it’s impossible to know why things were programmed in a festival unless you were at the meetings. That said, in my angrier, more drunken moments I theorize that I just didn’t rip off Russ Myer or John Waters enough. Plus, there weren’t any masked Mexican wrestlers.
Seriously, I think that Lethal Force is too mainstream for the underground circuit (MicroCineFest notwithstanding). It’s actually clever and funny and although it’s desperately cheap, it does deliver as an action film. More important, its something that can be enjoyed by a wide demographic from film buffs who could point out every single homage in the movie to the cinematic neophyte who doesn’t know John Woo from John Wayne. How many “underground” films can say the same thing?
CdC:Tell me about your action choreography. The fight scenes in Lethal Force were amazing!
AE: Eric Thornett conceived and executed those. Eric has been doing the action movie thing forever. Even though he has no formal training, he’s an excellent stuntman and has an innate understanding of action direction far in advance of most professional stunt people. Eric’s able to expertly blend hardcore fighting into scenes that have rhythm, pacing, and humor. If somebody ever gave him the money, he’d be the round-eye, pale face Sammo Hung.
CdC:What was it like working with Cash Flagg, Jr? I’ve heard he’s a bit of a loose cannon.
AE: To be blunt, he’s an asshole. You have to remember that some of the most creative and brilliant people in the world are assholes as well. Cash is just like that, but minus the creative and brilliant part.
CdC:How about Sean Connery?
AE: He’s an asshole, too. He’s been riding that Darby O’Gillis & The Little People train for too damn long. Every day it was Darby O’Gillis that and Darby O’Gillis this or “Do you know what movie I was in? That’s rightDarby O’Gillis! Now give me my scotch!”
I had to cut most of his scenes. All that remains is three seconds of his ankle. He’s not a very good actor really. I mean, he’s okay, but he’s no Clint Howard.
CdC:How far along is the sequel, Lethal Force Part 2: Certain Death?
AE: That’s five to seven years away. I’m following the Sam Raimi method and using Lethal Force as the movie I can always fall back on. For instance, my next movie is going to a bit of a change of pace without Cash Flagg, Jr. and with more characterization and polished acting; I am certain no one will like it, à la Crimewave. Desperate for positive press and caving in to fan boy pressure, I’ll follow that up with Lethal Force 2, which will be just like the first one only bigger and better, like Evil Dead II. I also plan to make a super hero movie, a terrible Western and a Kevin Costner drama (something that doesn’t appear to be totally out of the question considering the way his career is going).
For more information about Lethal Force, check out the Divergent Thinking website at http://www.divergentthinking.net