Recon 2020: The Caprini Massacre Movie Review
Written by Eric Strauss
Movie produced by Movie Seals
Written and directed by Christian Viel
2004, 89 minutes, Not rated
Anderson Bradshaw as Sgt. Sharp
Kevin Kelsall as Sgt. Tibbs
Patrick Sabongui as Sgt. Gums
Gillian Leigh as Fooks
Valerie Wiseman as Kara
Johnny Goar as Anton
There’s something comforting about the familiar. But handled incorrectly, the familiar can rapidly turn to cliché.
And that may be the greatest challenge facing the Space Marines of writer/director Christian Viel’s sci-fi action flick, Recon 2020: The Caprini Massacre.
Recon 2020 is crafted from the best parts of other movies, but Viel manages to shake and bake them into a cohesive, entertaining whole.
The “Power Corps” soldiers are ripped straight from James Cameron’s playbook, down to the armor and dropship, and sent on a suicide run to a desolate factory on the distant world of Caprini. There, they find themselves in a maelstrom that includes Terminator-style androids and cyborgs, hulking robots, sea monsters, mercenaries straight from The Road Warrior, creatures of horror legend and even — I shit you not — a dinosaur.
But through it all, they manage to keep cracking wise and, more importantly for the upcoming sequel, firing their guns.
And if the actors struggle sometimes with their exposition, once the fighting starts, they team with Viel (and their stunt doubles) to create some extremely convincing combat. While Recon 2020 is more rock-’em-sock-’em Starship Troopers than mother-of-all-sci-fi-wars Aliens, it delivers the goods where it counts: action.
Viel uses just the right amount of effects — from point-of-view filters to hand-held cameras à la Saving Private Ryan —to give the scenes a sense of urgency and anarchy (although there is sometimes a little too much anarchy). At one point, I lost track of one trooper entirely — and it doesn’t help that the seven soldiers look virtually indistinguishable in their armor.
Despite moments like that, Viel usually — thankfully — stays on this side of excess. There are flaws, including way too much cannon fodder, underuse of the horror aspects — were those vampires? — and some extremely questionable military decisions. But the flaws are overcome by a genuine adrenaline rush.
That rush even makes up for some fairly wooden acting. Whenever the dialogue scenes start becoming cringe-worthy, some new kind of menace pops up and starts blasting away at our intrepid Marines.
Veteran supporting actor Anderson Bradshaw (Gothika, Taking Lives), playing the team leader, Sharp, does give the film a pretty solid center. And among his troopers, stuntmen Kevin Kelsall, in the Vasquez role from Aliens (mouthy machine-gunner), and Patrick Sabongui, in the Hudson role (malcontent), are the most capable in between fights. The rest of the team members — Charles Mellor is the best as the smooth Buzz — don’t have as much to do, which is generally good, though none are too far below average.
Gillian Leigh, playing the universe’s hottest dropship pilot, improves on her wooden performance in Samhain, though her gunplay is about as convincing as Clea DuVall’s in Ghosts of Mars. On the plus side, it’s easy to see why the otherwise no-nonsense Sharp thinks with the little head wherever his flygirl is concerned.
It’s rough, though, when the actor playing a robot (Valerie Wiseman, The Barbarian Invasions) is less stiff than the ones playing humans. But she kicks some serious ass in her big fight scene, and that just adds to Recon 2020’s strengths.
Another asset that separates the film from lesser B-movie fare is that Viel has a little extra money and a lot more creativity, and knows how to use both to maximum effect. The factory location is both creepy and well-used, computer effects seldom look fake and things like bullet hits and night vision look about as good as they come in independent pictures.
From gunplay and explosions to fist-fights and combat maneuvers, it’s the action that carries Recon 2020, and carries it well. And if the enemies Viel throws at the Marines in waves keep getting crazier and crazier, that just adds to the fun.
Aliens is my favorite film, and one of the greatest sci-fi action flicks ever. So an Aliens ripoff — and to be honest, that’s what this is — has a lot to live up to.
But if Christian Viel lacks the resources to match the ultimate standard, what he can do is make the most of what he has. And he does.
Keep an eye on this Canadian director — between Recon 2020 and Samhain, he’s proved he can take a familiar genre, flip its clichés on their ear and turn out one heck of a fun film.
I’m already looking forward to the sequel.
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