Though its previously been billed as a classic Brit gangster flick, it’s clear from the ramped up level of gore-drenched action that characterises much of the content of “Sudden Fury” that writer, director and producer Darren Ward is rather more enamoured of the sort of blood splattered crime flicks that emerged out of Italy in the ‘70s and early ‘80s – or indeed anything directed by Sergio Martino or Lucio Fulci from that period. There are times when this initially unpromising, shot-on-video independent from way back in 1997 actually comes damn close to achieving something of that vibe, principally because of the undeniable sense of energy the film manages to create with its violently kinetic action set-pieces full of noisy pyrotechnics, indiscriminate machine gun fire and brutal fist-fights -- but also because of the surprisingly effective synth-based score by François Evans that accompanies them, and which manages to reproduce a similar sort of memorably melodic but tense style of music-cue to the sort of thing Fabio Frizzi might have cooked-up back in the day. Hell, David Warbeck even shows up in the first half (in his final screen role before his death), and delights in carrying out a decidedly Fulci-esque torture sequence in which he slowly burns off the faces of two lackeys of a rival crime lord with a blow-torch, a la Fulci’s “Contraband”. The violence and mayhem, when it’s periodically unleashed, is genuinely gripping and nasty in the way only the Italians could deliver, and the film, during these tense moments of wholesale carnage, despite looking like a million other bargain basement shot-on-video efforts, is planned, edited and choreographed with a level of skill that belies its otherwise ropey, homespun appearance.
Unfortunately, the realities of budget-priced indie filmmaking have already made themselves felt long before we get to these more positive considerations. Number one on the list of bugbears that blight this film from the beginning to almost the very end, is its absolutely appalling acting. If you’ve ever watched even just a few very low budget shot-on-video flicks of this nature, you will already doubtlessly have been exposed to some of the more questionable performances in the annals of the acting profession. I’ve sat through bloody loads of them and believe me, “Sudden Fury” wins the award (which I’ve just made up especially) for hands down the worst set of performances in any film of any type that I’ve ever seen in my life.
Bear in mind, this is meant to be a tough crime flick, full of the sort of hardened criminals whose usual mode of greeting would generally consist of casually shooting you in the kneecaps … if you're lucky. The script tries to outdo Guy Richie and Tarantino alike by having its entire cast of unsympathetic hard-cases substituting ninety-five per cent of the words in all of their on-screen utterances with the F word, leavened with a smattering of the C word just for variety. This is all fine and dandy, but the cast appears to be made up almost entirely of amateur or non-actors who have not the slightest knowledge of how to deliver even the simplest line of dialogue in anything like a convincing manner. You can practically see the gears grinding in their minds as they struggle just to recall let alone articulate their lines, and since most of their lines consist of graphic threats which are meant to be delivered with menaces, the sheer ineptness of the tone of the performances produces a highly comical effect. Some of the ‘actor's’ try shouting, hoping this will bring something of the threatening effect they’re looking for to their performance, but shouting doesn’t work if the lines are being delivered in the same unvarying monotone pitch throughout. Another favourite tactic consists of gesticulating wildly, throwing ones arms about for emphasis as if this is driving home the thrust of the dialogue. It results merely in certain members of the cast looking as though they’re suffering from some sort of horrible chronic nervous disease that causes involuntary movement.
Worse still, some of the casting seems rather inappropriate. If you’re going to put your friends in your movie, presumably knowing full well none of them can act but, presumably, vaguely hoping you’ll be able to wing it anyway, surely it makes sense at least to cast them in roles for which they’re going to be at least partially suited, just to give yourself a fighting chance.
The principle villain of this film is a small-time gangster called Randall (Paul Murphy). The plot kicks into gear because he’s trying to muscle-in on the cocaine dealing trade in the South-west of England, which is currently being controlled by another small-time gangster called Harris. Randall employs some trackie-suited yobs to steal a huge stash of the drug which has just been bought by Harris, but they botch the job and fail to kill all the rival crime lord’s men, meaning news gets back to Harris, who suspects Randall of being behind the plot anyway. The first half of the film consists of the ambitious, duplicitous and thoroughly despicable Randall indulging in all manner of reprehensible activity, double-dealing and violent retribution, in order to cover his tracks and pin the blame for the theft on somebody else. He murders the unfortunate yobs who were originally employed for the job, and then sets up a hit man to take the blame for the whole episode, planning on having him killed as well after a deliberately botched hand-over of the drugs results in a bloodbath. During the course of ensuing events Randall proves himself to be a completely psychotic and unprincipled cove: he shoots his rival’s wife in the chest at point-blank range and murders both his young children in cold blood in their back garden, one of them by brutally snapping the defenceless child’s neck. Later he tells his second-in-command, Jimmy (Andy Ranger), how much he enjoyed seeing the fear in the boy’s eyes as he finished him off! In other words, he’s not a very nice man! Unfortunately, the guy tasked with portraying Randall is one of the poorer actors in the film, and looks more like an insurance salesman with his cheap suit, flouncy tie and poncy mid-nineties haircut. Randall and Jimmy operate out of an office that looks exactly like one you’d find on any industrial estate in the country, and they spend a great deal of their time in it explaining the plot to each other and punctuating their clumsy exposition by calling each-other ‘pricks’ and swearing a lot. In other words they look and behave like rather slimy, nauseatingly garrulous small businessmen; they certainly don’t look anything like gangsters, and they sure as hell don’t look remotely tough. And neither possesses anything like enough acting talent to be able to convince us otherwise.
The film is also very poorly plotted and the dialogue is weak and clunky throughout. We’ve no idea who we’re even meant to be rooting for most of the time. In the end the plot settles on following Walker (Nick Rendell), the hit man intended to take the wrap for Randall’s theft. He survives Jimmy’s attempt on his life and goes to ground with an old friend who nurses him while he recovers from the injuries sustained in the shootout that occurred during the fake hand-over. Unfortunately, Randall has Alex the friend kidnapped, tortured horribly in an attempt to find out Walker’s whereabouts, and then slain in an abandoned factory after it becomes apparent that he isn’t going to betray his friend’s trust. Once Walker hears about this he goes ape-shit, and the film promptly turns into a gloriously over-the-top revenge picture, with Walker kitting himself out in a Michael Myers-style boiler suit, packing a hold-all full of dangerous weapons and going all-out to stab, garrotte, blow up and machine gun into oblivion everyone else in the film who’s still alive at that point.
The film is on much surer ground during this last half-hour of homemade gore and explosions and loud gunfire, where the director’s skill for directing balls-to-the-wall action and bloody mayhem is given full vent without the annoying distraction of having to think about plot or dialogue or gleaning acceptable performances from the cast. Luckily, the guy playing Walker is just about acceptable as an actor and in any-case, doesn’t have to say a lot; while his new nemesis (Randall, who started off as the film’s main villain and the focus of the story, has long-since disappeared from it by this point – just one illustration of the film’s weirdly unsatisfactory plot structure) is a former South African mercenary partner of Walker’s called Lennox (Victor D. Thorn) who is equally violent and deranged (and looks like Ron Jeremy, which somehow makes it all the more disturbing). The film is ridiculously violent in a laughably unbelievable way (Walker gets racked with machine-gun fire at least twice, but just keeps going!) but undeniably well-shot and in the end quite entertaining by this late point in proceedings.
The whole thing ends in a fairly well-staged car chase with the two antagonists spraying each other with machine-gun fire out of the windows. Unlike most indie films of this sort, the explosions, ear shattering gun fire and most of the resulting gore all look pretty good; the obligatory sex scene is thrown in for good measure at one point -- which, under the harsh, flat glare of video, looks like someone’s awful, sweaty home VHS sex tape -- and David Warbeck and Victor D. Thorn provide the film with its two most notable performances, Warbeck playing an effete asthmatic hit-man for Harris called Pike (the script even rehashes a version of the old “Dad’s Amy” joke concerning that name), which is the only instance of the film developing an original character rather than just relying on stock ‘types’.
“Sudden Fury” is a very mixed bag of woefully inept performances and brilliantly-staged, violent action frenzy. Indie flick fans will love it, as it far surpasses the standard of most films of this shot-on-video nature in its execution of its action and violent set-pieces; in practically all other regards the film flounders hopelessly though, and there is precious little to recommend it to audiences outside the indie ghetto.
My screener copy featured only a non-anamorphic version of the film, with not so much as a screen menu to recommend it. The press release details a number of extras to be included with the street copy though, which are listed as follows:
· Trailer, Outakes & Deleted Scenes
· Special FX: Applying the Gore
· Photo Gallery
· Bitter Vengeance – Sudden Fury is based on characters in a short film
· Director and lead actor’s audio commentary
· New Featurette – 12 years on! The FURY still burns
· Nightmares’ short film