Detonator (2003) Movie Review

It’s true, kids, you too can make a movie for pennies! All you have to do is buy stock footages of places exploding and then shove them into your movie. Some clever editing, some foresight to script events around your stock explosions, and bam! Your very own movie! Or at least that’s the lesson of “Detonator”, yet another entry into the ever-growing pile of Dumb Action Movies that have managed to stave off extinction courtesy of video shelves around the country (as well as multiplexes in unsuspecting foreign countries).

Having sufficiently sampled “Detonator” (re: surviving its 90 minutes (that’s exactly 90 minutes, the requisite running length for direct-to-video land)), I can safely say that, No, you’re not mistaken — the dialogue in “Detonator” really are that clich’-ridden. And Yes, you’re also right, that scene where Elizabeth Berkley, playing a FBI agent, delivers instructions to her underlings (who all seems to be at least 20 years older than her for some reason) really was filled with some unseemly (not to mention unnecessary) vulgarity. You would think the FBI would hire people less prone to sudden bursts of cursing. And Yes, the verbal cliché do continue to fly thick and fast, right alongside the exploding stock footages.

Randall Batinkoff stars as Stoddard, an ex-FBI agent busted down to postal inspector after he does one of those “loose cannon”-type things all movie loose cannons are wont to do, such as decking his superior (played gleefully by Stan Shaw as a political glory hound). Elizabeth Berkley gets top billing (by virtue of her infamous name) as FBI agent Dreyer, who has a history with Beau, but lacks Beau’s loose cannon spunk. After a domestic terrorist starts setting off bombs and killing a lot of people around Los Angeles, Stoddard and Dreyer reluctantly team up to investigate. And oh yeah, they keep talking about what a scumbag Stan Shaw’s character is.

While reviewing the South Korean movie “Tube” a few weeks back, the subject of Dumb Action Movies came up. DAMs originated in Hollywood with their slew of mindless summer fare, but the genre has since trickled down to the massive direct-to-video field, where it seems to have found the perfect home. Without a lot of resources at their disposal, DTV filmmakers have had to embrace all the things that make DAMs, well, DAMs. Many DTV films are action-oriented and convoluted in plot, usually involving some unfathomably difficult scenario that the filmmakers must know they have neither the resources nor talent to pull off. And yet they do it anyway. Is it courage, or just stupidity? You decide.

The only actor who survives “Detonator” is Randall Batinkoff, who despite getting nearly blown up by (probably yet another) stock footage explosion, is obviously not a bad actor. He has an easy charisma and sells his scenes with flair, even if writer Herschel Wahlkoch has him spitting out some truly clich’d lines you could see coming a mile away. Unfortunately Elizabeth Berkley doesn’t convince as an FBI agent. Of course the fact that her character walks through the movie with her chest pressed in people’s faces and the top buttons of her shirt undone don’t exactly add to the believability factor. Later in the movie, she shows up in a tight shirt that bares her midriff, leading me to this conclusion: Gee, the FBI sure has relaxed their dress code!

If you were to take out all the stock footages of various things and places blowing up, “Detonator” probably wouldn’t meet the all-important 90-minute threshold that all DTV films depend on for their continued survival. Which brings me to this point: picking out all the obvious stock footages was quite entertaining, not to mention keeping me involved throughout the film. If I had to absolutely put money on it, I would guess that the movie’s entire third act, which takes place in a supposedly explosives-laden hockey stadium, consists of scenes taken from the Jean-Claude van Damme actioner “Sudden Death”. Don’t call me on it, but that’s the movie I would put money on if I had to bet where director Jonathan Freedman culled at least half of the third act’s running time from.

All of the above doesn’t mean “Detonator” is a royal turkey. The film moves well, is rarely boring, and even the pot-smoking surfer “dude” who works in Stoddard’s office was strangely amusing. And sure, the FBI’s “mainframe computer” seems to have the security measures of a microwave, but at least leading man Randall Batinkoff is an entertaining chap. If he could avoid dreck like “Detonator” from now on, he’ll probably have a decent career ahead of him. Just steer away from Dumb Action Movies, Randall. That, and stock explosions.

Jonathan Freedman (director) / Herschel Wahlkoch (screenplay)
CAST: Randall Batinkoff …. Beau Stoddard
Elizabeth Berkley …. Jane Dreyer
Stan Shaw …. Robert Brickland
Bokeem Woodbine …. Jake Forrester

Buy Detonator on DVD