If you know the name Gary Daniels, Lorenzo Lamas, and Cynthia Rothrock off the top of your head, then you’re the prime target for “The Eliminator”. It’s a moderately budgeted straight-to-video action film that makes as little sense as possible, since in this particular genre something as cumbersome as “story logic” would only get in the way of all the gratuitous kicking, punching, and killing. Daniels, Lamas, Rothrock and variations thereof once ruled this particular video store niche, each given their turn at dominance in the late ’80s and most of the ’90s, but many have since retired into obscurity. You can’t really blame independent movie producers for putting Daniels et al to pasture, especially with former big names like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal currently swimming in the same direct-to-video talent pool. When you can pay Seagal to do the same nonsensical movie that would normally go to Daniels or Lamas, why wouldn’t you?
One could argue that this is the perfect time to introduce a new contender for the crown of “straight-to-video action king”. The hero of “The Eliminator” is one Bas Rutten, a champ from the world of MMA, or mixed martial arts, a form of fighting that, as the name may imply, employs mix martial arts techniques to clobber the opponent into submission. (The Ultimate Fighting Championships being at the heart of this particularly violent sport.) At first glance, Rutten wouldn’t seem like the ideal contender for the crown. For one, he’s not exactly Tom Cruise (he’s bald and heavyset), and the non-American genes certainly won’t help him with the bread and butter of the genre — the undemanding American consumers who raids Blockbusters’ shelves daily for the newest “slam bam damn that didn’t make sense” action flicks. Not that the accent is a major obstacle, mind you, as many previous holders of the crown have been foreigners, some with accents so thick you’d need a bulletproof hummer to get through.
“The Eliminator” opens with a very lame boat race, where we are introduced to tough guy Varley (Bas Rutten). After winning the race, Varley confronts the race’s organizer, smarmy rich guy Miles Dawson (Michael Rooker), who promptly drugs Varley and drags him off in front of, oh, about two dozen eyewitnesses. It turns out Dawson has been looking for a contestant to compete in a “The Most Dangerous Game”-type contest held annually at his isolated island, where various rich guys from different parts of the world handpick a contestant to do battle with Dawson’s own contestant. The varied contestants, all skilled at fighting and survival, are brought against their will, of course, and are told by the island’s Warden (G. Anthony Joseph) that only one of them can be left alive, with the winner taking home $10 million.
Aside from Varley, there’s Jamal Duff playing a big tough black guy who apparently travels with his personal soundtrack, which explains why we keep hearing a loud, animal growling sound whenever he’s onscreen; tough but nice guy Jesse (Paul Logan, last seen playing a walking stiff in the softcore flick “Seduction of Maxine”, but apparently has since learned to breathe); and freedom fighter Santha (Danielle Burgio), who may not be who she seems. Determined to survive, Varley, Jesse, and Santha team up against the murderous Darius (Duff). Meanwhile, Dawson and the other players gather in a mountaintop villa to watch the game and generally bore the audience with not-so-snappy patter. It doesn’t help that, without the green of the jungle, the villa scenes are dull and drab.
Although its potential is greatly constrained by a generic script utilizing a wholly unoriginal premise and a small budget, “The Eliminator” manages to be just entertaining enough not to make the debut of star Bas Rutten a total failure. To be sure, there’s nothing overly good here, and the Third Act is terribly rushed and amateurish, even by low-budget B-movie standards. But even so, the film has its moments, most of them, not surprisingly, occurring in the jungle between Rutten and his fellow contestants. The script by David Neilsen, while generally uninspired, benefits from not having to live up to any expectations whatsoever. That’s how low the genre has fallen.
From the list of things that boggles the mind (i.e. idiotic screenwriting), there’s that whole thing about the Warden sending his men out nightly to kill the contestants by equipping them with nightvision goggles and — get this — two bullets each. In itself, this wouldn’t qualify as dumb, but the Warden has the nerve to get all hot and bothered when his men start getting picked off by the contestants. Well duh. If you were going to get all mad about seeing your men killed, why didn’t you give them more than 2 bullets, genius. Or how about the fact that these wealthy gamers allow the Warden to send out death squads to kill their contestants at all. Isn’t the whole point of putting a bunch of ferocious fighters on an island for them to kill each other? What’s the fun of sending out armed killers to stalk them at night? Then again, what do I know, I’m not a rich guy who likes to drug muscle-bound folks and toss them out of airplanes onto a CGI island.
Although he doesn’t look the part of an action hero by any stretch of the imagination, you could nevertheless understand why the filmmakers chose Bas Rutten as their leading man. The Dutchman is charming, affable, and he chews dialogue like they were prime steaks. It’s saying something when Rutten gives the best acting performance of the film, topping even genre vet Michael Rooker, who seems to be daydreaming about a better acting gig whenever his character bothers to show up onscreen.
Besides Rutten, the film also benefits from some surprisingly good work by co-stars Paul Logan and Danielle Burgio. Logan in particular has some good moments with Rutten, as the duo spends much of the film evading killers and exchanging humorous rapport. On the negative side, Jamal Duff grates on the nerve, and if the growling soundtrack was silly the first time it was used, it gets downright idiotic on the 50th time. Also worth mentioning is the unnecessary inclusion of cheap special effects, including questionable uses of bullet POV and shots of the CGI island. Without a budget to pull off these effects with any degree of competency, director Ken Barbet should have done the smart thing and not bother altogether.
“The Eliminator” makes a good debut for Rutten, who could very well grow on the viewer with enough films to his credit. He certainly shows more range in the acting department than his fellow B-movie actors, which is a plus in a genre that doesn’t necessarily require such a trait. It also deserves mentioning that Rutten shows no aversion to getting thrash onscreen, which is admirable in a genre filled with generic untouchable killing machines ala Steven Seagal. With “The Eliminator” already under his belt, it’ll be interesting to see where Rutten goes from here.
Ken Barbet (director) / David Neilsen (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Rooker …. Miles Dawson
Bas Rutten …. Dakota Varley
G. Anthony Joseph …. Warden Sutherland
Jamal Duff …. Darius
Danielle Burgio …. Santha
Paul Logan …. Jesse