Review: No Contest

VHS cover scan courtesy of Talesfromthesnikt.blogspot.com
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Category: Action

So here's a film that just kind of sort of came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of me. I'm not even sure how I came across it, or aware of it, but doing some random search on Andrew Dice Clay (must have been because I just revisited Ford Fairlane) I came across this little unknown film from way back in 1995. Now I love action. Most importantly, I love low-budget action. So it surprises me that I hadn't heard of this until now, considering the talent that's involved in front of and behind the camera. Once I did a little digging I realized that it's on YouTube, so I threw it on the other night while I was in one of my "action" moods and hoped for the best. Let's see how it went.

No Contest is arguably one of the most entertaining Die Hard ripoffs I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Sure there are tons of these, some big budget and some low budget, but I had never come across one that was blatantly ripping off that original Die Hard film in such a drastic way that you couldn't help but laugh, in the best possible way. Yes, substitute a few things here and there, and it's essentially Die Hard with a female lead. Not just with the story, but with specific sequences, characters, supporting characters, plot points, and even down to it's visual aesthetic. Yea we always hear the term "Die Hard on a boat", or "Die Hard on a train", but this is seriously "Die Hard in a hotel", and it was awesome.

Shannon Tweed plays pageant host Sharon Bell, who also happens to be an action star who's proficient in Tae Kwon Do. When a terrorist (Andrew Dice Clay) and his crew takes the pageant and all of it's contestants hostage, it's up to Sharon Bell, with the help of a former Seargent on the outside (Robert Davi)to take them down one by one and save the day.

Image courtesy of Thedullwoodexperiment.com
No Contest is pure 100% action cheese at it's finest. There is so much that works so well in this, that you can easily forgive the few things that don't. Though technically a DTV (Direct to Video) affair, for the most part, you'd never know it. Director Paul Lynch (Prom Night) seems to have studied both John McTiernan and Renny Harlin's camera work on both Die Hard 1 & 2 because if you didn't know any better, you'd swear that either of them had directed this thing themselves. It's pretty spot-on in my opinion, and it's because of this visual flare that No Contest succeeds as well as it does. Of course, there are other attributes, most notably the killer cast, starting with Robert Davi in the Sgt. Powell (Reginald Veljohnson) role from the first Die Hard. A total badass, even wen he spends most of the time on a walkie talkie. Andrew Dice Clay did a good job as the main villain, without cracking jokes, which was kind of surreal. Don't let the cover fool you, he's not the action star in this. But the biggest surprise for me was Rowdy Roddy Piper as one of Clay's henchmen. I have to say, he's never shown or even mentioned in the trailer, so when the opening credits rolled up, I was shocked to see his name. But I assumed he'd be a rogue cop trying to save the day or something, like his role from Back in Action. Instead he plays a regular henchman, but the more sadistic of the group. In this Die Hard ripoff, he would resemble the character of Karl, played by Alexander Godunov in the original Die Hard. There's even a similar sequence in the end that Godunov made famous in that original classic; you'll know which one I'm talking about when you see it. But do you see what I'm getting at? It's just like they remade Die Hard, only on a tighter budget, but not any less entertaining or fun.

So that leaves us with the films star, Shannon Tweed. I will say this, she's attractive, there's no doubt about that. But though she's made a reputation at being nude in Playboy and in a slew of erotic thrillers, unfortunately you won't see any of that in here. So that leaves us with her acting, which can only be described as wooden at best. She's a looker, but she's not the most expressive actress. And while I admire the idea of having a female in the hero lead role, it was hard to find her believable as someone who can go one on one with any of these guys. You can tell she did some fight training for the role, but some of the fight scenes are almost laughable at how slow and choreographed they are. She can throw a punch, but it certainly doesn't look like a hard punch. But I have to say that the big fight between her and Andrew Dice Clay in the climax was hilariously awful. I mean, they tried their hardest to mask the fact that it's not really Andrew Dice Clay doing roundhouses and Shannon Tweed doing uppercuts by having the stunt doubles in the shadows and using far away camera angles, but even then, the editing is what gives it all away anyway because it's so ridiculous. By this point you have to wonder why Clay's character even bothers with these ridiculous roundhouse kicks when he can just grab her and choke her to death because he's twice her size. But then that wouldn't be any fun, would it?

I have never been a fan of director Paul Lynch, mostly because of his amateurish work on the original Prom Night. That was always a letdown to me. I feel I could have enjoyed it more had it been shot better, but it's tacky and uninspired camerawork ruined the whole experience for me. Since then he's done mostly television work, with the occasional DTV flick here and there. So when it came time to watch this, I was more than surprised to see how well it all looked. I don't know if Lynch owes most of that to his DoP or Cinematographer, but holy hell did this look like a big budget studio action flick with all the trimmings. As I mentioned before, he seemed to be channeling Renny Harlin in his heyday (Die Hard 2, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane), and it looks amazing. Every shot looks to have been conceived to take full advantage of it's widescreen aspect ratio, giving it a much more polished and professional look than you'd expect.

One thing I learned, surprisingly, was that when it comes to Roddy Piper, we all know he's good at playing crazy. He's made a career out of it, whether it be in the ring or on film. But here in this particular instance, he plays his character unsettlingly calm, and it comes off far more creepy than if he were to play it "crazy". It's because of this that Piper's character ultimately comes off as the most memorable in the film, even though technically he's just a hired henchman with a penchant for being shockingly brutal.

This movie won't change the genre or anything, but I'd be hard pressed to find another one as good that can define it. Die Hard ripoff's are a dime a dozen in the industry, especially in the 90's, but we can all agree that most of them were paint-by-numbers at best. No Contest, while adding nothing new to the table, seems to know where it's roots are, and in doing so, gives us exactly what we want; low-budget action cheese at it's best.

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