‘Check Point‘ harkens back to ’80s and ’90s actioners, but it’s the execution rather than its more simplistic gung-ho patriotism that find it failing…
The spirit of AIP, PM Entertainment and even a touch of Troma, lives on with the release of Check Point, truth, justice and the American Way celebrated in an action thriller that brings to mind the memories of classic 1980s early 1990s VHS thrillers
Set in a small town in North Carolina, a lonely vagrant ex-soldier uncovers a plot to start a new American revolution, but when he talks to the Sheriff about his discovery, the Sheriff dismisses his claims and locks him up. However, as more and more odd events begin to happen, the vagrant’s claims of a ‘sleeper cell’ hiding out in the town start becoming less-unbelievable and as tempers flare and residents begin to question each other’s identities and motives, battle lines are drawn… and a group of unlikely heroes must come together and fight to save their town and ‘the American way’.
Directed by Thomas J Churchill from his own script and a story by producer AJ Perez, Check Point is an unashamed 80s styled actioner, one that wears its influences very heavily on its sleeves and with nods of the head to the likes of First Blood, Extreme Prejudice, and all manner of action-fare produced in that era. It’s not high art, and its not pretending to be, its good old jingoistic action that could provide what you’re looking for.
The film boasts an impressive cast that includes Kenny Johnson (from The Shield) as Roy, the vagrant whose discovery sets off the chain of events, WWE legend Bill Goldberg from Universal Soldier: The Return, William Forsythe from Extreme Prejudice, Fred the Hammer Willamson, Tyler Mane from X-Men, stunt actor and horror icon Kane Hodder (Jason Vorhees in so many movies), Michelle Lee from Zambo Dende and Black Salt, Stephen Geoffreys (from the original Fright Night), the late Ricky Harris, Mel Novak from Game of Death, MMA champion John Lewis, and many more.
The cast does its best with what they have, and its great to see Goldberg back in action. He always had something about him and I always felt he should have done more in action cinema… he can make a great bad guy a la Universal Soldier 2, but also can handle himself as a more well rounded character as shown in Ready to Rumble and Half Past Dead. His resurgence in the WWE recently should also open some more doors for him and we’d love to see him back in action in more projects. Kenny Johnson might still be best known from The Shield, but has appeared in everything from Blade to Chicago Fire and will soon be seen in the new SWAT tv series. He’s a solid actor and does have that vulnerability about him which works well for the character.
It’s always great to see Forsythe, Tyler Mane, Kane Hodder, Fred Williamson and Michelle Lee back on screen, and the return of Stephen Geoffreys (so memorable as Evil Ed in the original Fright Night, but who abandoned mainstream cinema for a career in adult film).
The film might strike a louder chord with certain portions of the audience in North America, with the questioning of ‘Who belongs here? Who is a real American?‘ But its not trying to start a revolution, and the plot and idea of potential sleeper cells has long been a staple of American action cinema – it just seems a bit timely at the moment and perhaps not in a good way. If you can put that concept to one side, and just look at it as a no thrills actioner rather than something trying to be political, its a lot more entertaining.
But what lets the film down is the cinematography. Some scenes have a real cinematic feel to them but a lot of them have inconsistent lighting leading to a lower-budget feel. There’s a fight between Michelle Lee’s character and Mindy Robinson that looks to have been shot on two very different cameras and two very different lighting set ups! (Mindy later goes into action in an outfit seemingly paying homage to the late Ady Sidaris, it’s jiggle time, folks! Cleavage enhancing midriff-baring top activated!) There’s plenty of unarmed combat, where the choreography and the camerawork could have done with some tightening up. It’s one thing to have a wide shot to show the beauty of a technique, another when it shows just how much of a miss a hit actually was. Other fights have the opposite problem: theyare so tight, techniques and peoples heads are cut off . The action quotient should have (and could have) been taken up in intensity – the ambition is there – but a stronger stunt coordinator, DOP and editor could have fixed some of the problems with the action.
The idea of domestic terrorism, when handled properly, could offer such a solid action thriller , the cast is certainly strong enough to support it, but the pacing and the action are not handled as well as they should have been. The AIP & PM Entertainment movies may have sometimes been lacking in story or dramatic beats, but they always delivered on the action (that’s why I think it also brings back the feel of Troma, specifically movies like Troma’s War where the action just didn’t deliver on the promise!)
Check Point is entertaining and enjoyable, but its a 6/10 that left me wanting. Does Check Point check all the boxes? Sadly not…the ingredients are all there, but something was lacking from the recipe to make it as satisfying as it could have been, Check Point is worth watching to pass the time but its more a supporting feature on a double bill rather than a headliner.