OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Graham Baker

Written by: Andrew Birkin

Starring: Sam Neill, Lisa Harrow, Rossano Brazzi, Don Gordon, Leueen Willoughby, Tony Vogel & Mason Adams

To be completely fair to OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT, this trilogy was setting itself up for a grand finale. The final installment in the real OMEN series (we’ll ignore that shitty TV movie follow-up) doesn’t fully deliver on that set-up. It does make a little bit of sense looking back on the first two films. It’s far more interesting and creepy to watch adults figure out that their child is the Antichrist or a teenager come to terms with being the Antichrist as opposed to the Devil incarnate wreaking havoc as an adult. We’ve seen so many adult Devils (both before and after this film) that FINAL CONFLICT feels too familiar to other movies and is rather original for an OMEN movie. Some people outright dislike this film and call it a stain on the OMEN series. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s far weaker than you might hope for the closing chapter of a great horror trilogy.

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Damien is now in his early thirties and making a name for himself in politics (The Devil’s a politician? Who knew?). After moving into the position his adoptive father once held as U.S. Ambassador to Britain, Damien is planning to run for president. Once there, he will be guaranteed the most power he can possibly hold (both in office and on Earth) to condemn the world to damnation. His evil plans are complicated by the signs that the Second Coming is upon him. Damien does his damnedest (see what I did there?) to kill Christ’s child (a.k.a. the Nazarene) incarnate. Meanwhile, a band of monks are trying to end Damien with the seven holy daggers that were more of a little detail in the first two films.

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Sam Neill is a mixed bag of an actor. However, I really liked his Damien Thorn. The character has a charismatic side that hides his true nature. You can see why people would like him as a politician and a possible friend (other than his Satanist followers). When his nasty side comes out, it’s also in a cool and collected way that makes him so much more of a badass. They’re aren’t nearly as many death scenes in this third OMEN outing and it makes sense given the story. Pretty much everyone who was ever interested in discovering Damien’s real identity has already been offed (save for the religious folks who have kept together in a small group). As a result, there aren’t as many creative bloody scenes as there were in the previous two installments. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few cool moments. The most notable of which is a hunting scene. Another is a quiet TV studio interview gone very wrong.

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After two solid movies that only featured a few of his followers (a nanny, a drill sergeant, an aunt), seeing Damien address his worshipers in a huge congregation is neat and gives a solid idea of just how many people are following Satan’s son. Also, there is a really cruel montage following that scene that goes into an extreme area of nastiness. It might just be argued that it was for shock value, but it’s well-executed and gives you a lot by showing just enough to get the point. However, an unneeded forbidden romance type angle was thrown in between Damien and a journalist that comes off as filler. There was potential in the idea, but it’s never realized. The movie lacks that distinct brooding darkness that lingered around the first two films. Details regarding the seven daggers being the only real way to off Damien are also used more as guidelines instead of rules. That might explain why every monk only carries one with him, when we’ve been specifically told multiple times in the previous OMENs that you need all seven at once to kill the Antichrist. It’s a bit of a cheat later on, but it’s somewhat acceptable given that there are so many positive qualities here.

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THE FINAL CONFLICT is definitely not the defining last note that fans of the OMEN series where hoping the saga of Damien would end on. There are positive things (cool scenes, Sam Neill’s performance, a grim level that the film does dip into) and negative traits (a useless romance and plot holes). OMEN III is the weakest of the trilogy, but it’s not a bad film. FINAL CONFLICT is a decent enough final chapter to an otherwise very solid trilogy. It makes sense that things would get a little less interesting when the Antichrist grew up, but we kind of hoped he wouldn’t.

Grade: B-

ESCAPE PLAN (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language throughout

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Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom

Written by: Miles Chapman & Jason Keller

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis Jackson, Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio & Amy Ryan

From 1980’s to 1990’s, cheesy R-rated action films captured the hearts and minds of Americans. There was nothing like gathering the family together around the TV to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver bloody violence. The hilarious one-liners were just icing on the cake. Sylvester Stallone was also a star of ludicrous glorified B-flicks. Since those times have passed, the mainstream action genre has gone on to play it safe (e.g. NON-STOP) in order to attract the widest possible paying demographic. ESCAPE PLAN tries to recapture the spirit of those crazy rides and winds up with mixed results.

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Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an ex-lawyer turned prison escapee. It’s Breslin’s job to break out of high-security prisons and expose their weak points. His latest assignment is a top-secret supposedly “escape proof” facility. This hellhole is known simply as The Tomb. A major problem for Breslin is that his correspondent isn’t the man he was supposed to meet. Instead, this sadistic warden doesn’t believe a word Breslin says. It seems as if Ray will be left in the maximum-security prison to rot, but he makes a fast friend in Emil Rottmayer. Rottmayer is an Austrian-accented criminal played by none other than the accomplished thespian Arnold Schwarzenegger. Together Stallone and Arnold er…I mean Breslin and Rottmayer must use ingenuity and brawn to escape from The Tomb!

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ESCAPE PLAN starts strong and ends strong. Things become tedious in the middle. It’s as if the director Mikael Hafstrom (1408) and the screenwriters forgot they were supposed to be making an action film with two high-caliber ass-kickers. The script packs in a lot of unnecessary details and a totally contrived subplot. Because of this, ESCAPE PLAN comes off as disjointed. I didn’t care about the silly plot twists that have been seen in plenty of other movies. I didn’t care about the backstory of Stallone or Arnold. In a film like this, the audience expects to see the two middle-aged action stars kicking ass and taking names. The movie didn’t deliver that until past the hour mark. By that point it was nearly too little, too late in the game.

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There are some really enjoyable sections of ESCAPE PLAN though. The first 30 minutes are interesting and (as mentioned before) the last 25 are action packed. Both the reveal of where the prison is located and its exact purpose are pretty neat. There are two good actors among the so-so performers too. Vinnie Jones (SNATCH, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) appears as an unrelenting guard and has arguably the best fight scene in the entire film squaring off against one of our heroes. The real scene-stealer is Jim Caviezel as the ruthless warden. Caviezel knows what kind of film this is and seems to be loving every minute of it. He’s a calm, collected, cocky villain. This is the kind of bad guy that makes the audience root for him to bite it in the most painful way possible.

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ESCAPE PLAN could have benefitted from a few more rewrites and about a 95 minute running time. Arnold and Stallone seem tired and the script doesn’t give them much to work with for half of the film. It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, but there’s enough entertainment value to recommend this as a time-killer. We’re never going to get back the Arnold Schwarzenegger who had no qualms about ramming his fist into someone’s stomach and breaking their goddamn spine. It’s also doubtful that we’ll ever see the “First Blood” Sylvester Stallone again too. At least, it’s nice to see two former greats together, even if the film is just barely serviceable.

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After all, this is the kind of movie where bullets graze our heroes, but never miss the bad guys. It’s the kind of film where if you turn off all cognitive thought, then you might have fun. It’s got big problems, but if you can live in a cinematic world where Sylvester Stallone is a lawyer, then you will probably enjoy ESCAPE PLAN.

Grade: C+

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