If you’re still smarting over the memories of Thomas Ian Griffith (TIG) as the faux bad ass cop in Excessive Force or the faux bad ass cop in Crackerjack then you will surely be trying to destroy whatever brain cells you somehow have left in an effort to totally forget that he was a faux bad ass private eye in Ulterior Motives.
If you’re going to be an action star, you really need to be doing one thing really well – action. Sounds simple I know. To the uninitiated it might even sound rather limiting for an actor. You know how these actors are always looking for a challenge and don’t want to be typecast.
A real action star though knows that there’s plenty of stretching he can do within a given movie. For instance, he might be retired special forces instead of a burned out cop. Or he might be playing twins for some reason. And if he isn’t matching wits against his former CIA bosses who are always one step ahead of him, he’s probably out avenging the death of his kung fu master by brawling his way through an underground to-the-death martial arts tournament.
So what does TIG go and get us mixed up with this time? Just a convoluted scheme to pass a protectionist trade bill aimed at the Japanese!
The Japanese as economic threat to America? This movie needs to be put in a time capsule with the Garbage Pail Kids, cassette tapes, and Don Johnson! (Obviously most of the stretching in this film will occur by the viewer just before dozing off.)
And is there any circumstance where you want to hear your action hero speechifying about saving American jobs? To a New York Times reporter? Dude, you need to be doing an “American job” on some bad guy’s face, not doing spin control to the press!
And when the bloated up White Shadow Ken Howard appeared as the bad guy in favor of protectionism came on, I thought for a minute that I had somehow been suckered into watching some old clips of Lou Dobbs on CNN!
The White Shadow actually plays a guy who has a public relations agency that is trying to get this bill passed. White Shadow is good friends with the reporter (Mary Page Keller) and uses her to stir up American sentiment against the Japanese, presumably to put pressure on Congress to pass his bill. To that end he rigs it so that the reporter reports some bogus story about the Japanese stealing American technology and arranges for one of the involved parties to be murdered, apparently by the Yakuza!
Putting aside the fact that the American public has only been exposed to the Yakuza in a variety of low budget straight to home video action movies (like this one), I wasn’t entirely sure how a single act of industrial espionage was going to drive American economic policy.
And like most stupid bad guy plans, the whole thing farts in White Shadow’s face when the reporter keeps on digging! Really? The gung ho reporter you were counting on to get your version of the story out, keeps on digging? Who would have thunk it? Besides anybody but this bad guy!
White Shadow though has a trump card: TIG! TIG is the P.I. the reporter is working with on the case, but what she doesn’t know is that he is also working with White Shadow and White Shadow has given the order to TIG to kill her!
This leads to the only really almost-good scene in the movie where TIG almost throws the reporter off the roof of a building! Sadly, he is interrupted before he can actually chuck her overly earnest ass of the roof. Later it appears that he’s taken a sword and hacked her to death, but because of the pointless scene with his coroner pal earlier in the movie, we know that he must have been loaned a corpse to pull a fast one on White Shadow.
This movie also has one of my least favorite short cuts used by lazy films to move the plot along. I speak of course of the old “important information given via a message left on an answering machine that just happens to be left when a character is standing next to the phone to hear it” trick. It’s almost as lame as the scene where our hero is snooping around the bad guy’s office and makes just enough noise so that the bad guys know she was there and thus alerts everyone that she’s too close to the truth and has to be bumped off.
Idiotic and confusing plots can and are routinely forgiven (see any Gary Daniels, Jeff Speakman, Olivier Gruner and Richard Norton movie), but only if there’s plenty of punching, cussing, shooting, kicking, and exploding going on. Ulterior Motives spends so much time with characters like the reporter and White Shadow spewing their rhetoric about journalist ethics and laughably dated economic issues, it only intermittently remembers to turn TIG loose. And when TIG finally runs around kicking people, it’s so uninspired it can’t rouse the viewer from the coma he lapsed into during all the CNBC-style dialogue that fills much of the movie. Watching Ulterior Motives is one job you won’t mind being exported.
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