½*/**** Image D Sound C
starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Arnold Vosloo, Ursula Karven, Tim Thomerson
screenplay by Terry Cunningham, Paul Birkett
directed by Terry Cunningham
by Walter Chaw A mosaic of stock footage and terrible acting that makes Extreme Limits look decent, Con Express is a Jim Wynorski cheapie that happens to be directed this time around by a pretender to the "king of knock-off schlock" crown named "Terry Cunningham." Titled with honesty, Con Express is a scam promising thrills that takes you for a stultifying ride. It's a direct-to-video howler promising the guy who played The Mummy (Arnold Vosloo) playing Anton, a villain of the non-zombie variety (a rogue Russian general--as if there were any other kind) again bent on taking over the world. Arrayed against him are beautiful Slavic agent Natalya (Ursula Karven) and hunky customs agent Brooks (Sean Patrick Flannery), who (gasp) develop romantic feelings for one another even though they start out hating one another. Between South African Vosloo, German Karven, Enemy at the Gates, and K-19, I begin to wonder if there are any such things as actual Russians or if they're just a mythological Hollywood bogey manufactured as a bottomless well of nostalgic Red menace-dom.
With a train loaded with three barrels of Sarin gas (the substance used on a Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995, killing 11 and injuring 5500) and B-reel clips from Runaway Train (that really show their age), Cliffhanger (a film similarly raped by Extreme Limits and God knows what else), and (saints preserve us) Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Con Express is like all other films of this ilk in its callow desperation to stretch credibility like taffy in order to incorporate nifty stock shots of helicopters, car chases, plane crashes, avalanches, and explosions. An opening voice-over drums up a certain degree of interest in its comparison of the film's possible outcomes to September 11th (the first film that I've seen do this overtly)--an interest swiftly dispelled by the story proper, which introduces itself as one of those interrogation sequences that first informs that the hero Brooks won't be injured, and next informs that Con Express is suffering from a severe surfeit of imagination.
The main problem of action films that rely on unused footage from bigger-budgeted films is that said footage has probably been excised for a very good reason: it's either deeply flawed in some way or it's filler coverage. (How else to explain an early snowmobile sequence of two guys riding around to nowhere for what feels like hours?) The real failing of Con Express, however, isn't in its general bombastic ridiculousness, but in the time that it burns attempting to sell its drab dialogue as spitfire ripostes and its incomprehensible plot as "The Mousetrap." Con Express commits the one crime that a poor man's actioner cannot commit: it's extraordinarily boring. What else can you expect, I guess, from something that borrows excised footage from not one but two Sylvester Stallone films?
Artisan DVD, devoted to releasing a metric ton of garbage per quarter, is predictably behind the release of Con Express. The image is a now-blooming, now-dull full-frame transfer marred by constant switching back and forth between new and stock footage in various stages of degradation. The Dolby 2.0 stereo mix (optimistically credited "in select theaters" during the closing titles) is the very definition of unexceptional and underutilized; dialogue, however, is crystal. An amateurish trailer cuts off dramatically and inexplicably about a minute in, perhaps predicting the same fate for the film it advertises, when unsuspecting viewers wisely shut off the television halfway through. There are no other special features unless you consider 24 chapter breaks and Spanish subtitles "special." The drought of supplemental material here strikes as mercy. Originally published: August 15, 2002.