Stone Cold Steve Austin was one of my childhood favourites during the Attitude era of the WWF so it was with equal parts excitement and trepidation that I sat down to a double bill featuring the hell-raising, smart-talking all round ass kicker.
First up was Damage, my first ever experience of Steve Austin the actor in which Stone Cold is John Brickner. Brickner has recently been released from prison after serving a term for murder. As part of his rehabilitation Brickner takes on two jobs, one as a labourer on a building site and a secondary job working security in a dive bar he frequents. It is in this bar that he meets barmaid Frankie (Laura Vandervoot) and her hustler boyfriend Reno (Walton Goggins). The daughter of Brickner’s victim needs urgent and expensive heart surgery, his desire to make amends in any way possible forces Brickner in to the murky world of underground fighting under the tutelage of Reno.
Damage surprised me. I wasn’t expecting much apart from some WWF nostalgia. Instead director Jeff King delivers a no-nonsense trip through bare knuckle fighting that has a surprising amount of heart and the faint glimmer of a conscience. There is a lot of hard, bloody action but the script at least attempts to question it, even at its worst the violence is seen as a necessary evil.
Slightly too long, Damage lags a bit during its middle section and could perhaps be 10 or 15 minutes shorter to accomplish the same results. Strong performances from Steve Austin’s supporting cast help immensely and whilst Damage won’t be considered a modern, moralistic classic it does serve as an entertaining well put together action film with a healthy amount of big punches.
Director: Jeff King
Main Cast: Steve Austin, Walton Goggins, Laura Vandervoot
The second half of the Stone Cold double-bill came in the form of Maximum Conviction. A film worlds away from Damage. Steven Seagal teams up with Steve Austin and both feature as senior independent security contractors who are in the process of decommissioning a secret, maximum-security prison when two new high priority prisoners are brought in. A large team of mercenaries breaks in to the facility in an attempt to remove one of the new inmates for their own gain. Conveniently Cross ( Seagal) and Manning ( Austin) have a tactical team waiting to take on the bad guys.
Maximum Conviction is filled with gunfire, with melee weapons ( Stone Cold is deadly with a screwdriver in a pinch), mines and good old-fashioned beatdowns but lacks any sense of excitement. The plot begins and ends with the break-out and any sub-plots appear to have been dispensed with. A streamlined script can be a blessing for B-movie action films but Maximum Conviction blurs into endless, mindless tactical assaults. With out a notable plot to follow I felt myself zoning out on several occasions.
The most interesting thing about Maximum Conviction is that it passes the Bechdel Test. Female leads Charlotte (Aliya O’Brien) and Samantha (Steph Song) have several conversations that do not broach the subject of men and are shown to be as capable as their male counterparts.
Director: Keoni Waxman
Main Cast: Steve Austin, Steven Seagal, Aliya O’Brien,Steph Song.
Featured Wrestler- Stone Cold Steve Austin
It should be fairly obvious that the action scenes would be well filmed but Steve Austin may be the slowest actor I have had the pleasure to watch. His reactions to the words of others come at a noticeable beat after you expect them to. Despite this the quality of his performance can be easily separated between the two films. In Damage Brickner has one line at a time and is surrounded by capable actors and a solid script. This means that Austin can handle the emotional and moral weight put on his character. Maximum Conviction has zero emotional impact but gives Austin twice the lines and has a less than illustrious cast to fall back on, Seagal excepted. This leads to a much more stilted and awkward performance that is fitting with a poorer overall film.