'Perfect Weapon' lacks kick needed for lively karate flick

March 18, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Perfect Weapon? No way. But . . . Perfect Vacuum. Now that's an adequate title for "The Perfect Weapon," a karate movie so devoid of inner substance that it threatens to suck all known life on Earth into the void at its center.

A young man named Jeff Speakman, extremely adept at a form of martial arts called kenpo karate, is the nominal star of this exercise, but he's not a very lively presence. In fact, he barely registers.

He's shaving-cream commercial handsome, has a good body and his fighting skills seem sophisticated, but as an actor he's a novice. Worse, the movie's dither-headed attempt to give him "texture" by providing a back story involving family exile and neurotic loneliness only succeeds in making him appear morose. This guy makes Chuck Norris look like Olivier.

The plot is not all that advanced from the routine chop-socky fare of the early '70s that hailed from Hong Kong. Speakman's Korean "adopted father" Kim (the wonderful Formosan actor Mako, the only sprightly thing in the film) is a shopkeeper who runs afoul of the Korean mafia in Los Angeles.

After Kim's brutal death, Speakman's Jeff Sanders -- the name is indicative of the level of imagination invested in the enterprise -- sets out for vengeance, not only achieving it

but gradually affecting a putative reconciliation with his father and brother, both cops. The Koreatown background is interesting, but only fitfully developed; the "investigation" that forms the core of the film is a joke.

That leaves the fighting, which is to say, that leaves about 9percent of the movie. I am no expert on these matters, but the fast and deadly akido of Steven Seagal appears much more convincing on screen than the somewhat showier kenpo that Speakman uses. When Seagal fights, you think of snakes striking; it's fast, violent and scary.

There appears to be a broader-brushed stroke to the kenpo, with lots of ritualistic cuffing and slicing, but very little actual contact. Seagal hits a guy once, totals him and moves on; Speakman could be snipping a doily, playing the air guitar or snatching flies from the air with his dance of the 600 blows, before his antagonist finally bites the linoleum. But the movie is out cold long before that.

'The PerfectWeapon'

Starring Jeff Speakman.

Directed by Mark DiSalle.

Released by Paramount.

Rated R.

... **

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