Friday, January 10, 2020

Blazing Trash

I found myself watching this film in the early hours the other day.  I say 'found myself' because I'd fallen asleep on the sofa while watching TV and awoke to find this car chase playing.  As I had been watching Sony Movies Action (formerly Movies4Men), I figured that I must be in the midst of some low rent direct-to-DVD action film, a suspicion reinforced by the fact that the passenger in the cop car was Ice T.  I guessed that it must be of some vintage, as the cars involved in the chase all seemed to be nineties Ford LTDs.  But I kept thinking that thee was something familiar about that car chase.  Even though I was sure that I hadn't seen this film before - I don't make a habit of watching movie with Ice T in them - I was sure that I'd seen that car chase before.  Moreover, it just looked far too well staged to belong in a low budget action flick.  Then the chase was over and we suddenly went into the opening titles - I realised that it had been merely the pre-title sequence.  Anyway, as the titles rolled - it was called Ablaze and featured lots of actors you vaguely remembered from various TV series - I remembered where I'd seen that char chase before: it had been lifted in its entirety from the 1993 Bruce Willis film Striking Distance.  I have to admit, its use in Ablaze did feature some decent editing in replacing the original interior shots featuring Bruce Willis with new ones featuring Ice T.

A bit of research revealed that Ablaze was, indeed, a direct-to-DVD release - from 2001 - and was a notorious example of 'cut and paste' film-making, being built around footage taken from other films.  In this case, aside from the pre-title sequence (which turns out to have zero relevance to the rest of the plot) lifted from Striking Distance, the bulk of the action sequences were taken from City on Fire (1979), along with some stock footage from the old TV show Emergency!.  In fact, its whole scenario is, unsurprisingly, lifted from City on Fire, with an oil refinery fire engulfing a city.  Like the earlier film whose footage it borrows, Ablaze features corrupt city officials responsible for the fire, a threatened hospital full of overworked doctors and nurses and the heroic efforts of local firefighters to deal with the disaster.  It even apes a sub-plot from City on Fire involving a female socialite (movie actress on Ablaze) who finds herself trapped in the hospital and helps the medical staff.  The most perplexing aspect of Ablaze, though, is the participation of Ice T.  Clearly desperate for a 'name' actor to headline the film with, it seems as if the producers could only afford to hire him for a day's shooting: aside from that irrelevant opening sequence - where he is inserted into a Bruce Willis film - his cop character vanishes until the end of the film.  The rest of the film is carried by such TV and direct-to-DVD stalwarts as John Bradley, Amanda Pays, Tom Arnold and Cathy Lee Crosby.  The closest it comes to an actual 'star' name who actually plays some major part in the film is Michael Dudikoff - a long way from his heyday starring in Cannon produced action flicks - in a supporting role as a firefighter.

As I've indicated before, I'm something of a fan of these 'cut and paste' jobs and Ablaze is a modern classic of the genre.  There is a actually a certain degree of skill involved in stitching together footage from several disparate sources to make an entirely new film.  At their best, these films offer a seamless experience: if you haven't seen the movies the lifted footage came from, you'd never know the difference.  In cases like Ablaze, however, some of the stock footage is so poorly matched with the new footage that it becomes unintentionally hilarious, (in particular the collision of seventies, nineties and two thousands fashion, cars and so on as it switches between old and new footage).  I can heartily recommend Ablaze to all lovers of trash and 'cut and paste' film making.  Indeed, the film itself clearly know it is trash, with the cast barely taking it seriously and the script dropping in things like the address of a fire being that of The Munsters (1313 Mockingbird Lane).  Really, next time it is on Sony Movies Action, set the recorder - it's well worth a look.



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