Recon 2020: The Caprini Massacre DVD Review

Review written by Eric "The Hitman" Strauss

DVD released by Maverick Entertainment

Directed by Christian Viel
2004, R1, 89 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on December 5ht, 2006

Starring:
Anderson Bradshaw as Sgt. Sharp
Kevin Kelsall as Sgt. Tibbs
Patrick Sabongui as Sgt. Gums
Gillian Leigh as Fooks
Valerie Wiseman as Kara
Johnny Goar as Anton

Review:

Recon 2020: The Caprini Massacre is crafted from the best parts of other sci-fi action movies, but writer/director Christian Viel manages to shake and bake them into a cohesive, entertaining whole.

Viel's "Power Corps" soldiers are ripped straight from James Cameron's Aliens playbook, down to the armor and dropship, and sent on a suicide run to a desolate factory on the distant world of Caprini. There, they find themselves in a maelstrom that includes Terminator-style androids and cyborgs, hulking robots, sea monsters, mercenaries straight from The Road Warrior, creatures of horror legend and even — I shit you not — a dinosaur.

But through it all, they manage to keep cracking wise and, more importantly for the two upcoming sequels, firing their guns.

And if the actors struggle sometimes with their exposition, once the fighting starts, they team with Viel (and their stunt doubles) to create some extremely convincing combat. While Recon 2020 is more rock-'em-sock-'em Starship Troopers than mother-of-all-sci-fi-wars Aliens, it delivers the goods where it counts: action.

Viel uses just the right amount of effects — from point-of-view filters to hand-held cameras à la Saving Private Ryan — to give the scenes a sense of urgency and anarchy.

The downside is, there is sometimes a little too much anarchy. At one point, I lost track of one trooper entirely — and it doesn't help that the seven soldiers look virtually indistinguishable in their armor.

Despite moments like that, Viel usually — thankfully — stays on this side of excess. There are flaws, including way too much cannon fodder, underuse of the horror aspects — were those vampires? — and some extremely questionable military decisions. But the flaws are overcome by a genuine adrenaline rush.

That rush even makes up for some fairly wooden acting. Whenever the dialogue scenes start becoming cringe-worthy, some new kind of menace pops up and starts blasting away at our intrepid Marines.

Veteran supporting actor Anderson Bradshaw (Gothika, Taking Lives), playing the team leader, Sharp, gives the film a pretty solid center. And among his troopers, stuntmen Kevin Kelsall, in the Vasquez role from Aliens (mouthy machine-gunner), and Patrick Sabongui, in the Hudson role (malcontent), are the most capable in between fights. The rest of the team members — Charles Mellor is the best as the smooth Buzz — don't have as much to do, which is generally good, though none are too far below average.

It's rough, though, when the actor playing a robot (Valerie Wiseman, The Barbarian Invasions) is less stiff than the ones playing humans. But she kicks some serious ass in her big fight scene, and that just adds to Recon 2020's strengths.

Another asset that separates the film from lesser B-movie fare is that Viel has a little extra money and a lot more creativity, and knows how to use both to maximum effect. The factory location is both creepy and well-used, computer effects seldom look fake and things like bullet hits and night vision look about as good as they come in independent pictures.

From gunplay and explosions to fist-fights and combat maneuvers, it's the action that carries Recon 2020, and carries it well. And if the enemies Viel throws at the Marines in waves keep getting crazier and crazier, that just adds to the fun.

Video and Audio:

Maverick's anamorphic 1.66:1 Recon 2020 picture betrays the movie's low-budget origins with some softness and grain, but it handles all of Viel's camera tricks well. Images are always nice and clear, and there is a bare minimum of digital noise where more might be found in a lesser release.

It looks like the image has been tweaked a little from the original screener I reviewed, but the picture is so much better, it's tough to tell.

The screener disc's English Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is as strong as the image, clean and well-balanced. According to Maverick, the actual release will include a 5.1 surround track, and if mixed right, that should add to this very active film's atmosphere in a very positive way.

The screener Maverick sent includes no features, but according to the company, the actual release will include some trailers. Viel's Recon Web site suggested there would be more on its DVD release, so it's disappointing to find out that's all Maverick included.

Grades:

 
Movie: 4.5 Stars
Video: 3.5 Stars
Audio: n/a
Features: 1 Star
Overall: 4 Stars

Conclusion:

An Aliens ripoff — and to be honest, that's what this is — has a lot to live up to. But if Christian Viel lacks the resources to match the ultimate standard, what he can do is make the most of what he has. And he does.

Keep an eye on this Canadian director — he's proved he can take a familiar genre, flip its clichés on their ear and turn out one heck of a fun film.

Maverick made a smart move when it picked Recon up. And when its disc hits stores in December, you should, too.

(The Movie Seals screener of Recon 2020: The Caprini Massacre was originally reviewed in November 2005.)

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