If you followed my action movie marathon at all then you know one of the biggest surprises for me was Steve Austin. I watched two of his movies – Damage and Maximum Conviction – and came away pretty surprised at how much I enjoyed each one. Damage was a surprisingly effective character piece with some ok action and Maximum Conviction was a fun but dumb piece of nonsense with almost too much action. Now that the marathon is over I still wanted to check out more of his stuff so fuck it, let’s keep right on going! Maximum Conviction came off a 4 movie set I had purchased so I had plenty more material to make my way through. I started with this one as it was the first movie in the set and man, I chose poorly.
The Stranger is Steve Austin and he’s this guy who is suffering from this dissociative disorder thing where his brain is protecting him from some past trauma, causing him to constantly forget stuff like who he is or what the hell is going on. A female doctor who treated him is the one person who wants to help him out and also the FBI is after them and there’s corrupt people and the mafia and then we find out what is really happening and can only think “Huh, that’s it?”
The Stranger is the first of Steve Austin’s movies that I wasn’t a big fan of. In fact I actively disliked this movie. I knew I was in trouble right away with the opening scene. Here we have a bearded, dishevelled Austin running away from some SWAT guys who keep firing at him. Really awful, generic rock music is playing and the camera/editing is trying to convince us we’re watching something way more awesome than a dude running. There’s slow motion and quick cuts and terrible filters and everything is blurry looking and it’s all just the worst. It also goes on for about 4 minutes. It goes on so long it started to become funny and then sad and then funny again and then boring. I fast forwarded through the last chunk of it. It’s awful. Also how in the hell can these guys not successfully shoot a guy they are running after for this long? Especially a guy who is such a large target! At this point any hope this may be an ok flick was more or less dead.
First of all the plot is just not that interesting. There’s nothing unique about it other than it has Steve Austin in it and yes he is indeed the best part but his character is so blah. We have no real idea who this guy is or what he is up to until about 15 minutes before the movie ends. Before that he’s just this random guy who can punch people real well. His character is surrounded by a bunch of generic police and FBI characters who spout generic dialogue and make no effort to give us a reason to give a shit about any of them. If the reveal of who Austin’s character was/is was at least interesting it would save some of it but it’s really not. It’s about the most standard explanation they could ever give. So story-wise there is nothing happening.
The action doesn’t fare much better. There are a decent number of fights but get ready for some shitty editing because this movie seems more concerned with flashy shit then actually making a credible movie. A lot of this “technique” seems to be there to try and hide the fact that there’s actually nothing exciting happening. In one scene, the two leads are being chased through a junkyard by the FBI. There’s suddenly a ton of smoke everywhere for reasons I don’t remember and the rest of the scene is a series of shots where Austin comes out the smoke, knocks a guy out, and goes back into the smoke. Rinse and repeat. It’s so cheap looking that I have to assume they were trying to cover up that this wasn’t being filmed on location. It’s not like it’s exciting either. He just appears and punches a guy numerous times in a row.
Probably the worst though is a chase between the two leads on a motorcycle and a police car. As with the opening, this chase lasts for several minutes and while it’s easy to tell this is not a thrilling chase in any way, the camera, editing and music are trying their damndest to convince us that this is in fact really incredible. There’s camera shaking and close-ups and the crazy angles but try as they might, they can’t disguise that this is two vehicles driving pretty slow through the woods. It’s pretty funny at first but again I was fast forwarding it eventually.
Man, there are so many examples where the editing and general aesthetic sinks this whole thing. Not surprisingly the depictions of his repressed memories are done with a bunch of out of focus quick cuts but what’s really irritating is that they show the exact same memory again and again and again and again. A little girl laughing and Austin yelling “noooooooo” while running in slow motion. I think every scene shows these pieces of footage at least once. Probably 10% of the run time is just this footage. Did they think the audience was dumb enough to forget this piece of information so they never stopped showing it? Did they decide to pad the running time in the editing room? There’s also a dumb bit of business where after the scene that reveals the main piece of back story, the following scene continuously flashes back to that same scene! We just saw this shit! Stop it movie! Give us some credit!
The Stranger is not good. It’s just not good. Austin does what he can but the awful editing and generic story sink this one. Not to mention it looks incredibly cheap (I know it is but other low budget movies seem better at hiding it) and is often kind of boring. This was one of Austin’s first movies so I hope he was just cool with being in a movie and chose anything he could get at the time. I hope I didn’t happen to watch his only two good ones first and then it’s all downhill from here.