Saturday, March 30, 2019
THE POWER WITHIN (1995)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*
I've gotten a fair amount of entertainment from the DTV flicks of PM Entertainment, but only when the producers stuck with their strength: putting tough-ass actors-- Don Wilson, Lorenzo Lamas, Cynthia Rothrock-- in situations that ensured non-stop action. The company was so well-practiced in the art of action-movies that they could take a fourteen-year-old kickboxer, Ted Jan Roberts, and make him a DTV star in the '93 MAGIC KID and its next-year sequel. (I haven't watched these in a long time, but as I recall Roberts' character is not "magic" in any way, and only occasionally dresses up in ninja gear, in contrast to the probable influence on both films, 1992's THREE NINJAS.)
Since Roberts was about 16 around the time of filming POWER WITHIN, someone at PM must've thought that the most logical idea was to do a KARATE KID ripoff. However, whereas the senior PM writer on the project, Joe Hart, had done some good trash-action pics like RING OF FIRE 3 and T-FORCE, he must've written POWER WITHIN with half his brain turned off. And the movie gets no stylistic help from director Art Camacho. POWER was his directorial debut after working largely as a stuntman/ stunt coordinator, and he increases the awfulness of Hart's largely senseless script by staging action-scenes that barely have any resonance with said script.
Much like the protagonist of 1984's KARATE KID, Stan (Roberts) is a young nerd who isn't able to date the pretty girl he likes or fight back against school bullies. Stan takes karate classes, but can't get a handle on self-defense and even his little brother calls him a "loser." He also lacks a father-figure, living only with his brother and his weird ex-child star mother (Karen Valentine).
While Stan is suffering teenaged torments, Vonn, a villainous heist artist (William "Karate Kid" Zabka), steals an ancient ring from a museum exhibit. He shows up at the house of the man who hired him to steal the ring, only to inform the crime-boss that he Vonn plans to keep the ring and the money the boss paid him. The ring evidently gives Vonn super-kung-fu power, for he easily beats downs the boss's goons (none of whom wield guns) and leaves.
It's at this point that Hart's script goes totally off the rails. Instead of giving Stan some real training a la KARATE KID, the script introduces a mystic Oriental fellow, Yung, who has custody of a ring identical to the one Vonn stole. Later it will be revealed that the two rings were forged in ancient China inside a "volcano," and that they gave an emperor such power that he laid waste to his domain. This scenario, which sounds like Tolkien put through a mixmaster, isn't even followed through to explain why Yung kept custody of one super-ring but the other one simply fell into the hands of archaeologists somehow.
Stan, recovering from being beat down by the ex-boyfriend of the girl he likes, is approached by Yung, who plans to give Stan the ring. Vonn conveniently chooses this moment to home in on Yung's ring, so that absolutely no one else witnesses Yung fighting off Vonn and his black-clad henchmen. Yung is fatally wounded, but has enough mystic strength to teleport himself, Stan, and Stan's car to another location. Why can't Vonn find his way to that location? Who knows?
Yung dies, bequeathing the ring to Stan with lots of pseudo-Oriental bullcrap like "The explanation is too simple for you to understand." Stan reacts to the death of this mysterious stranger like Luke mourning Obi-Wan, but the youth gets over it when he finds that he can now beat up bullies with no effort at all. The ring even helps in school, mentally feeding him answers to a teacher's oral questions and seemingly improving a test-score he took before getting the ring.
Hart then pads out the flimsy script with throwaway scenes: Stan dating the girl of his dreams, Stan's mom getting hit on by a cop and a routine "Obi-Wan return" scene, when Yung's spirit comes back into Stan's life to mouth more witless platitudes. All of this leads up to a lackluster duel between Vonn and Stan. Vonn wins, gains ultimate power-- and then Stan, despite having shown no sign of any strength aside from what the jewelry gave him, somehow zaps the rings to dust.
Formula-movies always show their indebtedness to better films, but if they're good formula, they show an understanding as to what made the earlier stories work. POWER WITHIN, though, picks its tropes erratically, showing no sense for what makes any of the tropes persuasive. It isn't even as interesting as the Ed Wood sort of films that take formulas and subject them to relentless overbaking. The most I can say for the film is that if one can ignore all the gaffes, Roberts's fights with various goons are watchable, though that lousy end-fight manages to ruin even that.