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Adrenalin: Fear the Rush
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by Jack Sommersby

"A First-Rate Action Thriller"
4 stars

A great time to be had.

Written and directed by Albert Pyun, the superb post-apocalyptic action thriller Adrenalin: Fear the Rush may not make so much as an iota of sense, but it’s been impressively engineered and provides enough moviemaking bravura to keep you riveted throughout its brief seventy-six-minute running time. Which comes as something of a surprise being that Pyun, who made a notable directorial debut with the excellent 1982 The Sword and the Sorcerer (which was superior to John Boorman’s clunky, overpraised Excalibur from the previous year), hasn’t exactly churned out much of anything worth singing praises over since, though a few haven't been without interest. Pyun studied under none other than the legendary Akira Kurosawa, and though he’s proved himself a serious visual stylist, the screenplays he’s had a hand in or taken on have been no more than mediocre; he’s lacked mostly a valid film sense for what will and will not play, not recognizing that the stories he’s telling aren’t worth a hill of beans, so he’s been regarded as a hack with only minimal ability when in fact it’s clear he’s a man with talent wasting it on ill-conceived projects that certainly couldn’t be accused of being “safe” but aren’t particularly satisfying, either. With Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (no explanation is given for the missing “e” in the title, or, in fact, for the superficial title, period), Pyun has concocted a bare-bones, context-less story that he’s given his utmost moviemaking aptitude, and the result is consistently exciting and nerve-jangling -- it holds you in a vise-like grip that refuses to let go even when a good deal of logic loopholes abound with ratiocination in short supply. As we’re informed via voiceover, by Boston police officer Delon (Species’ Natasha Henstridge), in the near-future year of 2007 the Soviet Union has collapsed, and from there a deadly virus has escaped, ravaging eastern Europe and making its way to the United States, which has constructed quarantine camps for recent immigrants; Delon is a cop assigned to the region, and the only chance of getting across the border is going on the black market for fake passports, which she’s just managed to acquire for her child. But right after this she and her partner are dispatched to a dilapidated downtown area to capture a murderous madman described by a witness as a “monster” -- tall with stringy blonde hair and yellow eyes and a hell of a set of choppers, he’s incredibly lithe and agile, and is especially menacing with a King Cobra knife at his disposal. It just happens that this madman has been infected with the Ebola-like plague, and in just six hours he’ll go “hot,” become a “blood bomb,” and several thousand people will be infected within the first few hours; there’s a high-level government official who wishes to keep this secret, and after five of his contamination-suited crew have been viciously murdered by the madman, he chooses to keep the police ignorant of the severity of the situation, insisting the madman is merely infected with a strain of malaria. Delon and partner do make it inside the building where the madman has gone, with the partner gruesomely beheaded and Delon calling for backup, which arrives in the persons of super cop Lemieux (Highlander’s Christopher Lambert) and two other officers. The madman manages to escape, and makes his way into a former underground prison, and the rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse chase inside this gloomy gulag that’ll have you tightly clinging to your armrest.

Like the classics Jaws and Alien (not that I’m putting this movie in their league), Adrenalin: Fear the Rush is a beautiful example of a minimalist story premise given first-rate treatment with a you-are-there vitality thanks to taut directing, razor-sharp editing, and ominous atmosphere. Working with the cinematographer George Mooradian and composer Tony Riparetti, Pyun conjures up a nightmarish intensity that’s eerily enveloping enough so we’re held positively spellbound. The prison is a wonderful main setting, chock-full of murky catacombs and tunnels that our heroes are ever trying to maneuver their way through (the use of blue light coming from the cops’ flashlights is a particularly evocative touch); it’s later speculated that the madman was previously a prisoner of this very same place, so he’s able to masterfully manipulate his quarry just about every step of the way. There are action sequences aplenty, and Pyun, who’s working in top form here as if a master director had invaded his soul, admirably succeeds in keeping the spatial logistics clear so we’re coherently aware as to where the heroes and villain are in relation to one another. Pyun’s command of the camera is right up there with the best in that every shot gives off the impression that it’s part of an overall vision that’s been intelligently worked out beforehand, and yet the visual schema hasn’t been overly worked out to where it’s mechanical -- the movie lives and breathes, and by the time the ending credits start to roll you certainly know you’ve seen something distinctive. (If it weren’t for the extraordinary Renny Harlin-directed The Long Kiss Goodnight, Adreanlin: Fear the Rush would easily be the best action movie of its year.) Maybe Pyun realized that he’s handicapped when trying to execute projects that just don’t speak to him (his ill-advised Captain America was well-intentioned but didn't quite come off), so something of this no-holds-barred variety speaks to him and unleashes a moviemaking bravura completely free of inhibitions. Pyun wants to make every scene count, which certainly isn’t the worst trait in a director. Oh, there are some quibbles. Though the movie is set in Boston, the police cars inexplicably bear the insignia of “Policia”; on a couple of occasions the police, who have limited ammo, unwisely empty their guns on steel-enforced doors that make you question their acumen; how a fourth officer escapes a certain fate is carelessly glossed over; and there’s a considerable inconsistency where the madman is supposedly just over the shoulder of Delon in a tunnel and we’re then shown a view of the madman from a vantage point Delon couldn’t have possibly have imagined. But all in all the movie is an accomplished piece of work, the kind that isn’t likely to garner oodles of widespread praise but is much better put together than countless others of its genre. It also helps that Henstridge and Lambert, both of whom have been wooden in their previous outings, give probably their best performances to date. Like Pyun, they’re better in undemanding functions, and they’ve invested enough in the way of purity so we’re never in doubt that their altruistic protagonists are doing so because they can’t help but be bound by civic responsibility, which is indeed rare in an age where straight-laced movie cops find solace in carrying out their “duty” only with delusions of grandeur. Adrenalin: Fear the Rush is no masterpiece, but it gets right what so many movies take for granted. It delivers the goods without any pretenses, and for this its well-brought-off self has every reason to be taken seriously.

The widescreen DVD boasts an excellent transfer, though some special features would've been nice.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29516&reviewer=327
originally posted: 08/26/15 23:13:29
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  29-Nov-1996 (R)

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