Welcome back to Mystery DVD Club. The idea behind this is simple: we went and bought a whole host of films we hadn’t heard of before, none of which cost us more than a few pounds. Then, we sent them to a bunch of our writers, without telling them what disc they were going to receive. Could we unearth a hidden gem? Gives One In The Chamber a spin…
Cuba Gooding Jr stars as Ray, a seasoned fixer who botches a job and finds himself playing both sides in an organised crime turf war. Then one crime family (it doesn’t really matter which one, they’re fairly interchangeable) decides to bring in Dolph Lundgren and his collection of Hawaiian shirts to take out the other family and possibly Cuba Gooding Jr.
One In The Chamber is one of those films where the bad guys fire bullets into walls instead of the man they’re chasing, speak in heavily-accented English instead of relying on the audience to read subtitles, and everyone’s default expressions are set to stern. Cuba Gooding Jr basically has one pensive expression and the occasional grimace, but hey, it worked for Jason Bourne.
That’s not where the Bourne comparisons end, either; the film adopts the same sombre attitude for any scene that doesn’t involve Dolph Lundgren, but without the talent to pull it off. There’s a lot of cod philosophy and biblical quotations thrown about to give it an air of grandeur, but then there’s also a scene where Dolph Lundgren fights off a load of henchmen whilst he wears only a towel – all of this scored to a swing record. It’s a heady mix, and one that jars with every transition.
Dolph Lundgren plays the Wolf, a man so fierce that his reputation borders on mythical. They build him up to be the kind of person who can’t be found unless he wants to be. He’s a ghost, a fairy tale… and they have his mobile number. So that’s all right then. And here is a sentence I never thought I would say: Dolph Lundgren saves this film.
He wears loud printed shirts, a pork pie hat and sunglasses indoors, even when he’s supposed to be the stealthiest assassin in the world. He’s also pretty much the only cast member who looks like he is having any fun, shooting his way through Eastern European mobsters with a ready one-liner and occasionally a dog. He doesn’t use the dog for shooting I hasten to add, it just happens to be there when shooting occurs.
Meanwhile, Cuba’s getting all philosophical about fate and watching a lady water her plants from doorways. In another Bourne parallel, it turns out that she is someone he feels he must protect in order to redeem himself. Unlike Bourne, who just turns up on the doorstep one day to say sorry, Cuba follows his charge around and keeps a whole photo collection of her, having watched her since she was a child. When she goes to kiss him later, it all gets very creepy and we’re supposed to think it’s a bit romantic. It’s not.
For what is ostensibly an action thriller, the sequences take a long time to ramp up. The opening scenes, in which Cuba takes down several mobsters from afar in a high calibre gunfight, is nicely staged with swirling camera movements adding a kinetic energy to the proceedings. There is also a pretty good fight between Cuba and Dolph, limited only by the fact that moments are sped up to compensate for the fact that these aren’t two spring chickens going at it. The rest of it is largely Dolph or Cuba shooting men from a good distance who couldn’t hit a target if it was six feet wide and right in front of their face. The game is rigged and that’s never any fun to watch.
Everything in this film is a bit too light to score an impact; the explosions aren’t big enough, the bullets don’t fly as often as they should do and there’s a constant feeling that everyone is holding something back. You hope it’s going to be for the big finale, but whether it’s a lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers or a tight rein on the budget, it never quite gets there. You’re urging it on to get bigger, to embrace the ludicrous, but it decides to go down the path of the serious Cuba rather than following Dolph swagger his way through another shootout.
A mixed bag then, this, but worth seeing for the sight of Dolph Lundgren in all his various costumes. If the film had embraced the ridiculousness of his early scenes and played everything with a more knowing sense of humour, One In The Chamber could have been the kind of amusing action film that goes well with pizza and beer. Alcohol is still a welcome accompaniment, but more to dull the disappointment.
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