Review: ‘Come Out Fighting’ (2023), starring Kellan Lutz, Michael Jai White, Tyrese Gibson, Dolph Lundgren and Hiram A. Murray

August 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kellan Lutz and Hiram A. Murray in “Come Out Fighting” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Come Out Fighting” (2023)

Directed by Steven Luke

Culture Representation: Taking place in Europe during World War II, the action film “Come Out Fighting” features a cast of white and African American characters representing military men fighting in the war.

Culture Clash: A squad of African American soldiers in the U.S. Army are tasked with going behind enemy lines to find their official missing commanding officer, and they find a U.S. Army fighter pilot who’s lost in the woods after his plane crashed.

Culture Audience: “Come Out Fighting” will appeal mostly to people who are enthusiasts of World War II movies, no matter how bad the movie.

Dolph Lundgren in “Come Out Fighting” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Come Out Fighting” is an excruciatingly awful World War II combat movie that is an insult to history and an insult to anyone who was a part of this war. It’s hard to watch this junkpile movie’s visual effects, dialogue, and acting, which are all terrible. The only good use of “Come Out Fighting” is if anyone wants to see how not to make a war film.

Written and directed by Steven Luke, “Come Out Fighting” is an onslaught of nonsensical and unrealistic military combat scenes. It’s as if the soldiers in the movie were trained by clowns in a circus sideshow. However, “Come Out Fighting” isn’t a satire or comedy. It takes itself way too seriously, considering how terribly tacky everything is in the abomination of a film.

“Come Out Fighting,” which has an all-male cast, begins with a very fake-looking scene of U.S. Army pilots Lieutenant Mike Rawlings (played by Andrew Stecker) and Lieutenant Frank Ross (played by Kellan Lutz) each flying a small plane over an open field somewhere in Europe. (“Come Out Fighting was actually filmed in the United States.) Mike and Frank bomb a train carrying military items, such as tanks. The train derails and explodes.

It doesn’t take long for the enemy to retaliate. Enemy planes shoot at Mike and Frank. Mike dies when his plane is shot, and his plane crashes into a field. Frank runs out of fuel, but he is able to parachute out of the plane. Frank is then considered missing for a great deal of the story.

Meanwhile, an all-African American squad of soldiers, led by Lieutenant Robert A. Hayes (played by Hiram A. Murphy), not only have to fight the Nazis and Axis military personnel in this war, they also have to fight the racism within the ranks of the U.S. military. Robert’s subordinates include Sergeant AJ “Red” McCarron (played by Michael Jai White) and Private Michael “Salty” Buttons (played by Rich Lowe). In the beginning of the movie, all three men are in a wooded area for a task of finding mines.

Here’s an example of the cringeworthy dialogue in “Come Out Fighting”: When the trio encounters a group of white soldiers from the U.S. Army, earnest Salty tells a gruff and cynical Red: “These white boys don’t look happy to see us.” Red replies to Salty: “When we around, white folks ain’t never happy.”

After some mind-numbingly horrible staged combat scenes, Robert goes missing. His squad goes looking for him in the same wooded area where Frank has disappeared. Robert’s squad then teams up with another African American squad, led by Sergeant Warran Crecy (played by Tyrese Gibson), who’s a rebellious drunk. Warran has a large, bald sidekick named Sgt. Thomas (played by Vicellous Shannon), who is stereotypically brooding.

With two U.S. Army lieutenants lost in the woods, “Come Out Fighting” does the most predictable thing possible: These two lieutenants (Robert and Frank) find each other. And there’s tension between them from the start. Even though they need each other to stay alive, expect to see Robert and Frank do a lot of bickering with each other.

Can these two lost lieutenants put aside their differences to work together on finding their way out of the woods on their own? Or will any squad come to their rescue? And will anyone care about halfway through the movie, which gets bogged down in a lot of boring repetition?

Dolph Lundgren shows up and barks orders as a character named Major Chase Anderson, in an obvious “I’m just here for the paycheck” role, which can also be said for any of the actors who degraded themselves to be in such an embarrassing movie. The sheer ineptitude on display here (even the costume design is wrong) just gets worse as this train wreck of a movie careens toward it unimaginative ending. There’s not much more to say about “Come Out Fighting” except that a more accurate title for this type of tacky film is “Come Out Failing.”

Screen Media Films released “Come Out Fighting” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on May 19, 2023.

Review: ‘A Snowy Day in Oakland,’ starring Nicole Ari Parker, Kimberly Elise, Deon Cole, Evan Ross, Tony Plana, Michael Jai White and Loretta Devine

March 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Deon Cole in “A Snowy Day in Oakland” (Photo courtesy of People of Culture Studios)

“A Snowy Day in Oakland”

Directed by Kim Bass

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oakland, California, the comedy/drama film “A Snowy Day in Oakland” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After a bitter breakup from her boyfriend/business partner, an affluent psychologist moves her office from an upscale part of San Francisco to a working-class community in Oakland, where she and her services get curiosity and skepticism from people in the community.

Culture Audience: “A Snowy Day in Oakland” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and movies with formulaic but well-meaning scenarios about relationship problems and social-class prejudices.

Kimberly Elise in “A Snowy Day in Oakland” (Photo courtesy of People of Culture Studios)

“A Snowy Day in Oakland” looks like a made-for-TV movie instead of a movie worth seeing in cinemas. The predictable schmaltz of this fairy tale is elevated by the talent of the charismatic cast members. There are enough good qualities to make it watchable.

Written and directed by Kim Bass, “A Snowy Day in Oakland” is a little too overstuffed with characters who are mostly underdeveloped. However, some of the better-developed characters stand out enough to carry the movie and keep it interesting to viewers who have tolerance for this type of lightweight entertainment. The movie’s jokes are hit and miss, but the comedy that works the best in “A Snowy Day in Oakland” has to do with authentic observations about relationships and people’s various perceptions of psychotherapy.

“A Snowy Day in Oakland” begins with a well-dressed and attractive woman turning heads and immediately causing gossip when she walks down a business street in a working-class community in Oakland, California. She’s looking at a vacant office space that is available. Three of the businesses on this street are a barber shop/beauty salon, a bodega and an Afro-centric clothing store. Because of her designer clothes and because she is driving a well-kept Mercedes, the people on this street can immediately tell that she doesn’t live in this community.

This stranger who has come to Oakland is LaTrice Monroe (played by Nicole Ari Parker), a psychologist/therapist who had her office based in a ritzy part of San Francisco, but she is now moving her office to this lower-income part of Oakland. Flashbacks show that LaTrice is making this move because she had a bad breakup with her British boyfriend/business partner Grant (played by Sean Maguire), a psychologist/therapist who shared office space with her. LaTrice caught Grant cheating on her in the office with one of his female clients.

LaTrice spent some of her childhood in this Oakland neighborhood but moved away to Connecticut when she was about 9 or 10 years old, because her father got an executive job at an unnamed company. (In these childhood flashbacks, Jasmyn Renee Coleman plays a young Latrice; Candis Woods plays LaTrice’s mother; and Joshua Shipman plays LaTrice’s father.) LaTrice now wants to go back to her Oakland roots. But will she be welcome in this community?

LaTrice’s father became such a successful businessperson, she spent most of her life living with wealth. How rich is LaTrice’s father? When he finds out that LaTrice is moving her office, he offers to helicopter some cash over to her to help her get a new start with her business. LaTrice politely declines the offer. (Keith David and Jackée Harry have quick cameos as LaTrice’s present-day parents.)

Inside the barber shop/beauty salon, the two owners—a divorced couple named Davis Witherspoon and Theona Witherspon—have very different reactions to seeing LaTrice through the window. Davis (played by Deon Cole) looks at Latrice with lust, while Theona (played by Kimberly Elise) looks at LaTrice with suspicion. Theona comments that LaTrice looks like she might come from the wealthy San Francisco neighborhood Nob Hill, which has the unflattering nickname Snob Hill. LaTrice has “Snob Hill written all over her,” Theona says with a scowl, while also mentioning that LaTrice looks “too expensive” to be a customer at this salon.

Theona also scolds Davis for leering at LaTrice. Davis insists that he was just admiring LaTrice’s car, but he’s not fooling anyone. It’s later revealed that Theona and Davis were married for 11 years and have been divorced for 15 years. Theona dumped Davis because he cheated on her multiple times. And she’s still very bitter and heartbroken about the divorce, but she tries to hide it by acting tough with Davis. Meanwhile, Davis is hiding his own hurt too, because he didn’t really want to get divorced.

Oakland is in a part of California where it doesn’t snow. The title of “A Snowy Day in Oakland” comes from a catch phrase repeated multiple times in the movie: “It’ll be a snowy day in the middle of an Oakland summer before that ever happens.” Theona says it near the beginning of the movie when she makes a comment that “it’ll be a snowy day in Oakland” before she would ever think about marrying Davis again.

The owner of the Afro-centric clothing store, which is called Nubian Queen, is a young entrepreneur named Rodney Mali (played by Evan Ross), who designed all the clothes in the store. Rodney is the first business owner to greet LaTrice when she moves her office into the vacant space next to his store. Rodney is friendly, but he’s got some problems. His store is financially struggling, because he hasn’t been getting the sales he was expecting, and he’s behind on his rent.

Viewers later find out that LaTrice paid for a one-year lease in advance, which makes her arrogant and greedy landlord Marquis King (played by Reno Wilson) very happy. Marquis likes to announce and remind his tenants (and anyone else who’ll listen) that he owns all the buildings on this street. Marquis is very close to evicting Rodney, unless Rodney can come up with the money that he owes Marquis in a short period of time.

The bodega, which is called Barrio USA, is owned by Jesus Salgado (played by Tony Plana), a Cuban immigrant with some health problems. Jesus operates the store with his young adult daughter Angelica (played by Claudia Zevallos), who is expected to take over the business after Jesus is no longer able to work. Jesus and Angelica are curious about LaTrice, but they initially keep their distance from her.

Another regular on this street is Jeanette Ellis (played by Loretta Devine), a mail deliverer for the U.S. Postal Service. Jeannette is talkative, outspoken and very gossipy. She likes to brag about her son, who is a special agent for the FBI. Jeanette is supposed to be the funniest character in the movie, but her constant loud-mouthed antics can easily get irritating.

Someone else who is frequently on this street is an aspiring rapper in his late teens named Dwayne (played by Donis Leonard Jr.), whose rapper name is Glock 9. Dwayne/Glock 9 sells his CDs to people in the neighborhood. When he goes into the barber shop/beauty salon to sell his CDs, Theona graciously buys a CD, but Davis is rude and dismissive to Dwayne.

A nearby church has an upstanding reverand named Darius Carter (played by Michael Jai White), who used to be a professional football player, but his football career ended a lot sooner than he wanted, for reasons revealed in the movie. The organist at the church is Mrs. Keys (played by Marla Gibbs), who is like a sassy mother figure to many people in the church. LaTrice attends a service at the church for the first time, and she continues to turn heads and cause gossip.

When the word gets out that LaTrice is a psychologist who is opening an office on the street for therapy counseling, most people are skeptical that the business will succeed in this community. “Black people don’t talk about their real problems!” Jeanette declares. Dwayne/Glock 9 tells LaTrice that people in the community won’t trust her, because she comes from a wealthy family and doesn’t have any “street cred.”

LaTrice’s ex-boyfriend Grant shows up at her new office and begs her to get back together with him. He also thinks it’s a bad idea for her to set up her office in this community. Grant says to Latrice: “You want to throw away everything we had to play witch doctor to these people?” Latrice replies, “These people are my people.” And then, Latrice chases Grant out of her office.

It isn’t long before some of the community skeptics let down their guard and end up getting counseling from LaTrice. It’s implied that LaTrice is offering her services at a much lower rate than what she charged when she worked in San Francisco. And so, LaTrice starts to hear about all of these new clients’ problems and offers them some advice. But will they take that advice?

A flaw with “A Snowy Day in Oakland” is that it tries to do too much with some of the supporting characters in its 92-minute running time, but a lot of these subplots just end up being flimsy and not very substantial to the story. There’s a subplot about Darius having to decide whether he will stay a pastor at the church or take a job offer to coach football at Florida State University. Another subplot is about Jesus disapproving of his daughter Angelica flirting with a young white cop named Officer Daniels (played by Jay Jablonski), who is a frequent customer in the bodega.

The movie also occasionally fumbles jokes about race relations. In a not-very-funny sequence, a ditzy and rich client of LaTrice’s named Shelby (played by Arden Myrin), who is white, suddenly becomes fascinated with the Afro-centric clothing in Rodney’s store. It’s supposed to be amusing that Shelby (who has some of the worst lines in the movie) goes from looking like a Barbie doll to looking like Erykah Badu, as Theona sarcastically remarks when she sees Shelby in clothes bought from Rodney’s store. However, this “cultural appropriation” gag is mishandled and becomes very stale when it’s repeated awkwardly.

“A Snowy Day in Oakland” starts an interesting subplot and then leaves it dangling, because it’s introduced so late in the story. It’s about Rodney not feeling accepted by his father, who is never seen or heard from in the movie. It’s implied that Rodney is estranged from his father and might not be in contact with him anymore.

According to Rodney, his father thinks it’s too effeminate for a man to pursue a career in fashion design. And when Rodney was a child, his father expected Rodney to play sports, but Rodney was more interested in his mother’s clothes. Dwayne/Glock 9 asks Rodney if Rodney is gay, but Rodney doesn’t answer the question, because Rodney’s sexuality is irrelevant to how his work should be judged.

However, this subplot about Rodney’s troubled relationship with his father just brings up questions that the movie never bothers to answer. What kinds of sacrifices did Rodney make to pursue his fashion dreams? Is he interested in reconciling with his father? And what about Rodney’s mother, who is never seen or heard from in the movie? These unanswered questions just make Rodney’s character look underdeveloped.

“A Snowy Day in Oakland” is at its most interesting when showing what happens in the volatile relationship between ex-spouses Theona and Davis. Elise gives the best performance in the movie, as someone with a lot of emotional baggage that she finds very difficult to unpack. Some of the characters in “A Snowy Day in Oakland” are shallow caricatures, but Theona is the movie’s most realistic character.

“A Snowy Day in Oakland” is truly a mixed bag. Some moments are very corny, such as when LaTrice envisions herself on her therapist’s couch and talks to herself like a therapist. There’s also some very heavy-handed melodrama involving Dwayne/Glock 9 in the last third of the movie. And the movie has a rushed scenario that wraps up Marquis’ storyline in a very phony-looking way.

Other moments in “A Snowy Day in Oakland” are heartfelt in the drama, or genuinely funny in the comedy, thanks largely to cast members such as Elise, Parker, Devine, Cole and Gibbs, who are all very skilled at having the right timing in their dialogue. To its credit, “A Snowy Day in Oakland” is not pretending to be a masterpiece. It’s the type of movie that can be mildly enjoyable, if a viewer wants to watch harmless entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

People of Culture Studios released “A Snowy Day in Oakland” in select U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023.

Review: ‘Take Back,’ starring Mickey Rourke, Michael Jai White, James Russo and Gillian White

September 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michael Jai White and Gillian White in “Take Back” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

Take Back”

Directed by Christian Sesma

Culture Representation: Taking place in Coachella Valley, California, the action film “Take Back” features a cast of African American and white characters (with a few Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An attorney’s past comes back to haunt her as she and her husband become involved in vigilante justice for a sex trafficking ring that has kidnapped their daughter. 

Culture Audience: “Take Back” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching low-quality and ridiculous action flicks.

Mickey Rourke in “Take Back” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

“Take Back” is a good way to describe the “I want a refund” regretful response of viewers if they have the misfortune of buying or renting this atrocious action flick. You have to wonder what this movie’s producers were thinking to waste money on such an obvious junkpile flop that’s embarrassing to everyone involved. “Take Back” is yet another female exploitation film that tries to look nobler than it really us, just because there’s a vigilante mother who’s one of the main characters. There’s absolutely nothing worth admiring about this movie, unless you think it’s admirable to see Mickey Rourke as a gangster who adores his pet Pomeranians. A sleepwalker has more energy than the “I just don’t care anymore” performance that Rourke has in this awful dreck.

Directed by Christian Sesma and written by Zach Zerries, “Take Back” fails on almost every level of filmmaking. The acting is terrible, the plot and dialogue are beyond stupid, and even the action scenes in this movie are pathetic. Everything is sloppily filmed. About the only thing that the movie has going for it is it that has a few cast members with name recognition, such as Rourke and Michael Jai White, who both have been making trashy, low-budget movies for the past several years.

“Take Back” (which takes place in California’s Coachella Valley) opens with the kidnapping of two drunk women in their 20s who stumble out of a bar, flirt with each other, and then get abducted by men driving by in a van. The men are part of a sex trafficking ring led by a slothful thug named Patrick (played by Rourke), who spends half of his screen time lying on a bed and stroking his Pomeranians. It’s later revealed that Patrick’s real name is Jack, and he has a past connection to one of the movie’s protagonists.

The kidnapped women, one of whom is named Veronica Sanders (played by Emily Unnasch), are taken to a locked and dirty shed in a remote part of the valley, where they are held captive with about five or six other young and pretty women. The goons who are their captors are shown physically harassing and attacking the women in more than one scene. Patrick occasionally checks in on the kidnapping victims, but he lets his henchmen do most of the work in guarding the terrified women. Patrick uses the words “the merchandise” to describe these women.

Meanwhile, married couple Brian (played by Michael Jai White) and Zara (played by Gillian White) are spending their seventh wedding anniversary by boxing each other in a gym for fun. Brian is a martial arts instructor, while Zara is a successful real estate attorney who works for a private law firm. (Michael Jai White and Gillian White are married in real life.)

Zara is Brian’s second wife and the stepmother to Brian’s bright and obedient daughter Audrey (played by Priscilla Walker), who’s about 15 or 16 years old. Audrey’s mother is Brian’s ex-wife, who is not seen in the movie, but there’s a minor subplot where the ex-wife dies of cancer. Michael Jai White is the only cast member in this train wreck movie who seems to make an effort to have believable acting, but it’s still comes out looking corny. As for Gillian White’s acting, let’s just say that “Take Back” is proof that nepotism in getting a movie role can actually make a movie worse.

Now that viewers know that Zara and Brian have fighting skills, Zara is next seen in a small coffee shop, where she puts some of those skills to use when she gets involved in a harrowing incident. A very angry and mentally unstable man has come into the coffee shop, where he begins yelling at the barista (played by Lucia Romero), who seems to be the only employee in the shop. Apparently, the barista was in a relationship with this furious ex, and now he’s threatening her with gun.

And just like that, Zara goes into action by disarming this creep and holding him until he can get arrested. Another customer in the shop has videorecorded the whole incident on his phone. The video soon goes viral and gets more than 1 million views in a short period of time. A woman from Zara’s past has seen this video and is about to pay an unwanted visit to Zara at Zara’s law office.

The woman is named Nancy (played by Jessica Uberuaga), who looks like she’s more comfortable hanging out at a truck stop than at a law firm. She wears garish makeup, a revealing tank top and ripped denim shorts. And she’s often seen vaping. What are the odds that she knows Patrick the pimp?

Nancy also seems to know Zara too. When she shows up at Zara’s office without an appointment, she insists on talking to Zara. Nancy tells Zara that she saw Zara’s viral video and says she knows that Zara’s real name is Kim. Zara insists to Nancy that her name isn’t Kim. Zara also claims that she’s never seen or met Nancy before, but Nancy says that Zara is lying.

Zara tells Nancy to leave the office, by yelling, “Leave me the fuck alone!” But you just know that Zara and Nancy are going to see each other again. This unexpected visit seems to have unnerved Zara, which means that she’s got a big secret that will eventually be revealed. The secret is not surprising at all, considering this movie is as subtle as a bulldozer in a junkyard, which is kind of like how you could describe the abominable acting in this film.

Less than 48 hours after Zara disarmed the crazed gunman in the coffee shop, she goes through another violent experience. While she’s home alone one day, a thug named Cisneros (played by David Will No) breaks into the house with the intent to kill her. Zara is able to fight off her attacker in the living room, and she kills him with a samurai sword that conveniently happens to be in the room. Before this attack, Cisneros was seen talking on a phone to a boss who ordered this home invasion. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who this boss is.

All this trauma in a short period of time has left Zara with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The PTSD comes out in an incident where Zara agreed to help Brian with potential new students at a boxing demonstration at a dojo. However, Zara has a flashback freakout and starts pummeling Brian too hard during the demonstration, and then she abruptly runs out of the building.

This PTSD puts a strain on Zara and Brian’s marriage. And then Brian’s ex-wife dies of cancer. And just so more bad things can happen to this family, Brian and Audrey are driving in Brian’s car when they get carjacked. Brian is tasered while Audrey is kidnapped. What are the odds that Audrey was kidnapped by the sex-trafficking ring that’s run by Patrick?

The kidnapping is reported to law enforcement, but Zara and Brian think that the cops won’t be of much help. And so Zara and Brian take the law into their own hands and go on a mission to find and rescue Audrey themselves. You know exactly how this is all going to end.

There are three characters connected to law enforcement who play a role in this predictable story. Anthony DeMarco (played by Nick Vallelonga) is a former detective who knows a lot about Patrick because he was tasked with investigating Patrick years ago. Detective Frank Schmidt (played by James Russo) and his cop partner Detective Perez (played by Jay Montalvo) are investigating the recent kidnappings.

Another supporting character is Jerry Walker (played by Chris Browning), one of Zara’s clients. Jerry owns a vast park called Lake Cahuilla that he inherited from his father. The scenes were actually filmed at Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park, a 71-acre property owned by California’s Riverside County and located near the Santa Rosa Mountains. Jerry’s property ends up being a part of this movie’s very flimsy plot. “Take Back” is time-wasting trash that should be avoided at all costs, unless you’re a masochist who is compelled to see all of Rourke’s horrible movies in the final years of his career.

Shout! Studios released “Take Back” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on June 18, 2021.

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