Ground Rules (1997)

Sam’s note: R.D Francis is back with another movie — Ground Rules — which combines a few of my favorite genres: kinda sorta post-apocalyptic with a bit of fake sport and some generous helpings or Richard Lynch. Enjoy!

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

While the cover art suggests it, Ground Rules isn’t a post-nuke flick: it’s a present-day Rollerball-cum-Deathsport-cum-2072: The New Gladiators rip (without the budget) that reminds of the Rollerball 2002 remake — only this came first. It also reminds of George Romero’s Knightriders (1981) with its present-day, medieval-jousting knights on motorcycles, and that cable movie-inversion of Rollerball on hover-skateboards cooked up by Wesley Snipes: Futuresport.

Rocky’s brother, Frank Stallone (“Far from Over,” his U.S Top 10 radio hit from the Sly-directed Staying Alive), stars as a champion Battle Ball player—a San Francisco-based underground sport where motocross teams equipped with metal claw-jai alai scoops and bike/hockey armor shoot a “silver metal ball” into a roll-caged dune buggy used as a “moving goal.” (Holy almost-nude-basketball-with-a-silver-soccer-ball-and-hockey-cod-pieces Triad match flashback aboard the Battlestar Galactica, Batman!)

Real life movie stuntman Sean P. Donahue (the brother of the film’s co-writer-director-stuntman, Patrick G.), is “Jack,” Frank Stallone’s bike mechanic, who has his own dreams of getting on the Battle Ball field. When Jack discovers Stallone and the team’s owner, Case, are in cahoots with a corrupt senator manipulating the game so players are killed on the field to increase ratings and gambling revenues (as in the later Rollerball 2002 remake), Jack revolts (like Jonathan E.) and hits the dirt for a rival team. In a Rollerball 1975 plot-point: Jack knows too much and needs to be eliminated—during the game. So for the final Battle Ball championship game: there are no rules.

“Jack’s Dead . . . uh, we mean, Jonathan’s Dead,” chants the red, white and blue-clad warriors of the New York team as their bikes roar into the arena.

The somewhat family-friendly, profanity-free script—considering the violent action flicks it’s pseudo-emulating—leaves the proceedings feel like a Christian action flick, if there even is such a thing. In addition, the film’s inadequate budget hampers what is actually a pretty decent plot-concept with imaginative, well-choreographed action sequences—when one considers the sports-reality programs American Gladiators from the ‘90s and today’s American Ninja Warriors. Let’s rev up the bikes—a Battle Ball reality TV series sounds good to me!

While the discriminating apoc-fan will pass on Ground Rules, Richard Lynch fans—such as yours truly—are on board. The movie’s most burning question: How much of Case’s character is in the original script and how much of it was developed through Richard Lynch’s theatre and New York’s The Actors Studio training?

What could have been a dry, boilerplate cackling-villain in another actor’s hands, Lynch developed a white-suited underworld-criminal Howard Hughes; a Kleenex and latex fetishist germ-a-phobic who rides a rodeo mechanical bull in his office as he chastises people for getting too close, urges them not to touch him, and constantly puts a mask over his face to protect himself “from their stink.”

How’s that for subtext? (You go, Wolfe! You go, Xavier! Sorry, more obscure Battlestar Galactica references are afoot.)

God love Alan Rickman and his haughty, university-educated terrorist Hans Gruber, but Hollywood missed the casting boat by not pitting a Richard Lynch-brewed antagonist against the smarmy John McClane. . . .

“Bring me back some tissues (a line from Ground Rules),” sniffs Case after sending one of his henchmen to shoot that son-of-a-bitch McClane.

That’s right. Simon says Ankar Moor from Deathsport will kick your ass.

How quickly we forget Richard Lynch kicked Chuck Norris’s ass in Invasion U.S.A and took Al Pacino’s to task in Scarecrow. Damn, Richard Lynch. You and Klaus Kinski are my acting heroes: you make everything enjoyable.

As for the multitalented Brothers Donahue: Before moving into the studio and picture development business with their New Gold Pictures, the siblings started as stunt coordinators on a slew of successful cable and video action movies. While Patrick moved behind the camera, his brother, Sean, move to the front of the lens.

Sean’s other roles include the popular video rentals Diamond Run (1996; a Rambo-rip), Starhunter (1996; a Predator-rip with Roddy McDowall), Omega Cop (1990; an Escape from New York-rip with Adam West), and Big Trouble in Little China’s James Hong’s writing and directing debut, The Vineyard (1989).

Writer Derrick Costa—who also got his start in the business as a stunt man—doubled for Bruce “Ash” Campbell in the SyFy Channel movie Assault on Dome 4 (1996), and for Lou Diamond Phillips in Alien Express (2005). Co-writer Marty Poole scripted the Hyung-rae Shims remake/homage to Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967) known as Reptile: 2001 (aka, Yonggary), and a neat Elvis “what if” rock ‘n’ roll flick, Protecting the King (1999).

You can now direct-purchase DVDs of Ground Rules, along with the Donahue Brothers’ Andy Sidaris-styled action favorites, including: Kill Squad (1982), They Call Me Macho Woman (1991), and Parole Violators (1994) through their New Gold Studios imprint.

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