This week’s pick for Saturday Afternoon Sweetness is about group of high school misfits who just don’t fit in. They’re rag-tag, they’re gang members and when they’re not in school they work for their uncles’ chop shops. Oh, and they all happen to be in one class. The school’s principle decides that something needs to be done. So, with the help of their teacher, the group of misfits are enrolled in an extra-curricular course to help them see that they have a chance, that there is hope for them, that they don’t need to be in gangs or stealing cars. They can achieve more.
Sound like ‘Freedom Writers’? Or ‘Dangerous Minds’? If you think my pick is one of those, then you don’t quite have your finger on the pulse of what makes a good Saturday afternoon movie, yet (that’s ok, though. It’s why I have this column). I can only assume that the ‘Freedom Writers’ writers watched this movie and decided to dumb down their version of it with drama and “a point.” But this movie is way more awesome than ‘Freedom Writers.’ Why? Because it’s got major whoop-ass. Whoop-ass in the form of Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art/dance. The movie is called ‘Only the Strong’ and features martial arts star Mark Dacascos as Louis Stevens, a former Green Beret who moves into an abandoned firehouse and is enlisted to teach these high schoolers that they can be more than what they’re living right now with the help of the martial art. Of course Stevens was a troubled teen from that high school, of course they reform their ways at the end, of course Stevens falls in love with the teacher, of course there is an obligatory death to rally the group. Those are all just niceties thrown in because something needs to happen between fight scenes. This movie rules because of the Capoeira. When you watch this movie you get the sense that someone (probably Dacascos) saw Capoeira somewhere, thought it was badass, and said, “We could totally do a movie around this.” And then totally did a movie around it. Flips, kicks, handstands and other assorted aerial feats riddle this picture to the point where you kind of want to do some acrobatics in your living room because the movie got you that pumped up but you don’t really know how to do any of the moves, so your acrobatics turn into one piss-poor cartwheel that results in a mild concussion and a pulled groin, relegating you to the couch for a while. No worries, though. That’s more time to sit down and drink this movie in. ‘Only the Strong’ is totally a “nursing blunt head trauma on a Saturday afternoon” kind of movie.
Now, if you’re one of those Negative Nancys out there for whom 99 minutes of cool whoop-ass isn’t enough to hold your attention, I give you the second reason to watch this movie: Silverio. As the resident bad guy of this movie, who also just so happens to be a “maestre” of the Brazilian fight/dance form, Silverio chews up his screen time in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. He’s the uncle of one of the students and is trying to convince his “primo” that he shouldn’t reform his ways and continue to work in the chop shop. This, of course, leads to an epic Capoeira showdown in an open field with the chop shop Capoeira experts taking on the Capoeira students and then, finally, a head-to-head battle between Stevens and Silverio to finally put the gang leader in his place. You know, like how all gang fights unfurl in the hood (two feuding gang members square off in the middle of a circle formed by their respective posses, who are creating saucy Latin beats to rhythmically fight to). In fact, all fights in this film create the illusion that in the rough and tumble streets of our nation, gangs fight only with this somewhat obscure martial art. My kind of world. But I digress from the point, which is that Silverio (portrayed by Paco Christian Prieto) is awesome and should have had more lines. I don’t know if Paco Christian Prieto has done anything else, but hell yeah I’m curious to see him fumble his way through the English language in other films, hopefully while wearing those sweet silk shirts. (I just IMDB’d him. Cheers: He’s in that Van Damme movie ‘Lionheart’! Jeers: It doesn’t look like he talks in it.)
Probably the second of three Mark Dacascos movies that are worth watching, ‘Only the Strong’ is totally an awesome Saturday Afternoon Sweetness pick. The Capoeira is amazing and the cookie cutter plot lets you turn off your brain and just smile.