Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a spinning roundhouse kick

FatalDeviation

Fatal Deviation (1998)

When it came time for me to watch Fatal Deviation, it was obvious that a Blu-Ray, a DVD or even a dirty, corrupted old Betamax tape wasn’t exactly going to be available. Naturally I took a quick visit to a certain bay, which is usually my last resort (honest). But it wasn’t even available there either. And obviously, since there are approximately six films total on Netflix, and even those guys appear to have some sort of standards on what gets shown, this film wasn’t going to be found there. No, Fatal Deviation is what you’d call a YouTube-tier film, and there it was – Ireland’s first and last kung fu movie.

The protagonist, martial arts master Jimmy Bennett (played by… James Bennett, which saves money on the personalised karate gi I suppose) looks absolutely wild. I’d sort of hoped the actor himself would be behind bars nowadays, not out of any spite or unkindness but because I reckoned it might be better for society as a whole. After all, he spends most of the film upending whatever town in Ireland it is, Trim possibly, and he gets far more out of control than Taffin ever did.

But it turns out that James Bennett AKA The Meath Monster managed to get a further few films under his black belt, and he even managed to play understudy to Steven Seagal – the gold standard man when it comes to naff karate films where the two-dimensional protagonist emerges from every single scrap unscathed.

The plot, as far as I can tell, centres around Jimmy coming back to Trim after spending some time in a young offenders home, with the mysterious circumstances of his father’s death still playing on his mind. As it turns out, a gang of local ruffians and low-level gangsters were behind it, and they’re in league with the local martial arts experts, with a shared intent to terrorise the town. A kung-fu tournament gets bolted on at the end of the picture. Don’t they always?

Mentioning that tournament reminds me of one of the really great parts of the film, a scene that tells you the whole story of this production better than a thousand words: Jimmy, sitting alongside the downright creepy monk that’s been training him (keeping him out of prison), picks up a note that tells him to “loose the tournament or else”. And there was me thinking that horrendous misspelling had only gained traction in the last few years, but no, there it was in 1998.

But the best scene was the fight in the pub. You just can’t beat a pub pagger, but this one starts in the best possible way as Jimmy smashes through two bouncers before strolling on in, not a bother, no witnesses or anything. He takes a seat right at the counter and shouts “Beer!” at the barman, arms folded, already gumming to kick off again. Shortly after this, someone else yells at the barman looking for his drink. It all explodes into violence from there, naturally.

At this stage of the film, Jimmy’s been taken in by the monk I mentioned earlier, a member of some nearby kung-fu monastery or some such. I have to doubt how devout these monks are to the cause, however, since you’ll see the boys sinking pints in the pub midway through the scene. They don’t intervene when the pubgoers start acting the maggot, however, nor do they steam in when the kicks start flying. So, are they kung-fu monks of peace?

There’s a recurring theme here, though – almost everyone in the film behaves like a See You Next Tuesday, whether they’re good or evil. Leading the Berkeley Hunt stakes here is Mikey Graham from Boyzone, who are introduced in the opening credits as a “rock group”. You don’t mind a razor-thin plot and characters, but bald-faced lies? That’s out of order.

What I don’t quite understand is that, apart from a line featured in the trailer that makes him look absolutely laughable (“You made me look bad… and that’s not good!” delivered with a scowl and squinted eyes), Mikey is the best actor in it by a distance. Unfortunately, poor Mikey’s rewarded for his professional efforts by being given a caravan to live in, with his only luxuries being a bath of horrible scummy water outside and some pine-tree car air fresheners inside. A bit of a step down for a boyband star on his way to the top, I’d have thought.

The actual kung-fu merchants are well able to throw out the moves alright, but when it comes time for some dialogue, they get their words as twisted as their high-kicking legs. Speaking of which, my abiding memory of the film’s moves is Bennett’s finisher, a flying roundhouse kick. It’s a wonder that his adversaries don’t figure it out though because he seems to throw one out every 10 seconds, rather than talk confrontations out. I suppose their best way around the overall lack of acting ability was to keep the acting to a minimum – I’d speculate that Bennett dishes out more roundhousers than lines of dialogue in the end.

But then suddenly the tournament’s over and the gang are after him and he’s there shooting enemies with a pistol that sounds less threatening than your average airsoft gun and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And Jimmy’s gunplay culminates in shooting a bockety oul lad in the face with a shotgun (with a similarly piddly report), right in front of the love interest, who doesn’t seem to react.

Sounds cruel, although I can tell you that the oul fella deserved it for being the worst actor in the whole picture, or at least bottom three. Maybe he was Mikey’s da or something, along for the ride. But otherwise, I don’t know how you get to that age and still not be able to deliver a line convincingly. Did he have zero experience? Or worse, has he been acting all his life? Even Fair City would have told him where to go.

As for the love interest, what I don’t understand is that there are love scenes where they’re having a picnic or some nonsense and he’s giving it cringy romantic lines, the ones that maybe Danny Zuko could deliver but never sound right coming out of a culchie mouth (girls, think Copper Face Jacks or your Fresher’s Week in college for this) and there’s a big build-up to their first kiss, which never happens. But then, at the protagonist’s lowest ebb, he has a flashback scene to the two of them going at it.

So much for emotional build-up, then. Or maybe Jimmy was just indulging in a spot of wishful thinking? A pre-amble to a well-timed spot of martial masturbation? Perhaps Jimmy was subbing Mikey’s face in there for his own, in some horrible kind of kung-fu cuck fantasy. Either way, it’s the usual hashed love story and predictable end fight sequence with a blaze of bad sound editing. 

In the midst of the love scenes, there’s a surreal part where Jimmy and Nicola hit the carnival and have a go on the bumper cars. As this happens, the camerawork goes more and more wild, all the colours meshing together with crazy music ramping up in the background. It reminded me of going to Oktoberfest, boozing all day and then going on the bumper cars at night-time afterwards – tremendous fun, because you’re getting knocked around and smashed to pieces and getting shouted at in German and you don’t know why or what’s happening, but you’re laughing your head off all the same.

But here, I was just getting more and more creeped out – I almost hid under a blanket until it all stopped. I got the feeling that Nicola, the dainty femme, now realised just how insane Bennett was, but she was in far too deep now and would’ve ended up beheaded or suffering some other awful fate if she tried to run away.

There’s even bloopers at the end. That frightened me to death, because that means the final cut of the film wasn’t actually a compilation of first-takes done on the only two rolls of film they had – someone edited this, and there was an approval process. That’s the thing about rubbish films isn’t it? It’s a shambles, both on camera and behind the scenes.

I do honestly hope the boys had a laugh making it. And it holds your attention, because you’re just getting more open-mouthed in disbelief as it all goes on. At this stage you may be sick of films that are so bad they’re good, but if you’re Irish, you simply need to see Fatal Deviation. I’m just waiting for the Hardy Bucks to throw up a sequel.

24 January 2020

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