Last year, I was impressed by the unexpected historical resonance of Bobby Guions’ 2005 low-budget action-thriller Dinner with an Assassin, with its great opening scene on the roof of the Divine Hotel Riviera. So I thought I’d check out his 1999 debut, Moving Target.
Alas, a seller on Amazon to whom all b-movies titled Moving Target must seem the same sent me this:
Much love to Michael Dudikoff—as a kid, I loved American Ninja 1, 2, and 4 (the Dudikoffless 3 being redeemed only by the presence of the great Steve James), and I’ll still rep for Albert Pyun’s postapocalyptic Radioactive Dreams, but there’s no denying, by the 90s, Dudikoff was the poor(er) man’s Michael Biehn, cranking out dreary, formulaic dreck, and this Canadian gangster jam appears no exception (I got to keep it, with a refund, but not sure I’ll ever watch it, unless someone lobbies hard on its behalf). Also, this was the wrong movie.
Point being, it took me a while to get my hands on this:
But wow, talk about being worth the wait: white VHS! I didn’t even know this was a thing (based on a quick google search, I’m not alone—600 people have watched this mystified dude ponder the immortal question “My Destroy All Monsters Tape is white. WHAT THE FUCK”). Is this the video-nerd equivalent of colored vinyl?
In any case, the film itself gets off to a slow start. Unlike Dinner with an Assassin’s location shooting, Moving Target opens with some extended indoor non-mortal combat.
This turns out to be the Black Eagle Society, composed of the greatest taekwondo, kung fu, kickboxing, and other martial arts fighters in the world—all conveniently located in New Jersey! The choreography is so-so, but Guions cuts nicely around the un-landed blows.
Finally, the group leader explains to his gang, “there’s one thing we’ve never done: to kill a man with our bare hands!” They all agree, but of course it’s not really worth it to just throttle some wimp, the goal is “fighting a real champion to the death.” Just to sweeten the pot, our fearless leader offers a million bucks to whichever fighter delivers the death blow.
I, uh, think this plot may have been used before, in the approximately ten thousand film versions of The Most Dangerous Game that extend from proper adaptations to the lackluster sexploitation flick The Suckers to what I assume was Guions’ immediate inspiration, the recent (and pretty solid IMHO) Surviving the Game. But hey, at least this plot device finally takes us to Newark:
The downtown beefcake shots are of affable actor Greg Maye, playing karate fighter Mark Kobain. He’s wooed into the Black Eagle Society, where, the leader explains, “we get together once a month, talk martial arts world, stock options,” stuff like that. Who wouldn’t want to join?
Alas, with that we’re back out of Newark, into the Jersey woods, where the hunt goes down, with little surprise as to how it ends. Guions grafts a strikingly tangential love story into the mix, primarily to include a tame sex scene and secure the otherwise all-male film’s heterosexuality, I suppose.
Moving Target lacks the loopy charm of Guions’ next film, though I’m always susceptible to sheer let’s-make-a-movie moxie. There’s a really tacky scene where one of the fighters is called away from dinner for a phone call to be told he’s HIV-positive, apparently just to set up a risible one-liner in his later fight scene where he growls, “watch out, you don’t wanna catch AIDS now.” Ugh.
On the other hand, Mark Kobain shows some feminist proclivities, explaining that “no means no” to a Mike Tyson-like member of the Black Eagle Society who boasts about his sexual aggression toward a woman who came to his room once. Plus, there are occasional shots of empty sets, another touch I always love:
There’s not enough engagement with Newark to situate Moving Target in urban cultural history, though I imagine the backstory would be interesting—Guions thanks the Newark YMCA and even the Newark Police in the end credits. So, as a debut, it’s . . . a debut. the final fight scene does return us to a downtown Newark rooftop–something of a Guions personal flourish, since it’s the same way Dinner ends. Some decent skyline footage:
Moving Target seems to have fallen mostly off the face of the earth—never released on DVD, and held only at two libraries (in Georgia and Los Angeles) according to the venerable WorldCat, with just a few IMDB reviews to mark its existence. Guions isn’t the most prolific filmmaker—he’s got just one more movie, the obscure 2010 thriller Blood and Love—but I’m gonna guess these DIY productions take some serious effort.
Also, pretty solid soundtrack by Newark’s own Rick Da Bro. I confess a lack of familiarity with his work, but he delivers classic mid-90s Wu Tang-style dirty beats, and likes to post food pics on his Instagram. I can dig that—though not Geno’s Steaks in South Philly, man, that’s the worst!