Having scraped the bottom of the barrel with shot-on-video atrocity Fatal Deviation, then ascended to the giddy heights of Van Damme's would-be blockbuster The Quest, I wanted to see what the middle ground of action B-movie egosploitation looks like. Turns out it's Midsomer Murders guest starring Gary Daniels.
After attending acting classes at The New York Film Academy, Essex-born former kickboxing instructor Ben Lettieri set out to become a star. He founded a production company, Improvise Films, with childhood friend David Freedman, and made a series of genre shorts showcasing his martial arts skills. The Liberator, shot largely around Lettieri's native Southend (on the UK's East coast), is his first attempt at directing, producing, writing and starring in a feature length movie.
Country: UK | Runtime: 89m | Director: Ben Lettieri
Starring: Ben Lettieri, Keith Chanter, Daniel Jordan, Jessica Bayly, Martin Wan
What happens: Ben Silver (Lettieri) is a decorated former soldier available for hire to anyone with a (morally sound) need for people to be kicked in the face. Alongside his mentor/handler Dr Nigel Carter (Chanter), Silver rescues a group of Ukrainian sex slaves. Meanwhile crime boss Miller (Jordan) steals a rare Egyptian vase from the home of museum employee Melinda (Bayly). Melinda gets Silver on the case. Using kickboxing he edges closer and closer to Miller, who ultimately kidnaps Melinda to use as leverage. Lots of fighting. Goodies win.
"Ben doesn't work for money... he goes by a person's character. He cares more about what's in their hearts than their wallets."
The Liberator is one of those movies in which the technical elements, writing and acting achieve perfect synchronisation; they're all exactly equally bad. But for a debut filmmaker with no real budget, that's probably a compliment. The cinematography is poor but stuff tends to be in focus, the writing is extremely derivative but you can follow what's going on, the actors are largely dreadful but at least they are actors, not Lettieri's mates from the gym, and for at least half the movie there isn't a distracting smudge on the camera's lens. All in all, not a bad effort.
"Oi fuckhead, you'd better be keeping an eye on that vase."
If delving into egosploitation has taught me one thing, it's that the world is awash with amateur martial artists who want to be Jean-Claude Van Damme. Lettieri is more likeable than most, and that will go a long way in helping you through a movie that's determined to communicate via cliché alone. That's the core of The Liberator's appeal – its reliance on the tired dynamics, dialogue and situations we've seen hundreds of times already. When our hero quips, “it's been emotional”, it's hard to know if he's ripping off Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock or homaging him. Silver's like every Jason Statham character rolled into one: the orphaned son of a martial arts champion and an SAS leader, a highly decorated war hero with mysterious personal wealth, a kickboxing champion, an international man of mystery and the world's greatest chef and lover. Action Breen!
"There's a lot more to Ben Silver than I thought."
EGOWATCH: Early on, Silver's girlfriend forces him to make up for an earlier indiscretion by having sex with her. After that his ego gets hold and all bets are off. Somehow he remains likeable throughout.
One long highlights reel of other movies, so the cheese quota is through the roof. The endless fight scenes pump up the excess. There's enough that works to count it as a proper B-movie, but most of the appeal stems from its naffness.
VIDEO: Ben Silver is All Things