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The Third Society   D-

Warrior Entertainment

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: J.A. Steel
Writer: J.A. Steel
Cast: J.A. Steel, Shannon Clay, Russell Vann Brown, Sonya Eddy, Charles Shen, Benny Tjandra, Debi D. Beebe, Khin-Kyaw Maung, Moritaka Yoshida, Makai Hyun, Satoshi Nakagawa.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

I hate to do this. It's always painful for me to give bad reviews to filmmakers who send in screeners. I know what it feels like to have something you put lots of time, effort, and heart into bashed by someone. It's bad enough that when you look at the thing you created, you realize it didn't turn out as great as you'd hoped. But to have another person (say, a no-nothing Internet "critic" like myself) not only confirm your doubts about your project, but go further in saying that it's so bad that watching Full House reruns is an appealing alternative can be tough to take. One thing before I proceed: J.A. Steel, if you're reading this, please don't track me down and kick my ass.

(She's a kickboxer, man, she could kick your ass, too.)

The movie is The Third Society. J.A. Steel (aka Jacquelyn A. Ruffner) wrote, directed, produced, and co-edited the film. Oh, yeah, she's also the star. She plays Cassandra Alexandra Jones, a super-tough LAPD lieutenant who watched her mother get gunned down by an Asian crime organization when she was a little girl. She was put into the Witness Protection Program and had her last named changed from Reynolds to Jones (because Reynolds just doesn't have that bold ring to it). These days, on her time off from the LAPD, Jones enjoys kickboxing trees in the forest, running, and taking dips in cool mountain streams (in slow motion, by the way). But, uh-oh, Jones has trouble on the horizon. Those same Asian baddies who killed her mother all those years ago soon kidnap her sister Erica (Shannon Clay) and demand one billion dollars. You see, Jones raided one of their drug deals and her sister helped stop a billion-dollar transaction. Or something like that.

All I know is there were shots fired, guys with guns walking in slow motion, and some hilarious hand-to-hand combat. Yeah, Jones knows how to kick ass. As she pummels an Asian thug, she yells (in badly dubbed voice-over), "You fight like a girl!"

But now that they've got her sister, Jones is really pissed. Oh! And did I mention that Jones can dodge bullets? Amazing, I tell you. Simply amazing. Those Asian bad guys better run and hide 'cause Jones is pissed. And she's coming after them.

And, sure, this might sound like a good recipe for a fun, campy action flick. And, yes, it's campy. But, no, it's not much fun (at least I didn't think so). Sure, its sheer awfulness garners a few laughs (from the ridiculous voice-over narration to the mind-numbing absurdities of the storyline, this is hilariously bad territory). More often than not, however, I was tempted to hold down the fast-forward button and not look back.

I was nearly clawing my eyes out during a runway "action sequence" with Jones on her motorcycle chasing after an airplane that the Bad Guys have just boarded with her sister in tow. More cops show up, speeding in their cars down the runway. Aside from the fact that the music changes from a crunching guitar-based groove to a sappy piano ballad mid-scene (huh?), the sequence seems to be composed of a randomly edited series of shots with no sense of pacing or anything resembling coherence. Look, there's another shot of the cars speeding down the runway! And there's a shot of Jones doing a wheelie on her motorcycle... oops, the cameraman lost her! Another shot of the cars! The airplane! Okay, now Jones is getting into a helicopter! What the hell is going on here?

Aahh! Just make it stop!

And I haven't even mentioned the overexposed, washed-out look that gets taxing on the eyes really quick. It seems that J.A. Steel is trying for a slick visual style -- and there's some cool shots here and there, I'll say that much -- but the nearly incoherent editing and haphazardly staged action scenes really kill any sense of style that The Third Society may have had. This movie is a mess.

But if there's one thing I can compliment this film on, it's this: the acting isn't all that bad. I've seen much worse. Shannon Clay, as Jones's sister Erica, is pretty good, and so is Russell Vann Brown as an FBI agent who teams up with Jones (and happens to show up whenever she's taking a shower). When I say they're pretty good, I'm speaking in a strictly B-movie sense; they have a little charm and grace, but they won't be winning Oscars anytime soon. The other performances run the gamut from laughably bad to pretty decent.

Now I feel bad. I feel like I said things I shouldn't have said, since I was always told if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. But as ugly as it was, I was honest. I'm not saying I'm right, but damn it, I'm honest. Now that I think about it, The Third Society is a movie every self-respecting masochist -- um, I mean, bad movie fan -- should seek out for their collection. Honestly, I'm gonna force my friends to watch this one. More often than not, it's painful and supremely irritating. But there are a few moments of laugh-out-loud bad movie hilarity that almost make it worth it. Almost.

I'm just begging to get my ass kicked, aren't I?

Review published 06.11.2001.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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