TO PROTECT AND SERVE: THE DAVID KEITH INTERVIEW

PART ONE: THE INTERVIEW

David Keith (publicity photo)

David Keith (publicity photo)

So, the press release for the independent action flick AWAKEN shows up in my inbox and, I’m thinking, “Okay… the premise sounds promising but, I’m so afraid it’s gonna be nothing more than a distaff version of Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme.” But, then, the clincher… the movie features one of my favorite character actors, David Keith. And… he’s doing interviews! How could I possibly turn this one down?

Obviously, I couldn‘t and… I didn’t. So, before we take an in-depth look at the movie, here’s my conversation with actor David Keith. While Mister Keith may not really be as intense as many of his characters, he is nonetheless a passionate performer and a compassionate human being.

THE MULE: It’s a pleasure to speak to you. Since you’re on a little bit of a schedule here, let’s talk about AWAKEN and then a couple of other questions. How did you become involved in this project?

DAVID: The producer, Natalie Burn, is an old friend of mine and she asked if I would do her a favor and come play a small role in the movie.

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn, David Keith) (publicity photo)

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn, David Keith) (publicity photo)

THE MULE: You said “small role.” It is a rather small role but, in my mind anyway, fairly pivotal to the story.

DAVID: Yeah… you can’t really harvest organs without a surgeon.

THE MULE: Right. I didn’t wanna give anything away. I guess I shoulda read the back of the box… it may very well tell us what the bad guys are kinda up to. I got the feeling that, possibly, your character wasn’t so much into the way things were being done, but you were just there to help where you could.

DAVID: Well, all he’s washed up. He’s probably lost his license, he’s a drunk and he’s just trying to live out the rest of his days, making some money. But, he does want to do it right. If it’s going to be done, he certainly has given up on the moral question of what he’s doing but, he doesn’t want these kids brought in dead, ’cause then the organs die. He wants to harvest the organs while the person’s still breathing. Dead makes it a little worse; that makes his job work better… you take a live organ over somebody who’s dead or beaten up.

THE MULE: So, this whole thing… there are bad-assess wall-to-wall. I mean, from, I guess, former bad-asses to current bad-asses to future bad-asses… everybody just kinda comes in and pretty much kicks butt and worries about the fall-out later. It’s gotta be fun to work on something that’s almost wall-to-wall action.

DAVID: Well, of course, I represent the part where there isn’t much action. Most of the fighting and action that you see went on when I wasn’t on set. Now, there were some fight scenes shot while I was waiting to shoot my scenes, so I saw a couple of those things. I was only there three or four days and those were the days that they were shooting my scenes, which was a lot more dialogue. I was involved in the dialogue scenes more than in the action.

THE MULE: Okay. So, you didn’t get to actually partake, so to speak, of any of the bad-assery.

DAVID: Not really. No.

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (David Keith) (publicity still)

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (David Keith) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Speaking of which, I’ve gotta tell you that one of my all-time favorite episodes of LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT is the one that you played the character “Hawk.”

DAVID: Yeah… I was kind of hoping they would make a spin-off of that character.

THE MULE: Yeah. It could have been a recurring character or a spin-off.

DAVID: I did do another LAW AND ORDER after that but, it was CRIMINAL INTENT and a completely different character.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL (David Keith) (publicity still)

HEARTBREAK HOTEL (David Keith) (publicity still)

THE MULE: You have done… so many great things through the years and, I guess, what may be the ultimate chick flick, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. Do you have any favorite roles or favorite movies or TV series that you’ve worked on through the years?

DAVID: Yes. My favorite role was Elvis Presley in HEARTBREAK HOTEL because I’m a frustrated rock star and I got to the singing myself, go into a recording studio and perform onstage. My two favorite television shows were THE CLASS, which was a sit-com, 2006 and 7 and that was just really a riot… an absolutely hilarious show that didn’t make it. And then, LONE STAR, which was probably the best writing of any project I’ve ever worked on… in any medium. And, that show… a few episodes on Fox and then it got yanked. It was brilliant. Basically, those were the shows that were pearls before swine, in my opinion. They were too smart for the average television audience.

THE MULE: That seems to happen a lot.

DAVID: Um-hm. It has to achieve a certain level of mediocrity in television if you’re going to be successful.

THE MULE: Maybe it’s because people just can’t commit to something like that. Know what I mean?

DAVID: They want to multitask. They need to be able to take phone calls while the show’s on or go get a sandwich. And, if it’s multifaceted and has any sort of depth or texture or tapestry to it, then it demands your full attention. If you make a television show that’s as good as a movie, you’re not gonna want to get up and go get your popcorn. That was the fate of both of those shows, I think. Too smart, too clever.

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (David Keith, Louis Gossett Junior) (publicity still)

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (David Keith, Louis Gossett Junior) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Too nuanced for their own good. So, where are you headed after this… after AWAKEN? Do you have anything else lined up?

DAVID: Well, I’ve had some minor medical issues that kept me out of show business for the past few months but, there’s always something around the corner. I’m enjoying being a Mister Mom.

THE MULE: That’s a completely different lifestyle, isn’t it?

DAVID: Right. I also work for a charity called National Association To Protect Children or protect.org. That’s basically what I do with most of my time now.

THE MULE: That’s great. I know you have another interview in a few minutes, so I’ll let you go. Just let me say that I like the movie… like watching the old stuff on TV or DVDs and I really appreciate your time.

DAVID: Alrighty. Thanks.

PART TWO: THE REVIEW

AWAKEN

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/7HEAVEN PRODUCTIONS/ARCHSTONE PICTURES (89 minutes; Rated R); 2015)

Awaken_2D

Billie Kope (played by Natalie Burn, whose most high-profile appearance to date is probably THE EXPENDABLES 3), on a search for her sister, who disappeared in Mexico, finds herself alone and very confused when she wakes up on the beach of a remote island. As she begins to regain her bearings, she is surprised by the screams of a frightened young woman; nearly walking to a trap, she is saved and befriended by a group of people who have also been kidnapped and transported to the island for some nefarious reason. This group is populated by a number of well-known character actors, including Phillip Tan (as Todd), Edward Furlong (as Berto), Augie Duke (as Chloe) and Robert Davi (as Quintin). As Billie soon learns, her abduction (and those of the others) are linked to a sinister group of black ops soldiers, who are seemingly hunting them merely for the sport of it. What’s really happening is an intricate organ harvesting operation involving – and you had to see this one coming – her sister, Kat (Chrisa Campbell).

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn) (publicity still)

AWAKEN (Natalie Burn) (publicity still)

The plot – a twist on the Richard Connell short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” – is one that’s turned up over and over again in movies, television (including an episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, with Rory Calhoun starring as “The Hunter”), literature and comic books but, with enough of a spin to keep it interesting. Aside from the actors already mentioned, the cast is filled with recognizable faces (if not names): Vinnie Jones as the ruthless black op leader, Michael Pare as his second in command, Jason London as the head of the organ harvesting cartel and Michael Copon as the love interest/hero of the piece. Daryl Hannah appears as Mao, a “customer” searching for a liver donor with the proper chi for her daughter; her performance is over-the-top and cartoonish, the one weak link in an otherwise solid cast. Conversely, David Keith, as Walsh, the disgraced doctor hired to perform the surgeries, gives a nuanced, believeable performance as he struggles with what his life has become and, ultimately, with saving as many lives as he can to atone for his past (and current) indiscretion. Miss Burn (who is also writer, producer, casting director, as well as doing her own stunts) is definitely easy on the eyes, kinda like a cross between Lucy Lawless and Juliette Lewis, only… softer.

AWAKEN (Daryl Hannah) (publicity still)

AWAKEN (Daryl Hannah) (publicity still)

The action sequences tend to work better than the rest of the story, especially the dialogue which occasionally borders on the soap-ish (as in operas). The one exception is the final shoot-out, which like Miss Hannah’s acting, comes across rather like cartoon violence (but, honestly… I do likes me some mindless cartoon violence). Having said that, AWAKEN does manage to engage and hold your attention; the actors are certainly nice to look at (with the possible exceptions of Jones and Daz Crawford as Stitch). The movie works equally well as an action/adventure dude’s night-in, as a chick flick or even as a date night feature. Some of the concepts may be to advanced for kids younger than twelve and the R rating is due to the violence. My recommendation? Suspend all semblance of believability and strap yourself in for a fun ride. AWAKEN is available in digital, DVD and Video-On-Demand.


AFTERMATH

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/EASTLAKE FILMS/LIGHTWAVE ENTERTAINMENT (92 minutes/Unrated); produced 2012, released 2014)

AFTERMATH

While not perfect, AFTERMATH is still a brilliant examination of the human condition, a world teetering on the brink of elimination. This is more than just another apocalyptic zombie movie, it’s a character study of nine disparate souls, brought together after a well-orchestrated terrorist attack levels every major city, military installation and government facility in the United States; the attacks also target the USA’s allies and, of course, there are retaliatory strikes, leaving the entire planet a cesspool of nuclear destruction and fallout. As with any good tale of the apocalypse, things start as they should… at the end. Things very quickly move to “One month earlier,” where we meet a doctor named Hunter (played by CJ Thomason, we never really know if it’s his first or last name), on a walking tour somewhere in Texas. The first blast hits just as he meets a vehicle with a young woman (Christine Kelly) and her young charge (brother, student, baby-sittee?).

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Edward Furlong; CJ Thomason; Ross Britz) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

There’s plenty of science to go along with the (very realistic) fiction, as the car dies because all of the electronic components are fried and, as the second blast occurs, the boy turns toward it and basically burns out his retinas. Hunter quickly rallies the troops as the search begins for, first, a vehicle with a diesel engine, then, supplies and a place to wait out the radiation and nuclear fallout; the doctor says that the refugees have approximately ten hours before the radiation settles. Along the way, they pick up another traveler (Monica Keena) and, four hours in, are greeted by a frightened youth with a very big gun. Hunter is shot before he can convey the urgency of the situation.

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Monica Keena and Andre Royo) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Just at the ten hour mark, the quartet comes upon a house, knowing that this must be the place they wait out the devastation. Again, Hunter is met with resistance, another gun in his face. The outcome involvesfar less blood, as the doc disarms the would-be killer. We soon find that Brad (Edward Furlong in a brilliantly unhinged role) and his pregnant wife (Jessie Rusu) are at the house of their neighbor, Jonathan (Ross Britz) and his diabetic uncle, for the same reason that Hunter and the others stopped: It’s the only house for miles around with a cellar. More science as Hunter tells the others what they need in the cellar and what they can expect to happen before they can leave the shelter of their new home, a period of at least 30 days.

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH (Christine Kelly) (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

As the characters wait for the fallout to dissipate, a very real sense of claustrophobia sets in (for the characters and audience, alike) and we – to paraphrase THE REAL WORLD – find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. By this time, the film has taken on a cinema verite aspect, a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to great effect. The final member of the “family,” a friend of Jonathan named Rob (Andre Royo) makes his way to the house to check on his comic-reading and role-playingbuddy, only to be shot in the wrist. The pair share a few moments that are quite poignant, including Rob volunteering to go outside to bury the uncle and, later, the two discussing which Green Lantern is the best, ending the discussion with the Lantern’s oath. Jonathan and Rob aren’t the only ones with those emotional, human moments, though. Everyone is devastated by the death of the uncle, the first of their group to go; Brad, in particular, is riding a roller coaster of emotions, worrying about his wife and unborn child.

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

AFTERMATH: infected (photo credit: SCOTT WINIG)

Having never been in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I can’t say for sure, but the emotions and circumstances seem impressively real… which, of course, was the intent of writer Christian McDonald and director Peter Engert. AFTERMATH (which was originally titled REMNANTS) may not be a primer to prepare you for a nuclear holocaust, but it does make you think about how close we are on any given day to this kind of annihilation. Obviously, not everyone in the cellar survives and, the final BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID fight-to-freedom scenario against what appears to be an infectedfamily of homicidal lunatics (or, maybe, they’re a motorcycle gang who are only interested in how much damage they can inflict on others) really tells the story of man’s desire for survival against any odds. There aren’t a lot of zombies here (in fact, Hunter refers to them as being “infected” by the radiation and fallout), just nuclear-charged emotions. And, for me, that’s more than enough to recommend this flick.