Z is for… The Zone
I’ve actually been looking forward to reviewing The Zone (Dogfighters) since I started this website. Not only is the title directly related to one of the criteria, it’s an action movie that begins with Z, and it stars Robert Davi and Alexander Godunov, who were both in Die Hard.
Fortunately, the movie is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, and has also been on Hulu a few times.
The Zone (Dogfighters) is directed by Barry Zetlin, of ‘80s horror and millenium reality TV fame, and stars Robert Davi as Rowdy Welles, a former Air Force Major. He gets blackmailed into completing a mission for the CIA; specifically, he must plant explosives in a nuclear processing plant belonging to Godunov’s villain Lothar Krasna. Along his quest in Moravash, an imaginary Eastern European city, he receives assistance from Mike (Lara Harris), a Moravashian spy, and must avoid the attention of Lothar, who heard word of a dangerous American. Together, Rowdy and Mike are able to plant and detonate the explosives, kill the bad guy, and save the day.
…There really isn’t much more to the story than that, and that’s what made the movie really enjoyable. Rowdy has to get a hold of the explosives, then retrieve the primed explosives, then get them to the plant. Meanwhile, Mike is schmoozing Lothar. There are some explosions and gunfights along the way. There’s a clear good guy, a clear bad guy, a sexy woman, and nothing complicating the action.
It’s a lot of fun.
So, why not move onto the criteria?
A is for… Accents
Lothar, Mike, and the other Moravashians have what I assume to be “Moravashian” accents, or at least what can be classified as Central/Eastern European.
Lothar has a former classmate he talks with named Duncan (Robert Daglish), and Duncan has an odd British accent. He almost sounds like a cartoon character.
There are a few phrases here and there spoken in a foreign language, which adds some authenticity to the movie.
B is for… Bad Guys
Rowdy is initially presented as not being a great guy, but soon gets framed for murder by presumably corrupt CIA agent Dick Althorp (Ben Gazzara). The only way to clear his name is by completing Althorp’s mission in Moravash. I will point out that the frame job is done poorly, because even if the gun has Rowdy’s fingerprints on it, he doesn’t have powder burn on his hand, and also the door is kicked in, which indicates someone else was there. For guys who were trained to work within the law, they sure aren’t good at knowing how crime scenes work, almost like they are actually off-the-cuff villains.
The real villain is Lothar Krasna, a member of the Weisbach mob, who is into gambling, drugs, and racketeering. He studied nuclear physics at Oxford, which is the first time I remember a villain’s college education being related to the plot. Specifically, he’s buying Uranium-238 to convert to weapons-grade Plutonium-239, which he can then sell for profit. According to the CIA, he has enough to take out half the island of Manhattan. He’s also depicted as generous and a good dancer, which is not surprising considering he’s played by Godunov. Also, how freaking awesome is the name “Lothar”? I love it.
C is for… Chases
The chase scenes in this film are hilarious.
First, there’s the initial airplane chase scene that is used to show how awesome Rowdy is at flying small planes. He’s in the desert somewhere running marijuana, and somewhere near him is an F-16 piloted by a DEA agent. The scene is funny because it’s so long (7-8 minutes of a 96-minute movie), and the two planes are clearly not being filmed in the same location. Not only do we never see both planes in the same frame at the same time, but Rowdy is flying very low over shrubland, and the F-16 is flying much higher over a gray desert with different hill formations. Clearly the scene only exists to demonstrate Rowdy’s skillset, and to show off lots and lots of footage of airplanes.
There’s a strange and long casual chase through the city of Moravash. It begins in some kind of market, which after Rowdy escapes from there, he jogs to a streetcar/tram and hops aboard. The guy chasing him (Lothar’s righthand man, Dmitri, played by Geza Kaszas) apparently leaves the market at a different spot, because Rowdy’s already on the tram for a bit before Dmitri catches up. Dmitri jogs after the tram, and eventually takes a shortcut as the tram goes through a tunnel, and catches up to it. He climbs aboard and walks its length, and when the tram slows at a cross street Rowdy jumps off. Both men continue to jog along some sort of pier or roofline, until Rowdy reaches the end. He then jumps onto the deck awning of a passing boat while Dmitri looks on. Rowdy eventually emerges from underneath and sips champagne while sort of waving to Dmitri. It’s all very strangely slow-paced and doesn’t carry a lot of tension. I do, however, give props to the producers for being allowed to film the tram on what is perceivably a low budget.
The climax of the film, once Rowdy and Mike are chased from the processing plant, and hence why the subtitle is “Dogfighters,” has Lothar chasing Rowdy as they both fly fighter jets, Lothar firing guns while Rowdy dodges them.
D is for… Damsels
The only woman in the film is really Mike, which is short for Mikaela. She’s a clearly competent agent and is a good fighter/spy. It’s eventually revealed that she’s been working undercover by teaming up with Lothar, so she can get close to him and learn his secrets. She does a good job at fooling Lothar, and only gets caught because she loses her necklace at the scene of one of his goons’ death. She has no problem stripping naked in front of Rowdy if it means keeping her cover.
E is for… Explosions
Duncan arrives to Moravash in a helicopter, which Lothar blows up to kill him.
During the climactic escape from the processing plant, Rowdy snags a machine gun and open fires it, and nicks some canisters that explode.
An SUV smashes into a building that magically appears on the runway, and explodes. By “magically” I mean that if the building were there, it would have been visible when Rowdy drove the plane past it, but instead the SUV drives by the plane and immediately crashes into it.
The whole mission is the blow up the processing plant, and it of course explodes in a little mushroom cloud.
F is for… Flashbacks
While not really a flashback, Rowdy’s character is introduced via news footage of him discussing getting court martialed.
G is for… Guns
There’s a shootout in the market that initiates the casual chase. Dmitri sure fires a lot of bullets from his little handgun, and towards crowds of people.
During the casual chase, the passengers are on the tram don’t seem too alarmed at Dmitri’s gun, nor the blood on his face.
When Rowdy meets Rakubian (Joszef Szekhelyi) to arrange pickup of the explosive, Lothar’s men engage Rowdy in a shootout. There are handguns and machine guns, the former of which Rowdy is able to snag for himself. I love the way he uses a table and both hands to brace his shots and aim, but the love is negated by the way he randomly shoots one-handed while running out the door.
Lothar’s men find Rowdy’s hotel room and shoot at the pillows on the bed lined up like a body, but Rowdy is able to take the men down.
Outside the hotel room is a really interesting shootout in a huge spiral staircase, during which Rowdy doublefists two guns.
Rowdy shoots guards at the processing plant while escaping.
An SUV on the runway outside the plant has a huge gatling gun on it.
Lothar’s plane has guns on it, which he keeps firing at Rowdy and missing.
H is for… Helicopters
Duncan flies in on a helicopter, in a very long take as it flies around and lands in a soccer field. After Lothar gets his uranium, he blows up Duncan and, sadly, the helicopter along with him.
I is for… Improvisation
In the market, Rowdy uses a leg of meat as a pendulum club.
In the cafe he flips the table he was sitting at as a distraction and to create distance between himself and Lothar.
Lothar gives him a flask for one last drink before Dmitri shoots him, and he also asks for one last cigarette. When Dmitri puts the lighter to the cigarette, Rowdy spits out the alcohol, creating a fireball that splashes into Dmitri’s face.
At one point Rowdy uses the butt of his gun as a club.
When escaping the processing plant, Rowdy spills airplane fuel to use to set people on fire.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
While not necessarily “through” an object, Rowdy does jump down onto a boat awning.
He also breaks a window to escape the hotel.
K is for… Kill Count
Rowdy kills at least two goons during the cafe shoot out.
Mike stabs two in the side with whatever that weapon is.
Rowdy shoots the two goons in the hotelroom, then one at the bottom of the stairs.
Rowdy shoves Dmitri off the plane he stole containing the explosives package.
Rowdy snaps the neck of a guy at the processing plant, then proceeds to eat his snack.
During the final escape many thugs/guards at the plant get shot/burned.
L is for… Limitations
Being in a foreign country is probably disorienting, and other than Mike, Rowdy is on his own.
At the end of the film, Althorp explains to his CIA partner that Rowdy “was never supposed to make it” out of Moravash. How’s that for a limitation? He doesn’t even know he’s being sent to his death and probably assuming he’ll get backup at some point.
M is for… Motivation
Rowdy only goes on the mission because he is framed for murder. If he doesn’t complete the mission, he’ll be prosecuted for the murder. It’s explained that he is to infiltrate and destroy Lothar’s nuclear facility, and when he points out the Air Force can do it much quicker, he is told that the Air Force can’t do it to an emerging democracy.
Not surprisingly, Lothar’s motivation is money! He also, when asked what his profession is, says “Power,” which can be seen as a double entendre. Electricity, yes, but also political power, no doubt.
N is for… Negotiation
It’s one of the those black-and-white good-versus-evil films without a lot of room for negotiation.
O is for… One Liners
Secret CIA Agent Louise (Patricia Rive): You’re gonna trash your liver like that.
Rowdy: My liver’s long gone. (beat) Still got spleen.
Rowdy, after clubbing Dmitri with a leg of meat: Hope you like it raw.
Dmitri: You’ve broken my nose.
Rowdy: Shit happens.
Lothar: There’s no government and no law. I’m the law.
Lother: Have you found the American?
Dmitri: We’ve checked all the four- and five-star hotels in the city.
Lothar: Check all the hotels, you idiot.
Thug: I don’t speak English.
Rowdy: You should have learned. (snaps neck)
Rowdy, when he sees the tiny plane with the explosives package: At least it has wings.
Rowdy: Don’t you ever give up?
Rowdy, seeing the fuel gauge on the plane is broken after he’s in the air: Moravashian technology. I guess I’ll have to walk.
Rowdy, upon seeing the explosives package: “Sophisticated guidance system,” my ass.
Lothar, after Mike spits in his face and calls him a pig: Kisses.
Mike: What are you doing here?
Rowdy: I hate flying alone.
Mike: A welcoming committee!
Rowdy: Let’s make it a going away party.
Lothar: You fly quite well for a beer salesman.
Rowdy: You pick up a few talents along the way.
Rowdy: That depends.
Lothar: On what?
Rowdy: Good old US technology.
P is for… Profession
Rowdy Welles is ex-Air Force Special Forces, and also was a Navy fighter pilot. Althorp describes him as a “warrior.” He left the armed forces when he was court martialed for striking a superior officer. He claims he resigned.
When we begin his story in the movie, he’s a drug runner pilot. He’s clearly cocky but very skilled, and explains that he has his “own radar” for detecting threats while flying.
Q is for… Quagmire
Rowdy doesn’t seem to be in a ton of direct danger, though if he knew he was really alone once his mission was complete, he might have handled things differently.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
Nothing really stands out as being completely implausible, just unlikely that the DEA would call their jet back, that no one in Moravash noticed Mike stab a guy on the street, the security at the nuclear processing plant is a joke, little things like that.
S is for… SIdekicks
Mike is Rowdy’s sidekick, of course, and she’s a competent spy and fighter, until she loses her necklace and Lothar finds it. She’s good with guns and hand-to-hand combat.
Another person Rowdy gets information from is antiques dealer Rakubian (Joszef Szekhelyi), but he gets shot after his only scene.
T is for… Technology
The “sophisticated guidance system” used to plant the explosives at the processing plant is a toy car powered by remote. Even Rowdy makes fun of it. It’s impressive the CIA can control it all the way in Moravash, but for $600,000, it better be able to!
U is for… Unexpected Romance
Obviously when a sexy woman is introduced, she and the male hero will either have sex by the end of the film, or become a couple. Rowdy mentions an island off Greece to Mike at one point, and the last scene of the movie is them in a hotel room together.
V is for… Vehicles as weapons
Rowdy clings to the underside of a bus to get through the gate at the processing plant, and while the bus isn’t really a weapon, he’s using it as a tool.
Rowdy plays chicken with his airplane with an SUV on the runway.
Lothar’s plane has guns on it, so his vehicle actually is a weapon.
W is for… Winning
After planting the explosives in the processing plant, Rowdy and Mike escape to the airplane that’s waiting for them, shooting a bunch of guys in the process. Lothar gets in his own plane, and Rowdy leads him on a chase through the sky. Lothar keeps shooting and missing, and Rowdy keeps flying close and guiding him around. Eventually the timer on the explosives winds down to zero and explodes, catching Lothar in the mushroom cloud.
X is for… X-Rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor
Rowdy doesn’t have a scratch or a bruise.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
Nothing. No foreshadowing, no knowledge of what was happening, no connection between Rowdy and Lothar.
Z is for… Zone, in the
YAY! I’m so excited to get to Z finally. Rowdy himself is clearly “in the zone” when he’s flying planes, which is why he has his “own radar” and there’s many long minutes of footage of his plane flying around.
ALSO, Rowdy uses the expression “in the zone” to mean the blast radius of the explosives set in the processing plant. He leads Lothar around in the air so that he’s “in the zone” to get caught up in the explosion.
The emphasis on “the zone” has to be why the movie is alternately called The Zone instead of The Dogfighters.
In case it isn’t clear from what I’ve written so far, this movie is a ton of fun, with its snarky one liners, action sequences, and just enough plot to keep it simple and engaging. Davi and Godunov are spectacular together and work really well as the hero and villain. It probably could have used another edit for pacing issues, but it just makes it more amusing to watch. Granted, the director/producers probably weren’t trying to make a humorous movie, but they clearly didn’t want a super serious one, either. The film is, at its core, the perfect lone wolf action film with a clear hero, and clear villain, the badass damsel, shootouts and explosions, and enough humor to keep it fun while bad guys are killed.
A few things of note….
The screenplay was cowritten by Anthony Stark, which is hilarious given my thoughts about Iron Man. It’s like Tony writes screenplays on the side when he needs a break from his company and his suits.
Rowdy theoretically picks up a woman at a bar and sleeps with her, but while she’s naked and under the sheets, he’s fully clothed on top of the sheets. It’s weird.
Moravash is a beautiful city. I want to go there to sightsee! …if it existed. The stuff at the processing plant and air force base were filmed in Hungary, but I’m not sure what posed as Moravash itself.
At one point Rowdy walks by a weird statue of a guy on a horse, and there are several close up shots of it at different angles. Why?
The soundtrack sounds very familiar, but I’m not sure why. It also sounds very eighties, and the film looks kind of eighties, so it’s surprising it was released in 1995.
There’s good fight choreography that is then ruined by these awful-looking fake punches. Like Davi’s arm is a club.
The airplane hangar in Moravash has little potted trees in it. Why?
After Rowdy takes the plane from the hanger, he realizes it’s out of fuel and parachutes out. This means that little plane is going to keep flying/falling until it crashes. Hopefully no one gets hurt. Of note, though, is that the shot of Rowdy jumping from the plane actually looks like someone jumps from a plane, not like someone falls into a special effect.
There are gratuitous breasts in the film, between Louise, Mike, and random women in the locker room at the processing plant. Given that, it’s still a funny but pointless visual joke when Rowdy looks again at the pretty women and gets an eyeful of the older, heavier women.
In the locker room at the processing plant, Rowdy bests the random guard (why is there a guard in the locker room?) with a nifty spin kick.
There is a real crack squad of security guards at this processing plant. The people going inside only need a card that the guard scans, which clearly doesn’t have a picture ID, and the guard must not know everyone who works there.
There’s an interesting long shot in the plant of Rowdy sneaking around, with the foreground of the shot being empty space and Rowdy working his way towards the back of the frame while dodging a guard. I’ve never quite seen a shot like that in a movie before, where the action and focus was so far away from the camera.
The next shot, or near-to-next shot, is down onto a maze of pipes and stairs from which Rowdy emerges at the top and walks up stairs towards the middle, causing the shot to resemble the Escher drawing Relativity (the one with all the staircases).
Rather than cover the lense of a security camera, or shoot it, or short circuit it or reroute the wiring, Rowdy places a mirror in front of it to block what he’s doing. Which means the security guards watching the cameras can’t recognize that that camera angle doesn’t actually exist.
Rowdy mumbles to the toy car, “Happy trails,” which of course brings to mind Die Hard.
The music changes periodically throughout the film to be more rock-ish, then suspenseful, but towards the end it’s very western-ish, perhaps evoking the black hat/white hat dichotomy, and the duel-like nature of the dogfight that’s happening. Of course, during the end credits, the music changes to more of a beach movie feel, so I don’t know what’s happening.
So, how many people die in the explosion of the processing plant? There doesn’t seem to be any sort of evacuation before the explosion, and most of the people working there are probably unaware of the danger of what they’re doing, or what Lothar plans to do with the plutonium. So even though Rowdy and Mike stop Lothar, they killed hundreds of innocent people. Nice.
Caveats aside, if you’re looking for a fun movie with some great quips and solid action sequences, definitely check out The Zone/Dogfighters.