World Wrestling Entertainment is a fickle beast, in that proprietor Vince McMahon has consistently shown contempt for the millennial generation, and yet its biggest event this year, last Sunday’s Wrestlemania 32, was largely one big tribute to the 1990s. Wrestlers who couldn’t wait to grow up and become the next Stone Cold Steve Austin or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson suddenly found themselves jobbing to their heroes, while simultaneously being told that they were not trying hard enough to sustain the past superstardom of Tatanka The Native American. Shaquille O’ Neal, Snoop Dogg and pro wrestling icon Kelsey Grammer were all involved in Wrestlemania activities this year, which made it the biggest happening of 1995.
Thirty-six hours after the massive letdown that was Wrestlemania, I was ready to move on, and focus on the latest crazy, disappointing thing WWE has thrown at us, the Dolph Ziggler and Kane vehicle Countdown. For over a decade, WWE has produced or co-produced dozens of low budget theatrical and direct to DVD/streaming releases, under its WWE Studios banner. These movies often star a mix of reputable actors, stars of such USA programs as Royal Pains, and, hard to believe, actual WWE talent. It was assumed Countdown would be as generic of a Sudden Death ripoff as its title and story suggest, until we saw its batshit insane trailer, culminating with Bulgarian wrestler Rusev pointing a gun at Officer Dolph.
It’s really hard to judge an entirely different movie from what you expected, and it’s very hard to divorce my utter disappointment in Countdown’s bait-and-switch from my general opinion of this film. Countdown is okay for what it is: a race-against-the-clock thriller involving a boy bomb and various laissez-faire cops and Eastern European thugs. That said, it’s not a straight Sudden Death ripoff, and thus it cannot truly be as great a film as I hoped. I almost want to pull a Roger Corman, and give the people cutting the trailers a chance to direct, because they certainly gave me a more exciting movie than what the actual filmmakers presented us with.
WWE Superstar Dolph Ziggler is Ray [IMDB says his last name is Fitzpatrick but it’s actually Thompson], a cop who plays by his own rules and has had about as many partners as the actor portraying him has had concussions. Our hero saves what could have been a botched arms sting by shooting his partner in his bulletproof vest, and is rewarded for it with a punch in the face and a dressing down by his superior (WWE Superstar Kane as the delightful Lt. Stan Cronin). Stan’s “I could care less” demeanor pretty much makes him the Ron Swanson of the “Seattle” Police Department, and reflects somewhat on Kane’s real-life libertarian politics.
There are a few scenes that establish the redemption arc Dolph Ziggler must complete, including one where he visits his ex-wife’s place and reads bedtime stories to the empty bed of his dead son. Were this any other action film, this might have been touching, but were this real life this character would need serious psychological help and his ex-wife would need to file a restraining order against him, instead of just letting him sleep on his dead son’s bed until Lt. The Devil’s Favorite Demon Kane calls him back to duty, and boy what a duty.
Earlier in the movie, Det. Thompson (the package says “Thompson” on it, IMDB. It’s Thompson.) declines to open a suspicious envelope addressed to him. This costs everybody at least twelve hours of legwork they could have done to prevent the main threat posed in this movie, which is that a boy is strapped to a bomb, and that he will explode by day’s end if the very specific ransom of $2,000,112.35 is not dropped off at the local WWE house show. We get a fun set piece involving the inevitably botched drop off, some exteriors of Rogers Arena, some interiors of PNE Coliseum, and the now-legendary Rusev gunplay.
Unfortunately, there is about as much pro wrestling action at the start of Highlander as you’ll get throughout Countdown, and with a lot less swordplay and Queen. We have an hour left in this movie, and one soon realizes that Dolph is at a tattoo parlor instead of a Divas locker room, and is merely kicking ass inside the Russian consulate instead of the hallowed halls of an aging hockey arena. Katherine Isabelle, who starred in Ginger Snaps and who in See No Evil 2 was killed by the Allstate agent/wrestler currently playing her superior, lets go of her sense of rules and professionalism as officer Julia Baker, in order to abet Dolph Ziggler in his quest to save Bomb Boy.
The very premise of Countdown, that some towheaded Russian boy is going to essplode, feels so low key, because the WWE Universe would not allow such a heinous act to actually go forward. Taking the crux of the action away from a half-full sports arena further dilutes any suspense. Were this late 1990s WWF, this bomb boy might have blown up in Act 2, but the stakes are so low, that by the time we’re introduced to him, we’re looking beyond that plot point to find whatever real stakes this movie has, if any.
Eventually the boy-bomb (spoiler alert) is already inside the community college building dressed up as police headquarters. What little CGI explosion does occur after Ray separates the boy (who is supposed to be mute because of the day-plus trauma inflicted upon him but really because the actor is some Canadian kid who can’t speak a lick of Russian) from the bomb is disappointing.
There are several interesting set pieces that director John Stockwell puts into the movie, such as when the earlier Russian baddie’s wife points a gun at Ray while wearing a bikini, and when Ray jams a Bic pen into the Russian consul’s thigh. There is also a badass set piece in which Ray and Julia kill two SUVs worth of Baltic henchmen while still driving towards the bomb. It’s a very fun movie at parts, once you let go of your expectations.
WWE Studios is good at making half-decent action films, placing its pro wrestling talent in them, and exploiting the tax laws of Vancouver (and, until all that Katrina money ran out, Louisiana) to make these movies on the cheap. Countdown was certainly not the movie I was hoping for, lacking the meta kitsch of that scene in the trailer where Ziggler superkicks a gun out of Rusev’s hand. It was predictable in some ways, confusing in others, and could have used a hell of a lot more New Day. For what Countdown is, however, it’s worth watching, both as mindless action and silly fun.
Tom Keiser lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, but his heart lies inside of Philadelphia.