Zero Tolerance (1994)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Excessive Force II:
Force on Force

Black Belt Jones

Silent Assassins

Zero Tolerance

Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Zero Tolerance
"Ray Manta, huh? Your parents hated you,
didn't they?"
The first question we had when we finished Zero Tolerance was: "Why is this movie called Zero Tolerance?" Usually the term refers to the war on drugs, because a lot of people have tolerance for lesser drug offenses -- just ask Woody Harrelson. Zero Tolerance does have drug lords in it. But most of the movie is about our main character's vigilante actions after his family is murdered. Most people would have zero tolerance for that, so why scream out "Zero Tolerance" in the title?

Zero Tolerance is the kind of feel-good revenge story that Arnold Schwarzenegger was making ten years ago. Our main character is Jeff Douglas (Robert Patrick), an FBI agent. He is sent to Mexico to extradite drug lord Ray Manta (Titus Welliver). On the drive back, Manta's people ambush Jeff and his associates, freeing Manta and killing Jeff's partner.

Jeff's troubles aren't over. Soon Manta contacts Jeff with a proposition. Manta needs to get from Mexico to Las Vegas with a shipment of the new drug "liquid heroin," and he figures the easiest way to sneak over the U.S. border is to pretend to be in the custody of an FBI agent. In order to facilitate this, Manta's thugs take Jeff's family hostage, and tell Jeff to help them or else.

Zero Tolerance
"Excuse me, Ma'am? Could I see 'Dear Abby?'
Ma'am? ...Ma'am?"
Jeff goes along with the ruse, but once they arrive in Las Vegas, Manta's people trap Jeff in an exploding limousine. Jeff escapes by the hair on his chinny-chin-chin and heads back to his home, only to find out that Manta's people have already killed his entire family! Geez, if you can't trust the word of a drug lord, what can you trust?

Despite his protestations, Agent Douglas is removed from the case and told to take a vacation. That trick never works, Bullwinkle: the gangsters (known collectively as the "White Hand") get wind of Jeff's survival and decide to tie up his loose end just as Jeff is about to take himself out of the picture with his own gun. It seems that no matter how suicidal an FBI agent is, he will defend himself when attacked and the latest group of thugs are pushing up daisies in the next scene. Angered at yet another round of harassment, Jeff decides to kill the five head drug lords himself.

Did we mention there's a chick in the film too? Not content with merely letting our "hero" carry out his revenge, the writer introduces Megan (Kristen Meadows), a fellow FBI agent who takes an interest in Douglas. Unwilling to allow Jeff a romantic interest so soon after his wife's death, Megan claims she "admires his style" of law enforcement and that she has requested to be partnered with him. It's a lame excuse for her presence, and the resulting scenes in the movie are equally lame, especially since she never shows any inclination to remove her clothing. Nudity is a staple of direct-to-video action flicks, and this film has none. Zip. Zero. This is especially weird considering that the film does have the obligatory strip club sequence -- and yet the strippers (ahem, dancers) are all quite clothed.

Zero Tolerance
Miles O' Keefe wonders why this guy
is named "Ray Manta."
Whatever moral the screenwriter had in mind for this film is beyond our ability to discern. Patrick's character spends a lot of time in flashbacks telling his children about the evils of killing, but the murder of his family convinces him that turnabout is fair play. Meanwhile, the heads of the FBI are remarkably tolerant of Douglas' rampage. They don't care if he is breaking the law, so long as he kills the drug lords they can't prosecute effectively. That they would take this attitude is totally unbelievable, considering that Douglas chooses a public venue for his first assassination, putting untold numbers of innocent people in jeopardy during the shoot-out.

In the end, Megan tries to convince Jeff that killing is wrong and only succeeds with his final target, but that villain ends up dead in a last-minute I-had-to-do-it action flick cliché. You know the one. The good guy decides to do the right thing and not kill the bad guy. But then the bad guy produces a gun from somewhere and the good guy just has to kill the baddie before he can do more harm. Lazy screenwriters have been resorting to this one for a while now, and we groan every time we see it.

Zero Tolerance
"Take that, John Connor!"
The acting in Zero Tolerance is better than we expected. This is the best performance we've ever seen Robert Patrick give, at least in those roles when he's supposed to be an animate object. And we have to give Titus Welliver high marks for being game enough to play a character named "Ray Manta." Miles O' Keeffe is in the film, and even gets the credit "And Miles O' Keeffe as Kowalski," but he just stands around and never contributes to the plot.

The action scenes are what's really important in a movie like this, but it's hard to find much to like in Zero Tolerance. Most of the shoot-outs seem to be inspired by John Woo, especially when Jeff jumps around with a gun in each hand. Unfortunately, the makers of Zero Tolerance learned nothing about editing from Woo. The gunfights are the usual stock "good guy shooting -- bad guys shooting -- good guy shooting -- bad guy falling" scenes. At worst the action scenes flaunt their own incompetence, as when Douglas rams a cop car into a helicopter, the police cruiser emerging unscathed from the fireball seconds later.

Without good action scenes or standout acting or great plot twists, Zero Tolerance doesn't have much to make it memorable. Maybe if it had been made during the height of Ah-nuld's popularity it would have seen a theatrical release, but today it looks like all the other straight-to-video action flicks that choke the shelves of our local video store.

Review date: 09/10/1999

This review is © copyright 2000 Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton. Blah blah blah. Please don't claim that it's yours blah blah, but feel free to e-mail it to friends, or better yet, send them the URL. To reproduce this review in another form, please contact us at Blah blah blah blah. LAVA® , LAVA LITE® and the motion lamp configuration are registered trademarks of Haggerty Enterprises, Inc., Chicago, IL



































* This got us a little bit excited as we began expecting Orcs and Wargs to appear, but then we realized that The Lord of the Rings probably wasn't adapted into an FBI action film with Robert Patrick. Our confusion was compounded when it turns out that the White Hand likes to refer to them selves as just "The Hand." But no, they aren't the group of ninja that Daredevil keeps running into either.Go back!























































* All together now: "How much Keeffe? Miles O' Keeffe!" Go back!