Director: Shay Casserley
Starring: James Bennett
Release Date: 1998 (Ireland)
Genre: Action (Martial Arts)
Tagline: "A classic good versus evil action flick, mixed with kicks, guns, motorcycles and a hot babe!"
Written by: James Bennett
Fight Choreography: James Bennett
The only Irish martial arts film.
Really, that (and a bit of imagination) is the only information you need for a full understanding of Fatal Deviation and its magnificent, hilarious, unashamed awfulness, but we will explore this work of art further in the hopes that in so doing we may persuade even one person to shell out for the DVD.
Why does it exist?
An excellent question! In the larger sense, we may speculate that Fatal Deviation had to exist, in the same way that we did not so much invent the Mandelbrot Set as discover it, as an explorer discovers a mountain. In this sense, Fatal Deviation was lying dormant in the mind of its creator, and in all of our minds, waiting for its time to emerge. In another, more important sense, however, it was the bastard offspring of a coincidence of economics, geography and Mel Gibson.
You see, a great deal of Braveheart had just been shot on location in Ireland - all the battle scenes and some of the castle scenes were filmed in the Irish countryside, including a town called Trim in county Meath, home of Trim Castle where the scenes in King John's castle were set. Trim is also home to the Trim Haymaking Festival and the Trim Car Show as well as many other occasions of cultural and historical interest. Well, to be honest, not a lot happens in Trim, so the making of a feature film as big as Braveheart, and visits from a person as famous as Mel Gibson (towards the end of his earlier phase of inspiring-and-slightly-mad-lead-actor, prior to his incarnations as talented-but-oddly-religious director and crazed-drunk-anti-semite), were a source of great excitement to the town, and of a massive influx of money and tourism. To put it another way, the whole town contracted movie madness. It filled up with actors and extras, horses, costume-makers, set builders, weapons makers, and many of the people who lived there became involved with the production of Braveheart in some way. Horseback battles were fought, gore was splashed in copious quantities on green fields, people in crowns faffed around in castles, everyone got drunk afterwards on most nights, and in general the craic was mighty.
When this crazy time was all over, and the town was attempting to settle back down to the routine that had previously seemed so interesting, such as the aforementioned Trim Haymaking Festival, many of the people who had gone mad for the movies, particularly younger people, stayed that way, and started wondering how they could come into contact with that kind of glamour and excitement again. Also, with a typically Irish mentality, many of them thought "Ah lads, this film crack isn't so hard, sure we could do it ourselves!"
Enter James Bennett, also known afterwards as Jimmy Square Arse due to the fact that for one of the scenes in Fatal Deviation he wore a prosthetic bottom. Jimmy was a martial arts nut, an avid Jean-Claude Van Damme fan, and the toughest guy in his local Tae Kwon Do club, which club's traditional closing activity after training was "Get Bennett!", in which everyone would try all at once to beat the crap out of Jimmy, usually without success. Jimmy had a brainfart that he was going to make a martial arts movie, and unlike most of us who might have such a notion when intoxicated and watching some painfully bad high-kicking flick, Jimmy was straight edge and insanely focused and made it happen, with the willing cooperation of the other film-mad denizens of Trim. There was a kind of method to his madness, as most low-budget martial arts films follow the same formula and have the same effect:
Key Elements of a Successful Martial Arts Movie
- Badass protagonist with cool martial arts moves. Check! Jimmy was genuinely badass.
- Dialogue irrelevant. Check! Most low-budget martial arts movies can be watched with the sound off, or without subtitles, with no loss of information.
- Revenge plot. Check! The local gang member kill Jimmy's (yes, he stars in his own movie with his own name. Why not?) father/martial arts mentor. Now he will kill them. No one has a problem with this plot, otherwise no martial arts star would ever have had a career.
- Pacifist hero. Check! Essential. The hero must be capable of kicking ridiculous amounts of ass, but not want to. However, the slightest provocation or transgression of nebulous codes of honour can provoke his murderous rage. See How not to beat Jet Li's kung-fu style in "Fist of Legend" for further details.
- Hot babe. Check! Well, sort of. Jimmy got one of the girls who worked in the local Londis to play his girlfriend in the film. She can't act and she isn't too hot, but she is blonde.
- Evil bad guys who deserve killing. Check! The two main bad guys are played by A) A local solicitor called Michael Regan, and B) Mikey Graham from Boyzone. Yes, you read that correctly. Who wouldn't want to kill a solicitor and a Boyzone member, especially since they killed his father!
- Car chase. Check! Despite their almost-zero budget (£200) Jimmy manages to fit a car chase and a crash into his magnum opus. Actually, according to the DVD, the car crash was an accident which they decided to leave in. Jimmy just wasn't a very good driver, and crashed the car driving in a straight line down a country lane.
- Martial arts tournament. Check! Welcome to the annual Bealtaine Fighting Festival, held in Trim, county Meath. Remember how they like festivals in Trim? Well, this one involves a bunch of farmers and town drunks getting together in a barn with a dirt floor and engaging in a no-holds-barred "martial arts" contest in the style of Kickboxer, Bloodsport, Enter The Dragon, etc. But with farmers. And dodgy haircuts. And a "referee" whose job was to say "They are no rules!" and then get out of the way as quickly as possible while the farmers headbutt and gouge and kick each other liberally in the crotch.
- A rival martial artist with only one name. Check! Our bad guy is called "Seagull" and is a big blonde lad who comes back from Tokyo for the contest for reasons unknown but time will tell.
- A mysterious sensei and a martial arts training montage. Check! You need a montage. Even Rocky had a montage. We will say more about the mysterious sensei in a moment. The training montage involves a lot of running around in the bushes and Jimmy jumping over a campfire and trying to punch and kick a couple of sticks with burning rags on them.
- Almost everyone involved in the movie never leaves the dark, warm grasp of obscurity, except for the main star, who, if he's lucky, will go on to a career of bit-parts in bigger-budget martial arts flicks. Check! Well, I hear Mikey Graham also had some kind of singing career, unlikely as that seems.
Given its perfect mixture of the above elements it seems almost incredible that Fatal Deviation should have gone straight to DVD and escaped the notice of the general public on its release, but this is what happened, and it's only in the years since then that word-of-mouth has built up a cult following for this forgotten work of genius. On a personal note, I've never seen a film with such a combination of continuity errors, awful dubbing, brain-dead dialogue, laughable attempts at acting, dire special effects and ridiculous plot. I laughed most of the way through it. It was fantastic.
Notable scenes and trivia:
- Scene: Jimmy enters a bar, having returned to his home town after a long absence in a reform school (which was the main Trim secondary school with a paper-and-marker sign sellotaped over its plaque. Someone makes a provocative comment and a fight ensues in which Jimmy kicks ass. The bar owner threatens Jimmy with a shotgun, which Jimmy grabs off him and points back at him, then throws to the ground with the line "Fuck you and yer gun, ya prick!" before walking out.
- Scene: Jimmy has taken the hot babe out for a romantic date. They are having a picnic on the grass with some trees behind them. The picnic seems to consist of a couple of fruits, a thermos flask and a couple of plastic cups, one of which is lying on its side. Smooth. They lean in and share a romantic kiss. Things look like they are about to get steamy. Then a gang of crims on mopeds ride past and attack Jimmy. The camera pans back and we realize that Jimmy was picnicking with his hot babe on the grass verge on the side of the main road. Maybe this is how the next generation of Trim Haymakers is usually created? The girl certainly didn't seem to think anything was out of the ordinary.
- The sensei that we mentioned above was (in the movie) a mysterious monk in brown robes who said very little, but insisted that he should train Jimmy for the tournament. He had large, watery eyes that gave him a mystical look. In fact, the actor was a local alcoholic who drank himself to death within a couple of years of the completion of this film, and for all of his scenes he is completely pickled.
- The low budget aesthetic of the movie extended to the smallest details. In a cocaine-snorting scene, rather than a credit card, the snorter uses a Dunnes Stores Valueclub card.
- Jimmy, justifiably proud of his physique, insists on wearing a skimpy and incredibly gay tank top for the entire movie, whether it's sunny or raining, whether he's asleep or in the pub. This tank top shows off Jimmy's pecs (since it opens down almost to his belly button) and is tucked into his jeans (which are hiked up almost to his belly button). The overall effect is highly disturbing and/or amusing.
- Jimmy defeats Seagull in the final round of the martial arts contest by using the Fatal Deviation move, which we have never seen or heard of before this moment. The move is preceded by a flashback of the alcoholic monk and his big rheumy eyes murmuring "Fatal Deviation...Fatal Deviation..." in a whacked-out voice.
- Jimmy went on to attempt to build a career in Hollywood, where he insisted that his name should be pronounced Bennay. IMDB does not enlighten us as to whether or not he was successful, which presumably means that he was not.
- When the hot babe comes to visit Jimmy after he rescues her from a couple of henchmen (one of whom he kicks over a wall, the actor was genuinely hurt) she brings him a Londis apple pie which somehow manifests in her hands at his door after we see her cycling over to his house without it.
- In one scene near the end a guy is bathing naked in a tub in a rubbish dump. There is no explanation.
- The director now makes wedding videos for a living.
Why should I subject myself to this film? It sounds awful.
You can try this: buy the DVD online. Invite some friends over. Get drunk. Watch it. Laugh yourselves stupid. Quote the film's one-liners at each other for weeks. If this sounds good to you, then I endorse this film for your viewing entertainment.
My sources: IMDB, the Fatal Deviation DVD and extras, and anecdotes from my sister's boyfriend, who is from Trim.