Bullet Points: Best of the Best 4: Without Warning
I can’t think of another action movie franchise that strayed so far away from its original concept the way the Best of the Best series of films did.
The 1989 original was a pure action/sports movie. A team made up of fighters from all over the United States representing their country and competing against a team from Korea in a Tae Kwan Do tournament. That is some Olympic level stuff right there.
1993 brought the world Best of the Best 2. Things took a very 90’s turn as Phillip Rhee and Eric Roberts reprise their roles of Tommy Lee and Alex Grady, but this time instead of competing in an organized athletic event, they are competing in an underground fight club to avenge the death of their friend Travis Brickley (Chris Penn).
In 1995’s Best of the Best 3: No Turning Back, Alex Grady vanishes from the franchise and we have Phillip Rhee’s Tommy Lee battling white supremacists.
Then in 1998’s Best of the Best 4: Without Warning, Tommy Lee is a single dad battling counterfeiters… that’s a long way from competing in a Tae Kwon Do tournament.
- Triple Duty: Not only is Phillip Rhee the star of the film, he also was one of the writers and the director. Rhee’s Tommy Lee is raising his daughter on his own after the untimely passing of his wife. Given the fact that there are only three years between Best of the Best 3 and Best of the Best 4, Tommy having a daughter who is old enough to go to school seems unlikely unless he was already married and/or was a dad before the events Best of the Best 3 and just never mentioned his family in that one, even to his own sister. Anyway… Tommy Lee is a martial arts instructor for the police department. Some of the cops like Jack Jarvis (Chris Lemmon of Thunder in Paradise fame) support the department’s martial arts program, others like Detective Gresko (Ernie Hudson) believe it is a waste of time causing Lee and Gresko to get off on the wrong foot as our movie begins.
- In Russia Money Counterfeits You: Two Russian mobster brothers Lukasz Slava (Tobin Bell) and Yuri Slava (Thure Riefenstein) hatch an elaborate plot that involves helicopters, a motorcycle gang and a lunch delivery service taking over the city’s traffic control center to hijack a truck carrying the paper that is used to print United States currency. On top of that, they’ve got a disk that has the actual design schematics for the United States currency. This will give them counterfeit currency that is in no way different than actual currency. This really is the perfect crime… that is until one of the techs they have hired to work on this elaborate scheme, a young lady named Mickey (Kid Rock’s sister Jill Ritchie), sees the light and smuggles out the disk with plans on taking it to her friend who works for the District Attorney. She never makes it to her friend, but she does get to her father’s store, where Tommy Lee is shopping for ingredients to make his daughter a birthday cake. When the mobsters who were chasing her show up, all hell breaks loose, Mickey manages to slip the disk into Tommy Lee’s coat pocket right before she is shot and killed.
- Cop Killer?: We learn that the Slava brothers had some inside help from a dirty cop. When this dirty cop shows up dead right after speaking to Tommy Lee about the disk, Detective Gresko and the rest of the police force label Tommy a cop killer and start to hunt him down… at the same time the Slavas are looking to get their stolen disk back so they can finish their master plan. Tommy Lee is a marked man and now has to prove his innocence, stop the Russian mob and keep his daughter safe.
Best of the Best 4: Without Warning was a solid action film with quality fight scenes, an excellent motorcycle chase and even an exploding helicopter! Rhee can get it done as an action star but was seemingly obsessed with playing the character Tommy Lee. Most of the knocks I’ve seen against this movie, like those against Best of the Best 3, is that Best of the Best 4 should have been a stand alone movie and not a bastardized continuation of the Best of the Best series. I can’t really argue that point and as I said at the top of this review, the stories in the 3rd and 4th installment are so different than the original two they really could have been movies called No Turning Back and Without Warning not upsetting fans of the original Best of the Best movie and diversifying Rhee’s filmography at the same time.
Now I’m going to spring some bonus Bullet Points on you, without warning…
- Familiar Faces: In addition to action movie veteran Ernie Hudson (The Crow and The Substitute), Art LaFleur (Death Warrant and Cobra) played Mickey’s dad and shop owner, Big Joolie. Paul Gleason (Die Hard) played Father Gill the priest that Tommy leaves his daughter with to keep her safe. And Sven- Ole Thorsen (The Running Man) played Slava goon, Boris.
- 17 Year Drought: Rhee stopped making movies after the release of Best of the Best 4 and that drought did not end until 2015 when he starred, wrote and directed the family action flick, Underdog Kids. He did not play Tommy Lee in that one.
- Life Goals: At one point when Tommy Lee infiltrates the Slava’s mansion he stumbles upon a martial arts room, where there are martial artists training seemingly 24 hours a day. I’d like to have so much money that I could just have a room full of ninjas on standby.
- If You Ever: …wanted to see a man get tortured by golf balls, then this is the movie for you.