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Solid Cover

2000, Starring Shane Minor, Danielle House, Chris Byrne, Grant Mathis. Directed by Jason Wolthuizen.

So... what would happen if a former Miss Canada and Playboy playmate got together with a former Mr. USA and Playgirl playmate? Jason Wolthuizen's Solid Cover aims to answer this burning question under the guise of an action film exploring the world of elite gyms, personal trainers, and, oh yes, nudity.

The second film produced by Wildfire Pictures (after the campy Cannibal Rollerbabes), Solid Cover stars bodybuilder and Mr USA Shane Minor (as seen in Playgirl, 1994) as Shane, a bartender/undercover cop with a penchant for rippling delts and muscle shirts. His love interest, Ann, is played by Newfoundland's Danielle House (as seen in Playboy, 1997), who was indeed a Miss Canada in 1996, at least until she was stripped of her title after slugging her ex's new girlfriend in a bar. But oddly enough, in a film where both leads have done nude photo shoots, they are just about the only two characters who manage to survive the film clothed.

It all starts with a murder-- fresh from the shower, a girl is stalked and stabbed by a mysterious black-clad killer. The cops are baffled by a string of similar crimes in the area, until one of the detectives realizes a common denominator-- all the victims belonged to the same fitness club. The police decide they need an undercover agent to infiltrate the gym, but since their own officers aren't exactly Mr USAs or anything, they decide to turn to one. Slinging drinks at a bar called Sin City, ex-cop Shane agrees to take the case.

The owner of the gym, Tony Mancuso, notices the perpetually gum-chewing Shane enter his club, and informs our hero that he must pass a rigorous workout to prove himself worthy enough to become a member. Of course he does, even impressing the rest of the club into gathering around as he pushes his squat supersets to the limit. Shane's muscletude gets him invited to Tony's pool party that night, where he begins to stake out the situation-- and Ann.

Tony tells Shane that under his exclusive guidance he can win, excel, and generally take it to the top. The top of what isn't really spelled out, but it either has something to do with "maxing out" or "blasting your quads." Only Tony wants Shane to feel the burn with his special program-- a hypo full o' steroids in the arm. See, Tony's a roid dealer for the friendly neighbourhood Russian mafia who spends his off-hours beating up fitness junkies who can't afford his prices. But there's more to Tony than just running a super-elite gym and punching out poor Charles Atlas wannabes-- Tony also enjoys martial arts and pressuring his girlfriend Ann to pose for erotic pictures with the gym's receptionist. While Ann is out on one such "date," Shane ransacks her house and discovers papers and clippings about the murders.

Thinking he might be on to something, Shane convinces Ann to have dinner with him at her house. Just as he's leaving, Shane notices a black-clad figure breaking in, and goes back to house to find Ann in a bloody heap on the floor. Unmasking the intruder as a bodybuilder from the club, Shane chases the guy into the backyard and drowns him in the pool. But was he the real killer? The mafia and Tony don't think so, and have suspected Shane as a cop all along. They take him out to a deserted rural farmhouse to beat some answers out of him, but they may have underestimated the impressive magnitude of Shane's roid rage.

Solid Cover is a noticeable improvement on many of the weaker technical aspects of Wildfire's first film, Cannibal Rollerbabes. While not flawless, the stunts have come along way from the stagey fight scenes in Rollerbabes, and more money seems to have gone towards effects. Like the stunt work, the gunplay and explosions towards the end of the film aren't always perfectly executed, but do work to give Solid Cover a bigger feeling and visible production values, which was no doubt their aim. However, Solid Cover's "money shots" of things getting blowed up real good are often edited together from several different angles. As in many low-budget films, the resulting scene features the exploding item repeatedly blowing up in short half second clips from every angle caught on tape. It's a technique that often calls too much attention to special effects that many viewers will not find that special.

Despite being obviously written around the presence of Shane Minor, the most successful aspect of this film is the pacing of the otherwise run-of-the-mill plot. Many Canadian action films fall apart with an over-reliance on character development, but Solid Cover manages to remain interesting enough with a couple of unexpected twists, clipping along at a consistent pace. Like Cannibal Rollerbabes, many of the film's deficiencies are still budget related, and one can only wonder what the filmmakers could do with larger budgets and better actors.

As you might expect of a movie where Miss Canada and Mr USA fall in love, Solid Cover is a marriage of Canadian and American sensibilities. In one culturally confusing scene at the bar, Shane grabs a handful of American money while stool monkeys nurse Molson Canadians and stare blankly at a Matthew Good Band poster. The film itself is reminiscent of an urban take on Snake Eater, Lorenzo Lamas' heartwarming tale of a shirtless rogue cop-- but it simply doesn't have the money to properly compete with that film or higher profile Canadian action films like No Contest. Still, the film ups the ante for Wildfire, and is certainly better than Twin Dragon Encounter.

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