Movie review: “Lasko: Death Train”

Tonight at the DVD store, we browsed through the slightly older DVDs, where my eyes were caught by a cover depicting Arnold Vosloo, a South African actor whom I’d last seen in Blood Diamond (2006), opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly, and in the South African movie Forgiveness (2004).

Lasko: Death Train is an action movie made for German television in 2006 under the German title Im Auftrag des Vatikans. It gave rise to a spin-off series called “Lasko: Die Faust Gottes”, which was produced in 2008.

The plot is straightforward: Lasko, a soldier (played by a very well-built Mathis Landwehr, who becomes the hero of the movie) on deployment in Kosovo, witnesses the shooting of a fellow-soldier and a young boy, and promptly decides to leave the army and to become a monk instead. He vows never to fight again.

Meanwhile, a young woman in Cologne, Sandra (Bettina Lamprecht) is upset with her medical aid company because they refuse to fund the expensive treatment needed by her young son Joey (Joey Stetz), who is suffering from a rare type of blood disease. After she bungee-jumps off the Kölner Dom in protest, a priest tells her of a special pilgrims’ train that is leaving for Lourdes, and suggests that she take it in the hope that a miracle will happen and that her son will be healed. The train is supposed to arrive in Lourdes during a visit by Pope John Paul II.

At the same time, a team of very bad people (Lennart, the leader – Arnold Vosloo; the sinister white-haired Jurek – Mario Irrek, Zandi, the only woman – Michelle MacErlean, and a third man whose name I can’t remember) breaks into a medical research facility to steal a seriously bad virus.

They cleverly disguise themselves as three monks and a nun, and use the pilgrims’ train to escape through the police blockades around the entire city. They intend to rendezvous with an accomplice at the next station. Also on the train, among about 400 pilgrims (I think that’s what the police said), are Sandra and her son Joey. They have made friends with Brother Lasko, and the two monks who are travelling with him, Brother Matthias (Simon Dutton) and Brother Gladius (Stephan Bieker).

After the conductor is killed by the four baddies (because one of the baddies has stupidly lost his train ticket – being a conductor sounds like a hazardous job!), the three good monks find out that the four baddies have stolen the seriously bad virus. It turns out that the monks are in fact members of Pugnus Dei (Faust Gottes – or The Fist of God), a fictional Christian secret society and that they have been tasked with protecting the pilgrims.

When the train does not stop at the next station, but is instead re-routed onto another railwaytrack, Lennart (Arnie) realises that their cover has been blown. He contacts the police, and threatens to release the virus into the train’s ventilation system, thereby killing all the passengers within 15-20 minutes.

Clearly, Brothers Matthias, Gladius and Lasko have to stop the baddies, and to find a way of saving the good people on the train.

On the whole, this wasn’t a really *bad* movie, but it really wasn’t particularly good either.

The overall storyline was acceptable (even though other movies have used trains as weapons before, so none of the elements were really new). The main characters were more or less believable (Arnie makes a convincing bad guy, although his acting is rather wooden at times), although the dialogue was stilted and awkward. The action sequences – particularly the martial arts fighting scenes – frequently went into slow-motion, with unnecessarily exaggerated movements, sound effects, and facial expressions. This became a little annoying.

Personally, I think Diethard Küster, the director, must have had a particularly large budget for blowing things up, as there were frequent, highly dramatic explosions: a petrol tanker explodes, together with numerous vehicles, a helicopter is blown up by an RPG, the train’s diesel engine is set alight by another RPG, a fake ambulance is crushed by the speeding train, a helicopter collides with the diesel engine, and finally the train ploughs into a chemical waste warehouse that pretty much disintegrates in flames.

Each explosion was filmed from about a dozen angles, so I guess he must have used a LOT of (very robust) cameras. With so much destructive power per explosion, I can’t imagine that there were (m)any second takes.

All in all, not too bad if you like lots of action. But I don’t think it’ll win any awards.

3 thoughts on “Movie review: “Lasko: Death Train”

    • Lol…

      Although I don’t normally cheer for the baddies in action movies, I couldn’t help cheering for Arnold’s character. Hearing his distinctly South African Afrikaans accent was so refreshing, as one doesn’t often hear that in overseas movies.

      I also thought it was rather intriguing that the bad guys were given passports and airplane tickets to South Africa, if things went awry and they had to skedaddle. I just hope the director isn’t implying that all the baddies can easily seek refuge in our country. 🙂

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