In honor of St. Patrick's Day...

Ireland's First Martial Arts Movie Is Gloriously Bad
Despite its lack of quality, Fatal Deviation has become an Irish cult classic.


Sometimes a movie is so outrageously bad that it gains a cult following among movie buffs. Many of those movies are produced by amateurs with no budget and the goal of getting a foot in the Hollywood door. The most famous example of this is probably The Room (2003), Tommy Wiseau’s anti-masterpiece. And while the movie is undoubtedly bad in all aspects, it is still somewhat professionally shot and produced thanks to a $6 million budget. Other films, unfortunately, don't even have a large budget to fall back on. One movie for that category is Fatal Deviation (1998), Ireland’s first – and probably only – Martial Arts movie ever. What is even more fascinating than its truly abysmal quality is the story behind it.

Prior to making Fatal Deviation, James P. Bennett was a farmer. At 22 years old, his dream was to follow in the footsteps of Jean-Claude Van Damme – his childhood hero – and other action stars. “Right now you think Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Jean-Claude. In a couple of years I see Jean-Claude and myself,” he said in an interview for the Irish program Nationwide in 1998.

Fatal Deviation ended up costing reportedly just under I£R 9,000 and it shows. As James Bennett – essentially the movie’s Tommy Wiseau as co-producer, co-writer, co-director (alongside Shay Casserley, who had previously only shot wedding videos, and Simon Linscheid, an Olympic bobsledder), fight scene choreographer, and protagonist – stated in a 2018 interview: “I got it off the ground by just simply starting to shoot it without having any funding in place so I just pulled in all my friends and people I knew and I was very lucky that they were all obliging enough to help me.”

Those people included his trainer Alan Heary (the balding gang member in the Londis scene) and, of all people, Mike Graham from “the rock band Boy Zone (sic!),” as the credits say. For what it is worth, Mikey is the best actor of the entire cast, which also includes Michael Regan, an older man without any acting experience who plays the gang’s boss. His bizarre delivery of every line is a source of great, unintentional comedy.

The plot is not much better. Bennett plays Jimmy Bennett, who returns home to Trim to find his purpose in life and find out who killed his father when Jimmy was a young boy. He quickly learns that a gang of drug dealers is terrorizing his hometown when two members harass a young, female employee at the local Londis. Jimmy beats them up and begins dating a woman named Nicola.

This creates another problem: Nicola is also Mikey’s love interest. Mikey is the son of the local drug lord and the second in command. As a local karate tournament is coming closer, Mikey kidnaps Nicola and sends a clear message to Jimmy: “loose (sic!) or else.” Jimmy begins to train under the tutelage of a mysterious Franciscan monk -- a clear, unintentionally hilarious reference to the mentorship role of Shaolin monks in Asian martial arts movies.

Jimmy goes on to win the tournament by beating the cartel’s hitman, Seagull, in the final with the “fatal deviation” move. He then goes on to save Nicola. On his way to Mikey’s home, he unintentionally crashes his car in the movie’s only stunt. This stunt was never planned but kept in after it became obvious that Bennett was okay.

Bennett goes on to rescue Nicola and kill Mikey. Finally, seeking revenge for his son, Loughlan seeks out Jimmy during a picnic with Nicola and attempts to kill him. Jimmy however turns the tide and ends up killing the old man, hence ending the gang’s hold over Trim.

Although Bennett never reached the heights of Schwarzenegger or Stallone – or even Van Damme for that matter – he did make his way to Hollywood only a couple of years after Fatal Deviation. He appeared, although uncredited, in The Lone Ranger (2013) and Jersey Boys (2014). More importantly, he appeared in four movies alongside his childhood hero, Van Damme: Swelter (2014), Kill Em All (2017), Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018) and Black Water (2018). According to Bennett, the two have become good friends and training partners.

The movie has gained a cult following, especially in recent years, thanks to a number of prominent Youtube reviews. As terrible as it is, Fatal Deviation did its job by opening the door to Hollywood for Bennett. In some ways, it also edged his legacy into movie history, even if it is just as the mastermind of Ireland’s first and probably only Martial Arts movie and one of the worst commercial movies ever made.
I confess that this review makes me want to see this... anyone see it?

Fatal Deviation