Friday, June 17, 2011

Comedy Cataclysm: THE EXTERMINATORS (1989)


It’s the second largest country in South America, famed for its grass-fed beef, fine wines and European influence. Centuries old architecture frames its panoramic ranchero vistas, unique cuisine and modern fashion. Latin style melded with European sophistication. So it is only proper that this comedy starts out with one of the lead characters being kicked in the balls.

Yes, all of that wistful Travel Channel rhetoric is great, but if you want to see the Argentina of the people, you need look no further than THE EXTERMINATORS. Fondly remembered and spawning no less than three sequels, this is what Argentine cinema is all about; cheap entertainment that distracts the masses from the dictator du jour, the abject poverty and everything else that you never see on the tourist guides.

Really if there’s anything that is good in the world, it’s cheap movies that were never intended for export.

The famous mercenary duo The Exterminator and The Destructor are taking a pleasure cruise to Buenos Ares to meet The Colonel, receive medals of honor and get briefed on their new assignment. Deep in the Argentine jungle, a martial arts madman named The Dragon (world champion karate expert Néstor Varzé doing his best Matthais Hues impersonation) is running a ninja terrorist camp complete with what appear to be Robert Palmer girls dressed up in skimpy ninja outfits. Also on board the ship are two numbskull swabbies who do menial labor (badly) while ogling the swarms of bikini-clad models who are, for some reason, also on the cruise. Three smokin’ hot reporter “chicas” try to stick to their story while ogling the musclebound mercs, while two Asian agents of evil plot to do away with the duo so that they will not destroy their ninja camp.

After poisoning their orange juice and dumping their bodies overboard, the Asian agents feel confident that they have eliminated the threat to their camp. Unfortunately for them, the swabbies, Emilio (Emilio Disi) and Guillermo (Guillermo Francella), find The Exterminator and The Destructor’s outfits while cleaning their cabin and decide to try them on. In spite of the fact that The Exterminator and The Destructor are easily twice the size of Emilio and Guillermo, the uniforms fit perfectly and you can guess what happens next. Without a blink of an eye, the two buffoons are assumed to be the war heroes who have massacred entire battalions (presumably in the ‘82 Falkland’s conflict) single, or rather, double handedly. The only snag, aside from them not knowing how to fight, is that the journalistas know that the pair are imposters and they want the real story. As if that wasn’t enough plot, we also have a subplot shoehorned in about a martial arts tournament that they are supposed to be in once they have completed the raid on the ninja camp!

This whole tournament subplot could have actually been turned into another movie entirely, but is instead wedged in awkwardly before and after the main plot with the ninja camp. The purpose though, is obvious, to spoof KARATE KID rip-offs like NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER (and it’s completely unrelated, but vastly entertaining sequel). This allows the two hugely popular comic actors a forum for extreme silliness during a training demo at the dojo of their military liaison, Hector (world champion kickboxing expert Hector Echavarria). In one bit Hector wants to demonstrate the art of dodging arrows (because, as we all know, ninjas don’t use guns), when it comes time for Emillio to stand in front of the crossbow, trembling and squealing, he somehow manages to actually catch the arrow. So ecstatic is he that while jumping for joy, he throws the arrow to the floor. Suddenly his eyes go wide and he starts screaming in pain, only to lift his foot to the camera showing the arrow embedded in it. Is the hilarity ensuing? Yep, that’s what you get. It’s either that or groinshots, take your pick. Most of the humor in the film is shrill gags about the guys either shrieking in pain, shrieking in fear or shrieking in excitement over mucho chicas calientes. On the other hand, you have a ninja camp, girls in skimpy outfits, stuff blowing up and two world-class marital artists! Works for me!

Following the traditional Ninja Terrorist Camp bylaws, Dragon spends most of his time arranging pit-fights, killing off his top men. I never said the bylaws allowed for effective team management, I just said they were traditional. It also gives us an excuse to have Varzé and  Echavarria square off not once, but twice, here at the camp and again as another byproduct of the whole martial arts tournament subplot. In spite of the occasional undercranking, the martial arts choreography is surprisingly good for a movie this low budget and both of these guys are top-drawer fighters. Echavarria should be instantly recognizable to MMA fans as this film was a launching pad for his career in TV and movies.

Reflecting the country’s brutal economic issues, this movie is cheap and is completely unhindered by the ravages of subtlety. Frequently feeling like a Godfrey Ho movie, complete with stolen footage spliced in to the action, director Carlos Galettini gets the most out of his obviously miniscule budget by featuring Hefner-esque levels of gorgeous women in tiny outfits in every scene he can manage to squeeze them in to. In the reporter’s offices, it seems as if the entire newspaper is staffed by dozens of fashion-plate models whose job description seems to be “walk from room to room” and “look hot”. When raiding the ninja camp, the journalist girls smuggle themselves aboard and once in the jungle decide that their city clothing just won’t do and decide to fashion themselves some super-skimpy mercenary outfits out of the guy’s spare clothing and a machete. This is actually funnier than any of the pratfalls and bug-eyed screaming. A little easier on the eyes too.

In spite of the fact that I don’t have the nostalgia trip for this movie that many Argentinians seem to have, and the comedy is straight out of the ‘60s (seriously, who did the old guy-in-full-body-cast-in-pain comedy gags in the late ‘80s?), it’s still a fun little flick. As one Argentinian fan said, you’ll laugh, not because the jokes are funny, but because they are actually there. The ending bit where both of our “heroes” are undercranked, hobbling in casts, running down a hallway, supposedly being chased by the real Exterminator and Destructor (even though they are never seen in the sequence), while screaming like banshees illustrates that point perfectly. So why am I so looking forward to checking out THE EXTERMINATORS 2: REVENGE OF THE DRAGON?

1 Reactions:

  1. Please, just focus on the movie because all your comments about Argentinian politics, economics and movie industry are WRONG.


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