Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Adrenaline Shot: FIRE, ICE & DYNAMITE (1990)

When I was a kid I remember sitting in second or third grade and the teacher asking the easiest question in The Big Book of Things to Say to Kids: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" One at a time, my male classmates stood up and proudly declared their intent to be "a fireman!" or "a policeman!" or inevitably the old saw, "an astronaut!" When it came my turn, I stood up and said "I want to be a stuntman." This wouldn't be the first or the last time that I was summarily removed from the classroom and taken to the nurse's office where they would, hopefully, be able to find a pill that would make me behave like the rest of the kids.

Unfortunately the closest I ever got to realizing this profound ambition were the many times I threw myself off of perfectly good rooftops and buried the needle of my Chevy Nova. At a tender age Hal Needham became my idol with SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977) and CANNONBALL RUN (1981). Sure, they are considered classics of a sort, but they made a big impression on me and subsequently I've felt that any movie made by a stunt man is a good movie. I'm sure you agree. When talking about stunts in movies, there is one name that springs to mind. Bond, James Bond. Becoming obsessed with the stunt work in the Bond films is as easy as a southern belle on prom night. Some of the best stunts in the motion picture industry were in Bond films and it took some pretty amazing stunt people to pull them off. One of those people is German-born skiing expert Willy Bogner.

Willy Bogner, son of German and Nordic ski champion Wilhelm Bogner (who invented the first form-fitting ski pants and thus an entire genre of teen sex comedies), started out his career in the '50s as an alpine ski racer in West Germany. His meteoric career saw him competing with the German ski team in the 1960 winter Olympics and afterwards winning multiple championships. In 1966 Bogner caught the movie bug and shot a short film titled SKIFASCINATION which exhibited the stunts of world-class skiers. This led to his work on the first of several Bond films, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) and a slew of his own thinly plotted skiing movies that have littered the "Special Interest" sections of '80s video stores around the world.

When I say thinly plotted, what I mean is virtually no plot at all really. The closest thing that Bogner ever got to a plot was the sequel to his hugely successful ski-stunt film FIRE AND ICE (1986), titled FIRE, ICE AND DYNAMITE. As you can see, it's one better.

A wealthy industrialist, Sir George (Roger Moore), has found himself on the wrong end of his accountants when they discover that all of his tree-hugging philanthropy has left him in debt to literally dozens of major corporations. Sir George loves rhinos and tells his accountants that (I am not making this up) "saving these rain-forests just might save our planet." He says this right before throwing himself out of a Leer jet at altitude, without a parachute. You'd think he could have picked a less risky or dramatic way of faking his own death, but where's the fun in that? This provides the first big stunt scene in which Sir George, plummeting to Earth, is met mid-air by a couple of parachutists who have brought an extra chute for him. Nothing left to chance, you see.

After his artificial demise all of his creditors are gathered along with his three bastard children, a snotty rich git, Stephan (Stefan Glowacz, a professional rock climber); a pop singer with an attitude, Lucy (Connie De Groot, a professional pop singer); and the flamboyantly gay Alexander (Simon Shepherd, a professional actor). During the reading of the will a pre-recorded video is played with Sir George stating that the vast sum of his estate totaling a rather pitiful $135 million dollars would be paid out to the winner of his new race, the Megathon. Consisting of a massive, intense course over the Alps, the competitors will assemble teams and climb, skate, ski, bicycle, snowboard, bungee jump, kayak, hang-glide, paraglide and drive their way to victory using any means necessary.

Of course to get the games in gear the teams need to get in training which allows for many, many bad jokes about homosexuals being bad athletes. While learning to ski, we get a Alexander flying down the slopes completely out of control screaming like a little girl. Aside from the fact that the premise is cringe-worthy, the execution is fantastic as it comprises a lengthy sequence with some amazing stunt work and elaborate set pieces. It makes up for exchanges such as this one:
Lucy: "You must be good at something."
Alex: "Curling, I suppose."
Lucy: "On ice?"
Alex: "No dear, with heated rollers."
Fortunately moments like those are well spaced out. So well spaced out that it's easy to forget about them until the next one pops up. Did I mention this movie has stunts? It is essentially a whole mess of insane stunt-work set to music, which pretty much describes Bogner's cinematic repertoire, but it moves so fast and is so well produced, you never feel like you are watching a "sports video."

The competing teams themselves are something to behold as well. I'm going to have to take a deep breath for this. The cast is made up of... Ready? Set? Gooooo!
Windsurfing champion Robby Naish
Champion Alpine skier Frank Wörndl
Olympic yachtsman Dennis Conner
Champion Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg
Champion rally driver Walter Röhrl
Tennis champion Erich Scherer
Olympic speed skater Günter Traub
German pop star Jennifer Rush
Global icon Buzz Aldrin (yes, the Buzz Aldrin)
Global icon Isaac Hayes (yes, the Isaac Hayes).
Not to mention German uber-actors Siegfried Rauch, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Ursula Karven and Osman Ragheb. Best off all, Marjoe Gortner stars as the race announcer! Oh and Shari Belafonte is in it too, for some reason. Phew! Did I miss anyone?

Did I mention the theme song is by Deep Purple? How is it I have never seen this movie before now? Inconceivable! Actually, I remember it playing theaters and I'm pretty sure the reason I skipped it was because it looked like a silly ski-comedy (it is) and I was sure that the poster lied (it does not). It's too bad because this movie is more fun than the Sochi Olympics and just as dangerous.

Essentially we have a live action version of the Hanna-Barbera "Wacky Races" cartoon, complete with a Boris and Natasha-esque brother and sister (with the family name of "Debris") who dress in black and put the "dynamite" in the title. We also have a monk (Jochen Schweizer) who celebrates his victories by passing around a bottle of water from the Ganges to his disciples. Plus we have drunken Barvarians that shoot the rapids in a beer barrel, rocket powered skis, cars crushed by a monster truck, hang-gliders being blown out of the sky with explosives, ski-cyclists base jumping into a lake and a skier smashing into a Swiss chalet, landing in a bathtub with a nude woman, smashing out of the house (in the tub) and paragliding to the bottom of the mountain. That doesn't even cover a fraction of the action. This movie spits out stunts faster than Scott Atkins punks out ninjas. Hell the first five minutes of the movie sports a castle, a helicopter, a jet and a Rolls Royce!

Sir Roger has fallen out of favor in recent years, particularly among modern Bond fans. I get it, I understand. He was charming and quippy, but at no time did you ever feel like he could rip-off his tuxedo and square off against, well, anyone really. Robert Shaw would have picked his teeth with Moore's bones. On the other hand, the screenwriters are to blame for the truly atrocious efforts such as 1985s A VIEW TO A KILL (for which incidentally Bogner directed the ski stunts). I'm pretty sure Roger Moore did not show up on the set and say "I say, chaps! We should have James Bond bake a quiche while wearing a tuxedo!" Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson are to blame for that. I feel that Moore actually has a nice sense of comic timing that belays his upper-class demeanor. It was well utilized in CANNONBALL RUN, and is again in good form here. Not that he really does much other than get the wafer-thin plot rolling in character as Sir George and in disguise as MacVey, Sir George's Scottish manservant. But still, he lends a certain charm and gives the film a sense of grandeur that would be otherwise missing in less talented hands.

The shit
I spent my days in a public school and thus have never set foot on a pair of skis outside of the old Atari 2600 game SKIING (1980), which was pretty awesome back in the day. In spite of that, Bogner's enthusiasm for the sport is positively infectious and it's hard not to enjoy the action for what it is. This is not so much THE STUNT MAN (1980) with deep contemplation of the human condition, but more CANNONBALL RUN with slightly fewer cameos. FIRE, ICE AND DYNAMITE is essentially 95 minutes of stunts and questionable humor and about 10 minutes of silly exposition and dialogue. Quite frankly, I see absolutely nothing wrong with this.

I'll bet my Atari cartridge that this guy went to the hospital

4 Reactions:

  1. This movie has an interesting history - it is so crammed full with product placement that it was actually taken off the theater screens shortly after its original release after massive protests. It is practically never shown on German television because it doesn't adhere to the rules & regulations set up over here.

  2. Wow, that's really interesting. I was going to touch on the total overkill of product placement, but the review was running a little long. I love how some of the stars (like Buzz Aldrin) were simply there to appear with a product placement. I didn't realize Germany had laws like that. Here in the US obnoxious product placement is a way of life.

  3. Here is a (German) article from 1991 about the court ruling effectively prohibiting further showings of the movie:

    Germany's most popular comedian of the 70s and 80s, Otto Waalkes, faced a similar problem on his second or third movie. It practically vanished.

  4. That's crazy. It would barely even cause a film critic to grumble here. Of course our TVs blast commercials at us every 2.75 minutes. Funny you mention Otto Waalkes, Will was telling me about him. I've been trying to find some of his films in English, but I haven't been able to. I have found English language poster and video art, so I know a few of them got translated releases, presumably for the British market.


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