Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Deadly Farce: STONE COLD 2: HEART OF STONE (1997)

I can't explain why, but for some reason I have a real soft spot for football players turned actors. Jim Brown was a record-setting fullback who lead the league in rushing eight times then made some of the best action movies of the '70s. It seems that if the player is a record breaker, the better the movies. That's my theory anyway.

Brian Bosworth, in 1987, was the highest paid rookie in the history of the NFL at $11 million (as opposed to Sam Bradford of the Saint Louis Rams weighing in 2010 at $76 million). In 1988, like most football players that move into acting, he suffered a career-ending injury that forced him to retire. His screen debut was in the Craig R. Baxley directed STONE COLD (1991), which not only delivered insane action, but put together a solid supporting cast of William Forsythe, Sam Elliot and Lance Henricksen (back when he was cool). No football player could topline this movie and not come out looking good. Even Ray Rice could walk away from STONE COLD smelling like an entire flower stand. Unfortunately The Boz wasn't as careful picking out scripts as he was picking out teams in the draft (yes, he pulled an Eli Manning while Eli was still in diapers) and subsequently his acting career fell on hard times. He also sued the NFL to use his college numbers. No ego there. Come to think of it, maybe he was just a pain in the ass to work with.

HEART OF STONE, also known as BACK IN BUSINESS, is later era Brian Bosworth flick (like his gridiron career, his movie career was short too). It sure seems like a slick action outing at first. A fast-talkin’ brotha named Little Train (Guy Torry) desperately tries to warn undercover fed Tony Dunbar (Joe Torry) about a big heroin deal going down between mob boss David Ashby (Alan Scarfe) and dirty fed Emery Ryker (Brion James), before being thrown down an elevator shaft. Now Dunbar sets out to settle the score.

What? Oh yeah, Bosworth is the star. After the opening couple of minutes which make the film seem like a brainless but fun action movie, we are introduced to The Boz. 

Meet ex-cop Joe Elkhart (Boz). He’s a mechanic that likes to listen to a talk radio psychology program and discusses self-help with his overtly Jewish boss who rips off clich├ęs like “Jews know from suffering!” just in case the dimmer bulbs in the audience don’t get it from his stagy Yiddish accent. While cheerfully dealing with his inner demons (by buying his ex-wife an expensive wedding present)  he decides to seek out his former partner Dunbar. Dunbar is now living the life, quaffing Dom and smoking cigars (that he does not keep in a humidor – poser!). Elkhart meets Dunbar to play a pick-up game of hoops on the street. This is pretty much presented in real time and at one point I started thinking that I was watching a sequel to WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP (1992). Not only is the sequence unfathomably long, but the filmmakers decided that it would be a great idea if Boz showed up unprepared and was talked into stripping down to his boxers because he doesn’t have any proper shorts. No, I’m not making this up and have the screenshots to prove it.

After the b-ball game, Dunbar takes him out on his yacht and tells him that his life of opulence is merely his guise in an undercover operation to set up Ashby. Once on the docks they meet Dunbar’s neurotic female mechanic who is also into therapy and bonds with the Boz instantly by telling him that she is exploring her masculine side and that they should sleep together first, but not in a sexual way because “fucking can be so fucking disappointing”. Jeezus lady, did I go out with you in high school?

A full 30 minutes of buddy-buddy later, Dunbar gets his plan in gear by getting in a shoot-out in the police evidence locker with some balaclava-wearing hoods in cop uniforms, Dunbar steals a couple of keys of smack in the fray in order to set up a deal with Ashby, who in spite of being a big-time crime boss, always comes to make small-time deals in person. If anyone in this movie is in need of self help, it’s this guy. I mean seriously, you need to get over those trust issues pal so that you can manage by delegation.

One of Ashby’s goons makes Dunbar for a fed and a really well executed fire-fight breaks out (finally!). For no immediately apparent reason, Ryker shows up on a harbor dock and has his partner bust out a giant surface to surface rocket launcher to blow up Dunbar’s boat. Hey, these guys aren’t CIA, they haven’t been trained in clandestine ops. Fuck it, we’ll just blow up the boat with an anti-tank weapon in broad daylight in a public place. This makes about as much sense as a later scene in which Dunbar and Elkhart get back together after the fiasco and are jumped by two corrupt feds, who the guys shoot to death in the back yard of Elkhart’s ex-wife’s lavish house in the middle of a posh residential area at night! Not only do the neighbors not call the police, but Dunbar and Elkhart don’t even bother to vacate the premises until after they’ve gotten hammered on beer while cracking jokes from lawn chairs that overlook the corpses in the pool. No, really. Dunbar quips things like “fat-ass floater”. I dunno, maybe that would get a laugh in Ferguson.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I can, have and will sit through dialogue that's about as sharp as a bowl of jello, but if you throw me some explosions, shoot-outs, fights or chase scenes on regular intervals you won't lose my vote. I’m not hard to please. Hell, I’ve watched damn near every Cannon movie made in the ‘80s and I can’t even count the number of Godfrey Ho flicks I’ve sat through, Obviously, I'm not a picky man. This all gets us back to the main plot of the movie in which Elkhart and Dunbar dress up in a tux and an Arab outfit so they can go to an auction and outbid Ashby on a rare Shelby that Ryker has packed full of heroin. It has to be the most convoluted drug deal in the history of crime and it is every bit as entertaining as it sounds, complete with Dunbar keepin' it real by talking pidgeon Arabic and offending pretentious white people.

Of course two words should have tipped me off to the movie's potential for badness: Philippe Mora. A name that roughly translates from the French as “cinematic mess”. I haven’t seen all of Mora’s films, but I’ve seen enough to know that his name is a bad sign unless it is followed by the name “Sybil Danning”. While the film looks great and is shot 2.35, the script, by first and last timers Ed Decatur and Ash Staley, seems to think that it is a 48 HOURS-ish buddy comedy first and foremost with long stretches of unfunny dialogue that the actors are desperately trying to rise above. Adding insult to injury, Brion James is woefully under-utilized, perhaps due to his diminishing health (in one scene he is clearly having trouble walking) as a straight-forward suit and tie bad guy who really only has a handful of short scenes. The interesting thing is that the German DVD features some extra shots of violence inserted from a workprint. These help boost the main action sequence, but do little to help out the movie as a whole. Obviously Mora was short on cash (as usual), but with some better editing and maybe cutting some of the locations to divert funds to additional action scenes, this one would never stand up to STONE COLD, but could have been a decent outing for The Boz. 

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