Monday, April 20, 2015

Deadly Farce: THE BIG SWEAT (1991)

You may think it odd that someone so familiar with picking through the refuse of a cinematic trash heap would have the sense enough to walk on the other side of the street whenever Ulli Lommel strolls by. Well at least, you'd think it odd if you haven't seen anything he's done other than BOOGEYMAN, I guess. So it was by sheer brute force that Will managed to strap me into a CLOCKWORK ORANGE chair and torture me into watching THE BIG SWEAT. The interrogation went something like this:
WW: "Hey, I'm getting an Ulli Lommel movie with chase scenes by H.B. Haliki, want a copy?"
TS: "Shit yeah! Gimme!"
I'm pretty sure this turn of events was planned ahead of time (Lommel is crafty like that) and inspired the tag line "How much can one man take?"

Shot on film, in spite of looking like video, with production values ranging from "deeply impoverished" to "clinical starvation", SWEAT opens with a car chase with a yellow 1972 Mustang Fastback. Pretty sweet for an Ulli Lommel movie right? Hold that thought.

Following several minutes of video burned credits on a black background, we find Marco (Steven Molone) freshly released from the Tehachapi state maximum security prison and walking down a dirt road. Apparently it is a long way back to his mother's house (he's a good Italian boy), and we have to see every single step of it. Nearly 8 minutes of the first 15 are of Marco walking in what appears to be different outfits even though they are supposed to be taking place within a single afternoon! Finally he makes a phone call to his previous partner in crime Eddie (Kevin McBride) who takes him to see his mom who lives on a ranch. As if this wasn't exciting enough, we get his probably 10 years older mom deliver a peppy speech about his astrology chart. Yes, Lommel (who also scripted) managed to find something even less entertaining than a string of lengthy walking sequences.

In spite of his mother's admonitions, the freshly sprung Marco quickly finds that Eddie has a plan to stick it to the... I mean, Eddie has a plan to rob a bank and frame-up the stetson-wearing crime boss Joe Rinks (Peter Sherayko) who let Marco take the fall for a previous job, leaving him to do six hard in the slams. Meanwhile unorthodox FBI agent Troudou (Robert Z'Dar) is champing at the bit to take down Rinks and figured the best place to start is by asking Marco to testify against him. Described by his Fed boss as "a man who will play with your mind, instead of that John Wayne routine," Troudou tracks Marco to a bar (an abandoned strip-club with unopened liquor bottles placed in front of the camera) where he tries to use what he perceives to be snappy patter to charm Marco into giving up Rinks. When Marco stubbornly refuses Troudou rolls his eyes and says "Marco, Marco, Marco, this is worse than begging for pussy!" Yep, that's how he gets into your head, man, by implying that he's trying to fuck you. ...or it's just some random dialogue that Lommel made up on the spot. I don't know.

As it turns out Marco and Eddie's can't-fail plan is to, with the help of a bank teller, bust in to the bank in broad daylight, through the front doors, with no masks, in their own clothes, demanding the money and walking right back out the front door. Yes, at least several seconds of planning went into this heist. I know what you are thinking: "How is this supposed to set up Rinks to take the fall?" Not a clue. Honestly, I'm pretty sure Lommel had no idea either and probably forgot about that twist when he was making shit up the day of shooting.

After jumping in their unseen getaway car we get some of that amazing H.B. Haliki chase footage that a Variety magazine writer indicated was the best part of the movie. Check out this review, from someone who works for the movie industry's biggest trade paper, that actually implies that this is a real movie.

Click to enlarge.

Of course I loved the chase sequence too, but I liked it much more back when it was in a film called GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974). Literally the next 30-40 minutes of THE BIG SWEAT is footage taken from the final chase scene in Haliki's original classic. As if editing 1991 shots of drivers sweating and jerking the wheels of their cars into 1974 filmstock footage of the classic chase sequence wasn't bad enough, Lommel actually proves that he just doesn't care by editing a shot of young black-haired Marco behind the wheel, and cutting to an exterior shot with Haliki sticking his curly-blond, sunglass' wearing head out of the car window! Even Bruno Mattei wouldn't have been that sloppy. Think about that one.

I should also point out that while all of this is going on, it's Troudou's partner Barsky (David Rushing) who is doing the all of the chasing while Troudou is messing with Marco's mind, doing what he would least expect: Sitting in his sports car in the middle of a parking lot. No, really. When Barsky desperately tries to get some back up from his boss, all he gets is a new hole in his ass. His boss screams to get off his back, and that he doesn't want to hear about some petty $2 million bank robbery when he is in the middle of a $2 billion drug bust, which appears to have been perpetrated by three guys in a house that is under construction. This minor misjudgment allows Marco, Eddy and their girlfriends (one of whom is the bank teller) to make for Mexico.

A full year of living south of the boarder later, Eddie's girlfriend becomes furious with him for (I'm not making this up) not coming out of the bathroom while he is in the middle of bombing the porcelain bowl. So mad is she in fact, that she splits back to the US of A and promptly rats him and Marco out to the Feds. Honestly that is about the least far-fetched thing in this film. Of course the feds swarm their mansion (aka the weight room at a desert ranch hotel) and arrest them all while engaged in a game of ping-pong. Seriously, like you wouldn't be doing the same thing if you had $2 million in Mexico. Well, except for Eddie, who is still parked on the john when the Feds bust him! Damn dude. Did you give it a name?

Of course we have to have a little epilogue where Troudou shows up and tries again to get Marco to testify against Rinks and promises to let Marco, Eddie and the girls off the hook if he just will turn states evidence against Rinks. Apparently, nobody has to go through channels to make a deal. Everyone laughs and we cut to a dramatic burning black and white photo of Rinks, except... are we supposed to see the matches at the bottom of the screen?

This ramshackle mess of a movie is so bad that while I was taking notes my pen died. It had just had enough and couldn't take any more. First there are the plot holes that are so big that they aren't even plot holes, so much as holes that have some plot attached to them. Then we have Z'Dar delivering some of the most ludicrous lines imaginable with the zeal of a Ren Fair nerd quoting Monty Python. At one point another character tells him "you are like a cartoon", which means Lommel was aiming for comedy and simply missed the toilet entirely.

Aside from the alleged script (if you choose to believe that there was one) the movie is pretty stunning simply for its total lack of budget or technical expertise. There are absolutely no action sequences other than the purloined Haliki footage, the sets are non-existent with conversations happening literally on the side of the highway, in sheds and in parking lots, the mic is not baffled so you can hear wind hitting the pickup, the white balance is frequently off leading to a completely inconsistent look for different scenes, and yet somehow Lommel ended up laughing all the way to the bank. The man is a genius.

3 Reactions:

  1. Wow. Thanks for taking one for the team, and for leaving such a fine record of the journey. Your medal of honor is in the mail.

  2. Thank you for torturing yourself for our amusement. Funny Stuff.

  3. I can’t believe this film is real.


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