Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: BLOODSTONE (1988)

I’ve always had this weird loyalty thing with directors who cut their teeth in the horror genre. Not sure why, but it just makes them more endearing to me. Such is the case with Dwight Little, a helmer who first caught my eye with the serviceable sequel HALLOWEEN 4 (1988) and the Robert Englund version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989). A good one-two punch that showed Little had a good visual eye. He quickly transitioned to action pics with MARKED FOR DEATH (1990) - unofficially Steven Seagal’s best film - and RAPID FIRE (1992). He even endeared himself to Tom by shooting the live-action footage for the video game GROUND ZERO TEXAS (1993). (“Where my damn re-release of that?” shouts Tom.) Now I’ll admit I got off the Little train by the time he was making FREE WILLY 2 (1995), but it was cool to see the guy rise up the ranks. I’m not so sure I would have been as enthused if BLOODSTONE was the first film I saw from him.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, BLOODSTONE is about a giant ruby and not an adaptation of the Judas Priest song (many thanks to Tom for the info there). The film opens in India in 1221 with some onscreen text about a Princess dying in an accident. At her funeral her father points a clear sword at the titular gem in her crown and says, “May your blood bring fortune to those who have good in their hearts. May your blood bring death and destruction to those who have evil in their minds.” This causes a lot of wind, so we know it must be magic.

Anyway, cut to the present day and the film proper begins as we are introduced to a myriad of characters. First, newlyweds Stephanie (Anna Nicholas) and Sandy McVey (Brett Stimely), who are on a train bound to Bangalore. On the train they meet Paul Lorre (Jack Kehler), a thief who has stolen the priceless bloodstone (sadly, the heist occurs offscreen). Lorre has planned to sell it the evil Ludwig Van Hoeven (Christopher Neame), whose evilness is established by sneaking up on a guard and threatening to slice his throat. And by being named Ludwig Van Hoeven and having a haughty accent. LVH dispatches some thugs to meet Lorre at the train station. Also waiting for him is Inspector Ramesh (Charlie Brill) and his deputy. When Lorre spots the cops, he slides the bloodstone into Stephanie’s tennis bag. Not a wise move as we find out Sandy’s job in the US is being a street smart cop who can spot trouble anywhere...except when it is stuffing a big ass jewel in his wife’s luggage. Also entering into this fracture plot is taxi driver Shyam Sabu (Rajinikanth), who unwittingly ends up having the bloodstone in his possession when it slips of of the tennis bag in the trunk of his taxi.

Thanks to this modification of the old satchel switcheroo trope we now have a group of bad guy folks chasing after a group of newlywed folks being followed by one dude who is being followed by a group of cop folks. Got all that? Before you can scream THE PERILS OF PAULINE (1914), Stephanie is kidnapped and Sandy must team up with Shyam to locate her. The streetwise Shyam says he is looking for the bloodstone ruby, which is really weird as he has already found it in his trunk. “A man of all things, I am,” he says in his Yoda. All things except recognizing you don’t need to be involved in this danger. Van Hoeven gives them a call and arranges a prisoner-for-bloodstone exchange at a waterfall. So at the 50 minute mark we finally start to get some Indiana Jones-ing going on as we head into the jungle.

An American-Indian co-production, BLOODSTONE should have been better than it turned out to be. For example, look at the cover at the beginning of this review. There is truth in that advertising as everything depicted on there happens in this film, yet it never seems as cool as the poster implies. While it gives a distinct Indiana Jones flair (hell, that art is why we grabbed it for this theme week), this is actually more of a ROMANCING THE STONE (1984) clone than anything. Perhaps the most surprising thing for me as a Little fan is how poorly he stages the action. Very much along the “over the shoulder, punch, cut” line and shows he definitely improved over time. There is one impressive sequence though on rickety bridge over a waterfall, which benefits from the India locations. Even more unforgivable is a definite emphasis on comedy and that might be the film’s downfall. It is rough. How rough? We get one shot where a guy gets pigeon poop falling on his face and instead of a drum rim shot, we get a sting of sitar strings. Most of this comedy comes from Brill as Inspector Ramesh, which might be the most stereotyped portrayal of Indians since Fisher Stevens in the SHORT CIRCUIT films. Nothing says Indian more than a guy from Brooklyn.

Such casting also is also dubious when one finds out that co-star Rajinikanth -given top billing in the end credits, but relegated to small dude on the poster - is actually one of India’s biggest cinema stars. As one of five films he had in released in 1988, this is sort of Rajinikanth’s THE BIG BRAWL (1980) or THE PROTECTOR (1985), the first two films to try to introduce Jackie Chan to the American market. (The Chan analogy is also apt as, according to Wikipedia, Rajinikanth was the second highest paid actor in Asia at one point in time.) A veteran of over 150 films by this point, Rajinikanth has a natural on screen charisma so you can understand why he was so popular. Interestingly, it was after BLOODSTONE that his career became huge, but there were no more crossovers with American cinema. He is still working to this day and his hit KABALI (2016) even made it to US screens in July 2016.

There is one really odd thing I learned from BLOODSTONE though. It is the second film I’ve seen where Christopher Neame quotes Shakespeare to someone and gets a modern quote thrown back at him.

Christopher Neame: “What’s in a name. William Shakespeare.” 
Brett Stimely: “Fuck you. David Mamet.” 

 A few years later he was the baddie in STREET KNIGHT (1993) and we got this exchange: 

Christopher Neame: "Good night, sweet Prince, may flights of angels wing you to thy rest. Shakespeare." 
Jeff Speakman (shooting Neame): “Hasta la vista, baby. Schwarzenegger." 

That’s about all I got out of BLOODSTONE. Well, that and the fact that Rajinikanth has some mad cigarette-to-mouth catching skills.

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