Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Monday, June 18, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)

Our latest entry in the examination of films that are cut/edited/altered is a rather unique one in that not only was a significant amount of footage removed from the film, but nearly forty minutes of newly shot footage was added when the film debuted on NBC.  The plot of TWO-MINTUE WARNING is rather simple.  A crazed gunman climbs atop the flag tower at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before a huge football game drawing 100,000 spectators. The police, led by Capt. Holly (Charlton Heston), are quickly made aware of him and a S.W.A.T. team, led by Sgt. Button (John Cassavetes), must find a way to get this guy out of firmed nestled position without anyone being killed or the gunman being alerted.

TWO-MINUTE WARNING is one of those standard concept thrillers that still exist today, but it is actually better than its set up suggests. The action unfolds in almost real time and is surprising in its level of detail while eliciting a fair amount of tension. For example, you have some great scenes in the TV control room where the television director (played by Andy Sidaris, who used to do this in real life before becoming an action T&A legend) tries to balance doing his job while the police do theirs. The suspense is well handled until the end where it turns into a mob of people running out of the stands as if Roy Schieder yelled, "Shark!"

1979 newspaper
TV version mention
With the all-star supporting cast in the stands, this actually reminds me a lot of the Irwin Allen disaster flicks of the 1970s. You have Jack Klugman as a degenerate gambler; Beau Bridges as a down-on-his-luck dad taking the family out; Martin Balsam as the stadium manager; David Janssen as a fan and Gena Rowlands as his lady; Walter Pidgeon as a pickpocket (Beau's real-life wife is his accomplice); and former footballer Joe Kapp as, of course, a footballer. (And look for Robert Ginty as a souvenir salesman.) Since the audience spends so much time with these characters, you can guess who is going to get shot. It is a bit disjointed and feels like a book (it was adapted from a George La Fountaine novel), but I think it helps establish the randomness of the shooter, whose motivations are never explained before he dies.

Speaking of which, NBC apparently had a problem with the idea of airing a "crazed gunman goes nuts for no reason" scenario.  Sure, they wanted those boffo ratings from airing a Charlton Heston movie in primetime, but heaven forbid they actually have an insane sniper with no motivation because that kind of stuff never happens in real life *cough* Charles Whitman *cough*.  In order to assuage their refined sensibilities, the network actually paid for extensive re-shoots for this before it aired on February 6, 1979.  And we’re not talking about new scenes to replace bloody deaths.  They added a whole new subplot that significantly alters the film.  In this new version, the shooter is up there in order to provide a distraction for a museum heist that takes place nearby.  So let’s get this straight – version involving a crazed gunman shooting at folks with no motive is bad; version involving a crazed gunman shooting at folks in order to help others get financial gain is good. Yep, sounds like standard television executive logic to me alright.

TV Guide ad (courtesy of Marty McKee):

                      Newspaper article on the extended version:

The differences are noticeable right off that bat with the opening credits.  New co-stars get prominent credits. Screenwriter Edward Hume unwittingly gets a co-writer as Francesca Turner gets a credit for what is now billed as the teleplay.  Additionally, original director Larry Peerce had his name removed from the project and one Gene Palmer (assumed this is the noted TV editor who did similar work on Universal’s TV debut of EARTHQUAKE) receives the directing credit.

New actors:

Film credits (theatrical vs. television):

Since we’re on “no random kill” watch, the TV version immediately removes the theatrical version’s powerful opening scene where the sniper (Warren Miller) tries out his rifle in a hotel room by firing on a random 1970s bicycling couple.

Also removed is the introduction of the football player played by Joe Kapp in his hotel with his lady.  In fact, Kapp must have been pissed when he saw this version as nearly all of his scenes have been removed.  So, all you fans of Joe Kapp shaving scenes and split focus shots will be doubly disappointed.

To replace these bits, we have new footage starting at roughly four minutes into the TV version.  First, we have a scene of the shooter outside of the stadium.  He eyes the tower he will soon climb and then feels the marble surface at the base of the tower (this is explained later).

After this we immediately dive headfirst into the heist plot.  At the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, we are introduced to the new characters of Patricia Owens (Joanna Pettet) and her boss Cooper Adams (William Prince) as they talk with a reporter and museum curator Mr. Kaslov.  You know this is a fancy museum as harpsichord music plays in the background.  Mr. Adams has decided to display his $10 million dollar art collection on football championship weekend, no doubt hoping to cash in on that Picasso and pigskin loving crowd.

As Adams and Patricia leave the museum, they pass by a couple of exposition cops.

Cop #1: “I read where Mr. Cooper Adams is the richest man in Texas.”
Cop #2: “He’s also one of the richest men in the world.”

We then cut to the Fairchild hotel for more new footage (interestingly, this is where Kapp was staying and where Klugman’s degenerate gambler is also at).  Inside a dingy hotel room, the sniper – now finally addressed by his last name of Cook – meets up with the other 5 men who are in on the plan, who spend their time ogling Polaroids of the paintings they hope to steal.  The masterminds are Tony (Paul Shenar), Richard (James Olsen), and the Professor (Rossano Brazzi). 6 white guys?  Yeah, they're trouble alright.

Cook is debriefed by Richard, his former commanding officer in Vietnam, about his role in the heist plan and told there is an escape hatch in the shaft.  The arrangement is simple – Cook will open fire at the two-minute warning during the championship football game to distract the cops, which will allow the other guys to rob the museum.

Concerned about his risky effort and possibly being a patsy, Cook demands a sum of $100,000 more before heading out. You know he is unstable because in addition to breaking down his rifle to hide in his coat (using recycled footage from the excised opening), he also stashes two bottles of booze in his pockets in a later scene.  Ah, money and booze! There’s that motivation the network executives were looking for.

Meanwhile, Adams stops at a bank to do some business and Patricia goes shopping.  But she has ulterior motives as she called the hotel to speak with her boyfriend Tony.  Dah, dah, dah!  She’s in on the heist.

It is interesting to note that tons of footage has been removed from the theatrical version to accommodate this new stuff.  Long suffering Joe Kapp sees his inviting of friend/fan priest (Mitchell Ryan) during communion removed; the intro of the S.W.A.T. team led by Sgt. Button as they teargas an abusive husband is gone (as is later footage of Button at home with his family); the intro of Beau Bridges driving his family to the game is gone; the intro of a pair of pickpockets (Walter Pidgeon and Julie Bridges, Beau’s wife) is no longer there; and, most importantly, the following shot of Klugman’s gambler character grabbing his lady friend’s breast is missing.  How am I supposed to know he is a degenerate now?

To compensate for this, we have more new footage of Adams and his assistant Patricia riding around in his Rolls Royce. He takes her to a fancy French restaurant (it is intercut with the Klugman restaurant footage above) and it becomes obvious they have more than a working relationship.  Adams gives her some token jewelry and then drops the bomb on her.  “I transferred ownership of my collection to your name last week,” he says.  Oh snap!  Not only that, her sugardaddy says he set up a trust for her.  Double snap!  Then he asks her to look over some insurance papers, but she points out his lawyer screwed up the policy and put the wrong amount on there.  And, yes, the waiter is really wearing that outfit.

Obviously she needs to call this off because everything is being messed up due to Adams’ creepy old man love gestures. But she can’t reach Tony at the hotel as he and his men have already gotten into their white van and headed for the art museum.

Inside the van, we get a conversation between four of the men.  One guy, who is dressed as a cop, says he doesn’t feel comfortable being the contact between them and Cook.  Richard reassures them that Cook is “the best in the business for this job” and the “best man I had in Vietnam.”  They also talk about how the money will be transferred and mention that their client is named Ambassador Lopez.

Meanwhile, all of our star spectators have been arriving at the game.  Cook also arrives and makes his way to the tower at roughly 36 minutes into the TV version.  This is a good example to show you how the creators of the TV version just bounced events all over the place as this happens much earlier in the theatrical version.  And in news sure to disappoint Ryan Seacrest, the National Anthem sung by Merv Griffin is cut down.

And can you guess who else is checking out the game today?  Adams and his sexpot assistant!  Unable to contact her boys about the recent developments, Patricia tries to get away from Adams but he is smitten and says he’ll go with her to the gallery.  No go and she goes to the game.

Just before the hour mark, the white van arrives at the museum's loading dock.  Inside we get another conversation which gives us more into the insight of the relationship between Tony and Patricia.  The Professor seems uneasy about his former student Patricia being in a relationship with Tony.  Tony accuses the Professor of being in love with her and the teacher replies, “I have loved her since the first day she walked into my class.”  Then Richard gets on it and says he has feelings for her too.  Oh boy.

A rather long sequence here has the men walking around the museum doing that art gawker thing.  One man makes a phone call to an airport to confirm their post-heist flight. Richard babbles to some young woman about art. The Professor babbles to some young woman about art.  You get the picture.

Back at the game, Adams just happens to run into his lawyer and asks him to fix the error he made right away.  Yeah, I'll just drop watching this football game and head over to the museum.

Patricia finally reaches Tony by calling the museum and tells him about the change of plans.  She lies by saying Adams got tipped off, but Tony says tough luck.  Patricia decides the next best course of action is to call the museum and tip off the security.  That’s woman logic for ya.  Anyway, after conferring with his associates, Tony and the men decide to still go forward with their plan.

Around 1 hour and 14 minutes into the TV version, we get one of the more interesting additions in that it is one of only a handful of new scenes shot to feature an actor from the original film.  And it isn’t just anyone, it is Charlton Heston himself.  We get a brief scene of Heston receiving a phone call from museum director Mr. Kaslov saying he is worried because he heard rumors of a heist.  Heston says he has so many men at the football game, but he will see what he can do.  It is interesting to note that Heston sports a lighter colored toupee than the one he wore in the original film.

Our thieves get sweaty palms when a couple of extra cops arrive at the museum thanks to Heston’s orders.  They think about calling it off but they can’t seem to contact Cook (obviously giving him a walkie-talkie was beyond their planning) and they opt to send a guy dressed as a cop to go there and kill him when he tries to escape through the hatch. Also around this time, Priscilla convinces Adams to leave the game.

Interestingly, another omission from the theatrical version during all of this cross cutting is when Cassavettes and his men grab a random fan hanging out in the bleachers who they think might be in on it.  In the theatrical version, he is taken into the bathroom and roughed up by Cassavettes, who makes sure to knee him in the balls.

Around the 1 hour and 53 minute mark, the shooting finally starts to happen.  Now this is where it gets interesting as all of the shots of people being, well, shot are replaced.  Instead we get shots of Cook shooting out lights or shooting at empty chairs.

Die, empty chairs, die!

The biggest beneficiary of this is actor David Janssen, whose character now gets to live.  In the theatrical cut, he and his girlfriend played by Gena Rowlands are out arguing in the concourse.  They decide to get married (ah, women) in Vegas, but not before they go finish watching the game they flew all the way from New Jersey to see.  Janssen walks into his seating section and becomes the sniper’s first victim.  In the TV version, he mumbles “let’s go to Vegas right now” and that is the last we see of them, as if they are walking away from the game.  Here's how he originally met his end.  Beats getting married, I suspect.

This means poor Branscombe Richmond gets his screen debut removed as well.  And the winner for Best Supporting Actor Covered in Blood is…

The sniper also gets a new lease on life as he never gets wounded by one of the S.W.A.T. team snipers.

Crime also doesn’t end up paying as the characters played Walter Pidgeon and Jack Klugman live to pick more pockets and gamble more money away, respectively, another day.  Here's how they bought it in the theatrical version.

The second new bit of Heston footage appears just after the two hour mark as a uniformed cop runs up to him and tells him he can’t contact the security guards patrolling the museum section.  “That’s it! That art museum,” Heston says, “Take some men and get over there right away.  I’ve got a hunch there is a heist going on and that is what this is all about.”

What no one counts on were 100,000 people to continue rampaging through the streets.  Can you guess where they are headed?  That’s right – the museum!  There is a hilarious bit where some cops see them coming and close the doors.

Intercut between the stampeding masses is a section of Cook trying to escape from the secret hatch built into the tower.  He crawls down to the bottom and opens the door, only to be met by the bad guy dressed as a cop waiting for him with his gun trained.  Trapped!

As the entire over-the-top melee unfolds (seriously, the frenzied crowd looks like a marathon), the criminals in the museum subdue the guards and begin cutting out all the prized paintings.  In the words of Lawrence Tierney, "Let's go to work."

Meanwhile, Heston and Cassavettes are taking care of our sniper.  The poor patsy gets back to the top of the tower just in time to get a gas canister thrown in his face.

The police make it inside the base of the tower and we get our third and final scene of new Heston footage.  For some reason they have him spot the escape entryway and he shouts, "Alright you! Climb out of there, right now!"  It is odd because everyone else is still trained on the guy the know is climbing up the ladder.

Of course, they finally get their man as he is shot and falls from the top of the ladder. 

Back to the museum! As the men try to escape in their white van, they get surrounded by thousands (well, dozens) of still frenzied fans (no joke, they’ve been running for their lives for like 15 minutes; I think you’re safe now). The best part is this is all airing live on TV and Adams and Patricia are watching it unfold in the back of his Rolls Royce. Now why cameras were trained 20 feet across from the escape van is beyond me.

The van driver decides to haul ass and ends up bumping a young girl onto the sidewalk.  Naturally, this sends the hysterical football hounds into an even further rage.  They surround the van like zombies and tip the damn thing over.

Some uniformed cops get onto the scene and immediately arrest the thieves as they spill out of the back of the van.  Art robbery of the century foiled!

UPDATE (in Robert Stack voice): Julian Grainger left a comment below asking about the end credits and I did a few more framegrabs.  The end credits unfold the exact same way (helicopter shot pulling away from the stadium), but we do get some additional new people listed.  Veteran cinematographer and Emmy winner Harry L. Wolf is credited as the DP on "additional photography."  

Two credit listings later, TV version credited director Gene Palmer joins the film's previous two film editors. And Jaroslav Gebr - who used to do the paintings on shows like GHOST STORY and Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY - is given credit for the paintings seen in the museum.    

It is interesting to note that the cast listing is exactly the same as the theatrical version, so folks like Michael Pataki ("that guy" in the gang pic earlier) never gets proper credit for his role.  The end copyright notice has been changed as well, now listing 1979 (MCMLXXIX) after the 1976 date.

Good lord!  Did I just unleash 60 plus pictures to describe the alternate version of TWO-MINUTE WARNING that debuted on “The Big Event” on NBC some 33 years ago?  Apparently I did.  As you can see, this revamped version creates quite a different film and I’m sure there were tons of people who saw it theatrically who were going “what the hell?” and wondering if their buttered popcorn had been laced when they saw it debut on TV.  This new version is really amazing because the executives wanted to get as far away from reasonless killing as possible.  Yet the cops still blow away the sniper in the end.  And his crime was nothing more than shooting some empty seats and light fixtures.  That’ll teach him.  The trick worked though as this special edition of TWO-MINUTE WARNING got a monster 28 percentage share of the TV viewing audience.  Yet it still wasn’t the number one program that night. You see, they lost out to something far more deadly than a lone sniper hiding in a tower.  Old Chuck got blasted by the evil combo of LAVERNE & SHIRLEY and MORK & MINDY.  Bull’s eye, baby!

UPDATE #2: If you've made it this far reading (congrats!), be sure to check out the comment from reader Matt below.  He gives a detailed write up of the novel on which the movie is based and it is a lot different and even crazier in some ways.  Great stuff.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sci-Fried Theater: KING OF THE STREETS (1986)

Writer-producer-director Ed Hunt is hardly a well known name amongst genre fans and that is a shame because the man makes well made and enjoyable movies.  Hunt was born in the United States but found his initial filmmaking success in Canada, just like the band Heart.  Ah, Canadians know talent when they see it, eh.  He started in the early 70s with soft-core titles like PLEASURE PALACE (1973) and DIARY OF A SINNER (1974).  Both low budget productions were successful and allowed Hunt to tackle films about his true passion – science fiction and UFOs.  This resulted in films like POINT OF NO RETURN (1976) and the cult classic STARSHIP INVASIONS (1978).  That late 70s/early 80s saw Hunt mature with the virus thriller PLAGUE (1979) and the kids slasher flick BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981).  Before bowing out of the film industry to take care of a sick relative, Hunt returned to sci-fi with the THE BRAIN (1988) and KING OF THE STREETS (aka ALIEN WARRIOR; 1986), a goofy genre blender that plays like STARMAN (1984) meets SCARFACE (1983).

The film opens on a distant, unnamed planet where a man (Brett Baxter Clark, of DEATHSTALKER IV fame) is told by his wizard looking father that his brother has failed his mission and, in order to be a leader, he must defeat great evil.  This means he is zapped by some lasers and then sent to Earth (nude, of course), where he will surely encounter great evil. Looks like their calculations were perfect as he lands in downtown Los Angeles and quickly stumbles upon a drug deal going down.  No joke, the dealers van is for a rental company called Snow Biz with the logo “there’s no business like snow business.” Subtle.  Anyway, he catches the eye of top drug dealer/pimp Mr. One (Reggie De Morton, looking just like Laurence Fishburne, more on that later) and when asked if he is great evil, Mr. One responds, “Yeah, I’m the greatest, sucker.”  Foe and mission selected. Wandering around town, our alien warrior adopts the name Buddy (after being yelled that as he wandered into traffic) and quickly finds his calling when he saves Lora (Pamela Saunders) from being raped by some stock Hollywood cholos. Lucky for her, Buddy is a badass because he can quickly absorb anything he sees and he just happened to walk by a karate school earlier.  To thank him, Lora offers to put our homeless hero up in her struggling inner city reading center (“Learn to read, read to learn” is their slogan) and she quickly learns his secret.  You see, Buddy is also clairvoyant and can sense your pain.  In fact, within minutes of meeting Lora’s boyfriend, he tells her he is nothing but a money loving asshole.  This guy really is psychic…or he just noticed how obsessed the boyfriend was about his precious Mercedes.  One of the gang members, Gonzalez (Nelson Anderson), shows up to shoot Buddy, but he is found out and Buddy brings him in to make him cry about people calling him a “stupid Mexican.”

Meanwhile, in a completely different movie, Mr. One is wheelin’ and dealin’ in the Los Angeles criminal underground. We see him at a club scouting a girl who he quickly turns into a prostitute for his clients.  And these seedy types are high profile cops and politicians so Mr. One is making sure to record all of these trysts for blackmail purposes. (It should be noted that one person on his list is named Marty.)   Mr. One seems hell bent on keeping the ghetto down, which will obviously bring him in direct conflict with Buddy.  Our hero Buddy has been helping everyone he can.  He tries to get a hooker off the streets by telling her she is going to be killed soon; he resurrects a random girl in a coma in the hospital; he converts Gonzalez’s gang by having them read books and build him a tricked out super car; he befriends a homeless black kid who dreams of being an astronaut (“but that’s just for rich kids” he says) and takes him to see a space shuttle landing; he gets a shy little girl to overcome her mean stepmom by having her visualize stretching her nose and playing the National Anthem on it (!); he breaks up an extortion/protection gang by punching a stop sign and shouting “no more” in slow motion; and he saves the aforementioned hooker from a psycho taunting her with a power drill and snake (guess she didn’t listen to his advice).  Yep, Mr. One won’t take kindly to all that positivity (he seethes when he sees graffiti that reads “be temperate”) and kidnaps Lora to settle the score in a junkyard showdown.
If you were one of the millions disappointed that STAND AND DELIVER (1988) lacked aliens and martial arts fights, then this film is for you!  KING OF THE STREETS is derived from about a billion other movies, yet somehow turns out to be one of a kind.  I’m not quite sure who this was marketed for because you’ll have one scene with a kind, positive message.  Ten minutes later you’ll have a woman stripping after being beaten by her pimp.  Then you get a reaffirming “dream it and it can happen” speech from Buddy.  Ten minutes after that you’ll have a bloody as hell shootout outside of a Plato’s Retreat-style club that culminates with Mr. One shooting crazy in the street clad only in his underwear.  It is a movie of mixed messages, like when Buddy first meets the cute homeless kid and offers him a ride.  “Okay, but if you try any faggot shit I’m gonna cut your balls off,” replies the kid to this kind gesture.  This movie has it all, from Tony Robbins-style cheese to cheap T&A to blaxploitation style sleaze. Damn, maybe I was the target audience because I enjoyed the hell out of all of that mix.

Hunt clearly had a message here (I wondered if the brother mentioned in the opening was supposed to be Jesus), but it doesn’t appear thought out.  That is somewhat confirmed by the goofy ass ending where Buddy is completely powerless during the final fight and it is up to the people brought down by Mr. One to be the ones to kill him.  Wait…wasn’t Buddy supposed to be the one to defeat great evil?  He didn’t do anything and just stands by watching as everyone else did his work for him.  Hmmm, on second thought, that probably does qualify him to be a “great ruler” by today’s standard.  Of course, what am I doing deconstructing a movie that ends with the hero floating up into space while waving goodbye to his girlfriend (an ending so powerful that Russell Mulcahy ripped it of for HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING).

Obviously the alternate title of ALIEN WARRIOR is far more apt for this film. KING OF THE STREETS obviously invokes a crime drama and I vividly remember someone complaining about this film when they rented it from the video store. Even funnier is Xenon Entertainment Group’s 1995 VHS re-release that tries to pull one of the funniest and boldest switcheroo on customers.  They plastered a picture of villain Reggie De Morton on the cover with a still of him at his most Fishburne-esque (see below).  Below the title reads “with the star of WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT and DEEP COVER” and the back says “the star of DEEP COVER and WHAT’S LOVE GO TO DO WITH IT has never been more controversial than as Mr. 1 (sic).”  WHAT!?!  The sad thing is I can’t determine if that is sheer promotional ballyhoo or the folks at Xenon watched this and really thought that was Laurence Fishburne without reading the credits.  Either scenario is entirely possible.  Poor De Morton! As if doing a shootout in his underwear wasn't embarrassing enough, he gets his breakout role and is confused for someone else.  He does get the honor of saying the film’s best line though as he chastises his right hand man with: “You’re so lazy that you’d use my dick to get laid if you could.”  I’m not quite sure how that embodies laziness as it seems like more work, but, hey, he said it menacingly. Let's do a little cover comparison.

Xenon VHS cover:

Hmmmm, this reminds me of something:

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Even before Daniel Craig took over the role of James Bond in CASINO ROYALE (2006), everyone knew James Bond needed to be reinvented for a modern era. So many spoofs and parodies later (ironically the first being 1967s CASINO ROYALE), Bond lacked credibility. You'll get more raging nerd debates over which is the worst Bond flick than the best, and for my money, Bond still hasn't been brought up to speed. In Bond's wake many imitators have tried to update Bond and ditch the goofy villains and quiche-making camp of the Roger Moore days and make something more realistic. Most recently THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2008) re-invented Robert Ludlum's trilogy of intricately plotted espionage thrillers and turned them into a vision of what James Bond would be without the MI5 safety-net in a completely butchered plot.

The Scandinavians took it one step further and figured out how to reinvent Bond, cleansing him of pretensions and gimmiks like field-stripping a SIG Sauer pistol. While we've had an exceptional example (if not totally traditional) in Anders Nilsson's Johan Falk series starting with ZERO TOLERANCE (1999), the most famous and iconic would have to be Jan Guillou's series of 12 novels about Swedish secret service agent Carl Hamilton. Loosely defined as a Swedish mirror-image of Tom Clancy (Guillou being extreme left and Clancy extreme right), Guillou used decades of experience as a journalist to create his ice-cold, highly efficient killing machine, code-named Coq Rouge. Film adaptations started three years after the publication of the first book (Coq Rouge, 1986) with Stellan Skarsgård in the lead in CODENAME: COQ ROUGE (1989). Following that Hamilton has been portrayed by pre-BECK Peter Haber, Stefan Sauk, Peter Stormare, and finally post-BECK Mikael Persbrandt.

The Swedish intelligence service has no agents who are licensed to kill. It must not happen under any circumstances.
Unless it's in self-defense or... In the Interest of the Nation

Using the title, themes and parts of the third novel in the series, Hamilton finds himself working undercover with Russian arms dealers who are set to sell some stolen Swedish Sky Shadow missiles to a terrorist group on the border of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. After setting a tracking device on the truck, everything goes pear-shaped when a squad of paramilitary mercs, lead by Rob Hart (Jason Flemyng), turns the exchange into a bloodbath, slaughtering everyone except Hamilton, who narrowly escapes with his life. All this is before the title hits the screen.

Hamilton finds himself frequently on loan to other departments, and after being chewed out by his new boss (Peter Andersson) for losing a shipment of deadly weapons into the hands of terrorists, his old boss (Lennart Hjulström) supports him, but needs to evaluate the situation and check out his resilient girl-friend. Meanwhile an American security firm with ties to the CIA, named Sectragon, is working covertly for Dallas military arms corporation to undermine the thread of political stability in the Middle-East by committing terrorist acts and framing terrorist organizations in an effort to create a boom market (so to speak) on weapons sales and contract mercenary groups. When a Sectragon merc, Benjamin Lee (Ray Fearon), conveniently for the good guys, decides to bail from the operation due to the killing of innocents, he and the Swedish weapons company liaison, Martin Lagerbäck (Gustaf Hammarsten), find themselves on the wrong side of the border, in a Somali prison. Hamilton is tasked with cleaning up the mess and in the process uncovers a greater plot to destabilize the free world.

That is actually only half of the plot for the film. While many grumble and gripe about the fact that the 1988 book was actually about the Soviets building sub-oceanic military installations, and the movie is about rogue American paramilitary terrorists, I have one thing to say: get over it. Screenwriter Stefan Thunberg crafts a great, twisting plot that is complex without being complicated, taking Hamilton's character, themes and subplots and working them into a mainstream action/espionage thriller that is exactly what the James Bond movies should have become. Interestingly the James Bond films with Daniel Craig (particularly the trailer for SKYFALL), actually feel a little more like Hamilton than they do Bond. Bond is now a rather Scandanavian-looking, ice-cold killer with emotional scars that drive him forward. Flemming's books had some of that, but most of the films sidestepped the baggage for a lighter touch. Thunberg also smartly eschews Guillou's strong political views and steers straight into the waters of modern action/espionage thrillers, not only reinventing the James Bond mythos, but reinventing Carl Hamilton as well.

I also like the fact that Danish director Kathrine Windfeld isn't afraid to let things get bloody in the tense action scenes that she sets up and she likes to shoot big shots that use a wide frame. She doesn't envision a TV screen, she's thinking cinema and it shows in the cinematography and the big panoramic shots of the multiple global locations. I also liked how the female characters are handled, something many action films fumble with, either trying too hard to prove that have the politically correct point of view by making the character essentially an alpha male with a woman's body or being a total wallflower waiting to be bagged and tagged and carted off as someone's trophy. Nothing really wrong with either one of those, but Windfeld is able to get solid performances out of the three women in the film that is in line with their characters without feeling forced. Jordanian actress Seba Mubarak plays Hamilton's contact in Beirut, where there are moments of an implied deeper connection, is not only very easy on the eyes, but plays the action and the brief, but obligatory, pathos equally well without going overboard as would be demanded by Hollywood filmmakers. Kind of refreshing, for a change.

If I had to pick a few things to bitch about, one would have to be the casting of  Jason Flemyng. I've never been a big fan, and here he does nothing to win me over here. He plays the same paper-thin, snarling villain that he's played many times before, without any attempt to bring an added dimension to the role. It's particularly jarring here, as the Swedes love understated acting (the kind that Americans used to embrace, pre-1980s) and Persbrandt manages to convey quite a bit through subtle facial expressions while playing a cold, stoic character. The other big gripe is Windfeld's constant use of the much-loathed hand-held camera and zoom lens. Granted, her use of it isn't anywhere near as obnoxious as say, THE EXPENDABLES (2010), but it does get a bit trying at times, particularly since they actually take the time to set up some great sequences. For example, the hand-to-hand fight scenes have a bit of the Hollywood tight-shot / quick-cutting school of filmmaking which is a little disappointing. Persbrandt went to train with the Navy Seals in San Diego and the Karlsborgs fortress with the Särskilda Skyddsgruppen (the Swedish Delta Force) to prepare for the role, and it seems a shame not to properly show off his mad skills with wider shots and longer takes. Even so, it's a minor quibble. What we have is still massively entertaining; this is the movie I want to see on a hot summer night in a cool, air-conditioned theater with a spiked slurpee (What? Oh, like you've never done that). Fast paced, and action packed, but with an engaging plot and most importantly, no pandering to the teen crowd. Is that too much to ask? There's even a plot twist early on that damn near made me take a header out of my chair, but you'll get no spoilers out of me, see it for yourself.

Being shot as a trilogy with the awkwardly titled HAMILTON 2: BUT NOT IF IT CONCERNS MY DAUGHTER (2012), and HAMILTON 3: IN HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE (2013), even with all of the hubub over this film overseas, it will probably never see the light of day here in the States. Of course, if it does flirt with US cinemas I'm sure it will be one of two scenarios: either the Weinstein's will buy it, cut it to pieces, and then sit on it until their rights expire or someone will buy the remake rights, changing the villain's ethnicity (British, I'd guess), add lots of yelling and cast Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendez in the lead (not that there is anything wrong with Eva Mendez, physically). Dammit.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cinemasochism: THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011)

Horror anthologies have always been a favorite of mine. Honestly, what is better than getting one good creepy story?  How about 4 or 5 creepy stories crammed into one film?  (I’m sure a short attention span might factor into my love of anthologies as well.)  Like most people my age, the first anthology I ever saw was the legendary TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) and I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I got to see Romero’s CREEPSHOW (1982), NIGHTMARES (1983) and the Amicus TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972).  Man, talk about being spoiled at an early age.  The anthology format is great when used properly. However, it is also the refuge of chaos, where filmmakers think they can just throw a bunch of shorts together to assemble a film (does Paul Smith stink eye towards CREEPTALES). Sadly, new horror anthology THE THEATRE BIZARRE falls closer to the latter.

When first announced, THE THEATRE BIZARRE (you know they are serious because they use the European spelling of theater) sounded promising as hell. The producers said 6 directors (7 if you include the wraparound) would be given free reign to create a short film inspired by Paris’ legendary gore-infused Grand Guignol theatrical group. “They must deliver a short film of 10-20 minutes inspired by the term ‘Grand Guignol.’ No other creative restrictions exist. We’re expecting great things from six of modern horror’s most distinctive writers and directors,” said producer Daryl Tucker in 2010.  Damn, maybe they should have imposed a few restrictions like – I don’t know – telling an interesting story?

The film kicks off with a wraparound segment directed by Jeremy Kasten that starts with SE7EN (1995) style credits (are we still aping that in 2011?).  A young girl (Virginia Newcomb) is scribbling on the wall in her apartment when she notices a theater outside her window.  You can tell she is disturbed because there is a shot of a creepy doll in her apartment (sigh). Anyway, she heads into the empty theater to be entertained by a wind up toy-human hybrid (Udo Kier) onstage. With his toy-human marionettes, he goes about introducing each story. Well, really Kier just mumbles something vague and we cut to each segment.  The stories unfold as follows:

THE MOTHER OF TOADS (D: Richard Stanley) focuses on a couple (Shane Woodward and Victoria Maurette) vacationing in France who encounter a mysterious woman (Catriona MacColl) in a town market.  She lures the young man to her cottage in the nearby mountains with a promise of showing him the real Necronomicon.  Turns out she is really the Mother of Toads and uses an elixir to make him think she is beautiful so they can do it froggy style.  Eventually his girlfriend comes looking for him.  As the title suggests, this is heavily inspired by the “Three Mothers” trilogy by Dario Argento, with some Lucio Fulci thrown in too (look for the Eibon symbol cameo).  This segment is nicely shot with some good spooky location shooting.  The music, by Stanley regular Simon Boswell, is also really good.  Unfortunately, the story really lacks any punch.  I didn’t know it at the time of my initial viewing, but this would be the best the film has to offer.

I LOVE YOU (D: Buddy Giovinazzo) showcases the end of the relationship of paranoid Axel (André Hennicke) and his wife Mo (Suzan Anbeh) in their apartment in Berlin.  He wakes up covered in blood and then has flashbacks to where she confesses to cheating on him at every opportunity and that she is planning on leaving him.  Gee, I wonder how this one is going to end.  This entry is almost completely pointless and you'll figure it out way before Buddy G. hopes you will. Hennicke is an interesting actor though and his performance is good.

WET DREAMS (D: Tom Savini) has Donnie (James Gill) visiting a shrink (Savini) to talk about his horrible dreams of his wife (Debbie Rochon) chopping off his penis.  Of course, he is also having an affair with the shrink's wife.  This one is overly convoluted with too much dream-within-a-dream shenanigans on display.  However, this does succeed in at least the Grand Guignol aspect as a woman has her arms and legs torn from her torso while stretch out on a rack.  Other than that moment, not much is going on here.  Gill is spectacularly awful as the lead (his maniacal laughs in the end are hilarious).

THE ACCIDENT (D: Douglas Buck) is the shortest of the bunch and centers on a young girl asking her mom about death after they come upon the scene of a motorcycle accident on a back country road.  This is the artiest and most poetic of the bunch, leaving me scratching my head as to what it is doing here. I mean, I liked this one but it seems more appropriate for a Atom Egoyan wannabe festival.

VISION STAINS (D: Karim Hussain) has a young homeless girl (Kaniehtiio Horn) kill a bunch of down on their luck women. Why?  Because she has found that by removing fluid from their eye at the moment of death and injecting it into her own, she can see their lives and write down their stories to give them a voice.  Easier than just interviewing them I guess?  This has perhaps the best idea of any of the segments, but Hussain ruins it by not really fleshing it out. He also opts for a truly laughable ending.  No joke, the girl’s voice over says something along the lines of "now that I have lost my sight, I can truly see." *slaps forehead*

SWEETS (D: David Gregory) has love struck Greg (Guilford Adams) upset that his honey bun Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) wants to end their relationship.  He loved that she was plumping him up on sugary foods, not knowing she belongs to a group that likes to feast on guys like him.  The gross out factor is high here and the body dismemberment in the end is Grand Guignol worthy.  It is well shot with good performances and cult actress Lynn Lowry has a small role.  However, you'll figure it out within seconds since it is basically a Brothers Grimm fairy tale wannabe., subtle
With all the stories wrapped up, we then cut back to the theater as the presentation ends and – shock of shocks – the girl in the audience has now morphed into the new storyteller. I seriously wonder how the hell something like that gets funded.  Like, if you are doing an anthology, wouldn't you want the stories to be top notch attention grabbers? Outside of the Stanley segment, these all seems like ideas the directors had halfway scratched out on a piece of torn paper. Zero attention is given to presenting a clever story or twist in most of the segments.  It is like the producers felt it would just succeed by having something shocking/gross happen in each segment and the rest would just mesh on the reputations of the filmmakers contributing.  Sure, that’ll get you applause at some place like Fantasia, but its just not working here.  Is it as bad as something like GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS DEADTIME STORIES?  No.  But it is pretty darn close.  I'd recommend only the Stanley and Buck segments.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' Otroligt Jättebra Viewings for May 2012

No two ways about it. May was serious cinema crunch time, wading knee-deep in an onslaught of awesome Scandanavian movies. No joke, a total of 21 out of the 32 films viewed were from either Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, even Iceland and Finland. Unlike Russia, Sweden and their frosty bretheren are (for the most part) uninterested in producing bastardized Hollywood films and it makes for some really riveting cinema. Here are the highlights from this round. [edit: For the nitpickers, I realize that The Netherlands is not really part of Scandinavia, but their films and attitudes have a lot more in common with Scandinavian films than Germany or France - fair enough?]

EXECUTIVE PROTECTION (2001): Anders Nilsson's gripping sequel to Johan Falk's first outing ZERO TOLERANCE (1999), again starring Jakob Eklund as Sweden's coolest cop. Here we get an expansion of the story arc set up in the first film and it is a real corker. Falk quits the police force after being assigned to a desk job and decides to go to work for an old colleague who is running a securities firm. The firm has been hired by a Swedish company who is being threatened with a very hostile take-over by German terrorists who have been buying up Swedish companies and using them for laundering huge sums of cash. This is the second of the Three Waves of modern terrorism and when I first read the plot synopsis on the IMDb, I thought "how could this possibly be entertaining?" Oh man, was I wrong. Not only is it massively entertaining with tons of suspense, chases, shoot-outs, cool high-tech gadgets and great acting, but it's probably one of the most entertaining action thrillers I've seen in decades. The only thing better than this is final sequel in the trilogy, THE THIRD WAVE (2003). A big thanks goes out to Fred over at Ninja Dixon for suggesting Nilsson's recent efforts. I loved his old stuff, but I never would have guessed that he would make films this great.

THE THIRD WAVE (2003): Anders Nilsson and Jakob Eklund return in this pulse-pounding final chapter (well, at least until the 2009 GSI series). After all the troubles in the first two films, Falk has been out of work for two years and is thinking maybe a simple life in the country is the way to go. Since this is Johan Falk, you know that's not going to happen! After being coerced into have a meeting with his former boss, who is now the head of a European anti-terrorist task force, Falk finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time (though this time it's not because his girlfriend was hungry). Caught in the middle of a firefight in Holland's red-light district, he ends up saving a woman who knows way too much about a massively complicated international terrorist plot for the procurement of missiles. Not only is Nilsson's direction perfectly on point, but his collaboration with writer Joakim Hansson is at a pinnacle here. A gritty, real-world plot, excellently orchestrated action and some exceptionally clever twists, particularly during the finale in Munich, that amazingly in the 10 years since this was made, has never been ripped off by imitators. Definitely one of the best films I've seen this year and quite possibly one of the best action-thrillers ever.

MEN WHO HATE WOMEN (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, 2009): Yes, I finally got around to seeing this, prompted by some nudges from Will, the plethora of Swedish actors, the fact that it is completely unavoidable if talking about Scandanavian cinema, books or even just thrillers. That and the fact that NetFlix now offers the full-length, uncut versions with English subtitles for instant viewing. I'm not sure how they managed to cut over a half an hour to make the movie versions, but it must be some really tight editing! In case you have been living under a rock (or just have been ignoring the hype), aside from all of the window dressing involving rape, tattoos, piercings, bi-sexuality, and the politics of running a magazine with journalistic integrity, it is essentially a straight up Scandinavian murder mystery about a missing daughter and a serial killer who has been at large for half a century. It's a pretty good mystery at heart, but in the pantheon Scandinavian mystery thrillers, it's not exactly best in class. The cast (including a post-BECK Peter Haber) is great and best of all, sports ZERO TOLERANCE's Peter Andersson being sleazy as hell and looking disturbingly like Richard Harrison with that little mustache.

MURDER IN ECSTASY(1984): If you are looking for old-school detective yarns with a smidgen of updating, then this Dutch adaptation of A.C. Baantjer's 1982 entry in his series of 70 (yes, seventy) "De Cock" detective novels, is for you. "De Cock" is Dutch for "The Cook" which was amusingly changed to "DeKok" for US editions of the books. Inspector De Cock ("that's C-O-C-K" he says) finds himself investigating an armored car robbery in which one of the perps clearly got greedy and killed all of his accomplices and witnesses, except one. That one witness, the armored car driver, is sure of one thing: the robber-turned-killer was his boss! Things get complicated from there with homicidal junkies, over-sexed models, hospital assassinations, bodies in junkyards, hot headed police chiefs, drinking on the job and all the stuff that makes old-school crime fun. The disillusioned De Cock (Joop Doderer)is of the old guard and feels like his city was a playground for cops and criminals, and is now is just a violent jungle. When his young partner asks him why he doesn't carry a gun, he says "Two reasons: Because I use my brain, and because I'm not in America." If you want your cops to be under 30 (or at least pretending to be), wearing skinny suits with bed head haircuts and flashy cell phones, don't come knocking in this neighborhood. We've got gritty atmosphere, dry humor, real car stunts and girls who haven't known the indignity of a plastic surgeon. You wouldn't like that.

JAR CITY (2006): Quiet, brooding adaptation of Arnaldur Indriðason's series of Icelandic detective novels, from witer-director Baltasar Kormákur, who is currently (groan)working on an English language remake. Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson stars as Inspector Erlunder, a somewhat depressed (he is Icelandic after all) cop who is something of an expert when it comes to missing persons, and quite the opposite when it comes to non-missing ones. JAR CITY is really difficult to synopsize as Indriðason's novels are a latticework of converging plot lines from different eras. Here Erlunder tries to figure out how two dead children, 30 years apart are connected and what, if any,relevance a murdered man in a squalid apartment has. The only thing that makes him think he is on the right track is the reluctance of anyone in a small town to talk about any of these things. Stunning cinematography and a deliberately unhurried pace landed this squarely in the art-house market with plenty of awards to its credit. Don't let that put you off though, in addition to the unusually complex plot, the acting is excellent (in that subdued Scandinavian fashion) and the Icelandic scenery is amazingly grim. Also, I found a lot of entertainment value out of seeing someone order a half of a boiled sheep's head at what appeared to be a burger-joint drive-through. I can't imagine what banality will replace this in the US remake. Pizza with anchovies, I guess.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008): Thanks to Will's nudging, I finally got around to seeing this outstanding, laconic chiller. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a young, frequently bullied boy with some repressed anger issues is befriended by a young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is, unbeknownst to him, a very old vampire looking to replace her current human protector. The subtle manipulation of Oskar, who is the product of a failed marriage between a hysterical mother and an alcoholic father, is so delicately laid out and unfolded, that some viewers have, like Oskar, been left feeling as if this relationship is nothing more than true love. Writer John Ajvide Lindqvist (who adapted his own novel) manages to make something moody, dark and visually arresting without an ounce of pretension and is completely in sync with director Tomas Alfredson who is in no hurry to tell his story, but never makes the film feel slow. The acting is excellent on all counts, particularly considering the age of the leads. I can't really think of a single thing to nitpick, except maybe that the swimming pool scene at the end was maybe a bit unnecessary. Yeah, you heard it, I said that maybe it didn't need a gory finale. Either way, it is without a doubt one of the best horror films I've seen in a very long time. A horror film from Sweden, no less!

HEADHUNTERS (2011): Great Norwegian thriller that takes a long time to work up a head of steam, but is well worth your patience. A slick corporate headhunter, Roger Brown(Aksel Hennie), obsesses over his diminutive height and steals fine art from his clients to pay for his lavish lifestyle and his rather tall wife's love. After finding out a recent transplant and head of a rival tech corporation is in possession of a priceless painting, he sets up the schmoe, Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), even after he discovers that this particular schmoe is really a lethal ex-special forces, former mercenary badass. The first 45 minutes is set-up for, mostly, the main character Roger Brown and while I'm not sure that the film really needs all of that exposition, it crams so many twists with a really clever sense of jet-black humor that all is forgiven after Brown discovers that he is suddenly on the endangered species list and a bloody cat and mouse chase leaves a trail of corpses all over the country. Very well crafted scenes and an excellent cast - particularly Eivind Sander as a securities guy who's idea of a good time is playing naked cops and robbers with real guns and a Russian prostitute. Oh and, yes, there has been talk of a completely unnecessary US remake with Mr. Funky Bunch, Mark Wahlberg expressing a lot of interest. It had to end on a down note, didn't it?

SLEEPWALKER (2000): This Swedish thriller is easily the best videocamera thriller ever made... well, at least for the first 80 minutes. Make that, best thriller ever. Seriously, I cannot think of the last time I was completely riveted to a thriller the way I was glued to this one. The outside world melted away and I was sucked into Ulrik Hansson's (Ralph Carlsson) nocturnal world of terror. A mild-mannered family man, Ulrik, is over stressed at work and resorts to knocking back prescription sleeping pills with red wine every night to get some sleep. One morning he wakes up, covered in blood and completely alone in the house. After finding out that the blood is not human, the police figure his wife took the kids and left him. Ulrik decides to keep taking the pills and wine, but this time straps a video camera to his shoulder to see what happens after he goes to sleep. Writer Johan Brännström creates a stunningly clever plot that twists and turns so many times that the viewer is constantly thinking and re-evaluating Ulrik's situation, trying to figure out what really happened to his family. The awful truth of the matter is that the film completely crashes and burns in the final 10 minutes. A gut-wrenching implosion with resolution that is pasted in from a completely different 70 year old US film. It is extremely disappointing since the first 80 minutes were so exceptionally good.

RARE EXPORTS (2010): I like a good, subversive Christmas movie. I don't really consider CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) to be subversive, yes, there are some funny parts, but it's still just as mainstream as A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984) is probably the classic example, even though half of the reason it's so subversive is that whipped the Christian extremist groups into a lather resulting in all manner of fallout (ummmm, did they not realize that Santa is freakin' pagan?). Maybe GREMLINS could be considered slightly subversive, but it still is mostly cute. RARE EXPORTS is a Finish film that walks on the lighter side, but is not afraid to get dark and creepy in between the laughs. It is the only film that I can think of that boldly claims that Santa Clause was in point of fact an ancient horned giant who would kidnap naughty children and eat their succulent flesh! This could have gone in so many directions, but writer-director Jalmari Helander is dead on target with this morbidly tongue-in-cheek tale in which geologists unearth the real Santa Clause, who has been trapped in a glacier mountain for centuries near a remote hunting village in Finland. After finding their reindeer slaughtered and some children go missing, the hunting community blames the scientists (yep, science is always ruining everything, including Christmas). Of course, the only person to really figure out the score is 8 year old Pietari (Onni Tommila). As fun and funny as the film is, there are some genuinely creepy moments that make it something that may not be any where near as extreme as SILENT NIGHT, but is definitely not going to garner the enthusiasm of the CHRISTMAS STORY crowd. Is the ending a tad anti-climactic? Maybe a little, but it's excellently acted, deftly written, lots of fun and it is going straight into my Christmas rotation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adrenaline Shot: COURIER OF DEATH (1984)

If you haven’t figured it out already, we’re big fans of regional flicks here on Video Junkie.  Be it action, horror or sci-fi (no low budget comedies or dramas, thanks), we’re always down for some lo-fi cinematic madness. Of course, this is probably why we hate ourselves in the morning as more often than not they end up sucking.  But every now and then you will pop in a flick that manages to push past its budget restraints and somehow entertain the hell out of you.  A perfect example is COURIER OF DEATH.  Made in Oregon by director Tom Shaw, this is the type of not-so-good action cinema that was produced on a budget that was probably 1/20 of the cost of craft services on AVATAR. But would I seriously watch this over some bloated James Cameron epic?  Every freakin’ day, my friend!

COURIER OF DEATH centers on top-notch deliveryman J.D. Blackman (Joey Johnson).  You know his life is hectic as the film opens with J.D. and his partner Frank in charge of delivering 7 million dollars and getting ambushed by some dudes who apparently all bought the same sweat suits outfits at Sears. To let you know what kind of movie COD is, the villains stand in plain sight when J.D. and Frank land at the airport and one of them is even on a walkie talkie right as the courier van zooms past them.  Luckily for them our couriers aren’t as observant as the bad guys are obvious and the sweatpants mob isn’t noticed until they start open firing on the road.  J.D. and Frank make it to wooded area and a firefight breaks out. Frank, who we barely got to know, buys it, but not before J.D. blasts a few dudes for good measure (Tom pointed out a particularly hilarious bit where a guy dives off a roof, but gently puts down his gun before falling off).  Despite the villain’s snatching the secure briefcase (by blasting off Frank’s hand), J.D. manages to get it back thanks to his cannon of a gun that is as big as his head.  Ah, such is the life of a courier.

You know what they say about men and their guns...

Back at home, J.D.’s wife Julie (Joan Becherich) is worried about her husband’s dangerous occupation and voices her concern to family friend Katie (Barbara Garrison).  After all, how will all this killing affect his family life with his young daughter Kat around?  I guess we’re about to find out as the courier service calls with a “priority one” for J.D. Damn, no time off after you blow away a dozen bad guys and watch your partner get killed?  Or is the courier service running that low?  Anyway, J.D. takes the job, which entails him taking a “priority four” to San Francisco and returning with a “priority one” from Reno.  Wow, I think he really might be the only dude on the payroll.  The bad news is crime boss Bigelow (John H. Schmeer, also the film’s DP) finds out about this and has his goon Carver (Mel Fletcher) kidnap the courier service secretary Nancy (Diana Bauer) to get the where and when info. For good measure they also kidnap Julie so when J.D. arrives for the “priority one” delivery, they can use her as a hostage to get him to hand over the briefcase.  Once they have the delivery, the bad guys shoot and kill Julie on the spot.  Man, J.D. has had a rough couple of days on the job!

Sweatsuit Team...Activate!
No doubt hoping to relax, J.D. is at home with Katie when he gets a call from Colonel Johnson, his old boss from ‘Nam, with instructions to meet him in an hour.  Seems the contents stolen were $76 million dollars in bonds that the bad guys are using to fund their fascist army.  That’ll buy you a lot of sweat pants.  Johnson wants J.D. to track down the leaders and eliminate them, with full protection from the governor’s office, of course. Johnson hands over some incredibly detailed files with the name of every person involved in the organization.  Haha, just kidding.  He gives J.D. four black & white Polaroids and says they believe one of these men is the ringleader.  Uh, thanks?  Luckily, J.D. knows how to find bad guys and, with Katie tagging along, hits all the seedy bars in town.  He quickly finds one guy, whose name we are never privy to, at a strip club.  Apparently he is the type of law breaker who’s never heard of sticks and stones as he says, “You don’t come into my part of town and call me names.” When he doesn’t give J.D. the info he wants, our hero blows away the guy and his two henchmen in front of everyone (“Wrong answer, dude!”). Damn, J.D. is certainly taking advantage of that “no prosecution for bad deeds” deal.

Somehow this encounter leads J.D. to the house where Nancy is being held hostage.  After freeing her from some more guys in sweats, she tells him that he needs to get Hayden.  J.D. quickly locates this guy in a bar and proceeds to beat the crap out of him before Hayden says J.D. should locate an unnamed man in Ocean City.  Good deal, J.D. will let you live.  Oh, that is until Hayden bursts from the bar with a gun and J.D. shoots him in the crotch.  The next day J.D. gets ready to fly to Ocean City with his pilot buddy (director Shaw, who uses his own plane in the film).  The Colonel gives him another B&W picture and says, “This lady’s a direct link to the top man. Our intelligence indicates he’s one of these three.”  Wait a sec…first the Colonel gives him four photos and J.D. kills one of the guys.  Then the Colonel says his intelligence says it now one of these three men?  Man the only thing worse than this Colonel’s “intelligence” is J.D.’s perception skills.  Anyway, J.D. meets up with this chick Angel (Amy Sachel) and she proceeds to kick him in the balls a few times before J.D. kills her by inadvertently making her drink some poison champagne she had set aside for him. Jeez, am I still summarizing this movie?  Okay, I’ll speed it up.  J.D. gets the bonds back from Bigelow, who quickly dies of heart attack; J.D. contacts the Colonel and finds out he was using J.D. to get the bonds (shocker!) and the Colonel and the bonds are blown up in a car due to the briefcase being loaded with a bomb; finally, J.D. and grudge holding henchman Carver have a big ol’ fight on a mountain and J.D. wins.  But not before an innocent family gets held hostage and shot.  Damn, seems like J.D.’s luck is rubbing off on folks.

Okay, where do I start with a movie like this? I guess the lead is probably the best place. Joey Johnson as an action lead is quite amusing. He is about 5’2” on a good day and looks like the lovechild of comedian Paul Rodriguez and Alex Winter.  Not only does he not encapsulate the 80s standard for action heroes (think Stallone or Schwarzenegger), but he also doesn’t get it on with the ladies.  You read that right – he does not try to seduce the leading lady.  I’m thankful for that because 1) I didn’t really want to see him in a lovemaking scene and 2) it gave audiences this glorious dialogue exchange when J.D. says he is going to take a shower.

Katie: “Can I join you?”
J.D.: “I’m not ready for that yet, but when 
            I am you’ll be the first one to know.”

I haven’t laughed that hard since Leo Fong turned down the advances of a topless Playboy Playmate in one of his flicks. day...ever!!!
Yes, the dialogue and wonky staging are integral to this movie’s entertainment factor.  For example, when J.D. confronts the femme fatale Angel, she asks if he would hurt a woman and he responds, “I don’t see one.  All I see is a (dramatic pause) greedy slut.” When she gets the upper hand, she says, “I’ll kick both your eyes out!”  Damn, both?  This chick is hardcore.  The film’s finale also encapsulates the zaniness on display.  Carver chases J.D. onto a bridge that leads to an island.  Instead of giving chase, Carver says, “That island’s a dead end. I’ll be right here in the morning.” He then proceeds to plop down and fall asleep before we show it is dawn.  So he wasn’t worried J.D. might pull some sneaky move like step over his snoring body?  And then we have that poor family that just happens to wander into the middle of a fight between two government trained assassins.  Not only does the little girl get held hostage, but Dad takes a bullet in the leg and mom has to help kill the villain by beating him with a stick until he falls onto a knife J.D. is holding.  This poor family is regretting they said, “Today would be a great day for a picnic!” Of course, this is what makes the film so damn entertaining.  It is never boring and you can always enjoy some crazy ass dialogue and action bits.  Simply put – the COURIER OF DEATH delivers (ah, boo yourself)!