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!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: NINJA'S SHADOW (1993)

This has been a surprisingly uneven, roller-coaster ride of a trip through twelve EXTRA LARGE movies, but we have finally arrived at the final entry in the final series. There were laughs, there were tears (seriously I'm traumatized by the sight of a Native American now), and there were amazing displays of very expensive dentistry. Now we've reached the episode that I've been waiting all of my life for. Bud Spencer vs. Ninjas. Seriously, I ask you, how could you possibly fuck that up? Well, I'll tell you.

Jack spends a lot of time at Harry's Place (I feel sad for the owners of The Blue Monkey) blowin' the sax, so you know what that means. Peeps are gonna get jacked! First a guy in a three piece suit in a mechanic's shop in the dead of night (yeah, I don't know either) is attacked and killed. The news hits the front page of the paper complete with a police composite sketch of the assailant: a ninja! Of course, this can only mean one thing. It is the perfect time for Jack and Sam to take a fishing trip! Their vacation takes place on a small boat, in a small, overgrown river with a portable radio. These guys know how to live! Meanwhile, a second brutal killing takes place, this time the sleazy owner of a strip club (is that redundant?). Jack and Sam hear the news on the radio to a rousing chorus of "meh", which is understandable as that must be a daily occurrence in Miami. Besides they are gone fishin' (sic), and like all good Americans, they are not going to let minor trivialities like "unsolved ninja murders" get in the way of their good time.

To ensure we couldn't heckle their newspaper mock-up
in this episode, they made sure not to do a close up. Bastards.

Dumas gets an urgent call from Senator Robbins (Günther Maria Halmer) who feels his life is in danger and it's imperative that Dumas drop his dinner date with Maria and run over to his mansion immediately! So great is the emergency that Dumas finds the senator casually sipping a cocktail and relaxing in his living room. Of course this is the perfect time for a ninja attack! During the poorly orchestrated attack (the ninja simply walks into the living room), Dumas grabs the senator's gun and empties it without seeming to scratch the shadow warrior. In the fracas Dumas sprains his shoulder and tells the media that it was an official case from the Dumas Detective Agency. After this makes the news, that tears it! Fishing trip over! It is now imperative that Jack and Sam get involved.

As it turns out, the ninja is a Vietnamese guy (!) who is seriously pissed off about decades old war crimes in a small Vietnamese village led by then Colonel Robbins. Robbins not only turned the village into a hub of prostitution, drugs and murder, but he also raped and kidnapped the girl who became his wife Syu (Penthouse Pet of January 1981, Suzee Pai, best remembered for playing "a whole girl" in 1986s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). Syu tracks down Jack (it's not hard, she follows him home from the club) and spills the adzuki beans on the ninja plot while walking braless in a white blouse on a windy day. This is a good thing because it distracts from the fact that Pai really isn't much of an actress and the long, dreary emotional dialogue scenes with her are almost enough to make me want to commit seppuku with a rusty butterkinfe.

Actually, I take that back, the most unbearable stretch of murine-enhanced dialogue comes from Pat Morita, who enters the drag-on episode at the 70 minute mark as the unnamed Japanese ninja father of the revenging Vietnamese ninja. Yes, Pat Morita is supposed to be a ninja. Confused? Morita will clear things up. Except it will take five solid minutes of long winded, drawn-out, tear-stained talking-head cinema for this to happen of course and by the end of it, you absolutely will not care. That Morita's only scenes contain not even so much as a ninja outfit is just soy sauce on the wound. In addition to this plot to kill all of the ex-soldiers who committed these crimes under Robbins' command (who, 25 years later, all conveniently live in Florida), Jack and Dumas begin to suspect that Robbins might be manipulating them into cleaning up his mess. Ain't that just like a senator?

As if the lethargic pace and the mostly lackluster ninja action weren't bad enough, Jack's grudging acceptance of Dumas has oddly become outright animosity in this entry. If you have a garage band playing a sloppy cover of a classic tune, many may not notice an off note, but everyone will notice if that off note is played when accompanied by utter silence. If there had been lots of action and the jokes were flying fast and furious as in "Diamonds" I don't think I would have noticed Jack's curmudgeonly behavior taking on a rather acrimonious hue. How exactly did this come to be? There is only one answer. You hire Marco Barboni (son of the great Enzo Barboni) to write the script.

Barboni wrote several things for Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, none of which rank in their best efforts. He also was responsible for the ploddingly dull "Cannonball" and even worse, my most deeply loathed of all of Bud Spencer's work, SPEAKING OF THE DEVIL (1991, aka A CHILD IN PARADISE). Fortunately this is nowhere near as wrist-slittingly saccharine as that film, and to be fair, none of his other work is either. I actually did enjoy Hill's solo outing RENEGADE (1987), but I kind of attribute that to the fact that his father directed it and three other people share credit with the screenplay.

"Ninja's Shadow" is the kind of episode where you start grasping at straws for moments of entertainment. My favorite bit is in the beginning when Jack is about to get on his boat, he shakes a stern finger at Dumas and tells him "don't you touch my baked beans!" This being a reference to Spencer's many Western roles in which his characters would never be too far from a skillet of saucy legumes. Also, I liked that the ninja calculated that the best way to terrorize and subsequently kill the strip club owner is to go down into the basement kitchen (yes, the strip-club has a large professional kitchen, presumably for weddings or baby showers) and roughly chop vegetables with his sword until the guy arrives. Damn, I thought being a ninja would be hard! Stand in a basement kitchen for hours chopping vegetables? I've done that (thank you Chef Hix), so therefore I could be a ninja! Awesome. There are a couple of decently choreographed fight scenes involving the ninja and actor/stuntman Jeff Moldovan, who has worked for everyone from the Italians to Cannon to Full Moon, but they are nothing to get excited about. My dreams of seeing Bud Spencer attacked by a horde of ninjas were shattered. I'm not sure if I'll ever be the same... today.

Seems a shame to be ending our coverage of both series' on such a down note. We've had a lot of fun doing it and while on paper the lows seemed to outnumber the highs, we have seen a lot worse. Except "Indians". Maybe one day we will tackle Spencer's first series "Il Professore" (aka "Big Man"), but first Will will need to go through several intense therapy sessions before Bud Spencer will be able to smack him around again. Until then I may have to revisit the FLATFOOT (1973-1980) series, and maybe BUDDY GOES WEST (1981), CAT AND DOG (1983), or maybe I'll finally get around to watching his straight-faced crime flick BLACK TORINO (1972)!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: GONZALES' REVENGE (1993)

Every crime/detective show needs to have a least one “boomerang” episode.  You know, the one that goes back to an earlier episode and brings back a worthy adversary.  With only two episodes left in our coverage (and twelve episodes total), it seemed like we might never get that chance, but a glance at this episode’s title will let you know that moment is finally here. As the tagline for POLTERGEIST II (1986) said, “They’re back!”

Yup, those pearly whites are back to challenge your TV set’s color balance as Erik Estrada returns in the role of Dominique Gonzales, the Miami crime lord last seen being locked up by Jack Costello and District Attorney Winnie Vance (Nancy Duerr) at the end of “Cannonball” in season one.  Damn, so apparently Tom and I somehow invent a time machine in the future and go back to the early ‘90s to start a massive letter writing campaign for his return.  That is the only possible explanation for his comeback.

Erik Estrada reacts to the news of his return:

You had one job, fake newspaper maker...
It turns out this episode is going to call back to just about every relationship built over the course of the series.  It begins with Costello having drinks with Winnie and Dumas. She lets them know that she will soon be running for Governor of the fine state of Florida.  Jack and Winnie have always had kind of a love/hate relationship, but the emphasis definitely seems to be on the former now as he and Dumas show up for a televised debate between Winnie and current Governor Johnson.  It is heated with Winnie shutting the Governor’s accusation down that she allowed drug dealers to run rampant in Miami by saying, “Say what you want, Governor. But I don’t think thhhhey [nods toward audience] are going to buy it.”  It’s a burn so cruel that the Governor actually purses his lips.  And apparently “they” don’t buy it as the crowd erupts in “ooohs” and “aaahs” with Dumas going as far as to do the Arsenio Hall fist pump.  Post-debate, the Governor gets in Winnie’s face and Jack lays the smack down even further by saying, “Governor, men like you should be eliminated from politics in this city. It’s about time somebody took you out.”  This actually causes the Governor to physically lunge at Jack to start a fight.  Is this guy really a politician from Greece?

Watching the televised debate from the comfort of his cell is Gonzales.  No joke, I say comfort literally as he smokes fine cigars, drinks even finer wine and gets delivered huge trays of fruit.  Despite living the high life, Gonzales has revenge on his mind and it is a three part plan. The first part kicks off later that evening as Winnie is rundown by a car.  Jack finds out at Harry’s Place after his latest saxophone set and he, Dumas and Lt. Bosely rush to see her in the hospital. The second part involves a double of Jack Costello heading to the Governor’s mansion and shooting the hotheaded politico.  You see, Jack’s “it’s about time somebody took you out” verbal jab at the Gov made the front page of the papers. Of course, Jack meant taken out of office, so, yes, a major plot point will hinge on Jack’s broken English.  The third and final part of Gonzales’ plan involves his own escape from prison.  With a few palms greased, he makes it to the rooftop and jumps down into a waiting truck that houses not only his henchmen, but a bunch of bottles of champagne and Gonzales’ lady.  Dude has style; you have to give him that.

Jack arrives back at his apartment and finds Maria pissed at him because he keeps going in and out.  What he doesn’t know is his double, Kamp (Ronald Russell, who is actually Spencer’s stunt double throughout the series), is upstairs and switching out the parts of Jack’s gun with the gun used to make Governor Johnson into a dangling chad.  The next morning Jack wakes up with the S.W.A.T. team led by Lt. Martin (Robert Deacon) surrounding his bed.  Yup, he is arrested for the attempted murder and Extra Large soon finds himself in tiny cell with two cons that Gonzales paid to wipe him out.  Of course, that is no problem for him as he beats them down easily.  To further establish how bad he whooped their asses, Jack takes their food in the cafeteria the next day.  Have you ever seen such cruelty?  Meanwhile, Dumas is finally given a chance to show his burgeoning detective skills as he starts to look for the Jack imposter.  His abilities might need some work though as 99% of his investigative work involves driving to junkyards and bribing a young black kid for info. Can he find the real shooter before Gonzales begins flooding the streets with drugs again and before Extra Large starts doing extra hard time?

Following the excellent “Diamonds” can be a pretty tall order, but “Gonzales’ Revenge” is another great entry in the second season.  Naturally, a lot of this has to do with the return of our favorite villain from season one.  Estrada is having a ball here and gives a decidedly over-the-top performance, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Coming off like Tony Montana minus the accent, Estrada doesn’t let a since scene pass without doing something outlandish (and flashing his teeth).  You’d think he was being paid per maniacal laugh.  The end has him blowing up in a huge fireball, but you know the producers weren’t going to let that happen so there is a scene showing that he survived (how is never explained) and recaptured by Jack for more prison time.  Had this series continued, I’m sure we would have seen his incisors again.

The episode also pays dividends to folks watching the entire series.  It is nice to see expansion with the Winnie character with the natural continuation of her life following the results of her arresting of Gonzales.  And the writers even finally have the payoff with the supporting character of Lt. Martin. A constant thorn in Jack’s side, Martin would show up every now and then to deny Jack something and generally always be pissed.  So it is nice they took the time to bring him back and finally be given his just desserts, which – shocker! – involved Costello knocking him unconscious.  Now purists will still have questions (Tom: “I want to know what happened to the Dirty Harry impersonator, dammit!”) but it was nice of the filmmakers to call back to earlier events and not just do the typical “insert random character” routine.

That is not to say this episode doesn’t have its flaws.  As a prison film aficionado, it is sad that Jack’s time there is brief.  Even worse, he doesn’t get out through some clever plan.  He is just released into Sam Bosley’s custody.  At least that is what the viewer is left to assume as it is never fully explained. Also, the doppelganger plot is a fun twist but it is kind of rough to believe that the Governor would think a guy who is a lot younger than Costello, a tad slimmer, and sounds absolutely nothing like him would be the same guy.  What, all fat bearded guys look a like to you?  Then again, maybe it was just really dark…and he didn’t have his contacts in…and he had cotton stuffed in his ears. Finally, I was disappointed that Dumas never did any real case cracking.  It is obvious this subplot was just to introduce the new black kid – the writers don’t even bother to give him a name – as maybe a recurring character down the road.  What?  Little Tyson isn’t good enough to assist Dumas?  It’s a missed opportunity, but we’ve come to expect those every once and a while when dealing with EXTRA LARGE.

Monday, February 24, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: DIAMONDS (1993)

We've been on a rough streak with some less than stellar outings that have not only missed the boat, but slept through the wake-up call. Stories that tried to make Jack Costello everything but a Bud Spencer character. Today that all changes. Suddenly I've discovered what the Winter of our discontent was made glorious by... "Diamonds"! Shirley Bassey was right. They are, in fact, all I need to please me.

A money laundering agent for the Cuban mafia, Edward Pestor (Roger Pretto), decides he wants out of the life that has made him wealthy and take his daughter to live in Europe. In order to achieve this goal, he takes a massive cashe of uncut diamonds that were supposed to be exchanged for dirty money and decides to keep them, sending them back to the syndicate one by one every year that he's alive. Needless to say, the syndicate thinks this is a pretty lousy deal.

Meanwhile Dumas feels he is unappreciated by Costello and decides to go into the P.I. biz on his own, renting the apartment across from Jack's and even hiring a hot secretary (Jill Whitlow of the 1986 classic NIGHT OF THE CREEPS). He even sets up several signs advertising this fact including a giant "Dumas and Dumas" sign that covers the front of the building.

While making his plans, Pestor puts all the diamonds in a case and keeps it in the bank with the instructions that if he is to die, the diamonds are to be given to charity (who will then presumably all be arrested for receiving stolen goods). His brilliant plan, which included him telling everyone in the syndicate his brilliant plan, goes wildly awry when a group of incompetent bank robbers (disguised as Bush, Gorbachev and Castro) pick the wrong day to hold up the bank. The shipment of cash has just gone out and the only thing in the safe is Pestor's case of diamonds. On the way out, they take Dumas as a hostage and discover his newly minted detective agency card.

Suddenly the robbers find out that their multi-million dollar pay day is a death sentence as both the cops and the mob want that case and the local fence (Buffy Dee of classics like MURPH THE SURF and NIGHTMARE BEACH) won't touch it with a ten-inch magnum.

Things get even more complicated when Pestor tries to hire Jack to find his case that has "sentimental value" and the robbers decide to put the case in Dumas' unwitting hands with a phony story that it's an inheritance for one Washington Brown. Naturally Dumas (or as the robbers accidentally call him "Dum-ass") finds a Washington Brown, leading to another genuinely funny subplot with an elderly janitor who flips his boss the bird on his way out.

I am honestly flabbergasted that this was made by the same people who were responsible for the previous drudgery. "Al" Capone hasn't shown a lick of flair in the direction department and Rosario Galli wrote the one of the worst things I've ever seen Bud Spencer appear in (aside from maybe the 1991 agonizing Christian propaganda kiddie flick SPEAKING OF THE DEVIL). Since there are four credited writers, aside from Galli, including Claudio Bonivento (normally a producer), Giuseppe Pedersoli (who doesn't seem to understand what makes his old man famous) and Bud Spencer himself, I can only come up with one conclusion. That Spencer burst into the writing room and bashed them all on the head with a fistful of Donald E. Westlake novels and locked Galli in the closet.

As evidence of this drastic turn, there are even jokes that are scripted to make use of Michael Winslow's talents! You'd think this would be a given, but not until now have they had that V-8 moment. In scene we have a bit in which he talks to his secretary via an intercom. The camera cuts to a wide shot to show the two a stone's throw away with Winslow disguising his voice to sound like an intercom. It is one of the many quick, funny gags that should have been the hallmark of this second series and hasn't been up till now. Matter of fact this is so far the only episode to allow Winslow to do much of anything and he actually is quite funny in the scenes that he's in. His little rivalry with Jack is an entertaining showcase for his none-too-subtle shtick and matching wardrobe.

In addition to the script hitting the nail on the head, someone seems to have injected some life into Capone as well. He shows some excellent, creative shot composition and shoots the action scenes at the correct angles so you can actually see the action! Sounds simple, but it's been a hard lesson for Al. Even the editing is excellently maneuvered. Larger scenes are broken up with cut-aways to funny little gags. For instance while the robbers are fleeing the cops in an armored car, we have a cut away to Costello coming home with a bag of groceries and casually squirting ketchup over is shoulder all of a "Dumas and Dumas" sign.

Not only that, but the lack of stars has been rectified here with a plethora of great character actors in addition to the aforementioned Jill Whitlow and Buffy Dee, we have Glenn Scherer (of Bill Rebane's 1975 RANA: THE LEGEND OF SHADOW LAKE), stuntman Dennis Deveaugh as a thug who doesn't like children, Ulrich Mühe (of pretty much every movie ever made in Germany), Alfie Wise (from damn near every Burt Reynolds movie of the '70s and '80s) and Luke Halpin (of 1977s SHOCKWAVES and star of the iconic 1964 show "Flipper"). Did I miss anyone? I'm sure I did, but don't hold it against me, there is only so much awesomeness that I can absorb in one sitting. I'm a man, flesh and blood!

Hopefully we've crested the hump and can look forward to the final two hotly anticipated final episodes being even half as much fun as this one. I mean, you can't go wrong with Ninjas and CHiPs, which incidentally is my new favorite bar snack.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: CONDOR MISSION (1993)

“It appears the producers took their down time between seasons to evaluate what their target audience really wanted out of a Bud Spencer TV series – namely action and comedy.” – William S. Wilson, Feb. 17, 2014

Ah, the good old days of enthusiasm, naiveté, and youth.  A lot can change in 5 days.  Did I say that the producers of the EXTRA LARGE series had figured out the formula for a Bud Spencer TV series?  I was just fooling myself, it seems.  To be honest, the signs were all there.  Why, for example, was almost 90% of the action featured in the opening credits from the “Lord of the Sun” episode?  I didn’t want to admit that they might do this to me again.  But after they buried my heart at Wounded Knee-to-the-groin with the “Indians” episode, I knew I had to be on my toes.  The bad news?  They decided to step on them.

Every serious detective TV series has to have a certain number of staple episodes.  The most commonly seen one is the variation of “someone from our main character’s past comes back” plot.  Just how did our lead become so angry/bitter/caustic/deadened etc. and how did they reach this point in their life?  Not only is it seemingly a detective series requirement, but it also is the perfect avenue to open the character up a bit.  “Condor Mission” is our peek into the past of Jack “Extralarge” Costello.  The episode kicks off with Jack and Dumas the 2nd enjoying a relaxing day of fishing.  This is interrupted by a helicopter whose crew informs Jack that Lt. Bosely has been looking for him.  Why?  Some “VIPs from Washington” are looking for him.

Me finding out I didn't have to review the “Indians” episode:

Turns out that Jack’s old D.E.A. pal Col. Kurt Olsen (Klaus Peter Thiele) wants to recruit him for a mission.  In one of the series’ more emotional lines, Jack comments that since they last worked together that he is now “about 70 pounds heavier and a century older.”  Damn, hanging out with Maria and double Dumas sure takes its toll.  Olsen entices Jack with the lure of not only a $1 million dollar payday, but also the prospect of settling an old score. You see, 12 years ago Jack lost a partner while working against drug lord Rosario Partega (Ray Datz) in Cartagena, Colombia.  Not only did he lose his friend, but the agent’s wife went insane after finding out and Jack took that hard (as evidenced by flashbacks in black-and-white).  Man, Jack versus drug dealers in the jungle?  This is gonna be good…I think...I hope.

Jack opts to go it alone, much to the dismay of Dumas and Maria, who thinks he is seeing another woman.  He begins assembling his team of old pals by heading to a homeless encampment under a bridge and getting into a fight with Indian (special guest star Sonny Landham).  Apparently friends who haven’t seen each other always have a fist fight to catch up.  Also, it is apparently cool to let your old friends be homeless when you don't have a mission for them. Indian is pretty easy to persuade though as Jack just says, “You got a job now. $10,000 a day. Let’s go.”  The other team members include Frank (Jimmy Rogers), who just shows up randomly in Jack’s apartment, and Joe (Norman Maxwell), a bomb expert who Jack smuggles out of jail in a suitcase after greasing some palms.  The men settle down in a hotel suite to go over their plans when that pesky Dumas shows up like an overly attached puppy. Figuring he can’t get rid of him, Jack allows him to join the team and soon they are off to locate Ortega’s base of operations.  It is pretty easy actually as they put a gun to Ortega’s son’s neck and say, “Where is he?”

Soon this force of five is heading into the jungle under the guise of being Yale archaeologists.  They establish this by wearing khakis and bringing along microscopes.  Along the way they befriend Don Felipe (Ramon Cuevas), a priest who is delivering supplies to a nearby village.  When they discover the villagers killed by Partega’s men, it becomes even more personal (even though none of these guys knew these villagers).  It just establishes these are bad dudes.  Jack and his team commandeer a helicopter and soon they are flying to Partega’s headquarters (aka the biggest abandoned factory the production company could find).  Partega must have been paying on the cheap for his men as Jack and his guys stand outside the fence, lined up with guns drawn and not arouse any suspicion. Naturally, this results in a lot of explosions.

Following up “Indians” – the EXTRA LARGE episode Tom and I unanimously agree is the worst (so far) – may have been a blessing in disguise for this entry.  While this one might not live up to expectations, it was no “Indians.”  In fact, during a rather slow middle half, I kept repeating to myself, “At least it is not ‘Indians’…at least it is not ‘Indians.’”  To be honest, the biggest thrill I got from this episode was seeing Sonny Landham show up as the special guest star.  And what a showcase it was for the versatile actor.  Tom said it best: “It was nice to see Landham stretch his acting legs with the unique role of an American Indian with a rough demeanor who frequently wears army fatigues and cowboy hats.”  At the same time, the casting of Landham made me think of what a missed opportunity the rest of Jack’s team was.  I was hoping for some more washed up ‘80s actors or maybe some Italian staples.  Sadly, we got neither and were left with two regular guys who made as much emotional impact as the surprise twist at the end of the film. Yes, I’m sure you can figure it out from just reading my plot breakdown. It’s dumb and pedestrian, but then again we are dealing with a script where Jack finds out he was betrayed because Partega just happens to have a framed picture of himself and the traitor in his office. Yes, because drug czars love their turncoat BFFs enough to frame pictures of them.

“Condor Mission” (readers note: that title should be sung to the CONDORMAN theme) ends up playing more like an episode of THE A-TEAM, but with a more violent streak (spoiler: everyone on the team except Jack and Dumas gets shot to death). That is essentially the biggest issue with this episode – this could literally be any old TV show.  You could switch in any TV character from Kojak to Robocop and still get the same result. The one thing it isn’t is uniquely Bud Spencer.  Hell, he uses an Uzi instead of bopping villains on the head.  As Tom pointed out in our post-viewing summit, it is odd that Spencer’s son, Giuseppe Pedersoli, co-wrote this episode (in addition to co-producing the entire series) but seems to have no idea what makes his father popular among his film fans worldwide.  They don’t want to see him acting like Arnold; they want to see him acting like Bud.  So, yes, the aforementioned notion that I opened the review with that the producers had solidified the EXTRA LARGE foundation is not true and we're on shaky ground episode to episode.

That isn’t to say this is a terrible entry.  It has its moments and it is nice to get some background on the Costello character.  And, most importantly, it wasn’t “Indians” and actually delivered some good action scenes (including what may be the biggest explosion in EXTRA LARGE history).  So I can be thankful that it wasn’t “Indians.”  Now stay tuned for Tom’s review of the next episode “Diamonds,” which is co-written by Rosario Galli, who wrote “Indians.”  Haha, I win!   PS: Did I mention this was better than “Indians” yet?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: INDIANS (1993)

Now is the winter of our... oh wait, I used that line already. Yes, Christmas has come again to Miami proving with absolute certainty that we have no freakin' clue what order these episodes are in. It's not for a lack of looking that's for sure. Every single source we could find lists the episodes of both seasons in a different order. I can understand the Italians not getting it right ("eetsa buncha episodes, wadda ya want?"), but the Germans unable to keep things in order? What sort of ghastly thing could this lead to? A bit of trash on the street? A random unmown lawn? One shudders to think.

Not only is it Christmas, as evidenced by the radio playing yuletide tunes and Maria's Pomeranian now endowed with fuzzy antlers, but it's time for another birthday too! Dumas is wrapped up in conning a waifish model to pose for him in his bed while he paints her in cubist form. Suddenly Little Tyson calls him saying that he has a gun at his head and needs help quick. Turns out LT's plight is a Christmas birthday, but Jack being the awesome dude that he is, has a party for him complete with a cowboys and Indians theme. Unfortunately for Dumas II, Jack and LT have rigged the apartment with booby traps including an electrified door knob! Nothing says "funny" like "electrocution". Why am I telling you about this bit which has nothing to do with the rest of the episode? Because this is the best segment we are going to get. I can't believe we complained about "Cannonball" and "Black Magic".

The Mafia is not happy with taking their lumps in Atlantic City and are looking for a new venue for their law-scoffing pursuits. They've been trying to make headway into Miami but are continually being stymied by housewives and pensioners known as "baptists." I guess they don't have to feel so bad for losing out to Charles Bronson, Christopher Lambert and Ray Stevenson anymore. Hell, even Thomas Jane is a more worthy adversary than someone's mom in a floral print dress. In order to circumvent this issue, the surprisingly Teutonic president of the South Corporation and Mafioso, Clemente (the prolific Nikolas Lansky), has a plan to steal American Indian land and turn it into a mecca of gambling, prostitution and drug dealing. A Las Vegas of the South, if you will.

The only dirt in the Mafia's chamber is the big Indian Chief Thomas (Mark Madrid), who is sadly gifted with a soprano's voice and a demeanor that should lead to him having the Indian name Chief Slothful Field Mouse. This guy talks about the plight of the Native American, but is so high-pitched, whiny and generally sluggish that when he gets killed by a Mafia-paid dirty cop (Tony Bolano), it's more of a relief than anything else. Right before Thomas is killed he tries to get in contact with Jack who is too busy blowing the sax at his new favorite bar, Harry's Place (what was wrong with The Blue Monkey, I ask you?). I'm guessing Jack is not going to take this well.

Of course Thomas is an old friend and Jack knows for damn sure that Thomas isn't the violent type and he must uncover the truth, with or without the help of the cops. If you've seen any of these, you know it will be with the help of the cops in the end. Even though Jack has never been wrong before, Sam never seems to think he will ever be right again. Some friend.

This episode could have been an action-packed episode in which Jack and Dumas II take on the mob with fights and car-stunts galore. It could have done all that and carried a positive message about American Indians at the same time. Instead, writer Rosario Galli (who, thankfully, was only allowed to write this one episode solo) opts for a very long-winded, dramatic outing in which we get heavy-handed sub-plots including one about a Native American newswoman Laura (Cynthia Mallick) who is covering what appears to be a solid story about a corporate attempt to take over Indian lands. I say "appears to be" because nobody else at the station thinks it is remotely newsworthy. In addition to her producer telling her it's a complete waste of time before hitting on her, her boss has finally had enough and fires her after she attends Thomas' funeral and is accosted by South Corp's thugs. I kind of wonder if this some sort of meta-statement from Galli about the political games that no doubt take occur in the TV station workplace. On the other hand, if it is sort of an autobiographical catharsis for him, I think I might be on the side of the station manager because this script is awful. Not just awful, but embarrassingly bad.

First off Galli seems to want to re-invent Extralarge as some sort of grim angel of vengeance ala THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987). After a decade of hambone Bond outings, this was a welcome change. It's not for Bud. Why embarrassing? Wait till you get to the scene where Dumas II brings in a pair of clothing designers to make Jack a new tux for the Governor's party. These guys are so flamboyant that they make Siegfried and Roy seem like icons of butch machismo.

To be fair, I can't lay all of the blame at Galli's feet (just most of it). Even though he has discarded all of the throw-away gags, minimized recurring characters and skipped potential action sequences, director Capone is guilty of incredibly flat, perfunctory TV-style direction.

The two fight scenes that we get, one versus truckers in a bar, the other versus mobsters in a warehouse, are shot almost entirely with medium and close-up shots. Granted, I'm not expecting some old HK-style fight scenes where everything is a master shot so the audience can marvel at the incredibly complex choreography, this is an Italian Bud Spencer TV movie we're talking about after all. However, the scene where Jack fights off a group of truckers, he does so with half a pool cue in each hand. We never actually see both sticks in one shot, but the fact that he has two seems to be implied by the editing. Even the scene where Jack throws Thomas' killer through a buffet line (yes, that made me wince) is shot an angle where you can't actually see the stunt, just the food flying off the table. That's two fouls in one! You know how much time and effort it takes to set up a buffet? Why take out your frustrations on the caterer? They're just trying to serve food man! Plus, they've changed the title from "Detective Extralarge" to "Extra Large". Why? Perhaps to appeal to English speaking audiences who don't want to have to deal with too many extra syllables. Non bene, non bene.

On the plus side there are a few amusing moments to be found. Of course when you are desperate, it doesn't take much. When the reporter comes over to Jack's apartment after being fired from the TV station for covering news, she makes Jack and Dumas II an "ancient indian recipe" which includes a bottle of Mrs. Dash clearly visible on the counter. Damn white man will never know the difference! Also Clemente threatens Jack by telling him "there's someone who would like to cancel your name from the telephone book!" Rule number one when threatening to kill someone in a foreign language: Never use Google Translate.

If I had never seen a Bud Spencer movie and someone told me to start here, I would never speak to them again. This series can only get better from here.

Nice of the bad guys to print up their evil plan in a presentation binder.

Monday, February 17, 2014

This Bud's for You: EXTRA LARGE: LORD OF THE SUN (1993)

As Bon Jovi would say, “Ooooooh, we’re halfway there.”  Six episodes down and six episodes to go. With season one coming to a less-than-explosive climax for us with the episodes “Cannonball” and “Black Magic” thumping us over the head like Bud Spencer himself, it seems as if we could only enter season two of DETECTIVE EXTRALARGE (now titled simply EXTRA LARGE) with optimism as we knew changes were in store.  Seriously, see if you can spot the difference:

Yes, Bud Spencer has a new partner in his heavy shadow in the form of POLICE ACADEMY alumni Michael Winslow (more on that in a minute).  It appears the producers took their down time between seasons to evaluate what their target audience really wanted out of a Bud Spencer TV series – namely action and comedy.  With the season opener “Lord of the Sun” they delivered plenty of both as we begin Jack Costello’s new adventures.

Following an action packed opening credits, we see “Extralarge” (Bud Spencer, of course) drive up to his apartment, which is not the same palatial place he was living before.  This is strange because he has the same landlord in Maria Martinez (the returning Vivian Ruiz), who informs Jack someone has been waiting in his office for a long time.  He enters his new digs (which look a lot like his old place, but slightly restyled) to find a young dude jamming to some music blasting out of his boom box. This mystery guest greets our beloved inspector as “Uncle Jack” and introduces himself as Archibald Baxter (Michael Winslow).  Seems he is the grown up son of Jack’s old buddy Bob Baxter, a DEA agent who recently died in drug sting.  Archibald hands Jack a letter from his dad that asks Costello to take this kid, who always wanted to be a detective, under his wing. Costello agrees with one exception – he wants to call his new apprentice “Dumas” after his friend who now resides in France. *Readers now insert mental image of an Italian writer dusting off his hands in a “that’s that” motion.*

With the principals established, it is time to get the plot in motion.  We cut to the Miami airport where Professor Tien Foo (Bob Lem) is arriving for an energy conference.  While attempting to disembark, Foo is taken for a fool as he is knocked out and switched with an exact double. The doppelganger hops into a white limousine and heads into town for whatever nefarious plans.  What the folks behind this switcheroo didn’t count on were a couple of Chinese guys in a Trans Am with a rocket launcher.  Yes, a rocket launcher.  They send the limo sky high on the freeway in a stunt that would make Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi high five.

As one would expect, all four occupants are killed…or so we think.  Meanwhile, Jack is tricking Maria, who now also owns a bar, into coming back to his place for a surprise birthday party.  While everyone is preparing to chow down on some cake, Maria casually says she can’t believe she is celebrating her birthday with the cop that arrested her ten years ago. Whoa! Fifteen minutes in and we’re already getting more exposition into the Extralarge/Maria relationship than in the entire first season.  I totally bet he arrested her for jaywalking.  Jack hates rule breakers.  Anyway, we are never privy to her exact charges (damn it, now I have to write fanfic) because Jack and Dumas 2.0 are torn away from the party and cake to meet up with Lee (Susan Byun), the niece of the professor who is not convinced of his death.  You see, when she went to identify his body at the morgue, she noticed the corpse didn’t have a tattoo that her uncle had. Damn, Prof. Foo is a freak!  Anyway, she wants to hire Jack to see if her suspicions are correct.

It seems she might be onto something. The next day at scene of the limo wreck Jack and Dumas are denied entrance by Lt. Martin (a dude carried over from the “Cannonball” episode). Later Jack is visited by Gen. Harrison from the Pentagon, who in turn takes him to meet CIA guy Kandisky (German actor Michael Greiling).  Naturally, they want to know what Costello knows and kept abreast of the situation.  This doesn’t sit well with our hefty gumshoe.  He also doesn’t like that he arrived at Lee’s home to find the aforementioned Chinese thugs beating her up for a family photo album; the fact that her seemingly dead Uncle called her and left a phone message; or that Lt. Sam Bosely (the also returning Lou Bedford) told him one of the occupants of the limo is alive and under watch in the hospital.  With a spider web of conspiracy growing by the day, it doesn’t make much sense until Jack gets a phone call from his old pal Prince Wong (Chao Li Chi, Uncle Chu from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA!), who speaks like a fortune cookie when he tells Jack “your mistrust is nearly as large as yourself, Mr. Costello.”

The first season of DETECTIVE EXTRALARGE proved popular enough in its native Italy (the lone report of ratings we can find in Variety said the debut drew in over 7 million viewers in November 1991) that a second season was inevitable, but as we mentioned before, changes were afoot.  First, the production switched from being co-produced by RAI to Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset.  Yes, the future disgraced Italian Prime Minister had a hand in helping Extralarge come back. Somewhere in my mind, I love to image him regaling prostitutes at his scandalous “bunga bunga” parties with stories of meeting Bud Spencer.  Anyway, back to the show. Series director Enzo Castellari was also gone and replaced by Alessandro Capone, who will helm all six entries this season. At first I thought this was a cheeky pseudonym (c’mon, Al Capone?), but he is a real guy (he later re-teamed with Spencer on the crime show I DELITTI DEL CUOCO aka THE CRIMES OF THE COOK in 2010).

The episode is also more streamlined, resulting in a well-oiled Extralarge machine.  The first season episodes always ran over 90 minutes, this season the opener runs a quick 83 minutes. While the series still jumps all over Miami, Capone definitely makes the episodes feel more like TV movies.  It appears a bit more care was put into the scripting as well. Jack and his relationships are a bit more fleshed out and the mystery this time around is actually, well, mysterious. And, of course, there is the action.  A lot of the time is filled with Jack thumping heads and car chases like the aforementioned limo flip and a vehicle launching out of a parking garage that has to be seen to be believed (see it in the opening credits video at the end of the review).

Obviously the biggest change here is the casting of Michael Winslow.  With Bud being huge in Germany in general, it is no surprise they opted to go with Winslow. While his popularity stateside may have been waning as the POLICE ACADEMY series came to an end (before 1994’s MISSION TO MOSCOW), Winslow was still very popular worldwide, especially in Germany as he appeared in the popular ZARTLICHE CHAOTEN films. So the casting makes sense.  We suspect there might be another reason.  The producers brought back virtually all the recurring characters like Maria and Sam.  Hell, they even brought back Little Tyson, the punk kid always wandering around the apartment complex with a gun.  With Winslow sliding into the assistant role, we begin to wonder if Philip Michael Thomas was originally set to return but held out for more money.  After all, Archibald dresses and acts almost just like his predecessor. Hell, they even nicknamed him “Dumas” so perhaps the scripts were already written and Winslow came in at the last second to replace a holding out Thomas.  Either way, I much prefer Winslow in the role of sidekick.  Thomas could be endearing at times, but was generally a straight actor running wild.  With Winslow you know what you are going to get and he is obviously much more seasoned than Thomas in the realm of comedy.  Plus, I think he and Spencer have a better onscreen rapport.

I will say that I was disappointed in their “Special Guest Star” as Susan Byun is nowhere up to the level of an Estrada or Ferrigno, despite debuting in SGT. KABUKIMAN NYPD (1990).  It was cool to see Uncle Chu in this though.  The episodes rise and fall on the power of their guest stars (aka washed up ‘80s actors), so let’s hope there are some better surprises down the line.  Season 2 is off and running on the right FLATFOOT though. Damn, I used Tom's joke again.