I’ve only seen a handful of films that really “changed” me, made me go back and reevaluate not only my perception of cinema as an artform, but also art in general. The spectacular 1986 action/thriller/vague family drama Quiet Cool is one of those films.
I caught it on television one night last April. It seemed to be well along already, but I was sucked in by the abundance of explosions, marijuana, James Remar (“Dexter,” The Warriors) kicking ass with a shit-eating grin, long and uncomfortable stares between James Remar and a grown man acting like a frightened child, color-coordinated villains, and gruesome vengeance murders that dominated the last thirty or forty minutes. I had been swept away to the tiny village of Babylon, nestled in the verdant forests of Northern California, a once-beautiful land marred by the invasion of shady dope growers and their fashion-forward enforcers.
Thankfully, the movie restarted as soon as it ended, allowing me to take it in as a whole. It begins with a montage of photographs of marijuana plants scored by the gentle sound of a blaring saxophone, which reappears frequently throughout the first scene, in which we meet our protagonist, Joe Dylanne (Remar), as he wakes up in his gigantic New York City studio apartment, apparently rides his motorcycle from inside the apartment out on to the street, and then chases down a roller-skating purse-snatcher. Turns out, Joe Dylanne is an NYPD officer who plays by his own rules. Buckle the fuck up.
I was surprised to see that the movie opens in New York. The location, very often a defining feature of films that take place in its borders, proves to be entirely unimportant. There’s even a disregard for the city’s geography during the chase scene as the cop and robber descend into a 42nd Street subway station only to emerge at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall, about three miles away. The city is only referenced in one other scene, in the context of a goofy “big town vs. little town” values discussion. (“It’s hard to believe you left New York for this!”) On the other hand, now you know what a tough big-city cop Joe is, which is truly an invaluable piece of information.
In a fantastically odd bit of editing, we’re brought to a Northern California forest. Here we meet Joshua, an outdoorsy guy who appears to be well into his twenties but acts like a prepubescent boy around his parents. That’s over quickly, however, after the parents are swiftly executed by the film’s villains after Joshua witnesses the bad guys murder a nameless young man who stumbles upon a rather easy-to-spot pot-growing operation in the woods. After Black Haired Villain (Nick Cassavetes, son of film legends John Cassavetes and Gina Rowlands) shoots Joshua’s parents, Red Haired Villain lassoes Joshua, drags him around on his motorcycle, and then throws him off a cliff.
Miraculously, he lives, and we flash back to New York, where Joe receives a worried phone call from Katy, an ex-flame who moved to California some time ago. She explains that she hasn’t heard from her brother, Joshua’s father, in days, and she’s afraid “something terrible has happened” to him. For some reason, only Joe can be trusted with this information and, in a stunningly unprofessional turn, he takes off for Babylon directly from the police station. Cut to a little Pan Am product placement, shots of Joe driving a Jeep, and some shaky encounters with the local folk. After we’re introduced to an old lady who may or may not be Katy’s mother, Katy explains to Joe that Babylon is “the dope capital of the Northwest,” and the intrigue only gears up from there.
What ensues over the next hour is a mindblowing accumulation of shallow and confusing writing; acting that is stiff, over-compensatory, and bizarre all at the same time; awesome action scenes, many of which include motorcycles, in spite of the lush and mountainous forest setting; people kind of talking about pot; a character named Toker who always “overdoes it” while smoking on the job, which results in the exploding of the tent he was in charge of; a scene in which four Molotov cocktails are thrown at a single cabin; and a blindingly sharp plot twist.
Just as crucial as all that, and one of the top-ranking reasons that I love this movie: Quiet Cool has its own theme song. “Quiet Cool,” the song, is a balls-out pop-rock jam by Joe Lamont that sort of references Quiet Cool, the film, but mostly is about doing what you “gotta do” and being a good guy. Lamont must have been soaring on the wings of his classic power ballad, “Victims of Love,” when he penned this lost gem.
So yes, this is an awful movie, but that hardly keeps it from succeeding in so many different ways. First off, and most importantly, it’s incredibly entertaining. Beyond that, at 81 minutes long, you can watch it twice in the span of time that it would take you to watch Titanic once! With time left over! It’s easy to have no idea what’s going on. It’s expected that you won’t understand why anything happens quite the way it does. Don’t hope to discover hidden or ambiguous motivations in any of the characters – they’re all driven by one thing at a time: greed, revenge, duty. Frankly, if it got any more complicated than that, it just wouldn’t be the same movie. It might even hit the 90-minute mark.
As it stands, Quiet Cool is, for me, a symbol of everything great about cheesy, absurd action movies. (It’s also a particularly excellent representative of the badass-cop-doesn’t-play-by-the-book-but-saves-the-day subgenre.) Everything explodes. Every antagonist dies. Conflicts are very straightforward. There’s a shitty twist. The main characters are practically nonexistent. It breezes along with no concern for plot holes or inconsistencies.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, because this movie isn’t struggling to achieve something greater. Its near-idiotic simplicity works in its favor. It’s not a big-budget tentpole feature with a recognizable star. Maybe this was the one that was supposed to catapult James Remar to a Bruce Willis- or Sly Stallone-like level of fame, but that’s not quite how it worked out. It’s an 80-minute long action movie with a weed leaf on the poster, which is a pretty inaccurate poster, at that. (Joshua dressed like Rambo? Joe wearing a tie? New York backdrop?) Quiet Cool seems to have been largely forgotten; I’ve never heard anything about it having a cult following. If it does, I’d like to consider myself a part of it – if it doesn’t, I will watch it with anybody, anytime, until this is the most popular movie ever made.