Category Archives: Action

A Moment of Insight: Money Talks

moneytalks

As a person who watched Money Talks in the year 2014, I can safely say that no one has watched this entire movie. I had definitely only ever seen maybe fifteen minutes in the middle. I figured it for a hilarious biracial buddy movie in the vein of Rush Hour, only with less martial arts and comedically dicey ethnic misunderstandings and a lot of Charlie Sheen pretending to act. There’s so much more murder than you would expect, though, and everything happens so quickly that you never actually understand why everyone’s so upset. Chris Tucker breaks out of jail and nabs some diamonds from an ambiguously European convict, and somehow only disgraced reporter Charlie Sheen can help him? It’s as if someone tried to stuff a bunch of sort-of jokes into The Fugitive. Charlie Sheen, of course, is both the one-armed man and Tommy Lee Jones in that scenario. Chris Tucker should work on something with Harrison Ford. I would like to see Chris Tucker cast in every movie in some capacity. What I’m trying to say is, a whole lot of people get shot or blown up in Money Talks and I can’t believe it but the reason is “diamonds.”

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Dead Heat

Dead-Heat
Dead Heat
/ 1988
84 minutes
Dir.: Mark Goldblatt
Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost, Darren McGavin, Vincent Price

Scary movies are great because what happens in them doesn’t matter. Even at their worst, when you leave the theatre shaking and every little sound makes you jump and you have nightmares for a week, you’re aware they will fade into memory and nothing in your life will change. This is a strength as much as it’s a weakness. The greatest dramas and comedies put characters in situations that viewers see themselves in and ask people to think about how they would handle them. But horror movies are rated on different scales, like how many people died, how gruesome were the deaths, how insane and/or relentless was the villain. And already everyone knows what to do if you’re approached by Leatherface: run.

Since I’m deeply rooted in reality yet emotionally weak, the scary movies that really get to me have heavy psychological themes. Alien is one of the only films that can still scare me, but not because the aliens still freak me out. (Though I did have a phase during which I was TERRIFIED of extraterrestrial life, UFOs, “The X-Files,” and, by extension, Mitch Pileggi.) It’s Ripley’s loneliness and helplessness that frighten me the most. Recently, I saw The Conjuring. The fact that it’s based on “true events” is meant to get under your skin right off the bat, but it’s not the thought of vengeful spirits and witch-curses that bothers me. No, I just have a general fear of home invasion. You can haunt me or whatever, but don’t barge into my house uninvited, alright?

 *

How does that relate to Dead Heat, a movie about a murdered cop who’s been reanimated and is out to solve the mystery of his own death? Vaguely, at best. It’s primarily comedic, but has all the makings of an old school sci-fi thriller, a screwball buddy comedy, a low-budget action movie, and a makeup-heavy horror flick. Though they’re never frightening, its attempts at horror work, in part because a lot of its jokes really land. If it wasn’t funny, the “scary” parts would stand out for being dumb and jarring, rather than for offering a change of pace.

Most shitty movies are shitty because they have no idea what they want to be, but Dead Heat is totally self-aware. The story is uncomplicated, the two main characters are great together, the effects (by Steve Johnson, a protégé of Rick Baker who worked on An American Werewolf in London and Videodrome, now launching his own company with Dead Heat) are gross and excellent. As the murder is investigated, a strange and elaborate conspiracy headed up by Darren McGavin (The Old Man in A Christmas Story) and Vincent Price is uncovered. If it was any longer than 84 minutes, it would collapse into itself. Thankfully, it’s perfect.

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A Moment of Insight: Independence Day

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Must go faster…but why?

The end of Independence Day is incredible and triumphant, a testament to mankind’s will, ingenuity, and perseverance, but does anyone else feel intense anxiety at the thought of the massive (literal and metaphorical) cleanup that lies ahead of these characters? Humongous downed spaceships, flaming wreckage streaking across the sky, wide swaths of major cities demolished, charred bodies in the streets and millions without homes. The course of human history has been altered completely. It’ll take decades to rebuild all that was destroyed, generations to mentally process the tragedy. And for the most part, it happened for no reason; the aliens were there to harvest resources or something, which I guess after they were going to get around to after they killed everyone and destroyed all those American landmarks that they knew about, obviously. The characters should take a moment to bask in their victory. But it can’t be long before reality sets in, right? The remainder of every survivor’s life is going to be very difficult. It seems unlikely that stability will be restored until well into adulthood for the President’s daughter and Hiller’s son. They may be left wondering, “Was it worth it?”

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Commando

Commando / 1985
90 minutes
dir: Mark L. Lester
screenplay: Stephen E. de Souza, Jeph Loeb
starring: Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells

Is Commando too easy a choice? Probably. Yes. Absolutely. This and Quiet Cool were sort of what this site was made for. Unfortunately, there comes a point where there’s not much more you can say about insane freakshow action movies; there are clichés and motifs that I’ll always be amused by, but sometimes just aren’t really worth thinking about.

Fortunately, that point definitely cannot be reached without first talking about Commando, one of the most blowingupingest films I’ve ever seen. The unreasonable death toll it racks up over its hour-and-a-half running time is distinctly aided by the fact that someone is killed by knife, gun, explosion, or the mere force of Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s rippling brow in nearly every scene. And perhaps even more unreasonable is this shot of Arnold feeding a baby deer with a pre-teen Alyssa Milano from the opening credits.

Most unreasonable.

Preceding the credits, though, is a sequence in which three guys bite it by the hand of Cooke (played by Bill Duke, a recognizable character actor, Arnold’s co-star in Predator and director of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit), but the first two murders don’t matter at all and we soon learn that the third was a sham. That the leathery, mustachioéd, and erotically chainmailéd Bennett is not only still alive but involved in the kidnapping of Alyssa Milano in order to coerce Arnold’s character John Matrix to do EVIL DEEDS provides no particular shock to the viewer. What does it matter that Bennett is still alive? Why does he look like a living cartoon? Is he really supposed to be the villain? That’s insane!

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Striking Distance


Striking Distance / 1993
102 minutes
dir: Rowdy Herrington
screenplay: Rowdy Herrington, Marty Kaplan
starring: Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina

In the way that Quiet Cool and Cobra are representative of everything that is great about cheesy, insane action movies, 1993’s Striking Distance is a symbol of everything not great. First off, it’s too long at OVER 100 MINUTES. It’s boring, and it’s really, really dumb in a totally boring way. There are a few good chases, but most of them happen on boats, so they’re not even that good, because boats obviously suck.

I watched this movie maybe nine months ago, but I’m not sure if it’s become hazier in my memory since then, or if I’ve just come to really understand everything I didn’t like about it. Either way, here’s how it all gets started: Bruce Willis plays Pittsburgh detective Tom Hardy and it’s just about time for the policeman’s ball when suddenly there’s a serial strangler on the loose, so that shit gets postponed so every officer in the city can chase the guy around for a few hours, but then he kills Bruce Willis’ dad and gets away, but then a guy is arrested who definitely doesn’t look like a serial strangler and (duh) Bruce Willis doesn’t believe they caught the real serial strangler, but Bruce Willis hardly has any time to even think about that because his mildly retarded police officer cousin Jimmy is about to jump off a bridge because he doesn’t want to go to prison for being a bad cop that beat the shit out of a suspect. Relevant to this scene and the character: Tom Hardy testified against Cousin Jimmy in court, because he’s serious about being a cop, and no mortal man is above that, goddammit.

So then Cousin Jimmy jumps and the skies TEAR OPEN to let down some totally dramatic and real-looking rain, and the whole situation really gets to Bruce Willis and makes him cry pretty hard.

Fast forward two years into the future and Bruce Willis has been demoted to the ever-so-lowly rank of BOAT COP because he went on the news after Cousin Jimmy’s death to say he thought the real strangler was a cop, which is definitely frowned upon in the cop community, even though they’re otherwise pretty forgiving and open-minded. Anyway, turns out Bruce Willis is actually a pretty shitty BOAT COP with a mess of self-esteem, authority, and hygiene issues.

An hour and a half later, it turns out Cousin Jimmy didn’t die, and he was the real strangler, and Bruce Willis tasers him in the mouth. Whatever.

Sorry nerds, BOAT COPS on patrol.

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Command Performance


Command Performance / 2009
93 minutes – but at least five minutes of that is exploding credit sequences
dir: Dolph Lundgren
screenplay: Dolph Lundgren, Steve Latshaw
starring: Dolph Lundgren

This movie drove me insane. When I think about it now, weeks since seeing it, I still don’t feel quite right. There is alternately so much and so little going on any given moment that trying to wrap your head around the things you’ve seen is damn near impossible. Command Performance is an empty, horrid void, a disaster, a hopeless, lifeless shell of a thing, and so much of it left me so stunned and confused that I may have stopped breathing for a while.

I’m sure a good chunk of why all of that is can be attributed to the mighty Dolph Lundgren. [I should expect that I’ll be talking about quite a few of his greatest works on here, and I feel that starting now, in the present, and working backwards – back to his glory days – is definitely the way to go.] As you, observant reader, may have already noticed, Sir Dolph not only stars in this direct-to-video picture, but he was also the director, as well as co-writer, along with the brilliant Steve Latshaw, director of the smash hit Vampire Trailer Park (1991) and writer of U.S. SEALS 3 – Frogmen: Operation Stormbringer (2000).

So much about Command Performance is so wrong that pondering how it came to be would surely only drive one deeper into the throes of madness. I neither know nor care where Dolph’s ideas for the movie originated. I watched the majority of it completely slackjawed. Somewhere between the headache-inducing sequences of the first twenty minutes to the mind-melting inanity of the conclusion, I lost faith in humanity. But perhaps that was to be expected as I sat down to watch the most recent of Dolph Lundgren’s direct-to-video feature-length action movies. I just didn’t know it would be as confusing and bizarre as it turned out to be.

So here’s how this whole mess goes down. The film opens in 1991, in some fancy Russian chamber. The dissolving of the Soviet Union has just been made official. Someone murders someone else and then commits suicide. Jump to present day! Dolph Lundgren is riding a motorcycle. A kick-ass rock band is rehearsing in an empty arena. Dolph Lundgren is shirtless and playing drums, and it looks weird. Wait. What about that murder-suicide? What the fuck just happened? Don’t worry about it. Really, just put it out of your mind. Instead, observe this aged action legend lay a real pounding on the skins.

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Cobra


Cobra / 1986
87 minutes (according to imdb.com, some European cuts of the movie put it under 80 minutes!)
dir: George P. Cosmatos
screenplay: Sylvester Stallone
starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Brian Thompson

Cobra begins with Sylvester Stallone, as no-holds-barred bad motherfucker renegade Los Angeles cop Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, telling the audience how dire crime in America has become. Burglaries every eleven seconds. “250 rapes a day,” he says. Chilling claims, especially in the first minute of a movie. But the oddly serious tone of the opening sequence is quickly abandoned, making way for some of the most excellent, silliest one-liners in Stallone history.

“Go ahead, I don’t shop here,” to a man threatening to blow up the grocery store he’s taken hostage.

The classic, “You’re the disease…and I’m the cure,” just before throwing a knife and pumping six bullets in to the chest of the grocery terrorist, propelling him on to the meat counter.

“This is where the law stops and I start…sucker,” to the leader of a supremacist murder cult just before their final showdown.

To a smoking “Latino” punk who touched his car: “That’s bad for your health, y’know.”
Punk: “What is, pinche?”
Cobra: “Me.” Cobra grabs the cigarette from his mouth, rips his shirt, and tells him to clean up his act.

Sure, why not!

Bad for your health.

Some of the greatest pleasures of this movie come from imagining Sly sitting at his typewriter, picking the perfect spots in the story to place such witticisms. I was quickly reminded as I made that joke (several times) that he also wrote Rocky. The difference here, though, is that between Rocky and Cobra, Stallone turned into a bankable megastar. In the lead-up to getting Rocky made, the man really didn’t have much else going for him – there are a handful of reasons why that is a classic film, and one is that Stallone was putting his heart and soul into it. Cobra is a ton of shit blowing up and people being murdered/committing murder at completely frantic pace.

But therein lies one of the charms of the film: its unabashed disregard for rules and guidelines of all sorts, both in the world of the film, and in the practice of filmmaking. Cobra performs his duties as a police officer in a completely irresponsible manner – but goddamn if he doesn’t get the job done, and with gusto. And the writing and direction of Cobra is marred with holes and nonsensical turns. For example, the existence aforementioned supremacist murder cult – from which the primary villain of the film, the Night Slasher, emerges – is never completely explained; the audience is meant to assume that bad people have fallen into some sort of cult and are now doing bad things. And we do, because there’s really no sense in questioning it.

Similarly, why Cobra acts the way he does never becomes the issue that one might expect it to; his superiors don’t always agree with the way he tends to kill suspects, but they know he’s a mighty good cop. And you just can’t fuck with steady productivity. On top of that, there are a handful of traits that, one would imagine, were meant to bolster the character’s defiant image that are left alone entirely – chewing a match stick; wearing large mirrored sunglasses; attempting to eat healthy, because too much junk food can make you “violent”; having an illustration of a cobra on the grip of the semi-automatic handgun that he just tucks into the front of his pants because, apparently, rebels just don’t believe in holsters. I’d say let’s see how rebellious he is after he accidentally blows his nuts off, but it was probably a moot point the second Stallone put the ink on the page. In Cobra, things just are, and must be accepted as such.

In this sense, it is totally unlike Quiet Cool, the subject of my last entry. The characters in that movie have almost no defining features. They just kind of float through the scenery as the forest explodes around them. In fact, the attempts to explain their backgrounds are ridiculous and confusing, as if the writers forgot that “character development” is a real thing while they were writing it and just popped it in there after the fact. The stars of Cobra, however, are practically overloaded with unique characteristics. It’s almost as if Stallone started with them and worked backwards…

Needless to say (and by now, it really ought to be clear) this movie rules. Some sick car chases, so many explosions, Stallone’s then-wife Brigitte Nielsen looking totally fine and being constantly in distress, a freakishly high number of rounds of ammunition fired in public places – that’s a recipe for fun if I ever read one. But then, just as a deliciously sweet little cherry top on, Cobra chooses to set the law aside at the end of the movie and straight-up murders the Night Slasher by popping him on an industrial hook in a steel mill and setting him on fire. And if you didn’t think that could get any cooler: that’s not even the first person he sets on fire in that scene.

While I briefly Internet-researched Cobra, I found that the concept for it originated from Stallone’s wish to turn the comedy Beverly Hills Cop, in which he was set to star, into a balls-out action movie. The idea was not met kindly by producers.

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