Saturday, March 31, 2018

263. The Sidehackers

263. The Sidehackers aka Five the Hard Way (1969)
Director: Gus Trikonis
Writers: Tony Huston from a story by Larry Billman
From: Cult Cinema

A man seeks revenge against the people who assaulted and murdered his girlfriend.

As featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 202, which maybe tells you everything you need to know about the film. Curiously, the movie is significant because it’s the one that forced MST3k to change the way they previewed and selected movies for broadcast. Before they watched The Sidehackers, they would typically only watch the first few minutes of a movie before deciding whether or not to riff it. After The Sidehackers, they watched every movie all the way through before selecting them. Excited to hear what it’s about? No, you’re not, cause it’s about nothing.

The movie opens with an actual sidehacking race. For reference, as the movie explains, sidehacking is form of motorcycle racing where a small platform is welded onto the side of the bike. A second rider then uses his body and the bars holding the platform on to help the bike make tighter turns. Interesting enough as a niche form of racing, but if it’s going to be the plot of a movie you’re going to have to either focus on the drama of the people doing the sport and trying to make a living or the work of people trying to get the sport taken seriously.

Which is why this movie runs away from sidehacking as a plot point as quickly as it can.

Our hero is Rommel, a sidehacker and motorcycle mechanic. He’s in love with Rita and the two are planning to get married and move to a ranch in the country. One day, a member of touring motorcycle exhibition brings a bike in for repair. The boss, J.C. comes as well and starts asking about sidehacking. He takes a liking to Rommel, goes to a race that weekend, and then hangs out with Rommel that evening. While they get along, it becomes clear that J.C. is more than a bit unhinged and potentially violent. He invites Rommel to join his exhibition team, but Rommel declines.

Later, J.C.’s girlfriend Paisley hits on Rommel. He turns her down as well so she tells J.C. that Rommel raped her. J.C. and his team then find Rommel and Rita in their house, beat Rommel, and rape and kill Rita.

By the way, if you’re wondering why MST3k changed their selection procedure after this movie, that’s why. The show completely cuts the assault and make reference to it only by having Crow say, "For those of you playing along at home, Rita is dead." I watched the MST3k version, by the way.

So the movie is now about Rommel seeking revenge. He eventually gathers a team which gets infiltrated by a member of J.C.’s crew. Rommel susses out the traitor, though, and goes to confront J.C. All of J.C.’s crew gets killed, two members of Rommel’s escapes, and then J.C. and Rommel fight each other. Rommel seems to have defeated J.C. as the police approach, but J.C. pulls a gun and shoots Rommel in the back, killing him. THE END.

Now, some of you may be asking what any of this has to do with motorcycle racing. That’s the wrong question. Instead, you shouldn’t think about this movie long enough to wonder about it at all. Just let it pass through your consciousness as though it never existed because, in all the ways that count, it doesn’t.

There’s something very strange about a movie that purports to be about a unique activity that then runs as quickly away from that activity as it can. I’d say the movie could just be about motorcycle racing in general, but it really can’t. The movie’s not interested in the racing element at all. The plot is Rommel being a good mechanic and then turning down J.C.’s offer to join his team. The story is about a person having to deal with a sociopath falling into their life. Why add the sidehacking angle?

All of this side-steps the issue of assault at the core of the movie. Paisley uses a false rape accusation to get J.C. to attack Rommel and Rita, which leads to J.C. actually assaulting Rita, which then leads to the rest of the plot. Also, J.C. kills Paisley at the end so you can maybe read that as some sort of comeuppance, but she was flirting with Rommel in the first place because J.C. was abusive and she was trying to get away. Rommel, by the way, brushes her off, implying that her abuse is her own fault.

It’s just a lot to unpack and, ultimately, none of it is worth the effort. This is a boring little exploitation flick that tries to differentiate itself form the teen sport flicks of the time by having a grim core and nihilistic conclusion. None of that is clever, though. Instead, it’s cheap and manipulative. On top of all that, it’s boring. This is another movie that’s not even worth getting mad at. If you can find the MST3k version, check that out. It has some good riffs and the host segments are pretty solid. As for the movie itself, skip it.

Friday, March 30, 2018

262. Karate Kids U.S.A.

262. Karate Kids U.S.A. aka The Little Dragons (1979)
Director: Curtis Hanson
Writers: Harvey Applebaum, Louis G. Atlee, Rudolph Borchert, and Alan Ormsby
From: Cult Cinema

A pair of brothers on a trip with their grandfather witness a kidnapping. They have to use their wits and karate skills to save their kidnapped friend.

A children’s movie about children written by people who hate children. These films are easy to spot since they have kids doing a sort of “kid power” thing—setting off on an adventure to save the day after the available adults refuse to listen—only the kids all suck. They all suck. Insufferable bastards to a one.

Yeah, the movie’s a delight.

Anyway, Woody is late to his karate class and has to wait at the side until the teacher lets him in. Woody’s full of bluster and energy, but not a whole lot of ability. His older brother Zack is a student as well. That’s the full description of Zack.

Their grandfather, J.J., picks them up in his camper and tells them he’s taking them on a weekend trip to the lake. There’s no indication of whether he’s cleared this with the boys’ parents or evidence that he’s prepared for this at all since the boys are wearing their karate gi the whole movie. As they’re driving to the campsite, their dumpy little camper is passed by a bus-sized luxury camper driven by the Forbingers. The Forbingers are a family of three—an 80’s corporate type, his wife who’s mad that he doesn’t have time for the family, and their daughter Carol who exists. Inevitably, these two families’ paths will cross again.

They’ll have to since the movie switches over to the Forbingers for a good chunk at this point.

Anyway, the Forbingers go off the road and get stuck. They’re found by a pair of backwoods brothers who help them get back on the road, but not before getting a good eyeful of the expensive RV and everything in it. They tell their ma back home and work up a plan to rob the RV that night at the campground.

The two families meet again, the kids start hanging out, and they all go to the hoedown. The kids leave together but Carol ends up at the RV when the brothers are robbing it and is taken hostage. Zack follows them and sees the kidnappers take Carol into a cave. The police are useless blunderers and the FBI is called once the kidnappers send a ransom note. Eventually Zack and Woody find Carol, but Woody is kidnapped while Zack goes to get the authorities. Zack and J.J. follow the kidnappers’ path, find their home, and Zack gets his karate class to join him to rescue everyone.

The class rides as far as they can on the bikes of a motorcycle gang…

No, shut up, I’m rushing through this. THIS IS ME RUSHING THROUGH THIS!

and fight the kidnappers. Woody finally does the flying kick that he couldn’t at the beginning and saves the day. THE END.

I was going to ask how this took four people to write, but now I’m amazed that only four people were involved in this script. I mean, it’s fine as an adventure plot. You can see precursors to The Goonies in this with kids facing real threats and having to save the day. The Goonies is a good benchmark, though, because it handles the tone very well. The kids each have their own personality, the villains are distinct and sincerely threatening, and, while there’s humor, the kids and their situation is never played up for laughs. When the kids are at risk, they’re facing real harm. When they’re facing disappointment, it’s specific to that character and played seriously.

In Karate Kids U.S.A., you never get away from a smirking condescension that permeates the film. “Oh, these kids are fighting the kidnappers. Isn’t that cute!” “The kidnapper seems kind of rapey with this little girl. *hyuck*hyuck*hyuck*”

As an example of getting the tone wrong, the cops are played for laughs. Now, dunk on cops in media all you want. Play them up as hateful cowardly monsters striving to work for their own benefit before any pretense of risking anything to help anyone else—you know, as cops. Don’t play them up as lazy gormless morons with generally good intentions. The deputy that comes to get the parents’ report of their daughter’s disappearance is too stupid to write down their statement. The work is so over his head that he has to call the sheriff down to do it. The sheriff is his daddy and hadn’t come himself because the chili he’d eaten earlier was too spicy.

Remember, at this point Carol’s been grabbed in the night by two strangers and stashed on a ledge in a cave where she’s facing the possibility of falling into a deep pit. Rats are milling about her. Hilarious, right?!

So it just sucks. As I noted at the top, you can tell the writers hate children because the children are all annoying. Look at a film like A Wrinkle in Time. That’s a movie made for kids that’s trying to take kids seriously. Because of that, the children in the film aren’t teeth-gratingly insufferable. Karate Kids U.S.A. thinks kids are teeth-gratingly insufferable and so portrays them as such. The only thing that could possibly make this movie a recommend is that it’s directed by Curtis Hanson. Yes, the director of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, L.A. Confidential, and the execrable 8 Mile. If you’re a Hanson completionist or just want to see an early film by a Hollywood careerist, this exists. Otherwise, just watch The Goonies or The Karate Kid again. Don’t waste your time on trash like this.

Next up, number 263 of trash like this!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

261. Terrified

261. Terrified (1963)
Director: Lew Landers
Writer: Richard Bernstein
From: Cult Cinema

Residents of a small town are harried by a masked killer obsessed with testing the limits of terror.

Well, at least the movie wants us to think it’s about someone testing the limits of terror. In the end, it’s not nearly that interesting.

The movie starts with a cold open as Joey is laying in an open grave with wet cement being poured on him by a man in a suit and ski mask. Crazy Bill watches from the edge of the graveyard. When Joey asks the man who he is, the man replies that Joey already knows. Then Joey screams “Ken!” and we cut to credits.

After credits, we see an old couple driving at night.

Oh God, there’s going to be a lot of driving footage, isn’t there? This is going to be a movie I’m 100% sure was riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000 even though it never was.

Yup. Hero’s a useless white guy, plot doesn’t make any sense, and we pad out the film with lots of driving. And it’s only eighty minutes long.

Anyway, a car tries to run the couple off the road then they stop at a restaurant where, for no particular reason, they tell the owner, Wesley Blake, about what happened to them. Then we pan over to another table where Marge and David are sitting. Marge works as a hostess and David is one of the guys she’s seeing, though she’s not going steady. Turns out Joey is her brother and he’s been institutionalized after his encounter in the graveyard.

Ken arrives (wait, the Ken?) and we come to learn that he’s Marge’s other partner. He and Joey are classmates at the college and Ken is studying psychology, specifically terror. He argues that, after the Holocaust and Hiroshima, the primary weapon of governments is terror and that humanity, collectively, has to endure the threat of that terror on a daily basis. That’s… not a bad idea to explore in a movie, honestly. It’s just that this movie isn’t really interested in it.

Anyway, Marge wants to talk to Crazy Bill about Joey again so David drives her out to Ghost Town, the abandoned part of town near the cemetery (really an old Western set that looks like it’s about to be torn down). They find Bill murdered and then Ken arrives as we see the masked man hide in a building. So Ken’s not the killer. Dial the suspense and expectations down appropriately. Marge and David drive back to town to get the cops while Ken stays behind in case the killer’s still there.

?

stays behind in case the killer’s still there.

Yup, I read that right. What follows is a pretty dull cat-and-mouse where the killer keeps trying to almost kill Ken, and then runs away. Meanwhile, David asks Marge about the mysterious deaths of everyone in her family (!!) and posits that someone may be trying to eliminate everyone close to her. There’s no reason to actually think this, but since it’s the truth, it has to be mentioned somewhere in the movie. They call the cops and Marge learns that Joey has escaped the institution. Now she’s worried that he’s the killer and trying to get revenge on someone for something.

Back at Ghost Town, Ken is finally captured and held onto this time. The masked figure buries him alive as Marge and David arrive to hear his screams. They eventually find him, but he’s died of terror. Then the figure knocks out David and kidnaps Marge. He carries her to a nearby cave and takes off his mask revealing…

Wesley Blake, the owner of the restaurant?

Cops arrive, revive David, and tell him the entire story about Joey coming to his senses and telling them everything. The way the sheriff tells David leaves Blake’s identity as the killer a secret until the very end, except we’ve already seen that reveal so it’s no surprise. The cops give David a gun and they all go to the cave. Blake is trying to force himself on Marge, telling her he’s been in love with her since she turned 16 (creeper), and then the cops come in and shoot him. David hugs Marge. THE END.

Sidenote: at the end, David doesn’t shoot the villain. He does, literally, nothing in the movie apart from serve as a voice of exposition. Our “hero.”

What starts as something simple and laughably cheesy stagnates pretty quickly. The movie seems invested in not letting you wonder what the ending could be. I mean, Joey shouts “Ken!” at the start to make us think Ken is the villain. Then, when Ken arrives at the restaurant, he tells a story of being run off the road similar to the couple that came in earlier. It feels like the movie is trying to paint him as someone putting people in states of heightened fear and then constructing alibis to escape accusation. Then we clearly see that he’s not the masked man and then spend God knows how long watching him not get killed.

Elements of the movie are interesting in the sense that they carry a low-budget charm. The cinematography is done well enough that you can almost miss how cheap the sets are. Seriously, this is what Plan 9 From Outer Space would look like if Ed Wood knew how to use a light kit. Plus you have teens played by elderly adults, which never fails to delight. In the end, though, the movie loses all its steam about 30 minutes in and never picks up again.

While it’s highly riffable, watching becomes more than a bit of a slog and you can kind of guess who the villain is just from being familiar with these kinds of movies. In that sense, the movie feels like a precursor to Scooby-Doo, but without the wit or invention. If you want something to make fun of with friends, Terrified works well enough, but be ready to fast-forward through parts. If you’re watching alone, give it a pass.

Friday, March 23, 2018

260. The Hostage

260. The Hostage (1967)
Director: Russell S. Doughten Jr.
Writers: Robert Laning from the novel by Henry Farrell
From: Cult Cinema

A little boy stows away in a moving van and witnesses the drivers disposing of a man they'd murdered the night before.

I’ll admit to being really nervous about watching this movie once I saw the description. It’s not that I feared any unsavory content; I was afraid that the movie would have a bad case of TGK: That Goddamn Kid—the insufferably precious and cringe-inducing child actor whose very voice, omnipresent throughout the film, would drive me up the wall. Once “Introducing Danny Martins as Davey” popped up on screen alongside the face that sold a thousand coat hangers, I grew even more apprehensive.

Fortunately the insufferable shit isn’t in much of the movie. Curiously, for being the titular hostage, there isn’t much hostage-taking or ransoming at all.

We start with a cold open on the two movers, Don Kelly and Harry Dean Stanton, killing a third man. Kelly is committing the murder while Stanton tries to stop him. We learn later in the movie that it was due to Kelly being in an alcoholic rage. Cut to credits and then Davey, miserable little shit, sitting at the window whining. He wants to go play in the park, but it’s too cold. His family is moving to a new house, but he doesn’t want to go so he’s being a brat about it. He trips his mom when she walks into the room with a box and, when sent to see his dad, kicks a box off the basement stairs. The narrative purpose of this moment is so we see Davey learn where his dad has packed the gun so he’ll have that info later, but the practical result is we’re hoping for a re-enactment of the Lindberg baby kidnapping so this family can once again be happy.

While Davey’s on his way to the basement, he runs into his neighbor Mrs. Mabry. He says he can’t hang out with her because his mom says she fibs and likes to talk about people. When Mabry pops into the apartment to offer to help at the last minute, the mother says all the work’s been done. Mabry goes back to her apartment and watches Davey hang around out front. The movers arrive as does a tramp living in the park played by John Carradine.

At this point, I’m going to go through each plot as opposed to running through the movie as a whole. The film’s curiously structured with most of the drama happening outside the main situation with the kid.

So Carradine says hi to the kid, watches him climb into the truck, and tries to tell him to get out. Then he walks downtown to visit a church to ask for help. After getting a little money, he goes to a bar. The father, who’s been looking for him, arrives, shouts his name, and Carradine runs into the street. He’s hit by a truck and taken to the hospital in critical condition.

The father was looking for him because, once the parents realize Davey is gone, Mabry tells them she saw Davey hanging out with a tramp in the park. She’s dining out on their misery and all the gossip potential here. She never says she saw Davey go into the truck or that he didn’t leave with Carradine. When the parents get a phone call saying Davey is with the movers, they hang Carradine’s hospitalization on Mabry and leave her miserable. Curiously, the movie tries to play her up to be as much, if not more, of a villain than Kelly who’s murdered a man and kidnapped their kid.

The phone call comes from a couple of farmers. Davey escapes the movers briefly, ends up at a farm, but is handed over to Kelly when Kelly claims to the be father. The farmwoman is unsure because of how violently Davey resists Kelly and tries to call the family. Her husband belittles her for always trying to get between fathers and their sons and we learn later that their son died when the father forced him out in the cold when he was sick. They see the boy’s picture in the paper, call the family, and tell them that the movers have him. Everyone assumes Kelly claimed to be the father just to simplify things.

Now, the movers and the kid, the things that are supposed to be the plot of the movie. Kelly and Stanton load up the truck and drive back to their place without knowing the kid is aboard. They take the body from their apartment, drive into the country to bury it, and this is the kid’s chance to escape. He knows they’re disposing of a body because the corpse was right in front of him. When the truck stops and the movers are dealing with the corpse, Davey gets out, walks over to where they are, and watches.

Kill the kid. Just fucking kill him.

He’s spotted, escapes them, gets spotted again down the road, escapes again, ends up at the farm. Now they tie him up in the back and Kelly locks Stanton in with him. Stanton tries to talk Davey down, convince him that they’re on the same side. They finally arrive at the new house and start unloading. Davey tells Stanton where the gun is and Stanton tells Davey to run when he gets the signal. Stanton and Kelly face off, Davey hears and…

walks to the house to watch instead of running.

Just kill the fucking kid!

Stanton gets killed, Davey is hunted through the house by Kelly, finds a successful hiding place that he then leaves to be caught by Kelly. They leave in the truck as cops arrive to find Stanton’s body. As the moving truck is approaching a police road block, Kelly stuffs Davey down onto the floor where Davey starts kicking at Kelly’s feet, causing him to lose control and crash. Davey’s removed from the truck, merely stunned, and Kelly’s dead. Family leaves together in an ambulance. THE END.

With all this description, you wouldn’t think the movie was under ninety minutes. Not only that, the movie manages to drag. The whole thing looked and felt inert. I kept waiting for the score to rise up as the movie faded to black because it felt so much like a TV movie. Even the music was all canned cues. There was just no energy to any of it.

Which is surprising because this wasn’t a half-assed production. The flick had some talent involved. Of course, Harry Dean Stanton is very good, but this is an early role for him so the producers likely didn’t realize what they had. Don Kelly was an established television actor, but this turned out to be his final role before dying. Then you have John Carradine who shows up in a lot of the movies on these sets, but was a qualified name when this movie came out. Plus, it was based on a book by the author of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It didn’t need to be this bad.

And it’s not bad like the movies in this series that are a real pain to watch. It just constantly, in its own weird way, doesn't work. One factor, that I mentioned earlier, is that so much drama is happening outside the situation with Davey. That structure could work in a novel, a picaresque of different people’s pain as witnessed by this child running from his own situation. Everyone’s blinded to his need because of their own. That’s not communicated well in a movie, though, especially when it’s being structured as a thriller/chase. I mean, we have a digression of the farmers mentioning how their son died and that the wife now hates her husband. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that in a Wim Wenders movie, but it felt so out of place here. My only reaction was, so are we watching this movie now?

I don’t recommend it. The movie at least avoids the pitfalls of having the kid on screen too much, and maybe recognizing that he was terrible forced them to reconsider a lot of the movie. In the end, though, it’s boring, and not in any interesting way. It’s a just a movie whose parts didn’t come together.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

259. Trip With the Teacher

259. Trip With the Teacher (1975)
Director: Earl Barton
Writer: Earl Barton
From: Cult Cinema

A group of young women on a road trip are held captive by a pair of sadistic bikers.

Tthe “teacher” (she’s not their teacher, more like a slightly older woman in the community that put together this “educational” summer trip) is taking four young women to interesting sites in the American Southwest. The bus they’ve rented passes a trio of bikers—two brothers and a hobbyest who looks like Micky from the Monkees that stopped fix their flat—who notice the girls and follow them to a gas station. After the bus leaves, the psycho brother, Al, kills the attendant for insulting him.

The bus breaks down, the bikers catch up, flirt with the girls, then tow the bus to an abandoned lot in the middle of nowhere. To make that sound less calculated, it was a farm the brothers had passed the year before where a guy had been working on a tractor and they thought they could find help. When they arrive, it’s no longer in use. The bus driver insults Al, Al kills him, and everyone realizes the situation has escalated. As Micky tells one of the girls, Al and his brother will either have to kill all of them or try to outrun the cops.

Can you guess what happens? Which blog are you reading? They sit in the abandoned shack and not a whole lot happens—both to the good and the bad. Micky noted that if one of them gets away, as far as the brothers are concerned, they may have all gotten away. They just need to wait for their moment.

In an order that I can’t remember, Al rapes the teacher, Micky escapes but is driven off the road by the brother, and one of the other girls escapes only to be caught and killed by Al. The next day, Micky returns and kills the brother. He faces off with Al, but the teacher runs Al through with a piece of pipe. After everyone gets cleaned up, Micky leaves on his bike promising to return with help to fix the bus. THE END.

Considering the kinds of movies on these sets, and that the film has sexual assault, it’s not as uncomfortable as what I initially thought it was going to be which was some ill-conceived sex comedy about a teacher hooking up with his students.

Hey, I didn’t say it was good, I said it wasn’t as bad as I feared it could be.

A lot of the movie is sitting around waiting and, it feels strange to say this, I wanted more violence. None of the women are tied up and there are periods where four of them are alone with Al when he’s unarmed and having some strange scenery-chewing episode. I kept thinking, just start beating him. It’s four-on-one; you’re going to fuck him up. Instead, they sit and wait. Enough happens to keep the movie from being excruciatingly dull, but not quite enough is going on to keep the tension running.

The sexual violence in the movie has to be mentioned as well. Again, it’s not as bad as it could be, but is bad enough. One of the girls tries to seduce Al to get him into the other room so that maybe the rest could overpower his brother. To make that less uncomfortable, she’s the girl who was flirting with him before everything went bad. Rather than go into the next room, though, Al tells her to strip in front of everyone. She does, but with her back to us. The audience doesn’t see her nudity, which is a good thing. Exploitation is always walking that thin line between titillation and horror, but you want to maintain that line. Nudity in the context of fun sexy times? Fantastic. Nudity in the context of someone’s suffering? No. So I was willing to give the movie credit for making that choice.

And then the scene of the teacher being sexually assaulted immediately follows and it’s the only nudity in the movie.

“Oh, hey! You got it… wrong. You got it completely wrong. You almost had it right, and then got it completely wrong.”

There’s another incident of forced sex later in the movie and, again, damning with faint praise, the way the film chooses to do it is not the terrible way I thought it was going to. Earlier in the movie, the girls get into a fight because it’s that kind of movie. They’re talking about sex and one reveals that she’s a virgin and calls another a “horny little bitch.” I was dreading a terrible Chekov’s Gun situation where, since this woman said she was a virgin, we were going to see her get sexually assaulted. And we don’t. It’s just a regularly uncomfortable scene of sexual assault.

So it’s not a recommend on a whole host of levels. If the sexual assault isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s also just not that interesting. To the film’s credit, it never tries to portray the assaults as anything but unpleasant, as things that the audience is supposed to be horrified by instead of enjoying on some level. However, there’s just a paucity of imagination here. In many respects, it’s a less-ambitious version of The Sadist starring Arch Hall, Jr. And, let me tell you, it’s a rare day where I can say something’s a poor version of an Arch Hall, Jr. vehicle. Trip With the Teacher, though, felt like it only had the keywords for a story, the genre checklist without any of the additional material to make it a complete movie. Even the title feels like a half-assed attempt to suggest the content instead of actually reflecting the content of the movie. Doesn’t Trip With the Teacher sound like it’d be a racy exploitation film? Then there’s no need to make one, the title does it all. Give it a pass, it’s not worth your time.

Friday, March 16, 2018

258. Scorpion

258. Scorpion (1986)
Director: William Riead
Writer: William Riead
From: Cult Cinema

International anti-terrorism expert Scorpion is brought in to help protect an international terrorist planning to turn state's evidence.

Our film opens in Spain where a man drives a red Porsche to a small bar. Some rowdies try to make trouble, but he makes quick work of them before driving off. He checks in with a contact in Amsterdam and then the US and gets word that he needs to come home.

Cut to a board room where various suits and generals are discussing anti-terror policy. They note that the situation has gotten worse. Instead of attacking random groups of civilians, the terrorists are kidnapping and torturing people *gasp* like those gathered in the room! Something must be done! The first name off their lips is “Scorpion.” We do not return to this moment or these men again in the movie so there’s no reason for me to have mentioned it here. I just love how wrong-headed the scene is. “This terrorism situation has gotten out of control! They’re no longer killing plebes, they’re killing important people like us! Now we need to take it seriously.”

So the man we saw at the beginning is, in fact, Scorpion, aka Steve Woods. Because this is an 80’s actioner and the movie wants me to refer to him as "Scorpion," I’m going to refer to him as “Steve” throughout. Steve is such a great anti-terror operative for the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) that whatever case he was called back from Spain for, he’s instead dispatched to deal with terrorists who have taken over a plane. He goes on board, unarmed, and manages to disarm all the terrorists, only killing the female one. I think the only person he kills in the movie is that woman. It’s also strange that, considering they were all armed with automatic weapons, the terrorists don’t start lighting up the passengers as soon as Steve gets all kicky. And he was really lucky that they didn’t have any deadman switch or further accomplices hidden in the back.

I’m saying for being the greatest anti-terror agent ever, Steve’s not very good.

The papers love him, though, and give him a big write-up on the front page of the next morning’s edition, including his real name! That’s treated as a problem but never comes up again. Steve is razed by two other members of the agency, one of whom plays the recorder when he’s bored.

Fabulous. The agent’s quirk is he’s an annoying third-grader.

I’m getting bogged down in the minutiae of stupid. Steve’s next case is to guard Faued, a terrorist that’s turning state’s evidence. Steve clocks out of his first shift and hands Faued over to recorder agent, but Faued lets assassins in who kill the recorder kid. Thank Christ. Then they shoot up Faued.

The lawyer who organized Faued’s testimony is giving Steve lip over Faued getting shot, but Steve wants to know how his partner got killed. Turns out Steve and the recorder kid were friends since childhood and the recorder kid became an agent because a corrupt politician was pushing his dad around when he was a kid. This is communicated via flashback where the recorder kid as a kid tries to push over a statue and fails. Since that doesn’t communicate anything, Steve tells us again later.

Obviously Steve’s new search for the recorder kid’s killer is going to ultimately parallel recorder kid’s obsession with stopping crooked politicians and it’ll turn out the lawyer who’s riding Steve’s ass all throughout the movie is behind everything. Nope.

Yeah, just nope. That doesn’t happen. Layer’s just a dick. I think we’re supposed to dislike him because he’s a hot-shot rich guy obsessed with his public persona, not like Steve who lives on a house boat, is a hot-shot agent getting written up in the papers constantly, and has one Porsche in Europe and one Porsche the US (his American one is tan).

Steve manages to track down the assassins who killed recorder kid and put Faued in a coma, but that leads to a dead end. Plus Faued dies. Then he tracks down a woman Faued was trying to contact in Hawaii. He goes there, gets more clues, ultimately learns that the man they were guarding was paid to pretend to be Faued by the real Faued. They find the real guy, capture him, and the lawyer comes to kiss Steve’s ass. Steve walks away, sees the statue that recorder kid hated in the park, and finally shoves it over because that’s what the movie was about all along. THE END.

I’m gonna surprise you here and say this movie was kind of stupid. Fist of the B-List has a write-up of it that goes into more details about the players involved including the fact that the lead was an International Karate Tournament champion and, considering that, the movie has very few fight scenes. That is one of the film’s flaws: it has this mustachioed dimwit doing a lot of detective work, but how he gets from point-to-point doesn’t make sense and he tends to miss obvious things.

Generally speaking, the movie’s laughably bad and I suppose it’s a recommend on that level. I kept rolling my eyes and waiting for the movie to get to the obvious scenes that of course would be there, and then it didn’t have them. The recorder kid’s mission to out crooked politicians doesn’t get a payoff in the lawyer being crooked. The newspaper revealing Steve's real name doesn't become an issue at all. And, of course, the mindless action sequences that are going to be in a film called Scorpion aren't.

The movie is highly riffable, but otherwise a bit dull. Every scene that feels like it’s ramping up to a big action setpiece just turns into a calm and staid police procedural. Even the scene where Steve is chasing one of the killers across the rooftops doesn’t play out how you’d expect. Killer jumps, comes up a bit short, and is hanging from the edge by his hands. Steve walks up to the edge of the first building, leans over, and… basically hangs out while the killer’s grip loosens and he falls. Steve’s reaction is very, “Oh. Well. That’s um… Yeah. This is just going to be unfortunate. A-yup, there he goes.”

Gather your friends, shout things at this movie, just don’t bother suffering it alone.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

257. Mission Stardust

257. Mission Stardust aka … 4… 3… 2… 1… morte (1967)
Director: Primo Zeglio
Writers: Kurt Vogelmann, Sergio Donati, and Primo Zeglio, based on novels by Clark Dalton
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

A mission to the moon encounters alien life in need of assistance, but finds their efforts to help being stymied by a crimelord.

More Italian sci-fi. Ugh. At least this doesn’t feel like a rip-off of a rip-off of Star Wars the way Escape From Galaxy 3 did. However this movie, if possible, is even weirder.

The titular Mission Stardust is flying to the moon on some pretense. Its secret mission is to collect a heretofore undiscovered mineral that’s just beneath the moon’s surface. A villainous crimelord learns of the mission’s real goal and is making preparations to steal the minerals upon the ship’s return. However, something on the moon short circuits all the ship’s electronics. It turns out it’s an alien race genetically identical to humans, but far advanced in terms of society and technology (as they ceaselessly remind us).

The aliens’ ship is in need of repair and one of the two aliens on board is sick. Turns out he has leukemia. Fortunately one of the astronauts know of a doctor in Africa who can treat him. So the alien ship goes to Earth, but is spotted by the African military that tries to attack it. Also, a traitor among the astronauts alerts the crimelord to what’s going on. This, somehow, doesn’t interfere with his plan.

Two of the astronauts set out to find the doctor while the healthy alien keeps the army at bay. The astronauts find the doctor, but are pursued by the army and the crimelord on their way back to the ship. The astronaut the healthy alien is in love with jumps from the car to stop the army and is captured by the crimelord. Meanwhile, on the ship, it turns out the doctor and his nurses are plants sent by the crimelord. They give the sick alien a transfusion, then try to take over the ship. The healthy alien activates the robot guards though, and the doctor and nurses are killed. The astronaut traitor takes the healthy alien and meets up with the crimelord.

Hero astronaut has escaped the crimelord at this point and returns to the ship. They track the healthy alien, rescue her, and pick up the real doctor. During the rescue, the traitor gets killed and the crimelord escapes. However, once back on the ship, the healthy alien blows up the crimelord’s island. In a twist, the crimelord is already on the ship. He holds everyone at gunpoint, but they all advance on him and the healthy alien kicks him out an airlock and into space.

Back on the moon, both the aliens’ and the astronauts’ ships are repaired and preparing to leave. The now-no-longer-sick alien expresses his hope that our two species might someday interact more closely. An astronaut goes looking for hero astronaut and finds him making out with the healthy alien. He returns to the no-longer-sick alien and says he may get his wish. THE END.

It’s just confusing, you know? Right from Jump Street I had no idea what was going on. It’s a moon mission, but that’s a front for mineral extraction. However a crimelord has the details about that secret mission and is planning a heist around it. And once all that gets sidelined by the aliens, it still doesn’t derail the crimelord’s plans. This is one of those movies where I’m not 100% sure the people dubbing it had a script beforehand.

Despite all the craziness of the plot, it’s boring. The movie is really boring. Maybe that’s because of the complicated plot. None of the events matter so there’s never any throughline. The one plot that’s consistent almost throughout the movie is getting a doctor for the alien, and even that’s barely held to. That plot feels like an afterthought every time it comes up.

To the good, this is highly riffable. The movie’s really stupid with mustache-twirling villainy and a nonsensical plot. Add to that terrible effects and a print so bad that it looks like experimental collage making fun of films from this period and you have a real laugh riot. If you have enough people in the room, I guarantee at least one person will start shouting, “What?! What?!” at the screen. Beyond that, give it a pass. None of the characters stand out and it’s never particularly interesting.