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The Stabilizer

Compared to the appellations given to the protagonists of other 1980s action films — the Exterminator, the Punisher, the Executioner — the Stabilizer sounds pretty benign. You’d almost think that he was given that name only because all of those others had already been taken. But then you learn that what the Stabilizer is in charge of stabilizing is the very balance between good and evil itself. And that, it turns out, is a job that involves an awful lot of exterminating, punishing, and executing. But if that name was the result of The Stabilizer being late to the game, that might be explained by the fact that The Stabilizer is an Indonesian film, and that Indonesian exploitation filmmakers of its day were generally loathe to jump on any bandwagon until its moneymaking potential had been well proven. There is no word for “art” in Indonesia, after all (I totally just made that up), and if there was one thing that those filmmakers were interested in above all it was a return on investment, especially on the international market. This last caveat explains another trend in Indonesian genre films of the day; the practice of using Caucasian lead actors, which tended to make it easier to sell the movies to distributors outside of Asia.

Of course, I’m using the term “actors” very loosely in this context, because sheer Caucasian-ness, combined with a more or less pleasing appearance, tended to trump any other requirements where these filmmakers were concerned. This explains why, in H. Tjut Djalil’s Mystics in Bali, we were treated to the dead-eyed approximations of star Ilona Agathe Bastian, a convenient German tourist who was happy to extend her vacation on the producer’s dime — or Lady Terminator‘s Barbara Anne Constable, an Australian who at least looked good in leather and doubled her value by acting as the film’s makeup artist.

In keeping with this practice, The Stabilizer‘s star, Peter O’Brian, an English teacher from New Zealand, was literally plucked off the streets of Jakarta by talent scouts for Raam, Dhamoo, and Gobind Pujabi, the brothers behind the production company Parkit Films. As he tells it, after a demonstration of his fighting skills, O’Brian immediately found himself under contract to the brothers and beginning work on his starring debut, The Intruder. That film’s alternate title, Rambu, not only makes it the film equivalent of one of those Prado bags you can buy on Canal Street, but also makes very clear the type of stardom the Punjabis had in mind for O’Brian, acting ability or no.

And make no mistake about it; it’s impossible not to make fun of Peter O’Brian’s acting ability. His expressions range from stone-faced to just plain stoned, and when required to display an emotion of any greater intensity, it erupts inorganically like a Rage Face projected onto an Easter Island statue. At the same time, the fact that O’Brian had no pretensions about that ability — and, in fact, no ambitions to be an actor in the first place — leeches that mockery of schadenfreude. One also has to consider the impossible odds the man was up against, having been given dialog that even the most seasoned thespian couldn’t elevate above the risible, and then having his voice hastily dubbed over in a cartoonish American accent.

That said, it couldn’t be argued that O’Brian didn’t look the part, having all the bearing and stature of a well muscled, off-brand Stallone. Though if there’s one controversy that rages around him, it’s the question of which big-haired classic rock star he most resembles a bulked-up version of. I say Brian May, but others say the singer from REO Speedwagon, and they are also right. I think it is perhaps this combination of 80s iconography that he embodies that today makes O’Brian so ripe for cult appreciation, as if he were a living monument to all the most in-your-face signifiers of the MTV decade; a hair metal Rambo with an awesome super-mullet.

But more important than looks, O’Brian delivered in full upon the kinetic requirements at the heart of his movies, throwing himself into the many fights with palpable gusto and performing dangerous stunts that range here from driving a motorcycle through a wall to dropping a not inconsiderable distance from an airborne helicopter into the ocean below. The Punjabi brothers’ movies, after all, were not character driven affairs. And it is a marked departure from his debut that, in The Stabilizer, O’Brian’s character is at least given some kind of back story — whereas, in The Intruder, he was just a random guy who really hated crime who had a corresponding knack for coming upon it while aimlessly walking down the street.

In The Stabilizer, O’Brian is Peter Goldson, a globetrotting FBI agent who arrives in Indonesia with his sexy lady partner Sylvia Nash (Gillie Beanz) on a very special assignment, an assignment that will involve no end of motorcycle stunts and vaguely defined martial artistry. Of course, it’s never enough in these movies to see our hero leap a hog off a balcony into a guy’s face or hurl himself from a helicopter; we also have to hear testimonials from the other characters about what a badass he is — and when that hero is portrayed by an actor as characterologically inert as Peter O’Brian, that may be doubly necessary. And so we have Goldson’s friend and Indonesian counterpart “Captain Johnny” (Harry Capri) on hand to provide what would otherwise be the work of an unseen, stentorian narrator. What we are dealing with here, he says, are “the world’s best criminals, who are COMPLETELY capable of upsetting the balance between good and evil in the world.” When the no doubt closely watched instruments that measure such a delicate equilibrium tip into the red, what is needed is ” a man with the guts and ability to restore that balance”. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Peter Goldson.

The threat that Goldson is in country to stabilize in this case is the one posed by drug kingpin and all around shitty guy Greg Rainmaker, who has kidnapped a prominent scientist in the hope of gaining the secret of the high-tech Narcotics Detector he has invented. Every great villain has to have a great gimmick, and Rainmaker’s is the spikes on the bottoms of his shoes, which he uses to stomp foe and disappointing minion alike into a bloody pulp. Clearly, with Rainmaker, the makers of The Stabilizer, in their underachieving way, were going for a classic 007-style villain, which makes me wonder why they didn’t instead name him Goldencleat, or The Cleat Master, or something else more appropriately Bondian. Thundercleat, maybe?

Rainmaker is played by Craig Gavin –- real name Craig Smith — a friend and traveling companion of O’Brian’s whom O’Brian convinced the producers to hire as a condition of his participation. Though Gavin left the acting game after appearing with O’Brian in both The Intruder and The Stabilizer, it must be said that, while he’s no great actor, he certainly took to his bad guys roles in those films with obvious relish, projecting a sleazy menace that easily met the bar set by many more experienced B movie heavies. Suffice it to say that, of all the members of The Stabilizer‘s cast, he’d be far from the first I’d single out as a non-professional. Which leads me to wonder if he was just a sleazy, menacing guy in real life.

Anyway, it turns out that Goldson and Rainmaker have a history, a history that involves — as a flashback reveals — Goldson’s young fiancé falling down on the wrong side of Rainmaker’s cleats. As such, Goldson makes no secret of his personal investment in the assignment: “He’s the man I hate the most”, says O’Brian’s stilted, obviously overdubbed voice at one point. “I DESPISE scum like Rainmaker!” These strong feelings might explain why Goldson exhibits a certain recklessness in his approach to the investigation. During a show-stopping raid on one of Rainmaker’s drug warehouses, an operation that one might think would require that some care be taken in order to preserve important evidence, Goldson instead roars around the interior of the building on his motorcycle, randomly smashing everything in his path as cumulus clouds of loose cocaine billow up around him.

Not surprisingly, Greg Rainmaker has no surplus of love for Goldson, either. You see, it was a bullet from our hero’s gun that gave him the gimp leg he now overcompensates for with those nasty cleats of his. Thus Rainmaker, upon learning of Goldson’s arrival in town, is quick to dispatch his various colorful henchpersons — an Asian Mr. T lookalike among them — to begin the series of assassination attempts that will comprise the meaty core of The Stabilizer‘s second act. This insures that The Stabilizer will be another one of those cop movies in which the heroes never have to do any actual investigating. Instead they are here free to amble through a series of “Mysterious Asia” type travelogue sequences, secure in the knowledge that the bad guys will eventually make themselves known by trying to kill them. Both parties will then chase each other across ever decreasing distances until they converge upon a single point, which will inevitably be an underground hideout with an itchy self destruct button.

Along the way to this preordained conclusion, Goldson finds an ally in Tina (Dana Christina), the vengeful daughter of the kidnapped scientist. This allows for dual romantic pairings between Goldson and Tina on the one hand and Captain Johnny and Goldson’s partner Sylvia on the other, a circumstance that leaves the two male buddies so disbelieving of their own horndogging luck that they can’t help constantly elbowing and high fiving each other while giggling like high school boys. Tina is also desired by one of Goldson’s minions, Victor (Mark Sungkar), who, upon capturing her, is inspired to utter what is probably my favorite line in a film that has already shown itself to have a generous gift for idiosyncratically delivered verbal obscenity: “Your father will cry in hell when he sees me FUCKING you in front of everyone!” (I’m also a big fan of Goldson’s earnest and impassioned reading of the line, “You pig fucker!”)

As you have probably already gathered, The Stabilizer is a very silly film, perhaps even silly enough to stand out within the already very silly realm of 80s action movies as a whole. In addition to what I’ve already catalogued, there’s a scene in which a chaste romantic interlude is inexplicably followed by what appears to be a close up on a woman’s ass crack, only to have a pullback reveal that it is in fact the crook of a man’s arm. (I guess these are the lengths you have to go to suggest onscreen nudity in a predominately Muslim country.) There is also the appearance in more than one location of a framed portrait of Goldson that is obviously modeled upon — if not actually a doctored version of — the image of Sylvester Stallone from the poster for Cobra.

But it must be said that where The Stabilizer most definitely stands out among 80s action movies is… well, in its action. This is a film in which few second pass without something very loudly and frenetically happening, be it a fist fight, car crash, demolition by motorcycle, or just something blowing up for no discernible reason. And while all of this is accomplished with limited means and definitely comes across on the cheesy side, it couldn’t really be called phony. For all its rough edges, this is a spectacle of real metal crashing upon real metal, real fists (and sometimes cleats) pummeling real flesh, and real bodies falling through real space, often while shooting at things with a machinegun and yelling.

Indonesia’s commercial film industry of the 1980s was an inarguably mercenary one. Yet there is still something at once moving and heartbreakingly old fashioned about the obvious fact, evidenced in The Stabilizer, that its base equation was one that saw profit as the reward for a sincere and tireless effort to entertain. As covenants between purveyors of pop culture and audiences go, that’s a downright wholesome one, both transparent and rooted in a relatable work ethic.

Contemporary Hollywood, by contrast, has left sincere and tireless efforts to entertain long behind. Instead, its rush to exclusively cater to the perceived desires of teenage boys has resulted in a monster of its own creation, one distinguished by both an overwhelming sense of entitlement and an easy tendency toward boredom. This monster — I’ll call him “King Boy” — slumps irritably on its throne, casting a jaded gaze upon every new cinematic bauble presented to it, turning a regally unforgiving eye upon any instance of unsatisfactory CG or narrative departure from canon. Perhaps as a defense against this, Hollywood has taken to imbuing its products with a kind of reflexive, built-in self loathing, be it in the form of self-referential snark, or a cagey is-it-a-parody-or-isn’t-it flabbiness of tone. Whatever the case, the end result is that, for the most part, America’s popular cinema is today only capable of entertaining from between quotation marks.

The Stabilizer, bless its heart — and despite its mother lode of unintentional hilarity — has never heard of quotation marks. The only punctuation it needs are exclamation points, like those that cap off every one of Peter Goldson’s ridiculously earnest expressions of rage or purpose. Now, I’m not going to call the movie some kind of underappreciated classic; It’s way too objectively terrible for that. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scratch a certain itch.

Release Year: 1986 | Country: Indonesia | Starring: Peter O’Brian, Craig Gavin, Gillie Beanz, Dana Christina, Harry Capri, Mark Sungkar, Jenny Farida, Kaharudin Syah, Linda Hussein, Belkies, Herman Pero | Screenplay: Deddy Armand, John Rust
Director: Arizal | Producers: Dhamoo Punjabi, Gobind Punjabi, Raam Punjabi

6 thoughts on “The Stabilizer”

  1. My favorite part of the whole movie is a throw-away that only lasts about a second. During a warehouse fight, a dude throws a barrel at O’Brian and it hits him right in the face, bouncing harmlessly off as if it was, you know, just some sort of a prop or something. And O’Brian reacts as if he hasn’t just been hit in the face by a flying barrel, affecting what I am going to call his trademark expression — disinterested rage — and just keeps on fighting.

  2. That’s one of my favorite parts, too, although I couldn’t find the words adequate to describing it. One of the really odd things about it is that it looks like a blooper, like something you’d only see as the result of an editing mistake, except that it’s actually highlighted within the scene. (In fact, I think it’s even in the trailer for the movie.) And, yeah, O’brian reacts with that weird combination of stunned anger and confusion of his that you characterized so well. There’s definitely something very “lizard brain” going on with him in that moment.

    Either that or the jolt has momentarily awakened him to the fact that all of this is actually happening to him and isn’t the result of some kind of peyote-born hallucination. I don’t know if you noticed, but O’Brian seems to be struggling a lot more to stay awake during this one than he did in The Intruder. During the early briefing room scene, when Gillie Beanz is talking, you can even see him leaning his head back against the wall and trying to catch a little shut-eye.

  3. “you learn that what the Stabilizer is in charge of stabilizing is the very balance between good and evil itself”

    So, what does he do when the balance is shifted because there’s NOT ENOUGH evil in the world? That probably never comes up, though.

    Maintaining the balance between good and evil so sounds like a cosmic/mystical/occult scenario that I’m surprised they went not a millimeter further with it. He could have been played as a plainclothes Rambo-angel. Sort of reminds me of Fred Lincoln’s “Wild Man,” where the protagonist had a magic ring but never really DID anything with it. Basically it just allowed him to survive the sort of crash-bang violence that most action protagonists handle quite easily WITHOUT a magic ring…a phenomenon which in itself is sort of inexplicable, now that I think about it. So apparently “Wild Man” included a magic ring for the sake of realism. Huh.

  4. Ronald: I’m especially surprised they didn’t given Indonesian exploitation cinema’s tendency to inject Southeast Asian mysticism into everything. I guess they just didn’t want to upset The Stabilizer‘s air of documentary-like realism.

    James: Yeah, I think the YouTube comments section serves as King Boy’s lair when he’s not out foraging for Mountain Dew and Twizzlers.

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