Category Archives: Film & TV

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Band of the Hand

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Of all the television shows that have come and gone, few had the personal fashion impact of Miami Vice. Its influence was unmatched up until the day all those girls started getting the “Friends haircut.” While I may like to labor under the delusion that I’ve always been a wildly diverse, counter-culture fringe dweller for all my life and started fighting The Man the minutes I was cut out of my mother’s belly (or even before, since I insisted The Man drag me into his world by force), the sad fact of the matter is that in seventh grade, I was still a year away from my revelation. Though hardly a “business as usual” kind of kid, Lord knows I owned a few audaciously colored Polo shirts, a pair of Duck Head khakis, and a pair of those weird tan, soft leather Bass shoes. Not the boat shoes, but those other ones. At least I wasn’t one of the guys who wore Tretorns. I owned a copy of Thriller, and yes, I owned a Miami Vice soundtrack cassette. So sue me. It was the 1980s, and it wouldn’t be until a year later that I would discover skateboarding and begin my evolution.

When reviewing Sword and the Sorcerer, I remarked on the hesitation I feel any time I chose to revisit things from my past, especially from the period of my past falling roughly between 1982 to 1985, a period in which I knew all the words to “Easy Lover.” What disturbs me even more, as eBay makes revisiting my favorite films of that era an easy to afford reality, is that I keep discovering that I still like those movies. By all accounts, The Beastmaster and Gymkata should not be good movies once you cross the threshold into adulthood, doubly so for an adult who spent much of his college career writing papers on “the influence of expressionism in early German silent films” or “the influence of World War One on cinematic art design, 1919-1936.” After watching and dissecting films consider by popular consensus to be among the very best ever made, I should not be sitting down with giddy anticipation to watch The Perils of Pauline, having gained nary an ounce of sophistication since the day I first watched it at a friend’s house on cable television decades ago.

Yet here I sit, constructing a website about the world of film in which Citizen Kane is little more than the punch line to a variety of jokes, where religiously-themed masterpiece movies like Beckett are known but Devil Nuns of Monza is more likely to be given an in-depth analysis.

Michael Mann, the producer who gave the world Miami Vice and helped rocket Phillip Michael Thomas into a lucrative career as a phone psychic spokesman, has come a long way since the days when the interior of police stations were all done up in neon, Edward James Olmos was a police chief with ninja training, and Don Johnson was looking for a heartbeat. Since those days, he’s given the world the critically acclaimed feature films Manhunter (the first movie to introduce the world to the character of Hannibal Lecter), and Heat starring Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and a weird but unmentioned bulbous knob on Val Kilmer’s elbow. In 2001, Mann shook things up again with a highly anticipated biopic about Muhammad Ali with the controversial casting of Will Smith as Kentucky’s own and Mario Van Peebles as Malcom X.

So it is with no great surprise that we’ll be ignoring completely the respectable body of work Mann has given us in the past ten or fifteen years, and concentrating instead on the 1986 film Band of the Hand. Produced by Mann and directed by former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser (also a Miami Vice alumnus, though unlike Mann, he actually got less credible as his career progressed – if you call Kazaam progress), everything about Band of the Hand screams outdated 1980s chic. From the “cool” clothes to the frequent pink and blue neon, there’s certainly no mistaking the era in which this movie was produced. With all that dating going against it, not to mention the inevitable fate of being dismissed as “cheesy” by any feeble-minded simp who can’t get a grip on anything older than The Matrix, I was shocked upon viewing this film some fifteen years after I first thought it was pretty cool to find that it’s actually still pretty cool.

Not that it’s a forgotten classic or anything. There’s no real crime being committed by the bulk of humanity for not remembering this movie was ever made, but it’s still pretty fun, if not more than a little outlandish in its premise. We begin with a series of juvenile delinquents being rounded up for various crimes. To be honest, some of these juveniles look pretty old. I mean, is “international coke trafficker in a slick pastel blazer and sportscar” really something juvenile delinquents do? I figure, you know, knifing someone or stealing porno mags is what juvenile delinquents do, not setting up vast international drug rings. But that’s just what Ruben seems to be doing. He’s on the fast-track to success as a Cuban drug dealer until he gets busted.

Then there’s Moss and Carlos, the leaders of rival black and Puerto Rican street gangs. They get nabbed when a rumble between their respective posses turns into an all-out riot. Generic “pretty boy” Dorsey gets busted trying to sell drugs. Future cross-dressing sex symbol and Hedwig and the Angry Inch director/star John Cameron Mitchell rounds out our band of misfits as JL, a disturbed young punk rocker in the truest 1980s movie sense of the word, meaning they slap spikey orange hair, a pair of Oakleys, and some neon colored paint-splattered clothes on him. He gets arrested when he catches his abusive stepfather beating the shit out of his mom and decides that the old man deserves a little fatal justice for his actions.

But a funny thing happens on the way to jail.

Our five young trouble makers find themselves dropped off not at juvie, but instead in the middle of the swampy Everglades. The only other person around is a gruff dude named Joe who showcases early 1980s “mercenary” fashion by wearing nothing but black tank tops, black cargo pants tucked into his combat boots, and of course, accessorizing with the black bandana tied around his head. Joe informs them that he is about to use up the greater portion of the film’s “suspension of disbelief” allotment. The five rakehells have been drafted into a special rehabilitation program in which they are dropped into the middle of the swamp and forced to fend for themselves while Joe dispenses half-baked zen warrior wisdom, thus teaching them all the value of self-respect and team work, which will eventually prepare them to return to the means streets of Miami where they will defend the locals from a young Laurence Fishburne as a pimp and Ruben’s old drug kingpin boss.

Okay, sure.

There are, of course a couple problems with the plot. First of all, I don’t think, even in the Reagan era, you were allowed to shanghai young criminals and drop them in the swamp with Billy Jack. Sure, you could put a telephone book on their chest and hit it with a hammer, but dropping them in the swamp to eat bugs and slog through the murky, snake- and gator-invested waters of south Florida’s beautiful ecosystem was right out. Luckily, none of these guys seems to have any family, at least not any family that objects to their ne’r-do-well offspring being sent to the swamp to build bivouacs.

The second problem is that Joe doesn’t really seem to teach them very much, and their revelation about the value of sticking together and becoming friends is rushed through with very little development. I’m guessing they were out in the swamp for weeks, but the way the film is put together, it feels like a couple days. It becomes obvious very early on that the film treasures style over substance – not surprising with Michael Mann in the producer’s seat. The end result, also not surprising given Mann and Glaser were both primarily television guys at this point, is a movie that feels like a television show. Each of the boys plays a stereotyped character – -the two gang leaders, the suave drug dealer, the dumb pretty boy, and the quiet crazy guy, all of whom eventually discover the value of good. The story relies on you being familiar with those archetypes (and honestly, who isn’t at this point?), and never really does much to develop the characters beyond that.

Ruben is the one exception to the rule, as he’s the only character the movie spends any real time on. After he and the gang – the Band, if you will – successfully complete their program of Joe going off to eat hot wings while they wallow in the muck, Ruben’s first instinct is to bail on the ghetto squat they adopt as their home and headquarters and return to his posh life and position of power. Part of his motivation is his girlfriend, Nikki, played by a young Lauren Holly. She’s still caught up in “the life,” though she’s starting to fear for hers. When Ruben’s old boss declares war on “that bunch of young punks” who are cleaning up his most profitable ghetto, Ruben has to chose between the high life or street war alongside his new friends. Which way he goes is no big surprise, of course.

What is a big surprise, especially for a movie like this, is how good most of the young actors are. John Cameron Mitchell was years away from becoming a counter-culture darling, but he brings a quiet and believable intensity to the character of JL and actually softens the “smart, crazy dude” stereotype by playing it a little more subtle where most people would have hooted and hollered way over the top. The late Michael Carmine does a great job as Ruben, and the rest of the cast performs with workhorse-like competency within the limited roles assigned to them. Carlos is protrayed by Anthony Quinn’s son, though from the looks of him, he could just as easily be related to Antonio Sabata, Sr. James Remar, known in b-movie fandom as one of the greatest sleazy villains of all time (or alternately as “that guy who reminds me of Willem Dafoe”), turns in exactly the performance you expect: delightfulyl slimy. Lawrence Fishburne is mostly there to tool around in a pimpmobile and do that thing where you talk big and threaten some dude with a gun, then that guy disarms you in the blink of an eye and kicks your ass.

Where the movie fails the talents of the cast is in the writing, which as I said, suffers from shallowness and a certain degree of far-fetchedness, if there is such a word. It was the 1980s, though, and if Arnold could walk slowly across a lawn while three dozen guys with M-16s fail to shoot him, then a quintet of wacky young punks can train in the swamp to fight Miami drug dealers. At nearly two hours, though, they should have had time to do more with characters other than Ruben. Instead, it’s up to us to fill in the blanks. Joe spouts off idiotic “way of the peaceful warrior” philosophies that we have to accept as profound and deep because the movie calls for it. He’s wise, or so we’re told, but in reality, his wisdom comes off like the dime-store nonsense your finer high school football coaches spout off.

The scenario itself is rushed and undeveloped as well. It’s like we’re watching them bicker and fight with one another, then in the next scene there should be a bit of text saying, “And they fought long into the night, but by dawn, had learned to respect one another.” There’s no real sense of character development from the guys. We’re asked to simply accept at face value that somewhere out there in the swamp, they discover their humanity.

Where the first half of the film is a so-so Dirty Dozen type “misfits train to be the best of the best” type film, the second half sees the movie dive into a 1980s interpretation of all those “let’s clean up the ghetto” type films from the 1970s, with Joe being a link to the many “vets clean up the ghetto” type movies that became popular in the 1980s. You know the ones. A Vietnam vet returns to “The World” only to discover that the madness of war is nothing compared to the madness that has seized the streets of America. Where as the cats in the 1970s generally fought back with kungfu and various wacky schemes, in the Reagan Era, they decided to dispense with the shenanigans and simply start blowing people away and shooting them with flamethrowers.

The action is poured on pretty heavily in the second half of the film, and while it’s certainly not on par with what was going on in Hong Kong at the time, there were certainly worse atrocities committed in the name of American action choreography, many of them conveniently located in Ninja III: The Domination. With Mann’s guiding hand, and no neophyte to the world of action himself, Glaser directs the action sequences with style, energy, and a quick pace. The finale sees the Band unite to take out a major drug manufacturing plant in South Florida, disappointing hundreds if not thousands of Bret Easton Ellis characters and fans alike.

Stylewise, the movie is Miami Vice. Mann spared no Vice idiosyncrasy or element in this big-screen adaptation of his pastel, neon-drenched Miami. Had it been legally possible, they could have actually set this movie in the Miami Vice universe as a spin-off with Crockett and Tubbs cameos. No such cross-over, however, though the film looks exactly like its small-screen counterpart. Everyone dresses like a rock star. Everyone has cool cars. And of course, every light in Miami is neon pink. That last one actually isn’t so far from the truth. While it would have been nice to see Mann and Glaser concoct something a little different, you can’t really blame them for drawing from the Miami Vice well. That sort of style is inevitable for Mann. Even Heat, produced years later and set in Miami’s kindred spirit of a city, Los Angeles, still has certain scenes that are heavy on the Vice style. I wonder if Mann will apply the same glowing pink neon to the seedy world of boxing in Ali.

While the style of the film certainly dates it as a product of the 1980s, it doesn’t torpedo the film the way you might think. This could be because everyone these days apes John Woo, and some of Woo’s films, while certainly not mimicking Miami Vice possess that same “ultra suave” sense of style. Thus the Band of the Hand fashion isn’t as outlandish now as it probably should be.

The direction itself is solid if unspectacular. Like the plot, the direction relies primarily on the popularity of the Miami Vice sheen to carry the film, rising to the task only when the action scenes erupt and everyone starts jumping around with uzis, the gun of choice in pretty much every 1980s urban action film. Glaser keeps a solid pace throughout the film, even during the requisite dramatics between Ruben and Nikki. Plus, this sort of film always gets away with a false sense of tension since you know at least one character is going to die. As long as they aren’t all total jackasses, you’ll at least care somewhat about who it is. Once again, the charisma of the individual actors outshines the limitations of the script, making it easier to become more emotionally invested in everyone than the writing deserves. Not that we’re on the same level of Jimmy Cagney or Chow Yun-fat here, but considering the bulk of the characters populating the action films of the 1980s, the Band is certainly worth more of your time than the collected characters of Michael Dudikoff.

Music is important to the movie as well, and if you know a thing or two about Michael Mann, you know that he was one of the first people to really emphasize rock (or what passed for rock at the time), and if nothing else, he was very good at it. In fact, he’s better at using music to convey mood and emotion than the script is. While I won’t be searching eBay for copies of the Band of the Hand LP or cassette (CD? Whatever. Those things will never catch on), within the context of the film, it works remarkably well, though it also makes it feel even more like a Miami Vice spin-off than before.

So yeah, it’s not a great film, but it also doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as off-handedly as some people do. I regard any criticism that can’t get beyond, “Dude, it was so cheesy” and thus disregarding a film simply because it was made in a time and fashion period different from their own. I don’t think I give Band of the Hand the benefit of the doubt simply because it came from the 1980s, a time when I was, you know, discovering girls and growing hair on parts of my body where there hadn’t been any hair before (like the soles of my feet and my tongue). That’s not valid because, frankly, I hate the 1980s. Not as much as I hate the disco era, but if you want to get a groan out of me, simply force me to endure any number of “Retro Eighties” forms of entertainment. So it’s not like I have a soft spot for things that are distinctly 1980s.

What it boils down to, then, is the simple fact that I don’t think Band of the Hand is a particularly bad movie. Sure, it has some pretty obvious flaws, and in the end, it’s pretty silly. In the end, however, it does for Michael Mann what The Last Dragon did for Barry Gordy. Actually, “not much” would be what it did for them. But both, in my opinion, manage to rise above their obvious short-comings and deliver movies that are, if not perfect, at least fun. Compared to most of the action films from the 1980s, Band of the Hand is a damn work of art, but removed from those low standards, it remains a decent if not entirely successful action film with a goofy moral, lots of energy, and style to spare. I went into it expecting to laugh, and I discovered that despite the 1980s trappings, it was still an alright b-grade action film. It may not be The Killer, but at least it isn’t Panther Squad.

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Redneck Revenge

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Sorry about the lack of screencaps. I owned this years ago on VHS, and the tape was a victim of a particularly hungry VCR. In reflection, it may be that the VCR was only trying to protect me.

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: in my opinion, when you call your movie Redneck Revenge, you’re establishing very high expectations. Your movie should have rednecks, and it should have some revenge, and with such a title communicating both low-brow sleaze and violence, you should also have some nudity and probably some car chases where a cop car flips over or jumps through the open doors of a box car on a moving freight train. You know, cool Southern stuff. And let’s face it — we’re talking in relative terms here. It’s not that hard to make a passable hicksploitation film. You churn out a script revolving around either a lone lawman fighting small town corruption or an ex-con who is trying to resist returning to a life of crime, yet gets pressured into breaking the law by small town corruption. You have a fat sheriff in mirrorshades, and you have gals in short cut-offs. You have ample use of the word “boy” aimed at adults. And you have shitloads of fightin’, shootin’, drinkin’, and drivin’ — sometimes all done at the same time. An untrained chimp could probably crap out a hicksploitation film that I would be happy with so long as it contained these key elements in some loosely assembled fashion. Alas that Redneck Revenge was not made by a collective of untrained chimps.

The action, if you want to amuse yourself by using that term, begins with a small-town sheriff on a drug bust. I could make fun of the sheriff, but truth be told, he’s one of those Joe Don Baker model of guys who could no doubt kick my ass up one bank of the Mississippi and down the other. The sheriff’s name is Rick Montana, which is a pretty good hicksploitation film name. Montana is a good first or last name for anyone in the South, much like Cody, Scout, or Skyler. Rick is hiding in the bushes while his undercover man makes a cocaine deal. Of course the bad guys, what with the fact that they are bad guys and all, kill the undercover guy rather than pay him. It’s not that they wanted to kill a cop; they would have shot him even if he was a fellow criminal because the first rule of action films is that no transaction between criminals happens without one group double-crossing the other.

As the deal turns fatal, DEA agents and the state police swarm out of their hiding places. Actually, no, it’s just Rick, who apparently thought he could bust up a huge drug smuggling ring with just him and his buddy. I guess his thinking was not entirely off base, as all evidence points to these drug dealers being pretty crummy at their job. Sure they have a briefcase full of cocaine, but man alive do they ever drive a piece of junk car. It’s like buying coke from Roy Clark. Anyway, Rick comes lumbering down out of the hills with shotgun a-blazin’, and despite the fact that he’s shooting people at more or less point blank range, there is no blood. There is no force of impact. There is no shotgun wound, or any sort of wound at all.

Now believe me, I understand the hassle of pulling off gunshots in a low budget or no budget film. You have to get permits, you have to pay fees, and you have to get blanks, a special effects guy who can do squibs, et cetera et cetera. It can be a hassle, and rigging your own squibs is not as easy as one might think. You can’t just tie a firecracker to a condom filled with fake blood and hope for the best. That’s a lesson I learned first-hand. So what you do, if you have any respect at all for what you are attempting to make, is you work around it. You don’t show the shotgun go off. You don’t show the bullet wound until after the fact, when all you have to do is poke a hole in someone’s shirt. It’s not difficult at all to dance around the fact that you don’t have blanks or explosive squibs. This movie decides instead to have a guy running out of the woods firing a shotgun with no kickback and no smoke that kills people without actually causing any physical damage to their bodies. I suppose it could be some new experimental weapon, or maybe Rick is supposed to be something of an idiot, and he really is just running out after people with an empty gun. After all, the people he “kills” can be seen clearly taking big, heaving breaths after their so-called deaths. It could be that they were just like, “Oh Jesus, this guy again? Okay, when he makes the gun noise, just pretend to die, and then he’ll go away.”

After killing the drug dealers, he kneels for the touching scene next to his fallen comrade, whom he then leaves lying out in the field along with the two dead drug dealers and several kilos of cocaine. I may not be a law enforcement specialist, but I watched a lot of episodes of TJ Hooker (well, one episode, which is probably more than most of you) when I was younger, and I’m pretty certain there are guidelines for drug busts and homicides, like you report the whole incident and don’t leave all the bodies and drugs lying in a field where some young backwoods kid can take his friends on an adventure by uttering the line “You guys wanna see a dead body?” I’m pretty sure that even if you are a big Southern sheriff in a tank top who refuses to call the DEA or any back-up at all in on a coke bust, you still have to do stuff afterwards with all the corpses and evidence.

But Rick will have none of that. While his narration rambles on in a quality so fuzzy you can’t make out anything but “Seems like everyone close to me ends up dead,” Rick just leaves everything lying, hops in a nearby muscle car, and drives off into the sunset. So we’re not off to a smashing start, but at the same time, the movie hasn’t done anything too terribly unforgivable. I mean, smokeless shotguns that leave no bullet wounds in the still-breathing dead are signs of sloppy film making, but there’s a certain charm to them as well.

We then skip forward, and presumably to another town, where a big fat guy who looks like Wilford Brimley pulls up on a fancy-pants three-wheeled motorcycle, or trike if you are a trike fan or a five-year-old. It looks like something a Shriner might drive around during a homecoming parade. A local youth is mightily impressed with the trike however, and as the fat guy, named Red, slides gracefully off his iron steed, the youth takes to polishing the same three or four parts over and over. They have some sort of conversation, but apparently the audio was looped in at a later date after being recorded beneath a highway overpass as a tornado blew through. As Red saunters off, another fat guy pulls up in a car and immediately begins to admire the trike as well. This second fat guy, different from the first in that he doesn’t have a thick droopy mustache, is the local town boss. He sure does like that trike.

Now, okay, let’s review. Lone lawman, check. Fat small town boss, check. Shotguns and muscle cars, check. So they had all the ingredients. They just didn’t know what to do with them. The shotgun doesn’t actually shoot, and the corrupt boss drives an Acura. What the hell kind of small Southern boss drives an Acura or Saturn or whatever the hell it was? I mean, Sheriff Rick may be sorta bad at drug busts, but at least he drives a muscle car. Bosses are supposed to drive those stretch caddies with steer horns on the hood, even if they aren’t in Texas. Or a cool truck. Or something, anything, other than an Acura. Remember Isaac Hayes in Escape From New York as the Duke? He drove around a big long Caddy with chandeliers for headlights. You knew he was the shit. Now, how much different would his first scene be if, instead of a long Caddy with chandelier headlights, he had stepped out of a Dodge Neon?

The boss says something, but since the audio has been recorded through a broken mic wrapped in a very thick wet towel, I’ll de damned if I could make out a word of it. I’m guessing he was telling the rag boy how much he liked the trike and how he would like to steal it or something. The boss then waddles over to Red’s bar and tries to muscle the trike out of his possession. You may be thinking that a fruity looking custom trike may not be that cool an impetus for violence, and you’d be right. It’s not like the boss is fighting to buy some land so he can tear down a youth center and build a casino. He wants a trike. If he’s the boss of the town, why doesn’t he just go down to the shop and order one? If he had watched this movie, he would have seen that the end credits display the shop’s address for a good five minutes, so it’s not like he couldn’t find the place.

I guess even the boss felt like the whole trike thing was pretty lame, so he also throws in that he wants to muscle Red out of ownership of this shitty bar in the middle of nowhere that about four people go to. It’s sort of like if two people went to war over the ownership of a Hardees franchise. When the boss’s goons try to rough ol’ Red up, it attracts the attention of Rick, who had been sitting down at the end of the bar looking sort of like a disturbing cross between Jerry Lawler, John Ritter, and that guy Al from Home Improvement. Rick doesn’t take too kindly to these yokels hassling Red, so he decks them in the lamest barroom brawl you’re likely to see. One of the guys has got to be lugging around over three hundred pounds, not an ounce of it muscle.

Red’s assailants thus vanquished, Rick takes time out to please us all with an acoustic musical interlude — he kicks ass AND plays acoustic guitar for the ladies afterwards! That’s a modern sort of hero. While a couple of the local barmaids sit and half listen to his crooning, Rick goes through an entire. They go through the whole song! And it sounds like they recorded it on a Fischer Price tape deck. This sort of movie is made by calling on friends and local businessmen who want to get their wares put on screen for a few minutes in exchange for some goods or services. Apparently none of the people involved knew anyone from a local radio station, or even a high schooler who had mastered the art of operating a tape recorder.

While Rick woos the lasses with his velvet voice and guitar picking, the gang of fat guys convene to mumble about teaching everyone a lesson. I gotta tell you, even though one of them looks a lot like Big Van Vader, this is a pretty sad gang. What is this guy the boss of anyway? If his dream in life is to own a trike and a shithole of a bar, he can’t be a very powerful boss. This is like watching the VFW guys try to take over a town, except that those guys, even though they could all be in their eighties, could still kick a little ass better than this bunch of yahoos.

And then we’re back to Rick, who is singing another song! Geez! Only a minute in between acoustic guitar interludes??? Isn’t that against the law? What the hell did I rent here? Redneck Revenge or Joan Baez and Friends Honor John Denver? At least this number was interrupted by a Freddie Prinze Sr. look-alike, who comes to threaten Rick some more. Since Rick just kicked all their asses when they attacked him at once, kicking one guy’s ass isn’t that big a deal, though I wish I could say he issued an ass kicking. Instead, he just sort of grabs the guy and maybe pushes him around a little until the guy falls down and runs off. To be fair, it looks like most of the real-life fights I’ve ever seen.

The boss decides he can catch more flies with honey than he can with an out of shape Mexican and a fat guy. He catches up with Rick while the heroic one is hopping into his muscle car. Every time they show the muscle car, surf guitar music plays, which is a pretty cool feature of the car. The boss apologizes for the initial bad impression and invites Rick over to his vast estate for a party. Rick, not wanting to miss out on free booze and chicks, agrees. He must have been mightily disappointed. Look, every evil guy has to have an estate and a pool with lots of random sexy women cavorting around it, preferably topless. How many movie bad guys have you seen in this set-up, usually as they sit in a lounge chair, wearing sunglasses and a terrycloth robe, talking on a cell phone? Every lame action movie has this scene in order to communicate the wealth, power, and decadence of the master criminal.

The big problem here is that this boss’s decadent orgy looks like a Fourth of July pool party. He has a modest suburban home and a refreshing stock of mildly attractive to Plain Jane gals populating his pool. None of them are topless. What the hell? How did this guy get a gang, even one as lame as what he has? I mean, Spankie from the Little Rascals was a more imposing and better connected gang leader than this loser. Come on, wood paneling may give your living room a cozy feel, but it’s not the sort of interior decor a ruthless crime lord goes in for. This guy seems only slightly better off, if any at all, than everyone else in the movie. Who are these women in the pool lazily tossing a ball around? And why do they hang out at this fat old guy’s pool party when it’s obvious he wields no authority or power whatsoever and isn’t even slightly rich? Why does he command a gang of goons and bikini clad lasses he apparently picked up down at the local temp secretary office?

Okay, so this boss has Rick over for the pool party, and they hang out for a while, and then what does he do to seal his possession of Rick’s soul? Offer him a room full of naked women who will attend to his every desire? Offer him wealth, power, political influence, or free rides on the trike? No, he invites Rick into the basement to watch crappy movies. This may be an okay thing for me to do on slow Saturday nights with a few friends, but I’m not trying to win over a righteous sheriff and get him to help me bump off some other old fat guy so I can have his bar and bike. And of all the movies they pick to watch, they watch one called Blood Bath, apparently about Tommy Smothers hunting a serial killer. This all happens because — the bg reveal — this fat boss is played by exploitation film impresario David F. Friedman, and lord knows that man has a basement full of movies.

We then get to watch several minutes of this completely different movie distributed by Something Weird Video. At first I thought someone had recorded over part of Redneck Revenge with a bunch of advertisements. I mean, it goes on for several minutes, but then they cut back to the fat guy laughing. I guess this is part of the movie. Let’s lay something on the line right now — Redneck Revenge is barely an hour long. At least seven of those minutes go to Rick singing songs. A good few minutes more go to playing scenes from a completely different movie of similar American Wrestling Association quality production values. Later on, we’ll have pointless minutes devoted to Rick farting around in an ultralight (one of those little flying lawn mower deals) and looking at an elephant. If your movie is only an hour long, then half the total running time should not be filler, especially filler from other movies full of filler. How the hell hard is it to just rip off Walking Tall? I mean, the movie’s already been made. All you gotta do is cheapen it up a bit, get worse actors, and presto! You have Walking Tall II.

Anyway, after a few minutes of that, it’s back to the pool party, where the women are still tossing around the beach ball and possibly popping Valium based on the level of excitement they communicate. And then it’s back inside and suddenly we — I mean they — are watching Something Weird nudie loops. I’ll tell you what — if this is the only nudity in the whole movie, I’m gonna be mightily pissed. After tempting Rick with this small collection of select titles from the Something Weird catalog, the fat boss figures he’s got our man in the palm of his hand. He heads out to make a deal with the Red: bet the bike and the bar (I think) in the local tough man contest. If Red can’t find a man who can win the tournament, he’ll lose it all. If he wins, well then, he doesn’t seem to get anything. Pretty damn stupid bet if you ask me, but then, I’m not a betting man.

Needless to say, Rick steps up to the plate, even displaying his boxing prowess by breaking a pool cue against the table, which I’m sure Red really appreciated. He only has three customers, and now one of them is always smashing things. The boss is understandably angry, having thought that sitting in the basement watching boring movies with fully clothed women who didn’t put out had been more than enough to entice Rick to join the dark side. Rick then switches into an “Anabolic Activator” sweatshirt, cut off 80s style to communicate his recent acquisition of the eye of the tiger. He goes around watching stock footage of local tough man competitions for more padding. Frequent cuts to reaction from the people in this movie help reassure us that this is all part of the plot and not just some cable access thing someone accidentally recorded over the movie. This goes on for a while.

32 minutes in, and we finally get a rebel flag. How the hell can you make a movie called Redneck Revenge and let half a stinkin’ hour pass without a single rebel flag? Sorry, the one in the opening credits is a cheap shot, and I don’t count that.

Determined to make sure Rick doesn’t make it to the fateful tough man competition, the fat gang (not to be confused with the elusive and mysterious Gang of Fatty) sets up a cunning trap. Rick walks into an ambush, or purposely drives there, and gets his ass kicked in a very boring fashion. Then they drag him around behind the truck, because you always have to drag someone behind a truck in these movies. Luckily, they put a thick jacket on him and only drive across grass at very slow speeds. Don’t the dozens of cars passing nearby on the road notice this? And for that matter, hasn’t anyone thought of, you know, calling the cops? It’s obvious that this boss is not one of those bosses who has the mayor and the chief of police in his pocket. I mean, this guy can’t even put the squeeze on some old fart named Red. If this guy is lucky, maybe he can bully around the local newsie, but even that will only last until the newsie goes to high school or starts drinking Met-Rx. This boss has no local power whatsoever, so why don’t they just call the cops on him and his worthless bunch of goons?

Anyway, I guess that doesn’t matter. The boss shows up and says he doesn’t want Rick to not be able to enter the contest. Why not? The bet was that Red couldn’t find a guy who could win, so if Rick can’t compete, well then there you go. Whatever the case, they leave Rick lying in the field. In a better generic action film, this is the part where a Shaolin monk or crazy feral girl is supposed to discover the beaten hero and nurse him back to health, after which he can start training for revenge. Instead, it’s fat Red on his chopper trike, and they head off to the bar to get cleaned up. Don’t these guys have homes? And how the heck did Red know Rick was lying unconscious in a vacant lot? Oh yeah, probably because the whole thing took place a few feet from a major road.

Anyway, I don’t know about you, but all the action up to this point has me drained! Why don’t we take a break from the non-stop thrills of Rick sitting poolside and turn our attentions to the wacky zany county fair! The arrival of the fair is announced by stock circus music. You know, a wise man once said that “Circus music ain’t nothing but music you play at a circus,” and I’d be hard-pressed to argue with him. This is the lamest county fair ever. I’ve been to a lot of county fairs. I’ve bee to county fairs in Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, and even stopped at random ones as I stumbled across them driving through Georgia and Tennessee. I know my Southern county fairs, and let me tell you this one will make you wish it was as good as those mini-fairs that set up for a few days in the K-Mart parking lot.

This is where the tough man competition is being held. Scenes of tough man action are intercut with interesting shots establishing the festive atmosphere of the fair — a haunting juxtaposition of the fun of a fair with the dire situation Rick is in. Okay, not really. Mostly it’s scintillating action-packed shots of funnel cakes being made. Now I like a good funnel cake. I even like a bad one, but I don’t necessarily want to rent a video of them being made. Then it’s back to the contest, where they do the thing where the big guy holds the little guy back by the forehead, and the little guy swings wildly, his every blow falling woefully short of its target. I know my uncle used to do this to me, but is it really a viable defensive move in a no holds barred, bare knuckle street fight? For that matter, the “Indian wrist burn” my uncle generally followed up with looks to be more powerful than any of the offense we see on display in this parade of small town machismo.

After a little of that, as if the film didn’t already have enough filler, we get random shot of Rick petting an elephant. Just because he’s been kidnapped, beaten, and dragged slowly behind a truck doesn’t mean Rick can’t appreciate exotic animals. And then it’s back to the fight. Aren’t people supposed to wear athletic gear? I mean, even in a small town affair such as this, shouldn’t the guys show up wearing something other than their work clothes? I don’t know — a pair of old gym shorts, some sweat pants, something like that? And now that I think about it, what happens if neither Rick nor one of the boss’s goons wins the tournament? Surely in a small rural Alabama town, there must be at least one hell-raising young ass-kicker who can wipe the floor with everyone else. And why is this whole sequence set to 1980s generic breakdance music? What the hell is Southern or rednecky about that? Were they too damn cheap to spring for some stock banjo music?

More elephant footage then, set to drunken kooky music. Isn’t this Rick guy supposed to be fighting or something? For a bare-knuckles, no-holds-barred competition populated by the local fat boss’ thugs, he’s yet to get so much as a scratch or bruise, and he apparently has plenty of time and energy for traipsing about the midway in between matches, spending his time stroking elephants and watching a family of acrobats. With the first day of vicious fighting over, the thugs proclaim that it is time to take the kid gloves off. Shouldn’t they have done that to begin with? What was the benefit of having the kid gloves on in the first place? And once again, isn’t this a lot of trouble to go through for a trike?

To prove they mean business, the fat boss’s thugs show up and hang Rick’s little brother, or buddy, who possesses an unsettling resemblance to Roger Clinton. Okay, now I have to ask one more time — aren’t there any cops in this town? This fat guy isn’t so rich that he could have bribed the whole place, or even one person. Hell, his television was a 15-inch Magnavox. Isn’t Rick a cop? Or at least an ex cop? Wouldn’t it occur to him that maybe he could seek assistance from the local constabulary? And isn’t this a pretty serious, rapid escalation in the type of crime they are willing to commit?

To cement their evilness, the thugs kidnap the girl Rick had been scamming on with the acoustic guitar approach. You know, just in case killing his little brother wasn’t enough. Why would they kill him and only kidnap her? Naturally, they say if he ever wants to see her alive again, he’ll lose the fight. So okay, we have extortion, assault and battery, murder, and now kidnapping. I’m still thinking a call to the cops might be in order, but then, I’m no Rick Montana. Angry at hearing this threat, Rick disregards that whole thing about not killing messengers and snaps the neck of the guy who delivered the threat. Isn’t that, you know, illegal? I mean, the guy wasn’t even armed. He didn’t even take a swing at Rick. I know Rick’s pissed about his brother, but breaking someone’s neck when you don’t even know if they were involved in the murder isn’t the most heroic thing in the world, even if the guy looks sort of like a woodchuck.

Rick determines that the best course of action is to fly around in an ultralight for a spell. An ultralight is a very small aircraft, generally single person, that looks like a flying go-cart. You don’t need a pilot’s license, and they are fairly cool, I will admit. But what the hell? It’s not like you can sneak up on someone in one of those things, especially if it has a giant neon green sail. They aren’t very fast, but they are very loud. What the heck is this supposed to accomplish other than to show off the fact that one of Rick Montana’s friend’s owns an ultralight? Well, I guess he does land it about fifteen feet away from where he took off, so maybe he was just blowing off some steam. He might have given one of those, “You know, when I’m up here, all the problems of the world seem a million miles away” speeches, but since the audio throughout the whole movie was recorded via an intricate network of cardboard paper towel tubes, I can’t be sure if anything was said at all.

So Rick sits and waits for the bad guys to stop by with the girl, and then he kicks some ass and rescues her. Does he use a gun on these possibly armed assailants who have already murdered his little brother? Hell no, that ain’t the Southern way. Oh wait, yes it is. Anyway, Rick opts to open a can of whoop-ass pro wrestling style, and takes on the thugs with a folding metal chair. This scene, incidentally, like just about every other scene in the movie, takes place either in a construction site or a car port. It’s difficult to tell which, but apparently this entire town is made of car ports and construction sites.

Meanwhile, the fat boss is back hassling Red again. Why do they keep letting him into the bar? Rick shows up to clean a little house, this time sporting a wrestling belt. Oh wait, it’s from the tough man competition. I guess he won. Finally, some cops show up with Rick and arrest the boss. Shouldn’t they be upset about the dude with the broken neck? And shouldn’t they mention that maybe Rick should have called them before the kidnapping and murder? Speaking of which, for a guy whose little brother was murdered the day before, Rick is in a pretty jovial mood. He even feels like singing! Oh no, wait, instead he just drinks. Oh no, he is singing after all, performing rousing country western numbers with a band called The Tres Hombres,which features four members. I guess one guy isn’t an hombre. So in exchange for the life of his little brother, Rick helped a stranger maintain possession of a goofy looking custom trike. The movie closes with some break dancing music. Where the hell did that come from?

Since I always like to accentuate the positive of even a very bad movie, allow me to state the two positive aspects of Redneck Revenge. First, Lori Gretchen, who appears for a few seconds as a random girl in the pool party scene, is cute. Second, the movie is only an hour long. Somehow, these are hardly worth the investment of time, but at least I didn’t trade the life of a loved one.

To top things off, Big Ray’s Custom Trike gets a credit, complete with address and multiple angles of the famous trike as featured in the smash hit Redneck Revenge. It goes on for a spell. So what you have here is not a movie at all. It’s a very long commercial for Big Ray’s and to a lesser extent, Something Weird Video. Normally, I’m a huge fan of Something Weird, but I’ll never forgive them for this. As far as locally produced commercials go, this was pretty good. It was even better than the old Gainesville Steven A. Bagan, attorney at law commercials where the little slobbering kid waggles his finger at the camera and drools out the line, “Wemembull! Safety foist!” It was not, however, better than the collective commercial works of Louisville’s “Smilin’ Irishman” used car lot commercials.

As far as movies go, even hour-long shot-on-video movies made for less than the price of a meal at Denny’s, this thing stinks. Almost all of it is filler. You can’t hear a single word that’s being said. There’s violence but not interesting violence, no nudity except in those strip loops they watch, and every character is goofy beyond belief. The script couldn’t have been worse if it had been written by very small mollusks. All this over a trike? A local boss criminal who has no power yet can still go around killing Roger Clinton without anyone getting upset? Okay, maybe that’s believable, but what about everything else? There is little at all of merit in this film unless you are really into trikes, and even then it’s probably still not worth it.

And what’s with all the goddamned circus footage? If you’re going to put a family of acrobats in your movie, at least get ones that have mastered something more than the dramatic front tumble or swinging back and forth on the trapeze. I understand the people who made this probably wanted to cram everything from their local community into the movie, but you know what? They’re community was boring. Think about how much fun you would have watching home videos of complete strangers talking about middle school football, and you have in your mind a video that will prove at least twice as interesting as this.

I want to say good things about this movie. Believe me, I do. Rick Montana is a big guy, and I don’t want to piss him off by insulting a movie that, despite what appears on the screen, was probably a lot of work. You’ll notice that, unlike other movie review websites, I rarely post negative reviews, and even my negative reviews strive to highlight the positive parts. I’m a very forgiving man. I’m especially forgiving when it comes to do-it-yourself projects. I generally feel that they deserve the support of the fringe film community because they are labors of love from people working 100% outside the mainstream. I want to like those films, because I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews. I didn’t enjoy Redneck Revenge even more (or is it less?). I hope Big Ray got a little extra business out of this, or Rick Montana got a recording deal or something, because then at least this film would have served some purpose.

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Revenge of the Ninja

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Sometimes, real life events contribute to the effectiveness of an on-screen story. A tremendous act of synchronicity results in the alignment of elements, each one falling into place so perfectly that it could never be orchestrated by anything but nature itself. Such is the case with the mini-flood of ninja movies during the 1980s, and the life of the star of most of the movies — a man named Sho Kosugi. No one had heard of Sho Kosugi, but when the ninja craze hit American shores, he suddenly stepped out of the shadows and into the limelight, bringing to our attention the secret tactics and lives of the mysterious warriors known as ninja. When the craze finally died out, Sho Kosugi vanished back into the shadows without a trace. Some said he went into hiding, pursued by an ancient sect of ninja who wanted to kill him for divulging their secrets to the world. Some say that to this very day he is kicked back and living the good life in some secret mansion alongside Bruce Lee, also in hiding from those who would seek to murder him.

Whatever the case may be, there is no denying that Sho Kosugi’s mysterious past, present, and future, contributed to the mystique of the ninja movie. And though his son, Kane, carries on the tradition established by his father of Kosugi family members starring in sub-par martial arts films (Kane has starred in shows like KakuRanger and Ultraman Powered), he does not wield the power or command the respect his father did. Sho Kosugi was a Asian bad-ass in American film when there were no Asian bad-asses. Bruce Lee had passed on and wouldn’t enjoy a revival until the 1990s. Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan were busy kicking ass over in Hong Kong, but their wild exploits were all but non-existent if you were living in America. No, the best we had over here was Chuck Norris, donning the traditional martial arts garb of a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, some rawhide vest, and of course, Chuck Norris brand karate stretch jeans, as advertised in early 1980s copies of Inside Kungfu.


When the notorious production team of Golan and Globus, who gave us many of the films we watch today on Mystery Science Theater 3000, decided they wanted to make a film about ninjas, they called upon Sho Kosugi to be the heavy. For some reason, Italian B-movie star Franco Nero was cast as the doughy hero. He’s best known for his role as Django, the cowboy who wanders the old west with a coffin in tow. That’s cool and all, but now he got to don a white ninja outfit and have a stunt double jump around. It … didn’t work. The film was Enter the Ninja, and while there are many interesting stories about it, I will save those for an actual review of Enter the Ninja. Suffice it to say that audiences were wowed by the zany ninja antics, a trend was born, and no one gave a shit about Franco Nero. They did, however, dig Sho Kosugi. So when Golan and Globus decided to milk the genre for all it was worth (but not as badly as Thomas Tang would milk it) and make another ninja film, they called on Sho Kosugi to play the lead.


This was at a time when Asian men were reduced to playing ass grabbers (Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects) and seedy criminals (Year of the Dragon). Even black heroes had fallen by the wayside. The 1980s were the era of big white heroes, and the days of Bruce Lee and Fred Williamson were gone. So it was a big deal to have Sho Kosugi storm the party and lend a non-white face to violent, heroic derring-do. Although Sho Kosugi was still fulfilling a stereotype (martial arts bad-ass), you gotta admit that’s not a bad stereotype to have. It’s better than most. And it’s cooler than the white American stereotype, which is a big dumb-ass with a gun. He fulfilled a more important role, though, that had been vacated with the death of black action films and the gentrification of kungfu films. He was a non-white hero kicking ass in a predominantly white world. It’s no wonder Sho and the ninja films were embraced so whole-heartedly. For anyone who couldn’t relate to the time-hopping exploits of Michael J. Fox or the sweaty machismo of Rambo, Sho Kosugi was all they had.


Incidentally, there are a lot of big dumb-asses with guns in this film, which was called Revenge of the Ninja. It has nothing to do with Enter the Ninja, other than having ninjas all over the damn place. During the 1980s, you could actually see more ninjas running around in broad daylight in downtown LA than you saw at night during the middle ages in Japan. In the case of Sho Kosugi, he is a former ninja (I didn’t know there were such thing — do you get a good 401k as a retired ninja?) who moves to Los Angeles to run an antique shop with his friend. What he doesn’t know is that his friend is using the antiques as a way to smuggle dope. As more and more thugs start hanging around the shop, Sho starts to catch on that something is up. In order to stop his firestorm of ninja powers, the dope smuggling gangsters kidnap Sho’s son (played by his real son, Kane). So let me get this straight — you have this ninja who you’ve pissed off. And the best thing you can come up with to make him stop hassling you is to kidnap his son? Why would you kidnap a ninja’s son? Don’t they know that will just piss him off more and make him do even more flips than ever before?


Another ninja is called in to kill Sho Kosugi after the shit hits the proverbial fan. Mobsters are getting slashed left and right as Sho seeks revenge and the other ninja just doesn’t give a shit. Big surprise when the other ninja turns out to be Sho’s friend. What was he expecting? I would imagine the society of ninjas is pretty small, even on a global scale, so you get to know all the other ninjas after a while. The finale has Sho and the other ninja storming a high-rise that has been fortified by the mobsters. They kill lots of gun-toting toadies before finally facing off on the roof. Somewhere amid it all, a police office played by Keith Vitali (Wheels on Meals) crawls around wounded in the hallway.


Despite the fact that it contains more cheese than one of those disgusting stuffed crust pizzas, I really like Revenge of the Ninja. I remember the first time I saw it. I was at my grandparent’s house for the weekend. They just got cable TV, and I was up late watching HBO, hoping to catch a glimpse of some boobies or something. Revenge of the Ninja gave me that and so much more. I was going wild, and although I didn’t go out and buy a headband that said “Ninja” on it in that jagged “oriental” typeface (whatever), I was definitely hooked on gory ninja films as much as I was on gory kungfu films. Revenge of the Ninja is tons of fun, with a tremendous body count, fountains of blood, cheap 1980s sex scenes, Kane Kosugi kicking ass on gangsters, Sho Kosugi kicking ass on gangsters, dueling ninjas, and pretty much everything else a boy could ask for. The martial arts, which are mostly sword fights, are actually pretty good. The bag o’ ninja tricks each ninja has is more fun than any of that James Bond gadgetry.

Sho Kosugi is a fun hero — the man of peace pushed too far. We don’t see too many of those these days, but they were always my favorite. These days, everyone is all to ready to duke it out and go to war, but Sho demonstrated restraint. Even when faced with physical violence against himself, he held back, partly because he didn’t want to reveal that he was a ninja (as if kicking someone’s ass would make them automatically go, “Shit, that dude must be a ninja!”), but mostly because he believed in peace. Violence was always the final, tragic solution, but when he resigned himself to it, he sure didn’t hold back! A solid 90 minutes of entertainment.