Saturday, March 26, 2005

Review: Armed and Deadly (1994)


Laurie Weber is having a tough day. Her boss is on her back. Her teenage son is mad because she never has time for him. Frank the janitor is drunk and making passes at her. And on top of it all, she's missing the company Christmas Eve party. Oh, and did I mention that evil terrorists led by a psychotic android have taken over the nuclear defense complex where she works?

The terrorists are trying to steal the "Cobra" - a nuclear weapon so destructive it's basically useless. (Rather than destroying a city it wipes out the whole country.) After shipping themselves into the building in packing crates the bad guys go on a killing spree, taking out all two of the guards (impressive security they have at this place) and mowing down about eight dozen scientists. Laurie, her son - who happened to be visiting her at work - and Frank evade the terrorists and mount an impressive counter-insurgency. Frank, in addition to being a decent janitor and high-functioning drunk, turns out to be a kickboxing champion and he demonstrates his feet of fury on the unsuspecting bad guys.

By this point the government has sent a jet to blow up the complex before things progress any further. The android, perhaps feeling a little stressed, starts to malfunction and instead of going ahead with the plan to steal the Cobra he attempts to launch a nuclear missile at Washington. Frank beats on him (and vice versa) while Laurie disarms the missile. Evidently it's too late to call off the air strike even though the pilot is still ten minutes away. Fortunately the local sheriff flies in with a helicopter and rescues our intrepid heroes. The evil android meets his demise in a big ol' fireball. Laurie gets to slap her unsupportive boss. Merry Christmas!


Obviously, Armed and Deadly is a rip-off of several popular action movies, most notably Die Hard and the Terminator. A woman and her young son/ trapped in a building/ fighting a team of black-clad terrorists/ hunted by a killer android/ etc. etc.. You can sort of mix and match stolen ideas until you get a plot outline. I imagine they even chose the actress who plays Laurie for her close resemblance to Linda Hamilton of the Terminator series. It might have been nice for the audience if the writers had fleshed out the plot A LITTLE. We never even find out why the terrorists want the Cobra thing, who they're working for, or why they sent an android to lead the team when a human would have probably been cheaper and more reliable.

Speaking of which, I just don't understand why you would build your android to look like this one does. It's like someone crossed Dolph Lundgren with a photo-negative of Grace Jones. And why would an android always insist on going shirtless so he can show off his melon-like pecs? Data never did that. Besides, if you're going to put an android in your movie but you don't have the budget to show him with his skin ripped off and metal stuff underneath, I say don't bother with it. You're just creating false expectations.

Frank the kickboxing janitor is one of the better elements of the film. His acting is so bad, it's good. You don't often get the sense that the drunk you're watching oncreen may actually be drunk, but this guy makes you wonder. He doesn't have that many lines, which is probably good because half the time you can't understand what he's saying. Do all movie tough guys have to grunt their lines like congested warthogs? I needed subtitles to follow his raspy mumbles. When he's not kickboxing he gets this glassy-eyed, confused expression which sort of reminds me of George W. Bush.

This is one of those movies that gives the viewer a lot of "Huh?!" moments. In my book the more of these a movie has, the better. One or two just makes a film seem sloppy, but a dozen or more and you're really on to something. Here are a few of the questions I was left with after watching Armed and Deadly: Why does Frank go down to the basement to do some repair work after Laurie has already fired him for drinking on the job? Why, after getting blood on her hands, does Laurie wipe it all over her chest? Why does the nuclear laboratory have a valve on the wall that shoots out huge plumes of fire when turned on? Why is there a big bottle of liquor in the first-aid kit? Why is the sheriff Irish? If I find myself pondering these kinds of questions late at night, I know I've seen a good movie.

Final Analysis

Armed and Deadly features a good mix of mindless violence, cliched writing, terrible acting, and incompetent directing. The air-strike scene at the end of the film is so poorly edited that it reaches bad-movie transcendence. (This is when the viewer can only stare at the screen, shake their head, and whisper "What the hell was that?") You won't find a lot of extra "stuff" cluttering up the action in Armed and Deadly. No character development. No mushy stuff. No subplots. Hardly any plot at all, really. Recommended for fans of Die Hard, the Terminator, and anyone who doesn't mind seeing a guy in a Santa Claus suit get gunned down.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Review: Double Standard (1988)


Lawyer Larry Harik is married to devoted wife Joan, but has an affair with dewey babysitter Virginia. Their illicit boinking results in Virginia getting pregnant and giving birth to a daughter, Sharon. Larry spills the beans to Joan about the affair and the baby, and convinces her to let him bring Sharon into their house and raise her along with their own kids. Joan buys into the idea and Larry - evidently feeling all happy and guilt-free after his confession - keeps on doing the nasty with Virginia. Things are going great until Virginia decides she wants Sharon back. Larry manages to talk Joan into giving Sharon up, but since he can't bear to see Sharon grow up without a dad he takes the bold step of getting an illegal second marriage to Virginia while staying married to unsuspecting Joan.

Thus Larry embarks on a double life which goes on without a hitch for about 15 years. He maintains his upscale life with family #1 while setting up family #2 in rather more white-trashy environs outside of town. He even finds time to get elected to a prominent judicial position on the circuit court and father six additional kids by Virginia. Sharon, who was the only person with the sense to question why her dad always left halfway through every holiday dinner, finally stumbles onto the truth. Joan finds out as well, and throws Larry out. Sharon gets drunk and when Larry is too ineffectual to take her keys, she plows her Wrangler into a tractor-trailer. The strain is beginning to show on ol' Larry, but a warm hug from his disabled son makes it all okay. Based on a true story.


Dear God, where do I even begin with this movie? This is a made-for-tv load of chum from the 80's which explores the darker side of bigamy, and when a plot is as confusing as this one, you know it must be based on real events.

One of the problems with the based-on-a-true-story film is illustrated here quite nicely. In most well-written dramas, characters' actions can be traced to underlying motives, emotions, thoughts, etc... Essentially, the audience knows by the end of the film why the characters did what they did through the course of the story. Real people are often more stupid than their fictional counterparts, and their inner lives can be pretty incoherent. This presents a challenge to the screenwriter of the b.o.a.t.s. film: you already know the plot, now bring to light the underlying stuff that will help your audience understand why things happened this way.

This kind of explanation is nowhere to be found in Double Standard. We really aren't given a single character who we can understand, let alone root for. Let's take a quick look at the three main players. Larry is either a master of deceit or a total moron. His behavior is reprehensible, yet he seems to honestly believe his decisions are morally sound. Joan, even after she knows she's been cheated on, is so in denial about it that she doesn't get suspicious when Larry takes off for all those "business meetings." Virginia knows what's going on but seems to have no problem with it. She generally just stands around looking beatific and saying things like "you know your father's job means he's gone a lot."

One of the most entertaining things in the movie is to see how they try to show the characters aging over time through the use of "make-up effects". For Larry this means progressively dumping bottles of Liquid Paper on his hair. Joan apparently comes from an alien world in which age is indicated by the amount of skin bronzer you use. By the end of the film she has taken on the hue of a peeled sweet potato. I don't think they even really tried with Virginia - they just sort of shortened her hair and gave her frumpier clothes.

I don't mean to sound unkind, but I feel like something needs to be said about the grotesque nature of the entire cast of this film. Despite the ready availability of thousands upon thousands of reasonably attractive actors, the makers of Double Standard chose to fill our television screens with some of the butt-ugliest individuals sporting the most unflattering hair, clothing, and makeup this side of Eraserhead. I offer the photo of the film's hero above as evidence. I don't expect perfection, I just want to be able to look at the characters without flinching.

Final Analysis

Double Standard is like a fever dream - not only is the plot itself completely mind-boggling, but the story tends to lurch forward several years at a time, leaving you disoriented and slightly queasy. Or maybe it was Larry's perm that made me queasy, I'm not sure. This movie has it all - weird actors, bizarre story, cheap production - there's even a Culture Club song! Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Review: Charro! (1969)


Jess Wade (Elvis Presley) is an outlaw who wants to leave his life of crime behind him. He deserts the group of criminals he once ran with, but evidently his old gang has a stop-loss policy and they come looking for him. The gang's head dirtbag Vince is none too pleased about Jess' lack of loyalty, and he frames Jess for a crime the gang has just committed. The crime in question is the theft of a Mexican national treasure, namely a gold-plated cannon. After the confrontation Jess rides to a nearby town where he seeks assistance from the sherriff who was once his friend and mentor. He also attempts to rekindle a romance with the beautiful woman who runs the local saloon.

Vince's half-crazy brother Billy Roy arrives on the scene and promptly shoots the sherriff during a row at the saloon. Jess takes over the job of lawman for his wounded friend and puts Billy Roy in jail. This does not sit well with Vince, who directs several vague threats at Jess to release Billy Roy or else. Jess refuses. Vince and his cohorts take the golden cannon up to the hills overlooking the town and start blowing the bejeebers out of it. One particularly well-aimed shot takes out the house where the ex-sherriff is recouperating. Rather than see the whole town reduced to toothpicks, Jess takes Billy Roy out of jail and into the hills where a showdown ensues. Jess shoots up his former gang buddies and after Billy Roy is accidentally run over by the cannon Vince sees that the battle is lost and gives up. Jess rides off into the sunset, bearing Vince off to face a legal nightmare in the criminal justice system of the Old West.


This film was a bit of an aberration for Elvis - no fast cars, no big song-and-dance numbers (the only song is the theme, sung during the opening credits), no girls in bikinis (although they do manage to squeeze in a hot woman - the saloon owner.) And that beard! Wow - rugged. Was Elvis trying to branch out into more serious roles? If so, I'm not sure a spaghetti western rip-off was his best bet. Mr. Presley does appear to be patterning himself after Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, but he lacks the necessary grit to pull it off. He's got the stubble, but he hasn't mastered the squint and his lips are pouty rather than being drawn into a line. It's not that he's bad - I actually rather enjoyed his performance. It's just so odd to see him play this character that it's hard to take the movie seriously.

Vince, the cruel and murderous gang leader, is played by Victor French. Victor French also played Michael Landon's grouchy sidekick on "Highway to Heaven" (among many other roles), and I couldn't quite reconcile this evil, villainous character with all those kind-hearted curmudgeons he would play later in life. Actually, though, Vince has a kindly side as well which undercuts his ability to menace. In one scene he slaps around his incompotent cohorts, then feels bad about it and apologizes. The guy can admit when he makes a mistake. You don't see that very much in villains.

Billy Roy, as portrayed by Solomon Sturges, has to be one of the most annoying characters in film history. Imagine Gary Oldman crossed with Ernest T. Bass. On speed. That mixture of insanity and stupidity really grates on the nerves. I wasn't able to muster up much sympathy for the guy, even when the golden cannon rolled down the hill and squashed him.

The lingering question I have about this movie is this: why is it called Charro!? Okay, there's one point in the first scene where a Mexican guy calls Jess "charro", but that's it. As far as I can tell it's basically slang for "cowboy." Is this really the best title they could come up with? It inevitably makes me think of Charo, the flamboyant Spanish entertainer whose main claim to fame was that whole "cuchi-cuchi-cuchi" thing. Is that what you want your viewers to think of when they watch your gritty western? I'm just saying.

Final Analysis

Charro! isn't really a Western. It's an Elvis vehicle. While being moderately successful at imitating the style of other 60's Westerns, without Elvis the film would be pretty unpalatable. Watching the King do his rough-hewn Western schtick will entertain his fans and aficionados of weird cinema, but don't expect the Magnificent Seven.