Category Archives: Action/Adventure

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detroit cop in L.A.

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a Detroit cop who likes working outside the system and by his own rules, which frequently gets him into clashes with his superior Captain Todd (Gilbert R. Hill). When his childhood friend, Mikey Tandino (James Russo), comes to visit him from Beverly Hills, but later is murdered, Axel requests to be put on the case, but Captain Todd refuses to assign him thinking Axel was too close emotionally to the victim to be able to give the case a fair investigation. To get around this Axel requests some time-off for a vacation, so that he can travel to Beverly Hills and do some investigating on his free time. When he arrives he meets-up with Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), who was a mutual childhood friend of both Axel and Mickey. She works at an art gallery owned by Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), who may be the one behind Mikey’s murder. When Axel tries to follow-up on this lead he gets himself in trouble with the police department there and quickly learns that in Beverly Hills everything is very much by-the-book. 

This film is a great example of how an idea for a movie can go through many changes before it finally comes to fruition. The original concept came about in 1975 when Michael Eisner, then head of Paramount Pictures, got pulled over for speeding while driving an old station wagon and was taken aback by the condescending way the Beverly Hills police treated him simply because he was driving a beat-up car. He came to the conclusion that the Beverly Hills police department was highly status conscious and wanted to bring this angle out in a movie. He sent out an open call asking for writers to submit scripts with a premise dealing with an outsider coming into the Beverly Hills police unit and clashing with their culture. Most of the scripts that were sent in he didn’t care for until finally in 1983 the one written by Daniel Petrie Jr. caught his eye. 

Both he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer enjoyed the comical elements that were in it and cast Sylvester Stallone as the lead, but he wanted the comedy removed and they refused to abide, so he walked-off the project and was eventually replaced by Murphy. Director Martin Brest, who had just been fired as director of War Gameshad grown disillusioned with Hollywood and considered getting out of the business, but was hounded so much by Bruckheimer that he had to change his phone number, but when the calls continued anyways he finally flipped a coin, so as to decide whether he’d do the project, or not. When he result came up heads he said ‘yes’ and because of the film’s later box office success he eventually had that coin framed and mounted on his office wall.

Eddie Murphy is clearly the entertaining catalyst that drives this and I was happy that despite him being black his race is never a factor. It’s also great that his hard-nosed supervisor that routinely chews-him-out isn’t some authoritarian white guy either, but instead an actual black police chief, Gilbert R. Hill, who was brought in as a police consultant, but eventually got cast and his exasperated expressions are more than enough to elicit genuine laughs. 

It would though have been nice to see Murphy, at least briefly, in a police uniform as the character comes-off as being too outside the system, so for the sake of balance seeing that at times he was still ‘a part of the team’ and had to conform. He also mentions being an expert thief during his youth, so for added character development this should’ve been explored; what caused him to change his ways and become a cop instead of remaining a thief? Unfortunately this aspect is never answered.

John Ashton and Judge Reinhold as the two cops who initially act like adversaries, but ultimately work together with Murphy as a team, are terrific. During the 70’s and 80’s cops weren’t usually portrayed in nice ways. Most movies either characterized them as being excessively buffoonish, or entirely corrupt, but here they got humanized. Ashton in particular is a perfect caricature of a cop without it having to go overboard and the script makes great use of Reinhold’s wide-eyed expression by working it into him being young and inexperienced. The conversation the two have while in the squad car where Reinhold talks about the ‘five pounds of red meat in the bowels’ was taken nearly word-for-word from what the two used during their audition that got them the roles.  

The car chases, particularly the one at the beginning shot in Detroit, are quite exciting and this is one of the rare cop films that manages to blend the humor with the action without having to compromise on either. The only complaint I have, and this may sound shallow to some, is that I couldn’t stand the mole, or whatever it is, on the center of Steven Berkoff”s forehead. I honestly found it very distracting, and there are quite a few close-up shots of his face, so it’s hard not to see it and in fact with each scene he’s in I kept focusing more on that than what was being said. There are pictures on the net of him as a child and even young adult where the growth was not apparent, so I’m not sure at what age it occurred, but since it’s in such a prominent part of his face, I would have, if I were him, had it surgically removed if medically possible. 

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Brest

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

52 Pick-up (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blackmailed over sex tape.

Harry (Roy Scheider) runs a successful construction company and is married to Barbara (Ann-Margret) who’s running for city council. One day Harry gets abducted by three men in hoods (John Glover, Clarence Williams III, Robert Trebor). They bring him to an abandoned building and show him a video tape that they’ve recorded featuring Harry’s steamy affair with a 20-something stripper named Cini (Kelly Preston). They demand $105,000 per year to stay quiet and if not they’ll release the tape to the press. Harry decides not to go to the police for fear it would jeopardize his wife’s political ambitions and instead does the investigating himself to find the tape and the men who made it and then turn-the-tables on them.

In 1984 The Cannon Group bought the rights to Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name with the intent of turning it into a spy thriller with the setting changed from Detroit to Tel Aviv. Leonard was commissioned to write the script, but the drafts he submitted were deemed unacceptable and eventually someone else was hired as the screenwriter and the movie became known as The Ambassador2 years later John Frankenheimer, after having read the novel, decided he’d like to turn it into a movie in a more faithful version to the book. Since The Cannon Group still owned the rights they agreed to produce though several changes were made including having the setting in Los Angeles, which was mainly done for budgetary reasons.

While I’ve complained about other movies produced by The Cannon Group this one looks much more polished and could’ve easily been released by a major studio. I enjoyed the constantly moving camera that turns every scene into one unending tracking shot, which gives it a visual energy and allows the viewer to feel like they’re right there in the setting with the camera acting as their point-of-view as they move around amongst the action.

Many movies from the 80’s touched on the tawdry, underground lifestyles of Los Angeles, but would always pull-back before it became too distasteful and yet this one dives completely in and never leaves. By immersing the viewer into the seamy environment it helps them to better understand the sick nature of the bad guys and the elements that made them believe they could get away with it. It also features adult film stars from the era including Amber Lynn, Jamie Gillis, Tom Byron, and Barbara Dare. Porn legend Seka was also set to be in it, but the aging and apparently still quite horny Frankenheimer pestered her behind-the-scenes in an effort to have sex and even asked her out on a date, which was enough to get her to walk off the set.

The three antagonists are the most entertaining aspect. Glover gives a poetic quality to his character’s sliminess and is mesmerizing in his vileness. Clarence Williams III, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Mod Squad’ has a creepy intensity that makes his scene riveting. Trebor, as the extremely anxious strip bar owner, makes breaking down in a panic an art form.

The problem is with the two leads who get upstaged by the baddies. In fact during the second-half the three villains receive more screen time than the heroes making it seem like the movie is more about them. Scheider’s insistence on trying to track down the culprits on his own with only an inkling of clues is intriguing to an extent, but he ends up finding their whereabouts too easily. Otherwise Scheider and Ann-Margret do nothing but react to the situation they’re in instead of propelling the action. It’s not because of bad acting either, but more due to the script that doesn’t flesh-out their characters enough to make them interesting, or for the viewer to care what happens to them.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 16, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: The Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi

Dark Sunday (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Preacher versus drug dealers.

Reverend Lowery (Earl Owensby) works to get teens hooked-on drugs off the city streets and sober, which annoys local drug dealers who order a hit on him. When his family are on a camping trip two hit men (Ron Lampkin, Jac Cashin) shoot both of Lowery’s sons (Todd Reep, Jeff Reep) and his wife (Maggie Lauterer). When Lowery tries coming to their aid he gets shot several times, but manages to survive though with a severe limp and inability to speak. Once out of the hospital he goes on a silent mission to get revenge on those that killed his family while also stopping the dealers from selling anymore drugs and getting them off the streets once and for all.

This is third film of Earl Owensby who in 1973 decided to take a stab at filmmaking by building a studio near Shelby, North Carolina and making movies that he deemed to have ‘old-fashioned values’ and away from the sex and violence of Hollywood. While his movies didn’t have any nudity they did have its fair share of violence, which his critics considered to be hypocritical, but in any event they made money especially on the grindhouse circuit and enough of a profit that it allowed him to continue making movies up to 1991. While other regional directors like John Waters and Charles B. Pierce where able to gain enough attention with their movies to ultimately get a Hollywood contract Owensby never did. Some say it was because he labeled himself a conservative, which automatically made him an outsider with Tinseltown.

Whatever the reason this movie really wasn’t all that different from the Hollywood revenge dramas like Dirty Harry and Walking Tall and I was surprised how watchable it was. It does go on longer than it should and the opening features several jump cuts, which gives it an extreme amateur feel. There’s also way too many scenes that take place in back alleys. Granted it works with the plot, but I still got the feeling it was shot at these locations because it was less likely to get noticed by the authorities for shooting without a permit.

The film was controversial for the amount of violence and was banned from several countries. The shootings could be considered extreme when you see little kids shot directly in the chest and then violently thrown backwards. There’s also a nifty death where one of the drug dealers known as Candyman (Chuck Mines) drowns by having his face shoved into a toilet bowl though this would’ve had better effect had it been shot from above versus to the side. In either case the shootings get redundant and there should’ve been more creative deaths instead of just at the hands of a rifle.

What I did like was that the protagonist suffers lasting injuries and doesn’t just miraculously recover like heroes in a Hollywood movie do. However, with that said, the limp that he gets stuck with, which forces him to walk with a cane, completely disappears during the final foot chase where he’s able to climb ladders connected to buildings even better than the able bodied detective who’s chasing after him.

You would’ve also thought that since he was such a well-loved preacher in his community and lead a big  congregation that they would’ve come to his aid after he was injured by finding him some housing and maybe even a job instead of him becoming this lonely homeless person that no one seemed to know. If he had grown bitter and lost his faith due to what happened to his family and thus rejected their offers of help that’s fine, but a scene showing this needed to be inserted.

It might’ve worked better too had it started from the perspective of the prostitute (Monique Prouix) who takes the homeless Lowery into her apartment because she feels sorry for him and considers him harmless. Then the violent deaths of the drug dealers would force the viewer to connect the dots to Lowery and ultimately through flashback show what happened to his family at the end, which then would’ve given the film an element of mystery and more layers. I was also taken off-guard by the very downbeat ending, which I hadn’t expected and didn’t feel was necessary, but does conform to the ‘everything is terrible’ theme, which was a prevalent in most 70’s movies.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jimmy Huston

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

The Killer Elite (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by a friend.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are two longtime friends and hit men working for a private agency affiliated with the CIA to carry-out covert missions. During their latest assignment Mike is shocked to see George turn on him by shooting him in the knee and elbow. While Mike is able to survive the incident he is forced to go through a long and painful rehabilitation and due to the injuries is no longer considered employable as a hit man. Mike though refuses to concede and goes through martial arts training were he learns to use a cane both for protection and offensive action. He assembles his old team while vowing to get revenge on George, but fails to realize that there’s someone else behind the scenes who’s pulling-the-strings and far more dangerous.

By the mid-70’s director Sam Peckinpah had achieved a strong following of admirers with his ground breaking action films that took violence and the way it was portrayed in films to a whole new level. While he had his share of critics his movies did well at the box office, which should’ve been enough to get him any assignment he wanted, but his notoriously cantankerous behavior on the set and alcoholism made him virtually unemployable. Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists, decided to give him a reprieve by hiring him on to direct his next project, but it was under strict conditions that allowed the studio to have final say over all aspects, which in turn made Peckinpah’s presence virtually null and void. The film lacks the edginess of his other more well known pictures. The action really never gets going and much of it was intentionally toned down in order to get a PG-rating. The tension is also lacking and great majority of it is quite boring. There’s even brief moments of humor, which only undermines the story and makes it even more of a misfire.

I liked the casting of Caan, who has disowned the film, which he gives a 0 out of 10, and Duvall, this marked their 5th film together, but the script doesn’t play-up their relationship enough. I was hoping for more of a psychological angle like why would a loyal friend suddenly turn on his partner, which doesn’t really get examined. Duvall has much less screen time and there’s no ultimate confrontation between the two, which with a story like this should’ve been a must. The drama also shifts in the third act to Caan taking on Arthur Hill, who plays a undercover double-agent, which isn’t as interesting or impactful.

Caan’s shooting gets badly botched. I will give Peckinpah credit as the surgery scenes including the removal of the bullet is quite graphic, but how Caan is able to find help after he is shot is never shown. The assault occurs in a remote location, so technically he could’ve died without anyone knowing, so how he was able to find his way out and get the attention of a medical staff needed to be played-out and not just glossed-over like it is.

The introduction of Ninja warriors was another mistake. This was courtesy of Stirling Silliphant who had been hired to rewrite the script and wanted this element put-in since he and his girlfriend Tiana Alexander had studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and felt this would offer some excitement. The result is campy though a one critic, Pauline Kael, like it as she considered it a ‘self-aware satire’ though I was groaning more than laughing.

Some felt that Peckinpah had sold-out and this movie really made it seem like he had. Nothing gels or is inspired though I will at least credit him with the building explosion at the beginning, which was an actual implosion of an old fire house that he became aware was going to happen and quickly revised the shooting schedule, so he’d be able to capture it from across the street and then use it in the film, which does help though everything after it falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Tubi, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gator (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rubbing-out a friend.

Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds) is back living in the swamp lands of southern Georgia with his Father (John Steadman) and young daughter (Lori Futch) with no interest of working for the police again. Then one day federal agent Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston) comes by in his boat asking Gator to work with them as an undercover agent to get incriminating information that can be used in court to convict local mob boss ‘Bama’ McCall (Jerry Reed), who just so happens to also be one of Gator’s former buddies. Gator at first resists, but eventually agrees. Bama seems excited to have Gator onboard with his team and even hires him as one of his collectors, but Gator gets turned-off by Bama’s penchant for drugging underage girls and then using them as prostitutes.  Bama eventually lets Gator leave his organization, but this only strengthens Gator’s resolve to put Bama behind bars, which leads the two former friends into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.

The film was written by William W. Norton, whose colorful life,  was far more interesting than many of his banal scripts, which include such stinkers as I Dismember Mamaand in fact when Norton was on his deathbed in the hospital a nurse asked him if she knew of any of his movies and his response was “I don’t think your IQ is low enough”.  Despite Norton having written the script for the first film, White Lightningthat this movie was a sequel to, Reynolds was initially not interested in doing it and referred to the script as being “terrible”, but when the studio offered him the option to direct it he called it “wonderful”.

Like with many first-time directors the film has many long takes, but overall I felt Reynolds’ virgin effort behind the camera wasn’t too bad. The best part is the opening boat chase shot at the Okeefenokee State Park in southern Georgia that nicely captures it’s picturesque swamp topography as well as some exciting stunt work. Unfortunately after this bit the film goes downhill.

Much of the reason is the script’s inability to keep a consistent tone. The appeal is the spunky humor and action, but by the second act this all disappears and it becomes too serious and slow until it almost starts to resemble a drama. There’s also a few moments of jarring violence that completely losses sight of the playfulness that it had at the beginning.

Reynolds doesn’t seem into his part either, maybe because he was spending so much focus in directing, but in either case he walks through the role and phones in his lines. He also sports a mustache even though in the first installment he didn’t and for consistency he should more or less look the same as he did in the original. The mustache and wavy hair make him look older and the country boy charm that made his character so infectious in the first one is missing here.

Jerry Reed on-the-other-hand is great and shows the necessary energy to keep the scenes that he’s in interesting. Jack Weston is quite funny as the clumsy and constantly exacerbated agent and I was disappointed that he wasn’t in it more as the movie required him to be with Reynolds at all times in order to keep it engaging. I’ll even credit Alice Ghostley as the eccentric cat lady, but Lauren Hutton as the love interest is all wrong. She at least makes fun of the gap in her teeth, which I liked, but the romance angle comes-off as forced and unnecessary and does nothing but bog down the pace, in movie that’s too slow and choppy to begin with.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Burt Reynolds

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Last Starfighter (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen recruited into battle.

Alex (Lance Guest) spends his time playing an arcade game called ‘Starfighter’ and gets so good at it that he becomes the game’s highest scorer. He’s then approached by the game’s inventor, Centuri (Robert Preston), to take a ride in his  futuristic-looking car as a prize. Alex accepts the invitation only to learn that Centuri really isn’t human, but instead an alien recruiting Alex to help them protect the frontier from Xur (Norman Snow) who has found a way to breach the forcefield that protects Rylos and the surrounding planets from invasion. The ‘Starfighter’ game was meant to be a test to find those that were good at the game and then bring them into the battle since the skills needed to win the game are the same ones needed for the battle.

While the film did quite well at the box office, bringing in $28 million from a $15 million budget, as well as spawning a novel version, a video game, and even an off-Broadway musical, I still found it to be a complete bore to watch. I don’t mind sci-fi, space-age movies, which were all-the-rage in the 80’s, but the special effects in this one are so tacky looking that I couldn’t take it seriously. This was one of the first films to use computer graphics instead of physical models, but the result makes this entire galactic war look like a video game. Maybe that was the intention, but I didn’t care for it.

The story, which was written by Jonathan R. Beutel while he worked as a cab driver, is full of too many plot holes. Having the setting inside a trailer park, which wasn’t even Beutel’s idea anyways, but instead director Nick Castle’s, is the only original thing about it. I didn’t understand though why all the people living in the trailer park would be so excited about Alex getting the high score in the game and come out of their homes to cheer him on. To them it’s just a silly kid’s game and becoming good at it doesn’t really mean much in the real-world, or lead to anything, so outside of an idle teenager with too much time on his hands, why care? It would’ve been more ironic had Alex achieved the high score with no one else around making him feel his efforts were under appreciated, only to later learn that in a far off galaxy it was anything but.

The way Centuri finds him, by literally driving up to him in the middle of the night in his snazzy car while Alex is conveniently walking alone is not interesting and this scenario could’ve been played-up in a more creative way by forcing Centuri to tour through the trailer park and visiting the many residents, which could’ve included some offbeat interactions, before he finally comes upon Alex. Also, why are these aliens forced to recruit a human teenager in their effort to save their own space fortress? Aren’t there other aliens within their own galaxy that could take-up the cause? What’s in it for Alex to get involved and put his life on the line for some distant, separate universe that he has nothing to do with and won’t directly affect his life in any way should these planets get invaded? The idea too that only two individuals, Alex and his alien pal Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), can take on this massive army and win are long odds that would only make sense in a cheesy Hollywood movie.

Guest was not the right choice for the part either as he was too old, playing a teen when he was already 23 at the time of filming and looking it. The part should’ve been played by a 12-year-old especially since the storyline is at a bubblegum level that only a preteen would be able to buy into. Preston is certainly a great actor, but I didn’t understand why his character felt the need to wear a human mask to disguise his alien face when all the other aliens freely showed who they were. It’s disappointing too that Norman Snow, who gives an campy performance as the villain, disappears too soon, but I really did like O’Herlihy, who’s completely unrecognizable underneath all of the make-up, and the only thing that makes watching this dopey thing slightly worth it.

The one aspect of the plot that is amusing is the Beta Alex that’s put in Alex’s place to help disguise that the real Alex is missing. These scenes, where the Beta learns to adapt to the human culture in awkward ways, are the only original bits in the film and where filmed after production had already finished when test audiences reacted favorably to the character forcing Guest to return to shoot the added scenes, but because he had already gotten a haircut by this time, the Beta Alex is then seen wearing a wig. Outside of these moments though I found the film to be pretty flimsy especially on the logical end and one of the weakest entries of the 80’s sci-fi craze.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nick Castle

Studio: Lorimar Film Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Cabo Blanco (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Search for sunken treasure.

Giff (Charles Bronson) is an American living in the small fishing village of Cabo Blanco, Peru where he runs a cafe/bar just after the end of WW II. It is here that he becomes inadvertently embroiled for the search of sunken treasure somewhere off the coast where one searcher dies mysteriously while looking for it. Captain Terredo (Fernando Rey) the local police chief insists that the death was an accident, but Giff disagrees and becomes even more suspicious with the arrival of Marie (Dominique Sanda). Terredo almost immediately begins insisting she must leave the village at once convincing Giff that she must hold the secret.

For a film starring Charles Bronson this thing is incredibly tame and non-violent. His name became so synonymous with action movies during the 70’s that you’re expecting that there be at least some of it here, but outside of a half-minute where Chuck clobbers a would-be assassin there is very little of it. I was also presuming that since the storyline did have something to do with sunken treasure that the cast would be on or in the water for most of the runtime, but after the first 5 minutes it becomes completely land-locked.

Initially I thought putting Bronson inside an ensemble cast with performers like Jason Robards, who had a completely different acting style, would prove interesting, but the two don’t share a lot of screen time together and when they do are mostly adversarial. Chuck otherwise is his same old self, playing the one-dimensional character that he did all through the 70’s only here he stands out like a sore thumb as the supporting players give a more nuanced performance that he’s unable to do. He was also nearing 60 and having Sanda play the object of his desires looks like a grandfather coming onto his granddaughter. The youthful Simon MacCorkindale shows more energy and more up to physical demands, which should’ve made him the star.

Sanda’s presence helps especially with her beauty and a face that makes her appear like she was just 18 and for whatever reason looking younger here than she did in The Conformistwhich had been filmed 10 years earlier. I also enjoyed Denny Miller, best known for playing Tarzan as well as Tongo, the ape man on an episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. Here he’s one of Robard’s henchman complete with German accent and neo-nazi bowl haircut.

The film doesn’t start to get interesting until the very end when Bronson is forced to speak to a parrot in order to get a secret password that the bird was apparently trained to say. I also like the bit involving a jukebox that goes on the fritz, but otherwise there’s nothing inspiring or original and looks like it was written simply to cash-in on the big name stars. It’s almost worth checking out though simply for the location. While it wasn’t filmed in the real Cabo Blanco, but instead in Barra de Navidad, Mexico, it still has a very sunny, exotic look that gives off a soothing, relaxing feel, so forget the story and just take in the sights.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 23, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Roar (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lions takeover a house.

Hank (Noel Marshall) is a naturalist residing in east Africa where he studies the behaviors of lions and keeps several of them in his home. His wife Madeline (Tippi Hedren), daughter Melanie (Melanie Griffith) and two sons (John Marshall, Jerry Marshall) travel from Chicago to visit him. However, when they arrive there’s a mix-up causing Hank to miss picking them up at the airport. The four then travel to the home without him. When they get to the place it becomes overrun with the lions and the family is unable to handle them causing much havoc and destruction as they try to keep from getting attacked and bitten.

The idea for the film was inspired by Marshall and Hedren, who were married at the time, as they traveled through Mozambique in 1969. While going on a nature tour their guide pointed to a abandoned home that had become inhabited by lions and they thought this would make for a funny movie. It took them over 7 years to find the funds to be able to actually film it and then another 3 years before filming was complete. Over 150 lions were used at a cost of $4,000 a week to feed forcing the couple to sell their 3 homes just to be able to have enough money to cover the food and other expenses. Initially it was never released in the US and only abroad until in 2015 it got reissued to Alamo Drafthouse theaters were it got dubbed as being ‘the most dangerous movie ever made’ due to the many injuries inflicted on the cast and crew by the animals during the production.

To some degree the loose story works. I liked the scene where local official come to Hank’s home in their boats and become inexplicable attacked by the lions without warning even seeing actor Marshall’s hand bitten by one of the beasts, which all comes off as quite realistic and unstaged, something you rarely see in most Hollywood films. Unfortunately having to spend 90-minutes watching the family trying to get away from the lions becomes quite redundant. There’s constantly something going on and there’s a lot of chaos and running around, so visually it’s never boring, but the story goes nowhere. Ultimately it’s like gazing at a hamster inside their cage running inside a spinning wheel, which might be fun for while, but eventually pointless.

Savage Harvest, which I reviewed earlier in the week and came out around the same time, had a much more consistent tone. At least we knew that was intended to be a suspenseful thriller and for the most part it delivered, but here it gets increasingly confusing. While this budget is better and I enjoyed the opening sequence showing the beautiful topography of Kenya I still came away liking the other movie a bit better. The lion attacks are more graphic and in-you-face here, but without any sufficient tension it’s not captivating to sit through. It’s supposed to be a comedy and was marketed as such, but it gets too intense for that. Had the cast been made up of evil poachers that get harassed by the animals the prolonged scenario might’ve worked, but watching a bland family as the intended ‘victims’ isn’t enough to hold sustained interest.

I admire Hedren’s willingness, and the whole cast, for putting themselves in harm’s way and there are a few cute moments like when a lion plays with a skateboard, but it relies too heavily on the action, and the animals who are given onscreen credit along with the rest of the cast, but an actual plot was needed. With that said it’s still a one-of-a-kind movie that needs to be seen to be believed. I’m not sure if this one is included in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, as I have not always in agreement with some of the other ones that got listed in it, but this one definitely should be.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Marshall

Studio: American Filmworks

Available: DVD

Thunder Run (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging trucker hauls plutonium.

Charlie (Forrest Tucker) is a former trucker who spends his retirement working an old cobalt mine, but finds few prospects. He’s then given an offer by George (John Ireland) an old friend of his to haul some plutonium from Nevada to a top secret installation in Arizona. George warns Charlie that it could be dangerous as they’re terrorists after the cargo and willing to resort to violent means to steal it, but the $200,000 payout is too much for Charlie to refuse. With the help of his grandson Chris (John Shepherd) and his other teen friends the truck gets fitted with high tech gadgetry in order to fight off the bad guys when they attack.

The film starts out okay although it has all the signs of being a low budget direct-to-video 80’s venture complete with stock characters and generic music. The presence of Tucker, whose last movie this was, really helps. He’s the kind of actor who can give a performance that seems effortless and like he’s not acting at all just being himself and his persona is quite engaging allowing the viewer to become attached to him quite quickly and rooting him on in his challenge. There is some nifty stunt work too with my favorite moment being when a backhoe loader crushes a car that it literally runs right over and then also a trailer office. The scene has little to do with the main plot, but it’s still fun to see visually.

The film though starts to falter when it gets out onto the open-road. What should’ve been excited actually isn’t. There’s just too much high tech nonsense with rig equipped with stuff no other 18-wheeler has ever had. There’s very little intrigue at seeing the bad guys chase the truck when Tucker is able to just blow them all away with a press of a button. The truck seems almost indestructible as the villains aim a flame thrower right at the tires, which should’ve easily melted the rubber, but instead it doesn’t. The film is famous for a stunt that has the truck jumping over a train, but when it came back down onto the pavement it should’ve jostled the intricate parts of the rig in a way that would’ve most likely disabled it and the fact that the truck is able to continue on just fine starts to make the whole thing too ridiculous to be believed.

Having Tucker paired with Shepherd, who was 24 at the time, but looked more like he was only 18, is not interesting. Initially I thought this would allow the story to take advantage of the generation gap, but Shepherd is so squeaky clean and All-American that his presence allows for no nuance. I realize that in order to attract teen viewers a younger actor needed to be cast in a co-starring role, but the film would’ve been far better had Tucker been the sole driver, manning a rig that was just a regular truck without any of the techie jazz and forced to use his wits and cunning to fight off the terrorists instead of stuff dreamed up by a special effects wiz with an over active imagination.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Gary Hudson

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD (Region 2), VHS

Mr. Billion (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Italian mechanic inherits fortune.

When his rich uncle dies in a freak accident humble mechanic Guido (Terence Hill) learns that he has inherited the man’s billion dollar fortune. However, everything is contingent that he sign the legal papers at precisely 12 Noon on Monday, April 12th in San Francisco in order to receive the money. John Cutler (Jackie Gleason) who has worked many years in the uncle’s corporation wants all the money for himself and will do anything to stop the signing, which requires Guido to travel across the country in various forms of transportation to get there.

This was Hill’s American movie debut, but the results and effort are mediocre at best. It was written and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who was still in the Roger Corman production phase of his career, which makes the film come-off looking like just another pedestrian dive-in fare that he had been doing up to that point. The plot is thin and unimaginative, relies too heavily on car chases to make it interesting, and gets filled with a lot of logic loopholes that just don’t add up.

Hill gets upstaged by the talented supporting cast of characters actors at every turn. Sam Laws as an aging black man who brings Hill home with him only to end up getting into a big argument with his son (Johnny Ray McGhee) about it is fun as is R.G. Armstrong as a stereotypically over-the-top southern-styled sheriff. Gleason is a lot of fun here too especially his facial expressions and reactions that make his scenes enjoyable.

There are a few interesting moments including a helicopter crashing onto a little league game and all the people shown, from a bird’s-eye perspective, running out of their homes to witness the accident. Watching the police vehicles getting smashed-up in a stock car race is cool too and the aerial views of the Grand Canyon where the characters battle each other while literally teetering on the edge of a massive cliff are breath taking. Unfortunately there are a lot of slow, dull moments in-between. The dialogue is not sharp enough to be consistently amusing and the script is too run-of-the-mill like it was written in a matter of hours with no heart or thought put into it at all.

This film also marks the last screen appearance of William Redfield. He was an actor who had been working in films since 1939 when he was just at child, but never gained much fame until he was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, it was while working on that film that he got diagnosed with leukemia. He decided to forge on with his acting work as best as he could and here he looks perfectly healthy, and even plays a character that has an interesting arc, and yet he ended up dying just month after filming had completed.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Released: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)