Category Archives: Kidnapping Movies

Jimmy the Kid (1982)

jimmy 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Inept kidnappers bungle crime.

Jimmy (Gary Coleman) is the son of a singing duo (Cleavon Little, Fay Hauser) who feels neglected while his parents are out on the road singing in concerts. Kelp (Walter Olkewicz) is an inept would-be crook who’s finding it a struggle to successfully commit any crime. He then reads a book about kidnapping and convinces his reluctant brother John (Paul Le Mat), John’s girlfriend May (Dee Wallace) and even his own mother Bernice (Ruth Gordon) to get in on it. Their plan is to kidnap Jimmy and hide him out in a secluded cabin in the woods while extorting money from his rich parents for ransom. The problem is that Jimmy is quite intelligent for his age and outsmarts the crooks at every turn, but also forms a bond with them and they to him, so when his father and the private investigator (Don Adams) comes looking for him in order to ‘rescue him’ he resists their attempts.

The film is based on a Donald E. Westlake novel and while many of his books that were turned into movies were quite entertaining this one isn’t. The same story was filmed before in 1976 as Come Ti Rapisco Pupo and although that was no classic either at least was better than this version, which tries too hard to attract the family audience by being about as benign as you can get. Even a kiddie flick, at least the good ones, need some genuine tension and excitement, to keep the interest going. Classic kid’s films like Benji had some stressful moments where it seem like the kids, who had also been kidnapped, where in danger and you worried for their safety, which got the viewer emotionally caught up in it and intrigued enough to keep watching. This film though makes it quite clear from the start that the bad guys are too stupid to pull-it-off and the kid is never in any kind of real trouble, so the interest level is virtually nil. The crooks are also too dumb to be believable making their clueless remarks and pratfalls more eye-rolling than funny.

The supporting cast is filled with ‘zany characters’ that are equally pathetic. I’ll give some credit to Cleavon who goes out on stage with his wife wearing a get-up that looks like he’s apart of a soul duo, but instead sings a country-tinged song that wasn’t half-bad, Pat Morita as the legally blind limo driver though is ridiculous. I think his part was put-in to give the thing some action by showing all sorts of car pile-ups that he causes as he drives, but no sane person would ever get into a car with him and his ability to hold onto a job as a driver and not be arrested for endangering others, would-be non-existent.

Coleman is especially boring and never says or does anything that’s especially funny. Having him be this super smart kid gets played-up too much and is neither fun, nor amusing. He also shows no character arc other than supposedly ‘learning to be a kid’ though we don’t really see this, which in a good movie would be, but instead verbally explained by Coleman. The movie should’ve had a moment where the crooks, despite their dumbness, knew something that the kid, despite his smartness, didn’t because of the fact that they’d been around longer and a little more worldy-wise, which could’ve lent some insightful irony, but the stupid script wasn’t savvy enough to even go there.

The only two good things about the film are Don Adams and Ruth Gordon. For Adams he plays basically just an extension of his more famous Maxwell Smart persona even having him wear the same type of trench coat. While his pratfalls inside the home of Jimmy’s parents where he inadvertently tears-up the place borders on inane, the scenes where he dresses in drag are actually kind of funny. For Gordon you get to see her, at the age of 85, climb-up a telephone pole. While I’d presume they didn’t really make her do it and just filmed it in a way that made it appear like she did, it still ends-up looking authentic and she says some amusing things as she does, but outside of these two brief moments the movie clunks.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Nelson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

taking

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Subway passengers held hostage.

Four men wearing disguises and going by code names: Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) board the same subway car, this one being the Pelham 1-2-3, at different locations. Once all four are onboard they take out their guns and take over the subway car by holding both passengers and conductor hostage. For their release they demand $1 million in ransom to be paid in 1-hour and for every minute that it is late one passenger will be killed. They communicate these demands to Lt. Zack Garber (Walter Matthau) who is a part of the New York City Transit police. As Mr. Blue and Garber communicate with each other over the radio and the city races to meet the crooks demands Garber begins to try and surmise who these men are and how they’ll be able to get away with it since they’re trapped in an underground subway. Garber is convinced that it will not work and the men will eventually be caught unaware that Mr. Green, who used to work for the subway system until he was, in his mind, unfairly terminated, has come up with an ingenious contraption that can override the dead-man’s switch and allow the train to keep running even with no one at the controls.

The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by John Godey, who was a subway enthusiast and came-up with the plot after spending many years using the subway system. While the movie rights for the paperback were sold for $450,000, in anticipation that it’d make a great movie, the film almost didn’t get made due to the reluctance of the Metropolitan Transit Authority to allow the production to be filmed on-location.  Much of the reason stemmed from their fear that it might give ‘kooks’ the idea to pull-off a real-life heist, but eventually they caved once screenwriter Peter Stone added in the fictional contraption that could override the dead-man’s switch.

As a caper/action flick it is quite exciting from literally the first-frame to the last, but it’s some of the other added elements that make it a standout. I really enjoyed how the city of New York becomes like a third character and the unique, brash attitude of the people. Every character, no matter how small the part, has a distinct personality and memorable. My favorites were Mari Gorman as the feisty hooker, Michael Gorrin, as the elderly passenger convinced that the subway car must eventually come to a stop even as it careens out-of-control and everyone else panics. I also enjoyed Louie Larebee as an alcoholic woman, who is so drunk that she passes out when the crime begins and sleeps through the whole thing as well as Carolyn Nelson, the real-life wife of the film’s director Joseph Sargent, playing a college coed who believes she can stop the train through sheer mind control and meditation.

On the ground there’s some great character bits too including Tom Pedi as an aging, misogynist who doesn’t like the idea of having to work alongside women, nor that he should stop cursing because of it, who walks right into the line-of-fire when he stubbornly refuses to listen to the kidnappers warnings. Kenneth McMillan, is very funny as an exasperated street cop trying to direct traffic, and Dick O’Neill lends moments of drama as an outspoken transit employee who doesn’t like the idea of giving into the kidnappers demands and isn’t shy about voicing his disapproval, which leads to a tense confrontation with Matthau.

Matthau’s anti-hero take where he seems initially like nothing more than a aloof, laid-back guy, who doesn’t seem to have the cunning, or initiative to defeat the bad guys. At one point even openly insults a group of Japanese reporters who he thinks can’t speak English only to learn to his regret that they can, is excellent and in patented Matthau style seems to be able to do it without much visible effort.

Shaw is solid, but I felt there needed to be an explanation for how he got bought into the scheme, which never comes and ultimately is the film’s only real weak point. His personality is so different from the other men in the group that I couldn’t understand why he’d want to pull-off a robbery with them, nor why, being such a careful planner that his character is shown to be, he’d only realize as the crime is happening that the Mr. Gray was too much of a hot-head and not right for the job, as I’d think he would’ve observed this much earlier during the planning stage and had Gray removed before the actual crime had ever been carried out. Having scenes of the backstory spliced in would’ve helped made it more complete.

This was remade as a TV-movie in 1998 and then as another feature film in 2009 that starred Denzel Washington in the Matthau role and John Travolta playing Shaw’s part. I never saw the TV version and it’s been many years since I viewed the theatrical remake, but I remember finding it a letdown mainly because it centered too much around Travolta, who would go on long rants that bogged down both the pace and plot making it not nearly as exciting as this one.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: United Artists

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

Wanted: Babysitter (1975)

babysitter1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A babysitter gets kidnapped.

Michelle (Maria Schneider) is an artist who works part-time as a babysitter and is roommates with Ann (Sydne Rome) who’s an aspiring actress. Ann is upset that her career isn’t taking-off as quickly as she’d like and her frustrations cause her to get involved with her co-star Stuart (Robert Vaughan) who schemes to kidnap the 8-year-old son, Boots (John Whittington), of a wealthy food mogul (Carl Mohner) and then hold him for ransom. He hires Ann to disguise herself as Michelle while taking on a babysitting assignment of looking after Boots. She enters the place wearing a wig that resembles Michelle’s hairstyle and then forces Boots to drink something that will put him to sleep. He is then taken to another location where Lotte (Nadja Tiller), who is also in on the plan, pretends to be the boy’s mother and hires Michelle to babysit. When Michelle arrives at the alternative address she’s completely unaware of what’s going on, but soon finds herself trapped by the criminals forcing her to work with the distrustful boy to find a way out.

This was the final film directed by Rene Clement who did many acclaimed movies throughout his long career, but towards the end focused on kidnapping stories that had an offbeat touch like The Deadly Trap and And Hope to Die. This one is similar to those as it features in elaborate scheme that gets presented in fragmented style requiring the viewer to piece it all together. For the most part it works particularly with Clement’s use of eccentric characters and moody atmosphere though it’s not a complete success.

Although just few years removed from having done Last Tango in Paris Schneider looks much more mature here and I liked seeing her in such a different setting even if Leonard Maltin, in his review, complained about her acting, which he described as ‘abysmal’.  I didn’t find her performance to be as bad and in a lot of ways it works particularly her expressive eyes that helps convey an innocent pleading look in an environment where she’s surrounded by otherwise sordid types. Maltin also criticized the casting of Renato Pozzetto, who gained fame in Italy as a stand-up comedian. I found his presence interesting as his pudgy body type went against the chiseled features that most men who play a love interest in a movie have and his unpolished thespian skills meshed with his confused and dim-witted character.

Vic Morrow scores as the short-fused kidnapper though he’s played this type of role a bit too often. Vaughan is okay as the sinister mastermind and the kid, whose only acting role this has been, is quite endearing. Yet out of everyone it’s Rome, an American born in Akron, Ohio who came to Italy in the late 60’s to break into showbiz and never left, that’s the standout. She’s probably better known for her modeling, singing, and early 80’s aerobic videos, but here she’s quite diverting as a desperate young thing ravaged with insecurities and whose wide-eyed, breathless delivery hits the bullseye.

Spoiler Alert!

The plot is intriguing up to the scene where the ransom gets paid-out, but the wrap-up is unsatisfying. Michelle had gotten tricked into making it look like she was a part of the scheme, she really wasn’t, but to an outsider it would seem that she was, so the fact that she doesn’t get questioned by the police about it was confusing. Having her go back to her boyfriend’s art studio and then having him arrive with a locksmith while she’s inside wasn’t clear either. Was he going to change the locks on the door and trap her in there without knowing it? If so this should’ve been explicitly shown and not just eluded to.

Alternate Title: The Babysitter

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 15, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Director: Rene Clement

Studio: Cite Films

Available: DVD, Tubi

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

toolbox

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman targets female tenants.

A man, haunted by memories of the death of his young daughter in a car accident years earlier, begins systematically killing-off women residing in an apartment complex who he believes are living sinful lifestyles. Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) is a teen who lives in the same complex just a few doors down from where the murders occurred. One evening while alone the killer sneaks into her place and kidnaps her. Since she resembles his deceased daughter he does not kill her, but instead ties her up to a bed where he talks to her as if she’s his daughter come back to life. As she remains imprisoned her brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy), unhappy with the sloppy job done by the police, decides to do the investigating of his own with the help of Kent (Wesley Eure) who’s he nephew of Vance (Cameron Mitchell) who owns the building where the murders have been happening. Joey unearths clues, which leads him to believe he knows who’s responsible, but finds opposition in Kent, who wants to block him from finding out who the culprit is.

This film was just about the final word in graphic exploitation fare that permeated the era where every horror film competes to see how they could be gorier and more explicit than the others. This one is unusual in that it starts out right away with the killings, but then during the second and third act it slows way down and becomes a talk-feast with very little gore at all. I did though find it interesting where instead of intense, creepy music that usually gets played when a killer stalks his victim we instead hear laid-back country songs, which would’ve been even more inspired had they not all been by the same artist.

The identity of the killer is given away early, which is also different from other slashers that try to keep it a secret until the end. In a lot ways this makes it less intriguing though Mitchell’s performance still keeps it interesting. What I didn’t like was the stupid police inspector, which is poorly played by Tim Donnelly who was the brother of the film’s director, and his inept ability to figure out who the killer might be even though the viewer and other characters catch-on very quickly. I know some policemen aren’t always the smartest, but even the dumbest would’ve been able to pick up on the obvious clues that this one unbelievably overlooks.

The fact that none of the women scream, at least not during the first act, was rather bizarre especially when one of them (Evelyn Guerrero) walks into the crime scene sees her friend (Marciee Drake) lies in a bloody mess, but she doesn’t respond in a shocked way and just stares as if gazing at a picture on the wall. Having the police interview the neighbors directly over the nude, dead bodies of the victims, was a bit ridiculous too as the victims in most any other crime scene would’ve been covered in a blanket and taken away to a coroner and the scene secured before anyone else could be let in that could potentially tamper with the evidence.

The biggest thing that bugged me was that it’s never shown how the killer is able to so easily get into the apartments. I realize it’s because he has a master key, but that actually needs to be shown with a shot of a key going into the lock. The film though never does this, so instead we just see the door knob turning like these people have been dumb enough to leave their doors unlocked even as a killer lurks about.

The performances are the one thing that holds it together. I especially liked Ferdin and the genuine look of fright in her eyes and tears rolling down her face as she’s been held hostage. Her sincere expression of terror connects with the viewer and makes them even more concerned for her welfare. I’m also friends with her on Facebook and she’s posted about the final scene where she’s wandering around a parking lot barefoot and in her nighty, which was apparently shot in cold temperatures, so having her dressed like that in such freezing conditions and remain professional is commendable too. It’s also entertaining seeing Wesley Eure, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Land of the Lost’, playing a psycho, of which he’s surprisingly effective.

While the denouncement states that this was based on actual events it really wasn’t. It was loosely inspired by some cases of serial killers using tools to kill their victims, but the characters and overall scenario was largely made-up. The story was remade in 2004, but much of the violence and explicitness of this one was taken-out and toned down while also making major changes to the plot.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dennis Donnelly

Studio: Cal-Am Productions

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

The Emerald Forest (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Amazon tribe kidnaps boy.

Bill (Powers Booth) is a hydro-electric engineer who’s designed a dam that’s being built deep in the jungle of the Amazon. One day while he’s having a picnic outside with his wife Jean (Meg Foster) and daughter Heather (Yara Vaneau) he notices his son Tommy (William Rodriguez) wandering off. He tries to catch up with him, but not before the child gets snatched away by an Indian tribe known as the Invisible People. Bill spends the next 10 years searching for him, but to no avail. Meanwhile Tommy (now played by the director’s son Charley Boorman) has grown into a man and become a full-fledged member of the tribe, but before he can marry the beautiful Kachiri (Dira Paes) he must retrieve some sacred stones in a remote spot of the jungle. It is there that he comes into contact with his father, who is still searching for him. The two bond once again and work together to escape the clutches of The Fierce People another native tribe that is violent and cannibalistic.

The film is loosely based on two true stories. The first one is an article printed in October, 1972 in the Los Angeles Times, which was read by the film’s scriptwriter Rospo Pallenberg, having to do with a Peruvian boy who had been kidnapped by an Indian tribe and when found 16 years later he didn’t want to leave as he, by that time, had become fully assimilated in it. The second one deals with the autobiographical novel from 1971 in which the author, Manuel Cordova-Rios, details his account of being kidnapped by an Amazon tribe in the early 1900’s as a boy and how he eventually grew to become a member of that tribe.

On a technical level director John Boorman achieves the same type of success that he had with Deliverance where the vivid on-location shooting makes the viewer feel fully immersed in the setting to the extent that you think you’ve physically traveled to another part of the planet. The chase sequence in which the protagonists must battle their way through a dense underbrush to escape an enemy that hides behind the foliage and that they can’t see is also quite similar to the one in Deliverance, but in many ways more exciting. The film also has a very strong masculine theme where the women are seen very little and in the case of Meg Foster get completely wasted.

My main issue is that the kidnapping segment happens too quickly and the boy’s transition into the tribe is too unrealistically seamless. I would think a kid at that age, he seemed to be around 10, would’ve been horrified about being taken away from his parents, the only family he had ever known, and yet the film glosses completely over the adjustment angle and makes it seem like it was no big deal.  The parents devastation at losing a son gets handled in the same shallow way where after the kidnapping occurs the story immediately jumps to 10 years later without every showing any of the grieving process that the family most assuredly would’ve had and in some ways unintentionally makes it seem like they were able to move-on with their lives without much problem.

The story does have its share of riveting moments, if you’re patient, with the best parts coming when the two tribes go to battle with each other, but the film unwisely straddles the fence between reality and fantasy. I don’t mind a fantasy if it’s that way all the way through, but this one tries to sneak it in at ill-advised times. The scene that got me is when Tomme goes searching for his father in the big city and even though he doesn’t know where his father lives he’s able to connect with some sort of Indian spirit that shows him a vision of his father’s condo and he uses that to find it, but that vision never gives him a specific address, so I’d think he’d remained just as lost and confused.

Spoiler Warning!

I didn’t care for the double ending either. Having the film finish after the father helps Tommy fight off the Fierce People and save the tribal women from a life of prostitution was good enough, but then tacking on Tomme again praying to his Indian spirits to create massive rain storm that damages the damn was too much. It also becomes a bit preachy with its denouncement about environmentalism making it seem more like a political propaganda piece and less like a feature film. Casting Boorman’s son Charley in the lead was a mistake too as his constant wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights expression becomes monotonous. The part was originally intended for C. Thomas Howell and while he may not be the greatest of all actors he still would’ve been a better pick here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

Fortress (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Australian schoolchildren get kidnapped.

Sally (Rachel Ward) is a school teacher working in rural Australia where she teaches in an old-fashioned one-room school house. The ten students are made up of different ages and an even mix of boys and girls. One morning while class is beginning a group of four masked men invade the building and take the children hostage. They throw them into an underground cave and then put a large boulder over the cave opening to lock them in. Sally and the students go searching through the underground caverns and manage to find another way out, but every time they think they’ve reached freedom the kidnappers always seem to be one-step ahead of them.

The film’s main selling point are the children, which at first I didn’t think would be a good idea. It can be hard to get kids, for many of them this was their first movie project, to show the necessary emotions in an effective way and while they don’t always respond to things quite the way I think a real kid would I still found their resiliency to be uplifting. I also enjoyed seeing how the older boys grew into men during the experience and watching Sally precariously balance her obligation of the being the mature, brave one while still hiding her inner emotions of fear and panic.

The location shooting takes advantage of many different Australian locales including the Buchan Caves where the action in the first act takes place. Later on we’re given exciting view of a them running through the forest late at night in an attempted escape as well as them returning to yet another cave for the climactic finish. The story manages to be reasonably tense throughout though the killers always managing to catch-up with their victims no matter where or how far they go does ultimately test the plausibility. The film’s tone is a bit off-kilter as well. Most of the time it seems to want to be a story of victim empowerment and resourcefulness, but then intermittently throws in some jarring violence, which wasn’t necessary.

Spoiler Alert!

While it’s great seeing these kids remain stoic it also seems hard to believe. After being put in the cave they find a way out where they then spot a farmhouse, which was several miles away only to ultimately realize that the kidnappers have been there waiting for them. They then great treated to a man getting gunned down before their very eyes, but manage to escape from their to yet another cave that is many miles away and again the kidnappers find them and continue their assault of terror. Normally after all this most people, especially young children, would feel overwhelmed and defeated and eventually fall into a traumatized state instead of the warrior mentality that they do. While the good guy fighting back approach may be more of an audience pleaser I wasn’t sure if this was a realistic response when given the daunting circumstances. Also, why would the bad guys not invade the cave the kids are in right away instead of staying back and giving the group ample time to create the makeshift weapons’, stuff that would take hours if not days to make,  in order to be ultimately used against the kidnappers like they are?

The Lord of the Flies – themed twist ending comes out of nowhere and seems too forced to be effective. Watching the group surround the last of the bad guys and viscously stabbing him with their weapons’ in slow motion made enough of a statement and that’s where it should’ve ended. Adding in the denouncement where the kids are back in school and have the heart of the killer placed inside a glass jar in the middle of the room was just too heavy-handed. With what they’ve been through most kids would never want to step foot in that school again and where are the parents during all of this as they’re never shown?  Having a human heart in a jar is pretty nasty and you’d think  one of the kids would’ve talked about it to others and word would ultimately get around.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The plot is loosely based on an actual event that occurred in the small town of  Faraday, Australia on October 6, 1972 when Edwin Eastwood and Robert Boland kidnapped a young teacher and her students from a remote one-room school house similar to the one depicted in the movie. However, there are many differences between the real event and what happens in the film. For one there were only 6 students and all of them were girls. They were never taken to a cave either, but instead held in the back of a van. When the kidnappers left the next morning to retrieve the ransom money the teacher, whose name was Mary Gibbs, managed to kick out the back door panel with her leather boots and escape with the children and eventually the two men were later caught.

The irony though is that’s not where the story ends as Eastwood was able to escape from jail in 1977 where he then kidnapped another group of children and their teacher, but was again caught. He then served a 16 year sentence, but was eventually paroled in 1993 and has been a free man working as a truck driver since.

Teacher Mary Gibbs and the six students who were kidnapped during the real-life incident.

The van in which Gibbs and the students were held captive.

The school house in which Mary Gibbs and her six students were taken hostage on October 6, 1972.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985 (HBO Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Director: Arch Nicholson

Studio: HBO Premiere Films

Available: DVD

Raising Arizona (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Childless couple kidnap baby.

Hi McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) is a repeat offender who goes in and out of the state penitentiary. It is there that he meets Edwina (Holly Hunter) an officer in charge of taking his mugshot each time he gets rearrested for holding up convenience stores. Eventually the two form a bond and when he finally gets released they marry, but find that she’s unable to bear children. They then hatch a plan to kidnap one of the quintuplets of furniture store owner Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), but find this leads to more complications than they were prepared for.

While the Coen’s directing is sharp and on-target there were still those that criticized it as being overly stylistic and, as critic Vincent Canby stated, outside of the technical expertise the story has no life of it’s own, which is kind of true. The editing does give the film a personality, but there were times where slowing it down and allowing the scenes to breathe could’ve heightened the humor. For instance having Cage break into the Arizona residence to kidnap the baby happens much too quickly and there should’ve been a scene showing Cage trying to figure out which window to break into to get to the baby’s nursery as it was a big house, so how exactly would he have known where to go?

With that said there are still plenty of times where the distinct directorial touches spark the comedy and make it years ahead-of-its-time. I particularly liked the Coen’s patented camera tracking during Cage’s dream sequence where he views things from the bounty hunter’s (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) perspective as he rides his motorbike over obstacles on the front lawn and then supposedly straight into a bedroom. A chase sequence that starts out on the street and then winds up going through a person’s private residence is quite ingenious and the running-joke dealing Dr. Spock’s child rearing book is very funny too.

The script offers only caricatures, which would normally be a detriment, but here it just adds to the zaniness. I really enjoyed Wilson as the stereotypical aggressive, brash salesman and the scene where he talks to the police after the kidnapping has occurred I found to be the funniest moment of the movie. John Goodman and William Forsythe are also great as a pair of inept bank robbers and Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand are hilarious as the in-laws from hell.

Spoiler Alert!

My only real grievance, and it’s on a minor level, was the kidnap scenario, which could’ve been played-out more. I also thought it was weird that this rich couple would have all these kids and not hire a nanny to help them care for the babies. It’s a head-scratcher too that when Cage and Hunter decide to return the baby that they were able to break-into the same window that they did before. Wouldn’t you think that after a kidnapping this rich couple would’ve implemented crime alarms and cameras in ever room? Also, Nathan Arizona, catches the couple in the bedroom returning the kid to his crib and then after talking to them a bit he leaves the room with Cage and Hunter still with the baby, but you would think that after they took the kid once that the father would be too paranoid to ever leave the baby alone with them again.

The ending in typical Coen fashion doesn’t equal the same energy and imagination as the rest of the story and is a bit of a letdown. It deals with a dream that Cage has where he imagines having a really big family, but I thought it would’ve been funnier had the dream started out pleasant where he thinks about all the good things about family life only to have it slowly deteriorate into a nightmare where the harsh realities of raising kids come into play making him wake-up in a cold sweat and feeling lucky that they couldn’t have children after all.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Commando (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father rescues kidnapped daughter.

John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a retired colonel from the U.S. special forces who is now living the peaceful, quiet life with his young daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) in a secluded mountainside home. Then when day he gets visited by his former superior (James Olson) who advises him that the other members of his former unit have all been killed off. Before he has a chance to react a group of mercenaries converge on his home and kidnap his daughter. John tries to stop it, but can’t and is eventually drugged where both he and Jenny are taken to a secret location where they meet Arius (Dan Hedaya) the group’s leader. He tells John that he can have his daughter back once he carries out an assignment to assassinate the President of a South American country known as Val Verde. As John is being taken onto the airplane to carry out the plan he fights back by overpowering his captors and he then goes on a mad dash to retrieve his daughter before it is too late while using the assistance of Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) an off-duty flight attendant that he meets along the way.

The one good thing about a Mark L. Lester directed film such as this is that it moves fast, so you get reluctantly caught up into the action before you realize just how dumb and threadbare the story and characterizations really are. For the first 45-minutes it kind of works with the best stunt coming with Arnie escaping out the cargo bay exit door of the airplane and out onto the landing wheel of the aircraft before jumping into some swamp land just before the plane takes off.

Unfortunately this ends up being the film’s only highlight as everything that comes after it gets overdone to the point that it almost starts to seem like a farce and might’ve worked better had it been played up as being one. Watching Arnie fight off a bunch of security guards while inside a mall by having them all fall down like bowling pins with one blow of his fist looks too much like something used in a slapstick comedy. The scene where he tears a phone booth from a wall and lifts it high over his head is ridiculous as no matter how strong a guy is lifting something up like that will certainly destroy or injure a person’s back.

This brings to light the film’s other issue, which is the fact that Arnie never ever gets injured, or if he does he miraculously recovers from it in a matter of seconds. Watching him shoot down all these mercenaries like they were a part of a video arcade game while hundreds of bullets go whizzing by his head, but never  actually hitting him is when I got totally tuned off from it as it ceased to be believable and I was constantly glancing at my watch every two minutes just praying that the whole stupid thing would quickly end.

Chong, who is an actress that is usually able to convey a strong personality came off here as one of the most annoying elements in the movie. The fact that she would so quickly jump into helping Arnie find his daughter even though she had just met him and jeopardizing her own life and career along the way didn’t make much sense. The scene where she is able to fire a rocket launcher despite having no experience was another head-scratcher. She states that she had simply ‘read the directions’ on how to use it, but how would she have had time to read anything when every waking second is spent with them chasing after the bad guys.

Milano, who is probably better known these days for her political activism instead of her acting, gives a flat and forgettable performance. Hedaya is equally blah as the villain although I’ll give him credit for effectively looking and sounding Latino despite being Jewish in real-life. The biggest disappointment though is Vernon Wells who plays Arnie’s muscular nemesis and tries taking him on one-on-one at the end, but when compared to Arnie’s massive physique Wells looks pretty puny and an actor should’ve been cast that would’ve looked more like Arnie’s physical equal in order to come off more like a legitimate threat.

A director’s cut of this film is also available, which adds in a few more scenes and has a minute longer runtime than the studio version, but to me that’s just one more minute of your life wasted watching this dumb thing that you’ll never get back.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 4, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Obsession (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She resembles his wife.

Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is a wealthy land developer living in New Orleans whose wife Elizabeth (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter (Wanda Blackman) become victims of a kidnapping and die during the police shoot-out. Michael becomes tortured with guilt feeling he should’ve done more to save them. 16 years after the crime was committed he meets a woman (also played by Bujold) who looks strikingly like his former wife. He becomes infatuated with her and the two eventually marry only for him to find that she holds a deep, dark secret.

This film marks yet another attempt by director Brian De Palma to emulate his idol Alfred Hitchcock with a film loaded with fancy camera work, but not much else. For the most part, at least visually, it’s tolerable and not quite as overdone as De Palma’s other Hitchcock imitations. To some degree the camera work and soft focus lens is the most entertaining thing about it although having the camera go back and forth from one talking head to another during a scene where Robertson and co-start John Lithgow have a conversation at a restaurant becomes unnecessarily dizzying.

The casting of Robertson is a problem as he’s unable to convey the demands of the part effectively as his constant staring at Bujold becomes creepy and unnatural and he’s obviously way older than any of his costars. They should’ve at least hired an actor his same age as his business partner as Lithgow was 26 years younger than him and it shows. For the most part Lithgow isn’t too good here either as he wears a wig and speaks in an over-the-top bayou accent, which borders on being annoying and it makes him come off as slimy and creepy right from the start.

Bujold on the other hand gives an excellent performance that rises far above the trite material, but she looks too young as a wife to Robertson during the flashback scenes. Turning around and having her also play a 10-year-old girl during some brief sequences comes off as awkward.

The story, which was based on a script by Paul Schrader, but highly truncated by De Palma is full of loopholes. I thought it was unbelievable that the crooks didn’t spot this green police van with a very odd looking antenna on top of it, which was needed to track the honing device that was put into the briefcase with the supposed ransom money that the crooks retrieved, that was following them around at a much too close distance. I thought it was equally unbelievable that the crooks would not have immediately opened the briefcase the minute they retrieved it and made sure there really was money inside it instead of driving all the way back to their hideout before opening it while naively trusting that there was no chance that they might’ve been duped.

There’s also not enough of a visual transition during the 16 year time period that the story takes place in. Except for a few extra white hairs Robertson’s appearance remains virtually the same while the commercial boat that he rides on to deliver the ransom remains exactly the same as does the deserted dock that he throws the briefcase onto even though after such an extended period of time both things most likely would’ve changed or evolved in some way.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending where we learn that Michael’s new wife is really just his grown daughter who he had thought had died during the kidnapping does nothing but produce even more loopholes. Supposedly she died with her mother when the car they were in burst into flames and went into the river and supposedly the police tried to recover the vehicle, but found it to be too difficult, so they gave up, but in reality I don’t think this would’ve occurred. After some setbacks they would’ve kept trying until they were able to retrieve it as they knew the approximate spot where the vehicle went in and a river is not an ocean, so it shouldn’t have been that hard anyways.

In order to avoid the controversy of promoting a film with an incest story line the producers decided to reedit the marriage sequence to make it look like it had been a dream, but this ends up just bringing up even more questions. Like how is Bujold able to get into Robertson’s dreams and continue her scheme by telling him he must prove himself all over again by putting a briefcase of $500,000 of his money back onto the same dock he had done 16 years earlier?

The final shot, which is done in slow motion and features Robertson and Bujold reuniting at an airport, is by far one of the corniest things ever put on celluloid and will surely cause most viewers to either roll their eyes or breakout into laughter.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The funniest thing though about this so-so film is probably just Rex Reed’s overly fawning review of it, which gets printed on the promotional poster seen above. In it he calls this movie ‘an immensely important cinematic piece of work’, but how is that as it’s just a tacky Hitchcock rip-off with no message to it at all? He also calls it ‘better than anything Hitchcock has ever done’, which just isn’t true. I know Reed has gotten criticized in recent years for many valid reasons including his fat shaming of Melissa McCarthy, but his career should’ve ended after writing this over-the-top glowing take of a film, which ultimately is nothing more than a third-rate mystery with fancy camera work, as it makes him look like he was a hack paid by the studio to write a puff piece about the movie simply to help promote it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, YouTube

Redneck (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbers accidentally kidnap kid.

Memphis (Telly Savalas) and Mosquito (Franco Nero) are two crooks who try to pull off a jewelry store heist, but end up nabbing much less than they wanted. During their getaway attempt the car being driven by their driver Maria (Ely Galleani) crashes forcing them to stop another car and physically removing its driver (Beatrice Clary) out of the vehicle. Yet as they drive off inside the stolen car they are unaware of a 12-year-old child (Mark Lester) hidden in the backseat who ends up stymieing all of their plans.

This was yet another ill-fated film project that Lester took on after the tremendous success of Oliver! that was supposedly done to help make him a solid big-screen star, but instead turned his career to literal ashes by 1977, which pushed him out of the acting altogether and into a career in sports medicine. The film starts out okay with some excellent action that’s vividly done and had it kept up its fast-pace throughout it might’ve done better.

Unfortunately whenever the story slows done it gets boring real fast. Part of the problem is there is no backstory given to any of its characters. Everything starts out very abruptly going right into the robbery and subsequent getaway, which is fine, but at some point we need to learn more about these people; what makes them tick and gives them distinction, which never happens. It’s hard to get caught up in the action or tension when everyone, including Lester, comes off as blah and transparent. The film’s original Italian title was Senza Ragione, which translates into ‘with no reason’ and that’s exactly what you get here: sadistic, mindless calamity that serves no purpose.

Lester’s presence isn’t interesting and he barely even has much dialogue. He’s too much of a passive victim that doesn’t fight back enough while his bonding with Nero happens too quickly. His  eventual downward spiral, where he goes from innocent child to a nutcase that craves violence is also too quick and does not seem genuine. The part where he tries to escape from the crooks and is chased through an empty field is jarring because playful, cartoon-like music gets played over it making it seem almost like a slapstick comedy even though the rest of the film is approached like a thriller with a pounding soundtrack, which makes the production come-off like it has a split-personality.

The film is also somewhat controversial because Lester, who was only 13 at the time of filming,  for no apparent reason strips naked although the viewer only sees him from behind, but it’s still a bizarre moment nonetheless. However, to me what was more shocking was having him watch an adult couple making love in the backseat of a car.

Savalas is certainly a lot of fun and can make the most of any low grade picture, but even here his campiness gets a bit overdone including his incessant whistling. The ending, in which the characters go from a summer climate to a winter one in seemingly a matter of a day is quite confusing. To some extent I liked the snowy landscape and howling wind, which created a surreal effect, but having a movie change seasons so drastically and without any explanation is a true sign of really bad filmmaking.

Alternate Title: Senza Ragione

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 26, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Silvio Narizzano

Studio: Crawford Productions

Available: VHS