Category Archives: Movies that take place in Florida

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Elephant in a truck.

Truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) becomes enticed by an offer brought to him by Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams) to haul some secret cargo from Florida to Dallas for $200,000, which later gets upped to $400,000. Cledus readily accepts, but finds that Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is in no shape to make the run as he is holed-up in a seedy hotel and drunk over his break-up to Carrie (Sally Field). Cledus solves this issue by getting the two back together and then getting Bandit back in shape. Yet when they finally get to where the cargo is stored they realize it’s an elephant that is pregnant and transporting her to another state becomes a logistical nightmare especially with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) on their tail the whole way.

To some degree I’ll give this film credit because unlike most other sequels it doesn’t try to replicate the formula of the first. There’s definite attempts to instill different ideas into the plot that were not in the first one, which is commendable as so many other sequels come-off like just a vapid redo of what we’ve already seen. Unfortunately it goes too far with it becoming too campy and surreal for its own good.

Hauling the elephant in a truck through 4-states is particularly problematic as no mention is made about what the animal will eat on the way there. This is a big creature that will most assuredly need a lot of food and yet it’s never brought up nor anything shown about getting the elephant water while it’s stuck in the hot truck for many hours, or the massive mess it would most likely make inside the truck when it has to poop and pee.

Reynolds is the best thing about it as he keeps each scene he’s in engaging in an almost effortless way. The opening bit of him drunk in a hotel is quite amusing as is his confrontation with an unappreciative fan that comes about later on at a gas station.

Field’s presence though isn’t as interesting and she has stated in a 2016 interview that she considers this to be the worst movie that she’s ever done. I don’t mind having a sensible character present during all the absurdity, but why would she want to marry Junior (Mike Henry) the son of Sheriff Justice. It’s one thing to be slightly dim-witted, but Junior is so clueless it’s like he should be institutionalized, so why would this otherwise sensible woman want to get into a relationship with him especially if it meant dealing with a cantankerous father-in-law? It’s stupid logic like this that really kills the enjoyment of the movie quickly.

Gleason is certainly good for some laughs especially his running commentary about everything that he comes into contact with. That fact that he constantly has a cigarette in his hand even while driving I found funny too, but having a Sheriff chase around the Bandit far outside his jurisdiction gets a bit ridiculous. The scriptwriters should’ve had him become a part of the highway patrol if he was going to do that, but they don’t. His car wrecks become too cartoonish as well. Where is he finding all of these brand new police cars to drive in while the other ones get completed totaled including having one submerged with water when it falls into a river?

The film’s biggest transgression though it that there isn’t enough car chases, which is the sole reason audiences came to see this movie. There is one at the very end, but it’s done in an enclosed area and features hundreds of police cars playing a game of chicken with hundreds of trucks, which is too over-the-top and silly. The only other car chase occurs in the middle part and features Sheriff Justice chasing Bandit underneath a an old roller coaster, which by using footage of the destruction of the Greyhound Coaster being torn down in Atlanta, Georgia, they inadvertently destroy.

There’s a plethora of famous faces showing up in bit parts including Terry Bradshaw with a full head of hair, the stuttering Mel Tillis, and country music legend Brenda Lee. You can even spot Chuck Yeager the man who broke the sound barrier who is seen at a party, but with no speaking lines. However, non of these cameos are interesting or make watching this film worth it.  Even the blooper reel that gets shown over the closing credits, which became a staple of Hal Needham movies, is flat and dull.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

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

Jaws 3 (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer shark attacks Seaworld.

A new theme park has opened up in Orlando, Florida. This one has been designed by Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) and will feature underwater tunnels and an aquatic pool with dolphins and whales. However, just before the grand opening a great white shark and its offspring sneak in through the park’s closing gates. It’s now up to Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) the son of Chief Brody from the first two Jaws movies, and marine biologist Kathryn (Bess Armstrong) to stop the shark from attacking the people as they venture into the water and tunnels.

This sequel was originally conceived as being a spoof and the title of it was going to be Jaws 3, People 0. John Hughes was commissioned to write the screenplay and Joe Dante was slated to direct. It was even going to have the author of the ‘Jaws’ novel, Peter Benchley getting eaten by a shark right at the beginning in his very own backyard pool, but Steven Spielberg became aware of the idea and threatened to pull out of the deal he had with Universal if they went through with it, so it was nixed, which is a shame because even if the humor had been lame it would still have been better than anything you’ll see here.

Like with most sequels there aren’t enough new elements entered into the mix to make what we see interesting. It just replays on the same tired formula including the scene where Quaid frantically warns everyone to get out of the water much like Roy Scheider did in the first one, which comes off as derivative and uninspired. The idea of having the two male characters be the sons of Chief Brody, in an apparent desperate attempt to tie this one in with the first two, is really dumb. The odds that the Brody offspring would continue to get into situations that would involve killer sharks are quite low and the fact that they do makes the family seem like they’re affected by some sort of curse.

The storyline dealing with Brody’s younger brother Sean (John Putch) who comes to visit and his extreme fear of going into the water, due to is childhood trauma of the shark attack years earlier, is stupid too especially since he immediately goes into the water with the coaxing of bikini clad Lea Thompson. If his fear was that severe no woman, no matter how beautiful, would get him to go against it. Why even enter in this plot element if they’re just going to have him get over the problem right away? Why not put it to good use by creating a scene where Quaid is trapped in the water and relying on his younger brother to overcome his fear so he can jump in to save him and thus create tension with the viewer wondering whether he’ll be able to do it or not?

The shark attacks take too long to get going and then when they do they happen too quickly. The 3D effects, like having a severed arm floating towards the viewer, are cheesy and not scary at all. Although with that said, the brief sequence showing a man being eaten by the shark from inside the shark’s mouth is pretty cool and the only reason that I’m giving this film any points at all.

I also found the entire cast, and their benign side-story issues, to be completely boring. The viewer is supposed to have some concern for the welfare for these individuals, but I had none. Simon MacCorkindale is semi-colorful and gets thrown in to act as a potential jerk to the rest, but this doesn’t get played-up enough.

Spoiler Alert!

I had a lot of issues with the climactic sequence too. For one thing it features the cast standing inside an underwater control room watching the shark coming at them through the glass window causing them to simultaneously scream at the same time, but it’s shown in slow-motion making it come off as corny and unintentionally funny. My biggest beef though is that the shark is able to burst through the glass without any problem. I’ve been to underwater aquariums and the glass that is used is of a much thicker variety than ordinary windows in order to withstand the water pressure and yet here the shark shatters it away in seconds like it was the same type of glass used for your living room window.

End of Spoiler Alert!

While a small cult in recent years has taken to this film it was lambasted quite justifiably by the critics upon its initial release with one calling it: “a cheese soaked ocean thriller with no evident reason to exist.” The film’s opening weekend did quite well, but once the bad word-of-mouth got going the box office receipts dropped sharply. Don’t be fooled by seeing Richard Matheson’s name listed on the screenwriting credits either. All he did was supply an outline, which he insisted got heavily revised later on by script doctors. He also labeled the final product, once he finally saw it, as a “waste of time”.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Alves

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

Harry & Son (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Looking for a job.

Harry (Paul Newman) is a construction worker who starts to have seizures involving headaches and blackouts that causes him to lose his job. He asks his son Howard (Robby Benson), who lives with him, to help out by finding a full-time job of his own, but Howard, who has graduated from college, seems content with his part-time car washing gig and no aspirations for anything other than one day becoming a famous writer. Harry feels Howard is not being practical and prods him to take working life more seriously or risk getting thrown out of the house.

Although this wasn’t a critical darling when it was released it still has a nice slice-of-life feel to it dealing with believable people going through some very real everyday problems, which keeps it compelling. Newman does well as a director and co-scripwriter, but his performance is one-dimensional. Normally he’s a terrific actor, and one of my favorites, but Harry remains too grouchy and bitter, almost like he’s channeling his character from Hud, and only near the end shows a different side to him, which is too late.

Benson’s scenes prove to be more interesting although as an actor he’s just as one-dimensional in the other way as he continually shows a deer-in-headlights expression all the way through like that’s the only type of emotion he can convey and it’s no wonder that his career in movies eventually faded. There is one moment though where he shows intense anger and gets in his father’s face to the point that I thought a fist-fight would break out, which would’ve been cool, but ultimately it doesn’t happen.

What I did like about his scenes was when he goes to work at a ‘real job’, which features a wonderful performance by Morgan Freeman as his supervisor, and he’s unable to keep up with the demands of  it, which perfectly illustrates how kids getting out of college can be highly educated but woefully underskilled to everyday work demands. His scenes with Ossie Davis, where he tries to steal his car as a re-possessor, are quite memorable as well.

What I didn’t like about his character was that he gets back into a relationship with a girl, played by Ellen Barkin, who had cheated on him previously by sleeping around with a lot of different guys. If a person is prone to cheat on you once they’re apt to do it again, so why put yourself through heartache a second time? She’s also carrying a baby, which is not is, in fact she isn’t sure whose it is, so why agree to take on all the bills, responsibility, and stress of a kid if you don’t actually have to?

The female roles here are not needed and tend to just make the movie longer than it needs to be. The title of the film promises to examine the relationship between a father and son, but it does not delve into it as much as it should. Having Harry’s daughter, played by Katharine Borowitz, enter into the story does nothing but add needless drama that goes nowhere. Judith Ivey’s character is not necessary either as she plays a nympho who sleeps with both father and son at different times and the two men then talk and joke about it afterwards even though in real-life I’d think most fathers and sons would feel very awkward talking about their mutual sexual conquests making this scene insincere.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending goes against the entire grain of the flick by having Howard receive $1,500 check after he sends out a story submission to a publisher, but most publishers like to work through an agent and I don’t think they’d blindly send out money to an unproven writer without first coming up with some sort of contract. Since the film starts with a blue collar theme that’s where it should’ve ended by having Howard adjust to jobs requiring manual labor instead of inserting the Hollywood pipe dream.

Howard’s reaction to Harry’s death is odd too. He runs into his dad’s bedroom only to find his father lying on the floor motionless and then proceeds to just sit there and cry  even though the more normal thing would be to call 9-1-1 or attempt to resuscitate him. It’s also annoying that we never find out exactly what Harry’s ailment was making it like one of those cliched, generic mystery illness that befalls movie characters for no other reason than to keep the drama going.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Empire of the Ants (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ants terrorize island.

A group of prospective home buyers are taken on a tour of a small island off the coast of Florida that supposedly has ‘prime beach front property’, but in reality it’s worthless. Marilyn (Joan Collins) is the realtor touring the others around, which quickly gets cut short when ants, who have feed off of toxic chemicals that were illegally dumped there and have now grown to giant size, begin attacking the people.

This film marks yet another tacky production by director Bert I. Gordon who enjoyed making movies filled with special effects dealing with giant animal life much like he did just two years earlier in Food of the Gods. The effects are predictably laughable where process shots showing close-ups of ants get combined with shots of the actors on the set, but you can tell that the quality of the film stock is different making the ants look completely out-of-place in the setting. When the actors get directly attacked by the ants large rubber mock-ups were used, but this gets combined with a shaking camera and quick edits making the action hard to follow.

It might’ve worked a bit better had it not given away right up front the cause for why the ants got so big and thus allowed for some mystery. Having the toxic waste be the cause just adds more questions than answers anyways. For instance: why were these chemicals being dumped to begin with and why did they choose this island? How were the ants able to get so big so fast? Did they just feed on the chemicals and then ‘poof’ they were big, or how fast or slow did the process work? Why were just the ants the ones that got big? Supposedly other insects, spiders and birds might’ve ingested the chemicals too, so why don’t they grow to a giant size as well?

The cast of characters are predictably stale and taking a full 30-minutes introducing them to the audience before the action even kicks-in just makes the movie even more boring. Having more eccentric characters would’ve helped like having the ants attack a clown convention that was meeting there, which would’ve given the film a humorous/offbeat edge that is otherwise lacking.

For the record I did enjoy Robert Pine who plays this coward who makes no attempt to save his wife when she’s attacked and then obsesses afterwards that everyone believe his story that he ‘couldn’t find her’ and there was ‘nothing he could do’. Collins is quite attractive, most will remember her for her appearance on the TV-show ‘Dynasty’, which was her career peak, but done when she was already well into her 50’s and no longer had a youthful appeal, but here she looks youngish and easy-on-the-eyes, which helps during the film’s slow moments.

The film states during the opening credits that it’s ‘inspired’ by the H.G.Wells story, but that short story, which was published in 1905, was way different. For one thing it didn’t involve ants growing to a giant size, so trying to connect the two as the producers here do, is outrageous. Had the filmmakers stuck more closely to that story, the film would’ve been much more interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bert I. Gordon

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Private Resort (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens hit on women.

Jack (Johnny Depp) and Ben (Rob Morrow) are two teen pals staying at a luxury resort in south Forida. They enjoy all the bikini-clad women there and make every effort to hit on as many as they can. They become attracted to the middle-aged Bobbie Sue (Leslie Easterbrook) whose boyfriend is The Maestro (Hector Elizondo) a master jewel thief. When she leaves her hotel key on a beach chair the boys mistakenly think she did it on purpose in order to invite them back to her room. They sneak into the room, but come into contact with The Maestro instead who thinks Ben is the hotel barber there to give him a haircut. When Ben ruins Maestro’s perm he goes on a vengeance swearing that he will kill Ben if he ever sees him again and forcing the two boys to go into hiding.

Obviously the only reason to watch this thing is to see the early work of its two stars who have since both disowned their participation in this and reportedly swore that they would burn every negative of this movie that they could find after they first watched it. For the most part though their presence here is amiable and for the women and gay viewers you get ample views of both of their bare behinds including one brief bit where old lady Dody Goodman swats Morrow’s bare ass cheeks with her hand. I was surprised though why the two stars weren’t featured on the film’s promotional poster seen above instead of two bland, smiling male models that it does use.

The supporting cast features a bevy of hot-looking women who may look good in a swimsuits, but lack discernible personalities and play-up the bimbo act too much. Elderly actress Goodman is good for a few chuckles and even does some karate. It was also interesting seeing Phyllis Franklin, who has a small bit as the ‘Dog Lady’ who looks almost exactly like Alice Pearce, the original Mrs. Kravitz in the TV-show ‘Bewitched’ and could easily pass off as her daughter. Elizondo though should be embarrassed about being in this one and I hope he was paid well for having to play a part that was so shamelessly campy.

The scenery, which was filmed at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida, is pleasing, but the story is lacking. I admit I chuckled at it more than I thought and I suppose the ending, which features Elizondo shooting up the place with a machine gun deserves some mention, but it’s still pretty lame. Calling this an ‘adult comedy’ is an oxymoron as you take away the nudity and sexual innuendos and you’re left with a mindless plot that is sillier than a Saturday morning kiddie cartoon. I was also confused why Depp and Morrow were even at this resort in the first place. They looked like they could still be in high school and even if they were college age I couldn’t fathom how, with the income most college kids have, how they could’ve afforded a room there as the place looked pretty swanky and made for adults who were well-off.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Bowers

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Summer Rental (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family vacations in Florida.

Jack (John Candy) is an over-worked air traffic controller who’s given a 5-week vacation to rest up. He decides to take his family down to Florida, but things prove to be even more chaotic there. First they move into the wrong rental property and then Jack has a confrontation with local sailing champion Al Pellet (Richard Crenna) who is a longtime resident that openly disdains the renters who visit during the summer. When Pellet gets ownership of the property that Jack is renting and threatens to throw Jack’s family out Jack decides to challenge him to a sailboat race even though his experience in sailing is limited.

Initially this movie comes off as a welcome change of pace from the typical 80’s comedy that usually dwelt too heavily in crude jokes and adolescent humor. Outside of one segment where a neighbor lady wants John to touch her breasts, which the viewer doesn’t see, to see how much he likes her new implants there’s no sexual innuendos at all, which is genuinely surprising since most 80’s comedies, even the tamer ones, seemed to feel the need to throw at least a few in. I even like the kids here. In most films they’re played-up in too cutesy of a way, or they’re obnoxious brats, but here the balance is just right.

The story though goes nowhere. The original idea was based on a vacation experience that producer Bernie Brillstein had in Southern California where he was a father of 5 children that rented a beach home that had two elderly sisters and a mentally challenged son as his neighbors on one side and a group of gay men on the other side, but none of these elements appear in the movie, which for the most part is uneventful.

Candy’s confrontations with Crenna, whose portrayal of a snobby, rich man is too broad of a caricature, are forced and not funny. Their climactic sailing race doesn’t work either. Sailing can certainly be a relaxing excursion, but watching it as a sporting event is not exciting. It also has Candy and his crew dumping out the contents of a freezer and eventually the entire freezer itself into the lake in an effort to get their boat to sail faster, but this is also obvious water pollution and not something a protagonist in a film should be doing.

Candy gives an appealing performance as usual and Rip Torn is fun as an aging ship captain although having him walk around with an actual hook for a hand is a bit much.  Some may even enjoy seeing Joey Lawrence when he was still a cute kid, but the plot, much like stagnant water, just sits there and the pace is too breezy making the material hardly worthy of a feature length production.

There’s also a glaring logic loophole that involves Candy and his family staying at what they think is their rental property only to be awoken in the middle of the night by the homeowners and told they were at the wrong place, but how were the keys that they were given able to open the locks on the doors if it was not the right home? They also were able to retrieve the keys from the mailbox of the place, which is where they were told they’d find them, but if that wasn’t the right house then the keys should not have been there.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 9, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Blood Rage (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homicidal twin frames brother.

In the summer of 1974 while his mother (Louise Lasser) watches a movie with her new date at a drive-in 10-year-old Terry (Mark Soper) kills a young couple with a hatchet and then pins the murders on his brother Todd. Todd is sent away to an asylum while Terry goes on living with his mother. 10 years later Todd escapes from the mental hospital and Terry uses this as an excuse to murder people at the apartment complex that he and his mother live at while again trying to make it look as though Todd is the culprit.

The film was directed by John Grissmer who in the early 70’s produced The House that Cried Murder an interesting horror flick and a clip from that one gets shown here. He also later directed Scalpel and although that was not perfect it’s still better than this, which outside of some very gory special effects is about as routine and boring as a slasher film can get.

The identical twin/murder storyline, which has been done many times before, is a the biggest problem because even in the most extreme cases you can usually tell one twin from the other and therefore having a plot where people can easily mix the two up is just not realistic. What makes things worse is that one of the twins has curly hair while the other one’s hair is straight and combed back, so the fact that people can still somehow get the two confused is ridiculous.

The film also has too many unexplained plot holes like why is Terry so homicidal in the first place? Does mental illness run in his family, or is there something else that triggers it? And why does Todd so passively allow himself to put into an institution without protest and only after 10 years does he finally begin to profess his innocence?

The film was shot in Jacksonville, Florida, but the places used for the setting are deadly dull visually especially what was then known as the La Miranda apartment complex. This might’ve been done for budgetary reasons, but apartments are cramped places with unimaginative architecture so filming the majority of a movie inside one gives the film a flat, one-dimensional look and the exteriors, which were shot at the University of Northern Florida, were too limited and the action goes back several times to the same spots already used before like a nature bridge, which gives the film a redundant feel.

The acting is poor with the worst coming from Julie Gordon who plays Karen. I’ll admit the dialogue that she is given is pretty stupid anyways, but still watching her pathetic attempts at running or even screaming is so bad that you just wish the bad guy would kill her to put us the viewer out of our misery of having to watch her and the more she stays on the more unbearable the film gets.

The film’s only saving grace is Louise Lasser who helps bring some quirky depth into it. She’s unquestionably a unique talent that can sometimes give a brilliant performance if given the right material. Her neurotic persona and ad-libs add a terrific edge and just seeing her reactions is more fascinating than anything else in the movie. The film might’ve had a chance had she been in every scene and the stupid teen cast scrapped, but unfortunately she appears only sporadically, which just isn’t enough to mask the otherwise threadbare material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Nightmare at Shadow Woods

Released: March 29, 1987 (Filmed in 1983)

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Grissmer

Studio: Film Limited Partnership

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

92 in the Shade (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rival fishing boat captains.

Tom (Peter Fonda), a lifelong drifter, moves back to his hometown of Key West, Florida where he hopes to start up his own charter boat business. However, Nick (Warren Oates) already owns one and not happy about having competition. He along with his friend Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to play a cruel practical joke on Tom, who in an effort to get some revenge, destroys Nick’s boat, which sets off a warring rivalry.

Thomas McGuane was lucky enough to get to direct his own novel despite having no experience behind the camera yet frittered it all away with wild parties as well as an affair with the film’s co-star Elizabeth Ashley despite being engaged to Margo Kidder who was also cast in the movie and which set off quite a few fireworks behind-the-scenes. On a technical level I loved the way the working class/old town side of Key West gets captured along with the glowing gold sunshine of the region and Michael J. Lewis’ soothing banjo strumming soundtrack helps bring out the film’s laid-back ambiance, but outside of a few amusing moments that’s about it.

Initially the leisurely pace and quirky nuance is refreshing and I liked the contrasting personalities of the two leads, but not enough happens. By the second act you wonder what happened to the story as too many extraneous scenes and characters get thrown until it ends up being an abyss to nothingness.

The cast though is definitely game. The wacky dialogue between Burgess Meredith and Sylvia Miles, which I’m pretty sure was all ad-libbed, is quite amusing although the scene where she tries to shatter a glass by wailing out a high-pitched screech should’ve been extended. Joe Spinell, one of cult cinema’s great character actors, practically steals the whole thing with his few minutes of screen time. The scene where he is taught about the different kinds of fishes by having them displayed on top of a pool table is the funniest moment of the movie although the garish outfit that he wears when he goes out on the boat with Fonda comes in as a close second.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, at least in this recent version I saw from Amazon Video, took me by complete surprise. I had seen this movie twice before and both of those times it ended with Oates confronting Fonda on his boat, but instead of attacking him they sit down and have a friendly chat. Here it ended with Oates shooting Fonda and then immediately freezing the frame and rolling in the credits.

For me this alternative ending was frustrating as it left open too many unanswered questions. Having a film drag on as it does with virtually nothing occurring during its second and third act only to abruptly end it when it finally gets interesting is like a slap-in-the-face to the viewer and helps to explain why this bombed so terribly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes (Alternative ending) 1Hour 33Minutes (Original ending).

Rated R

Director: Thomas McGuane

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Impulse (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: William Shatner kills people.

As a boy Matt Stone (William Shatner) witnesses a man trying to rape his mother (Vivian Lester) and that sight scars him psychologically. As an adult, when ‘triggered’, he goes into murderous rages. Young Tina (Kim Nicholas) watches him off a business associate of his named Karate Pete (Harold Sakata) and tries to warn her mother (Jennifer Bishop) about his dark tendencies, but she refuses to listen and begins forming a relationship with Matt. When Matt realizes that Tina is on to him he tries to kill her before she can tell anyone else.

Although this film has a reputation of dealing with child molestation, and had an original title of Want a Ride Little Girl?, there is no evidence of it. Matt only kills women who are above the age-of-consent and his dealings with Tina have no sexual overtures. The script is actually quite pedestrian and loaded with nothing but cardboard characters and contrived situations that fail to be either distinctive or memorable.

William Shatner’s acting is the only horrifying thing about it. His facial expressions are better suited for cheap camp and his loud, plaid leisure suits are enough to hurt your eyes along with a wig made for a storefront mannequin. You can also spot his real-life wife at the time, Marcy Lafferty, playing a hotel desk clerk.

Sakata’s appearance is another detriment. I could see why he wasn’t given any speaking lines in Goldfinger because every time he does open up his mouth he comes off like someone who has no business being in front of the camera. Ruth Roman, who was a star during the ‘40s, but took on token supporting roles during the ‘70s gives the middling material some effort, but only if you can get past her raspy, smoker’s voice.

The only good thing is Kim Nicholas, a young blonde child performer who acted in only 5 movies, but who outperforms her adult counterparts by a mile. She conveys her lines with solid conviction and has just the right facial reactions. You could almost say that she carries the movie, but there is one scene where she stands in the middle of the road so she can force any car that comes by to stop and then uses this chance to bum a ride of off them, but no child or adult in their right mind would do something so dangerous, which only proves how stupid and poorly conceived this pathetic thing is.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Alternate Title: Want a Ride Little Girl?

Released: January 31, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Grefe

Studio: Camelot Films

Available: DVD