Tag Archives: Mark L. Lester

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

Roller Boogie (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Save the roller rink.

Terry (Linda Blair) comes from an affluent upbringing, but resents how little attention that she gets from her busy, preoccupied parents (Roger Perry, Beverly Garland). She finds refuge with the roller skating crowd that populates Venice Beach and starts up a relationship with Bobby (Jim Bray) who has aspirations of going to the Olympics. The two team up as a couple to win a roller boogie contest only to realize that the rink where it is to be held has been threatened for closure by an unscrupulous land develop (Mark Goddard) who uses mob-like tactics to get what he wants. Terry, Bobby and he rest of the roller skating crowd plot a way to save the place before it’s too late.

The film is nothing more than a vapid gimmick made to cash in on the roller boogie fad that caught on in the late ‘70s for a few seconds before mercifully fading away. Director Mark L. Lester who has done some great work with other low budget films by making them compact and exciting fails to the do the same here. Way too much footage showing the kids roller skating around the rink that quickly becomes derivative and almost nauseating. The script by Barry Schneider is filled with an overabundance of colloquial phrases that gives the dialogue an amateurish and grating quality. It also plays up the stereotypes of rich people to the extreme almost putting it on a camp level without intentionally trying to be campy.

The storyline dealing with Terry’s rich family background doesn’t make sense. For one thing Blair is all wrong for the part as she conveys too much of a down-to-earth personality almost like she has no relation to her parents and not from that environment, but instead plucked from a working-class neighborhood and supplanted into the home like some fish-out-of-water.

Why this young woman, who has a scholarship to Juillard, would want to win a trivial roller boogie contest anyways is a mystery? What long term benefits is it going to get her? The story would’ve worked better had it borrowed the Saturday Night Fever formula where Terry was from a poor, struggling background, of which Blair’s acting skills better reflects, who needs to win the contest to achieve some money and get herself out of a desperate situation, which also would’ve gotten the viewer more emotionally connected to her dilemma.

The storyline dealing with the roller rink being forced out of business is dumb too. With such large crowds of teens the place should be rolling in dough, so why isn’t it and isn’t there another roller rink in the area that the kids could go to instead? If the kids were really smart they would simply wait a week for this silly fad to go out-of-style and then jump into the new, completely different silly fad that would come along to replace it.

Bray had no formal acting training and was merely brought in for his roller skating skills, which are impressive, but his speaking voice is annoying. Despite being from California he has a strangely distinct Nordic accent like someone raised in the upper Midwest and better suited as a cast member for Fargo. By comparison Blair’s acting comes off as pretty strong in the scenes that she shares with him, but then again with Bray’s placid presence just about anybody and their pet hamster could’ve achieved the same thing.

On the flip-side from a completely voyeuristic standpoint the film is kind of fun as it drowns itself in late ‘70’s kitsch giving it a certain tacky appeal seeing the people on screen revel in it that now I’m sure would be quite embarrassed by it, which is why I suppose this film has achieved a revival of sorts with modern day audiences.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Class of 1999 (1990)

class of 1999 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The teachers are robots.

The year is 1999 and American high schools are running rampant with drugs and gang warfare. In an attempt to try to regain some control administrators have hired on a company run by Dr. Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach) who has created teachers who look human, but are actually robots capable of exerting extreme punishment on those students who get out-of-line. A Seattle high school is chosen as a venue to test these robots out with Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell) being the only human instructor made aware of these other teacher’s identities. At first things go well and civil behavior from the unruly teens is attained, but then the teachers get out-of-control where even their creators are unable to rein them in, so it is up to some rebel teen students lead by Cody (Cody Culp) to fight them off and stop them.

This is a sort-of sequel to writer/director Mark L. Lester’s earlier Class of 1984 and in many ways on a low budget scale it’s alright. I watched this film with my Cinema Terrible group here in Austin where we get together each month to watch two really bad movies. Usually everyone spends the time making fun at what they are watching, but this film surprisingly kept them quiet and captivated, which no one had initially expected. Lester has directed 33 of these types of films since 1971 and he knows how to deliver. His product certainly isn’t on an Academy Award winning level, but for those looking for some cheap non-think entertainment with a fast pace and decent effects then this ain’t too bad.

The best element of the film is John P. Ryan, Pam Grier and Patrick Kilpatrick as the three teacher robots. Ryan especially owns the screen during all of his scenes and the part where he takes some difficult students one-by-one over his knee and gives them a nice long, hard spanking is without question the best moment of the whole movie. Grier though is good too and during the climatic sequence she runs around essentially topless with her chest ripped open and her computer parts exposed, which I found to be well done. McDowell is the only one of the familiar names who is wasted and apparently only worked 2 days on the production.

The film’s biggest issue is that it has no sense of humor despite its over-the-top campy premise. The teen cast show minimal acting ability and their characters come off like walking, talking clichés. In a lot of ways this film would have been better had the evil teacher robots been portrayed as ‘the good guys’ and instead of being annihilated at the end by the students they were the ones who eradicated all of the mouthy, crude and disrespectful teens, which some would consider to be much more of a ‘happy ending’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: Vestron Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Stunts (1977)

stunts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the stuntmen?

Glen (Robert Forster) decides to join a movie production working as a stuntman when his brother mysteriously dies while doing a routine stunt. Soon more stuntmen meet similar fates. Will Glen be able to find out who’s behind these deaths before he becomes the next victim?

Director Mark L. Lester has done a lot of these standard low budget flicks and has achieved moderate success with them. The story itself is pretty basic and really doesn’t offer all that much tension or interest, but the pace is brisk and some of the stunt work entertaining. On a low-grade level it is okay.

I love Forster’s blunt, blue collar, say-it-like-it-is attitude and his presence elevates the story immensely. Bruce Glover who is the father of Crispin Glover plays one of the fellow stuntmen. Like his son he usually plays weird and eccentric characters, but here plays a normal one who you are even sympathetic to, which was a surprise turn.

The women characters aren’t locked into any dainty stereotype and are as tough and gruff as the men and I liked it. Fiona Lewis plays a journalist looking to write an article and what makes up the personality of stunt people and why they do it. She curses as much as Forster if not more and although the two eventually get into a relationship after a rocky start they continue to spar, which is fun. The beautiful Joanna Cassidy seems like just one of the guys and does all the same dangerous stunts they do and even knocks two guys flat on the their asses during a barroom brawl.

Candice Rialson doesn’t fare quite as well. Her best assets are with her clothes off and trying to turn her a dramatic actress clunks. She doesn’t even have a single nude scene here, which seemed almost like a waste. However, the segment where she keeps flubbing up her lines and they have to do continual reshoots to the consternation of the director (Malachi Thorne) is amusing.

The DVD issue from Synergy Entertainment, which is the same version you get if you buy or rent it from Amazon Instant is atrocious and looks like it was transferred straight off of a faded VHS tape. To some extent I was willing to forgive it as the graininess help reflect the low budget drive-in feel, but this version also edits out any time a character says the F-word, which got annoying. The picture is so blurry I couldn’t even read the credits to find out who did the catchy title tune ‘Daredevil is Gonna Make an Angel Out of You’, but whoever did it did well as it has a nice gritty beat and fun lyrics.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video