Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Last Dragon (1985)... Jak's Pick for December


Here's where I confess that I've only sort of seen the movie I picked for this month. And here's where you ask how one "only sort of sees" a film. And here's where I answer that by saying I was young, I was drunk, it was after a wild party, and I was trying to crash on some stranger's couch - trying, because the couch was in front of a television playing a late night movie. This in itself wasn't special, as I found myself in that situation at least a couple dozen times through my teens and early 20's. This one particular time, though, it was The Last Dragon playing and I kept seeing and hearing things from this movie that made me struggle through the semi-conscious haze and say, "Hold up, I shouldn't miss this." I don't remember whose house it was anymore, I don't remember anybody who was at the party or what it was even for, and I don't remember nearly as much about any of the other movies from the other times I'd found myself in that spot, so I had a feeling this was probably a movie worth revisiting.

Leroy Green is training as his teacher shoots arrows at him, which he breaks as though they're mere distractions from his routine. When Leroy catches a blue one instead of breaking it, his teacher informs him that his training is complete and he is prepared for the Final Level, where he may attain The Glow. He then tells Leroy to find the wisest sage in the universe, Sum Dum Goy, who will serve as his new teacher, and sends him off with a medallion that he says once belonged to Bruce Lee.

As Leroy makes his way through New York, he stops off in a theater to watch a Bruce Lee movie, which is soon interrupted by Sho'nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, and his cronies. A child calls out to the Shogun, "I know who can beat you!" Sho'nuff, angry, asks who, and the child tells him "Bruce Leroy, that's who!" and then points at Leroy. Apparently, Leroy is the only thing that stands between Sho'nuff and total supremacy. Leroy's calm responses anger Sho'nuff more and more, until he challenges the entire theater to a fight, which they're more than happy to oblige. Leroy leaves and Sho'nuff calls out that he's going to get him.

The movie then reminds us it's from the 80s by way of a music video dance show at a club called 7th Heaven for a few minutes. While this is going on, the sleazy Eddie Arkadian sends his man JJ to talk to the host Laura in an attempt to get his girlfriend Angela's video on the show. Laura turns down the meeting, then performs a song with a breakdown that has to be seen to be believed. When Eddie learns that his attempt has failed, he decides to kidnap Laura. As she is signing autographs, Leroy passes and catches her eye, and she catches his. As she gets in her limousine, an electric piano plays to let us know that love is happening.

The limousine is being driven by a kidnapper, though. When it stops to pick up two more criminals, Laura tries to fight them off and Leroy shows up to help. He beats them all up and they drive away without Laura. He helps her gather her things, flags a cab, and then disappears into the night. She picks up the medallion he accidentally leaves behind. He's distraught when he comes back to find it again.

Eddie's goons show up at Eddie's and tell him tall tales about the twenty or thirty bodyguards with clubs and chains that roughed them up. He sends his ex-prize fighter, Rock, to bring her back.

Leroy is teaching his class when Sho'nuff shows up with his entourage. They try to goad him into a fight, and when that doesn't work, they threaten to kill Johnny, one of his students, if he doesn't follow the Shogun's order to "kiss my Converse". When he obeys, Sho'nuff kicks him in the face and leaves.

The next day, Leroy has breakfast with his mother, father, younger sister, and brother Richie. Richie is keen on winning a dance competition to get a date with Laura. Leroy sees Laura on television and recognizes her. He follows his brother to find out where he can find her and the two end up at the competition.

Posing as a sound technician, Rock kidnaps Laura in a video truck as Leroy waits for his brother to return. Seeing this, Leroy attempts to act and is too late. He does find a clipboard that Rock dropped that says "Eddie Arkadian Productions" on it.

We finally see Angela's video for her song "Dirty Boy", and it's pretty wretched. Laura watches it with disinterest. After it's over, she tells Eddie that she isn't going to play the video on her show. Just as Eddie's about to get rough, Leroy bursts in, takes out all of the henchmen, and tells Eddie to back off before dunking him in the fishtank. Leroy gets away with Laura.

At Laura's apartment, she gives him back his medallion, now tied to a ribbon. She flirts with him and he awkwardly leaves. Leroy walks through New York and finds Sum Dum Goy's fortune cookie shop. Three Asian teens refuse to let him in, though, and even take his hat.

Meanwhile, at Leroy's father's pizza restaurant, Sho'nuff shows up looking for Leroy. He and his goons wreck the shop and Sho'nuff leaves, telling Leroy's father to pass on the message that Leroy has to fight. Leroy shows up shortly after and his brother rebuffs him for not standing up to Sho'nuff when he had the chance.

Leroy angrily trains until he falls to his knees, exhausted. In the middle of meditating, Laura shows up and asks if he is interested in being her bodyguard. He flatly declines and she leaves, annoyed at his distance.

Eddie and Rock hire new goons and we're treated to Angela and her dancers rehearsing another song. After they leave, she tells him she doesn't want him to kill anybody and then calls him out on his selfishness. After an argument, she tells him off and leaves. Later on, Eddie hires Sho'nuff to take out Leroy.

Leroy runs into Laura and apologizes for his attitude earlier. In her car, he describes The Glow to her, then nervously and very awkwardly admits that he doesn't know how to be with a woman. They get to 7th Heaven and she plays clips from Bruce Lee movies on the screen as more electro Motown music plays. He takes cues from the romantic clips and kisses her as his brother witnesses it from the rafters. One of the clips then gives Leroy an idea on how to enter Sum Dum Goy's place in disguise, and so he leaves. Leroy's brother shows up to yell at Laura, then witnesses her being kidnapped once again by Rock and Eddie.

Leroy's ploy seems to fail pretty quickly as the three teens unmask him in seconds. After he convinces them that they're mistaken about his identity, they invite him to play a game of craps with them - a game he obviously isn't familiar with.

Angela comes by Leroy's training school looking for Leroy and talks to Johnny, telling him that Leroy should stay away from 7th Heaven because Eddie's out to get him. Meanwhile, at 7th Heaven, Eddie has tied up Laura and Richie.

Leroy teaches the teens how to play craps "the way we play in Harlem", which involves a hopscotch outline. When he shows his medallion to try and see Sum Dum Goy, they keep it and lead him out of the building. He kicks the door in and starts getting rough. The teens show him that Sum Dum Goy is really just an automated computer, mass-producing fortunes for their cookies. Leroy confronts his teacher, who tells him that he needs no master, and that the medallion was just a belt buckle. Then the teacher leaves to visit his mother in Miami. Leroy goes to confront Eddie at 7th Heaven after locking Johnny in a closet to keep him from getting in the way. Johnny is freed by a child and they run to follow Leroy.

At 7th Heaven, Leroy is confronted by Eddie's newly hired goons and beats them all easily, until a giant wrestler named Goliath starts gaining ground against him. Leroy's students rush into the club at that point and overtake the rest of the goons. Eddie and Rock make off to the back with Laura, and Richie dances his way out of his ropes. Really.

Leroy follows them into the storage area in the back of the club, followed by Richie, who knocks out Rock and then gets caught by one of Sho'nuff's henchmen. Leroy knocks him out and, soon after, Sho'nuff appears, ready for battle. They fight and, after the obligatory kung fu back-and-forth, Leroy harnesses The Glow and wins. Eddie pulls out his gun and fires. Leroy catches the bullet in his mouth and takes down Eddie, hanging him up on a chain as the police arrive to take him away. Leroy gets the girl, the end.

In a movie filled with over-the-top acting, Julius J. Carry III, portraying Sho'nuff, sets himself in his own league. Carry sprays ham on the little scenery he doesn't chew up completely, in all the best ways. On the other hand, Leroy's actor, the martial artist Taimak, was taught how to act on the set of this film. Where this would normally hurt a movie, I felt that Taimak's understated and slightly wooden delivery lent itself well to the character of Leroy, emphasizing how removed from typical youth society he is and also making a great counterpoint to the fever pitch of jive and bluster that most of the other characters maintain. Leroy telling the Asians, "Oh no, I had too much already," when they're trying to get him to smoke and drink killed me, and I believe it wouldn't have worked if it had been given to a more trained actor.

The filmmakers seemed to aim to cover multiple genres with The Last Dragon, specifically kung fu, action, blaxploitation, comedy, and musical. Unlike many that attempt this sort of gumbo approach and come off as uneven, I think this one succeeds - well, for the most part, as the music numbers largely feel out of place and too long. This was certainly the result of having Motown Records founder Berry Gordy as producer, and director Michael Schultz who directed Krush Groove earlier that year, which the music scenes at 7th Heaven had me flashing back to more than once.

This movie references race a lot, and often in dated ways. This comes as no surprise in a blaxploitation pic whose entire premise hook is ascribing an Asian role to a black character. I did notice that often the most racist jokes were delivered by characters of the target race - the Asian teens at Sum Dum Goy mocking stereotypical Asian speech and mannerisms, Johnny calling himself "Oriental", and Leroy saying of blacks that "we all just look alike". On the other hand, there's a lot of "coolie" being thrown around haphazardly, so make no mistake, it's not the most sensitive film out there. Beyond the racial aspect, everything in the plot's all been done before and that's clearly the way it likes things. Shorten or cut out some of the music performances and the execution of the story would have a near perfect pacing and flow in my opinion.

And now, like so many aspects of the movie, I've covered something of a spectrum myself in watching it. It's a very different movie from what I remembered it to be when I was young and plastered, and, unlike most movies I remember liking while wasted and/or young, I ended up enjoying this one on a straighter viewing.

Okay, it's your turn, Angie and Noel. Did you find The Glow, or just a couple of filthy Converse?


I had never heard of The Last Dragon before Jak picked it for the exchange, and when I heard the phrase "martial arts musical", I knew I was in for something strange. I just didn't realize how strange. It starts off well enough, showing our hero performing moves just as we saw Sho Kosugi do at the beginning of the Ninja films. The music is clearly from Motown records, and while it may not be the normal music you'd expect to hear behind someone performing martial arts, it works well as Taimak performs them in a way reminiscent of dance. It gave me the impression that this combination just might work. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie didn't follow through.

The film can't seem to decide if it wants to be a tribute to martial arts films with the twist of an African American protagonist, an outrageous parody of the same with Blaxploitation elements, or just a vehicle to push Motown Records music. We have scenes where Leroy is trying to learn his martial arts, follow the ways of his master, and grow as a person. Then we have moments where Sho'nuff and his thugs trash things while spewing racial slurs. Then we have to sit through music videos, some of them parodies, some just there to say, "Hey, isn't DeBarge great? Buy his new hit single!" These rapid changes left me unable to really settle into the film and enjoy the ride, and definitely left me unable to really care about our main characters at all.

As such I'm left with the ability to enjoy certain moments or characters and not really care about the plot. I find most of the scenes with Angela really amusing, with her "Madonna meets Cyndi Lauper" parody music performances and her over-the-top outfits. I also was pleasantly surprised to see her stand up for herself and walk away from Eddie. Something about the fact that Richie is always wearing leather pants adds an extra bit of amusement to his "mature for his age" personality. And there are funny moments to be found when the movie just completely lets go and is completely silly. It's just that those over-the-top moments cheapen the more serious ones.

Any moment with the character of Laura Charles had me flashing back to my viewing of Krush Groove, a film we may or may not ever cover here. I didn't realize this was made by the same director, but I'm not surprised. That film is a loose biopic of Def Jam creator Russell Simmons, but quickly becomes a vehicle to try to make you fall in love with Sheila E, and instead just makes you incredibly tired of her. Vanity is better used here, and a better actress than Sheila, but still not a particularly strong supporting character. Taimak himself is an incredibly weak lead, much better at his martial arts than his acting, so between the two of them, the film becomes tedious at parts.

This film is perhaps the most fun as a way to spot cameos, between a tiny Keshia Knight playing Leroy's sister, Ernie Reyes Jr suddenly showing up near the end to join the big fight, or, for a Parker Lewis fan like me, seeing B. J. Barie appear as one of Richie's friends. It seems like a film best experienced in moments rather than as a full dose. I could see myself replaying some of these clips, but not really wanting to watch the whole film over again.


Before I sit down to watch the The Last Dragon, I wanted to take a moment to say that I've seen it before. Or at least the last hour or maybe the last half. All I know is that I didn't catch the beginning of the film and didn't even know what the title of it was for several years. This was about two decades ago, on an upper tier movie channel around '92-'93. My dad and I were big into Hong Kong cinema, including the works of a Mr. Bruce Lee, and random channel flipping brought me to this young black man who was even more deeply drawn to and driven by the inspiring image of Lee; shaping his body, his philosophy, the entire core of his life around the skills of his lost idol. It was a touching theme, one that inspired me to go out and start exercising. Which lasted about 20 minutes before I was plopped back in front of my Sega Genesis. I don't remember much else, aside from a goofy big bad guy at the end, and both sides developing these chi abilities with glowing lines drawn around their swinging limbs.

As I said, it wouldn't be until around '97-98, when I first gained regular access to the internet and sites like IMDB were already taking off, that I was able to find out what this film was. Even then, I lacked that extra kick to finally grab a copy and revisit it. That kick has now come. Will this film be the ultimate testament to the power of pure fandom dedication? Will it be dripping 80s cheese? Likely, it'll be both.

So let's slide that disc in and press play...


.........It would seem I have some gaps in my memory. I didn't remember that Leroy's fandom of Bruce Lee is just some background flavor to his already dedicated years of martial arts training, and instead of just being a lonely fanboy, he actually has his own school (which he teaches while clad in Lee's trademark yellow track suit). I didn't remember that the actual bad guy is a tiny bald white dude trying to put his girlfriend's music video on tv just so he can feel like he's accomplishing something. I didn't remember that Vanity is the host of said music video show and guides us through gloriously impractical dance numbers and video montages. I didn't remember that Mike Starr and William H. Macy are among the bad guy's thugs. I didn't remember that Ernie Reyes Jr., future star of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze and Surf Ninjas, shows up in the last half hour at all of 12-years-old and proceeds to mow his way through goons with his already blossoming skills and charm. Sure enough, Ernie Reyes Sr. was fight choreographer.

As Jak said about his experience, this is a very different film than what I remembered it being, and I was totally unprepared for where it would go. I knew Sho'nuff was wild, but Julius J. Carry III fumes with so much rage every frame he's in that heat ripples practically radiated from my television (though that might have just been the actual heat of my tv, as it's about 3 degrees in Minnesota please send help in the form of kindling and combustible papers). When his fingers kick into the Glow, with searing red energy and high voltage sparks, the performance from Carry III alone makes it one of the most convincing visual effects I've ever seen.

Sho'nuff is a wild character played in a wild way, but it helps that he's surrounded by a wild world in which to sell it. This is a world where Laura Charles can edit a music video on the fly from the booth of a dance club, while somehow also producing a song about a topic (The Glow) of which she's only just learned. This is a world where a video game magnate is named Eddie Arkadian, and he has a flesh eating fish in the middle of his living room. This is a world where Asian people acting like black people will make fun of a black person acting Asian. This is a world where "the baddest of the bad" evil henchmen auditions are a thing that happen.

This is a film where logic doesn't exist because that's not the point of any of it. This is a parable, this is a fantasy. It's not supposed to make sense or fit the confines of reality, as long as it stays true to the characters. And here it does. What Taimak lacks in star charisma and acting talent, he more than makes up for not just with his impressive physique and martial arts skills, but with his natural boyish charisma, which totally sells this kind young man eager to truly find his place beyond cultural boundaries he doesn't identify with. When he's knocked down, I felt it. When he comes awkward and giddily in love, I felt it. When he surges with the glow and finds the master within, I felt it. Leroy is a wonderful little character played in just the right way.

Just the right way is how I'd describe the film as a whole. This is one of those movies, like Hackers or Flash Gordon, that isn't easy to pin down as either good or bad, because it doesn't care. It just set out to be exactly the type of film it wanted to be, and pulls it off in just the right ways. When Sho'nuff crashes the movie theater, it's a garish madhouse, an exaggerated comic book filled with larger-than-life personalities projected against the restrained face of Bruce Lee on the screen. When we kick into music, we don't just get a tune on the soundtrack, we get fully produced dance number spectacles, and a Motown by way of Queen hero theme as asses are being handed out in the third act. We don't just get a villain, we get a crazed megalomaniac with a temper flaring his rage to a higher degree than his height, surrounded by people he failed to turn into superstars who would make him even richer, and a brutal warrior looking to fight the only person who refuses to fight him because he's a fighter dammit and fighting all he as to fight with. With a film like this, it's not hard to slip off the tracks. One way to go is Freaked, where you heap so much zaniness on top of zaniness that you're making it seem funnier and cleverer than it actually is by burying the majority of the stuff that isn't working. The other is That Which Came After Part 5 And Shall Not Be Named, where it had all the wild ideas and punchlines, but delivered with so little passion and so tonally off that they sink faster than a nickle in a roll of belly chub.

Here, they have interesting material. It's crazy material, completely out there, but it goes far enough to grab a viewer's attention without going so far as to become garish. And it's necessary as the plot is otherwise typical martial arts movie tropes, and it's through the bizarre that they become refreshed. And then it's given to people who care. A director with a good eye who knows how to have fun and keep the energy flowing without going so far over-the-top that it loses focus. A cast who bring all their characters to life, makes them interesting, and, most importantly never winks at how silly it all is. A catchy, danceable score that gives a rhythm to the fights and keeps the pace at a constant note.

I can't say this is a good film, but nor can I say it's bad. It is exactly the film it set out to be, and is so to an exceptional degree. If this type of thing isn't your bag, then this will probably be the equivalent of shoving your head into musty luggage that's been sitting in the attic so long that you don't know what's been living in it. But if this is your type of thing, then I think you'll have a damn good time watching it. I certainly did.

That light you see around my enthusiastically displayed thumbs up, Jak? That's from a flashlight, but let's just pretend like I've had years of training and am producing The Glow.


The last few months, I've tried to guess what you two's reactions to this month's film would be. I'm usually wrong. With this one, though, I nailed both impressions dead on. Maybe I've been doing this with both of you long enough now to have picked up on the more subtle nuances of the generalized criteria each of you employ. Maybe there's enough similarity between the approaches of the other mid-80s fare we've been viewing recently that it was sort of telegraphed by your earlier reactions to similarly genre-bending movies. Or maybe I just got lucky this time and will be dead wrong again next time. So as I really have nothing else to add here that hasn't already been said, let's sing a verse or five as Angie rolls her eyes at us.

"Take life one day at a time, that's what a wise man said to me..."

We'll be back next month with... something a little different.

Friday, November 1, 2013

BMX Bandits (1983)... Noel's Pick for November


P.J. and Goose are a pair of teens who want nothing more than to spend every day popping wheelies on their BMX bikes. They're quickly joined by Judy, to whom they offer to make up for accidentally costing her a job by promising to help get some wheels of her own... just as soon as they can afford repairs for their bikes, which were also damaged in the accident. They ponder their options, and during a failed attempt to gather clams, they come across a mysterious package hidden beneath the water.

The Boss has led his gang through a series of successful and sensational bank heists, and now plots to rob an armored truck. Key to the mission are a set of walkie talkies keyed to police frequencies, so he sends two of his goons, Whitey and Moustache, to retrieve the package, which has been hidden beneath the water.

Sure enough, the packages are one and the same as the kids decide to cash in on the fancy walkie talkies by selling them to other kids in the area, thus getting their bikes all tricked out and Judy popping wheelies on one of her own. Whitey and Moustache don't take long to catch up, and the chase begins as they pursue our teen trio through a graveyard, in and out of a mall, and down a waterslide, all to the accompaniment of slickly shot BMX bike stunts overlaid with synth whoosh and zap noises.

The plot of this story is about as basic as you can get, roughly there just to string along a set of circumstances where our kids' team of professional stunt riders (including a man in a wig as Judy) show off their pops and spins and jumps off of conveniently placed ramp-like objects, as well as some great stunt driving as the goons skid after the kids in their increasingly trashed muscle car. There's a lot of fun energy to these sequences, as the crew literally just looked around town for places it would be neat to run a bike through, and built little bits and stunts around what they found. The editing is smooth and quick, the camera always crisply framed, with some great shots where it's mounted right on the bikes and cars in question. It's all silly and predictable and basic, but I'll be damned if I don't always have a smile on my face as bright as the pastel color codings of our heroes.

What really pulls me into the film are the lead kids. There's just as little on paper for them to work with as there is the plot, but there's a improvisational flourish which again elevates it a bit as P.J. and Goose have a comfortable banter they've grown up with, and Judy instantly settles into their exchanges as she becomes the kindred spirit they never knew they were missing. The original plan of the story was to have a romance develop between her and P.J., but this was axed as we see both boys show an interest in her, only for her to gently turn them down and insist on keeping relations with both platonic. It settles into a surprisingly refreshing dynamic, especially for the 80s, where the boys accept that the girl doesn't need to be into one of them to be a part of the group who's seen as an equal.

Well, I say equal, but Judy does still spend most of the climax as a damsel in distress. She does do her part to annoy and sabotage the baddies after she's been snatched, but the boys get to do all the action as they race after in pursuit. Part of this is because Judy was originally written as a much more token "girl" role, but the charisma of the actress caught the director's eye, so he again improvised and bumped her presence up. I wish he could have retooled the climax a bit, but it is what it is.

And that actress playing Judy is Nicole Kidman, all of 15 at the time and already a head taller than most of her male co-stars. Her height actually lends her a good physicality in the role, even though that's not her doing most of the bike riding. Her elvish grin and mop of red hair are also endlessly charming as she trades barbs with the boys, both of whom are also wonderfully natural in their parts. Jame Lugton gives Goose that gangly wit as he snaps out one-liners and recounts horror movie plots at inappropriate moments. He fell out of acting for a while, but it's nice to see he's come back to the game in the last decade. Angelo D'Angelo is the reverse, having had a pretty strong career in both supporting and lead roles up to the late 90s before disappearing. It's not hard to see why he kept on as, even here, he has an impressively toned physique, good looks, a leading-man spring in his step, and crisp delivery that holds its own in the banter.

The bad guys are an interesting lot, with Moustache and Whitey looking like low-rent costume party impersonations of Freddy Mercury and Billy Idol. John Ley and David Argue have a wirey physicality as they dive head first into likely painful gags and prat falls in their pursuit of the kids. It does get too cartoony at times, and there are moments where their constant arguing over who gets to drive does grate, but there are some really fun and memorable moments, like the horror movie pursuit through the graveyard as they don hideous goblin masks, or Whitey's little dance on the speedboat, or the genuinely creepy moment where they corner Judy... until it gets all goofy again. And Bryan Marshall is fine as The Boss, there just isn't much to the character as he's the typical White Guy In Suit Tony and I kept encountering in Automan and Street Hawk.

The film leads up to a major climax where our leads gather together an army of dozens of other kids on BMX bikes - all of whom hope to use the reward money on the crooks to pay for a BMX track they can all share - chase after the villains and take down armed goons with a barrage of pelted bags of flour. It's a chaotic mess of a sequence, but in all the right ways. The climax does unfortunately go beyond that, with a weak chase capped by a pointless gag as everyone becomes covered in soap bubbles, but then the theme song, "Ready to Fly" by the Papers, kicks in as we see all the kids celebrating their new BMX track with a series of races. Which all three of our heroes win, of course.

This is not a great film. It's a good kids film, but I can see how the pace can be wonky, the constant "bah ba-dah, bah bah dah" score can grate, the endless silliness of the bad guys can pedal the roll of an eye, and all the general goofery and BMX worship can be a bit much for an adult to enjoy, and so I don't expect Angie and Jak to like this film all that much, if at all. For me, though, every viewing burrows deep into my nostalgia. Which is weird, not only because I was never so into bike riding that I ever really knew what BMX meant, but because I never saw this film as a kid. I caught it on a movie channel about four years ago for the first time, loved the hell out of it, even kept an eye out for a future airing so I could let it be the first thing I'd taped with my VCR in about a decade (the only available DVDs at the time were crummy pan&scan releases and what aired on the movie channel was the gorgeous widescreen print which now graces a Blu-Ray). It's become one of those films I throw on a couple times a year just to cheer myself up, and it's nestled right into my nostalgia sweet spots alongside the likes of The Wizard and Goonies and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie. I really adore this movie, and I'm glad its cult popularity is again starting to catch on.

Jak? Angie? Are you ready to fly?


With Rad just three months behind us, I was prepared for more of the same from BMX Bandits. I nodded when it started off with the same kind of stylized angles and closeups of masked bicycle action featuring the two adolescent leads. "Yes, this is about right." Then the pig-masked bank job happened, I straightened up in my seat a bit, and wondered just where the movie was going to take us with this.

The two leads' lines were completely unnatural, full of one-liners and obvious setups, like the dialogue ethic of Kevin Smith filtered through late night talk show monologue authors. Once I got accustomed to their cadence and meter, I found them likeable and charming. The goons tended toward overacting, particularly Moustache, though it didn't stand out nearly as much as it would in a picture that's played straighter. I felt Judy provided a nice complement to the duo's dynamic, as opposed to being an overly obnoxious foil or over-wrought wedge, which is how I find the "potential love interest" is usually written to be in these kinds of movies.

And even as I say "these kinds of movies", what kind of movie IS this? For starters, it's one that's not afraid to dip into a number of genres and wildly varied setpieces. I can't think of another film off the top of my head that has a graveyard chase sequence and bicycles going through water slides. That's not to say that all of the sequences worked. The chase that made up the third quarter of the movie really began to drag to the point that I needed to think a bit to remember what the plot was again. As a whole, it's a cartoonish adventure picture that I found enjoyable enough. Really, expecting much more than "enjoyable enough" from a children's movie as an adult would be as ridiculous as that ending song. My goodness.


The first time I heard of the film BMX Bandits, it was because it was mentioned by another blogger friend as one of his favorite childhood films. Beyond the fact that it starred Nicole Kidman, I knew nothing about it. Rad had already taught me I wasn’t interested in BMX bikes at all, but I left those feelings at the door and approached the film unbiased.

The end result is that I don’t necessarily like this movie, but I don’t dislike it either. I like that the plot is set up early and keeps moving throughout, and there’s a strong 80s flavor to the action and comedy, not to mention the outfits. Being Australian rather than American, I also noticed a trait somewhat close to what I think of as British humor, particularly in the line delivery of our three young stars.

Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot to say. The incredibly noticeable male stunt double for Nicole Kidman in her "show off" scene makes you wonder why they decided to keep that moment in at all. I suppose because without it, she’s not much more than the damsel in distress Noel mentions. I was glad to see her hold her own once she was captured, but it still is a little disappointing that they always chose her for such situations.

The chase scene is also overly long to me. While they do their best to keep changing the setting and having different things happen, and I enjoy some of the camera angles they use, there’s only so many ways I can watch kids weave through obstacles on bikes and a car barrel through things, and I just got bored with it. It feels too much like they were padding the film for time. A lot of the jokes are aimed just a little too young, as well, so that watching it as an adult, I’m more likely to roll my eyes than to laugh (they run into a thing of women’s underwear! Now they’re all covered in soap bubbles!) On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if the writers of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure saw this film and loved it. If not, it’s a fun coincidence that both films feature extended water slide scenes and people causing havoc in a mall.

While I can’t say I would ever watch this film again, it wasn't a painful experience either. If I had seen it as a kid, I might have felt differently.


I totally get why BMX Bandits didn't do much to click with either of you. As you say, Angie, it does aim quite young, and yes, Jak, it's really damn ridiculous. For me, that's the magic of it, that it takes my mind back to being a kid as I race alongside the chase scenes with the same zeal with which I once staged entire epics with my G.I. Joes. It's the type of movie where kid me would absolutely love to hang out with these teens I'd never meet in real life, while running and toying with the safety-scissor dangers of gangsters who don't exist. There is a dark edge to the film, with real weapons, and masked thugs lurking in the dark shadows of graves, but all threats are traversible as a popped wheelie causes danger to turn on itself in a goofy, stumbling scuffle, so any sense of menace comes with the promise of a Metos grin at the amusing way in which it's overcome.

Very few films are able to take me back to this headspace. I mentioned a few, all of which are tied not only to the feelings of childhood, but the actual experience of having seen them as a child. What surprises me about BMX Bandits is that I have yet to encounter another recent discovery that enmeshes itself so thoroughly in this part of my nostalgia that it conveys that exact same mindset, where I actually experience that child-like squee instead of merely appreciating it as some form of critical contextualization. It's a weird thing, and I still don't entirely know how to explain it beyond this.

But that's a personal reaction, one that's very much singular to me, and so I can't be surprised (and I wasn't) that the two of you didn't have the same reaction. And yet, I'm glad you didn't hate it. It didn't entirely click, but it also sounds like it didn't entirely annoy the crap out of you either, and that you both did have some measure of fun. Which is all I was really hoping for. :)

We'll be back on the 1st of December with a pick from Jak: The Last Dragon (1985)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Freaked (1993)... Angie's Pick for October


There are a number of movies I have memorized by heart, but none more so than the Bill & Ted films. (Well, maybe The Little Mermaid. It's close.) I don't just know all the lines, I know the facial expressions, the musical cues, everything. While the films sparked my love for Keanu Reeves in my youth, and makes me more forgiving than most of his poor acting skills even today, I also hold a special place in my heart for his co-star, Alex Winter. Alex is a little more difficult to find than his counterpart, spending a lot of his time post-Bill behind the camera rather than in front of it. But he did have one starring role after those films, in a film he co-wrote and co-directed called Freaked.

The film starts off with a fantastic animated credits sequence that is sure to get your attention. The punk score and bright colors may scream early 90s at you, but the animation style is so interesting that it masks the dated nature of it all.

From there, we're brought to the set of talk show, where former childhood star Ricky Coogan, who has been horribly disfigured, comes to tell his story. He was approached by the large corporation EES (Everything Except Shoes) to promote Zygro 24, a chemical that has been banned in the US and Europe. The company (whose CEO is played by William Sadler, aka Death in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey) insists the product is safe, even though the guy who works at the plant shrinks down in size as he's explaining all this to Ricky. They offer Ricky 5 million dollars, and as pompous and greedy as he is, he can't refuse.

Ricky takes his best friend Ernie with him. Ernie is played by Michael Stoyanov, best known for being the less "whoa-ful" of Blossom's brothers. Ricky's biggest fan, Stewie, has also stowed away on the plane, and the boys get a great laugh at seeing him hurt. At the airport, groups are protesting the chemical and Ricky's involvement with it. Ricky finds one of the girls attractive and covers himself in bandages just to get close to her. He's unable to keep up the act when she insults his acting ability.

On the way to the factory, he sees advertisements for a freak show and they decide to stop. They meet Elijah Skuggs, who manages the show. He offers to show them a private exhibit, since the show isn't going on that night. It's all just a ruse, though, and he actually ties the three of them up in order to turn them into freaks, which he does with the help of his machine and Zygrot 24. The transformations are done with stop motion animation and a lot of fun. He merges Ernie with Julie, the protester, and turns Ricky into an even more gruesome form of Two-Face. He really wanted to transform Ricky completely, but ran out of Zygrot 24, so he locks Ricky in his outhouse until he can get more to finish the job. The outhouse is apparently a TARDIS, as it's huge on the inside.

Ernie and Julie can't help but vomit when they look at him, and while their reaction is obviously exaggerated for laughs, his get up is quite disgusting, particularly when he spurts puss from warts on his face and hand. Ricky meets the other freaks, including an uncredited Keanu Reeves covered in hair as Ortiz the dog boy. There is also a human worm, a nose man , a cow boy (as in, he's a cow), a bearded lady (played by Mr. T), sock head (voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait), The Eternal Flame (who continually farts flame), a female pinhead, and a frog man (who's just a French guy in a diving suit).

Ricky is not yet ready to accept his fate. The freaks share their stories with him (including a hammer lying on the ground that used to be a wrench), but Ricky is still in denial. He's convinced that EES will come and save him and put him back to normal. He also discovers that he has a psychic connection with Stewie now, and Stewie goes around telling people about Ricky's plight, which gets him captured. I think we're not technically supposed to know that it's EES capturing him, but who else do you think it would be?

The freaks perform a show, and for the main event, Ricky does Shakespeare. The audience loves him. A man from EES arrives and tells Ricky how ugly he is, and the crowd turns on him. Ricky flies into a rage and the audience leaves in a panic, but Skruggs is happy.

Ricky takes advantage of a milk man to escape the outhouse, but two giant Rastafarian eyeballs stop him. Ricky finds out that Skruggs' plan is to have him transform into a full monster and kill all the other freaks at the end of the next show. On his way back to the outhouse, he runs into the other freaks, who are also trying to escape as milkmen. He gets into a fight with Ortiz when they don't believe him. Ortiz is distracted by a squirrel, and when the eyeballs run him off, the freaks accept Ricky as their leader. They hatch a plan to defeat Skruggs and escape. They sneak into his lab and manage to make a formula that would turn Ricky into a good superfreak, but they leave it there when Skruggs shows up.

EES arrives with Stewie in tow. They want to use Skruggs mutation machine to mutate workers so they have extra arms and other extremities to increase production. Stewie sneaks around them to steal the good superfreak formula and bring it to Ricky during the freak show, but an audience member pours it over Stewie instead, transforming him. In response, Skruggs pours his goo on Ricky, completing his transformation, and Ricky and Stewie fight. The costumes for the two superfreaks are really impressive.

In the midst of the chaos, EES tries to steal Skuggs machine, so he pours goo on them as well, merging them all into nothing but a shoe. Because of course. Ricky almost kills Stewie, until he realizes he truly cares about the boy. Skuggs attacks Ricky, but Ricky is far too strong for him. Skuggs ends up in a vat of the chemical and comes out as Brooke Shields, the host of the talk show we saw at the beginning of the movie. Most of the freaks are cured because they had eaten some macaroons they didn't realize had antidote in them. There's a fun reveal where Ricky had been in shadow during the talk show scenes during the film, and his profile looks like him in freak form, but when they turn the light, on you realize there's just a cactus behind him. Brooke Shields is revealed to still be Skuggs, but Julie (now separated from Ernie) shoots and kills him. But of course there is a fake out death so Ernie can then arrive and shoot him again, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Writing out the plot for this film, and watching it right on the heels of Leonard Part 6, you can see that these movies are both overly silly in their own way, and logic is thrown out the window for the sake of laughs. But unlike Leonard Part 6, it seems pretty clear to me that everyone on the set of this film was having a ridiculously good time. They know the absurdity they are dealing with, and they embrace it fully. Some of the jokes are in poor taste and don't age well by today's standards, but I'm more willing to forgive it because the movie as a whole is irreverent and gross.

The initial creature designs are done by Screaming Mad George, and for the most part, they look fantastic. While their movements aren't always perfect, they are well done. The biggest problem is for Winter, as the design leaves him limited in conveying emotion and speaking in a muffled voice behind the half prosthetic in his mouth. But even so, I think he does a great job with it, and the fact that this is a comedy and not a drama means it's not much of an issue.

The movie manages to be both a chance to see Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, and William Sadler acting together again, and also a silly comedy that hits my funny bone in just the right way. But I can also see it not appealing to everyone. While I'm hoping both Jak and Noel will appreciate it, I figure it's also entirely possible they may not care for it at all.


Like Angie, I couldn't help but compare this film to Leonard Part 6 while watching it. On paper, they're absolutely the same type of chaotic, silly nonsense. The plot is crazy, the characters completely over-the-top, random asides and gags are pelted at us several times a minute just to keep us on our toes. The problem with Leonard was that it had actors who didn't get how to deliver the material and filmmakers who didn't get how to capture it. Here, we don't have that problem. Everyone has just the right mad gleam in their eyes as they sink their grotesquely mutated teeth into every crazy line, and properly mug with the pantomime zeal of a silent film actor in every perfectly framed, canted, or whirling shot. Every action, every choice, every music cue, every background drone of ignited farts just because the Eternal Flame is standing there, is pitched to perfection so as to sell each moment for all it's worth.

The problem is that I don't find a lot of it to be worth all that much.

No, Angie, I don't enjoy this film. I don't dislike it, and certainly don't loathe it to the degree I do Leonard, because they do admirably pull off everything they set out to achieve. That's good for them, and I appreciate them for it. I just don't know that I wanted to see them achieve everything they set out to. A decade ago, I probably would have thought this was one of the funniest films around. I may be steadily growing a stick up my butt, because these days I'm a lot more sensitive to things like the gay bashing when those of a "sensitive disposition" are focused on and told to get out, frequent abuse is heaped on a child for a chuckle just because he's aggravating in his sincere admiration, and Rosie the Pinhead is just downright wrong, especially to someone like myself who has a mentally handicapped individual in my life. Surprisingly, I don't find Mr. T's bearded lady as transphobic as I expected. It's a transformation she took on willingly, and wears it with confidence and grace, and is surprisingly never made fun of for it.

I wish she had represented the majority of the film, that these are genuine people beneath their outward unusual appearances. There are moments where the film seems to want to explore this angle, of people not only longing to be accepted by the public, but by themselves, yet they're far too fleeting for the film to ever find that anchor of emotional weight. We hear about what Ernie and Julie learn by having their gender politics thrown out of whack, but we never really get to see them take that journey because they're too busy actually whacking one another. Ortiz, a proud, confident man, is on the verge of being the one to challenge Ricky to accept the state he's found himself in and wear it with pride, but then Ortiz is off chasing a squirrel and we don't see him again until the end. Even Worm's lectures come in the voice of a snob, and end with him desiring someone to wipe his ass for him. The film gets so caught up in all these crazy things they can get away with that they forget to take a few extra minutes to try to be something just a little bit more, just a little bit deeper, to ultimately give it all meaning. And isn't the theme of accepting who you are left somewhat moot by the majority of them being cured in the end?

The look of the film absolutely is superb, with excellent makeup effects of both a subtle and completely over-the-top nature, but there's a point where they go maybe just a bit beyond over-that-top than they needed to. I love Worm, and Cowboy, and especially the Rastafarian eyeballs with machine guns (not as racist as you'd expect it to be), but I don't know that I need the random moments of bloody gore as people actually violently die, the constant references to turds, and have I mentioned I hate few things as much as vomit jokes? Yeah, you can imagine how much I loved the scene where Julie and Ernie are firehosing the contents of their shared stomach. Additionally, a lot of the actual gags and one-liners fall flat for me, so all I'm left with are shrill sights of absolute grotesquery, screaming and flinging puss at me from my TV. Again, I can't say it's entirely bad as that's exactly the film they wanted to make, but it sure doesn't make for a night of entertainment I enjoy partaking in.

Which isn't to say I dislike it all. I did get a few solid laughs in there, like with the Ramada Inn towels, the backstory of the hammer, and the notion that thirteen people disguised as milkmen is just one milkman too many, and there are some great performances, particularly by Randy Quaid, Michael Stoyanov, and *gasp* Keanu Reeves. The problem isn't them, it's just that a lot of the humor feels forced, like we're supposed to laugh at it just because of how absurd and random and grotesque it is, instead of actually crafting something witty which has something to say.

Again, I don't hate this movie. It's amusing enough and has some neat ideas and visual effects, but it ultimately doesn't work for me. All of the energy and garish inventiveness on display makes for a lovingly crafted rubber mask of an entertaining film experience, but once you get past the surface, it's still just a rubber mask, with nothing beneath it to give depth to what we see on the outer layer. One could argue that Alex Winter is what lies beneath this mask, but while I think he's definitely a capable filmmaker, and I've enjoyed some of the other work I've seen (especially the live-action Ben 10 movies), he's not a particularly gifted storyteller nor comedic writer. And I'm sorry Angie, he's not that good of an actor, either. And it's not just the makeup, as he's really lousy in the scenes where he's not covered in prosthetics, too. Too much overly forced mugging, dancing around with word emphasis which kills a lot of his one-liners, and he's just not that appealing of a lead.

So I'm sorry, Angie. It didn't work for me.


Unlike Leonard Part 6, I'd never heard of this movie before, not so much as the dimmest memory of a sun-bleached box in the video store, so I didn't have any idea of what to expect. The intense and very uniquely well done opening credits suggested I was in for a sort of gross-out acid trip of a movie.

As usual, my initial impression was wrong. Well, sort of. It's a lot closer to an edgy cartoon brought to life, successfully (the makeup is worth the price of admission alone), complete with some truly awful jokes.

Locked in an outhouse that operates under the physical laws of a Dungeons & Dragons Bag of Holding, mutated beyond any hope of returning to his former life, our hero Ricky struggles with a small door labeled "Fyre Exit" which refuses to open. "That's against the law!" he cries - out of his entire dire situation, this is what he chooses to focus his frustration on. This is one of the bits that works - or maybe I should amend that to say that this is one of the bits that works for me. This movie is so full of wildly different stabs at comedy that it's less a consistently funny movie and more a way to determine exactly what your sense of humor is. You, any of you, even you, WILL find at least two parts that will make you laugh out loud, though the rest of the movie may be a slog of groans getting to those parts.

The story is paper-thin lunacy, and I'd be grasping for cynicism if I thought that was anything other than intentional. If Rad was mid-80s concentrate, Freaked is early 90s extract. And like a lot of things from the early-to-mid 90's, it's not about the story as much as it's about the attitude and the presentation. When I looked up information on it after watching, I wasn't surprised at all to find out that the writing and directing team were also behind MTV's The Idiot Box, because the humor and pacing is much more like a sketch comedy show than most comedy films I've seen.

As Angie pointed out, the cast and crew obviously had a riot making this, and that's what makes me enjoy it far more than the similarly paced and similarly bizarre Leonard Part 6, which felt more like a paint-by-numbers, "insert joke here" affair of crass marketing than anything entertaining. If something's not going to end up being very good, it should at least have some element of "look how much fun we had" behind it. This has that all over it.

So while I didn't ultimately find it to be what I'd call "a good movie", I don't hate it for its unevenness, either. When it misses, it misses awkwardly and noticeably. However, when it hits, it hits hard and well. "The hideous frogman!" is my new favorite movie moment.


Noel, I can understand that some of the jokes here are just too offensive to be taken lightly these days. The pinhead is no doubt there as a reference to Tod Browning's Freaks, but that doesn't make her portrayal any less cringe-worthy. The gay bashing was something that was so commonplace for the time period (this is just a couple years after Alex and Keanu were calling each other the f word after hugging, for instance), but we've come so far that it comes off badly now and the attempt at making some kind of lesson about how we view gender roles with Julie and Ernie comes off completely disingenuous. The movie clearly puts attempts at comedy over being respectful or, as you point out, having any kind of meaning, and as both you and Jak said, some of those attempts just don't work. So I can certainly understand if some of the more offensive ones are too difficult to overlook.

As Jak said, this movie is very early 90s. The soundtrack, the offensiveness, and the style are all firmly from that time period. And I think it's obvious that my love of Bill & Ted goes a long way in making me fond of the film despite some of its bad spots. I'm not even going to pretend like Alex Winter is a good actor. Much like Keanu, he seems born to portray Bill S. Preston, Esquire and comes off awkward in most other roles. If this film wasn't so cartoonish in style, his acting wouldn't work. But the fact that he hasn't really done any acting since means he's aware of it as well.

And Noel is right, this film has no real message to speak of. I went through and watched the film again with commentary from Alex Winter and Tom Stern, and near the end, when Ricky stops just short of killing Stewie, Alex attempts to say that the theme of the film is that love conquers all. But he does so with a chuckle, and this is after the two of them spent most of the commentary laughing at their own jokes and occasionally reminiscing. They also pointed out repeatedly that they made this when they were 25 years old and knew nothing, and that pretty clearly shows.

When I was in college, I took a film as literature class. We had a group project, and my group picked Reservoir Dogs. At the end, after we had all talked about various scenes and how their presentation conveys various ideas and portrays the characters, the professor asked us what the message of the film was. We suggested that the film asks if there is honor among thieves, and answers it with a no. But it's a fairly shallow message. That film, like many of Tarantino's works, is more about the snappy nature of the dialogue, the excellent selection of the soundtrack, and the style he brings to his shots. And I love every bit of it. My point being that sometimes I enjoy style over substance, as long as the style is executed well.

As I said before, this movie isn't for everyone. Your tolerance for the low brow has to be pretty high. But for those not easily offended, who love a high dose of insanity and cartoonishness, this is a film worth checking out.

We'll be back on the 1st of November with a pick from Noel: BMX Bandits (1983)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Leonard Part 6 (1987)... Jak's Pick for September


I've got a vague memory of my parents renting a Bill Cosby movie called Leonard Part 6 when I was eight, and wondering why I'd never heard of the first five parts. Of course, they don't exist, and from all that I've heard in the years since, that meta-joke is the only trace of comedy that supposedly exists in the whole movie. Bill Cosby himself discouraged people from seeing it leading up to its release. "Wow," I thought, "how bad could it be?"

I've tried to write this review a few times now, and each one reads like overly snarky exaggeration or hyperbolic bile - and the internet's got way more than enough of that already. So instead, I'm going to detail the plot below as objectively as possible, with no interjections of my opinions or thoughts until the end, because it really does need to speak for itself first. This may be difficult.

It starts with a CIA agent being killed in his swimming pool by a trained rainbow trout. The CIA chief, played by Joe Don Baker, lures back Leonard Parker, a retired agent who now runs a fancy L.A. restaurant, by sending one of their agents to try to kill Leonard by way of a shootout in the restaurant's kitchen. After taking out the agent, Leonard arrives at the CIA meeting and learns of a series of murders at the hands of several different trained animals (housecats, squirrels, and gophers). Apparently, Medusa, a vegetarian woman in charge of an evil organization, has gained a formula which can take control over all the animals of the world, and Leonard is tasked with stopping her. He refuses to and leaves, saying he is retired.

Leonard's daughter has arrived at his house with her new boyfriend, a play director who is 65 years old. Leonard isn't happy about this.

A CIA agent arrives at Medusa's compound and is killed by frogs who throw his car into the water, drowning him. Meanwhile, Leonard pines for his wife, who left him seven years ago. He calls her in the middle of the night to talk about their daughter's relationship, a conversation which ends with them setting up a dinner date the next day. A four minute montage of tailors sewing clothes, and Leonard working out and getting shaved and manicured follows. Leonard's workout tape is interrupted temporarily by Joe Don Baker, giving mission details to recover the animal control sphere from the compound's "B Room". Leonard ignores this and goes to his dinner date with his wife at her house down the block from him.

They appear to be reconciling at the beginning, until she starts spilling wine and sauce all over him, ending with her smashing a plate of rice into his face. She's still angry about catching him in the middle of what appeared to be an affair. Leonard leaves, instructing his butler to drive him to a fortune teller he would always see before he'd go on his missions.

The fortune teller speaks in gibberish and slaps his face as her children throw stuffed dolls at him and laugh. She hands him a pair of ballet slippers and a red jewelry box. He is ready to accept the mission the CIA has for him and is outfitted with numerous weapons and a set of hair clippers. His butler leads him to his tank gun-equipped, rocket-powered sports car and he goes speeding to the compound, attempting to blow up the gates. Medusa laughs, watching him on security cameras as he exhausts all his firepower. She finally lets him in by opening the gates.

She sends thirteen dancing vegetarian warriors dressed as birds out against him. They dance around Leonard, scratching him up and stripping him of his remaining weapons. All appears to be lost, until Leonard puts on the ballet shoes and starts ballet dancing, which lets him win the fight against the warriors. He uses the hair clippers to shave one of them bare. Medusa, now angry, sends her armed guards after Leonard as he proceeds further into the compound, hidden amidst a group of ostriches. He reaches the room with the sphere in it, which is filled with bees (because it's the "B Room"), and opens the red jewelry box which contains a magic queen bee who leads all the bees out of the room. Leonard makes off with the sphere as the guards are covered in bees.

Leonard arrives back at his house, where he performs drunken surgery on himself to extract a bullet from his arm. Later that night, he and his wife watch their daughter's play, where she ends up nude in her scene. After the play is over, one of Medusa's agents ties up the cast and kidnaps Leonard's wife, leaving a note telling him to return the sphere if he wants his wife back.

Leonard goes to the CIA to retrieve the sphere where they are attempting to use it to control animals and failing. Leonard instructs the rabbits to attack the CIA agents, and runs off with the sphere in the chaos.

Leonard and his butler replace the fluids inside the sphere with dishwasher liquid and head to the compound, though not before the fortune teller drives next to them and switches places with the butler in the passenger seat. She gives Leonard butter, meat patties, and a hot dog weenie before leaving.

Leonard returns the sphere to Medusa at the compound and, of course, they do not return his wife. Medusa knows they replaced the fluids and says that it doesn't matter because the liquids have nothing to do with the sphere's operation. In 15 minutes she will activate the machines that will allow her to control all the animals.

Leonard is thrown into a cell with his wife where lobsters approach them menacingly. One of the lobsters cuts the wires that attach him to the wall, and he threatens another with the butter to get it to cut his wife's wires. The lobsters retreat as both of them wield butter.

Leonard and his wife storm the rest of the compound on a horse, interrupting the activation with one second remaining, and grab the sphere. He fends off the vegetarian guards with the meat patties (which burns them on contact) as his wife frees all of the animals from the compound. Medusa's sidekick takes a bite of the hot dog and his head explodes.

Leonard throws meat at the machinery, which causes everything to burst into flames. He drops Alka-Seltzer into the vats of fluid, drowning the villains in a tide of goo. Leonard escapes on the back of an ostrich as the compound self destructs. Joe Don Baker and the CIA arrive and are incensed at the destruction of the sphere, and Leonard, not caring, heads back home with his wife as the goo gushes out of the compound.

Leonard and his wife celebrate at his restaurant by her pouring and smearing food all over him. The end.

And now here's the part where I'm supposed to present my own opinions and I'm still finding it hard to construct a sentence that can adequately represent them. This movie is proof that there are things money can't improve. The sets and special effects were fantastic for a 1987 film, yet it still managed to be the most tedious movie I've watched in a long time. It's obvious which segments somebody thought were supposed to be funny, making it that much more apparent when the jokes and gags fail to land. It reminds me of the stories my friends and I would write when we were very young, before we figured out that directionless randomness doesn't necessarily equal entertainment - which leads me to now wonder if I'd have enjoyed this movie when I was eight, or if I'd have also concluded back then that this is stupid.

Actually, yeah, there it is. That's what I'm going to go with. This is stupid.


My expectations for this film were exceedingly low. If you're going to watch a film that both the director and star admit is terrible, you can't really go into viewing it any other way. Given my recent track record with the films we've been picking for the Exchange, I was steeling myself for another film that I probably wouldn't enjoy. So imagine my surprise when I found out Leonard Part 6 really isn't that bad.

Now, saying it's not bad doesn't mean it's good, and this film isn't. I'm just saying that there are moments of amusement to be gained here, if you're in the right frame of mind for them. This is an incredibly silly film, a film that is quite intentionally stupid on purpose. It's clear that Cosby was going for a kind of absurd humor throughout, but the main problem is, 9 out of 10 times, that humor falls flat. I laughed hysterically when the gang of frogs surround the agent's vehicle and then literally hop as one into the water, carrying the car and drowning him. Shortly after he had been writing down "Gribbit" to record their words. It's stupid - so, so stupid - but for that moment, at least, it hit me perfectly.

However, plenty of other moments of humor don't do the same for me. Watching Leonard's estranged wife cover him with food, for instance, is probably the most painful of the attempts at humor, primarily because it's used twice. I feel like the ballet moment could have been funny, but the fact that we're told about it as the film opens, and then see the fortune teller give him the shoes, makes the scene largely expected and therefore less absurd and more tedious. Though I do find Medusa's explanation of the dancers' origins pretty funny.

Speaking of Medusa, Gloria Foster is fantastic. I recognized her voice as the Oracle from The Matrix the moment she spoke, and I love watching her play over the top here. She really deserved a larger career than she got, and she's definitely too good for this film. It's also worth mentioning that Cosby is still Cosby here. While a little more subdued than the character most of us are used to seeing him play on his show, he's still charming and makes wonderfully expressive faces. It's just that the story and the jokes are so weak that just having him here isn't enough.

The story with his wife and daughter are pretty well done, and you can certainly see similarities in there with both his sitcoms and his comedy routines, but they take up far too much time in what is supposed to be a zany parody of James Bond. I suppose you could see it as an attempt to make the audience feel something more when the hero's ex-wife is captured, since you've witnessed so much of their broken relationship up until now, but it's truly not necessary at all and, frankly, the extra time still doesn't make their reunion any more believable. Helping him save the world doesn't mean she will automatically forgive him for cheating on her, after all.

I don't regret watching it, but I'll probably never watch it again. For a movie so badly regarded, I think that's giving it a fairly decent compliment.


Jak, I'm left in much the same position as you. I watched the first half of this movie at my dad's place, where he and I quickly fell into expressions of stupor as we stared at the screen, occasionally turning those stuporous looks at one another to confirm that, yes, we were both indeed left just as lost by this film. He gave up after half an hour, so I packed it up and finished it at home. I was left in the same state by myself, occasionally pausing the film so I could turn off my television and stare into the eyes of my reflection as I pondered how this film manages to exist in the state it does. And when the film was over, and the credits had played out in full, I realized I'd been staring at the main menu for five minutes as perceptions of the regular world slowly dawned on me. It's a mesmerizing experience, in a way, but instead of leaving me in a state of peaceful complacency, it left me empty and hollow, and chilled at the abyss I now found in myself. I'm left with unanswerable questions of "how" and "why", and an experience that can only enlighten through repetition, but when a second viewing is likely to be the same numbing hell as the first, it leaves me finally excepting the truth that some questions aren't meant to be answered.

But a lack of definite answers does not require a dismissal of the art of theories, so in order to try to purge this from my system, let me see if I can speculate about how a cinematic foreskin boil like Leonard Part 6 came into existence.

It's long forgotten now, but there was a time when Bill Cosby was both a sex symbol and a dashing male lead. Shortly before the first of his three domestic sitcoms, he starred in I, Spy with Robert Culp, where the two played a pair of dashing international sleuths who frequently saved the world, and looked sharp while doing it. In the 80s, with the rise of the summer action movie, I could imagine Cos looking at Beverly Hills Cop and saying, "Y'know, I used to be able to do that stuff. That used to be me." Thus, an idea came into his head, that of a now retired spy - with Leonard Parker resembling, but not officially his old role of Alexander Scott - who is forced back into the game while also dealing with family issues which get mixed up in events. If you look at Beverly Hills Cop, it's not impossible to have a gritty crime drama play out within comical shenanigans, and you could imagine Cosby's resolve, "We'll dooooooo that! But cleaner, so the kiddies can come see!"

So this was passed to a writer, but something was lost in the translation and, forgetting to do his researched, he mistook his old memories of I, Spy with those of Get Smart, and penned a gag-laden script filled with under-arm missiles, Jane Fonda training montages, and people being killed in silly ways by cute animals. And since the studios heard the word "Kiddies!" echoing from the direction of Bill Cosby's mouth, they mistook that to mean the little tots were the intended audience, and signed off on the script lickety split. By this point, the script had found its way back into the pudding sticky hands of Bill, who was storming about the house, reading it out loud, interspersed with cries of "How could they! How dare they! This doesn't represent my art!" but then he stopped when he heard the laughter of those metaphorical kiddies and realized it might be worth it to play along. Maybe even sell some more Jell-O. But he still had his fond memories of Alexander Scott and tried to take it a little seriously, mostly approaching the role with a buttoned-up charm... until he got to the setpiece with the vegetarian bird dancers, ostriches, and vats of dishwasher fluid brought to roiling life by Alka Seltzer, and by then his dignity was pretty much thrown out the window.

For a director, they went to a British newcomer named Paul Weilland, who apparently has actual comedy chops, as he built a decent career after Leonard when television direction brought him in touch with Rowan Atkinson, with whom he collaborated on a number of Mr. Bean episodes and a Blackadder film. He also did City Slickers 2, a sequel I don't hate. Granted, with all of these, he was working with actors at the tops of their comedic games, who not only got the jokes in the script, but helped to hone them. Here, he had a Bill Cosby who was trying to play his secret agent as either a straight, dashing lead, or as his exasperated sitcom dad, and instead of really digging into and selling the jokes of the script, Cos seemed to be embarrassed, a feeling which became infectious as nobody but the two villains even really tried to give the material on the page a chance and instead either deadpanned it or went off in directions that had nothing to do with anything. I'm thinking the butler and the psychic here.

Oh, and have I mentioned Jan de Bont yet? Jan is most famous as the director of Speed and Twister, a great pair of 90s action movies. Before taking his own seat in the directorial chair, he honed his skills as one of the top Hollywood cinematographers of the late 80s/early 90s. He did Cujo, Die Hard, Black Rain, The Hunt for Red October, and Basic Instinct. If you look at his work on Leonard, it's admirable as every shot is lovingly framed and lit. Just look at the sequence where the frogs gather under a car and hop it into a river. There's a genuine layer of tension to the buildup as you first have one, then more, then dozens of frogs and the spy in the car doesn't realize their sounds are what he's jotting down in his wiretap notes as they all suddenly leap as one and... the scene is awful. It's not awful because it's poorly done, no. It's masterfully done, it's just entirely wrong for the movie. Too much of this film is shot with the slick seriousness of a Ridley Scott movie, and this not only kills the joke, but creates a massive clash where intent and execution grind against one another, creating the mesmerizing tone which bore into my skull like an eggbeater in a metal pail full of delicious jelly beans.

And I don't understand how this happened. These are people who should know better. The director went onto better things, yet so little of the comedic filmmaker he came to be is on display here. The writer, Jonathan Reynolds, penned a pair of comedies - Switching Channels and My Stepmother Is An Alien - which, while not great, are competent works I mostly enjoy. Bill Cosby is an excellent comedian, a great sitcom lead, and even used to cut quite a slick figure in his I, Spy days, so why has it always been so hard for him to make the transition to film? Even Jan de Bont can't be accused of not getting the humor, as before this, he'd shot Ruthless People, one of the greatest screwball comedies of all time.

On paper, this is a film that should work. These are talented people, and even the stupid, nonsensical storyline, and the jokes it's filled with, aren't all that bad. Yes, they're stupid, but a stupid laugh is still a laugh, and there's nothing any stupider here than you'd find in the classic Pink Panther movies, or Austin Powers, or even Zoolander. Yes, I'm going there. Zoolander is a masterpiece, but look at that and this side-by-side and tell me, on paper, how they're any different? What isn't working here is not the conception, but the execution, as everything in the film, from the performances, to the direction and editing, to even the lack of any score in most scenes, ends up leaving it all a collection of interesting pieces that should fit, but are instead repelling one another like the same polarized ends of a magnet.

This is exactly the type of film I should enjoy, exactly the type of humor that should have me rolling in my seat with giddiness as I defend a forgotten little gem that nobody understands. Instead, I'm left with a hollow ringing in my soul, an echo of this... this... thing, I don't know, I can't come up with anything else to call it. It's a failure, yes, but one of the most bizarre and incomprehensible failures around. The basic story at its core isn't awful. The script written from it is stupid, but still serviceable and occasionally a hair clever. It could work if delivered right, but it isn't. And yet, despite not clicking with the material, nobody changed it. Instead of just playing his performance mostly straight, why didn't Cosby insist on a rewrite? Why didn't the director? Why didn't somebody sit down and say, "Fellas, this isn't working. What can we do about that?" After the movie was put together, Cos instantly came out against it, publicly tearing it a new one as a horrible film. But why was it a horrible film, Bill? Aren't you the leading star with the pull to reshape it? Aren't you the sole producer, without a gaggle of other cooks in the kitchen to blame for everything going wrong? Aren't you the guy credited with the original story, who could have taken a look at the script that was handed to you and said "No no no, this isn't what I was going for."?

Bill, who's fault is it for this film being what it is? Who's fault is it, really?



Angie, I really wish I could have found some kind of positive experience in this film like you did, as I'd have less of this bad taste in my mouth. And once again, Noel and I agree on a picture. This is beginning to become an unexpected trend. Next thing you know, I'll be watching Gunhed again and finding new layers of depth. (Don't get too excited, Noel, that was a joke.)

I went into this knowing it would be bad and was genuinely surprised that the bad movie I had in mind was so much better than the pile of awful choices that I ended up watching. I only thought I knew what failed execution looked like. We've reached a new shade of low and I think my contributions to this blog over the next few months are going to be more glowing (relatively speaking) than they would have been otherwise, just because of how much lower the bar for "bad" has been set now.

I'm not fishing for overstatement laughs here, I mean it. Ed Wood's films and Manos rank higher than this because those are at least honestly bad - there was a drive and a vision, however flawed it may have been, which was pursued, and missed its mark for one or more reasons, usually more. Leonard Part 6, though - it's some kind of cinematic poo golem, a bad movie without a soul. Whereas most soulless Hollywood fluff has at least a few laughs and thrills here and there, Leonard has this subtly shallow, cynical core that shines through its high production values, which I can't quite pinpoint beyond the lingering shots of Coke products and the overly random gags and story elements that seem to scream "the rubes oughta laugh at this."

We didn't.

We'll be back on the 1st of October with a pick from Angie: Freaked (1993)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rad (1986)... Noel's? Pick for August


Rad is a very specific movie which plays to a very specific type of audience. If you're the type of guy who debates how Automan and The Powers of Matthew Star rank up alongside the likes of Airwolf, you'll probably be a fan of Rad. If you custom built a BMX bike while a mix tape of Stan Bush power anthems and Tangerine Dream's Street Hawk theme played on your Walkman, you'll probably be a fan of Rad. If you ever...


what are you doing here?!

Nobody was supposed to find you sealed away with your mint and carded action figure collection for at least another 17 months!

No! Stay away! Noooooooooooo-*Zap*


Hello, Exchangers, Tony here. You might remember me as the guy who kept forcing all of those lousy Ninja movies on Noel and Angie. As the blog's recent lack of Ninjosity suggests, I'm no longer a contributor to the Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange (having been replaced, and improved upon, by Jak), but since Rad was one of my original picks, I thought it only fair that I should come back and bat lead off for this month's review. Oh, and don't worry about Noel. I merely shot him with a homemade sleep ray, which ionizes Celestial Seasonings tea and combines it with force-focused photons which are then fired from an old Nintendo Zapper gun. He currently believes he's watching an episode of Power Rangers. He'll wake up in a few hours with a slight headache and a desire to kick a giant rubber monster in the balls. So basically how he usually feels when he wakes up.

Okay, dudes, let's walk this sucker

Rad tells the story of Cru Jones (Bill Allen, but not the Microsoft Bill Allen), a high school senior, paper boy, and BMX fanatic who finds his purpose when a large race track is built in his small California town. Dubbed “Helltrack”, it will be the site of the largest and most lucrative BMX race in the country. Unfortunately for Cru, several things are working against him and his dreams of BMX glory.

For one, there's his mom (Talia Shire of Rocky fame), who wants Cru to focus on his upcoming SAT's - which, it just so happens, are taking place on the exact same day as the qualifying races for Helltrack. And then there's Duke Best (Jack Weston), the owner of Mongoose bicycles and president of the Federation of American Bicyclists, who sees a threat in the young upstart. Finally, there's Bart Taylor (played by Olympic Gold Medalist Bart Conner in his first acting role), poster boy for team Mongoose and the top-rated BMX rider in the nation, not to mention a first-class prick. But Cru is unbowed. Wearing his street clothes and a battered hockey helmet, he makes his way through the brutal qualifying rounds to earn a spot in the actual race. This doesn't sit well with Best, who stands to lose a lot of money if his golden boy doesn't win Helltrack. After failing to recruit Cru to team Mongoose, Best begins to throw up a series of bureaucratic obstacles to insure that Cru is unable to compete in the race.

But not everything is going badly for our hero. All of the top BMX riders in the nation have descended on Cochrane, and one of them happens to be the beautiful female rider Christian (Lori Loughlin). After seducing one another with what is surely the only BMX freestyle dance scene in film history, the two bond over some ass-sliding (not what you think, sinners) and before you can say "convenient plot tumbler falls into place", they're in love. With encouragement from Christian, and a lot of help from his friends, the townsfolk, and plucky little sister Wes (Laura Jacoby), Cru manages to beat Best at his own game and claim his spot in Helltrack. Under the banner of “Rad Racing”, Cru squares off against the 19 best riders from North America. Best instructs two of his racers (twins Chad and Carey Hayes) to take Cru out, thus clearing the way for Bart to win. But Bart has other ideas. When the twins cause Cru to crash, Bart stops and waits for him to catch up. From there, it's a sprint to finish, with Cru edging Bart at the line with a nifty - and totally unnecessary - 360 spin. After being dismissed from Mongoose by a livid Best, Bart goes over to congratulate Cru on his victory. Wes suggests that there's room on the Rad team, which is met with an enthusiastic response by all as they hoist Bart's bike into the air as credits roll.

I've never seen such raw talent and determination in one kid before!

Rad is a fascinating story. I'm not talking about the plot, I mean the film itself. To the uninitiated, this may look like just another forgotten 80s movie that tried marrying the latest thing (BMX) with the underdog kid formula that was so popular and successful at the time. And while the latter is true, Rad is not forgotten. Not by a long shot.

Directed by Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, MegaForce), Rad was a huge dud at the box office in 1986, pulling in just over $2 million dollars. But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. First, it became a massive hit on the burgeoning home video market, where it stayed on the top-ten video rental list for two years. Pretty impressive, right? Unfortunately over the next couple of decades, the rights to the film became muddled. With the original studio, Embassy, out of business, no one seemed to know who owned Rad. Limited to just that one initial VHS release, you'd think Rad would've simply faded away. Instead, it flourished, and Rad is more popular today than ever. Not only does it have the requisite fan sites where the like-minded gather to quote the film and discuss the awesomeness of John Farnham (singer of "Thunder In Your Heart" and "Break the Ice"), its 25th anniversary inspired a weekend long celebration that drew cast and crew as well as over two thousand fans to the original filming locations (Cochrane and Calgary, Canada, which stood in for the fictitious Cochrane, California). Star Bill Allen remains extremely active within the Rad fan community and is currently spearheading an effort to get the film an official DVD release. There's even a documentary in the works entitled A Rad Documentary.

But why has Rad inspired such a rabid following? Not unlike "Why is Justin Bieber famous?", that's a hard question to answer. For most of us, what it boils down to is that Rad is one of the few movies to focus on the sport of BMX racing and freestyle. While enjoying a resurgence today, BMX peaked in the mid-80s after, of all things, the movie E.T. prominently featured BMX bikes in its classic chase scene finale. It just so happened that my next door neighbor at the time was one of the best BMX racers in the state of Ohio, and that only served to fan the flames for me. Pretty soon, I traded in my cheap, off-the-rack "Led Sled" and got a high end bike of my own. It was a 1985 Mongoose Californian, which cost $214 and had to be special ordered (and just so happens to be the same model that Cru rides in the movie). Having temporarily outgrown Star Wars, and with my penis still a good six years away from fully coming on-line, BMX and freestyle were my obsessions for the rest of the decade.

Look, I'm not so blinded by nostalgia and my love for BMX that I can't see that the acting in this movie is about on par with the Stumblebum, Idaho repertory theater company. And I know it's corny and hopelessly dated. I also know that I don't care about any of that. Rad is the definitive pop culture work dedicated to the sport of BMX and freestyle, and that is, well, pretty rad.

Whoa, it looks like Noel is coming to, and it just so happens that I'm wearing a rubber monster costume... Don't ask. I'm gonna scram before one of Noel's size elevens finds its way to my balls, but I'm genuinely curious to find out what the rest of you thought.


I heard we were doing Rad this month and saw the poster for it. "Oh gross, a BMX bike movie," I thought. I have zero interest in bikes and less than zero interest in BMX, so I found every reason to put off watching this. Visions of plotless BMX culture sequences filled my head. Eventually the day came where the deadline was near and I had to make myself put the fanmade DVD in. The menu popped up and an electronic drum fill introduced an opening synth riff that was so mid-80's, I wouldn't be surprised if its soundform output was a portrait of Reagan playing an Atari and drinking New Coke. Then the lyrics come in and it's screaming to be the score of a training montage: fire, glory, risking it all, the thrill of the moment, moves like lightning and hearts of thunder. All right, I'm in the right mindset for this now: this is going to be the Rocky of bike movies. It even has Talia Shire in it.

It opens with a series of genuinely impressive bike tricks, impressive enough that I didn't realize it went on for four whole minutes. Like many movies before it, I hoped this wasn't an indicator of the pacing to come. It was, though this turned out to be one of the things I liked about it.

I was surprised because I usually don't like when a movie meanders. In this case, I found the tangential scenes much more charming and entertaining (obligatory cheesy romance scene notwithstanding). Once we got back to scenes where the focus was on the main plot's development, the writing seemed to turn hamfisted and forced, the characters stopped being nearly so likeable, and even the acting became less believable, as though the actors didn't know what to do with their lines. It reminded me of my experience watching Krull in that way, like there were two very different writing and directorial teams at work on different parts of the same movie.

For the big racing sequences, my brain sort of shut off because it was a formulaic story (underdog beats the odds!) from a formulaic genre (competition!) from a formulaic period (1986!), so I knew how it was going to end from the moment the plot was set into motion. At least the bike tricks never stopped being impressive, which is more than I can say for the incessant electro pop soundtrack (or that dance sequence. Yow.)

In the end, I found myself wishing it had been exactly the kind of movie I was initially dreading it might be. I have to admit that's an experience I've never had before.


Does the fact that I've never seen any of those titles Noel mentioned serve as a warning sign here? It may. I had also never heard of this film before now, though being not quite yet five at the time of its release may be to blame. But then, The Karate Kid came out two years before that, and I know that movie very well, so maybe not.

I see a lot of similarities in structure between this film and that one, with the main difference, beside the karate/BMX racing swap, being that Mr. Miyagi's role is fulfilled by the love interest. I'm sure there's no coincidence there, as Hollywood probably made tons of these films to try to cash in on that movie's success. I loved The Karate Kid as a child, and when I watched it earlier this year, I was pleased to see just how much that film held up. So while I have zero interest in BMX bikes or racing, I thought it was possible I may still be able to get some enjoyment out of this film.

I'm sorry, Tony, but that didn't happen.

When I heard the first couple songs on the soundtrack, I appreciated the 80s cheesiness of them, but after a while, they all started to sound the same, and I was a bit surprised to find out there were multiple artists involved, as I couldn't really tell them apart. Though I think the biggest hurdle for me is the dialogue. I spent a lot of time thinking, "No one would talk like that. Ever." The scene early on with the adults having a meeting about adding Helltrack to their town is so obviously dumbed down to make sure children can understand it that the adults involved seem really stupid. Not to mention the leap in logic that a town thoroughly annoyed by the antics of its three newspaper delivery boys (and girl) would welcome such a competition to their town just for the sake of profit. Of course, that does make it convenient when the old man who thinks life would be better if there were no children suddenly changes his mind and decides to help the local boy after all.

Speaking of, I adore Ray Watson, and I did at least enjoy watching him in this film. It was also interesting to see Lori Loughlin in something other than Full House. I adored Talia Shire in the Rocky films, so seeing her essentially playing Adrian as a mom is fun, though I don't entirely like the way she's pushed to the side so much. I also rekindled a part of my memory I hadn't visited in ages when I realized Jack Weston looks familiar because I saw him in Short Circuit 2.

I had a lot of time to think about these other films and television shows because the movie spends a lot of time showing us people on bikes. Cru escaping the cop who's apparently not really trying to arrest him but just playing a game of cat and mouse. The ultra-ridiculous dancing the other bikers put on before Cru and Christian take over on the bikes. Cru training with Christian. And then, of course, the race itself. I'm sure these moments are excellent for people interested, and I can see how it would be enough to latch a kid into wanting to ride as it did for Tony, but as an adult, it just doesn't interest me one bit.

There's one other thing that bugs me, and after that, I swear I'll stop nitpicking and play nice. When we're first introduced to Bart, he's a jerk. He stops a parade just so he can hit on two girls right in front of Christian, who it's at least suggested is his girlfriend before he dumps her soon afterward. He's also not too nice during the dance scene. But once it comes down to the approaching race, he's a pretty good sport, confident he can win this one, and not in agreement with Duke's antics to try to ruin Cru's chances. Him slowing down in the race really shows it, because he wants to race Cru fair and square. It therefore makes perfect sense when the good guys offer him a spot on their team at the end of the movie, but it's a really bad writing choice to make his character so inconsistent without showing us any motivation for his face turn.

In the hands of a better writer, I feel like this movie could have stood up and been a lesser known film for fans of Rocky and The Karate Kid to discover and enjoy. As it is, I'm afraid it just lives as a poor imitation. To try to include some kind of positive here, I will say I agree that the story about what happened to the film is an interesting one, and I would gladly watch The Rad Documentary if it's ever released.


Dammit, Tony! I don't know what's worse: that I smell like Celestial Seasonings, or that I'm making "fwip" noises as I strike dynamic poses with the full expectation that they'll be backed by flashy graphics and a shredding guitar. If you'd give me half a second, you'd find out I'm actually riding at your side on the final lap of the Helltrack.

Rad is not a great movie. The plot is formulaic. The dialogue is formulaic. The cast is formulaic. The villain is formulaic. The small town drama is formulaic. The romance is formulaic. The lead is formulaic. Also a bit of an asshole, but a formulaic one. The struggles with his mom over education vs. "This is the one thing in life I know I can do!" is formulaic. The power ballads and 80s synth track are formulaic.

This movie is formulaic. But you know what? Formulaic does not equate bad. I do enjoy a film that goes outside the box, tries new things, and completely blows my mind as it opens my perceptions up to new possibilities. I also enjoy the palate cleansing comfort food of a film where I pretty much know every twist going in, and just ask that they be given to me in an interesting way. And Rad gives me that. Hal Needham is a former stunt man/coordinator, and the majority of his films are catered to showing off physical prowess in the form of circus-like spectacle, and he absolutely delivers here as the art of BMX stunt riding is shown in every conceivable way, through both the pounding speed of the races and the lingering slow motion of every flip, spin, and tire pogo during moments like Cru's morning paper route, daily game of chase with the bulldog motorcycle cop, practicing in a home-made obstacle course with his friends, and, in the greatest segment of hyper-reality ever committed to celluloid, Cru and Christian mutually alluring one other with a phantasmagoria of pops and locks and obviously fixed on a rig closeups at the local dance, all set to the emo romance pop ballad "Send Me an Angel".

Even outside the stunts, there's a color and energy to the goings on as this small town is invaded by emblazoned athletes and corporations infatuated with their own product. Though, as mentioned, Cru is a bit of an asshole at first, trolling people on his daily route and being the type of smartass who can get away with it because of that smile. Bill Allen gives him an everyman appeal. He's not perfect, but he believes in what he can do and so we join his friends in cheering him on as he sets out to do it. And it helps that Allen is skilled enough with a bike to sell the shots where it's obviously him, unlike Lori Loughlin who's often replaced by a man in a wig. Which isn't to say Christian is a bad character, she's not, but she ultimately doesn't do much beyond show up and fall in love, as the town itself is far more instrumental in helping Cru fight through increasingly petty rule changes, and she doesn't even take part in the final race. Talia Shire is also quite good as the mom, even though her conflict with Cru is minimal, and Ray Walston is always a treat, especially when he's flipping the bird.

As for the rest of the cast, Tony's not off in that they're made up of largely untrained talents, or whatever character actors they could find. Bart isn't bad as Bart, and has a realistic cockiness and athleticism, but he's pretty flat in the charisma department and never actually feels like a threat to Cru. The twins are pretty hard to take seriously when they walk around in the spacemen uniforms from Forbidden Planet, and never pull off the threat when they're sent to take Cru down. And even Duke Best is a pretty limp villain, as Jack Weston sloshes through the role in a way that would never cut it as a CEO in the real world. Other roles, like Cru's friends and various types around town, feel like local amateurs, but have an authentic charm, and there's even an adorable moment where we pause the movie for two minutes just so an announcer can run down a list of the actual BMX racers who showed up.

It's not a top-quality production, there's pretty much zero depth or complexity to the whole thing, every scene ticks off the list of expected scenes, and there's no real threat to overcome beyond some assholes being assholes to the asshole. But it still stirs the thunder in my heart, and I'm with this movie for every kick of the pedal, the winning of every achievement we knew would be won, and every gratuitous 80s use of a child saying "shit".

Tony, thanks for first introducing me to this film a few years back, and returning to share it with me now.

But if you EVER pull another stunt like the one you did to open this piece, I'll amass every force in my power to-*Zap*


Angie, Jak, I was never optimistic you were going to fall head over wheels for Rad. For one thing, we're working with a slim generation gap here. It may only be a few years, but in pop culture terms, that's a lifetime. There's just nothing here for either of you to gain any nostalgic purchase. The music, the fashion - hell, the entire BMX culture - are nothing more than antiquated oddities to the both of you. My best hope was that the underdog formula and uber sincerity of it all might win you over. Alas, it didn't. Perhaps those are antiquated notions as well.

Noel, I obviously had a pretty good idea of what your reaction was going to be. Like Angie and Jak, this isn't exactly your section of pop cultural turf, and I know you have about as much interest in bikes and the sport of BMX as you do in rubbing your balls on a rusty cheese grater, but you had a certain appreciation for Rad the first time around, so I was confident it would hold up on a repeat viewing. I'm glad I was right.

We can't force others to love something. It doesn't matter how hard we try, or how strong of a case we make, love isn't compelled. It just doesn't work that way. Not even when the other guy is total a dick who will only break her heart, while you're clearly better looking and have more to offer. Oh, and this whole “friends” business? Well, you can take that and stuff it in a sack, sister! I've got your “friends” right--

But, I digress. My point is, there is no right or wrong here. I don't take offense to Angie's reactions to Revenge of the Ninja or Rad for the same reason she wasn't upset that I didn't fully embrace anime after watching Memories.

Angie, Jak, I sincerely appreciate the both of you indulging Noel and I in our little switch-a-roo, and for allowing me to come back and share not only the movie Rad, but also a little bit about the sport of BMX and freestyle with you and your readers.

We'll be back on the 1st of September with a pick from Jak: Leonard Part 6 (1987)