Aug 16 2017

S.W.A.T.: Under Siege (2017)

Although S.W.A.T.: Under Siege officially springs from an iconic 1970s TV series, this third film — and the second made expressly for home video — contains much more of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 flowing through its DNA. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s the Fourth of July in Seattle, but crime doesn’t take a holiday. S.W.A.T. commander Travis Hall (Sam Jaeger, American Sniper) and his team get called in by Capt. Dwyer (Adrianne Palicki, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) to accompany DEA in a narcotics raid on a cartel warehouse. Things don’t go as smoothly as expected — in fact, the team is comically sloppy for a so-called tactical unit — and certainly none of them expected the mission to end with the discovery of a man tied up for torture inside a shipping container.

They take that man, Scorpion (Michael Jai White, Spawn), into custody and back to headquarters for questioning. Seems the Scorp — perhaps so named for the neck-to-ass scorpion tattoo on his back? — possesses a lot of sensitive data that a preening British terrorist (Matthew Marsden, Resident Evil: Extinction) can’t afford to lose. Said terrorist orders dozens of his heavily armed, interchangeable goon to descend upon S.W.A.T. HQ and extract Scorpion, with collateral damage not only accepted, but encouraged.

And that’s as it should be! Although this in-name-only sequel is not as much fun as the previous direct-to-video entry, 2011’s S.W.A.T.: Firefight, it is fun. Working on a mere sliver of the budget of the 2003 S.W.A.T. feature film, director Tony Giglio (2005’s Chaos) is forced to keep the scale small and the story confined largely to one location, yet he maximizes what matters most: action. That’s not to suggest he has crafted Under Siege into some kind of gem — just that he has crafted it into a workable shoot-’em-up that, unlike the average Redbox rental, delivers what is promised. It helps that Giglio’s deck is stacked with several built-in reliables: Jai White’s martial-arts prowess, Jaeger’s square-jawed charisma, Palicki’s push-up underwire.

Oh, yes, and the S.W.A.T. brand name. While super-producer Neal H. Moritz (The Fast and the Furious franchise) prepares to unleash a rebooted S.W.A.T. on prime-time TV this fall, I’d rather he keep making these instead. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 15 2017

Nightmare Beach (1989)

Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare Beach is the movie I wish Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers had been: one that did away all the annoying narcissists posing as characters. Also known by the uninspired, T&A-leering title of Welcome to Spring Break, Lenzi’s Beach depicts what would happen if, during that week of collegiate revelry and bacchanalia, a freshly charred Death Row inmate appeared to come back to life to get the ol’ from-the-grave revenge — and did so while clad in motorcycle gear. You may laugh, readers, but it could happen to you!

In scene one, greasy biker gang leader Diablo (Tony Bolano, Band of the Hand) is executed for the murdering a young woman, but vows from the electric chair that he was framed and he’ll return to make ’em all pay — you know, the usual garbage threats. Yet shortly thereafter, as beer-guzzling, sex-hungry breakers descend upon Fort Lauderdale, a helmeted mystery man in black rides into town. He’s kind of like Grease 2’s Cool Rider, but with a crotch rocket whose backseat is jerry-rigged to give his passengers an ass-frying, heart-stopping mass of high voltage.

A cop named Strycher (John Saxon, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) investigates, as does fallen football hero Skip (Nicolas De Toth, The Invisible Kid) when his walking STD of a best bud (Rawley Valverde, Made in America) vanishes while on the prowl for a quick birth-canal rental. Helping Skip out in the hunt — and his potential love life — is a bartender named Gail (Primal Rage’s Sarah Buxton, she of the bee-stung lips), who happens to be the sister of Diablo’s victim.

As the man behind the infamous Cannibal Ferox, Lenzi unsurprisingly shoots this film’s “shocking” death scenes with glee, almost as if he can’t wait to harm the worst of his story’s worst as quickly as we’d like to see them go. Bolstering my theory: The most obnoxious character of all takes a savage beating, courtesy of Diablo’s biker buddies … and then gets killed by the moto-villain. I’m also guessing Lenzi knew the movie’s big “mystery” was as solvable as a Highlights for Children puzzle page, because he attempts to distract with subplots that have nothing to do with anything, from multiple wet T-shirt contests and a serial pickpocket to Nightmare Beach’s idea of running joke: an enterprising young woman (Christina Kier, in her only role ever) separating old, fat guys from their cash by turning tricks in her hotel room. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 9 2017

Freeway (1988)

In Steve Martin’s seriocomic L.A. Story, there exists a once-buzzy scene played for laughs that may leave today’s young viewer wondering what the big deal was: various Angelenos exchanging gunfire as they drove down the highway. See, kids, in the late 1980s, long before our nation found the courage to kill our co-workers at the office like we do today, we shot people anonymously, from car to car. Guess you had to be there.

In terms of timeliness, filmmaker Francis Delia was there, with Freeway, the kind of quick and cheap newsploitation thriller studios no longer bother to make.

Darlanne Fluegel (To Live and Die in L.A.) is the morose Sunny, still an emotional wreck after witnessing her himbo physician hub fatally take a bullet to the skull from a passing motorist one night. With the killer still at large and aggressively active, Sunny feels the police detective assigned to the case (Michael Callan, Leprechaun 3) isn’t doing enough to put an end to the maniac’s four-wheeled reign of terror. For Chrissake, the fully loaded loon even makes a habit of spewing Book o’ Revelation babble by calling into a live AM radio show hosted by the not coincedentally named Dr. Lazarus (comedian Richard Belzer, The Groove Tube).

Then a director of music videos by Starship and “Weird Al” Yankovic, Delia teases the killer’s identity for much of Freeway‘s stretch, but no self-respecting genre junkie drawn to this kind of A/V smack will fall for the use of James Russo (Beverly Hills Cop) as a red herring — not with the sky-high billing of Billy Drago in the credits! Ever since Drago’s evil, pasty-white perf as Frank Nitti in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables the year prior, the poor guy was typecast as the craziest of crazies — much like Clint Howard (Evilspeak), who cameos as a Yet Another Creepy Guy.

Drago’s typecasting is not without justification; he plays bad very well. Thus, the nasty little thriller works well, too, with a modicum of fuss and one foot on the pedal, headed toward tawdry, thrifty suspense. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 8 2017

Terror in Beverly Hills (1989)

When terrorists strike L.A.’s posh Rodeo Drive in the Reagan/Bush era, there’s only man to call: Stallone.

As in Sylvester, of course. But when the producers of Terror in Beverly Hills couldn’t afford him, they went with his brother.

As in Frank, of course. But when the producers of Terror in Beverly Hills couldn’t pay him past two days of filming, he walked. No problem! Willard actor-turned-writer/director John Myhers just assigned the scenes he hadn’t yet shot to this film’s next best thing: some other guy who isn’t really introduced, perhaps in hopes you won’t notice; he just kind of shows up and sticks around. I suppose a real-life analogy would be opening night on Broadway, with the understudy taking over for an ill leading man, and the program neglected to include an insert announcing the change. You won’t mind; with the move pushing Terror deeper into the terrible soup, the movie becomes that much more entertaining.

A Middle Eastern terrorist group arrives in the 90210 ZIP code and shoots up a clothing store in order to kidnap one particular shopper: the U.S. president’s adult daughter (Lysa Hayland, Fatal Passion). Mastermind Abdul (Behrouz Vossoughi, Time Walker) holds her hostage and demands the release of 55 Palestinian prisoners. The president (William Smith, Maniac Cop) calls the police captain (Cameron Mitchell, Deadly Prey), who calls former Special Forces officer / current karate dojo owner Hack Stone (Stallone) into action … or at least Myhers’ idea of action. His flick really should be titled Terror at the Old Bean Factory, because that is where most of it takes place and how characters keep referring to that location.

Stallone is hardly in the film; he appears at the beginning and then swoops in toward the tail end, in order to unload ammo into Abdul and anyone else who looks like a “filthy Arab,” to borrow the earlier words of an overdubbed white woman who dares enter an airplane lavatory after Abdul’s worried bodyguard (Sam Sako, Hidalgo) drops a mile-high deuce. Mitchell, meanwhile, pops up every now and then to shout his lines through bourbon-soaked breath, sometimes at the local TV newsman (Brian Leonard, Saint Jack) who unintentionally steals the show with his Jon Lovitz-ian lines, read at the rat-a-tat-tat speed of a Ben Hecht screwball screenplay: “Thanks, hon! The check’s in the mail!”

Cash that check in. And then rent this misfire of massive proportions. In terms of trash, it amounts to a hill of beans. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 7 2017

Macho Man (1982)

Sorry, folks, but Macho Man is neither a biopic of wrestling’s Randy Savage nor the Village People’s follow-up to the flop Can’t Stop the Music, but a straightforward kung-fu extravaganza with a little bit of bloodletting and a whole lotta fighting. Plus, its original title is Duel in the Tiger Den — a moniker I could see adorning the label of a Village People 12-inch (pun intended), but still.

The titular Macho Man (Tien Te Hui, The Fatal Flying Guillotine) is a drifter who, in his first scene, snaps the necks of four hoodlums with ease and a smile, as if he were buying chocolate bars for orphans. With his goofy smile and semi-lazy eye, he looks exactly like how I would envision Brendan Fraser, had the Mummy man been born Asian.

Our hero is out scouting for the king’s stolen seal (not the animal), which has been stolen by not-as-macho men, who try to kill him with construction equipment. They do not succeed, but they are able to hit him with a log and stab him with a forklift. Later, director You Min Ko (better known as a prolific performer in this genre, including the immortal Fantasy Mission Force) stages a fight atop a moving train, which is more elaborate than the usual battles in the chopsocky films of this waning era. Scenes like these — and an utter obliviousness toward its humor — make Macho Man worth a watch. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.