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 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 5 2017

Killing Cars (1986)

Jürgen Prochnow (Hitman: Agent 47) is innovative automobile engineer Ralph Korda in Killing Cars, a West German action film from writer/director Michael “Not Paul” Verhoeven (The Nasty Girl), and everything about it is positively Prochnowian. Just don’t ask me what that means. Also don’t ask me why some home-vid copies are called Blitz, a title someone really likes, because the opening credits flash that card enough times to induce seizures. If only Verhoeven had exercised similar aggression in relaying his plot.

Korda has designed an “electrochemical” car that does not run on gasoline. Thus, this environmentally friendly vehicle has the potential to revolutionize transportation, and he dubs it “the World Car” — snappy name, that. Knowing the World Car would cause demand for oil to plummet, the Arabs see to it that it never will hit the streets. So Korda steals his precious prototype, only to have it stolen from him by the most girlie-looking skate-punk gang on cinematic record — they play backgammon, for Pete’s sake!

Strangely, the car-thieving gang hates cars, so they spend most of the movie destroying them. After blowing one up with a Molotov cocktail, one of the members exclaims, “Fantastic! Right out of Star Wars!” (Did the German cut of Star Wars include added footage of flaming automobiles? Or did Lucas retropaste that in, too?)

I tolerated the film for a while, reaching an apex when Korda brings home a woman who looks fabulous naked (one-timer Marina Larsen) … and then plummeting to nadir-level when he near-immediately orders her to pack up and leave. So tonally confused is Verhoeven’s film, it plays in part like a screwball comedy without any jokes. Yet if laughs are what you seek, Q-tip your ear canals to maximum circumference in order to take in the flick’s not-a-hit-single theme song of synth-pop excess: “Trying to make a dream come true / Clean machines for me and you / He’ll build a World Car now!”

Killing Cars also stars American TV Fatman William Conrad, The Ambushers vixen Senta Berger and lots of people with umlauts in their names. With a script aimed at Al Gore’s heart, it tries its hardest to be stylish in that whole Eurotrash vibe of “look, ve can do diz Miami Vice thing, too, no?” but mostly, Blitz is the pitz. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jul 29 2017

Vigilante Force (1976)

Baby-faced and butt-cut, White Line Fever’s Jan-Michael Vincent again plays a Working-Class Hero, this one named Ben, in the utterly oddball and oddly rewarding Vigilante Force, from George Armitage (Miami Blues). A farm machinist and single dad, Ben notices something just ain’t right in his small town of Elk Hills, California: namely, that influx of redneck oil workers. They’ve turned the place into a comically lawless swath of blue-collar chaos.

Low on officers because they keep getting killed in broad-daylight shootouts, the police chief (Judson Pratt, Futureworld) suggests Ben recruit some tough guys, starting with that no-good brother of his, Aaron (Kris Kristofferson, Convoy). A Vietnam vet who apparently never met a shirt he liked to wear for more than a few minutes, Aaron agrees and brings along some buds, all of whom are sworn in as lawmen. Initially, Aaron looks like the ideal hire, because he produces near-instant results in cleaning up the riffraff.

Too bad the power goes straight to Aaron’s bearded head. Acquiring a tone-deaf bar floozy (Bernadette Peters, The Jerk) as property, he has the bright idea to start charging local businesses for “protection,” and to shoot shit (and shit-kickers) up as he damn well feels like it, cockfight included! Suddenly, it’s sibling against sibling, Cain vs. Abel, concluding in an all-out war during a bicentennial parade. It looks and feels like a showdown from an alternate reality: On one side, a topless Ben in overalls; on the other, Aaron, wielding a bazooka while dressed like The Music Man. Many, many explosions follow, because producer Gene Corman learned well from brother Roger.

And so did writer/director Armitage, who cut his teeth on Private Duty Nurses (part of Corman’s five-film cycle of RN-fronted sex comedies), because he fills the screen with eye candy and other dirt-cheap visual effects. A drop-dead gorgeous Victoria Principal (Earthquake) plays the girlfriend of Ben, whose idea of romance is greeting her with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon — a gesture that may make viewers cringe, knowing how Vincent torpedoed his career. There’s also a pre-WKRP Loni Anderson, uncredited as a buxom, brunette casino hussy named, naturally, Peaches.

One of the great unheralded pics in hicksploitation history, Vigilante Force comes packed with an uncredited Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood) as a piano player, a lot of whores, a guy named Shakey, a girl named Boots, several grown men in coonskin caps, a fake Cloris Leachman and the real Andrew Stevens. Plus, David Doyle (aka Bosley from TV’s Charlie’s Angels) gets run over by a car, so there’s that, too! Now how much would you pay? —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jul 16 2017

The Day of the Wolves (1971)

Seven criminals are recruited to pull a job. They are known to one another only by an elementary code and sport the same cool-guy disguise. Sound familiar? There’s no way that a TV broadcast of The Day of the Wolves managed to escape the eyes and psyche of a young Quentin Tarantino.

As ringleader, No. 1 (Jan Murray, 1967’s Thunder Alley) assigns his assembled men numbers instead of names, instructs them to don fake beards and black gloves, and runs them ragged through two days of training for a three-hour job he promises will net each of them no less than a $50K payday: robbing the entire desert town of Wellerton, population 7,420. When questioned how such a small group can pull off such a big heist, No. 1 explains with a shit-eating grin, “One wolf can maul a whole flock of sheep. Imagine what seven can do.”

Unbeknownst to the crew, their otherwise perfectly planned crime coincides with the forced resignation of the town’s longtime chief of police (Richard Egan, The Big Cube) for purely political reasons; just because he’s lost his badge doesn’t mean he’s lost his will to protect and fight. Imagine what one can do.

If only it weren’t so obscure, the Arizona-lensed Wolves would be taught as a textbook case of what a resourceful filmmaker can do with the barest of resources. Although I’m sure writer/director Ferde Grofé Jr. (The Proud and Damned) would have stacked the deck with marquee names if he could have afforded it, the homogeny among the criminals doesn’t require it. Indeed, it seems almost deliberate that only one of the hired guns, No. 4 (Rick Jason, The Witch Who Came from the Sea), bears a discernible personality. What the film lacks in finesse, Grofé mitigates with an inventive setup, a crackling pace, a corker of an ending and action action action. Imagine what one can do. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.