May 12 2017

SnakeEater II: The Drug Buster (1989)

Forever on suspension from the force, renegade cop Jack “Soldier” Kelly (Lorenzo Lamas, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus) drops in on an urban-area gymnasium to see his pal, Speedboat (Larry B. Scott, Lamar in the Revenge of the Nerds quadrilogy), whose name is never explained and who gets nowhere near a body of water. Speedboat is coaching a group of youths preparing for some kind of step-dance competition, when all of a sudden, his sister and another kid collapse. Soldier plants the girl’s head in his crotch and calls for an ambulance. The pair ingested some drugs for a performance boost, not knowing the narcotics had been cut with rat poison.

While Speedboat’s sister lay comatose in the hospital, Soldier offers a sensitive recommendation: “I’ve got an idea! Why don’t you have your friends stop doing it like it’s popcorn?” Soldier quickly comes around and vows to take down the supplier; ergo, he becomes SnakeEater II: The Drug Buster. This time, it’s personal … and Lamas approaches being in on the joke.

Killing four drug dealers, the ever-cavalier Soldier faces going to prison, until his court-appointed attorney invokes the insanity defense and gets his client committed to a mental-health facility. There, Soldier flirts relentlessly with his psychiatrist (Michele Scarbarelli, TV’s Alien Nation) and is introduced to the residents’ favorite game: rooftop wheelchair battles. He forges a bond with a handful of fellow patients, including a human version of novelty Groucho glasses (Harvey Atkin, Meatballs), a tit-obsessed evangelist (Jack Blum, Happy Birthday to Me) and Torchy (Ron Palillo, TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter), the firebug whom Solider busted at the end of the first SnakeEater film. However, the two never acknowledge their shared history, so despite the characters being the same (and director George Erschbamer and his screenwriting team returning), SnakeEater II pretends their previous encounter never occurred.

Compared to the first movie, also released in 1989, Erschbamer (Fire Twister) considerably lightens the mood of The Drug Buster; remove the business with the girl in a coma and drug lord Franco (Al Vandecruys, Snowboard Academy) backhanding his hookers, and the action film is practically an action-comedy. Unfortunately, Erschbamer and company’s collective comic chops are even worse-honed than their combat ones. For example, as Soldier sneaks out of the “loony bin” via the overhead vents, he runs (crawls?) into a prostitute sneaking inside. And then a Domino’s Pizza deliveryman.

SnakeEater II kicks into third gear when Soldier and Speedboat don Inspector Clouseau disguises to infiltrate a French bistro prior to Franco’s arrival; while Speedboat dumps an entire flask of laxative into the marinara, Solider rigs the restaurant’s lone toilet with a MacGyver-style bomb to explode when flushed. Later, our less-than-dynamic duo take off their shirts to fill Franco’s panic room with bags of his poisoned coke, dumped through the ventilation system. (The film does not tell us if any pizza deliverers were killed as collateral damage.)

Instead of giving cups of piss to the homeless, the running gag this time is Speedboat answering yes/no questions with the rhetorical, grammar-butchering refrain of “Do shit stink?” It sure does! Would you have SnakeEater II: The Drug Buster any other way? Three years later, the series concluded with the aggressively punctuated SnakeEater III: … His Law. —Rod Lott

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May 11 2017

SnakeEater (1989)

When we first meet renegade cop Jack “Soldier” Kelly (Lorenzo Lamas, Body Rock), he’s lounging with his sunglasses on inside an abandoned building, tossing playing cards, singing “Kumbaya” and improvising a bit about death by masturbation. He’s on a drug stakeout. He’s an ex-Marine. He’s “some kind of nutcase.” He’s the SnakeEater, and he’s got the T-shirt and belt buckle to prove it.

To pick a nit, he’s never called SnakeEater; everyone refers to him as “Soldier,” but a title like that is hardly the stuff of direct-to-video gold. As Lamas’ long-running gig as Lance Cumson (!) on TV’s Falcon Crest was coming to an end, the Canadian-financed SnakeEater was his attempt at breaking out on the big screen. You remember the lines snaking around the block, right? No?

The rather straightforward story puts Soldier on the hunt for his missing teen sister, Jennifer (Cheryl Jeans, an IMDb one-timer). She’s been kidnapped from a rented houseboat by an inbred country clan led by Junior (Robert Scott, Just the Way You Are), who kills her parents and sets the watercraft on fire before taking Jennifer to their rickety rape shack. Using a motorboat that’s been pimped out with parts of his beloved Harley, Soldier pulls into their neck of the swamp, sets some traps, shaves his face with a Bowie knife and Rambos up for revenge. Lamas is credited as having done his own stunts; his hair is not.

Helmed by George Erschbamer (The Incredible Adventures of Marco Polo on His Journeys to the Ends of the Earth), the film is bookended with a gag of a hobo asking a cop named Lou (former NFL Miami Dolphin and American Gladiators host Larry Csonka) for a cup of coffee, and Lou gives him a fresh cup of piping-hot urine. It’s also worth noting that SnakeEater contains an epilogue in which Soldier outsmarts an arsonist named Torchy (Ron Palillo, aka Horshack of TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter) with little more than a condom and a candle. Those objects are not important; that they’re setting up Torchy’s return for the immediate sequel, SnakeEater II: The Drug Buster, is. Therefore, the end-credits tradition of Marvel Cinematic Universe has the genius of Lorenzo Lamas to thank for the idea.

While we’re on the subject of genius, be sure to stick around for the thoroughly ’80s power ballad of a theme song, with plot-recapping and soul-searching lyrics like “Soldier, where’s your sister / Can you hear her helpless cries / The only light to guide you now / Is the fire in your eyes.” —Rod Lott

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May 10 2017

SST: Death Flight (1977)

Things are not going well for Cutlass Aircraft Maiden One. The supersonic transport jet’s media circus of an experiment flight from New York to Paris has been sabotaged; a Third World flu virus has been loosed onboard; and, dammit, who the hell let Bert Convy on this plane?

Welcome, disaster-flick junkies, to SST: Death Flight, a made-for-TV Airport rip-off so blatant that it earned director David Lowell Rich the plum gig of guiding the final Airport sequel, The Concorde … Airport ’79, off the tarmac.

Piloted by testy Capt. Walsh (Robert Reed, TV’s Brady Bunch patriarch), America’s first SST passenger jet flies the friendly skies while breaking the sound barrier. Everyone who’s anyone has secured a seat on the transatlantic flight: the governor, some contest winners, a former pilot who might possibly come in handy (Doug McClure, Satan’s Triangle), a World Health Organization doctor (Brock Peters, Two-Minute Warning) and a busty beauty queen (Misty Rowe, Meatballs Part II) who talks about how she’s been farting all day. Taking the thankless roles of flight attendants are Tina Louise (TV’s Gilligan’s Island) and Billy Crystal (presumably auditioning for TV’s Soap).

There’s also a very angry Cutlass engineer (George Maharis, Murder on Flight 502) whom the powers that be turned down for a promotion, so he switches a barrel of Maiden One’s hydraulic fluid for one filled with laundry detergent … and still boards the doomed flight — a pretty stupid move, if you ask me, but that’s how these things roll. Same goes for casting Convy as a heel, as any viewer of the Irwin Allen telepic Hanging by a Thread could tell you. In a scene added for SST’s European theatrical release (and intact on DVD), his curly-headed cad of a character keeps yanking down the spaghetti straps of Rowe’s dress in order to free her breasts and join the mile-high club.

When the effed-with barrel springs a leak, the resulting spill looks like tomato soup. When the plane is shown in flight, it looks like a Matchbox toy being held in frame by the tail. And when SST: Death Flight plays, it does indeed look like an Airport sequel, starting with 99 problems and right down to an overstuffed cast, including Peter Graves, Burgess Meredith, Lorne Greene and Regis Philbin. —Rod Lott

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May 9 2017

Rest Stop (2006)

With an electrical socket as its logo, Raw Feed jolted to life, kinda, in 2006 as a direct-to-DVD subsidiary of Warner Home Video and intended home for envelope-pushing horror free from MPAA meddling. Instead, Raw Feed issued product that felt overly derivative and devoid of imagination; six flicks later, the outlet ran out of juice. Its final offering was 2008’s fittingly titled Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back, a sequel to the line’s debut. That first film, plain ol’ Rest Stop, is so rote, I couldn’t submit myself to a part 2. I feel like I’ve seen it anyway.

Young Midwestern lovers Nicole (Jaimie Alexander, Thor: The Dark World) and Jess (Joey Mendicino, whose only other movie role to date is the sequel) run away from home and hit the open road toward California. (In other words, like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, if the Joads headed west not for work, but the freedom to copulate.) After stopping for an open-air quickie, Nicole’s girl bladder ruins everything when she has to tinkle. Begrudgingly, Jess pulls over to — cue ominous music — a rest stop in the middle of the woods. It’s a place no right-minded city planner would allow one to be built, lest he’s seeking to serve the body-waste needs of storybook creatures.

Surprise! The facilities are a dump! (Last Shithouse on the Left, anyone?) While Nic is squatting atop the scum-layered stool to make water, Jess mysteriously makes like a tree and leaves. You won’t pry it outta me, but his vamoose act might have something to do with the shit-kickin’ redneck in the yeller truck.

If not for the pre-existing Joy Ride and Wrong Turn franchises revving up around that time, Rest Stop might be fresher meat … except that still leaves dozens of other crazy-dude-in-a-vehicle films to contend with, notably the ’80s VHS fave The Hitcher and the granddaddy of them all, Steven Spielberg’s Duel.

Better known as a writer of nearly two dozen X-Files episodes and creator of its short-lived The Lone Gunmen spin-off, John Shiban made his feature directing debut with Rest Stop, and has yet to follow it up. He also wrote it, yet given the pedigree of the landmark X-Files series, the only thing shocking about his script is how color-by-numbers predictable it is, which allows boredom to set in faster than quick-dry cement. More about spilling blood than turning twists, it owes its brightest spots not to leading lady Alexander, who spends the back half shirtless, but to the performance by former child star Joey Lawrence (Urban Legends: Final Cut) as a cop. Whoa! —Rod Lott

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May 8 2017

South Bronx Heroes (1985)

With all the low-budget panache of an unauthorized ABC Afterschool Special made on spec by the assistant to the second assistant director of Exterminator 2, the perennial dollar-bin favorite South Bronx Heroes both looks and feels like the cinematic equivalent of a missing child’s last known photo, one that happened to be photobombed by a breakdancing Mario Van Peebles (Rappin’).

Somewhere in the suburbs — we reckon it’s the suburbs, as the set is comprised of a wood-paneled rumpus room, and that’s a pretty suburban thing, right? — a child pornographer (complete with a script supervisor, boom mic operator and an intern to slate the scene) is berating some kids, so much so that they get the gumption to finally run away, an act which seems to encompass crossing over a mountain range that leads directly to the hellish landscape that is the Bronx. South Bronx, to be exact.

At this is all happening, a Naval-hatted Mario Van Peebles, complete with a rambunctious pet ferret, arrives in the South Bronx, fresh out of the Navy Mexican prison. He’s immediately accosted by a trio of multiethnic toughs armed with nunchucks, but Mario is quick to pull out a pistol, dub them the “faggot Mod Squad” and take all of their clothes.

As our pair of runaways find an abandoned building to squat in, they make the most of their days, eating garbage, avoiding area ruffians and sitting on rocks, staring off into the sun, dreaming of a better life as a brutally maudlin song about believing in yourself and fighting for what’s right Casiotones in the background.

Meanwhile, over at the Peebles place, Mario’s no-nonsense sister wants him to get a job and go straight, but he’d rather hang out at underpasses with his ferret, occasionally chilling with a breakdancing crew as (courtesy of Mario himself) a brutally maudlin rap about believing in yourself and fighting for what’s right Casiotones in the background.

When said orphans are busted taking a shower in his crib, after asking many inappropriate questions about the kiddie-porn biz in what I’m sure was director William Szarka’s idea of comic relief, Mario slaps on a 1940s suit and fedora, and goes undercover to help bring those suburban scumbags to justice. Wonder Years block of clay Dan Lauria shows up as an FBI agent for 30 seconds to offer his reluctant thanks in cracking the case.

About 10 minutes after, they called a wrap on filming, the always prolific Mario walked right up the block and started shooting the similarly themed DVD dollar-bin favorite Children of the Night, co-starring Kathleen Quinlan (Breakdown) as a sociology student undercover in the world of teenage prostitution. —Louis Fowler

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