For you youngsters out there, describing Bozmania is like describing the Polish–Moldavian War: you had to be there to truly understand its magnitude. In 1987 Brian Bosworth hit pro football like an Oklahoma-sized asteroid. He was big, blonde and had attitude to the max. His hybrid mohawk-mullet became haute couture for rural youths everywhere. His autobiography became a New York Times Bestseller. Then came the injuries. After only 27 games, the Boz retired from the NFL for good.
But the Brian Bosworth story doesn’t end there, no. In 1991 the Boz came back, reinvented as the action hero for the 1990s. The film was Stone Cold, an outlaw biker flick that made full use of the Bosworth persona. It cost $10 million. It made $9 million. Just like that, he was yesterday’s papers.
It would be four long years before audiences would glimpse him again - but his fate was to be on the small screen, not the big screen - which brings us to his direct-to-video effort, One Tough Bastard.
From frame one, danger signs flare ahead. This is gooey, sentimental stuff. The Boz, a family man? Where are the earrings? Who clipped the ape drape? Why has M.C. Hammer received special billing?
After years of building the Bosworth persona, he just tosses it away. Do we really wanna see the Boz in a corduroy blazer (with patches) and sensible khakis? When Arnold dresses like this, he plays it for laughs because it chafes against the very Arnold persona. But this ... this is serious. Bosworth is a Republican Party canvasser on steroids. And strangely enough, his antagonist Karl Savak (Bruce Payne), with his long peroxide locks and nose rings, looks more like the Boz than the Boz does.
Ah, but we take the hand we’re dealt and settle into our couches for some entertainment.
We’re not long in before Brian’s family is murdered by Savak’s incompetent hatchet-man, Marcus. This of course, has been a sturdy, reliable motivation for many action protagonists before, so why not revisit it again? So the Boz tracks down Marcus to LA but he’s under the special protection of FBI agent, Karl Savak. (Yes, he’s FBI and somehow his hair and piercings aren’t in direct violation of the strict FBI dress-code.) It seems Savak is involved with drug kingpin Dexter Kane (Hammer). He’s stolen some top-secret weapons from the the U.S. Military and plans to sell them to Kane for a king’s ransom. Unfortunately, he’s missing the special ammo required for the top-secret weapons which has accidentally fallen into the hands of “good kid going down the wrong path,” Mikey. Got all that?
No matter. There’s some decent, but never great, action here and probably one of the longest “plunge to their death” scenes in film history. We also get character actor Payne at his scenery-chewing best - as in a scene where he scrawls in large, red letters on his “Things To Do!!!" List to “KILL MARCUS.” Also, Hammer’s squirming turn as Dexter Kane is stunt-casting at its hysterical worst. Where else do we get to hear the pop-rap pastor uncomfortably spouting lines line: “Don’t you realize the only way you gonna talk to me again is through one a’ them straight-up psychic bitches?”
Bastard's director Kurt Wimmer would go on to make the criminally under-seen cult sci-fi flick Equilibrium (2002) - though those looking for the inventiveness of that film will find little of it here. If you’ve cultivated a thirst for more Wimmer, better to check out Ultraviolet. On second thought, just watch Equilibrium again.
Last lines. Those parting words that echo on as we fade to black. “Well, nobody’s perfect.” “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” "Forget it, Jake... it's Chinatown." Often a single pithy phrase can elucidate the essence of an entire film.
Consider the last line from Rage and Honor (1992). Australian ex-pat cop Preston Michaels (Richard Norton) hitches a ride to anywhere from a nameless good ol’ boy in a mustard-yellow pick-up. The trucker, in a flabby stab at small talk, inquires if the Aussie is enjoying his visit to the States. Michaels stares right through him. The trucker turns and issues a thick stream of chaw out the window. He turns back and shrugs, “Aw, who gives a shit?”
There’s not much to “give a shit” about in writer-director Terence H. Winkless’s middling effort. At its heart, it’s a story of sibling rivalry. As children, Kris Fairchild (Cynthia Rothrock) and Conrad Drago (Brian Thompson), were the victims of a vicious family assault that turned the little darlings into a pair of orphans. They were adopted by a sensei who schooled them in the martial arts. But our young Conrad, he had hate in his heart, and he took his revenge upon his parents’ murderers. This did not please the sensei - for revenge is an act without honor - and he set Conrad free to the mean streets of Los Angeles.
Flash forward two decades. Roll film. Kris is now an inner-city school teacher who also runs her deceased master’s dojo. Conrad has become a crime kingpin. He spends his days ensconced in his shady criminal lair - engaging in various forms of self-abuse, chop-sockying ice-blocks in half and bedding his psycho-sexual moll, Rita Carrion (Terri Treas). Inevitably, brother and sister will meet for one final confrontation - but in between we are treated to a convoluted plot of drugs, dirty cops, voyeurism and a lot of dull, poorly photographed fight sequences.
Brian Thompson’s sinisterly subdued performance is one of the few things to recommend here. As our leads, Rothrock is glassy and vacant - thankfully, partner Norton has his own raffish charm and he’s wisely been given all the best lines. Their comic-foil, Stephen Davies turns in a cheerily loose-limbed burlesque as Baby, a drug-addled former junk bond trader. But the film’s best moments belong to Alex Datcher. Her Hanna the Hun is the Grande Dame of a Sapphic sisterhood of lace-and-leather toughies. She plays it big: like a back-alley Eartha Kitt in a pair of torn fish-nets. She slowly savors every carefully elocuted line, letting them hang in the air with lip-smacking relish. She genuinely seems to be having fun. If only we were.
Steven Seagal never had his own video game. Arnie had a bunch. So did Sly. Hell, even Van Damme had a couple. So in 1994, the good people over at TecMagik sought to change all that.
The game was The Final Option and it was going to break right on the heels of Steve’s big directorial debut, On Deadly Ground. Alas, it wavered in development hell for quite some time and TecMagik, either having lost interest or funding, turned their attentions to Deadly Honor, a new title they were developing for N64 and PlayStation (which was also canceled).
Eventually somebody over there at the now-defunct TecMagik decided to dump the unripened fruits of their labors into a ROM and circulate it around the Internet for all to enjoy ... although ‘enjoy’ might not be the most appropriate word here.
The game starts you right in the thick of the action - Steven has infiltrated “Nanotech’s Underground Munitions Depot.” What are the objectives of Mr. Seagal’s mission? We’re not really sure. What is Nanotech? It’s unclear, but it’s obvious this corporation is up to some unconscionable evil because we can see human bones amassed within the dungeonesque walls of their “Underground Storage Facility.”
The big gimmick here is that the game uses actual digitized film footage of Seagal himself (Steve, is that really you?) - but the muddy effect here is more Pit Fighter than Mortal Kombat. Combat is a bore. Steve can punch, kick, block, shoot and throw knives. There’s also a bit of ham-handedly implemented platforming. True to form, the jumping controls are dicey and more often than not, you’ll be treated to Steven’s hysterical munchkin-like scream as he plummets to his death.
The levels are labyrinthine and with no clear objectives you’ll find yourself blindly fumbling along until through mere coincidence you ‘pick up the right thing’ or ‘push the right panel’ to complete the level. There were allegedly a total of six completed stages in the game - culminating in a final showdown at the “Nuclear Fusion Facility.” I made it to the second stage before I hit the proverbial brick wall.
The Final Option's cancellation was probably for the best - On Deadly Ground was enough of a smack-to-the-face of Seagal fans for one year. It would also seem that it would be Steve's last shot at pixelated glory - fifteen years have passed and the pony-tailed one still remains video gameless. Developers, if you’re listening: I’m sure you can buy the rights to The Glimmer Man reeaaallll cheap.
The history of ‘yellowface’ in cinema - a practice in which white actors would tint their skin with makeup and tape back their eyelids to appear ‘Oriental’ - dates back to the Silent Era. Richard Barthelmess had famously lent a gentle dignity to the character of Cheng Huan in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919) - even in the face of such tasty bons mots as “What makes you so good to me, Chinky?”
Several of the major stars of the Studio Era had at one time or other ‘yellowed-up’ for the Silver Screen, including Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Edward G. Robinson and even the Duke (improbably enough, as Genghis Khan). The practice reached its ‘nadir’, as it were, in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) with Mickey Rooney’s blustery, buck-toothed Mr. Yunioshi - a performance so mind-bendingly offensive it still draws protest from the Asian-American community whenever the film is screened.
Remo Williams began life in 1971 as the hero of The Destroyer novels. The series - written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir - was the sort of hawkish, Right-leaning literature one might imagine John Milius reading whilst sinking his toes in some far-off Polynesian beach.
In late 1984, British director 62 year-old British director Guy Hamilton was hired to bring Remo to the Silver Screen. Hamilton was no stranger to the Action genre, having directed some of the better James Bond offerings of the ’60s and ’70s, including Goldfinger and The Man With Golden Gun. Another Bond vet, screenwriter Christopher Wood, was brought on board to pen the screenplay (after Murphy and Sapir’s draft was soundly rejected by the MGM suits). Consequently the movie has the sort of light touch and Byzantine plotting of a Bond, rather than Destroyer adventure.
Long story short: Fred Ward plays an NYPD cop, who, following a bizarro assault awakens in a hospital with a new face (well, they’ve shaved his mustache) and a new identity: Remo Williams, the latest recruit for CURE, an top-secret organization “dedicated to preserving the constitution by working outside of it.” Under the tutelage of a kooky Korean martial arts master, he must take down millionaire corporate turncoat, George Grove (Charles Cioffi).
The film is littered with memorable set pieces - particularly Remo’s fight atop the Statue of Liberty (itself a crib from Hitchcock’s Saboteur) - but it doesn’t quite gel as a whole. It has the feeling of an appetizer rather than complete meal. Chiun’s training sequence takes up approximately half of the film. The romance plot-line between Remo and Major Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) is left unresolved. Baddie George Grove seems like the warm-up to some supervillain of Blofeldian proportions. This was all probably due to the overly optimistic sequel innuendos of the title.
It’s easy to see how this movie got lost in the shuffle in the fall of 1985. This was an adrenaline-and-anabolic-fueled era where Rambo was slicing up Vietnamese like a Cuisinart. By comparison, Remo is positively tame. The effect of violence never extends beyond a blood-stained shirt or a superficially lacerated forehead. Granite-faced Ward is not an action hero for the Reagan decade - his modest physique seems underfed compared to the muscular megalomania of Sly and Arnie. Guy Hamilton’s deliberately-paced production lacks the frenzied, run ’n gun verve of First Blood Part II and its ilk. The end result feels as exhausted as Roger Moore looked in A View to a Kill.
Needless to say, plans for a sequel were nixed and Remo soon retreated back to the pulpy print from whence he came. For his part, Joel Grey would emerge from the detritus unscathed - receiving a Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actor. Three years later Chiun would be recast for a television pilot with none other than Roddy McDowall ... yellowface and all.