The Movie: American Yakuza 2 (1996)
The Perp: Koji (Ryo Ishibashi)
The Victim: Psycho (Bobcat Goldthwait)
American Yazuka 2 is a remarkably forgettable mobsters-and-coppers romp remembered by few save Danielle Harris’ semi-pedophilic cult. It does, however, provide sweet schadenfreude for all you haters of 1980’s comic curiosity Bobcat Goldthwait. Bob has a brief cameo as “Psycho,” a mentally imbalanced terrorist-without-a-cause who straps himself with dynamite and holds the local greasy spoon hostage. Little does Bob know, two Yazuka are among the clientele - and Koji (Ryo Ishibashi) and Hideo (Kô Takasugi) don’t appreciate anybody getting in between them and their Moons Over My Hammy®...
The Movie: Cyborg Cop III (1995)
The Perp: thug (Sir Anthony Hopkins)
The Victim: Evelyn (Jennifer Miller)
Kids, always remember: crime happens when you least expect it. One night you may be innocently walking out to your car and then WHAM! out of nowhere, some thug knocks you unconscious and delivers you to a cybernetic surgeon who implants microchips and other computer paraphernalia inside your body so when the opportune time arrives, he can activate you as a cyborg soldier in the service of the sinister cybernetics corporation, Delta Tech.
Cyborg Cop III, the third and last entry in the Cyborg Cop series, took a haggard, mangy, ready-for-the-shotgun franchise and lamely limped it across the finish line. It’s memorable for very little outside of Ian Roberts’ mind-shatteringly bizarre take on the villainous President of Delta Tech (and music box fetishist), Sheen.
His performance is off-kilter throughout, but this is his coup de grâce. Like Nero fiddling away as Rome burns, Roberts arrhythmically chews his way through the hieroglyphic columns of his flame-licked lair - delivering his final speech to no one in particular save the smoldering remains of his best boy, Oscar...
The sequel to Cyborg Cop, the creatively titled, Cyborg Cop II (1994) was a titular curiosity as it in fact featured no cyborg cops. It did feature an inordinately high use of the fabled air ram: that pneumatic device favored by stunt coordinators to propel stuntmen high into the air (whether appropriate to the action or not).
Some might deem director Sam Firstenberg’s (McCinsey’s Island, Motel Blue) utilization of this hydraulic catapult nigh excessive, but not us at the Actioneer - we see it as a salute to American ingenuity and compressed air and worthy of this very humble tribute...
The Movie: Cyborg Cop II (1994)
The Perp(s): Jack Ryan (David Bradley), Liz McDowell (Jill Pierce)
The Victim(s): cyborgs (Peter O'Toole, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Peter Ustinov, others)
The Cyborg Cop-series has never been notable for its use of the latest in state-of-the art special effects technology. While Terminator 2 (1991) was wowing us with morphing effects and other feats of CGI wizardry - Cyborg Cop (1993) was pulling cheap pranks like this.
So should we surprised when the second installment scraped for new cost-cutting lows? Surely not. Take this scenario, where we find fanny pack-fashionista Jack Ryan and his sexy, dead-eyed gal pal Liz McDowell unleashing epic wrath on an ineptly murderous army of cyborg criminals. Note how these cyborgs are programmed to transmorph into department store mannequins before detonating. This, as most political historians will note - famously provoked the ire of the powerful mannequin lobby - who were key backstage players behind the passing of the Mammography Quality Standards Act later that year.
The fight scene is the bread and butter of Action Cinema. Where the genre may fail in providing complex, memorable characters, sharp dialogue ripe with subtext and thought-provoking, socially-relevant themes - at the end of the day, if there's some good rock 'em sock 'em fist play, then we generally leave satisfied.
So how do you explain this, the "climactic" final battle of The Revenger? Is it pure unadorned contempt for the audience? Or did they just have to wrap up quick before they would've had to pay the Union guys overtime?
Also, I don't really understand how Frank's "finishing move" actually killed that guy. I mean he barely touched him. Did he induce some sort pulmonary embolism with some secret deadly technique he learned while playing the SoCal smooth jazz circuit? I guess some things - like Frank Zagarino's continued ability to get film roles - are destined to remain a mystery.
In these tough economic times we must be prudent and confine ourselves to a strict budget. That’s why, although we may have certain moral objections, we may find ourselves stalking the soulless, fluorescent-lit aisles of Wal-Mart; and while there, we may stop ourselves from purchasing that 32 oz. bottle of crisp, refreshing Dr. Pepper and instead reaching for a bottle of tepid, uninspiring Sam’s Choice Dr. Thunder.
By the same token, if you’re a producer who’s assembling an exhilarant action package tailor-made for the talents of one Jean-Claude Van Damme but budgets are tight, you may find yourself casting the Sam’s Choice equivalent of Monsieur Van Damme: Olivier Gruner.
The Circuit (2002) ups the ante, by not only starring the budget-line JCVD, but by also lifting the plot from his classic 1988 effort, Bloodsport. Olivier stars as the improbably named Dirk Longstreet (nom de porn?) former "Eastern Seaboard Champion" of an illegal underground fighting society. Dirk’s since gone straight, as a track coach at Generic Local College State University Polytech A&M - but alas, T-R-O-U-B-L-E has a habit of finding the harried French Shotokan Master.
See, his little brother Jeremy (Ilya Melnikoff) has gotten himself in gambling debt to some pretty rough customers and the only way to pay off his debt is compete in the Circuit, a deadly underground fight club. Now the only way to get his brother out is for Dirk to fight! Thank Satan the living corpse of Billy Drago is there to help him freshen up his kill skills.
Yes, this plot is as well-worn and toothless as meth-addicted Atlantic City boardwalk whore and no, director Jalal Merhi does little to inject it with any fresh ideas or compelling twists. It’s further dogged by glacial pacing and bland fight choreography, in spite of including several of your favorite fighting stars you’ve only sweated over in the pages of Black Belt Magazine including, but scarcely limited to, the Dragon Twins and Billy Blanks’ brother!
Apparently, The Circuit made the prerequisite $235 in profit that merits a sequel in the Direct-To-DVD world, as it was immediately followed by The Circuit 2: The Final Punch later that very same year. This film has the habit of popping up on cable every once in while - and if you should see it in your program guide, avoid it like a charging Ebola-infected rhinoceros during mating season.
Video removed courtesy of the good people at 20th Century Fox.
The Movie: Broken Arrow (1996)
The Perp: Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis)
The Victim: Max (Shaun Toub)
The Eighties was a great period of Nerd solidarity. The entertainment community, with outstretched arms, celebrated the Nerd with such chef-d'oeuvres as Revenge of The Nerds and WarGames. For the first time, the Nerd was granted genuine flesh-and-blood humanity and justly celebrated for his keen intelligence, technical ingenuity and ability to reprogram the targeting systems of xenon-halogen laser weapons.
Lo, the Nineties were a fallow and desolate period for the Nerd. Irrevocable damage was preyed upon their national character by the exaggerated posturings and buffoonish antics of television’s Screech and Urkel.
Broken Arrow offers little respite. Here the Nerd, despite his rigorous Navy SEAL-training is felled in under a minute by a lowly Park Ranger - and a woman at that, too.
Video removed courtesy of the good people at 20th Century Fox.
The Movie: Broken Arrow (1996)
The Perp: Capt. Riley Hane (Christian Slater)
The Victim: Maj. Vic 'Deak' Deakins (John Travolta)
Broken Arrow was another in a string of misfires from previously relevant Hong Kong export, John Woo. The film is most notable for swathing Samantha Mathis inside a remarkably unflattering Park Ranger uniform.
It also features John Travolta's most cringe-inducing performance since Staying Alive. Witness this explosive scene, in which Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Barbarino is out-acted by his own stunt dummy. Man, that dummy really knows how to take a body shot...
The Movie: Hollow Point (1996)
The Perp: a shipping crate (Gene Hackman)
The Victim: Thomas Livingston (John Lithgow)
Bad dudes, take a lesson from the Bond villains of yore: Never bask in your own vaingloriousness, don't orate or pontificate, and always look up, otherwise your dramatic death will be eminent.
Also, hell hath no fury like woman scorned by the cancellation of her middling syndicated series.
One oddball trope of Action Cinema is the “sax man with an axe (or Beretta 92FS) to grind.” This was explored to great effect in John Woo’s classic Hard Boiled. This was explored to lesser effect in How to Play Baritone Saxophone: Fixing a Sticky Baritone Saxophone Key. And then there’s The Revenger...
The Revenger stars Frank Zagarino. If you don’t know who Frank Zagarino is, he’s the blonde, charisma-impaired sock puppet behind such instant travesties as Airboss and Orion’s Key (aka Alien Chaser). Frank stars as Mike Keller, a promising young saxophonist who experiments in the sort of high-energy, experimental jazz you might have heard on the keno channel at the Sands Regency in Reno. Well, things are pretty peachy for Mike, he's got a hot record deal in the works and his eye on some sweet digs in Malibu but wouldn't ya know it, his ol’ pal Mackie (Arnold Vosloo) turns up and gets Mike involved in a high-speed police chase that results in one dead cop. And you know what means: five years in hoosegow!
But never mind that shockingly light sentence for police homicide - Mike gets out and has a happy reunion with his sax (watch out, David Sanborn!). Also, he reunites with his best chick Lisa (Nancy Mulford).
Enter our big baddie: snuff film producer, Jack Fisher (Oliver Reed). Kids, this one of the unfortunate side-effects of a lifelong battle with severe alcoholism - one day you’re cozying up to Raquel Welch and twelve blurry years later, you’re playing opposite Frank Zagarino.
But I digress, see Jack thinks that Mike’s got a briefcase of cash that Mackie hid, so he kidnaps Lisa. What’s Mike’s brilliant idea? Find the money, but instead of exchanging it for his turtledove, stick Fisher with an athletic bag full of shredded newspaper. Good one, Mike!
When this brilliant plan comes to naught, Mike enlists the help of his dead brother’s cyclopean Vietnam pal, Harry Crawford (who apparently was eight when he landed at Da Nang) and the two bust into Fisher’s Guccionesque compound, guns a’ blazin’ and rescue the freshly-raped Lisa from Jack’s crack-addled clutches.
After a long, mind-numbing stretch of double-crossings, cocaine consumption, vaginal sculpture exhibitions, beatings administered with prosthetic limbs and trite romantic interludes, it all wraps up at Crawford’s sylvan retreat in the California hills. There's a lot of corpses, and a lot of high-flyin' flames, and one of the most unconvincingly choreographed fight scenes you should ever see in your life.
The total sum of these poorly crafted parts is roughly as exciting as working stock at Office Depot for the summer - and if your fast-forward finger isn't gettin' itchy after the first 10 minutes, then friend, you're made of stronger stuff than I.
We all have Cedric Sundstrom for this blight upon the film world - this is the man who would go on to bludgeon the American Ninja series to death before disappearing into the bowels of South African television. And it must be said that it's truly one of life’s great ironies that Roman Polanski, the man who brought us Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, is permanently banned from our Great Nation*, yet the Cossack who squeezed this 20 paratransit pileup from his colon strolls free, a Citizen of the World. But I guess life, much like the The Revenger, doesn't make a helluva lotta sense.
* The Actioneer, its parent company and subsidiaries do not support the plying of underage girls with champagne and quaaludes, then performing lewd and lascivious acts upon them while in, or near, a hot tub.