1/28/2011

Low Blow (1986)

Low Blow (1986)-* * *

Directed by: Frank Harris

Starring: Leo Fong, Cameron Mitchell, Troy Donahue, Patti Bowling, Akosua Busia, Diane Stevenett, Woody Farmer, Stack Pierce, and Billy Blanks



"Tell the bank the check is in the mail."









Joe Wong (Fong) is a private investigator, and he has a unique way of doing his job. He's behind on all his bills, his office is a pig sty, and all he really wants to do is go to his favorite eatery and have some chicken feet soup. He and his perky partner Diane (Stevenett) are barely staying afloat. One day John Templeton (Donahue), not to be confused with The Protector (1999), (who could surely handle this problem on his own), walks into Wong's office and hires him to find his daughter Karen (Bowling) who has gone missing. Despite Wong's warning that he "is expensive", much like Rod Armstrong, Donahue gives him the money and Wong is on his way.

It turns out Karen has been brainwashed by the Universal Enlightenment cult and is spending most days farming at their compound called Unity Village. The leader of this mysterious cult is one Yarakunda (Mitchell) and his "sister-wife" Karma (Busia). Since this secretive organization doesn't take kindly to outsiders, meaning there are plenty of armed guards, Wong hits the local punchfighting (or in this case, pit fighting) circuit to hire some recruits to help him invade the cult and save Karen. Of all the ninjas, women, Chicanos and fat guys that all fight each other, he chooses Fuzzy (Farmer) and some others and then they all go to complete the mission. Using just their martial arts abilities and their wiles, will they succeed?


Here the usual gang of troublemakers (Fong, Pierce, Mitchell and director Frank Harris, among others) reunite once more for another round of wacky, dumb fun. Despite the common low-budget pitfalls of bad film quality, choppy editing, and major issues with what must have been a script at one point, Low Blow remains "Low Brow" entertainment. Fong plays the goofy P.I. with some serious car troubles with nothing but flatly delivered catchphrases. The main issue of Low Blow is you can't hear anything. The sound quality is so amazingly bad, the entire movie is unhearable. It doesn't help that Fong never speaks above a whisper, and he has an accent. But what we could hear is funny. And when he's attacking the bad guys' car with a chainsaw, he always remembers his safety goggles.

Cameron Mitchell, as the Jonestown-inspired guru, wearing a black hooded cloak and sunglasses, never stands up in the movie and appears drunk. It's a more laid-back Cam performance, especially in comparison to his bad guy role in Killpoint (1984). Also as counterpoint to Killpoint, Stack Pierce here is fairly underused as Corky. Yes, his name is Corky. But we can't forget an early appearance of Billy Blanks as a camp guard that fights Joe Wong. Unfortunately, the climax of the movie takes place at night and the filmmakers forgot to turn on any lights, so we can't see what transpires very well.


The introduction of the punch/pit fighting adds a lot of color and flavor to the proceedings, and the addition of Fuzzy to the national consciousness was surely a good thing, though he lacks the joie de vivre of a Jack S. Daniels or a Bear. Also of note is the U.S. Vestron video VHS box art (seen at top of page). While a pretty cool piece of artwork in its own right, this person you see is not in the film. They invented him for the box art. What, was a picture of Leo Fong not good enough? That's shameful. But at least we can now see what it would look like if your fist was basically the size of your head.

Yes, the movie is inept on almost every level, and the attempts at humor are...attempts at humor, but Low Blow proves ineptness isn't always a bad thing - it can be pretty entertaining if you are in the right mood. 'Blow isn't as bad as some say it is (although some technical aspects certainly are, but so what).

If you need more Fong in your life, a good place to continue your obsession would be Low Blow.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

1/25/2011

Light Blast (1985)

Light Blast (1985)-* * * *

Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari

Starring: Erik Estrada, Peggy Rowe, Michael Pritchard, and Ennio Girolami















When evildoers with a fake news van and a giant super-laser threaten to blow up the city of San Francisco if their ransom of five million dollars (later upped to 20 million) is not given to them,  it's up to Inspector Ronn Warren (Estrada) and his partner Lt. Curtis (Michael Pritchard) to stop the nefarious, weight-lifting ex-college professor Dr. Yuri Soboda (Girolami). It's a race against time as Warren must put together the pieces - from a mysterious morgue to the final chase - before everyone in the city by the bay gets their faces melted off! Is he man enough...or is he just a "turkey"?

Light Blast is an incredibly fun, highly entertaining winner. From Estrada's killer entrance, to the super-laser, to the rough-and-tumble action sequences and everything on down. Estrada's never been better than here as the charismatic cop Warren, who wears a cool jacket, and like Last Man Standing's (1996) Kurt Bellmore, has a policy of only hijacking awesome high-powered cars for his chases. Pritchard is lovable as Curtis, and they have a nice camaraderie, as Warren also does with his wife Jacqueline (Rowe). It's "Light" years away from that disgrace to laser movies, No Time To Die (1984). Drench that in an awesome score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis and the confident direction of the legendary Enzo G. Castellari, and you have a comic-book-style action piece with plenty of re-watchability value.


On top of being fast-paced, funny, violent, well-shot, and consistently good with no dull bits (no mean feat in itself), 80's fanatics will get a kick out of the clothes, cool watches, phones, cars, microfiche, hats, tape players, an early form of GPS, and, of course, the infamous laser with its great effects. You know Soboda is evil because of his scarf and mustache, and like any baddie worth his salt, he has a command center. Light Blast has plenty of mystery and intrigue, and, as if all that wasn't enough, there's even a rockin' revenge sub-plot. It'a a quality production that knows its audience and delivers the goods to it in enthusiastic spades.


Light Blast truly has it all. If you're looking for an upbeat ride of a film to Blast you out of the movie-watching doldrums, this is just the ticket. It made us believe again.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

1/21/2011

No Time To Die (1984)

No Time To Die (1984)-*

Directed by: Helmut Ashley

Starring: John Phillip Law, Horst Janson, Grazyna Dylong, Winfried Glatzeder, Barry Prima, and Christopher Mitchum













MIC (or "Multi-Industrial Corporation") has developed a super-laser. It must be transported to a mine to cut through the rock to save the trapped miners within. The best man for this dangerous job is one Ted Barner (Law). Of course, he is a motorbike-riding rogue who always has a snappy retort at the ready. It usually involves calling someone a "turkey". He takes his friend Ratno Lesmana (Prima) and also Martin Forster (Janson) along through the treacherous jungles of Jakarta with the giant laser on a flatbed truck. As if this wasn't enough of a challenge, a competitor to MIC, Protex, headed by the diabolical Mr. Gull (Mitchum) has hired Jan Von Clef (Glatzeder) to go after our heroes with all his goons and steal the laser. Von Clef wants to get revenge on Barner for a perceived betrayal in the past. Add to that the presence of Judy Staufer (Dylong), a reporter for "World News Agency" and romantic rival with Barner, and we have a chase through the jungle in a race against time. Will Barner and his crew make it and save the miners, or will Gull and Van Clef prevail?

Not to be confused with A Time To Die (1991), try to imagine some sort of cross between Fugitive Champion (1997) and Shaker Run (1985), and add JPL (John Phillip Law), and you may get some sort of idea of what's going on here. There's a lot of talking and minimal action. There's a lot of corporate intrigue over this laser, which we have to wait for the entire movie to see, and when we finally do, it's pretty lame. For a good laser movie, please see Light Blast (1985). Heck, even Night of the Kickfighters (1988) had more laser action than this half-baked dud.

99% of the movie is a talky setup for this laser, and it doesn't pay off. What could? On the plus side, we have a barfight with absolutely no setup, funny dubbing, scenic Jakarta locations, and a pretty cool score. And it ends on a freeze frame. Towards the end, there are a lot of wacky sound effects and Benny Hill-style fast motion. That would be fine if this was supposed to be a comedy, but we were promised a laser, not hijinks and antics.

Law is fairly charismatic, but both Mitchum and Prima are underused, and this "JPL: Dangerous Roads" should have been named "No Time To Waste".

Released by TransWorld, No Time To Die is a misfire.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

1/18/2011

Young Warriors (1983)

Young Warriors (1983)-* *

Directed by: Lawrence D. Foldes

Starring: James Van Patten, Ernest Borgnine, Linnea Quigley, Richard Roundtree, Mike Norris, Dick Shawn, Lynda Day George, and Casper The Wonder Dog













Kevin Carrigan (Van Patten) is a recent graduate of Malibu High and now is studying animation at Pacific Coast College. All he really wants to do is party down, drink beer, invite babes over to his Phi Delta Tai frat house, engage in quasi-homosexual frat initiations, and did we mention he also just wants to party down? His buddies Fred (Norris), Scott (Tom Reilly), and Jorge (John Alden) are all in on the carefree fun. But when a mysterious gang of bikers rapes and kills Kevin's sister Tiffany (April Dawn), Kevin changes. He realizes there's more to life than keggers and pranks, and he becomes sullen, distant and just plain weird.

Tired of what he sees as too much police incompetence, signified by his own cop father, Lt. Bob Carrigan (Borgnine) and his partner Sgt. John Austin (Roundtree), these former frat-house knuckleheads go out on their own in a jeep with their beloved dog Butch (Casper the Wonder Dog) and try to solve the mystery of his sister's assault. But Kevin and his cronies get deeper and deeper into the seedy underbelly of the city - and its culture of extreme violence - and people like Kevin's mother Beverly (Day George), his girlfriend Lucy (Anne Lockhart) and his professor Hoover (Shawn) - worry Kevin has lost the plot, as well as his mind. Will Kevin's newfound obsession with violence consume him and everything he loves?

In this pickup from Cannon, which infamously combines the 80's teen sex romp and violent revenge genres, we see a major flaw: the movie, despite all the action and shooting and such that we see, actually has an unpleasant, anti-revenge motif. Obviously director/co-writer Foldes didn't realize what audience he was making this film for. You can't make a relatively entertaining, if misguided and overlong, exploitation film catering to drive-ins and hounds of that genre, and then turn around and say "violence and revenge is wrong; don't do it". That's really lame and hypocritical. Just blow up the bad guys with a missile launcher and save your whiny treatises for your shrink (i.e., make a different, less confused, movie).

Another flaw is that our "heroes" are unlikable and you don't care about their plight. The whole first half of the movie is carefully setting up our protagonists as frat-boy jerks. Would it have been so very hard to NOT have done that? So when Kevin flips out and becomes addicted to going out and "fighting crime", the transition isn't as dramatic as it could have been. You know he's really out of it when he wears his bandanna around in daily life. Also we don't know anything about the bad guys or even who they are. They are not established at all. So we don't really even know who Kevin and his buddies are fighting, which detracts from the conflict.


So we have a rockin' title song by Lennie Gale, and the film is dedicated to legendary director King Vidor. I'm sure he's thrilled about that. For some reason, Kevin's father is elderly, and Dick Shawn plays the college professor Kevin talks to, where we get the annoying comment on violence the film puts out there. The theme "violence destroys us all" is just irritating for this type of film. But in the plus column we have Casper the Wonder Dog as Butch. He wears sunglasses and a hat, and, like we've seen so many times before (Killpoint, 1984, and Fist Fighter, 1989) come immediately to mind), he steals the movie. 



Here's what Young Warriors SHOULD have been: 1. Kevin and his friends are set up as nice, normal kids 2. The bad guys are established 3. They rape/kill Kevin's sister 4. Kevin and his friends become vigilantes 5. The bad guys kill/injure Kevin and his friends 5. Borgnine and Roundtree go rogue and get revenge for the deaths/injuries to their friends and family, and (OPTIONAL) 6. Ernest Borgnine shoots a missile launcher.
THAT'S IT! If that was the movie, Young Warriors would be a classic for the ages. As it stands, we have a deeply flawed, but still worthwhile watch.

Released in a big-box VHS in the U.S., for all its foibles, there's still some meat on the bone for 80's obsessives to enjoy with Young Warriors.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty



1/15/2011

Fear (1988)

Fear (1988)-*

Directed by: Robert A. Ferretti

Starring: Cliff De Young, Kay Lenz, Zoe Trilling, Charles Meshack, Scott Schwartz, Robert Factor, and Frank Stallone



"Frank Stallone is Unchained"










The Haden family consists of father Don (De Young), mother Sharon (Lenz), son Brian (Schwartz) and daughter Jennifer (Trilling). They are an "average" suburban upper-middle-class clan with the normal preoccupations and concerns of a modern family of the 80's. Don and Sharon's marriage is on the rocks primarily because she wants to take a job in San Diego so they are constantly bickering, Jennifer is your standard spoiled, self-involved teenager and Brian is the pre-teen eager to get in his dad's good graces. They decide the best way to sort out all their problems is to go to "Uncle Billy's Cabin" in an RV. So they rent the motorhome and head out on a family road trip into the countryside.

Meanwhile, some dangerous convicts are on the loose. They escaped a prison-transfer bus and are armed, dangerous, and looking for a family like the Hadens to provide them with...something. We don't really know. But Armitage (Stallone) is the the pugilistic neo-Nazi, Cyril is the "token African-American", Mitch (Michael Watson) is the confused "new meat" and Jack (Factor) is the Vietnam vet who is mentally disturbed and still believes he is fighting the war, and they take the family hostage. The twist is that the father, Don, is also a 'Nam vet (an ex-Green Beret), and will, eventually, after a lot of stupidity, attempt to save his family from the mixed bag of baddies. Can he do it?



The film starts out with some Vietnam flashbacks, and leads into a bleak, gritty prison setting, so you think there's a chance this might be better than average. Once Fear kicks into being a standard hostage drama that adds nothing whatsoever to that sub-genre, you quickly realize that this is by-the-numbers, predictable fare. Some quality actors try to save it, but it's hopeless. It's just not exciting or entertaining.

The best part of the movie is Scott Schwartz' Kidco (1984) shirt. Fear occupies a unique place in Schwartz' filmography. It's after Kidco, The Toy (1982) and A Christmas Story (1983) but before he started doing porn. We wish we had a Kidco shirt. Cult actress Zoe Trilling also has an interesting shirt. Isn't this review so in depth? She wears a shirt for, seemingly, a band called The Suburbs, but it screams "The costume designer saw this and it's really appropriate/ironic for this setting so now you'll wear it".

Other aspects of Fear worth noting are the visit to "Link Reilly's Country Feed Bin". Just you watch out for that Abraham Lincoln Reilly (Bart Burns). He's yet another Vietnam vet. Also there seem to be two versions of Fear - one with all the swearing intact, and another one with the "dirty words" redubbed in a weird, yet hilarious fashion. I've seen the Virgin Vision VHS, as well as the version now playing on Comcast On Demand, and the On Demand version is redubbed with bizarre, "who are they trying to fool?" ADR, perhaps best exemplified when Frank Stallone aka Armitage shouts angrily, and I quote, "Fight You!" Why they did this is unclear, because other content in the film pretty much ensures this isn't going to be played on TBS anytime soon. It remains an R no matter what. So....why?


This might also explain why, in the only recorded instance in history outside of Gary Busey in Bulletproof (1988), does one character actually say the word "Butthorn"! We rewound the movie to make sure. He says it. This adds fuel to what we said in the Bulletproof review, that "Butthorn" was an insult that really should have caught on, and an effort was made to put it in the popular consciousness, but somehow it just never took off. Despite the best efforts of Frank Stallone and Gary Busey. If that team can't make something work, I don't know what to believe in anymore.

So after a lot of yelling, shooting, and unnecessarily terrorizing a family, I suppose the viewer was meant to come away with the clash of values between the family and the convicts. They're from two totally different worlds, and they clashed. The innocent family ran headlong into the totally new, different, violent world of the criminals. Then the family is supposed to realize that their life isn't so bad after all. But the viewer just doesn't care that much to get that invested.

It may sound harsh, but Fear is really just VHS shelf-filler for the video stores of the 80's and 90's. It needed some kind of spark to make it stand out from the crowd, but sadly, that never happened. And Frank Stallone doesn't even sing.

Comeuppance Review by Brett and Ty

1/11/2011

Killpoint (1984)

Killpoint (1984)-* *

Directed by: Frank Harris

Starring: Leo Fong, Richard Roundtree, Cameron Mitchell, and Stack Pierce













When a cache of guns is stolen from a local armory, and street thugs are running wild shooting everyone in sight, there's only one man tough enough to stop the madness: Lt. James "Jim" Long (Fong)! But he's been feeling depressed lately as his wife had been raped and killed earlier that year. So he teams up with ATF agent Bryant (Roundtree) and the entire Riverside, CA police department to track down the baddies responsible. Luckily for Long's revenge scheme, the same evildoers are behind the attack on his wife as well as the stolen guns: crimelord and all-around kingpin bad guy Joe Marks (Mitchell) and his murderous assistant Nighthawk (Pierce). Will Long and Bryant bring the culprits to justice, and, more importantly, will local TV station KHUD report the story accurately?

The stars of Revenge of the Bushido Blade (1980) reunite for this amateurish, haphazard effort that, while certainly imperfect, has its entertaining qualities and would have been ideal for undiscerning drive-in audiences of the day. For example, the editing is choppy: one minute we're seeing Cam Mitchell having a grand old time as Marks, the next we get a several-minute training sequence with Fong in a gym with absolutely no setup or dialogue, then we're back at the police station with Roundtree, etc. Add to that the use of mumbling non-actors in a semi-documentary style (members of the Riverside police department are named extensively in the credits), and the hilariously wooden anti-acting (read: clearly reading from a written source) of Michael Farrell (not the guy from MASH) as Long's Captain, Skidmore, and you get a few yuks, but nothing substantial.


Fong as Long is as perfectly wooden as he usually is, and his hair is charmingly Ramones-ish this time around. But the star of the show once again is the immortal Cam Mitchell. He looks like he's having a ball as the nefarious Marks, and hams it to the max, but in the best way imaginable. Marks/Mitchell is the type of villain whose main activities include wearing sunglasses and an ascot to bed, and teaching his dog (Sparky) to smoke, as well as boring stuff like killing prostitutes and enabling the L.A. area to go into martial law. God bless Cameron Mitchell. We'll never see another like him.

Stack Pierce, besides having an awesome name, is suitably menacing as Marks' consigliere, and looks like what would happen if Bill Cosby turned evil. The great Richard Roundtree is under-utilized and should have done much more. After teaming up with Leo Fong, he'll probably go back to teaming up with Harrison Muller, Jr. Either that or Ernest Borgnine.

So yes, it does have some of the trappings of low-budget filmmaking such as poor audio and a weird pace, but it was director Frank Harris' first directorial film. Unfortunately, his mediocrity seems ingrained, as his next two features, Low Blow (1986) and The Patriot (1986) seem to prove. In the action department, it's pretty much shootings and training sequences and not much else, although Fong does give one unlucky suspect an interrogation he'll never forget.

Starring Sparky the dog as himself (as his credit goes) in a movie-stealing performance, though he can't quite top Mitchell, they work well together. Killpoint was released by Crown International, and then put out on VHS in the U.S. by Vestron. Featuring the catchy closing song "Livin' on the Inside" by Ramona Gibbons, Killpoint isn't really a great movie, but its personalities like the repeat-offender crew of Fong, Pierce and Mitchell make it reasonably worthwhile.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

1/08/2011

Raw Deal (1986)

Raw Deal (1986)-* * *1\2

Directed by: John Irvin

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Darren McGavin, Joe Regalbuto, Kathryn Harrold, Sam Wanamaker, Ed Lauter, Steven Hill, and Robert Davi




"NO ONE GIVES HIM A RAW DEAL"








Today we thought we'd revisit an Arnie classic. Sometimes the hustle and bustle of reviewing movies from the direct-to-video world makes you forget that staple action movies such as this came to the theater, and they shouldn't be overlooked.

In this Arnold outing, he plays Mark Kominsky, the sheriff of a small town who always gets his man. He was once an FBI big shot, but was "exiled" to the boondocks. When his former FBI chief Harry Shannon (McGavin) informs him he might have a chance to get back to the Bureau, Harry pays attention. It seems a group of mobsters led by the evil Patrovina (Wanamaker) killed Shannon's son, so he does what any grieving father would naturally do: he gets Arnold Schwarzenegger to go undercover in the organization and get an explosive revenge. And if anyone screams "I fit in perfectly with Italian gangsters" it's clearly the Aryan supergod Schwarzenegger with his thick Austrian accent. It's no wonder Shannon tapped him for the job. (In his defense, he did dye his hair black, so, disguise completed).


While taking down the "strongest of the Chicago families", Kominsky runs into a variety of colorful characters. Baxter (Regalbuto) is the federal prosecutor with mysterious motives, Rocca (Paul Shenar) is the "undertaker" for the mob, Lamanski (Hill), not to be confused with "Kominsky" is a mobster honcho, and it's interesting to see "Adam Schiff" in a totally different type of role than his legendary Law and Order character. While away from his wife (Blanche Baker), Kominsky meets a totally different type of woman, Monique (Harrold), a flashy dame, also with questionable motives. Ed Lauter plays the cop one step behind Kominsky, and last but not least is Comeuppance favorite Robert Davi as Max Keller, a mob enforcer suspicious of Kominsky. I guess Kominsky's "undercover name" of "Joe Brenner" didn't convince him like it did everyone else.


But honestly the star attraction here is unquestionably Schwarzenegger, who when we first meet him is wearing a red and black lumberjack shirt and closely resembles the Brawny paper towel man. He quickly and effortlessly charms the audience with his winning smile (even while chomping a cigar), and also with his classic one-liners like "you should not drink and bake" and "magic? Or...magnet?!!??!!" His deadpan wit makes you see what the writers of The Simpsons must have seen with their "McBain" parodies. There's an immense amount of shooting, but it's all good clean fun, really.


And, as opposed to some of its imitators, Raw Deal has impressive widescreen photography and a cool score. Some of the pop songs it uses are interesting too, such as The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction", which must have cost the filmmakers a pretty penny to use, as well as lesser-known gems like Pamela Stanley's "If Looks Could Kill". Add some humor into the mix, and it all adds up to classic 80's entertainment.

As you probably already know, Raw Deal is foundational for your knowledge of American action films and is a true classic of the genre. If you haven't seen it yet, don't hesitate.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

1/04/2011

Nightmare At Noon (1988)

Nightmare At Noon (1988)-* *1\2


Directed by: Nico Mastorakis

Starring: Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, Kimberley Beck, Brion James, and George Kennedy












When a mysterious man simply known as "The Albino" (James) decides the best place to try an experiment putting toxins in the water supply is the small town of Canyonland, Utah, all hell breaks loose. Normally-friendly citizens wig out, get extremely violent, and bleed green blood. All this is unbeknownst to entertainment lawyer Ken Griffiths (Wings) and his wife Cheri (Beck), who are traveling through the town in their RV. They stop to pick up the loner Reilly (Hopkins) and when they see the chaos in Canyonland, they decide to fight back. Aiding them is Sheriff Hanks (Kennedy). Will our heroes be able to put an end to the insanity?


The first thing you'll notice about Nightmare at Noon is its killer cast. It's pretty much a B-movie dream come true. However, we weren't totally convinced that it was being used to its full potential. Wings' personality should have shone through more, Kennedy is barely involved, and there isn't a lot of meat to Hopkins' laconic tough-guy. Neal Wheeler as Charley, the first victim, is reminiscent of the notorious cover for the Super Nintendo game "Phalanx". Brion James says literally nothing, but is somewhat intriguing as the main villain (backed up by his goons labeled APE, or, the "Agency for the Protection of the Environment"). He mainly looks through binoculars for most of his screen time. If you've ever wanted to know what it would be like if Johnny or Edgar Winter created small-town zombies in a Western setting that spew Nickelodeon-style Gak, here you go.


What director Mastorakis seemed to be aiming for is evident right in the title. "Nightmare" representing the horror aspect of the film, seemingly influenced by I Drink Your Blood (1970) and The Crazies (1973), as well as any number of zombie films, and "At Noon", representing the Western movie aspect. In fact, the characters even pass a movie marquee showing that High Noon (1952) is playing, and the final chase is taken from innumerable Western films.


A hybrid of this type is a worthy idea, but honestly it needed more blood, gore and nudity to rise to the level of an exploitation classic. It does have plenty of action movie-style thrills such as car blow-ups, stunts and much shooting, but it's hard to say if it all exactly fits. A lot of the elements were there, but not all. It's clear here that the golden 80's were ending, and the less-edgy 90's was on the horizon.
 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

1/01/2011

Dance Or Die (1987)

Dance Or Die (1987)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Richard W. Munchkin

Starring: Roy Kieffer, Rebecca Barrington, and Will Cavanaugh













If you are lucky enough to find a copy of Dance or Die, and you read the first sentence on the back of the VHS box, you will see this (and I quote): "Jason Chandler wants just two things in life: to stay off drugs, and to choreograph a dance show that rivals Flashdance." If that doesn't make you want to immediately see the film, there is clearly something wrong with you.

The aforementioned Chandler (Kieffer) is a skinny, whiny, effeminate bean pole of a man who is putting his dance troupe through its paces - literally. He lives in Las Vegas and loves to just cruise around aimlessly (a pretty significant portion of the film's running time). He shares an apartment with his buddy Alan, who is a cocaine dealer. This presents a problem for Jason as he is a recovering addict. They're the original odd couple! Why a sitcom spinoff of Dance or Die never materialized, I don't know. One day while Jason is out spandex-ing it up with his troupe, some baddies come in and shoot up his apartment, killing everyone at a backyard barbecue. They even destroyed the inexplicable outdoor fish tank in the middle of the lawn. Realizing they missed Jason in their killing spree, now they are after him. They think he has the coke, or some information, or something. Also the main evil bad guy is named "Turtle".

Another big part of Jason's day is going to his NA meetings. His sponsor is a woman named Kay, and she and Jason have a very, let's just say, dramatic relationship. Jason also has a romantic relationship with Diane (Barrington), but what is she hiding, if anything? Plus Jason is plagued with nightmares about all his troubles - dancing, drugs, the women in his life, the gangsters that are after him, dancing, etc. So he calls in a psychic who looks exactly like Francis Ford Coppola to help sort out his problems in life. Will Jason Chandler be able to jazz hands and spirit fingers his way out of this one?

We originally tracked down this movie because it was directed by Richard Munchkin, of Ring of Fire (1991), Fists of Iron (1995) and Deadly Bet (1992) fame, and it was released by City Lights, the pre-PM company of Pepin and Merhi. Also we try to watch 80's dance movies whenever possible. So this seemed like a winner all around, and we turned out to be right. The absurd outfits, funny music (that plays at ALL times throughout the movie) and wacky dream sequences are worth the money alone.

Yes, there is some choppy editing, it has a cheap video look, and some of the non-acting is not especially convincing, but come on. It was Munchkin's first film. Cut the guy a break. Besides, the movie's highly-entertaining strengths far, far outweigh some minor technical drawbacks. Speaking of which, why Munchkin chose "Roy Kieffer" to be the main hero is puzzling. He's not likable, we know nothing about him (or Jason Chandler, heh heh), in the film he says he's 26 years old but he looks 46, and about halfway through the film, it's like he snaps and just screams and yells at everybody. It seems like he's trying to emulate James Woods, but he's so wimpy it falls painfully short. As if to prove this "fierce and fabulous" dance instructor is totally hetero, for some unknown reason, Rebecca Barrington shows up as his "girlfriend". There's even an utterly unnecessary and unconvincing (I wonder why...?) sex scene between them. Listen, we couldn't care less if he's gay. But that the movie tried so hard to convince us otherwise, for no reason at all, is absolutely hilarious.

As scenes of dancing and dying are intercut in various scenes throughout the film, perhaps Munchkin was trying to give the audience a lesson in the dichotomy of life and death. Sorry that was so pretentious, but the movie does live up to its title. As this great movie ends with Jason Chandler playing some video poker and running into an Eskimo on the streets of Vegas that makes him question the direction of his life, Dance or Die can only be described as an existential film. You will be talking about the "open ending" for weeks to come.

Featuring a notable title song by Pattie Kelly, we heartily recommend Dance or Die.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty