Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Cheap Arse Film Review #16- "TOUGH & DEADLY."









PRICE: £1.00

I have two great loves in my life- cinema, and professional wrestling, both of which took root in my childhood. The first movie I ever went to see was either "Tranformers: The Movie," or "An American Tale," in this old cinema in Romford that is now sadly a nightclub. My family always made a big deal of going to the movies together, which is why when my Dad asks me if I fancy going to see with him and my Mum, I'll still very often say yes, even at the age of 26. My first wrestling-related memory isn't even of anybody wrestling, it's of Hillbilly Jim, this shirtless, overalls-wearing hick, and "Mean" Gene Okerland, a bald man with a killer mustache and a suit, standing in front of a wall of TVs, recapping the week's events in the World Wrestling Federation. They were the strangest pairing I had ever laid eyes on in all my six years on this planet. I was immediately transfixed, and a lifelong obsession had begun. Soon everything I had was wrestling related- I had the toys, I subscribed to the magazines and comics, owned replica title belts, everything in my bedroow was covered by images of gurning men, from my wallpaper to my curtains to my bedsheets. I attended live shows with my family. I watched The British Bulldog (RIP) win a battle royal in the Royal Albert Hall and got so excited I ran out of the booth we were sitting in and collided with another boy, splitting my lip open and spending the entire train journey home holding a Hulk Hogan bandana full of ice on it (probably should have had stitches in that. Still got a scar there to this day, which I can sometimes be seen absent-mindedly chewing on). I also attended "WrestleMania XX" with my Dad nearly five years ago now, travelling to New York, sitting in the crowd at Madison Square Garden (which if you're a wrestling fan is pretty much Mecca), watching Eddie Guerrero (RIP) retain his WWE Title, and Chris Benoit (RIP... anyone noticing a theme here?) win the World Heavyweight Title, and then embrace Guerrero, his real life best friend, as they both stood in the middle of the ring with belts people told them they would never hold, confetti and fireworks going off around them. It was one of my favourite memories, but recent events have seen it become somewhat... tainted.

So yes, I do get rather excited when these two worlds collide. I'm giddy like a school girl at a Westlife concert about seeing "The Wrestler," and am elated at Mickey Rouke picking up the Golden Globe for Best Actor. I only hope he turns the momentum into Oscars success too, and that when he gets off stage he grabs Sean Penn by the scruff of his neck, bends him over and then violently sodomises him with the award, as half the crowd gasps and the other half cheers (I really don't like Sean Penn. Is it obvious?). And back when I was a kid, it was a different level of hysteria altogether. As a confirmed Hulkamaniac (something I still am a bit today, even though I'm now what they call a quote-unquote "Smart" fan and should consider Hogan The Devil), I had to see every movie Hulk Hogan was in. My tiny mind couldn't figure out why he wasn't in everything. I saw "Suburban Commando," (which also had The Undertaker in it, with the... voice of a... small child...) and "Mr. Nanny," in cineams, and considered them masterpieces. Of course, looking back on them now, I realise they... weren't. But I still have a fondness for them, and also "No Holds Barred," which I missed theatrically, but later watched on video. To this day I associate Tiny Lister completely with the part he played in that film. Even when he popped up in "The Dark Knight," for a brief cameo, I wanted to scream, "ZEUS!!!!!"

I wasn't that familiar with the films of Roddy Piper, though. The only one I can remember watching as a boy was "Body Slam," which also featured Dirk Benedict and "Captain" Lou Albano. Even though I've not seen it yet, let's just say I can pretty safely assume it's not "The Wrestler," in terms of quality or realism. Even back then I remember being fairly underwhelmed by it. But then that was to be expected, right? After all, Roddy Piper was nowhere near the star Hulk Hogan was, so of course his movies weren't going to be as good.

It would take me until I was 19 to see "They Live," for the first time, and my eyes were opened. In this violent, clever, hilarious B-Movie, he was a movie star. Moreso than Hulk Hogan ever was. If you go back and watch his movies now, Hogan has the look of a deer in the headlights, The World's most famous wrestler finding out, to his horror, just how little that meant when the director called action. Piper, on the other hand, was a charismatic, cocky son-of-a-gun, who may have rivalled even Bruce Campbell with his ability to take even the silliest lines and turn them into catchphrases. As a man, he was also far more interesting than Hogan ever was, a hard drinking, harder partying Canadian with a healthy interest in the white stuff. There are many stories out there about him, but my favourite has to be the one Ric Flair recounts in his autobiography, of the time Piper got paid for a show with a spittoon full of cocaine that he spent the entire car journey back to the hotel shoving his face into like some kilt-wearing Tony Montana.

He should have been a star. It should have saved him from the wrestling industry, which he loved as many do, only to have that love repaid with a body that has been utterly smashed to shit, as many have (he continued to wrestle regularly for years with an artificial hip). At the absolute least, he should have had the kind of career Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson now enjoys, that being the best thing in bad movies (a streak he recently broke with "Get Smart," where he fell behind Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway and Bill Murray cameoing as the guy in the tree nobody wanted to talk to, to be the forth best thing in an actually pretty good movie). But instead he had to make do with movies like this.

Before I get into the meat of this, I want to first comment on the title of this thing. Basically, I think it's amazing. At first I thought it sounded like a joke, like some parody of an action movie. I wouldn't have been surprised to find out it co-starred McBain. But now I've lived with it a bit, I have a higher appreciation for it, because it's unpretensious, totally without bullshit, an action movie boiled down to it's very essence. If it were a cologne, it would probably smell like a mix of blood, sweat, gun powder, cocaine and both male and female sexual fluids. I'd wear it. Fuck, I'd bathe in it.

This horrible and annoying keyboard score kicks in, and then the movie's off, treating us to some aerial shots of a road near a stretch of water, before we settle on what looks to be an old Jaguar driving along said stretch of road. I have no idea where this is supposed to be taking place. I don't think it's supposed to be America though. The car eventually pulls up outside a mansion, and out of it steps a large black man with a buzzcut, wearing a trenchcoat. This is John Portland. Actually, it's not John Portland, at least not at this point, at this point he has another name and goes by the codename Quicksilver, only be given the name John Portland when Roddy Piper's character, Elmo Freech, throws a dartboard into a map of the United States. But he's called John Portland on the box, and the credits have him listed as just "John Portman," so I'm going to call him John Portman. He's played by Billy Blanks, seven-time Karate world champion and a legitimately hard bastard who most people will have the best chance knowing from his range of Tae Bo workout videos. There was a period of my life when I was pretty obsessed with Tae Bo, and would tell people that Billy Blanks was going to reshape my body from the pale, flabby monstrosity it had become into one a Greek God would be proud to own. Then I hurt my leg a bit doing one of the kicks and never watched any of his videos again.

No sooner does he enter the mansion and sit down to talk to the person who lives there, who claims to have information Portman's might want to know about, than the residence is set upon by a group of about four people who seem to be dressed like pool cleaners. At first I thought they were the good guys, but then the second they get inside the place they start randomly shooting people in the head, including a woman just sitting at a table reading a book, which doesn't seem like a very heroic thing to do. They drill through one of the floors to use a camera to see if Portland and friend are in the main room, which they are, and I can't help but think that's alot of needless work. I also refuse to believe neither of them heard a bloody drill coming through the ceiling. They try to knock out Portland with a dart and fail, the other poor guy gets a bullet in the head like everybody else, and then we're into the first fight scene on the film.

And it's one of the worst fight scenes I've ever seen.

This really isn't the fault of any of the actors or stuntmen. They do there bit well, but the shooting, sound effects and especially the editing of this scene just kills it. Blows very obviously don't land, there's horribly cheesy "THWACK!" sound effects, and there are just seemingly random cuts thrown in, and I don't mean in and MTV, ADD kind of way, I mean someone will go to throw a punch or a kick, then there'll be a jump-cut and the punch will have landed without us seeing it. It's a cliche, but it really does look like somebody was let loose on this with a pair of blunt scissors. It happens in other fights too, I'll mention them when we come to them. The only explaination I can think of is that these cuts were made to make the BBFC happy when the movie was brought over here for classification, and because it wasn't going to be a blockbuster or anything, people just hacked stuff away without any care and shoved it out. I can't imagine even a movie of this level doing something like that intentionally. So all this is going on, somebody gets kicked over a balconey in slooooooow moooooootion, until finally somebody gets a dart in Portland and they all beat the shit out of him, dragging away his limp body, because for some reason he needs to be brought in alive.

And then suddenly the film comes alive, because finally Roddy Piper appears. It's not like his scenes are any better written or directed than any of the others, but there's alot to be said for star power, and when he's on-screen, boom, star. You're still having shit flung at you, it's just not being thrown with as much force. We discover he's a former-cop-turned-private-investigator when he tries to bring in a large man named Tiny (fiction in general never gets tired of this joke, does it? "Hey, this guys fat/thin/tall/short! Let's call him "Skinny!"/"Tubby!"/"Stubby!"/"Stretch!"), who he finds in some apartment with another dude, doing drugs and watching a show with a guy in a chicken suit in it, as a woman in her underwear lies on the bed seemingly ignored and unfulfilled. Other than the other guy and the drugs, I can totally relate to this. Tiny decides he doesn't want to go quietly, and then there's another fight scene (the second in just under nine minutes) and while I wouldn't call it good, at least it's not affected by the editing problems that blighted the last one. My favourite part is when Piper gives the other dude a two-handed chokeslam onto the bed as if we're expected to believe this will hurt. They somehow end up on the roof of the building, and Elmo bitch slap's Tiny's friend off the side of the building with he falls into an empty swimming pool in slooooooow moooooootion. The police then show up to pick up Tiny, and nobody really seems that concerned with surely dead gentleman, all they do is trade snide comments with Elmo.

We then return to Portland's plight, to see his beaten up body is transported somewhere by car for questioning. Sat next to him is a man administering drugs to him to keep him sedated. "He'll be asleep for a long time," he says, and before he's even really finished that last word, Portland headbutts him in the face and we're in yet another fight scene (third in 13 minutes). Its not really much of one, because there's only really so much you can do in such a cramped space and HOLY SHIT PORTLAND JUST KICKED A DUDE THROUGH THE WINDSCREEN WHO THEN GOT RUN OVER BY THE CAR! Okay, I'll give it to them, that was great. It does call into question my theory for all the edits earlier though. I mean, if I was right about the BBFC, wouldn't this be one of the first things to go? I can see a man thrown through glass and left as roadkill, but I can't see someone throw a punch? Also the dude went through the glass in slooooooow moooooootion. Everytime someone dies this seems happens. Watching this movie is like playing "Fallout 3."

The car crashes, and everyone dies, except Portland, who's left a bloody heap. He's discovered by a bus driver and taken to hospital, where he's discovered by Elmo, who instantly takes an unusual interest in him. They at least give a reason for this to begin with, that he thinks there might be some money in it for him if he turns out to be a missing person, but when nothing turns up on him, Elmo still sticks around, protecting him from another hit (by throwing the guy out the window in slooooooow moooooootion) and having him hide out in his apartment. And the only reason we're given for this is that, well, that's the plot. We also get the first of a couple of scenes set at the main offices of the CIA, who it turns out Portland works for. These consist of people sitting at a very long table, in a room that seems to be some kind of light vacuum, as all around them is darkness. Maybe they've vampires. CIA Vampires intent on protecting the World so they'll always have a fresh supply of blood on hand. Actually, I'm going to write that down, that's a pretty good idea. Nobody nick it. It's in these scenes that it's established that Portman is almost impossible to track, as he no longer officially exists after he nearly died on a field mission after taking a shotgun blast at point-blank range. Okay, I'll buy alot in movies like this, but I'm not buying that. I refuse to believe that even in a movie called "Tough & Deadly," could a man take that and live. He wouldn't be intact, let alone alive.

So Elmo and Portland become instant best friend, with Elmo bringing him to his place of work, introducing him to his assistant/secretary Mo, and deciding to help him heal up. His idea of healing up doesn't involve letting Portland rest up though, no. Instead, we're treated to a training montage! I can't believe this movie was released in 1995, it's so eighties. They run, do push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups. It's really just an excuse for Billy Blank to show how in-shape and bendy he is, but I'll give it to Roddy Piper, he's cut. He was never really one of those wrestlers who had an amazing physique, but here he looks great. He obviously didn't want to be shown up and put the hours in at the gym. Then, suddenly, Portland is working for Elmo, helping him bring guys in, starting with some drug trafficker. They go to a bar to find him, ony for Portland to piss off a truly wild-eyed dude with long hair in a cowboy hat by accidently knocking his beer over his girlfriend. This leads to (say it with me, children) another fight scene, one that's edited even worse that the one right at the beginning. There's a point where Portland is thrown over the bar, only for hi do jump back over the bar, seemingly about to throw a kick and... suddenly he's standing on the ground and the other guy is selling a blow we never saw land. At the very least everybody fell down in real time.

The next day, Elmo asks Portland to show him some of his newly-discovered fighting skills. At first he's reluctant to, but Elmo talks him into it, there's a misunderstanding, that then we have another fight scene. Well, it's not really a fight scene, it mostly consists of Blanks and Piper falling in and out of shot, presumably after taking blows off-camera. What I like to imagine happened before they filmed this was Roddy made it clear that he wasn't down with taking that kung-fu shit, and this was the best compromise they could come up with. The cheapness of the whole production is exposed here too, because not only do some walls wobble when they crash into them, but Elmo also falls into a radiator, and it's immediately noticable that, not only is it not attached to the wall, or even made out of metal for that matter, but it also seems to come in two parts. After their horseplay, they follow up a new lead on the guy they were looking for the night before, this time taking them to a pool hall, where yet another fight scene breaks out. I've properly lost count of how many there have been at this point, and we're not even halfway through. There's also more shitty editing. This time we're not allowed to see a pool ball thrown by Portland collide with someone's head. Anyway, they find there, and the guy Elmo'd been fighting with only seconds ago stands up as if nothing happened and informs him that "Mr. Milan ain't gonna like you busting one of his family like that." Thank you very much for coming back from your severe beating to drop a name that's sure to be important in a little while, strangely camp thug.

Infact, it's going to be important right this second, because in the very next scene we meet Milan, discover that the guy they just picked up is his nephew (even though the guy from the previous scene actually looks older tha this guy, at least to my eyes), and sends a couple of boys to administer some "dental work" to Elmo. The thugs turn up in Elmo's office, and... you know. Elmo disposes of them quickly, shooting one in the knee, the other in the foot, kneeing him in the face, and then we get another horrible edit- this time he's holding the guy as if he's going to punch him, and then the next second the guy's staggering backwards as if he were drunk. Hell, that's all I have to go on. It's not like I actually saw anything done to him. We then find out the men Elmo and Portland have pissed off are the same men who had Portland beaten at the beginning of the film, and that they also have people within the CIA, who are now actively trying to kill both of them.

Portland and Elmo discover someone spying on them as they head out of Elmo's apartment for somewhere a little bit safer. Elmo appears to be in trouble for a second, until Portland FLIES IN OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE WITH A BODY SCISSORS! It's not cool on the same level as kicking a man under the wheels of a car he was riding in is, but it is cool. They don't get anything out of the guy, but they note that he didn't fight like one of Milan's guys, so he must have ties with someone else. They reach Elmo's friend's place, where for some reason they seem to think the coast is clear. The guy eve says, "Peaceful here, isn't it?" He may as well have heard a twig snap and said, "I'll go and check that out," because he ends up dead about a minute later when the bad guys unload a machine gun into the house. Portland makes the guys think he's dead so he can get the drop on them, taking them all out single-handedly taking the last guy out by kicking him through a window in slooooooow moooooootion, and then off a balconey (lots of balconies in this movie...) in slooooooow moooooootion. I have no idea where Elmo was during all this, or why he doesn't seem too upset that his good friend is now dead when we finally see him again. All I know is they now end up on the doorstep of his assistant, Mo. "Guys," she tells them, "I am really tired. One of you is gonna have to watch."


"Guys, I am really tired. One of you is gonna have to watch."


"Guys, I am really tired. One of you is gonna have to watch."

... Speechless.

So the rest of the movie is them now taking on the might f the drug runners and the corrupt forces within the CIA, as John starts to slowly regain his memories. They use Milan's phone records to discover Milan has been calling an old army base and a number in Washington (the number is 555-0000, if you need any more proof of how litle effort was put into this script). They go to one of Milan's warehouses, where more fights happen, and Piper gets to pull off the obligatory wrestling move all wrestlers have to do when in movies like this by body slamming someone. Milan slips away during all this. Do they follow hot on his heels? No, they go back to Mo's apartment and nearly come to blows over music. You see, Elmo wants to listen to a country CD, whilst Portman wants to listen to a rap one. Isn't that funny? A black man and a white man both like two totally different types of music!

Fuck this movie.

Eventually John remembers everything, and this leads to one last big battle at the CIA army depot that was listed amongst Milan's phone records. He heads out alone, and predictably he's captured, but overwhelms his guard with both his hands in cuffs. I think he may also kill one of them with his chair, as he lifts it into the air with a dramatic flourish and starts to bring it down in slooooooow moooooootion, before we very abruptly cut to a shot of Elmo's car pulling up after he's realised where Portland's gone. He sneaks up on one of the bad guys and...

... puts him to sleep with a Sleeper Hold. I've... never experienced anything like this before. I'm literally so happy at what I've just seen that I'm actually afraid to express that happiness, lest I do something silly like run out into the street naked reciting passages from The Bible in song.

Portland goes fucking Terminator on everone, taking them all out with fists and feet and guns even though he's been shot, discovering how Milan is working with the CIA to smuggle drugs into the country on military flights, and that he was taken out after he discovered this. There's some more fighting, Portman looks like he's about to be killed, before the good CIA show up. The bad guys are taken down, Portland has his memories and his job back, Elmo, who stopped seemingly the only small truck full of drugs there was on the site, that also happened to have the drug lord himself riding shotgun, is told he'll be nicely financially compensated for helping out, and they finally take Portman to the hospital. The End.

I don't feel like mincing my words tonight- this movie was awful. It's badly written, badly directed, and features almost universally bad performances, the worst coming from Billy Blanks himself. I really wanted to avoid making any puns based off his last name when talking about his acting abilities, but... there really is nothing there. He's beyond wooden. He barely has anything to say in the whole movie, other than lines that only exist to push the plot along, so I'll give them credit for seemingly realising what they were working with, but he's so bad he can't even do that properly. And the one thing he can do, which is fight, is sabotaged due to him working with a director who doesn't know how to shoot a fight scene, and an editor who doesn't know how to edit. The one good thing about this movie? Roddy Piper, so I guess he was trying to follow The Rock's career model, the only problem being he chose to appear in bigger turds than The Great One ever has.



Oh well, at least I've still got "The Wrestler," to look forward to. I'm going to go see that with my Dad for his Birthday.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and I was frozen today!


jeffrey said...

*GASPS* You forgot to mention "Rocky III" (Hulk Hogan played Thunderlips), the movie that gave him his first break as an actor.

I'd also like to mention I grew up a wrestling fanatic (even remember watching the AWA on ESPN).

I totally agree with you. Piper is a superior actor to Hogan. I think what limits Roddy's performance as an actor is the director of the production. "They Live" directed by John Carpenter is undoubtedly Piper's best performance. Then there's the rest of his films...

I remember watching a bunch of films with Billy Blanks but only remember "King of the Kickboxers" because of the final action scene. It was wicked (from what I remember), but that's all I remember from that film...

I watched "The Wrestler" the first chance I got. Mickey Rourke deserves all the acclaim he's getting.

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

I also think it may have been the fact that his first role was in a B-Movie, even a superior one like "They Live," that foiled his chances, as I think people quickly got it into their minds that he was only suitable for those kind of roles.

jeffrey said...

Was "They Live" really his first film role? I thought "Body Slam" was his first?

Anyway, regardless, you make a great point. I don't think any "big Hollywood" producer would cast him for the reasons you have stated.

He's hardly starving though. He has performed as an actor on TV, B-Movies, still pops up every once in awhile in the wrestling world, and continues to do so.

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

You're right, "Body Slam" was his first, bit I think most people don't consider it a serious role because he's a wrestler starring ina wrestling movie. He was also very much the second fiddle to Dirk Benedict.

aylad_tx said...

oddly enough, you've made me want to watch this movie; just to witness the train wreck in person.

Also, the Wrestler is indeed awesome. I was a little concerned during the reconnecting-with-the-daughter scene (not giving away anything beyond what was already in previews), but the movie more than redeemed itself in the end.

I highly recommend it. Excuse me while I now netflix tough&deadly.

LWM said...

Thanks for following LWM, and thanks for doing the people's work. We need help navigating the clearance bin.