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BLACK THUNDER

New Horizons

Slogan: The World’s Most Powerful Jet Fighter Is in Enemy Hands. Only One Man Can Steal It Back.

It’s been said that no one sets out to make a bad film. Or do they? This Tom Clancy-style thriller about a stolen Stealth plane was written by ace scribe William C. Martell. Martell has had 17 scripts produced and has just published The Secrets of Action Screenwriting: From Popeye Points to Rug Pulls, a collection of wise and witty advice for creating quality movies about stuff that blows up. (Full disclosure: The author quotes my review of one of his films on the jacket. This qualifies me for a free copy. Thanks, Bill!) While the thoughtful Martell sets out with quality, even wit, in mind, he does, after all, work in the direct-to-video market. It’s a brutal combination, because Thunder is ultimately “A Rick Jacobson Film.” Posting in the Screenwriting Forum on Compuserve, Martell wrote about “Losing the Good Fight” in the making of Black Thunder:

One element in the…script I fought like hell to keep were the “exotica” reveals. I told the director [that] keeping this element was the single most important thing to me….Everything else I would change if I could keep that. It was in the final script, but isn’t in the film.

When the hero [pudgeball Michael Dudikoff] is introduced, he has a photo of himself and his mentor [amiable Aussie Richard Norton]. The sidekick is the hero’s rival, and there’s some backstory between them, but it isn’t revealed…until the sidekick is captured, and we see that he has a photo of himself and the mentor. Now we know that hero and sidekick were fighting for the approval of the same father-figure [who has a-ha! turned to the dark side].

By the end of the film, the hero and sidekick have learned to work together, and we see…the photo: hero on one side of the mentor, sidekick on the other. The hero and sidekick carry the SAME PHOTO, just cropped differently. Now we know that the hero and sidekick used to be like BROTHERS. The idea was to create a backstory mystery and solve it in the LAST SHOT OF THE FILM! To leave the audience with this big emotional punchline at the end of the film…the key that explains all of the relationships revealing [Black Thunder] to be the Stealth-fighter-plane version of East Of Eden.

So while Martell was guided by visions of Elia Kazan and John Steinbeck, others were more self-involved. For instance, Martell wrote a revealing character line wherein the hero mockingly calls the sidekick a “skydiver” (because he bails at the first sign of trouble). When, in Martell’s script, the sidekick screws up and gets caught, the evil Arab villains ask where his plane is. He responds: “Don’t have one. I’m just a skydiver.” “REALIZING,” Martell writes emphatically, “he’s a screw-up. ADMITTING it to himself. (It’s the first step in this character taking responsibility.) The line’s in the film, but the emphasis is on the wrong words.” True—the oafish actor thinks the line is a boast. “Plus,” moans Martell, “the director has staged the scene so that the sidekick DIDN’T screw up, just gets caught.”

For these crimes against writers, and because they used the same explosion scene twice, we say, verily, EJECT.

SUB DOWN

Trimark

Slogan: Take the Dive

But directors don’t always get their way, either, proof being that this is one of those rare and delightful “Alan Smithee” films. That’s the credit applied when a director removes his name from a movie. Why this tale of undersea disaster sparked such drastic measures is a mystery. The direction is not embarrassing. There are lovely vistas of icebergs from above and below. The stars are credible enough Tom Conti, Gabrielle Anwar, Chris Mulkey, and one of those Baldwins. Maybe “Smithee” didn’t like the script, which spends more time discussing Edmund Lutwak’s economic philosophy than do most underwater adventures. Then there’s the fact that the hippie iconoclast single-handedly saves the day while a sub full of trained, competent military men sit around and…wait. Maybe “Alan” objected to the closing power ballad, “Let Your Mama Show You Around.” Whatever that means. All Alan Smithee films earn my highest praise: PLAY.

HOT BLOODED

MTI Video

Slogan: She’s Tough, Sexy, and Out of Control

Actors may take their names off a film, but their breasts remain. The box, the ads, and my photographic memory of her perky curvaceousness from previous DTV efforts all say that Kari Wuhrer is in this film. The opening credits read “Kari Salin.” If the ex-videotrix was unhappy playing a toe-sucking, whip-cracking whore, she might have raised objections while reading the script. Maybe she balked after filming scenes with a shirtless Burt Young (he’s in surprisingly good shape, but still…). And while her impressive body does much of the storytelling, Kari’s never fully exposed and gets lines like, “You’re not going to pout all day for being an accessory to murder, are you?” Maybe she was upset that this is “A Film

by David Blyth.” FREEZE-FRAME.

ANNA NICOLE SMITH: EXPOSED

Fantasy Home Video

Slogan: Her Fantasies Revealed

“Oh, yeah,” said my friend Pat, the noted cineaste, adding “Oooh, yeahhh.” The object of his appreciation was Anna Nicole Smith, about whose ridiculously bovine charms we disagree. We were taking a break from moving Pat into his swinging new bachelor pad (sunken living room!) to watch the grieving widow work through the sadness caused by the surprising death of her nonagenarian millionaire husband. The plucky gal has found an interesting manner for channeling her sorrow. “Every morning I masturbate,” she says into the camera. After, apparently, calling in the film crew. Make that video crew, for Exposed is shot with unflattering videotape rather than film. But even the softest of soft-focus can’t hide Anna’s enormous tattoos and the bruise on her bosom. “Total biker-bar mentality,” snorted Pat with disgust when the desecration became apparent. Others helping Anna “explore erotica” also sported curious welts on their bodies. Pat was so dispirited by the tawdry images that he turned and passed me the remote control. “I’m going to give you the power to fast-forward something I rarely do, especially when she’s involved,” he said, his sad resignation almost too painful to witness. FREEZE-FRAME.

ELVIS MEETS NIXON

Avalanche

Slogan: Truth Is Funnier Than Fiction!

When the cast includes Dick Cavett, Edwin Newman, Graham Nash, Tony Curtis, and Watergate co-conspirator Alexander Butterfield, who gets top billing? Or bottom billing, for that matter. Part re-enactment, part docu-drama, part insanity, this docu-enactment draws an interesting parallel between Elvis and Nixon and the Beatles and Kennedy. E and N are both Capricorns, for one thing. Padded to 103 minutes, the film demands admiration for the nerve of this line: “If it didn’t happen exactly as you’re about to see it should have.” PAUSE.

RUNNING WOMAN

New Horizons

Slogan: Finding the Truth Can Be a Race Against Time.

“She looks pretty good for her age,” said my friend Bill, the noted glamour photographer, about star Theresa Russell, a favorite of ours (and not only because of her liberal nudity policy). “But,” he added, “she’s definitely turned a corner.” That she has, and so the shower scene was perfunctory and chaste. But Terry has serious work to do here as she fights and runs to clear her name after being framed for the death of her son. It should also be noted that Ms. Russell is several years younger than both Bill and I. And neither of us would win any Burt Young Shirtless Competitions. PAUSE.

YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN: Every month, more tapes come in to the elegantly appointed Videocrity offices than can ever be viewed in full. Or should be. Therefore, I have enlisted the help of my new top assistant, Linda Collins (not her real name) of Bethesda, Md. (not her real address), to wade through the morass. The following films have been judged based exclusively on box art, liner notes, and a quick scan of the trailer that is included on most screening copies. In other words, this column is leaving you even more adrift on the video seas than usual. You’re welcome.

LAST BREATH

A-Pix

Slogan: He Left Her Breathless.

Luke Perry’s girlfriend needs an organ donated, so Luke gets a new girlfriend to use for parts. The process apparently involves hitting F3.

SERIAL BOMBER

A-Pix

Slogan: He’s at War With a City.

“If your customers like The Devil’s Own, Blown Away, and Face/Off, they’ll be blown away by this fast-paced action thriller.” Looks very fast-paced to me. And once again, Lori Petty looks really stressed.

LIVING IN PERIL

New Line

Slogan: Trapped in a Deadly Game, He Has Only Two Choices…Play…or Die.

Rob Lowe covered with rats. Gotta love it. James Belushi smoking cigars. Gotta not love it.

THE KILLING GROUNDS

A-Pix

Slogan: Cold Blooded Murder

“If your customers liked The Edge and The River Wild, then The Killing Grounds is one movie you don’t want to miss!” Unless you want to miss Anthony Michael Hall and Charles Rocket. Charles has somehow turned himself into the action-figure version of Steve Austin vaguely humanoid, but far short of being a six-million-dollar man. For reports on the many good works that Mr. Hall is doing for people unfortunate enough not to be movie stars, you may go to hallofmirrors.com. Keep plenty of Pepto-Bismol close by.

WATCHERS: REBORN

New Horizons

Slogan: Driven by Instinct…Destined for Murder.

“He is psychically linked to the outsider.” “He” is a dog. The outsider is a killer Wookie. The dog’s partner is Mark Hamill, a long, long time and far, far away from young Luke.

FEMALIEN 2: THE SEARCH

FOR KARA

Surrender Cinema

“After completing her erotic assignment on Earth exploring human pleasure, the beautiful alien Kara has decided to stay a while. Unfortunately, she didn’t clear her extended trip with the home planet. Two more ‘Femaliens’ have been dispatched to bring Kara back, but they are about to do a little ‘exploring’ of their own. They’re hot on Kara’s tail, but the two gorgeous space trackers have found a much more stimulating mission along the way!” Starring Summer Leeds and Debra Summers.

Next month: Hamfest ’98!