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WELCOME TO PLANET EARTH
Been waiting for the comic version of Taxi Driver? Of course not, but here it is anyway, with Cheers’ George Wendt as a cheerful Travis Bickle, visiting from the stars to wreak vengeance upon Earthly scum. This he does to teach his busty daughter something about violence, of which there is none on his world. Put aside the fact that George seems to be quite expert at violence himself, that the ‘hood he prowls is populated largely with well-scrubbed, white, Actors Equity crackheads, that Wendt and his alien wife are for some reason decked out Leave It to Beaver-style, and that they ham it up as if they are guest-hosting Pee-wee’s Playhouse. No, the blatant entrapment of said lowlifes is so extreme that you want to shout, “Hey, they may be scumbags, but they’re our scumbags, so just get the hell back to your own damn planet!” EJECT.
Frank Zagarino is the alienvery Übermensch-y in a blond Grace Jones ‘dobut he does most of the chasing, so I’m not sure what the title means. The opening sets an intriguing mood, but the voodoo becomes voodon’t real quick. I mean, this RoboTerminator has been buried in an underground crypt for centurieswhy, as soon as he’s revived in sunny South Africa, does he need to steal a raincoat? Answer: ’cause it looks cool when he’s back-lit. Every scene is motivated by coolness instead of coherence. Which means that watching this, “A Mark Roper Film,” is like reading a comic book that is missing framesnothing hangs together. There’s one neat stunt and a nice, spooky finale, but even though it’s set in Africa there’s still no excuse for upholding the “Black Guy Dies First” rule. EJECT.
NOT LIKE US
It’s the Greaseman! Could this be Douglas Tracht’s feature debut? If so, he chose an appropriately second-rate vehicle. Doug gets two inconsequential lines and a minuscule reaction shot. Clint Howard and Paul Bartel have more screen time, though to equally unavailing effect. “Hero” Joanna Pacula seems most not like us with her indeterminate accent. This Roger Corman-produced piffle plays horror for chuckles while still expecting the gore to have some impact. It doesn’t, thanks also to the intrusive and inappropriate music, which sounds as if it came from an underproduced ’60s kids show. I’m going to give away the ending because it’s so amazingly stupid: The reason the Strange New Couple in Town are kidnapping people and chopping them up is because they come from a planet where plastic surgery is the highest art form and they need to practice. Don’t even think about it; just move along. EJECT.
BACK TO BACK
With an Elvis-obsessed Yakuza hitman and cameos by Tim Thomerson, Stephen “Flounder” Furst, Fred Willard, Jake Johannsen, Vincent Schiavelli (who didn’t require makeup to become an alien in Buckaroo Banzai), and Bobcat Goldthwait, (who blows up real good), you might think you’re in Quentin Quirktown, but this is Tarantino with ballsit doesn’t play violence for laughs, and its gun lust is at the service of an almost-justified vigilantism. Michael Rooker usually plays evil psychos. Here, he gets to bulge his neck veins as a frustrated Dad, decent guy, and wrongly disgraced detective forced to side with the Yakuza against the Mafia and, of course, crooked cops. The mark of this film’s class is that scenes in a topless joint do not feature toplessness. Best of all, misterioso Elvis impersonator Orion sings the end theme! PLAY.
NO WAY BACK
It’s Yakuza vs. Mafia again in “A Frank Capello Film.” Hair-metal-video art direction, swirly camera work, and a whole lot of wrecked cars disguise some casually immoral killing, but the plot twists enough to keep the finger from the fast-forward button. And Russell Crowe, Helen Slater, and Michael Lerner act as if they expected this to wind up in theaters. I worry that poor Helen is too far beyond her Supergirl glory to ever fly on big screens again. I need to have a talk with her. And now that Michael Rooker is going straight, I want to see more of bug-eyed bad guy Kristopher Loganscary, scary. PAUSE.
BACK OF BEYOND
I grant points for saying the name of the movie in the movie. And points for playing Lee Michaels’ obscure “Do You Know What I Mean?” on the jukebox. But maybe scenes of the Australian Outback would be more fun to watch in freezing February. In the July heat, the sluggish pace seems even longer. Strictly Ballroom’s Paul Mercurio and Mr. Reliable’s Colin Friels spend a lot of time avoiding a confrontation, while a group of disparate characters gathered in an abandoned diner/garage spout meaningful lines like, “Don’t be afraid of what you are,” and yaketa-yaketa-blah-blah until the Twilight Zone ending. I wouldn’t have submitted this for Rod Serling’s approval, but next time it snows, Beyond might give you PAUSE.
SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK…AGAIN
I missed it when “they” came back the first time, and the crusty old priest’s explanations don’t quite explain anything. But this is Stephen King-derived potboilermeaning cabalistic Sabbaths, subterranean blood pools, and dickless demons (well, they panned all the way down, so I had to lookand it wasn’t there! Call the art department). Michael Gross is quietly becoming a DTV stalwart, and he shaved his beard for this role as a man trying to settle a long undead score, or a score with the undead. Anyway, it’s nice to see Gabriel Dell Jr. following in his father’s footsteps. Dad was a founding Bowery Boy and member of Steve Allen’s original Tonight Show gang. I’m sure he’s proud that his son is upholding family tradition by playing a complete idiot. The lead villain, another Arquette, resembles a feral Jerry Seinfeld so closely that when he comes back again again (as is suggested), I hope he brings George and Kramer with him. That’s the only way I’ll watch it…again. EJECT.
Next month: Naked rock stars!
BULK ERASE: Don’t get this tape near your VCR.
EJECT: Major time-waster.
PAUSE: Worth part of your time.
FREEZE-FRAME: Some scenes suggested for mature audiences.
PLAY: OK, but not necessarily synonymous with “good.”