Film Review: Coming to America (1988)

Also known as: The Quest (working title)
Release Date: June 26th, 1988 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Eddie Murphy
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Paul Bates, Eriq La Salle, Frankie Faison, Vanessa Bell, Louie Anderson, Allison Dean, Sheila Jackson, Jake Steinfeld, Calvin Lockhart, Samuel L. Jackson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Cuba Gooding Jr., Don Ameche (cameo), Ralph Bellamy (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Do not alert him to my presence. I shall deal with him myself.” – King Jaffe Joffer

I’ve reviewed a lot of films lately that I know inside and out but hadn’t seen in their entirety in well over a decade. This is one of those films and after rewatching it, I realized how much I missed the good feelings that this generates, as well as how infectious Prince Akeem’s optimism is. This is really something that I hope is not lost in the sequel, which comes out in a few months.

At it’s core, this is a modern fairytale romance. While it doesn’t feature magic and mythic creatures, it does feature a great quest that sees its protagonist travel to a strange, foreign land in an effort to find treasure.

This treasure is his true love and in seeking her out, he defies his father, the King of Zamunda, as well as centuries of tradition. But in the end, love conquers all and this film conveys that message so splendidly that I feel like it’s impossible not to adore this motion picture.

Eddie Murphy is at his absolute best in this classic but his performance is maximized by Arsenio Hall, his real life best friend and a guy that plays off of him so perfectly well that it feels like they’ve been a comedy team for years when this is actually, their first movie together.

Beyond the two leads, this film is perfectly cast from top-to-bottom. It’s frankly an all-star cast that features a lot of the top black talent of the time, as well as Louie Anderson in what’s still his most memorable role.

I love the scenes with Murphy and John Amos, as well as the ones with his storyline father, James Earl Jones. Murphy holds his own alongside these legends and this is the one film where he really proves that he is the prime time talent that most assumed he was.

Also, this is the first picture where Murphy, as well as Hall, play multiple characters. This worked so well that it would go on to be a trope in several Eddie Murphy movies in the ’90s and beyond. I can only assume that many of these extra characters will also make their returns in the upcoming sequel. I hope we see the old guys from the barber shop again, even though it’d be shocking if they were still alive 33 years later.

The most important thing that needed to work in this film was the relationship that develops between Akeem and Lisa. It’s a great, simple love story and the two had dynamite chemistry and the emotion of their best scenes shined through, making this a much better picture than it really needed to be.

One thing that really jumps out, that I didn’t notice or appreciate until now, is the music. Nile Rodgers orchestrated an incredible score full of memorable pieces that make certain scenes and sequences, magical. In fact, his King Jaffe Joffer theme is so damn good it’s iconic in my book.

All in all, this is a film where everything went right and I feel as if it exceeded the expectations that even its producers had. John Landis was truly a master of ’80s comedy and this is one great example of how good of a comedic director he was.

As much as I have always loved this movie, I don’t think that I ever had the appreciation that I have for it now. It’s a pretty close to perfect romantic comedy, which is a genre I’m not a massive fan of. But when you make one so great, the genre doesn’t matter and the end result is something that far exceeds the label of “chick flick”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as Eddie Murphy’s ’80s and early ’90s films.

Film Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Release Date: December 14th, 1988
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Based on: Bedtime Story by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, Anton Rodgers, Barbara Harris, Ian McDiarmid, Dana Ivey, Meagen Fay, Frances Conroy, Louis Zorich

Orion Pictures, 110 Minutes, 104 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“His name is – James. No. His name is – James Josephson. Oh, no, no! James Lawrence. Lawrence! Lawrence! Lawrence. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Fings. Forest Lawrenceton. La – Lars. Lars! Lawrence. Lawrence Lacko. Lawrence. His name is James Jessenden. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Jesterton. Lawrence Jesterton.” – Freddy Benson, “Lawrence Jamieson?” – Inspector Andre, “Yes! Yes! Yes! We’re like this!” – Freddy Benson

I remember my mother taking me to see this when I was ten. While it was a bit more adult than what I would’ve been normally interested in, I liked it quite a bit and it only helped solidify Steve Martin as one of my all-time favorite comedic actors. It also introduced me to the greatness of Michael Caine and birthed a fondness and appreciation for the mostly underutilized Glenne Headly.

It’s been years since I’ve revisited this but it’s been in my queue for so long that I felt like a bastard having ignored it.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels holds up incredibly well and even if you know the big plot twist, it’s still worth rewatching, as you can kind of pick up on some clues, here and there.

Martin and Caine have impeccable chemistry and once Headly shows up, things magnify quite a bit. They’re all so good, in fact, that I can’t believe that they never followed this up with a sequel. Maybe it didn’t perform well at the box office, as it came out during the holidays, but it definitely is a movie that developed a pretty solid following from its fans.

It’s also a beautiful looking picture and that’s not just because it is shot in opulent places. The cinematography is wonderful and being that this is only Frank Oz’s second film as a director without Jim Henson at his side, is a really impressive accomplishment. The guy has a great eye and understanding of visual composition.

This is also Oz’s first film where he didn’t work with puppets and animatronics and just filmed living, breathing, human actors.

It doesn’t hurt that the story and the script were very good. Also, having a solid cast that clicks really helped take this to another level. It probably made Oz’s job a lot easier but at the same time, this was his film and he put in the work and got the best out of his talent in front of and behind the camera. With Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he has a lot to be proud of.

Ultimately, this is a movie that I’d say deserves more recognition that it has. While everyone that I know who’s seen it, loves it, it seems to be somewhat forgotten due to Steve Martin movies that performed better and because it came out a long time ago.

Also, comedy just isn’t like this anymore. In fact, for the most part, comedy sucks now. This is a smart, quirky film that is lightyears ahead of the norm in the 2020s but may also be too smart and quirky for modern audiences to enjoy.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Release Date: December 2nd, 1988
Directed by: Robert Towne
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Dave Grusin
Cast: Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kurt Russell, Raul Julia, J. T. Walsh, Gabriel Damon, Ely Pouget, Arliss Howard, 

Cinema City Films, The Mount Company, Warner Bros., 115 Minutes

Review:

“You son of a bitch! How could you do this? Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that’s yours! You can’t choose your family, God damn it – I’ve had to face that! And no man should be judged for whatever direction his dick goes – that’s like blaming a compass for pointing north, for Christ’s sake! Friendship is all we have! We chose each other. How could you fuck it up? How could you make us look so bad?” – Carlos

I remember this movie being a big deal when I was a kid. Not because it was considered to be great but because it was considered to be one of the biggest box office disappointments of the decade. I’m not sure how bad it performed, at least back then, but Tequila Sunrise sort of became a joke due to how bad it apparently floundered and underwhelmed.

I’ve never seen it until now but I had no reservations about checking it out. It features three of my favorite leads, especially from the ’80s, and I like neo-noir-esque crime pictures. This is just one of those movies that slipped way down the memory hole and every few years it’d pop back up somewhere and I’d think, “Man, I really need to watch that.”

Well, it’s far from great but I am glad that I finally saw it. I mostly liked it even though it was riddled with some narrative and pacing issues.

To start, it is a beautiful looking picture with stellar cinematography and even though it’s a modernized noir-styled picture, it still feels majestic and comes across as pristine cinematic art.

A movie needs more than great visuals, though, and this one is hindered by its script or the actual execution of it. Being that the director is the writer, the blame falls squarely on his shoulders.

I just found the simple plot a bit harder to follow than it needed to be. This isn’t a complicated movie but some of it was just off. Plus, there are moments where characters seem to be aware of things they shouldn’t be. Maybe some key scenes were deleted, I don’t know.

The pacing was inconsistent and choppy and this could have also been an issue with the editing.

Still, I really liked Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell and Michelle Pfeiffer in this. The movie also had Raul Julia in it, which I didn’t know until seeing it. All of his scenes were really enjoyable and I wish that the guy didn’t die prematurely and could’ve entertained us for more years than he did.

Overall, this was still a cool movie to check out for the first time. I don’t think that it is something I’d revisit on any sort of regular basis but the acting talent gave it their all and I appreciate their efforts not to mention their solid chemistry.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other modernized neo-noir films of the late ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

Also known as: Death Mask (alternative international title), Halloween Night (US alternative title), The Damning (UK)
Release Date: March 25th, 1988 (UK)
Directed by: Jag Mundhra
Written by: Dave Eisenstark (as Burford Hauser), Carla Robinson
Music by: Greg Haggard (as Gregory T. Haggard)
Cast: Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Carla B., Katina Garner

Spencer Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

This weird ass movie is a combination of being abysmally bad and kind of entertaining, when not mulled down by the really dull parts. The abysmally bad parts kind of win out, though.

Hack-O-Lantern is a Halloween-themed horror movie directed by an Indian guy that doesn’t seem to know much about Halloween. Also, he is relying on tropes and themes that were kind of played out by the time this was released. It’s like the guy watched Halloween nearly a decade earlier and said, “Let’s do that but crazy! Very, very crazy!”

The film is about an old grandpa that runs a Satanic cult while also featuring a slasher, who goes around killing teens. There’s also some weird rock and roll band subplot that sees music videos just kind of randomly appear out of nowhere. I guess it’s not even really a subplot. This is just an amalgamation of bonkers ass shit that makes little to no sense.

I only watched this because it was featured on The Last Drive-In. I can’t call it the worst movie featured on there, as it was at the very least, amusing in spite of its massive flaws.

I don’t think that I’ll ever watch this again or even recommend it but I didn’t hate it, so that’s something.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Halloween-themed horror movies.

Film Review: Picasso Trigger (1988)

Release Date: February, 1988
Directed by: Andy Sidaris
Written by: Andy Sidaris
Music by: Gary Stockdale
Cast: Steve Bond, Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, Harold Diamond, John Aprea, Roberta Vasquez, Guich Koock

Andy Sidaris Company, Malibu Bay Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Give ’em a lei, blow ’em away.” – Clayton

Picasso Trigger is the third of the twelve films in Andy Sidaris’ Triple B Series. Like all of the other movies in the series, it features hot chicks, often times naked, as well as tough, cool dudes, lots of guns, lots of explosions and a fun, goofy spy thriller plot that is one part James Bond, two parts Charlie’s Angels and ten parts awesome.

This one features some returning actors playing returning characters. I was definitely glad to see Harold Diamond back, as he is one of my favorite actors in these sort of films.

If I’m being honest, the plots to these films don’t really matter and you don’t really need it to get in the way of the overall spectacle.

I liked this almost as much as the previous film but I’d have to say it’s a slight step down. I think that one took the edge because it had a few awesome bazooka scenes. Although, this one features a dude getting blown to pieces by an exploding boomerang thrown by a hot chick.

Picasso Trigger is pretty much more of the same but honestly, when the same is pretty damn enjoyable, what’s not to like? Plus, each movie gives us new babes and more creative action sequences.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other 11 films in the Triple B Series by Andy Sidaris, as well as the American films of Amir Shervan.

Film Review: The Great Outdoors (1988)

Also known as: Big Country (working title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1988
Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Stephanie Faracy, Annette Bening, Robert Prosky, Lewis Aquette

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I gotta go to the John, I’ll be right back. Gonna introduce Mr. Thick Dick to Mr. Urinal Cake!” – Roman

I used to watch the hell out of this movie when it first came out on VHS back in the day. I probably single-handedly wore down the tape at my local video store. As a kid, I just loved it and that has a lot to do with it starring two of my favorite movie comedians, as well as just being fun, lighthearted, goofy and a bit of a coming of age tale where it focuses on the oldest kid.

Also, I loved the raccoon and bear scenes.

Seeing this as an adult with a hell of a lot of movie watching mileage under my belt, I still enjoy this film. I think a lot of that enjoyment is due to the nostalgia bug latching onto me like a lamprey but even if I had never seen this, I’m pretty sure it would still amuse me like many other ’80s comedies do.

John Candy and Dan Aykroyd were both at the top of their game and in this, they had good chemistry that provided the moviegoing audience with a great rivalry that blossomed into something positive and strong. And at this film’s core, it’s really about loving your family in spite of your personal differences.

For the most part, this is really just a series of funny gags and sequences. There isn’t much story, as things just sort of happen, but it still does a good job with its characters and establishing their conflicts and their underlying love for one another.

Ultimately, it’s just mindless escapism that will still probably make most people laugh. It has that patented John Hughes charm to it, even if it isn’t as good as the films he personally directed.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s “summer” comedies, specifically Summer Rental, also with John Candy, and One Crazy Summer.

Film Review: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Also known as: Space Invaders (Germany), Killer Klowns (Sweden, Mexico, Denmark)
Release Date: May 27th, 1988
Directed by: Stephen Chiodo
Written by: Charles Chiodo, Stephen Chiodo
Music by: John Massari
Cast: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, Royal Dano, John Vernon

Chiodo Brothers Productions, Sarlui/Diamant, 88 Minutes

Review:

“They took your wife away in a balloon? Well you don’t need the police, pal, you need a psychiatrist!” – Curtis Mooney

Despite coming out at the height of cinematic cheese, Killer Klowns From Outer Space was still a weird movie even for 1988. From a horror and humor standpoint, the tone reminds me a lot of the Ghoulies films, as well as the first two Return of the Living Deads, Night of the Creeps and Maximum Overdrive. Still, this one is even more bonkers.

Honestly, this is a really unique picture that may have been a dud when it came out but has since amassed a huge fanbase becoming a cult favorite once it hit video store shelves and then got passed around by teens in the ’90s while also being a favorite on late night cable television.

The film also has tonal similarities to the 1990 film Spaced Invaders, but that was more family friendly and harder on the sci-fi while being pretty nil on the horror. But that film shares a star with this one, Royal Dano. Strangely, Dano plays just about the same character in both movies: an old farmer with a dog that grabs his rifle when the aliens land near his home.

This film also features Suzanne Snyder, no stranger to science fiction (and horror), as she is probably most remembered for her role in Weird Science but she was also in The Last Starfighter, Return of the Living Dead, Part II and Night of the Creeps.

The plot of the film is pretty simple, some clown-themed aliens land in a small town and start turning people into giant cotton candy cocoons to harvest them. Their ship looks like a giant circus tent, they use circus-themed weapons like killer, mutant popcorn and they like being pranksters.

I remember this movie really freaking people out and it may be the biggest contributor to the irrational fear of clowns that seemed to become more of a normal thing in the ’90s. I mean, I guess Pennywise from the 1990 miniseries It had a lot to do with it too but I distinctly remember this goofy film scaring the crap out of people. I always just thought it was kind of amusing and batshit crazy in the best way possible.

One thing that has held up really well in this film is the practical special effects, especially in regards to the clowns. The suits are great, each clown looks distinctly different and the animatronic masks were incredible for the time. Hell, this movie was made on a pretty small budget and they certainly got a lot out of their limited resoruces.

Seeing this now, I’m much more impressed by it than I would have been as a kid. It’s far from great but it’s a perfect example of what talented filmmakers with passion can create with very little resources. The fact that it’s held up so well is kind of astounding. But this is also why I’ve always had more respect for practical, real effects over digital ones that can look outdated almost immediately. You can hide your film’s financial limitations with a skilled practical effects artist better than you can with cheap, budget CGI.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other bonkers horror/sci-fi/comedy films of the ’80s.

Film Review: Dead Heat (1988)

Release Date: May 6th, 1988
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Terry Black
Music by: Ernest Troost
Cast: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Darren McGavin, Lindsay Frost, Vincent Price, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka, Shane Black

Helpren/Meltzer, New World Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“[He shuts the porno mag the clerk’s being reading] Sorry to interrupt your erection.” – Det. Doug Bigelow

Dead Heat is greatly underappreciated. That’s probably because it bombed in the theater and then got brushed aside and barely even made a blip on the cable TV radar in the ’90s. By then it probably seemed really outdated and so cheesy that even late night movie shows didn’t really touch it.

I actually saw this on VHS around 1990 or so and thought it was pretty cool but it just never reemerged anywhere else until it popped up on streaming services within the last couple of years.

I was glad that it was most recently featured on Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In, as it needs to be discovered and showcased for a new generation and for the old generation that might’ve missed it.

The film is written by Terry Black, the older brother of Shane.

Shane Black had already made waves after writing Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad while also working on Predator and Night of the Creeps. Older brother kind of followed little brother here, as the story for Dead Heat is like a mash up of some of those other movies in how it features an action heavy buddy cop story with elements of horror and a bit of slapstick comedy.

That being said, the script was really creative and it provided a movie with a lot of really cool scenes and monster encounters: most notably the zombie animals that came to life despite being halfway butchered.

These scenes worked so well though because the special effects were solid. I mean, this was made by New World and thus, the production operated under Roger Corman economics. Despite that, the practical effects of the monsters looked great.

Additionally, some of the other effects were impressive too, such as the scene where Lindsay Frost decays into nothingness.

The film stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as the two buddy cops but it also stars a great villain duo that features Darren McGavin and legendary Vincent Price. Everyone played well off of each other and all the core actors looked like they were having fun hamming it up and making this bonkers movie.

This is such a weird and unique picture that more people really should check it out. It’s amusing, enjoyable and deserving of more recognition than it initially received.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other goofy horror comedies of the ’80s like the first two Return of the Living Dead MoviesC.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, TerrorVision, etc.

Film Review: Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)

Release Date: November 18th, 1988 (Dayton, Ohio, US)
Directed by: Jim Van Bebber
Written by: Jim Van Bebber
Music by: A-OK, Ned Folkerth
Cast: Jim Van Bebber, Paul Harper, Megan Murphy, Marc Pitman

Asmodeus Productions Inc., 81 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t need your voodoo magic around my neck!” – Goose

While I appreciate filmmakers who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit, Deadbeat at Dawn doesn’t achieve that sort of status for me. Some people really like it and are even impressed by it but it is a tough movie to get through, even for an ’80s action junkie like me, who doesn’t mind over the top violence and the use of primitive practical effects.

The effects are really the highpoint of the movie but even then (and also considering the complete lack of budget) they just don’t cut it.

Deadbeat at Dawn is horrendously acted, terribly shot and while it seems self-aware and proud to be cinematic poop, it doesn’t really climb out of the Port-O-Let to give you some good, solid shit.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth checking out if you’ve never seen it and you have a high tolerance for dreck on celluloid. It’s certainly something that should be experienced but there are much better movies that are also made and presented in this style.

I think my biggest issue with it is that there is no silver lining or saving grace hidden within the film. Most movies like this have something redeeming or endearing. This doesn’t.

Sure, I can appreciate the fact that the director/writer/lead actor took his college money, rounded up his homies and shot this thing guerrilla style in the heart of Dayton, Ohio but I can’t look passed how bad it is.

Deadbeat at Dawn really tries to push the bar but others have pushed it much further and with much better results.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other overly gory ’80s action movies like Street Trash and Troma’s War.

Film Review: Troma’s War (1988)

Also known as: 1,000 Ways to Die (alternative title), Club War (Germany)
Release Date: October, 1988 (Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Michael Herz, Samuel Weil
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman
Music by: Christopher De Marco
Cast: Carolyn Beauchamp, Sean Bowen, Michael Ryder, Patrick Weathers, Jessica Dublin, Ara Romanoff

Troma Entertainment, 87 Minutes, 104 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“You try chopping Siamese twins apart with a machete and not change.” – Nancy

I love everything Troma stands for, always have. However, I don’t enjoy a lot of their movies because even if they’re intentionally bad, it is often times too much and despite a few funny moments, here and there, their films get buried too deeply in their own schtick.

However, there are some films that they’ve made that are really damn good for what they are. While Troma War isn’t their best offering, it is definitely one of their better ones and I probably rank it in my top five.

This movie is absolutely insane but that should be expected considering this came from the mind of Lloyd Kaufman during his peak. Plus, it was directed by Michael Herz, who has been behind the camera for three of the Troma films I’d rank above this one: The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.

The story here is bizarre but basically this picks up after a plane has crashed on an island. The survivors then have to fight a war against the madmen that occupy the island. But this is a Troma film, so things can’t be that simple and cookie cutter.

Troma’s War is a movie that gets more and more bonkers as it plays on. The two craziest bits being the stuff surrounding the Siamese twin character and the stuff surrounding the guy with AIDS. But the over the top, violent and gory action is also insane.

Honestly, it’s a hard movie to describe and it sort of has to be seen to be believed.

Like all things Troma, one should expect terrible acting, questionable direction and the cheapest practical effects imaginable. However, this is just as much imaginative as it is offensive and that makes it much better than the standard Troma schlock.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Troma’s other ’80s and ’90s movies.