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 By then it probably seemed really outdated and so cheesy that even late night movie shows didn’t really touch it.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: Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991)

Also known as: Sgt. K (script title), Yakuza (working title)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1991
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Stephen Glantz, Caliope Brattlestreet
Music by: David Michael Frank
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Professor Toru Tanaka, Al Leong

Little Tokyo Productions, Original Pictures, Warner Bros., 79 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, will you do this right? Clean? Like a cop in the 20th century, not some samurai warrior? We’re gonna nail this guy. And when we get done… we’re gonna go eat fish off those naked chicks!” – Johnny Murata

This is one of those movies that came out when I was middle school age and I didn’t know about it because it never came to my local theater. But once I caught wind of it on video, I would rent it almost bi-weekly for about a year.

First of all, this features Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee, as buddy cops out to stop the Yakuza in Los Angeles. Plus, the Yakuza in the film were led by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa!

So this was like Ivan Drago teaming up with the Crow to kill Shang Tsung!

Plus, this had Tia Carrere in it and I was crushing hard on her back then. And what made this especially awesome was the nude scenes. Sure, I now realize that she had a nude body double due to how those moments were shot but when I was a kid, as far as I knew, I got to see one of my dream girls naked.

This is pure late ’80s/early ’80s toxic masculinity at its absolute finest. This is a balls out, violence festival with solid humor, hot chicks, martial arts and explosions. What more could a middle school boy want in 1991? And frankly, what more could a grown ass man want in 2019? Just because a bunch of crazy busybodies frown upon escapism like this in modern entertainment, doesn’t mean that I have to change to appease people that I don’t even want to talk to.

One thing that I always loved about this film is how the white guy is completely immersed and influenced by Japanese culture while the Asian guy is pretty much just some dude from the Valley. Granted, the Asian dude from the Valley knows a good amount of martial arts.

Additionally, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was dynamite as the Yakuza boss that the good guys had to squash. Tagawa just has that look that makes him feel like a genuine evil bastard. He spends a great deal of his most badass moments, shirtless, showing off his Yakuza tattoos. He just feels like the final boss of a side scrolling beat’em up arcade game from the same era.

I love this damn movie. For what it is, it’s pretty close to perfect. Lundgren and Lee both have charm, solid charisma and it sucks that Lee died because I could’ve watched countless sequels to this movie. But then again, Hollywood rarely gives us sequels to movies like this unless they were Cannon Films properties.

That being said, this is probably the most Cannon film that wasn’t actually made by The Cannon Group.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Commando, Rapid Fire, Black Rain, Tango & Cash and Dark Angel.

Film Review: Missing In Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

Also known as: Battle Rage (Australia, New Zealand, UK), Braddock 2: O Início da Missão (Brazil)
Release Date: March 1st, 1985
Directed by: Lance Hool
Written by: Arthur Silver, Larry Levinson, Steve Bing
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Chuck Norris, Soon-Tek Oh, Steven Williams, Bennett Ohta, Cosie Costa, Joe Michael Terry, Professor Toru Tanaka

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You really didn’t think I’d leave… without making sure you were dead?” – Colonel Braddock

Originally, this was supposed to be the first Missing In Action movie. And that makes more sense in regards to the title because in this film, Chuck Norris and his crew actually go “missing in action”.

The first two Missing In Action films were filmed back-to-back but to evade a lawsuit regarding the fact that Golan-Globus pretty much ripped off the premise from a treatment of the Rambo: First Blood Part II script, they flip-flopped the films’ releases and changed their titles so that they could get the original second film into theaters before that Rambo movie.

So even though this film was intended to come out first, it didn’t and then got labeled a prequel.

Anyway, I actually like the first movie a wee bit more but they are both pretty badass even if they are very different. Sure, they deal with very similar subject matter and are Hollywood critiques on US soldiers that were prisoners of war in Vietnam, after the war, but this movie doesn’t really give you any action until the third and final act.

The story here is slower but it is more personal and the dramatic elements of the film work in a way that is kind of surprising considering that no one in this film is known for giving great dramatic performances. And while the performances aren’t great, they are still convincing and drum up the right type of emotion as the plot rolls on.

The story starts with Braddock’s (Norris) small squad in Vietnam getting their helicopter shot down. They are then taken to a POW camp. The film jumps ahead an unknown amount of time but you can assume that it’s been at least a few years. Braddock and company have been imprisoned and forced to work in the camp, where it is run by a Vietnamese colonel that acts like a sadistic tyrant. He wants to force Braddock into confessing to war crimes and his method is to make Braddock’s soldiers suffer through various forms of mental and physical torture. The film actually spends an hour on this but none of it is dull and it only makes the action that much better once Norris gets a gun in his hand.

At its core, this is a revenge movie, but it’s a damn good one that has more narrative and context than similar films, including the other ones in this series. When Braddock succeeds and kills the evil scumbag, it is a pretty satisfying moment, after watching his madness unfold for 90 minutes.

Missing In Action 2 is a film that is better than it should be. It probably won’t appeal to those who aren’t already fans of intense ’80s action movies but it tells a good story, is well paced and ends just as it should. There’s no subversion of expectations, this is pure escapism and entertainment and what an action movie should be.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Missing In Action movies, as well as the Delta Force film series and pretty much anything by Cannon Films.

Film Review: The Running Man (1987)

Also known as: Battle Runner (Japanese English title)
Release Date: November 13th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: The Running Man by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, María Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Yaphet Kotto, Marvin J. McIntyre, Jim Brown, Kurt Fuller, Lin Shaye, Professor Toru Tanaka

Braveworld Productions, Taft Entertainment, HBO Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Killian, here’s your Subzero! Now… plain zero!” – Ben Richards

This is a Stephen King story, even if the author wrote this under a pseudonym. It was brought to life by the screenplay of Steven E. de Souza, who also penned the scripts for Die Hard 12Commando48 Hrs. 12 and a bunch of other cool shit.

Add in a cast that boasts manly badasses Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Yaphet Kotto and there are almost too many iron balls on the screen. This is a festival of testosterone and broken bodies.

You also have Richard Dawson, who was the perfect choice for the role of Killian, and María Conchita Alonso, who I’ve been crushing on since about fourth grade.

This story takes place in a dystopian corporate future where an innocent soldier is framed for a massacre that he actually tried to prevent. He escapes prison and goes on the run, using a very apprehensive TV executive to help him get to freedom. She freaks out in the airport though and the soldier is caught and forced to compete in a strange game show. The soldier and his allies have to fight their way through derelict city blocks, fighting off gimmicky warriors that the live studio audience chooses to apprehend and murder them in cold blood for their entertainment. As the soldier starts offing these warriors, public opinion changes and the people start cheering for this “criminal” against the corporate system that is trying to snuff him out.

The film’s themes are very similar to two films from 1975: Death Race 2000 and Rollerball. This certainly doesn’t make this story a rehash of those, however. This is unique and just a cool twist on the manhunt genre.

I always loved Schwarzenegger in sci-fi settings, especially ones dealing with a dark future. While this isn’t anywhere near as good as the first two Terminator movies, it is a lot of fun and still holds some social and political relevance today, over thirty years later.

The effects are good for the time, the characters are twisted but cool and this almost feels like a mashup of American Gladiators, old school WWF and Blade Runner.

I still love this movie and even if it hasn’t aged too well, it is a product of the awesome ’80s and still works within the context of its creation.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other ’80s Schwarzenegger films. For style and themes, it works with the original Rollerball and Death Race 2000.

Film Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

Release Date: September 7th, 1983
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Silke
Music by: W. Michael Lewis, Laurin Rinder, Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye, Kane Kosugi, Professor Toru Tanaka

Cannon Film Distributors, 90 Minutes

Review:

Any motion picture that starts with a kid getting a Chinese star to the face is my kind of movie!

Now I have probably seen this thing a dozen times but the last time I watched it was in the late 90s. In the 80s though, my cousin Billy and I used to rent this movie from the Movie Van all the time. He was way more into martial arts than I was. At least, he stuck with it long enough to actually compete. He even had a wall of trophies. I bet he could’ve beat that little twerp LaRusso!

As kids, this movie was great. One, it had friggin’ ninjas! Two, it had really violent ninjas! Those two things will make any red blooded bacon eating American boy jump for joy while fist pumping to Def Leppard tunes!

They don’t make pictures like this for kids anymore. Granted, it was rated R but it was a movie all the boys in the 80s couldn’t get enough of. Besides, our parents didn’t care what we watched, as long as we weren’t putting shuriken through grandma’s cats.

Watching this film now, I still feel the same way. Revenge of the Ninja is a bad ass film. In fact, it is so bad ass that it physically hurts. But it hurts in a good way, like when you wake up with your arms aching because you power-lifted the day before and it’s been six years since you’ve even seen a gym.

The film stars Sho Kosugi, who is the greatest ninja actor of all-time. It also stars his tiny son, who is also capable of kicking the bejesus out of anyone… and he does. Kosugi starred in a string of ninja movies in the 1980s. This is actually the second film in a loose trilogy referred to as The Ninja Trilogy, unofficially. The first film being Enter The Ninja, which also stars Django himself Franco Nero, and Ninja III: The Domination. All three films star Kosugi and were produced by the awesome Cannon Films.

The plot to this thing is interesting. Kosugi’s movie family is murdered by ninjas except for his mom and his baby. His American friend convinces him to go to America to sell Japanese dolls. Kosugi does this but we learn that the dolls are used to smuggle heroin into the States. The baby, who is now a bit bigger than a toddler, finds this out, even though he doesn’t know what the mysterious powder is. Kosugi has to fight thugs, then a mysterious silver-faced ninja shows up and we get a big ninja versus ninja finale on a downtown rooftop.

One of the coolest things about this movie is the action. Kosugi is a master of execution in both the delivery of his sweet moves and how he takes out the baddies. Also, the film features a car chase where one of the cars is Kosugi on his feet! A ninja on foot is just as effective as Steve McQueen’s car from Bullitt!

I was worried that this film would play like crap, all these years later. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I still love it. In fact, I’m pumped to watch the other two films in the Cannon Ninja Trilogy.

Rating: 8/10