September 13th, 2008

TROPIC THUNDER (2008) ****

A bunch of pampered movie stars filming a Vietnam movie on location are taken into the jungle and are told they are filming the movie “Guerilla style” in order for them to feel what it was like to be in the actual war.  There’s also a bunch of Burmese drug dealers out in the jungle who think they are American DEA agents and they predictably start a real war with the actors. 

 

Tropic Thunder is a hilarious comedy in the great tradition of the grossly underrated The Man Who Knew Too Little in which an idiot doesn’t know he’s in the middle of a life or death situation and thinks it’s all an act.  Ben Stiller (who also directed) is pretty great as Tugg Speedman, an action star whose last movie Simple Jack (in which he played a “full-retard”), was a flop and Jack Black has a few funny moments as the dope-addled comedian, but its Robert Downey, Jr. who steals the movie as the Method actor Kurt Lazarus who undergoes a “pigment alteration” so he can play the platoon’s black leader.

 

There are plenty of great gags, mostly involving the actors thinking that the war around them is part of the “script”.   The funniest scene is when Stiller picks up the severed head of a fallen comrade and tells his fellow actors that it’s a prop and proceeds to lick the gnarled neck stump to prove its fake blood.  (“It’s blood-flavored fake blood!”)  Easily the best part of the film though are the fake previews that open the movie that not only serves as our formal introduction to the main characters, but also provides lots and lots of laughs.  (My favorite is the gay monks movie starring “5 Time Oscar Winner” Kurt Lazarus and “MTV Movie Awards Best Kiss Winner” Tobey Maguire.)

 

A lot has been made out of Tom Cruise’s extended cameo as Les Grossman, the profanity spewing studio chief.  While it’s initially fun seeing America’s favorite Scientologist under pounds of latex, his character gets old after awhile.  The first time he started dancing around to rap music hollering “Playah!” was pretty funny.  The fourth time was a little gratuitous. 

 

The film is a tad on the sloppy side but you won’t care because the flick is packed full of some big laughs and that’s what really counts in movie like this.  It’s not on the same level as Stiller’s masterpiece, Zoolander, but then again what could be? 

 

Although all three leads are great, it’s Nick Nolte who gets the best line of the movie playing a grizzled Nam vet who sleeps in a homemade tent and says, “Beds give me nightmares!”

 

Tropic Thunder has enough yuks for the bucks to put it at Number 7 on the Video Vacuum Top Ten for 2008, right below Son of Rambow and just ahead of WALL-E.

BOARDINGHOUSE (1982) ½ *

Horror films shot on video are a dime a dozen nowadays, but Boardinghouse was the first one to do it way back in ’82.  The filmmakers tried to pass off the film’s shoddy visual quality by saying that it was shot in “Horror-Vision” (a gimmick worthy of the old William Castle days) although it actually looks LESS professional than your run-of-the-mill shot-on-tape pornos from around the same time.  Director John Wintergate apparently got to borrow his buddy’s house for the weekend, bought a second rate camcorder, and somehow convinced a whole lot of honeys to remove their tops so that they could star in a “movie”.  The resulting mess actually played in theaters (!!!) and made money on home video.  Yet another sign of the impending apocalypse. 

 

Wintergate stars as a douchebag who inherits a house where there has been a lot of paranormal activity that results in people dying in extremely random ways.  Now that he has a swinging bachelor pad, he decides to loan the place out to a herd of hot chicks who gladly exchange bodily fluids with him in lieu of rent.  He also has a bunch of hokey metaphysical abilities like being able to levitate eggs and make soap move around by itself.  When the house possesses one of the bimbos, she goes crazy during a rock concert and rips out people’s hearts and makes their eyeballs shoot out into a bowl of grits.  In what is passed off as an “ending”, Wintergate shows up at the last minute to do a Jedi Power Battle with the possessed chick using his nominal psychic abilities. 

 

As previously stated, Boardinghouse was the first crappy shot-on-video horror film ever made, which is kinda like saying you were the first person to catch smallpox or something.  The film runs a gargantuan 99 minutes; every second of which is filled with massive amounts of Deep Hurting.  The sucky videotography is so inept that during “scary” sequences it’s hard to tell just what the heck is going on because everything is so goddamned dark.  No matter how many floating pig heads this movie had in it, the scene where the director meditates in his underwear was hands down the scariest part in the whole movie. 

 

If there is a saving grace to this film (or at least something that would prevent me from giving it NO STARS), it’s that there is an ample amount of nubile naked nymphos running around topless to keep you semi-awake during this cinematic abortion.  There are also a handful of OK deaths like a hand stuck in a garbage disposal, a hanging via nylon stocking, low-rent gut ripping, and a cat being brained with a hammer.  Sadly, these effects are so bad that it makes your little brother running around with Heinz 57 on his face seem like Tom Savani in comparison. 

 

You know, as someone who keeps saying that they’re going to make a movie some day; I found a lot of inspiration from watching Boardinghouse.  I can always be rest assured that it doesn’t matter if my movie is as bad as this one; there’s still a chance that it could be released into theaters and get put on DVD in a “Special Edition”. 

 

AKA:  Housegeist.

TRUCKS (1997) *

Movies made from Stephen King stories have been around for so long now that they are actually old enough to be considered remake candidates.  Most of ‘em go directly to TV, like The Shining, Carrie, Salem’s Lot and this flick.  Trucks is based on the King short story of the same name which was originally filmed by the master himself back in ’86 as Maximum Overdrive.  While that film is generally critically reviled, I always dug it and enjoyed the brain-dead unabashed fun inherent in the material.  Besides where else are you going to see Emilio Estevez battle an evil 18 wheeler with an oversized Green Goblin hood ornament? 

 

Trucks is basically the same movie as Maximum Overdrive only this time instead of having King behind the wheel, it’s Chris Thomson, who has directed almost exclusively nothing but TV movies.  Instead of Emilio Estevez being stuck in a last chance gas station fighting off trucks with a mind of their own, it’s Timothy Busfield from Thirtysomething.  Instead of the badass Green Goblin truck, it’s a non-descript meat packing rig.  Instead of killer electric knives, demented soda machines, and malevolent arcade games killing folk, its trucks and only trucks doing the slaughtering. 

 

Okay, so what the fuck does that leave us with?  Not much.  We still get the obligatory scenes of survivors waxing philosophically on why this is all happening, but this time by even worse actors.  We still get small town citizens getting ran over by killer trucks except the violence is of the watered down made-for-TV variety.  We still get scenes of the vengeful trucks circling the truck stop so that no one can escape; sadly minus all the excellent AC/DC tunes on the soundtrack. 

 

Most of the cast sucks like a Dust Devil, although it was nice seeing the underused, ultra-hot Brenda (Hot Shots Part Deux) Bakke in there as the slinky motel owner.  Like the acting really matters though.  If you find yourself watching a pale imitation of a movie that wasn’t exactly a classic to begin with, you deserve all the middling theatrics that come along with it. 

 

Thomson has a decidedly bland “point and shoot” directorial style that constantly reminds us that this is nothing more than a lame-o USA Network Original.  The fact that the budget looks to be about on par with a Walker, Texas Ranger two-parter isn’t exactly encouraging either.    

 

If you want to see trucks running people off the road, crashing through buildings and killing rednecks in a thoroughly bloodless manner, then go for it.  Add an extra star if you’re one of those people that love movies like Transformers or Knight Rider 2000 just because they feature vehicles that move around by themselves.

GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1993) * ½

A serial killer known as “The Address Book Killer” is on his way to kill Karen Allen and her annoying hacker son when he gets critically injured in a car accident.  While he’s in the MRI machine, there’s an electrical storm and the machine zaps him to death.  His soul gets transferred into the machine and it becomes electricity (or something) and pretty soon he’s going through phone lines and computer wires looking for poor Karen.  He hacks into “the system” and starts harassing her by ruining her credit, draining her bank account and (GASP!) sending her adult novelties through the mail.  Finally he comes out of the computer in a mass of little circuity thingies and makes lame wisecracks and tries to kill her. 

 

Basically what we got here is Shocker 2, but with crappy Lawnmower Man style effects and tons of early 90’s cyber-babble.

 

This is one sorry excuse for a horror movie.  While director Rachael Talalay starts things off in a promising enough manner (we see the killer murder a family and then prop them up on the sofa so they can watch The Late Show), things go down the tubes quickly once the murderer finds his way onto the Information Superhighway.  Since he’s only a mass of electrons, he can only kill people using major household appliances.   That may have been a decent premise under the helm of a more experienced director, but there is only so much you can do when your movie revolves around people being massacred by microwaves and dishwashers.  (GE was not a proud sponsor of this movie, I’ll tell you that much!)

 

The cast is better than this thing deserves with Allen making for a likable heroine.  Chris (The Hidden) Mulky also puts in a serviceable enough turn as the computer hacker who figures out how to stop the electric executioner and Rick Ducommun pops up as the comic relief.  Jesus, remember when it was a Hollywood law that Rick Ducommun had to be in EVERY SINGLE DAMN MOVIE?  Starting in about ’88 when he co-starred in The Burbs, till the mid 90’s he always showed up as the Obnoxious Fat Dude in such movies as Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout and Groundhog Day.

 

Talalay (the woman who thought it was a good idea to make Freddy Krueger fly around on a broomstick and say “I’ll get you my pretty!  And your little soul too!” in Freddy’s Dead:  The Final Nightmare) went on to direct Tank Girl two years later.


AKA:  Deadly Terror.

KOMODO VS. COBRA (2005) **

A bunch of tree hugging environmentalists working for a Greenpeacey kind of organization called “One Earth” charter a voyage from a down-and-out boat captain (Michael Pare from Eddie and the Cruisers) to go to an uncharted island to protest a top secret animal testing facility.  Once they arrive there, they find that the scientists’ experiments turned everything “Super-Sized”, which resulted in creating a king-sized komodo dragon and a colossal cobra.  And they are HUNGRY!

 

I was a fan of Boa vs. Python so I was at least hoping that this retread would be just as much fun.  Plus, the great Jim (Chopping Mall) Wynorski was at the helm, which made me optimistic that the flick would at least deliver in the cheese department.  What I got was your average, run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi Channel Original bull-honky.  Sure, the opening scene in which Jay (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) Richardson gets chased by Komodo only to be eaten by Cobra had some promise, it’s just a shame that things quickly devolved from there. 

 

The biggest disappointment came from the titular reptiles themselves.  The effects were pretty bad (though not quite as bad as some of the stuff you catch on Sci-Fi at an ungodly hour) but I was surprised by just how little was actually done with the monsters.  Komodo got the best moments in the film, as he could kill his prey in a variety of ways.  Whether he was grabbing people with his long tongue, scalding them with his acidic saliva, whacking them around with his tail or stomping the ever-loving shit out of them, Komodo was one bad amphibian.  Cobra’s only method of consumption was swallowing people whole, which was a major letdown.  Speaking of letdowns, the final battle between the two behemoths lasted all of two minutes and you had to wait until the last five minutes of the flick to see it.  Bummer.    

 

What saved the flick from being a complete shitfest was Michael Pare.  Pare may have been phoning in his roles for the past 15 years or so, but I actually liked him in this flick.  With the exception of Jay Richardson (who’s always fun to watch), Pare is the only one who seems to give a damn about this flick and he easily outshines the rest of the annoying cast.  I don’t know if it was because Wynorski let Pare be an executive producer on the flick or what.  The point is that with this movie, Pare made up for his numerous shitty performances in all those Uwe Boll movies; at least in my book.   He also lent the film its brief flashes of intentional humor (“We’re going on a three hour tour”) that complimented the unintentional humor (the crappy CGI effects) nicely. 

 

Komodo vs. Cobra may be brimming with bad effects and missed opportunities but as “VS.” movies go, it’s still a Hell of a lot better than Aliens vs. Predator:  Requiem. 

 

AKA:  Komodo vs. King Cobra.