November 20th, 2008

OUTLAND (1981) * ½

Sean Connery takes a job as a 22nd century rent-a-cop on Jupiter’s moon of Io and soon has to figure out why all the spacemen there like to blow themselves up like leftover lasagna in the microwave.  Turns out the mining company wants RESULTS so they encourage their workers to take super amphetamines in order for them to work 24 hour shifts.  The side effect though is that these fuckers turn crazy and want to walk around Jupiter’s moon without a benefit of a spacesuit.  Connery tries to get others to stand up to The Man (Peter Boyle) but since everyone is on the company payroll, no one will do the right thing.  The Man then sends two hired guns to take Sean out, leaving Connery all by himself to take out the trash.


Outland is pretty much a sci-fi version of High Noon except with exploding spacemen.  While it sounds good on paper, the results are far from entertaining.  I dozed off TWICE on this sucker and every time I came to, I didn’t especially feel the need to rewind and catch up on what I missed.  Not a glowing compliment to be sure.  If director Peter (Timecop) Hyams does want to hear a glowing compliment from me, I will say this:  The exploding spacemen scenes ARE good Pete.  Bravo.


The biggest problem with Outland, besides being about as much fun as trying to pass a stone, is the “futuristic” look of the movie.  Its obvious inspiration was Ridley Scott’s Alien as most of the spacemen are more or less blue collar trucker types working for The Man.  (It’s nice to see that in the future, the plastic trucker hat fad will come back into fashion.)  Unfortunately all the “futuristic” locations like boiler rooms, cafeterias and locker rooms pretty much look the way they did in 1981, when this puppy came out.  Seriously, is this what Hyams thought the future would look like?  What’s so sci-fi about a Morrison’s Cafeteria?


Connery escapes this thing with his dignity more or less intact by just pretending he’s James Bond.  Really though, after Zardoz you would’ve expected him to swear off doing crappy sci-fi movies.  Some people never learn I guess.  (He was smart enough to turn down Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so that says something good about the man.)


I’m a casual fan of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Road movies.  I’ve never liked them as much as say, the comedies of Abbott and Costello, but the ones that I have seen have been pretty funny.  The Road to Hong Kong is probably the best one and despite a few lulls, it’s an amiable good time.


The plot has some Russian spies trying to launch a couple of apes into space.  The Russians think that they’ll win the space race if they put two men into orbit instead, so they shanghai Hope and Crosby and send them to outer space.  After they survive re-entry, the Russians learn that Bob has gotten their top secret rocket fuel formula locked inside his brain, so they send their top agent (Joan Collins) to deprogram him using her considerable… charms.


The Road to Hong Kong marked the end of the road for Hope and Crosby’s series of Road pictures.  It has a sci-fi edge to it that appealed to me and in turn, it was a lot of fun.  The chemistry between the two stars has never been better and the singing highlight comes during the smashing pre-credits number called “Teamwork”.  While not all of the gags fly, the scene where the rocket ship continuously feeds Hope and Crosby bananas is the funniest.


The flick is also loaded with lots of self-referential humor (there are numerous mentions of the team’s previous Road movies), scenes of the duo breaking the fourth wall (the best is the running gag when they call upon the special effects department to get them out of a jam), and some truly great cameos by Peter Sellers, David Niven, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  Collins also delivers a solid supporting performance as well.  (The team’s usual leading lady, Dorothy Lamour is reduced to an extended cameo since she was getting up there in age.)


The team’s best exchange in this one is: 


Crosby:  “How was I supposed to know he was an elephant doctor?”


Hope:  “You should’ve known by the size of his thermometer.”


After the success of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s Laugh-In, they were able to star in this wretched excuse for a movie.  I was never a fan of Laugh-In, but since this flick supposedly featured a werewolf in it, I figured I'd give it a shot. Sadly for me, Martin only THINKS he’s a werewolf and only turns into one during an idiotic dream sequence.  To make matters worse, the make-up effects are pretty bad as Martin looks more like a were-rat than anything else.  In short, this might be the worst werewolf movie I’ve ever seen.  (And I’ve seen a bunch of those Paul Naschy werewolf movies too.) 


Straight man Rowan stars a nudie movie director and his partner Martin is his leading man.  After one of their shoots gets raided by the cops, they buy an old house next to a cemetery where a bunch of murders have been happening.  Robert Reed (Mike Brady!) is a detective investigating the crimes, which he suspects is the work of a werewolf.  Since Martin has uncontrollable urges to howl and has a tendency to black out, that makes him prime suspect numero uno.  Turns out his neighbors are just trying to drive him crazy so they can get their hands on a priceless diamond that’s stashed somewhere in the house.


Usually I’m a sucker for any kind of werewolf movie (even ones that feature fake werewolves), but The Maltese Bippy was a chore to sit through.  The title is also a bit mystifying as it makes it sound like it’s going to be a spoof of the detective genre or something.  (“Bippy” was Rowan and Martin’s catchphrase from Laugh-In.)  Actually it’s a horror-comedy… well it’s not scary so it’s more of a comedy… err; it’s not funny so it’s… not much of anything really.  (It plays more like an old dark house mystery from the 30’s than anything else.)  Not even the presence of the always sexy Julie Newmar can save this stinker. 


I never found Rowan and Martin funny on Laugh-In and they sure as shit aren’t funny here.  The only slightly clever thing about the flick is the multiple endings gag, but it was done much better in Clue.  If you really want to laugh during this flick, I’d highly suggest getting a lobotomy before sitting down to watch it; then you MIGHT have the mentality necessary to enjoy this turd.


What would’ve happened if the South won the Civil War?  Find out by watching this audacious, sometimes brilliant, sometimes heavy-handed mockumentary from director Kevin Willmott. 


CSA is staged more or less like Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, mixing still photographs, voiceovers and film clips of how the United States changed after the North was defeated.  First, the name was changed to the Confederate States of America, then Jefferson Davis was elected president and then the national anthem was changed to “Dixie”!  Some of Willmott’s revisionist history is jaw-dropping like when a disgraced Abraham Lincoln seeks refuge in Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad or when D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation gets a surprising overhaul.


Equally fascinating, yet far more subversive are the commercial breaks for such products like Sambo motor oil and Darky toothpaste.  At first they seem like intrusive Saturday Night Live level knockoffs, but in the end we’re told that these products actually DID exist (and in some cases, still do), so it doesn’t seem like a stretch that they would still be marketed in the same exact manner had the South won.  The best of these scenes is a commercial for a COPS style reality show where the police track down runaway slaves.  (The Bad Boys theme is played as a country song complete with banjos!)


What gives the film added depth is that Willmott doesn’t just limit the “What If?” scenario to the US (sorry CSA).  He also gives us a global outlook on the alternate history as well.  We see the CSA bomb Japan on Dec.7th 1941, get involved in apartheid in Central America and even become allies with Hitler (!), even though they disagree with his extermination of Jews.  (They call it a “waste of human livestock”!)


CSA:  The Confederate States of America is involving for most of its running time but it starts to lose its way about an hour into the film when something of an actual “plot” emerges concerning a presidential nominee who may or may not have some African in his lineage.  Still, the flick is wholly recommended, if only for the incredible Home Shopping Network take-off, The Slave Shopping Network!

MITCHELL (1975) * ½

Joe Don Baker IS Mitchell; a fat, drunken, lazy slob of a detective who’s trying to bust the slimy John Saxon for shooting an unarmed burglar.  When Mitchell ruffles his feathers a bit too much, his captain reassigns him to stakeout heroin kingpin Martin Balsam’s house.  Saxon arranges for a high class hooker (Linda Evans) to sleep with Mitchell as a “bribe” but since she isn’t beer, he arrests her.  Things come to a head when Balsam tries to have Mitchell killed by some other Mafioso types.  Mitchell doesn’t like that one bit so he hops in a helicopter and finds Martin on his boat and decides to give his lungs a new picture window using an assault rifle.


Before I start this review, allow me to do some damage control.  Look, my name is in fact, Mitchell and I just want to say that Joe Don Baker’s performance as A Mitchell in no way, shape, or form is representative of the millions of other Mitchells living somewhere in the world.  This particular Mitchell is pretty much a big, fat, stupid, drunken idiot and by association, you may think that all of us Mitchells are just like him.  I for example, am a little on the thin side, have some degree of intelligence and only on rare occasions drink alcohol.  If you do see the movie Mitchell, please do not stereotype me or the countless other Mitchells out there who are generally good and decent people.  Thank you.


Now that I got that off my chest, allow me to review the movie.  It sucks.  Sure, there are like one or two decent action scenes and Linda Evens looks hot, but c’mon!  Were we really supposed to buy Joe Don Baker as an action hero?  When you think of the term “action hero”, Joe Don is about the 781st name you would think of.  (Right in between Jerry Lewis and John Ratzenberger.)  The fact that he spends a lot of the movie sleeping should be an indicator of just how lackluster he is.


Director Andrew V. McLaglen also did a bunch of John Wayne movies so he at least knows how to keep the plot moving at a steady clip.  If you’re a big John Saxon fan, you may get a kick out of his turn as the oily villain.  The Hoyt Axton theme song is also pretty memorable so the flick isn’t a complete washout.  Unfortunately without an appealing leading man, Mitchell flounders.