July 10th, 2009

BRUNO (2009) ****

When Allen Funt invented Candid Camera I don’t think he had any idea that Sacha Baron Cohen would take the concept to such a raunchy degree.  As with his 2006 smash Borat, Cohen ambushes everyday people (and even a few celebrities too) by posing as a bizarre character and films their reactions.  This time, Cohen plays Bruno, a very, very, very gay host of an Austrian fashion television show.  His run-ins with the public are (in no particular order) gross, disgusting, lewd, outrageous, politically incorrect, shocking, and just downright WRONG.


In short, it’s fucking hilarious.


Cohen is a comic genius.  There is no two ways about it.  In Borat, you could see the seeds being planted.  With Bruno, Cohen makes good on his potential and proves that Borat was not a fluke.  In fact, I think Bruno is even funnier than Borat.  There is a major laugh in every single scene in the film.  How many comedies pull that off?


I would tell you about some of those scenes but I just can’t bring myself to spoil the film for you.  Part of the fun of Bruno is Cohen’s spontaneity.  His continuously clever off-the-cuff comebacks to his public’s befuddled reactions are what keeps the film’s premise from becoming stale or slow.  I guarantee you that you’ll be in a constant state of suspense just from wondering what Cohen will do next. 


The spontaneous nature of the film may diminish with repeated viewings (as with Borat) but since the jury is still out on that, Bruno gets ****.  It’s by far the best comedy of the year and also a contender for the best line of dialogue:  “I remember you; you tried to get my face pregnant!”


Bruno has enough belly laughs to land itself on the list for The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of the Year at the Number 4 slot; placing it right below My Bloody Valentine 3-D and just above Taken.


Sometimes the presence of a washed-up icon in a really bad horror movie can make the film in question a lot of fun.  Sometimes their appearance is the only thing that prevents you from slashing your own wrists.  Adam West’s performance in Zombie Nightmare is a case of the latter.  Seeing the former Caped Crusader trying to escape this film with his dignity intact is the only worthwhile thing in this dung heap posing as a horror movie.


West plays a bleary-eyed cop who is investigating a series of homicides in which teenagers end up with their necks broken.  To keep things quiet, he tells the press that they were just high on angel dust and did it to themselves.  Hey, it happens.  We’ve all been there.  


What really went down was that a softball player (Jon Mikl Thor, who also provided some odious heavy metal music for the soundtrack) got ran over by some rowdy teenagers, who fled the scene of the accident.  His grieving mother used her last favor to the local voodoo witch to resurrect his body so that Thor can go out and kill the teens responsible for his own death.  Since Adam has a checkered history with the old witch, he has a vested interest in everything; hence all the phony baloney leaks to the press.  In the end, Thor drags West to Hell, which is where the movie should’ve gone 90 minutes ago.


Zombie Nightmare is bad in just about every sense of the word.  The cinematography is muddy, the pacing is lethargic, and the make-up is laughable.  And don’t get me started on the cast.  Save for Adam West of course.  (It was Tia Carrere’s first movie so I’ll give her a free pass too.)  Thor is ridiculously inept, as are the posse of hit-and-run cretins.  But the worst performance of the film has to go to Manuska Rigaud who played the voodoo lady.  She speaks in an overdone Haitian accent that resembles Elmer Fudd trying to imitate Bob Marley.  I dare you to understand one word of her dialogue.  


West seems to leave the movie relatively unscathed.  Most of his scenes revolve around him drinking hard liquor.  Something tells me he wasn’t “acting” with “props”.  If that wasn’t alcohol in his glasses, he’s a much better actor than I give him credit for.

AMERICAN NINJA (1985) ** ½

Michael Dudikoff stars as a GI named Joe who rescues his colonel’s daughter (Judie Aronson from Friday the 13th Part 4) from some kidnappers using his lightning fast Kung Fu skills.  Joe suffers from amnesia so he doesn’t know why he’s so good at the ninja arts but at least he can dodge bullets by somersaulting and turn everyday household objects like tire irons and garden hoses into deadly weapons. 


Most of the time though he’s content to just let his stunt double do all the hard stuff (like clumsily jumping through some lattice work).


Eventually Joe finds out that the colonel is in cahoots with the bad guys so he teams up with his buddy (Steve James from The Exterminator) to Kung Fu a bunch of motherfuckers.  Then a Japanese landscaper clues Joe in on his forgotten past (he taught him to be ninja when he was a kid).  Now that Joe knows he’s a ninja, he dons some black pajamas and proceeds to kick the shit out of some more motherfuckers.


American Ninja is one heck of a lamebrained action movie but it goes down pretty smooth.  It also suffers from a severe bout of schizophrenia.  Often times, director Sam (Breakin’ 2:  Electric Bugaloo) Firstenberg plays things seriously.  For the first hour or so, the film is very laid back and the plot slowly builds in a coherent manner.  There are brief glimpses of random nuttiness (Dudikoff puts a bucket on his head at one point; sort of like the scene in Star Wars where Luke practices against the target droid with his blast shield down), although nothing too out of the ordinary. 


Then about 75 minutes in, American Ninja really cuts loose and starts to fire on all cylinders.  Once Joe trades in his Army fatigues for black ninja pajamas, the movie cooks in crazy-as-an-outhouse-rat fashion.  Let me clue you in on just how nutty things get:  Before Joe fights the evil “Black Star Ninja”; he must compete side by side with him in a ninja obstacle course.  If that wasn’t crazy enough, the Black Star Ninja also has the power to shoot flames from his wrists and can fire laser beams out of his knuckles!


Firstenberg treats this with no explanation whatsoever.  He merely filmed it and said “Cut” afterwards.  Almost as if we, the audience were SUPPOSED to already know that laser beams were standard issue ninja equipment nowadays. 


If that wasn’t loony enough, I’m pretty sure there was a scene where a ninja disappeared for no apparent reason.  And I don’t mean “disappeared” as in he dropped his little smoke bombs and ran away as the smoke cleared either.  I mean this motherfucker disappeared Obi-Wan Kenobi style.  Slow-Mo fade fashion.  Am I crazy?  Did I dream that part?  


If Firstenberg kept this level of I Don’t Believe My Eyes level of WTF-ness going throughout the entire movie, I honestly believe American Ninja would’ve been a classic.  Unfortunately the rest of the film isn’t quite goofy enough to be considered bat shit insane, nor is it exactly competent enough to be called quality action.  A lot of the early action sequences are flat and suffer from a claustrophobic setting (they mostly take place on or around the same Army base) and/or are just inferior rip-offs (like the scene involving an Army truck that blatantly steals from Raiders of the Lost Ark).


I’m torn because I want to really like American Ninja but its tone was just way too out of whack.  For every well done fight scene (the scene where Dudikoff fights off some ninjas in a warehouse ain’t too shabby), there is a scene of utter stupidity that makes you doubt your sanity (like when the bad guy’s Jeep runs off the road and barely nudges a tree then blows up).  I think a big part as to why the film falls just short of becoming a classic is Michael Dudikoff.  The man is clearly not a karate expert and he isn’t much of an actor either.  He also has the screen presence of a cantaloupe to boot.  If the film had a star that was either a legit fighter (like Bloodsport era Van Damme) OR who could do all this silly stuff in a tongue-in-cheek manner (like Brandon Lee in Showdown in Little Tokyo), it might’ve worked.  


American Ninja has plenty of action and isn’t boring, so that’s a plus.  Although it’s no classic, it’s still a better than your average Cannon flick that’s for damn sure.  Four sequels followed.