February 29th, 2012

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: JEFF SPEAKMAN

I’m a relative newcomer to Jeff Speakmanmania. Once I saw The Perfect Weapon last year, I knew the man was something special. Sadly, Speakman never was able to capitalize on the success of The Perfect Weapon. That’s okay though because he definitely earned his Legendary status with that one. Today we’ll be looking at three decidedly non-Legendary films from a truly Legendary man.

First up is…

HOT BOYZ (2002) **

Silkk the Shocker is a straight-laced inner city youth whose girlfriend is unfortunate enough to try to save an undercover cop’s life. She gets put away by crooked cop Gary Busey who uses Silkk to get the goods on a new competing drug dealer. He sets Silkk up for murder and threatens to put him away for life if he doesn’t go through with it. After his gal (and unborn baby) winds up dying behind bars, Silkk says, “fuck it” and starts up a life of crime.

The best thing about the thoroughly ordinary Hot Boyz (sic) is the presence of Jeff Speakman. He’s pretty great as Silkk’s Kung Fu teacher. Speakman’s a little pudgier than he was in The Perfect Weapon, but that’s okay. With his exceptionally thick head of hair and impeccable sideburns he kinda reminded me a bit of Elvis in his Kung Fu days. Memo to Don Coscarelli: If Bruce Campbell doesn’t do Bubba Ho-Tep 2, Jeff Speakman would be perfect for the role of Elvis.

Sadly, Speakman isn’t in the movie a whole lot and only fleetingly gets to show off his karate prowess. In fact, the whole movie is a criminal misuse of talent. I mean Snoop Dogg is in the flick, but he only has a small role as a member of Silkk the Shocker’s crew. He livens up the movie considerably and things would’ve been much better had he been cast in the lead. Sillk isn’t exactly bad or anything, yet the role really needed someone with a little bit more piss and vinegar. Gary Busey is good as well, although his role is kinda minor, despite his top billing. And C. Thomas Howell essays his scuzzy cop role nicely too, but like Busey; he’s not given much to do.

Hot Boyz was written and directed by Master P. He does an adequate job at both for the most part, yet it’s nothing exceptional. P’s work is a bit more impressive than say, Bret Michaels. Still, this movie would be completely forgettable if it wasn’t for the cast.

Although the flick starts with a tad bit of promise, it quickly turns into another generic gangsta movie in the third act. I also thought it was kinda lame how Silkk goes from being a meek dude to badass in the span of one montage. Then of course you have to deal with a lot of awful rap music on the soundtrack, although I guess that was to be expected. I could’ve also done without all the gratuitous plugs for Master P’s clothing line, record label, and movie studio too.

Overall, Hot Boyz is lukewarm at best.

Our next Speakman flick is…

SCORPIO ONE (1998) **

Terrorists trigger an explosion at a state-of-the-art space station and steal a top secret formula. Special Ops guy Jeff Speakman is sent up there along with a team of astronauts (headed by Robert Carradine) to find out what happened. While on their mission; the crew gets picked off one by one and soon learn that there is a terrorist in their midst.

A lot of the early going of this movie is filled with long scenes of astronauts in clumsy spacesuits plodding around a derelict ship. This works sometimes; especially if you’re name is Ridley Scott. Unfortunately director Worth (Illicit Behavior) Keeter is no Ridley Scott.

Scorpio One really squanders its potential. I mean the concept of Speakman in Space had “AWESOME” written all over it. Sadly, most of Speakman’s Kung Fu scenes are reserved for the third act. Although you have to wait over an hour to see Jeff do his thing, I will admit that when he finally starts kicking butt, it’s pretty sweet. We also get a decent scene in the Iraqi desert where Jeff rescues a POW as well as an OK Event Horizon-ish part where a guy gets stuck inside an airlock and explodes.

Mostly though, Scorpio One is a dull affair. In addition, it features some pretty crummy special effects and it goes on way too long to boot. The solid supporting cast (Carradine, Robin Curtis, Lance LeGault) do what they can, but they ultimately can’t save the flick.

AKA: Operation Scorpio One.

Our final foray into Speakman cinema is…

PLATO’S RUN (1998) **

Gary Busey stars as an ex-mercenary named Plato who gets hired by a former flame to rescue some political prisoner down in Cuba. Busey delivers on his promise, but he is double crossed and framed for a political assassination. He then must clear his name and take down the greedy bastard (in this case, Roy Scheider) responsible.

Plato’s Run is yet another top-billed Gary Busey movie featuring Jeff Speakman in a co-starring role. It’s better made than Hot Boyz (or Scorpio One for that matter), yet it manages to waste Speakman’s considerable talents even more than those films did. On top of that, his screen time is severely limited and they never make the best use of his talents. In fact (Spoiler Warning), Speakman stupidly gets killed off in the end with very little fanfare or consequence, which is especially disappointing.

Busey is good here though. You kinda forget how good he can be at playing a hero after so many crazed bad guy and psycho roles. But as Busey as the Hero Movies go, Plato’s Run is definitely no Bulletproof. Thankfully, the supporting cast is strong enough to keep you interested. Scheider makes for a credible villain and Scarface’s Steven Bauer is solid as Busey’s right hand man.

Despite never once kicking into gear, Plato’s Run does have a handful of good scenes. There’s a funny bit where Busey has to pretend to be a gay to avoid Scheider’s henchmen. We also get a good scene where Busey and Bauer have to crawl their way through a minefield, but these moments of legitimate goodness are few and far between. On the unintentional hilarity side of things though, I have to say I got a laugh out of the scene where Busey uses Kung Fu in slow motion, but they only used slow motion in this scene to disguise the fact that Busey isn’t very good at Kung Fu.

Next Week’s Legend: Gary Daniels.

PRIVATE LESSONS (1981) ** ½

How could I possibly go through an entire month of watching Skinamax movies without watching a Sylvia Kristel movie?

Eric Brown is this rich bratty kid who gets a new sexy housekeeper played by Kristel. When his father goes away on business, he immediately starts lusting after her. She eventually lets him watch her get naked and pretty soon they’re having a sexual relationship. But their love is soon put to the test when the sleazy chauffeur (Howard Hesseman) ropes Eric into a blackmail scheme.

Private Lessons is very enjoyable for about the first hour or so as the relationship between Brown and Kristel is somewhat moving (albeit somewhat illegal). Their scenes together hit some notes of authenticity and ring true more often than not (like the part where he brags to his fat friend about scoring with her when he really ran out of the room as soon as he saw her naked). It’s just a shame that the third act involving the chauffer’s scam to cheat Brown out of his trust fund is so damned ho-hum. It also doesn’t help that this chunk of the movie is pretty dull and not very funny.

Overall we get five sex scenes within an 86 minute span. There are two Guy on Girl scenes, one Peeping Tom scene, one Undressing scene, and one Bubble Bath scene. Despite the fact that the sex scenes only occur every 17 minutes, I must say that they are all more or less steamy. I only take issue with the hot disrobing scene which is ruined by the fact that someone blurred out Kristel’s nether regions.

Kristel is hot as ever and her exquisite beauty is pretty much the only reason to watch it. She looks damn fine in and out of her clothes and her acting ain’t too shabby either. I just wish the movie lived up to her level of sexiness.

Special Note: This movie was produced by game show tycoons Barry and Enright and features cinematography by Jan de Bont.

Well folks, that’s gonna wrap it up for Skinamax-A-Palooza. Join us next month when the next Palooza will be: El Santo-A-Palooza!

DEATH IN THE SHADOWS (1985) **

A young girl’s mom gets killed by a hit-and-run driver on the eve of her 18th birthday. When the autopsy reveals that she never had children, our heroine goes on a search to find more about the woman she thought was her mother for so many years. But as she gets closer to unlocking the mystery of her mother’s past, the same killer car that murdered her mama begins stalking her too.

Death in the Shadows is an efficient but relatively unexciting Dutch thriller. The central mystery is interesting enough and some of the twists work, yet the film never really cuts loose. And never once does the plot ever rise above the level of a competent Lifetime Movie. We do however get a pretty good sex scene where our heroine bangs her boyfriend on her 18th birthday though. She also gets another fairly gratuitous topless scene later in the picture too and the scene where she visits a peep show for no good reason is kinda hot also. You won’t see that shit on Lifetime, that’s for sure.

Speaking of not seeing shit, a lot of the nighttime scenes in this movie are so dark you can’t tell what the heck is going on. This severely cuts down on the suspense, particularly during the car scenes. Had the cinematography been a little bit less murky, perhaps the car stalking scenes could’ve been a lot more intense. And the finale is pretty weak too, which further helps sink the flick.

THE VIOLENT YEARS (1956) ****

A gang of well-to-do schoolgirls go out at night and hold up gas stations. Since the ringleader is also the daughter of the police chief, she uses her old man to stay one step ahead of the coppers. After riding high on the success of several robberies, the girls get roped into trashing their school for some well-paying communists. When the cops show up, the gals start shooting and two of the girls wind up dead. In the meantime our heroine also kills a cop, which seals the deal to her road to ruin.

The Violent Years is one of my favorite Juvenile Delinquent movies of the 50’s. It was written by none other than the man himself, Ed Wood. It may not have been directed by Wood, but it has his fingerprints all over it. (Yes, there is a scene that relies heavily on an angora sweater.) Not only that; but a few of Wood’s cronies also participated in the making of the film. Timothy Farrell, a veteran of many Wood movies, narrates the film (as well as has a small role) and Wood’s usual cameraman William C. Thompson also shot the picture.

I think The Violent Years is a terrific little flick. It’s often neglected, overlooked, and underappreciated compared to the rest of Ed Wood’s work. Sure, it’s not flat out outrageous like some of his most memorable films, yet it has a very distinct charm all its own. From the great introduction scene of the girls, to the final scene where the judge chastises their parents, it never fails to deliver on the J.D goods. And if you’ve seen a lot of this type of movie, you’ll be sure to appreciate the unrelentingly grim ending.

The standout scene of course comes when the girl gang holds up a necking couple at gunpoint. First they strip the gal and tie her up. Then they hold the gun on the guy and force him to have their way with them. This scene is pure demented bliss. If nothing else, it firmly cements The Violent Years in the upper echelon of Ed Wood cinema.

The Violent Years is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten films of 1956 at the Number 3 spot, which puts it in between The Searchers and The Wild and the Wicked.