November 23rd, 2012

ASSASSIN (1986) ** ½

A government agency experiments with using a cyborg assassin. When the cyborg learns the government is shutting down the program, he goes nuts and being killing the pencil pushers responsible. The government brass then hires Robert Conrad to stop the robot.

What we have here is basically a Made for TV rip-off of The Terminator. I know the plot description doesn’t really sound like James Cameron’s film, but there are a couple scenes that ape that flick very closely. Like the scene where the cyborg tracks down his target and finds her roommate instead. But what makes this part different is that this cyborg is anatomically correct, so he actually has sex with the roommate to get close to the heroine. Interestingly enough, I bet Cameron must’ve seen this on TV late at night because there are some bits that are reminiscent of Terminator 2. The way the cyborg runs really fast is not unlike the way the T-1000 runs and the scene where he hangs off the back of a speeding car is pretty close to the similar scene in Part 2.

I guess the flick is mostly notable because it stars the guy who played “Fedora” in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in the Arnold role. He’s not bad either. There’s a cool part where he kicks a desk and pins a secretary to the wall and the way he karate chops a book case and breaks every shelf is pretty badass. My favorite scene though comes where he uses a hot iron to smooth over the bullet holes in his stomach!

Directed by Sandor Stern (the man behind the cult classic, Pin), Assassin is kinda dull in spots and suffers from the same listless pacing you’d expect from a Made for TV movie. However, it does contain one genuinely surprising jump scare. That’s more than I can say for countless other movies I’ve watched this month.

DETECTIVE-PALOOZA: ODDS AND ENDS

THE KENNEL MURDER CASE (1933) **

William Powell stars as dapper detective Philo Vance. And boy is he having a busy day. First, a dog is murdered, and then a guy commits suicide. Vance doesn’t buy the official story, so he investigates further. Naturally, more people turn up dead before Vance can solve the mystery.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, The Kennel Murder Case is an OK little mystery; no more, no less. There are a few nice touches (like the way Philo figured out how the killer was able to lock the door behind him), but nothing to really make or break the film. Curtiz never kicks things into gear though and the film never quite finds its stride. Despite the sluggish pace, the scene where Philo recreates the murder is fairly well done, but the flick really needed one or two more of these sequences for it to have been worthwhile though.

William Powell isn’t bad in this movie. Like the film itself, his performance is adequate, but he never quite fires on all cylinders either. He fared much better playing another detective (and dog lover) in the next year’s The Thin Man.

Nearly a decade later, Curtiz went on to direct Casablanca; and I don’t know about you, but I think that flick is slightly better than this one.

NANCY DREW… REPORTER (1939) ***

Bonita Granville stars in her second of four appearances as teenage sleuth Nancy Drew. This time out, Nancy goes on a field trip with her journalism class to write a story for their local paper. Unsatisfied with the fluff story she is assigned; Nancy steals a press pass and takes it upon herself to cover a murder trial. Convinced the accused woman is innocent, Nancy sets out to clear her name.

Granville has all the spunkiness you’d expect from the character. I liked the way she carelessly threw herself headfirst into trouble (like when she aggressively goes after a hit-and-run driver). It’s also pretty funny how she’s always roping her clueless boyfriend into her misadventures. The scene where she cons him into posing as a boxer is especially funny. And the scene in a Chinese restaurant where Nancy and her gang are forced to literally sing for their supper is also quite enjoyable.

Look, I’m the last guy you’d expect to like a movie about a teenage girl reporter, but Granville’s charm really makes the film. Most fast-talking wise-cracking girls in these films are annoying, but Granville’s energetic performance is a lot of fun. The film pretty much falls apart by the last reel and the final chase is a bit of a letdown, but there’s still plenty to recommend about the first hour or so to make it worth a look.

Well folks, that’s all for Detective-Palooza this month. Next month’s Palooza: Kung Fu-A-Palooza!

LOGAN’S RUN (1976) **

Logan’s Run is not a movie about Wolverine getting a rip in his stockings. It’s about the future. And like nearly every movie about the future that was made in the 70’s, the society of the future just looks like a mall from the 70’s. If only we were so lucky.

Basically, the rules of the future society are thus: Life is fine and dandy when you’re young, but once you turn 30, you’re sent to this crazy place that looks like Cirque de Soleil Beyond Thunderdome where you fly around like you’re high on Willy Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drinks until you blow up in front of an auditorium of cheering citizens. Some people aren’t into this sort of scene, so they choose to “run”. Logan (Michael York) is a “sandman” who tracks down the thirtysomething rebels and kills them. He’s given a mission to infiltrate the runners, but he winds up running himself when he falls in love with a broad. Because she is played by Jenny Agutter, we totally understand.

This movie is uneven (the good parts are weighted towards the beginning), overlong (by a good thirty minutes), and derivative (the big “surprise” is more or less stolen from Planet of the Apes). The parts that revolve around Jenny Agutter running around in a flimsy nightie, getting wet, and/or getting naked were easily the highlights. But for every high, there’s inevitably two or three lows. (Peter Ustinov’s crazy cat hoarding cameo, the robot that wanted to turn Logan into a frozen TV dinner, etc.)

And I’m not entirely sure I “got” the message of this movie. It’s as if the filmmakers were trying to say that it’s OK to grow old or something. I’m not sure I totally agree. For example, if I got sentence to death at the age of 30, I would’ve missed out on Obama, Snooki, The Voice, and Gangnam Style. That is to say, I would not have missed much.