Double TTC feature: “The Expendables,” “Piranha 3D”

(Rare it is that not one but TWO films come along that duke it out for top billing in Terrifically Terrible Cinema. But “The Expendables” came along, and then “Piranha 3D” — it was a perfect storm-like convergence of events – and both are so awesomely bad that they must stand together as the most fun you’ll have in what’s left of summer 2010.)

“The Expendables”
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke

Sly Stallone the director and writer, with a few exceptions, does not do subtlety. This is a foreign and unwelcome concept to him, kind of like sap is to Quentin Tarantino. So anyone who waltzed into “The Expendables” expecting anything more profound than a messy, magnificent orgy of testosterone, guts and violence deserves, quite frankly, to be disappointed. In short, “The Expendables” is a certain kind of movie for a certain kind of person: a person who likes to see things — and people — get blown up in large and exhilarating and nasty ways. That’s Stallone’s plan, and he sticks to it using a time-honored formula that requires enjoyably overexaggerated bad guys (a hearty high-five to Eric Roberts for looking so suave while being so evil) to bump heads with quippy, sweaty, rough-edged hero types — “the other guys.” This gaggle of mercenaries who accept suicide missions includes former SAS soldier Barney Ross (Stallone); Lee Christmas (Statham), aces with a blade; martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li); Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren), a sniper dangerously frayed around the edges; Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), a weapons specialist; and Toll Road (Randy Couture), a demolitions expert. Their newest mission is their most perilous yet: These comically named specialists must overthrow Mexican dictator General Garza (David Zayas), whose outrageous accent and furrowed brow fairly scream Very Bad Guy. But all too often behind every ferocious dictator there is an even more deadly financier, and so it is with CIA agent-gone-rogue James Munroe (Roberts), who is positively Idi Amin-like in his greed and lust for power. Barney, Lee and their pals, of course, really loathe such men – especially because they are qualmless about abusing beautiful women (Giselle Itié) with a lot of spunk – and mean to punish them as slowly and painfully as possible. This is where “The Expendables” excels, because Stallone knows deep in his burly soul how to make things explode in ways that will elicit a collective “HELL yeah!” from his viewers. The fight scenes – like Stallone’s throwdown with Steve Austin , or Li’s faceoff with Lundgren – are thrilling, while Crews’ gun should be the basis for a new world religion. Other facets of the movie aren’t quite so impressive, like Stallone and Couture’s forced performances, but Statham, Roberts and Mickey Rourke (an ex-Expendable who now gently weeps over his tattoo needle) are a hoot and a half. And that’s just what summer 2010 needed.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Piranha 3D”
Starring Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Jerry O’Connell

The tagline for Alexandre Aje’s gory bootyfest “Piranha 3D” really should have read: “It’s your only chance this year to see a penis get devoured by a fish — in 3D.” There are many other similarly ludicrous things that happen in this remake of a remake of a remake, but the penis-as-a-palate-cleanser signals the film’s intentions. They are not honorable; in fact, they are not even in the town housing the ballpark of honorable. Aje has one goal and one goal only in this raucous, raunchy sendup to horror film cliches, ham-fisted dialogue and even worse acting: to entertain. And entertain he does, in nearly every way imaginable. “Piranha,” besides being a gem of a 3D film (who wouldn’t rather a piranha explode off the screen than watch sweaty kids shake their moneymakers?), is a barrel of laughs — some goofy and stupid and crude, others highbrow, or at least middlebrow, jabs at films like “Jaws,” “Deep Blue Sea” and “Titanic.” There’s also an unusual ensemble cast with a few surprise cameos. The screwball plot, as it were, goes like so: An earthquake rocks Lake Victoria, setting loose a school of prehistoric piranhas trapped in deep caverns below. Because Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor and impeccable timing, this happens during Spring Break, when teeming throngs of drunk, nubile young hardbodies fill the waters with vomit and pheromones. Sheriff Julie Forester (Shue), Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) and a team of seismologists must get medieval (tee hee) on the tushes of these man-eating relics to save the lives of these hormonal horndogs, including Julie’s straight-laced son Jake (McQueen), his smokin’ crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr), a leering Joe Francis wannabe (O’Connell, an explosion of zeal and sleaze) and his bikini-clad, balloon-chested leading ladies. Oh, and there’s even time for Doc Brown himself to swoop in, though not even a DeLorean can save these teens from becoming shrieking bait worms. There’s not a thing serious about “Piranha,” not even half a teaspoon of nuance, but that’s why it clicks. With everyone – even the normally reticent Shue, who’s clearly suppressing some grins – delighting in this smorgasbord of cheese, it’s hard not to get hooked. (For the real hard-sells out there, a penis gets eaten in 3D. Unless porn goes 3D, answer opportunity when it raps on the door.)

TTC: “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1958)

“I’ll bet my badge that we haven’t seen the last of those weirdies.” ~~Lt. John Harper

Ed Wood Jr.’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is it, discerning readers. This film is IT — Ground Zero, the Alpha and Omega, Baby!, the Place the Buck of Suck Stops. Whatever unspeakable depths you think you’ve seen directors sink to, Wood crawls underneath. He’s braiding friendship bracelets with the Earthworms and Slow Worms down in that dirt. That is where he belongs, where he can network freely, because this movie is an abomination. It is so bad it barely deserves to be called a motion picture.

But “Plan 9 from Outer Space” does deserve to be awarded the Holy Grail of Terrifically Terribleness. Consider the duty done (it’s just one of the many job perks that come with annointing myself the Grand Poobah of Pitiful Cinema). It couldn’t have happened to a worse movie.

So bad is “Plan 9 from Outer Space” that it’s tempting to craft a list of its faults. This temptation must be avoided, however, as a) making that list would take the rest of 2010, all of 2011 and part of 2012 and when de worl’ blows up I don’t want to be making a list and b) a movie this terrifically terrible deserves full review treatment. Where, then, shall the festivities begin? The Amazing Criswell, our shrewd narrator for this celebration of crap, is as good a preliminary target as any. He neatly sets the tone for “Plan 9 from Outer Space” with a grave and stately speech, admonishing viewers — whom he calls “my friend” approximately 80 times in 30 seconds — that “future events such as these will affect you in the future.” That’s a bumper sticker craze still waiting to happen. This is a story to confound even out wildest of wild imaginations: grave robbers, zombies, vampires (oh, yeah), aliens, flying saucers (made, most like, with cardboard and silver spray paint and string) and a bomb that explodes particles of sunlight. No, I didn’t make that up. Think about it: A sun bomb is just blockheaded and catastrophic enough to be invented someday. Ed Wood might have been a prognosticator himself.

All these careening, transient notions need a splash of context and, boy, I wish I could give you some. The plot of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is, in essence, a half-hearted corralling of gripplingly crappy characters dressed in crappy costumes — Vampira’s got a waist on her Audrey Hepburn would have to starve to emulate — spitting out crappy dialogue (here’s a teaser: “Visits? That would indicate visitors.”) while wandering around a crappy set. The deaths of an old man (Bela Lugosi, who died halfway through and was replaced by a double who should have worn a hat reading “Bela’s Left the Building”) and his wife (Vampira) cause strange things to happen in San Fernando, Calif. Local inspector Daniel Clay (Tor Johnson) is murdered, and then flying saucers — piloted by Eros (Dudley Manlove) and Tanna (Joanna Lee) — appear. At the behest of the aliens, the dead rise. And pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott), his wife Paula (Mona McKinnon) and Lt. Harper (Duke Moore) are witness to these mad sights though the army vows they don’t exist.

There is more to “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” so much more. This film is a study of what not to do in every possible way. The acting (petrified dog turds could give better performances), “stunts” and costuming warrant special mention, like Zombie Clay’s bumbling rise from the grave. He’s like a sedated Barney Fife clawing his way out from the Underworld. There’s no feeling in the characters; they are so leaden and totally inept as to be screamingly funny. (When people go around asking “A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?” it’s no wonder Eros fears the sun bomb doesn’t belong in our hands.) Really, they are no better than the risen dead, who seem, in Vampira and Lugosi’s case, to have inexplicably become vampires. Vampira is filmed so that her palms are larger than her waistline. Scenes go from day to night at will; entire vehicles magically change color, then change back. Nothing, not one thing, goes right in Wood’s magnum opus. And that is cause for celebration.

TTC: “Spacehunter” (1983)

“You have a very enviable life force, a life force you’re going to share with me.” ~~Overdog

Jeff Foxworthy, that sapient nutsheller of things classless, once remarked that “redneck” could be defined as “a glorious absence of sophistication.” While no evidence exists that he was talking about “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” I have my suspicions. Because that phrase was invented for this movie, a 90-minute celebration of space travel camp, hideous costumes (including the clear prototype for Mike Myers’ Fat Bastard suit), hammy repartee and sexual innuendo. Lots of sexual innuendo, enough that Johnson could have cut the music director and just played Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” on loop. Admit it: The title even sounds a little dirty. Just exactly what kind of “forbidden zone” is this strapping space pirate “hunting” in?

Cough, cough. I digress. Portentous movie titles will do that to a red-blooded movie critic. A crime it would be for me to misrepresent “Spacehunter” as soft-core intergalactic porn; director Lamont Johnson’s ambitions aren’t so … below the belt. He works very hard to make this production, which contains all the one-liners Harrison Ford rejected during his tenure as Han Solo and all the costumes and props George Lucas vetoed, thoroughly low-quality and sincerely unsubtle. (The villain wardbrobe budget seems to be roughly equivalent to what John Carpenter spent on that rubber mask and coveralls for “Halloween.”) Not just any leading man will do for a terrifically terrible film, and so Johnson gives us Wolff (Peter Strauss), or He of the Frosted, Silken, Lightly Styled Locks. His chiseled jaw affirms “I’m the swashbuckling hero around these parts,” and that swaggering posture finishes the job. Wolff is the Cap’n Mal Reynolds of the 1980s; he’s always but a hairsbreadth from riddlin’ someone with holes.

Wolff, as his name signals, works alone as a salvage ship captain in this 22nd-century cosmos. He’s content picking up work where he finds it. He’s also careful to leave plenty of time for bedding his hard-bodied robot Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci). On a break from his sheet-rumpling hobby, he intercepts a call for help: Three Earth women were ejected from their space cruise liner when it crashed into a meteor, and they landed on the nearest planet, presided over by Overdog (Michael Ironside), the mother of all eevyill dictators. (Updog is his cousin.) In pursuit of the fetching Earthwomen he runs into Niki (Molly Ringwald when her hair color was found in nature), a smart-mouthed orphan who knows a meal ticket when she sees one. She also needs a Father Figure (“us loners got to stick together” was the first draft of “you complete me”), and Wolff looks better than anyone else. So Niki’s along for the ride, as is Washington (Ernie Hudson), Token Black Guy with Jokes. Soon they’re off to Overdog’s lair, where they’ll tangle with A Pimp Named The Chemist (Hrant Alianak). This guy’s a beaut who provides Earth girls to satisfy his master’s manful needs (he’s been really tryin’ baby…). The Chemist, however, is a pimp with discerning taste, remarking “I hate it when they’re missing limbs.”

Once “Spacehunter” boils down to the smackdown in Overdog’s dwelling, things get supernovas beyond gonzo and the film’s treasures rise to the surface. Behold the shabby joys of an underworld that looks as though it was built in some guy named Tito’s basement! Lamont Johnson obviously spared every expense, bless his C-list heart, for Overdog (whose S&M-styled contraption whispers “Oh No, Baby, I’m Not Compensating for Anything”), The Chemist and the creatures in their steamy hideaway, most of which resemble the product of an orgy involving Fat Bastard’s father, Ursula from “Little Mermaid” and Jabba the Hut. Ironside, sporting a fine pre-”Powder” makeup job, flagrantly delights in his innuendo-laden dialogue about “fusion tubes” and “enviable life forces”; call him a villain if you want, but he’s also a dirty old geezer for time immemorial. Unlike garden-variety dirty old geezers, though, he’s not relegated to flashing direction-giving Good Samaritans – no, Overdog has resources and a lot of spare time. Better still, he has a director who gives him free reign to go all in fast and furious.

That’s what she said.

TTC: “Waxwork” (1988)

“Shit! It’s the old ‘door opening by itself’ thing!” ~~Mark Loftmore

Picture it: The ‘burbs, Anywhereville, Middle America, 1988. There are endless rows of prefab-esque homes with manicured lawns and sensible cars in the driveway. It’s the kind of neighborhood where your teens — your smoking, drinking, schtupping-anything-that-moves teens, the little darlings – can feel safe walking to school. Then people start disappearing and a wax museum pops open in Suburbia, and the curator (David Warner) invites the hormonal humpers to a “midnight showing.” Sure they can go! At least it’s not a strip club.

Hey, on the off chance they turn up as life-size wax figurines, just think how much you invisible movie parents (IMPs) will save on the grocery bill! Plus, you’ll never need to buy candles again, though figuring out how to get the wick in there will require ingenuity.

This may sound like every IMP’s worst nightmare, but it’s an Oscar-caliber concept for a film deserving a spot in the Terrifically Terrible Cinema lineup. Anthony Hickox’s “Waxwork” is an abominably amazing dog’s breakfast of Dead Teen-Ager Movie stereotypes, horror movie conventions, hackneyed dialogue (it is inspired crap), dreadful special effects (the blood is more “Cherries ‘n’ the Snow” than “Ravishing Red”) and costumes that put that ’70s era Godzilla suit to shame (the “werewolf” looks like the lovechild of Chewbacca and A Knight Who Until Recently Said “Ni”). However low these kinds of movies should go, “Waxwork” goes lower. With panache. By “panache,” I mean: This film contains a scene where someone, about to kill Dracula in bat form in an epic this-is-the-end-of-the-movie! smackdown, pipes up: “Make my day.” Shoutouts to Dirty Harry are rare — rare as functioning brain cells in a Kardashian sister — in horror films, so this reveals two things:

1) Hickox is committed to making his viewers laugh at any cost.
2) You’ve really made it as an entertainer when people are quoting you before going full “Gangland” on a teensy flying mammal. 

Before Dracula gets a bullet in his brainpan, there is the matter of how he got there. Or, rather, how the ‘burb teens ended up in this mess in the first place. There’s much fun to be had in the Meet-and-Greet, almost as much as there is the flaming End of Days finale. (No, really — all that’s missing is the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Maybe they need new agents.) The erstwhile and comically self-aware “hero” of “Waxwork” is Mark (Zach Galligan, a dead ringer for a Zach Braff/Topher Grace hybrid), the poor, put-upon rich kid/nice guy who can’t even convince mummy to let him drink coffee. We know he has heart because he wears linen blazers. Mark’s inner circle includes China (Michelle Johnson), a wanton bad girl who asserts “I do what I want when I want. Dig it or fuck off”; Sarah (Deborah Foreman), the shy, well-mannered virgin (there’s no such thing as an hornery virgin); and Tony (Dana Ashbrook), the One Who Drinks. All decide the late-night museum showing can’t be that bad, and all end up sucked into the macabre wax scenes fighting for their lives against Dracula, and a werewolf, and a super-P.O.’d Egyptian mummy, and the Marquis de Sade.

Once the wax villains come onscreen, it’s all over but the guffawing. Hickox has no shame — no shame – and neither do any of the actors he’s appointed to this grand venture, who perform as if “nuance” is a shameful word. Michu Meszaros and Jack David Walker relish in the funny sidekickery as the Waxwork man’s henchmen (re: “velcome to Vaxvork”), and Galligan whips out the cheesy lines like “Guys, if I’m gonna play the hero here I need a little room” with a personable smirk. In fact, every line gets that kind of delivery because it’s the only kind that feels right. Everyone in the cast is aware how bad “Waxwork” is … and they’re happy about it. Which is as it should be.

Even Warner, a first-rate übervillain, gets his digs, remarking “They’ll make a movie about anything nowadays.” Yes. Yes they will. And that makes my day.

(Thanks go to Unrulytravller for this excellent recommendation.)

TTC: “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003)

“Your eyes say ‘no, no.’ But my mouth says ‘yes, yes.’” ~~Freddy Kreuger

Right about now, fellow lovers of godawful movies, I’m feeling the unsquelchable urge to cast off these rusty shame shackles, come tearing out of the Closet of Chagrin and proclaim, loud enough for all the world to hear:

Not only did I see “Freddy vs. Jason” in the theater (twice), I bought it (full-price) and watch it often enough — Halloween; Easter; after various and sundry horrendous bad life experiences – that I can quote the dialogue.

Whew. That was a gargantuan platter of truth that just got dropped, right there. (Mind the sharp edges.) Sometimes it’s necessary to stop hiding true feelings about wretched-fun movies. Hence “Freddy vs. Jason.” Because Ronny Yu’s chipperly crappy horror-comic showdown of epically stupid proportions is a piece of Terrifically Terrible Cinema that deserves much revelry. After all, this is a motion picture that manages to accomplish three goals:

1) Loads of teen-agers doing bone-headed, cliched teen-ager things get killed in loads of gore-tastic ways.
2) It’s FREDDY KREUGER. And he’s FIGHTING JASON VOORHEES.
3) There’s a delightfully shocking amount of dialogue that, with little manipulation, turns into double entendres (examples: “I’m dying to see what skeletons are hidden in your closet”; “the first time tends to get a little messy”).

Perhaps this trinity of rules didn’t convince you of the awesomely fun bowl of badness that is “Freddy vs. Jason.” That’s understandable, as it’s naturally a very fine line between stupid-good and just, well, stupid. More convincing may be in order. Let’s begin with a rundown of the (ha! ha ha!) plot: Child killer Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) has been stewing and smarting in the bowels of Hell — owing to what he did, probably in a two-bedroom Jacuzzi suite he shared with Stalin or Amin – because the good townsfolk of Springwood have covered up his crimes and found a way to prevent Freddy from sneaking into children’s dreams. Death he could handle, but being forgotten? That’s a bitch. This forlorn murderer needs a way to strike fear back into the hearts of Elm Street’s little ones, and fast. Then Freddy finds none other than Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger), that hockey mask-sporting maniac killed only 1,986 consecutive times before descending to the fiery pits. It’s the beginning of a beeyootiful friendship, and no sooner does Freddy spring Jason from H-E-double hockey sticks than the lumbering oaf start running afoul of the King of Striped Sweaters’ plan, going Iron Chef on every teen he sees. 

Happily for us viewers, there are nothing BUT teen-agers in Springwood. (Parents are but a nuisance in these kinds of movies, no?) The heroine is Lori Campbell (Monica Keena), surrounded by her air-headed pals Kia (Kelly “I Ain’t No Jennifer Hudson” Rowland) and Gibb (Katharine Isabelle). So young she is, and yet her heart cannot forget the boy she loved so long ago, Will (Jason Ritter), stowed away in a mental hospital with friend Mark (Brendan Fletcher), the resident expert on Kreuger lore. Once Jason comes around, memories of Freddy start coming back, and dontchaknow it’s only a matter of time before The Man in Red-n-Black is creeping into the kidlets’ dreams, making kid pranks — “got your nose!” — into shameless puns. Various plots are hatched by various people, including New Deputy in Town Scott (Lochlyn Munro), and there is drinking and smoking and teen sex. Oh, you kids. Always with the tomfoolery, never bothering to watch “Scream” to find out it’ll get you cleft in twain with a machete. Tsk tsk tsk.

There is little need to speak of “acting,” except to say that it’s the pits (that was a compliment). Story? Silly reader — the plot is beside the point. If it made any sense or was in any form/shape original, “Freddy vs. Jason” might face the unthinkable fate of ascending to “mediocre.” Indeed, as with so many awesomely awful movies, there’s a willingness of the actors and the director to go past bad and back to good again, and a lack of care for “quality.”

But really, it boils down to this: We should not, on principle, avoid any movie where Robert Englund actually says the words “how sweet … dark meat.”

TTC: “Deep Blue Sea” (1999)

“I hate to interrupt this moment of burgeoning intimacy, but can we get the fuck out of here?” ~~Preacher

It’s fair to assume that, at any given moment in life, when someone utters the words “as a side effect, the sharks got smarter,” many cans of whoop-ass are about to be opened … and it won’t be the bipeds with the opposable thumbs who are popping the tabs. No, they’ll be the ones screeching like banshees, churning water with all the fluidity, grace and power of drunken cows. Or they’ll be chum.

As “Deep Blue Sea” progresses, the Foolish Scientists/Corporate Bigwigs/Token Brothers aboard the isolated ship Aquatica, a floating facility that uses Mako sharks’ brains for Alzheimer’s research, find themselves in both situations, sometimes simultaneously. Boy oh boy what cheerfully cheesy fun it is to watch. Hardly “Jaws,” or even “Jaws XI: I Know Who You Ate 25 Years Ago,” Renny Harlin’s CGI-enhanced battle royale between sharks and humans is terrifically terrible fun of the highest order — heavy on effects and state-the-obvious dialogue and happily light on subtlety. In point of fact, “hammy” might be the watchword, since subtle movies don’t ordinarily have people (LL Cool J, renaissance man extraordinaire) go around saying things like “Ooh, I’m done! Brothers never make it out of situations like this! Not ever!” Hating a movie this comically aware of its own gouda-ness is a capital crime.

And bless my dairy-gulping heart there’s plenty more where that came from in “Deep Blue Sea.” The plot promises as much and delivers: Aquatica floats way, way out in the ocean, so far that it might be appropriate to apply the “Alien” tagline to the ocean (i.e., scream if you want, but it’ll just tell the sharks where you are). Dr. Sarah McAllister (Saffron Burrows in a breath-taking don’t-quit-your-day-job role) is a researcher hoping to woo wealthy businessman Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) to invest in her highly controversial research: She’s injecting shark’s brains with a protein complex to determine if she can reanimate brain cells lost to Alzheimer’s. Her crack team — all brightly capable of whipping out gems like “Beneath this glassy surface, a world of gliding monsters” — includes Carter (Thomas Jane), a surly shark wrangler; project leader Jim “I’m So Smart I Piss into the Wind” Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgård); Jim’s main squeeze Janice (Jacqueline McKenzie); an engineer, Tom (Michael Rapaport); and the scripture-quoting chef “Preacher” (LL Cool J), whom we intuitively understand to be 1,921 times smarter than the researchers fannying about with genetically manipulating shark brains.

As detailed earlier, naturally everything goes whop-jollyed* 15-20 minutes into “Deep Blue Sea” (proof of the age-old adage: “Make sharks smarter and they’ll, like, eat you and stuff”). The makos, not surprisingly, don’t relish getting brain injections and being cooped up in pens, so they use those big new brains to outsmart the humans, eat a few of them — wouldn’t get emotionally attached to too many characters if I were you – and just toy around with the rest. This leads to quite a few heated arguments (most aimed at Dr. McAllister, because didn’t that “stupid bitch” know genetic testing is dangerous?), (sadly) no Biblical couplings, a smidge of PG-themed nudity and many thrilling chase scenes that mostly the sharks win, though sometimes they run the risk of getting blown into Mako McNuggets. The sharks, thanks to CGI, don’t look even the weensiest bit real; in a movie like this, however, that works in the director’s favor. Besides, does reality honestly belong in a movie where someone gets trapped inside an oven and the shark’s nose sets the dial to “broil”?

No, no, a million times no. Reality would be the ruination of “Deep Blue Sea.” Director Renny Harlin (he’s partial to nonsensical thrillers) knows this; thus, he helpfully has his actors explain all the plot points early, as if to get them out of the way so we can enjoy the shark-on-human action fest we’ve signed on for. The actors — particularly LL Cool J, likable in any part but especially funny as Preacher, and Jane, who looks alternately either very turned on or very constipated — only add to the salty fun. Bring on the sequel, says I.

*Or “wrong” to you non-Southerners.

TTC: “Kingu Kongu tai Gojira” (1962)

KKTGb“King Kong can’t make a monkey out of us!” ~~Mr. Tako

“King Kong Vs. Godzilla” is the kind of thought-provoking motion picture that entices one to ponder life’s deepest and most meaningful Big Issues: the eternal struggle between good and evil; the devastating repercussions of nuclear testing; humankind’s foolish belief that nature is ours for the using and that the natural world remains firmly under our control.

<Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ow! My unformed stomach muscles!>

Forgive the untidy interjection, but typing that first sentence with a straight face is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do. So why the guffaw? Well, it’s possible that all the aforementioned elements exist in “Kingu Kongu tai Gojira,” my very favorite entry in the neverending and gloriously scattered Godzilla canon. Trying to unearth them from the heaping piles of amazingly awful costuming, comic special effects and horrendously fantastic dialogue is a fruitless endeavor. “Kingu Kongu tai Gojira” does not want or encourage the formation of brain wrinkles; this is camp for camp’s own sake, pure kitsch served straight-up with nothing to dilute the flavor.

Hold it, hold it — Why are we talking about chasers? This is a movie about GODZILLA, lizardly tyrant of the Far East, fighting KING KONG, the biggest, baddest, coolest damn dirty ape in history. Just put those two costumed dudes on a fake mountain, let them rip into each other for 90 minutes — smashing untold amounts of Tonka cars in the process — and that’s some mighty fine entertainment.

But director Ishirô Honda, plot pusher that he is, tries to work in some business about a backstory (or three) before he unleashes Kong and Godzilla, so the usual summary song-and-dance might be helpful. Lamenting his low ratings, TV producer Mr. Tako (Ichirô Arishima) hears about Pharoh Island, home to non-addictive narcotic berries and a mythical giant ape called King Kong, and decides it’s the perfect way to boost ratings for his show “Mysteries of the World.” His assistants Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yû Fujiki) get the unenviable job of charming the natives, harvesting the berries and hauling back Kong. During the voyage, their ship nicks Godzilla’s iceberg and frees Japan’s meanest, scaliest scourge. (He’s fightin’ mad, see, so in “King Kongu tai Gojira” he’s the villain. It changes in every movie, and sometimes a few times in the same movie; don’t bother to keep up.) When Kong wakes up on a raft in the ocean, he’s a might irked himself, so he breaks free and swims away, heading straight for Japan.

Cue blaring chorus of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” And here the real fun begins. At this point, blessed be, Honda’s movie kicks into action overdrive, with Godzilla letting his tail and his fiery breath wreak havoc on Japan’s unsuspecting citizens. (The fact that after so many attacks these people are still unprepared? My, my how that warms my heart cockles considerably.) There’s a thrillingly bad battle involving a train full of innocent bystanders. Kong gets airlifted to a mountaintop. Giant bolders are thrown, power lines are toppled and used as electroshock paddles and Japan, once again, gets smashed to itty-bitty pieces the size of malformed McNuggets. The destruction is magnificent in its spendid lack of choreography and anything resembling special effects.

Though the action sequences are great cheesy fun, they are only part of why “Kingu Kongu tai Gojira” is so terrifically terrible. The script and the characters are so over-the-top that overdubbing is unnecessary. Fujiki, who neatly fills the Loose Cannon role, gets to have all the fun as Furue, who interrupts Takashima’s serious moments (wonderfully few and far between) with lines like “My corns always hurt when they’re near a monster.” It is Arishima, however, who runs away with the movie. He’s the quintessential mad genius, or he would be if his diabolical intentions were backed by actual brain power.

Truth be known, that’s not a bad way to describe “Kingu Kongu tai Gojira”: all brawn and no brain. Hey, if you want brains, look elsewhere — this ain’t “Casablanca.” But maybe, just maybe, it’s the “Casablanca” of Godzilla films.

Terrifically Terrible Cinema: “Over the Top” (1987)

7977262“The world meets nobody halfway. When you want something, you gotta take it.”
~~Lincoln Hawk
 

First things first: Let’s go ahead and agree that this movie scribble is going to file “Over the Top,” a lesser-known Sly Stallone gem from the late 1980s, in the supremely overstuffed folder titled “Splendidly Bad Epic ’80s Flicks” (because if the ’80s produced a movie that was not epic in scope and soundtrack, I did not see it). For a movie about the National Arm Wrestling Championships in Sin City that also manages to include oodles of dad-like advice, big burly-man semis and a man who chugs Valvoline belongs nowhere if it does not belong in that manila folder.

With its screenplay co-written by Stallone, “Over the Top” (heed the title; it’s damn fine nutshelling) has but one thing to offer its highly specific audience of Sly fans and connoisseurs of Terrifically Terrible Cinema: a marvelous and total lack of sophistication. For Demolition Man, “subtlety” is nothing less than a deplorable dirty word — always has been, save for a “First Blood” here and a “Rocky Balboa” there — and it shows. Not one single element of “Over the Top,” from the smallest father/son moment to The Really Big, Really Intense Showdown, is understated. (Remember about the title? I told you it was important.) Metaphors are painted with big, messy glops and slops; the sweeping montages showcase “Eye of the Tiger”-styled music so loud it drowns out the (ha! as if!) dialogue; the dying mom has a bad case of Sick People Teeth and Too Much Gray Eyeshadow; Robert Loggia acts like his very life hinges on line overdelivery.

There’s bad, alright, but this? This is the kind of movie that’s so bad you have to watch the whole thing.

But more on this plot, so awful it seems overripe for a remake by Trey Parker and Matt Stone: Long-haul trucker Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) discovers his ill wife Christina (Susan Blakely) is rapidly approaching her expiration date and she wants him to have a relationship with Michael (David Mendenhall), the son he left behind. Christina’s underhanded father Jason Cutler (Loggia), who long ago branded Hawk a — gasp! — “loser,” has done his part to keep father and son separated. But soon enough Cutler learns three important lessons: 1) Hawk drives a semi big enough to obliterate fancy porcelain fountains, so don’t piss him off; 2) If you see Hawk’s hat turned backward, he’s already pissed off, so run away; and 3) National arm wrestling competitions are petri dishes that breed entire populations warm, fuzzy dad-and-son moments.

Herein lies the pure trashy fun of “Over the Top”: It’s exactly the movie you expect it to be, only moreso. Everything is loud and bright and dumb and epic and so overdone as to be hysterically funny. Hawk’s arm wrestling competitors alone are priceless, from Grizzly the Valvoline-swigger (Bruce Way) — who learns the only appropriate follow-up to Valvoline is Alka-Seltzer — to the philosopher Bull Hurley (Rick Zumwalt), a man of simple tastes who lives by an easy-to-remember credo: “I drive truck, break arms, and arm wrestle. It’s what I love to do, it’s what I do best.” Hawk himself is something of a soothsayer, a deliverer of gloriously unsubtle advice (refer to the opening quote), and there are moments when Stallone appears to have slipped into a communicative coma while playing him. Mendenhall and Loggia take the opposite approach, injecting so much passion into their Big Speeches that they threaten to become touching. But they do not, and thank Valvoline for that; it would ruin this movie!

So, no, “Over the Top” is not great work of art, or even a paint-by-numbers ripped from Highlights. But it is the finest movie ever made about arm wrestling, and sometimes, well, that’s enough.

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