Cannon Films

Street Smart (1987, Jerry Schatzberg)

Somewhere around the halfway point in Street Smart, when both female “leads” get reduced to a combination punching bag–figuratively and literally–and damsel, the movie starts to collapse. It doesn’t collapse in a standard way. It doesn’t give too much to either of its dueling stars, Christopher Reeve and Morgan Freeman; instead, it gives them less. It collapses out of a kind of inertia. After promising sensational developments, it offers none.

Except, of course, Reeve embracing his mediocre (but good looking) white guy privilege. Like everything else in the ending, however, Street Smart doesn’t really want to pursue it. It just wants to be over.

Lots happens in the third act–assaults, murders, two jail sequences for Reeve (though the second is after the movie’s stopped treating him like a protagonist)–and none of it gets any resolution from the characters. The film skips over their reactions to their subsequent actions. It rushes through the most intersting part of the story, when Reeve’s hubris brings suffering on everyone.

The film starts with Reeve as a floundering New York (sadly filmed in Montreal because Cannon) magazine reporter. Despite going to Harvard and being good looking, Reeve can no longer hack it. The managing editor, Andre Gregory, thinks he’s boring. Until Reeve sells them on a lifestyle piece on a Times Square pimp. They buy it. Only problem, Reeve doesn’t know any Times Square pimps to write lifestyle pieces about. He does, however, take Times Square working girl Kathy Baker out for ice cream.

So Reeve makes up the story. Girlfriend Mimi Rogers is supportive, as Reeve losing his job means they can’t pretend to be successful yuppies anymore.

Simultaneously, Times Square pimp Freeman has just accidentally killed an abusive john. The D.A., Jay Patterson, is out to get him. Patterson is everything Reeve isn’t. Patterson’s not good looking, but he’s honest and hard-working. He’s also cruel as shit. Reeve’s not cruel. He learns to be cruel (not thanks to Patterson, who keeps getting him thrown in jail, but Freeman, but it’s in the dreadful third act so who cares).

Patterson wants Reeve to snitch on Freeman. Only Reeve doesn’t know Freeman. Until Freeman finds out Baker knows Reeve and then decides to use him as a defense witness. Reeve needs Freeman to convince Gregory he’s got a real pimp. Reeve and Freeman have a successful reciprocal relationship, complicated when Reeve gets too close to Baker and vice versa.

The one thing Street Smart never does–oh, I forgot, Reeve also becomes a TV news reporter because he’s rather good looking and photogenic–but the one thing the film never does is show Reeve reacting to where he was wrong in his fiction. He sees Freeman’s real life, in some of the film’s best scenes–even when it’s over dramatic, the acting is superb (director Schatzberg realizes then forgets the cast is best when in frame together)–but he never really reacts to it.

He’s got the Baker subplot instead.

And Baker’s great. It’s just not great for the movie.

Most of the acting is excellent. Freeman is phenomenal. If he doesn’t give the best performance in sunglasses ever in Street Smart, he’s got to come close. Patterson’s great. Baker’s great. Reeve’s quite good some of the time. The rest of the time the writing’s just too thin. And he and Rogers have zero chemistry.

Rogers isn’t good. She’s occasionally okay, but it’s a crap part. Gregory is annoying. It seems unlikely such a nitwit could run a successful magazine, even if he’s rich and white.

Erik King is pretty good as Freeman’s sidekick. Anna Maria Horsford is awesome as Freeman’s “business manager.” She only has a couple scenes but she’s so good.

Schatzberg’s direction never makes much impression either way. Given the film’s Montreal shooting location, I guess it’s impressive how well he makes the film feel like New York. Adam Holender’s photography should get some of that credit as well. It’s not great cinematography and he really should’ve worked with Schatzberg on some of the establishing shots, but it’s convincing.

Robert Irving III’s score is a little much. Miles Davis contributing results in some nice trumpeting, but not much in the way of effective movie scoring.

Street Smart has some great acting going for it and a lot of interesting character intersections. It’s a bit of a cowardly script. It runs away from the race angle; brings it up, then (impressively) runs away from it, enough fingers to fill ears and cover eyes. Basically it just needed a strong rewrite–or a stronger director–but it’s a Cannon production. Its producers don’t care about making a good movie, just selling one.

So, for a movie about a mediocre white guy’s bullshit catching up with him and forcing a metamorphosis (for better or worse), it’s a fail. But for a Cannon production, it’s pretty amazing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jerry Schatzberg; written by David Freeman; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by Priscilla Nedd-Friendly; music by Robert Irving III; production designer, Dan Leigh; produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Jonathan), Morgan Freeman (Fast Black), Kathy Baker (Punchy), Jay Patterson (Pike), Mimi Rogers (Alison), Erik King (Reggie), Anna Maria Horsford (Harriet), Shari Hilton (Darlene), Frederick Rolf (Davis), Michael J. Reynolds (Sheffield), and Andre Gregory (Ted).


Masters of the Universe (1987, Gary Goddard)

Masters of the Universe is almost charming in its lack of charm. Its plot is a kitchen sink–a little Conan sword fighting here, a little Superman opening credits, a lot of Star Wars stuff (like all black “troopers” with laser guns, the skiffs from Jedi), but also lots of other popular eighties things. There’s some Back to the Future–on an extreme budget–as well as the general “troubled tragic teens” thing. And whatever else was too slight to make much of an impression.

The biggest problem, besides it being too long, too cheap, and too stupid, is cinematographer Hanania Baer. Universe has a big scale, whether in its sets or even the constant matte paintings (on the other planet, not Earth). Baer can’t shoot anything to match, not the sets, not the matte composites, not even humdrum planet Earth locations. There’s one action sequence with Dolph Lundgren and Courteney Cox fending off intergalatic bounty hunters (Empire Strikes Back) in a junk yard or warehouse. The lighting doesn’t match between shooting locations, which really screws up the suspension of disbelief, because there’s Lundgren’s sword fighting and Lundgren sword fighting is supposed to be the whole draw of the movie. He’s He-Man. He fights people with a sword.

Except he gets a gun too. A laser gun. It’s got to be lasers because Lundgren’s sword can deflect them. Slow lasers.

However, if Masters of the Universe has a draw–which is questionable–it’s either going to be Frank Langella’s performance as the Emperor. Sorry, sorry, no, he’s Skeletor. Who wants to be master of the universe, which is like emperor. David Odell’s script stays as third grade as it can for the otherworldly stuff and seeing Langella take the childish dialogue and fill it with ludicrous energy and threat… it’s cool. It’s not really cool enough to be a draw, however, because the material’s still thin and Langella’s in a goofy skull mask, with zero character motivation (his rivalry with Lundgren lacks explaination and chemistry). The other possible draw is Bill Conti’s score. It too isn’t good, but it’s Bill Conti doing a Star Wars score. Though, again, more Return of the Jedi.

On Earth–wait, wait, there’s sort of an E.T. thing going on with Billy Barty. He plays this inventor who comes up with a musical key thing to take the action to Earth. Sort of E.T., mixed with Yoda, mixed with Wicket. Producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan apparently really thought they had the goods here to supplant Star Wars.

I mean, maybe the Holiday Special.

Richard Edlund handles the special effects. Some of them are okay. The interdimensional gateway is often okay. It’s not at the end, but earlier, sure. The composite shots with the flying vehicles are terrible. Bad enough you hope Edlund didn’t do them. The guy worked on the original Star Wars after all. You want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So you don’t see it for the special effects. Or the fight choreography. Or any of the acting.

Though Jon Cypher is frighteningly good in his part. He’s got on this big costume too and he’s still good. It’s amazing he could keep a straight face. Ditto, though to a lesser extent, for Chelsea Field. She’s Cypher’s daughter. She makes wisecracks. Some of them sort of connect.

Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill are teenagers who come across Lundgren, Cypher, Field, and Barty as that crew searches for a way back home. Cox’s parents have tragically died and so she’s leaving boyfriend McNeill to start over in New Jersey. She’s not even going to get to go to her high school graduation. The Earth ground situation really doesn’t make any sense. The other world ground situation is actually sort of neat in an effecient way. Langella has won his war of conquest and Lundgren and friends are now outlaws. Means you don’t have to show the big battle scenes or even the immediate aftermath, just the political ramifications playing out.

Cox and McNeill don’t even have enough material to have caricatures. They have sketched caricatures. They’re both affable, though neither is particularly dynamic. They both seem way too old.

Maybe it’s just Baer photographing them poorly.

For the rest of the cast, it’s just getting through without embarrassing yourself too much. Lundgren’s running around in armored speedos. He manages not to embarrass himself too much. Meg Foster similiar keeps herself afloat without actually having to be any good. After them the supporting cast just gets worse and worse.

Like James Tolkan (the principal from Back to the Future). He’s playing tough bald, long leather jacket cop who can’t figure out he’s in an intergalatic battle zone. He doesn’t keep himself afloat, though he’s never exactly bad. None of the performances–at least for the people not in costumes–are ever bad enough to give Universe that campy charm. They’re also never bad enough to elicit sympathy.

Not even Christina Pickles, who’s a hostage the entire picture.

It’s mildly ambitious? Not incompetent. It’s just trying for too much with what it can do, budget-wise. Along with no one having any confidence in Lundgren. He gets so little to do, including his sword fights and shoot-outs, it’s not clear whether or not he’d be able to do more or fail at it.

Masters of the Universe is a cinematic shrug.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gary Goddard; screenplay by David Odell, based on the toys by Mattel; director of photography, Hanania Baer; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Bill Conti; production designer, William Stout; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by The Cannon Group.

Starring Dolph Lundgren (He-Man), Frank Langella (Skeletor), Courteney Cox (Julie Winston), Robert Duncan McNeill (Kevin Corrigan), Jon Cypher (Duncan), Chelsea Field (Teela), Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn), Billy Barty (Gwildor), James Tolkan (Detective Lubic), Robert Towers (Karg), Anthony De Longis (Blade), and Christina Pickles (Sorceress of Castle Grayskull)


Invaders from Mars (1986, Tobe Hoober)

Invaders from Mars, while it’s occasionally obvious it’s a comedy, can’t seem to decide. For a while, Hooper directs it absolutely straight–which doesn’t do the film any favors. Hooper’s composition is excellent (he and cinematographer Daniel Pearl have some great Panavision shots) but there’s no menace. Hunter Carson plays a kid convinced aliens have landed and are taking over the townsfolk, including his parents, but Carson never seems too out of it.

The other acting in those scenes is the big problem. Laraine Newman is bad as Carson’s mom, even if she is somewhat likable. Timothy Bottoms is a little better, but still no great shakes. As Carson’s evil schoolteacher, Louise Fletcher is awful. For the scenes when Fletcher has to act really crazy, she’s even worse. It’s like Hooper told her to play it as a comedic role and she just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

Karen Black’s great as Carson’s only fellow human. It’s a thankless role for her, but she’s got some excellent scenes.

Just over halfway through, when Mars is really dragging, the military comes in and things get funnier (and better). James Karen’s great as the general who Carson and Black enlist to fight the aliens. The accelerated pace even makes up for the previously unexplained Mars space shuttle mission. Hooper really should have opened with that detail.

Christopher Young’s score helps a lot, as do good supporting turns in the latter half.

Mars is confused. Its lack of commitment sinks it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, based on a screenplay by Richard Blake; director of photography, Daniel Pearl; edited by Alain Jakubowicz; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Hunter Carson (David Gardner), Karen Black (Linda Magnusson), Timothy Bottoms (George Gardner), Laraine Newman (Ellen Gardner), James Karen (Gen. Climet Wilson), Louise Fletcher (Mrs. McKeltch), Eric Pierpoint (Sgt. Maj. Rinaldi), Christopher Allport (Captain Curtis) and Bud Cort (Dr. Mark Weinstein).


Number One with a Bullet (1987, Jack Smight)

With a larger budget–and a different director–Number One with a Bullet might succeed. It’s a wry spoof of cop movies and TV shows, pairing crazy man Robert Carradine and urbane Billy Dee Williams. One has to assume Carradine’s casting against Revenge of the Nerds-type is part of the joke, but Williams seems to be there because he can do the humor straight faced. He’s essential to Bullet‘s limited success.

Most of the problems are technical. For whatever reason, even though cinematographer Álex Phillips Jr. does a wholly competent job lighting, he can’t do any of Smight’s (simple) Steadicam shots. They’re disastrous. He and Smight do come up with a very low key Los Angeles, which is rather nice.

As for Smight… one has to wonder if the lame close-ups are budgetary restrictions. He knows to hold Williams’s reaction shots though, since the length adds depth to the scene.

Carradine’s amusing and endearing, Williams is great. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is weak. Except Mykelti Williamson. He’s awesome. Even Jon Gries is tepid in his small role. Valerie Bertinelli isn’t any good as Carradine’s reluctant love interest and Doris Roberts is inexplicable as Carradine’s nagging mother. Bullet often veers into sitcom territory, only with Smight giving it a slightly more cinematic frame.

Alf Clausen’s jazz score is another of the jokes, but it’s too slow for the action sequences.

Bullet is likable and has good qualities; they don’t add up to a good movie though.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Gail Morgan Hickman, Andrew Kurtzman, Rob Riley and James Belushi, based on a story by Hickman; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Michael J. Duthie; music by Alf Clausen; production designer, Norm Baron; produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Robert Carradine (Det. Barzak), Billy Dee Williams (Det. Hazeltine), Valerie Bertinelli (Teresa Barzak), Peter Graves (Capt. Ferris), Doris Roberts (Mrs. Barzak), Bobby Di Cicco (Malcolm), Ray Girardin (Lt. Kaminski), Barry Sattels (DeCosta), Mykelti Williamson (Casey) and Jon Gries (Bobby Sweet).


Slumber Party ’57 (1976, William A. Levey)

I think Slumber Party ’57 is supposed to be a titillating sex comedy but the lame jokes invalidate the latter and the exploitative misogynistic creepiness hopefully nullifies the former.

Before getting to the acting, I do want to mention director Levey’s transitions. At times, it’s hard to tell if they’re intentionally strange, but when he fades from a Boris Karloff preview at a drive-in (showing the night sky) to the present action and then stretches the frame up… it’s clear he and editor Bill Casper got ahold of a really fancy seventies editing machine. The kind the local news stations used.

Anyway, the vapid premise sets Party up to be a clunker. A group of slutty high school girls (played by actresses old enough to take off their tops) have a slumber party because the basketball team is on an away game and they have nothing to do without the boys. The film takes place at a Beverly Hills high school, but the cast of actresses is demographically assorted to add to the humor. For example, Bridget Holloman (who’s atrocious) is a hillbilly.

Actually, her story has the most effective humor in it. There’s a car chase and it’s nearly just a benign failure.

Party‘s got a huge cast list and no one in it’s good. Debra Winger, in her first film, is awful.

Unfortunately, Levey and Casper’s editing “creativeness” doesn’t extend to cutting together a real scene. Party‘s a disagreeable viewing experience.

Great fifties soundtrack though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Levey; screenplay by Frank Farmer, based on a story by Levey; director of photography, Robert Caramico; edited by Bill Caspar; music by Miles Goodman; produced by John Ireland; released by The Cannon Group.

Starring Janet Wood (Smitty), Noelle North (Angie), Debra Winger (Debbie), Bridget Holloman (Bonnie May), Cheryl Smith (Sherry), Mary Appleseth (Jo Ann), R.L. Armstrong (Silas), Joyce Jillson (Gladys the Car Hop), Rafael Campos (Dope Fiend), Victor Rogers (Movie Star), Larry Gelman (Cat Burglar), Joe E. Ross (Patrolman), Will Hutchins (Harold Perkins), Bill Thurman (Mr. Willis), Randy Ralston (Bud Hansen) and Sean Kenney (Cal).


Fifty/Fifty (1992, Charles Martin Smith)

Fifty/Fifty is the last film where crap-master screenwriters Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler worked together, though it appears they wrote the script in the mid-eighties. It’s one of their best films, which isn’t difficult, only because the film occasionally batters its viewer with man’s inhumanity to his fellow man (in this film’s case, it’s when the President of the United States sides with the vicious dictator and helps him kill the rebels). The film’s politics are incredibly anti-American, which would have made it interesting if it’d been successful.

It was not.

The script’s a lot at fault, but it’s a Cannon picture, so it’s not like there was a lot of budget behind it, or production values. They cast Robert Hays, who trades on being genial but not particularly likable–he’s still the guy from Airplane! so watching him in scenes with Peter Weller, it kind of works and kind of doesn’t. While the two do make their camaraderie work, Weller acts circles around Hays; it makes things awkward. Hays’s character has a more difficult arc and needs the more nuanced performance.

Charles Martin Smith’s supporting role in the film is better than the majority of his direction–though he gets it during the battle scenes, which makes it somewhat incomprehensible how he doesn’t get the–presumably–easier straight comedy or action scenes. He does a decent job with the actors, especially Ramona Rahman, who has a laughable character at times but is always presented well.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Martin Smith; written by Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler; director of photography, David Connell; edited by James Mitchell; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Errol Kelly; produced by Maurice Singer and Raymond Wagner; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Jake Wyer), Robert Hays (Sam French), Charles Martin Smith (Martin Sprue), Ramona Rahman (Suleta), Kay Tong Lim (Akhantar), Dom Magwili (General Bosavi), Azmil Mustapha (Colonel Kota), Dharma Harun Al-Rashid (Sentul), Os (Jamik), Ursula Martin (Liz Powell) and Sharudeen Tamby (Colonel Seng).


The Delta Force (1986, Menahem Golan)

The Delta Force is…

1) the only Chuck Norris movie my mom let me watch as a kid (I think it’s the only Chuck Norris movie I’ve ever seen).

2) “the most homoerotic movie I’ve ever seen,” according to my wife.

3) somewhat interesting for the first forty-five minutes.

The Delta Force stars four Academy Award winners (Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, George Kennedy and two-time winner Shelley Winters), one Silver Berlin Bear winner (Hanna Schygulla) and one Academy Award nominee (Robert Vaughan). The only two who give good performances are Marvin and Balsam. Kennedy, Winters and Vaughan aren’t bad. Schygulla, in one of her only (I think) English language performances, is bad. Well, maybe not bad… but not any good at all. She does get one of Delta Force‘s more interesting scenes, a German flight attendant (sorry, bursar) who gets to pick out all the Jews on the plane. She doesn’t want to–being German and all (in a scene with some dialogue lifted out of a certain “Fawlty Towers” episode–John Cleese and Connie Booth should have sued)–but does it anyway. The kicker? She makes a mistake, calling up a Russian (Yehuda Efroni), who isn’t Jewish. This mistake kicks off Delta Force‘s most interesting scene–the Arab terrorists (Robert Forster, who, like Marvin, is enough of a professional not to look embarrassed, and David Menachem) make the German flight attendant call all the Jews on the plane up to first class, which has been emptied. Now, the plane’s got 144 passengers (Forster is nice enough to remind everyone as the sequence begins) and guess how many of them help the Jews? Keep in mind there are two terrorists with a gun and a grenade apiece, the plane’s in flight. Okay, just guess. Guess how many of the American Christians help the Jews being led to their deaths?

Do you need a hint? Think about the 1930s.

That’s right… zero. Not a one. They even keep their mouths shut. The Russian complains he isn’t a Jew. After all is said and done, when it won’t make any difference, Catholic priest Kennedy at least gets up and sits with the Jews in first class. There’s no explanation to why he isn’t disgusted by the display he’s witnessed from his fellow gentiles.

In the first forty-five minutes of Delta Force, there are quite a few of these disquieting moments. Menachem gets a couple scenes where he’s incredibly sympathetic to his hostages and–conversely–a couple scenes where he’s incredibly brutal to other hostages. Forster’s portrayed as completely evil, but then he too gets a couple scenes of strange humanity. These aren’t subtle displays of contradictory behavior, they’re as neon as they can get, but they’re very interesting.

The second half of the film, with Chuck Norris and William Wallace’s romantic getaway to scenic Lebanon–the script’s so incredibly stupid in the second half, it’s never clear whether or not the Lebanese government and military are actually endorsing the terrorists or if there’s some faction of the military supporting it or whatever… it’s idiotic.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, the second half. There’s a couple interesting scenes when the film tries to make American audiences terrified of the Arabs. But it’s all so dumb–Norris rides around on a souped up motorcycle (he’s apparently insecure about something) and blows up the bad guys (who are some of the stupidest villains in movie history)–it’s almost impossible to remember the engaging first half. My wife couldn’t believe I’d watch the movie after having seen it before–the last time must have been when I was thirteen or so–and I told her the reason it seemed better in my memory (to be fair, the first half is fine) is because I used to see it on television, with commercials. It runs over two hours and to get it into a two hour slot, they would have had to cut more than a half hour… which probably came out of the lousy second half.

She didn’t believe me.

As jingoistic as Delta Force gets–the rescued hostages sing “America the Beautiful,” not the “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “This Land is Your Land,” certainly not in a Chuck Norris movie–it’s hard for the cartoon action scenes in the second half to erase the memory of the first half. The first half of the film is a metaphor for the Second World War. Of 138 people, only one would stand up with the Jews. Kennedy getting up there placates, but it’s really just like the thirties. The fine American Christians didn’t care what the Nazis were doing to the Jews.

It’s such a shocking scene, I wonder who wrote it.

As for the movie overall… my wife described Marvin’s performance perfectly. He keeps acting like he’s in a real movie and expecting his co-stars to respond in kind. When they don’t, there’s a flash of confusion on his face before he can reorient himself. Susan Strasberg isn’t in it enough. Bo Svenson is awful. Steve James is okay. Kim Delaney is lousy. Norris is, big shock, terrible. His love interest, Wallace, is terrible too.

It seems like Golan didn’t really know how to direct actors, so he just got solid professionals for the hostages–but then made big mistakes, like casting Natalie Roth as Strasberg’s kid. It’s Susan Strasberg acting opposite a kid who wouldn’t make it as a non-speaking extra in a commercial.

Golan’s direction’s lousy, but compared to action movies today, it’s fine. You can tell what’s going on.

Alan Silvestri’s score’s more appropriate for a sports movie (maybe a handicapped runner overcoming the odds and winning… the silver) but it’s okay.

The Delta Force probably plays better on TV with commercials.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Menahem Golan; written by James Bruner and Golan; director of photography, David Gurfinkel; edited by Alain Jakubowicz; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Luciano Spadoni; produced by Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Chuck Norris (Maj. Scott McCoy), Lee Marvin (Col. Nick Alexander), Martin Balsam (Ben Kaplan), Joey Bishop (Harry Goldman), Robert Forster (Abdul), Lainie Kazan (Sylvia Goldman), George Kennedy (Father O’Malley), Hanna Schygulla (Ingrid), Susan Strasberg (Debra Levine), Bo Svenson (Capt. Campbell), Robert Vaughn (Gen. Woodbridge), Shelley Winters (Edie Kaplan), William Wallace (Pete Peterson), Charles Grant (Tom Hale), Steve James (Bobby) and Kim Delaney (Sister Mary).


Sam’s Song (1969, Jordan Leondopoulos)

For a while, somewhere in the late second act, Sam’s Song is really good. It has its characters established and it seems like it’s going to take an interesting path getting to its inevitable plot point. The film is mostly about Jennifer Warren, who has a husband (Jarred Mickey) apparently eager to philander; they’re wealthy, white and woebegone. But neither of them are the titular character. Into this almost Virginia Woolf mix comes old college buddy Robert De Niro (white, but not wealthy or woebegone). Maybe De Niro acts as the catalyst, bringing succubus Terrayne Crawford into the mix, but maybe not. It’s questionable, if one were to chart everything out (yes, Crawford and De Niro do become romantically entangled, bringing her into his hosts’ house, but she meets De Niro at a party there anyway).

Instead of turgid melodrama, director Leondopoulos treats it as a pseudo-New Wave picture. Gershon Kingsley’s music is there to reveal the characters’ turmoil, while Leondopoulos starts most shots in long shot, cutting close for the forced existential conversations. Where Leondopoulos almost succeeds–he wrote the film too–is when he gets the four characters together in the house and winds them tight. Warren’s pissed because Crawford passed out in her bed, Warren and Crawford are weirded out by De Niro’s childhood recollection of killing guppies, there’s a lot of potential. So, inevitably, Leondopoulos gets them out of the house, hits fast forward and gets to the finish in about fifteen minutes.

Leondopoulos lifts a lot from better directors–there’s a long sequence with De Niro and Crawford straight out of Blow Up–but he’s got a fine style. The music’s off, but his use of sound is good. A big problem is the acting, specifically his direction of it and the editing of it. He seems to think it’s cute to cut into conversations after a question has been asked (it’s like “Jeopardy!,” the viewer gets to figure out the question from the response). He cuts from quiet scenes to conversations–there’s one really terrible scene, in a night club or somewhere, with people dancing to music, where it goes to interior music to show Warren’s anguish, then cuts to some close-ups of her for dialogue. The concept’s clear, but the execution fails.

Of the actors, it’s hard to say who fares best. I’m tempted to say Mickey, but only because I don’t have anything else to compare his performance with. Crawford is bad, no doubt, but with Warren and De Niro, both of whom have been great under different directors… it’s hard to say. Warren has some good moments, but she’s literally not ready for her close-ups. Whenever she’s alone in the frame, it’s like she’s delivering lines to a wall. De Niro–watching him so young is somewhat interesting, especially the ticks he’s developing even then–is okay. Without the context of his later career, it’d be uninteresting, sure, but it’s one of the few times I’ve ever seen De Niro play some guy. He’s also playing some guy obsessed with movies–an indie staple, but a De Niro singularity (I think).

Sam’s Song is one of those frustrating films where it seems like they figure out what they’re doing–the awkward opening is actually building to something organic–then it all falls apart. Thanks to the solid section, it’s better than the beginning would suggest… but as it ended, I found myself wishing someone would remake it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jordan Leondopoulos; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Arline Garson; music by Gershon Kingsley; produced by Christopher C. Dewey; released by Cannon Film Distributors.

Starring Robert De Niro (Sam Nicoletti), Jennifer Warren (Erica), Jarred Mickey (Andrew), Terrayne Crawford (Carol), Martin J. Kelley (Mitch), Phyllis Black (Marge) and Viva (Girl with the Hourglass).


Bloodsport (1988, Newt Arnold)

At least Bloodsport is earnest. It’s also atrocious and unwatchable, but it is earnest. It really thinks the scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme staring into space and flashing back to his childhood are a good idea. It thinks the crappy dialogue is okay. It thinks casting very recognizable (as the Hong Kong gangster from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) Roy Chiao as a Japanese guy is okay. For all the Cannon movies I’ve seen… I think Bloodsport might actually be the worst made.

The movie has absolutely nothing going for it, except conjuring the image of a Bloodsport rerelease box touting the presence of (now) Academy Award winning Forest Whitaker. Newt Arnold–who apparently did a lot of second unit work–cannot compose a shot, cannot move a camera, cannot direct actors. The writing’s laughable and only made worse by the performances.

It doesn’t open with Van Damme, which turns out to be a bad idea. Instead, it opens with a montage of the preparations for a highly secretive (and now presumably fictional) martial arts competition. This montage was, I think, meant to be classy, but thanks to the music, it’s a joke. The bigger joke is Donald Gibb getting the focus of the opening montage–Gibb is a recognizable big and gruff guy, he’s got lots of TV bit parts in his filmography–since he can’t even deliver a line.

Van Damme’s awful, but in a funny way. His earnestness comes through, but the acting in Bloodsport is like a public access commercial for a plumber. It really is the worst Cannon movie I can remember seeing–part of, anyway. I had to stop a few seconds after Leah Ayres shows up. It just gets too moronic.

I realized, as I stopped the movie, I haven’t been watching a lot of movies this bad lately. I only tried Bloodsport again because I remember thinking it was really good when I was nine (was I wrong) and I’d heard, ten years later, it was decent. Then the widescreen DVD came out and I kept tripping over references to it, so I rented it.

Bloodsport and its genre–the white guy martial artist–ended up direct-to-video pretty quick (and the whole genre got a footing because of video) and it’s embarrassing. I’m sure there are now direct-to-DVD movies just as bad–worse probably, thanks to the cheapness of video–but there’s an unfortunate legitimacy to these movies. They did indeed get theatrical releases. People did go and see them. Major newspapers did… occasionally… review them.

I couldn’t even get to the fighting scenes.

Someone needs to interview Whitaker about all the crap he’s made, I’m sure he’d be in good humor about it and it’d be funny to hear his stories.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Newt Arnold; screenplay by Christopher Cosby, Mel Friedman and Sheldon Lettich, based on a story by Lettich; director of photography, David Worth; edited by Carl Kress; music by Paul Hertzog; production designer, David Searl; produced by Mark DiSalle, Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Frank Dux), Donald Gibb (Ray Jackson), Leah Ayres (Janice Kent), Norman Burton (Helmer), Forest Whitaker (Rawlins), Roy Chiao (Tanaka), Philip Chan (Inspector Chen), Pierre Rafini (Young Frank), Bolo Yeung (Chong Li) and Ken Siu (Victor Lin).


Scroll to Top