Freejack (1992)


This review of Freejack contains spoilers.

Mostly forgotten now, Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II)’s 1992 SF-action turkey Freejack got some attention back on its release for starring the one and only Mick Jagger. And as a twelve year old at the time the film was getting premiered on Sky’s movie channels, I was certainly interested in it because I thought the ads looked good, plus anything futuristic was always going to fascinate me after having been bowled over by Back to the Future Part II on the big screen a few years earlier. Unfortunately (or so I thought), those movie channels were out of our price range so I forgot about Freejack until it was premiered on BBC1 a few years later.


By then I had become more aware that the film was meant to be… how can I put it… a bit shit, so I geared myself up for a bumpy ride of some sorts. I wasn’t disappointed. I mean, it’s awful, but from the moment Jagger’s bounty hunter/’bonejacker’ Victor Vacendak lifts up the future-visor on his head and says, in that unmistakable camp London accent of his, ‘Okay… let’s do it! I knew I was going to love this film.


I had the foresight to tape Freejack at the time and made a point of rewatching it over and over again. Well, the good bits anyway. Bits of this film are really dull. But the good bits (and by that I mean the really bad bits) were pure comedy gold.


Based on Robert Sheckley’s novel Immortality, Inc. (more on that later), Freejack is set in a future where advancements in technology have made it possible for a mind to be transplanted into another human body. Meanwhile in present-day 1992,  hot shot racing driver Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is apparently killed mid-race when his car explodes in front of his adoring fans, his adoring girlfriend Julie (Rene Russo) and his adoring agent (David Johansen from the New York Dolls!). However, he’s not really dead because he re-materialises in the year 2009, surrounded by baddies in bacofoil who are ready to lobotomise him with a freaky laser. Luckily, Furlong escapes into a dystopia where people are either living at the top in sleek, plush surroundings or at the bottom where the only things to eat are rats or soup that’s so tasty that people are willing to kill you if you spill it all over them.


Furlong realises that he’s now a ‘freejack’, a fugitive wanted for his BODY by a mystery party. Everyone he turns to for help either betrays him or slams the door in his face, except for a gun-toting nun, aka Mother Exposition, played by Amanda Plummer a few years before she threatened to execute every motherfuckin’ person in the Big Kahuna burger joint in Pulp Fiction. It turns out there’s a thing called the Spiritual Switchboard, which is a kind of cloud where human minds can be uploaded and then downloaded into a different body. Furlong’s body appears to be hot property because it comes from a time before something called the Ten Year Depression and isn’t contaminated with all the toxins, poisons and mutations that today’s underclass have been exposed to. Ah, but why doesn’t Furlong’s mystery party just take his pick of a body from 2009’s non-toxic cultural elite?


Nope, it’s got to be Furlong, and the one who wants him is none other than Anthony Hopkins, who I forgot to mention in this review so far because he didn’t make much impression on the plot up until now. I’m sure he made an impression on viewers at the time – this was the first film he’d made after his award-winning performance in The Silence of the Lambs. This was not the first instance of an actor starring in a total turkey immediately after their Oscar win, and it wouldn’t be the last. It turns out his character in this – the mysterious and recently deceased tycoon McCandless who owns everything in the future and therefore was always untrustworthy – has fallen in love with Julie and of course the only way to win over someone who’s already attached is to possess the body of her boyfriend!


The ending was clearly this was meant to be the Ultimate Trip, the kind that would leave Kubrick whimpering. Forget 2001, this was 2009, baby! This is where Furlong and Julie enter the Spiritual Switchboard, past loads of pixels, squares, time lapse skies and altering environments, culminating in a confrontation with McCandless, who seems to be able to smoke cigars in this virtual world – how does that work? – and who also suspiciously appears to have regretted his rash decision to try and nab Furlong’s body, offering to give everything to him, his riches, his job as an apology … but we know it’s all lies and stalling, as Vacendak shows up and Furlong still ends up undergoing the old switcheroo in a sequence of, and let’s be generous, rather funny special effects that includes a trippy flashback nightmare that, like all bad dream/hallucination sequences, features not one but two random bits of people laughing wickedly.


Weasely deputy villain Michelette (Jonathan Banks), who doesn’t want McCandless in any form to survive as that would prevent him from inheriting the company, destroys the transfer device and we’re all left wondering which mind is currently occupying the disoriented body of Furlong. Michelette has the right idea – if whoever this guy is can correctly identify McCandless’ personal security clearance number then he’s obviously the real deal. The thing is, he actually can! It must be McCandless, god damned McCandless! Michelette shakes his head in despair, laughs to himself and attempts to go out in a blaze of glory before being instantly gunned down by Vacendak.


So Furlong’s dead, right? No. He was just guessing the security number and Vacendak went along with it because, let’s face it, nobody likes Michelette. Furlong’s a bit of a twat about it though, not telling Julie what’s happened until we the viewer also got to find out, which was a bit mean of him, stringing her along like that for what must have felt like a long few minutes. So, Furlong assures Julie that everything’s going to be alright and off they drive. In fact, his specific final line is ‘Come on, buckle up, let’s see what this baby can do!’ which is a line almost as cheesy as the one in this clip:

Haul Ass to Lollapalooza!

Cue anthemic metal from whistle-friendly favourites the Scorpions and roll those credits. Terrible ending. Saying that ‘Hit Between the Eyes’ is a fun song. I remember hearing the guitar squeals over that old Sky ad for the movie and I remember thinking this film was going to be ace.


So, what we have here is a film that was probably the last attempt to make Emilio Estevez an action star, but he’s just not well served by the direction or the script. Also, he just doesn’t convey enough of the overwhelmed mind-scramble of what it would be like to be in a new time. Even though the Estevez smirk is almost as good a thing as the Bruce Willis smirk, he’s just too cocky here for us to really care too much. We also have future Breaking Bad legend Jonathan Banks in the role of Michelette, and compared to the dry, been-there-done-that persona of Mike Ehrmentraut, his character here is entertainingly obnoxious, stressed-out and seemingly despised by everybody. The scene where Jagger crushes a Faberge egg and chucks it over to him whilst calling him an asshole is one of the funniest in the film. Banks and Hopkins get the play-it-straight-but-chew-the-scenery-at-the-same-time thing beautifully, which can’t be said for Estevez and Russo. There’s little to no chemistry between the two, which makes their potentially thrilling, 16-year overdue catch-up a little flat. To be fair, the tragedy of their extended separation isn’t helped by the bit just as Furlong ‘dies’ when the camera rapidly zooms into Julie’s face – it’s hilarious. I think even Warners/Morgan Creek realised it was funny as early as 1993, because Brad Pitt’s waster character in True Romance is watching that exact same moment on the telly.


But never mind that.

Let’s talk about Mick Jagger.


Now I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan. I love their sixties stuff, I love their seventies stuff and I even like some of their eighties stuff. And I love Mick Jagger. What a frontman. I mean, there’s precious few like him. Yet there’s always been something kind of hilarious about him too. It’s that preening, camp, lip-smacking sense of mischief, right there even from the start. Like David Bowie, Nicolas Roeg found something intrinsically cinematic about him and both of them enjoyed their best big-screen performances under his wing. However, unlike Bowie, Jagger didn’t really have much of a film career afterwards. I’m not saying Bowie was a screen legend, but he also had The Hunger, Labyrinth and The Prestige among others under his belt, whereas Jagger had few other roles of note. There was Ned Kelly, and then there was Freejack.


I love Jagger in this film – he can’t really act but he does his individual thing and he does it very entertainingly. As I’ve already mentioned, his very first line is a classic of camp delivery, but pretty much everything he says here has this kind of delightful amusement to it. How the hell do nothing lines like ‘power it up’ and ‘he’s good’, both uttered by him in the opening race sequence, end up being so gigglesome? It’s all in the execution. His best extended sequence outside of the Faberge bit is the chase scene involving the ugliest and reddest tank in history. Furlong has escaped in a car/champagne crate and Vacendak and crew are in hot pursuit. Using some kind of bluetooth connection to tap into Furlong’s car, he starts pestering his quarry throughout the car chase, and even though Furlong tries to hang up on him (leading Vacendak to hilariously exclaim ‘Oh no! I hate the dark!’) he just won’t go away. He laughs like a madman, delivers lines like ‘you can’t get rid of me that easily!’ ‘I want him without a scccraaatch!’ and ‘the brake pedal’s the one on the right’ and of course ‘DON’T DO IT!!!!’ with the kind of relish someone who actually gets paid a lot of money to say this stuff does.


So what about the book that Freejack was based on? I wasn’t expecting Robert Sheckley’s 1958 Immortality, Inc. to be so entertaining, but it really is a proper tear-through ride of a novel that is crammed with ideas and twists. Okay, the female characters get short shrift, but for the most part it’s great. To be honest, to adapt it faithfully might have made for a pretty crammed feature-length film, but compromises could nevertheless have been made and we could have got a striking, spectacular SF experience.

When you come down to it, Freejack is mostly a lot of chases, fights and shoot outs, only really going into overdrive (some would say for the worse) for its finale. Immortality, Inc. has a lot more fun delving into the future world that Thomas Blaine (not Alex Furlong) has found himself in. At first his arrival into the future is exploited as a publicity gimmick for the Rex Corporation (there’s no McCandless here) who want to show him off as the world’s first person to be snatched from the past and put in a new body, but is soon forgotten by the media and even his own captors once the novelty’s worn off. Instead of being a target for capture, Blaine is more or less stranded in the future in a new body and with no way to make a living… I don’t want to spoil the rest of the novel as it’s a revelation for those only aware of Freejack, but if you do get round to reading it you’ll be dazzled by how much stuff there is here. Then you think about all that could have been accomplished in adapting this novel and you see what was actually made and released in 1992 and it beggars belief. Freejack essentially adapts a tiny portion of the story – the concept of an old mind occupying a younger body and the presence of the Spiritual Switchboard – and scraps the rest. I mean, there were suicide booths in the novel! Why would you not put something like that in the film? There’s merely a small electronic billboard for ‘suicide assistance’ that you can just about make out in a couple of shots. At least Futurama recognised a great (if fucked-up) SF idea when it saw one. It’s frankly insulting to see what they’ve done to the novel. If there are better examples of just how dumb the worst of Hollywood can be in adapting other mediums, then please let me know.

Of course, there was nothing in Immortality, Inc. that was as funny as the shot below, so both have their own individual merits, I suppose.


PS: Amazingly, one of the co-writers is Dan Gilroy, who would end up directing the terrific Nightcrawler!

PSS: Some of the main characters have alliterative names, like Victor Vacendak and Mark Michelette. Those that don’t are nonetheless played by actors with alliterative names, like Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo. The only exception is Anthony Hopkins as Ian McCandless, but given he had just won an Oscar, I suppose he could get away with it.

PSSS: two non-Jagger highlights from the tank chase scene to mention – the music by Trevor Jones here is really enjoyable, great chase music. And secondly, yes that is a sample of James Brown screaming as a pedestrian jumps out of the way. There’s a few of these in this film, but it wasn’t the first action romp to feature a Brown sample. Raw Deal did it too, spectacularly. Hit me!

PSSSS: Here’s a shot of David Johansen, simply because there hasn’t been one yet in this review.



Samurai Cop (1991)


Please note that none of the imagery in the above poster for Samurai Cop actually takes place in the film itself.

An astoundingly inept action thriller that’s become quite the cult favourite for how jaw-droppingly awful it is. From the sub-Streets of Rage title music onwards, there is absolutely nothing in this film that is intentionally worthwhile. Join our two McBain wannabes Joe and Frank as they take on the killer from Maniac Cop and his endless parade of disposable henchmen! Prepare your flabber to be well and truly gasted at the horrors to follow!!

Where to start?

  • Well, the dialogue appears to have been recorded with the cheapest mics available. When they do actually manage to pick up the actors’ voices, it’s usually muffled and hissy – I think there was some fluff on the mic.
  • The shooting script must have got mixed up in the post – various scenes appear to jump back and forth throughout the daytime, making it look as though the sun in this film’s world goes up and down like a fucking yo-yo.
  • The editing is horrendous – after watching this you realise that most films do indeed get the fundamentals right to the point where you sort of forget you’re watching a film. In Samurai Cop the rhythm is totally off – shots begin too early or too late, the music stops and starts intermittently and the whole thing feels like a hastily put together rough cut. The most notorious example is when the police chief gives our two ‘heroes’ a load of shit and then sits back down in his chair, after which the camera keeps rolling and the actor just starts laughing.
  • In addition to the above, the fight scenes are incompetently staged – none of the actors appear to be properly interacting with each other. Their reaction time to impending danger is so off that it’s no wonder they keep getting killed. Death throes are sometimes accompanied with unconvincing splats of blood (in one case, paintball has clearly contributed to a character’s death) but more often than not with no squibs or gore whatsoever, so all we see is a lot of writhing around with no apparent physical trauma.
  • There are three ‘love’ scenes that are some of the most inert and unerotic ever staged for a film. We’re talking fast-forward fodder that’s on the level of The Room here, people.
  • The acting is hopelessly stilted and off-key. The director seems to be insisting that when not speaking, his actors must be posing awkwardly, either by leaning on banisters or perching one of their legs on steps or chairs to try and look casual.
  • The dialogue is very poor – the intentionally comic scenes (the camp restaurant waiter, the nods to the fact that Frank is black, the ‘would you like to fuck me?’ bit) feel very awkward, while the overheated confrontation scenes are hilariously stilted. The best example of this is Joe’s threat to the criminals at the dinner table.
  • The plot is complete bobbins – plot holes, illogical behaviour, unrealistic physical attraction between characters… it’s all here. My favourite is when Frank protests to Joe about the killing of the big bad guy (‘stop it, you’re a cop!’) even though the both of them have murdered at least a thousand criminals over the last 90 minutes. Bit late to develop a conscience there, mate.
  • This film features the most passionless, bored delivery of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song in cinema history.

Of course, I really enjoyed this film for the most part – there are plenty of dull bits but there are also loads of moments to laugh yourself silly to. Whether its Joe and Frank’s mild irritation at running over a bad guy with their car (‘oh, man!’, indeed), Matt Hannon’s occasional (and obvious) dependence on a wig (he had to come back for additional filming after he’d slashed his locks) or the little mad touches (why do the bad guys have a Defender arcade cabinet in their flat?) – it’s a proper chuckle. It’s also one of the worst films ever made.

Oh, and by the way, here’s some choice dialogue snippets:

LAWYER: ‘I’ll see you in court!’
POLICE CHIEF: ‘You motherfucker, I’ll see you in hell!’


JOE to FRANK: [on discovering a mid-level bad guy smooching naked with his girlfriend] ‘Looks like this is his last FUCK!’

MULLETED VILLAIN: ‘I want his head on this piano!’
MANIAC COP: ‘I will bring you his head, and I will place it on this piano.’

Death Wish 3 (1985)

Hilarious trash – one of the best bad movies ever made!


Paul Kersey is back! Charles Bronson is back! Michael Winner is back! Golan and Globus are back!


Three films into the Death Wish series, and Michael Winner has finally succeeded in creating an entirely fantastic world of magic unrealism, avant-garde logic and outrageous madness. Nothing here resembles reality. Of course the first film remains the best, but nothing else in the series matches Death Wish 3 for sheer hilarity. It is so far beyond mere rubbish, occupying a realm of wonderful badness that makes it one of the all-time best worst films. After this, Winner bailed on the series and it became just another shit low-rent franchise, but for one glorious moment, everything clicked. Unlike the leering grotesqurie of the second film, which took the grimly effective horror of the first film and ramped it up to hideously exploitative levels, Death Wish 3 is so silly, so funny and so over the top that it doesn’t leave that same nasty taste in the mouth that #2 did. Oh, of course there’s an obligatory rape scene (why, Winner, why?) but luckily it’s over before we know it and everything else is just flat-out, unrelentingly, wonderfully awful.

Well, I say everything else…. I’ll be honest, the first hour or so is decidedly patchy – there are lots of amazingly awful moments, but lots of bits that are just dull. Let me pick out the best bits of the first two thirds before we concentrate properly on the unparalleled, extended brilliance of the final twenty minutes. The first hour or so is essentially just a random mish-mash of scenes depicting the anarchy of the tenements, Kersey taking out the odd bad guy and chief criminal Fraker getting more and more infuriated with the whole thing.


The opening beating/murder of Charley, Paul’s old war buddy. Obviously I don’t condone violence towards the elderly, or anyone for that matter, but the line ‘It’s collection time…CHARLEY! Collection…TIME!’ is the first indication that this film’s going to be something special. Plus, like Jeff Goldblum and Laurence Fishburne before him, we get to see poor Alex Winter become the third actor in a row to tarnish his early CV with a misguided appearance in a grimy vigilante exploitation flick. He’s one of a few hilariously camp looking ‘gang members’ in this opening, one of whom is The Giggler –  more of him later. By the way, this scene follows an opening credit sequence that boasts the most horrible jazz funk bollox music score imaginable. The credits say that the music was composed by Jimmy Page. Yes, that genius from Led Zeppelin. A lot of the music is simply recycled from the second one, including Page’s awesome ‘growling’ theme, which as I mentioned in my old review of DW2, was the only legitimately excellent thing in that film.


More violence towards the elderly, this time merely hinted at – when total wrong ‘un Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy, son of The Old Man from RoboCop!) is prevented from killing Kersey in prison during a punch-up, yet he parts with these words – ‘I’m gonna kill a little old lady, just for you. Catch it on the six o’ clock news!’ We never do get to see that all-important bulletin. Additionally, Fraker’s absolutely horrendous haircut has often been referred to as a ‘reverse Mohawk’, and it’s difficult to better that description. He later has some painted stripes on his forehead – you know, because he’s in a gang, and they’re a kind of tribe, I suppose.


Kersey takes on two hoodlums outside the tenement. He’s a little bit narked off to begin with, his dinner having already been interrupted by the sound of them trashing a car. He goes out to see what all the fuss is about. What’s going on, he asks? With what, they respond? With the car! What does it fuckin’ look like they’re doing? They’re stealing the fuckin’ car, so get out of their fuckin’ faces! ‘BUT IT’S MY CAR!’ Kersey delightfully reveals with all the sleight of hand of a peak-form magician. The two hoodlums laugh. ‘Now you gonna die!’ one of them says. All of a sudden Kersey produces a CANNON of a gun and blows them both away. Now I’m not saying that Kersey’s racist (the film certainly isn’t – all races are capable of being scumbag criminals if the diversity of the gang are anything to go by), but he does kill the unarmed black guy before he kills the white one with the knife. Just sayin’.


Poor Mr and Mrs. Rodriguez (the latter played by future Deanna Troi, Martina Sirtis) are just trying to get home with their shopping. But this total dickhead gang member is on their case asking for five dollars. To be fair, he does say ‘lend’, so for all intents and purposes he is going to pay them back. Still, his approach is very aggressive, especially when he shouts ‘LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS…. SUCKA!!!’, whilst winking at one of his dickhead gang member buddies. When the verbal thing doesn’t work, Mr. Rodriguez is knocked over, but just like magic, Kersey appears out of nowhere (he does this a fair bit whenever a random crime is occurring) and punches the dickhead slam in the face. Instead of taking on this 70 year old, the dickhead simply runs away. Some young lad watching the event is well impressed with this, shouting his approval and giving Kersey the thumbs up. Kersey responds in kind, and it’s here that we know that Charlie is truly down with the kids.


After the rotten and box-ticking ugliness of the rape scene (inflicted upon poor Mrs. Rodriguez), her husband and Kersey learn of the attack over the phone, after which they head on over to the hospital. However, events have spiralled further downwards far more rapidly than anyone expected, as the doctor breaks the news that ‘Mrs. Rodriguez has expired’, which makes her sound like a bottle of milk! I know expired and death are the same kind of thing, but come ON, you do not break that kind of news with that kind of terminology. Kersey’s protestation of ‘but she only had a broken arm!’ is more icing on this spectacularly misjudged cake of a scene.


The death of The Giggler, a thief who can outrun anyone and has a tendency to break out in fits of amusement, is a most welcome moment. Kersey acts as bait, draping a very expensive looking camera over his shoulder (and eating an ice cream for extra innocuousness), the sight of which The Giggler can’t believe. He snatches the camera and runs off, giggling, but there’s no way he can outrun Kersey’s speeding bullet, which gets him right in the back, killing him. The crowd start cheering. After which, we cut to Fraker and his gang. ‘They killed The Giggler man… THEY KILLED THE GIGGLER!’ protests a lackey. ‘They had no business doing that. None’, Fraker insists. Er, what? Was there a verbal contract going on here? Looks like the good people have crossed the line with that act, I suppose.


Again, not a very nice scene, but utterly hilarious in the scheme of things. Kersey has just had sex (off screen, but still – bleurgh) with the token love interest (after having chicken for dinner, which Kersey likes), but in Death Wish world, this act of outrageous transgression means she’s marked for death, and what do you know, not long after she’s punched out cold at the wheel of her car, which is left to career down a hill and blow up! Kersey, like he did with his family before, looks only mildly inconvenienced by this turn of events. At least it means he can get on with the ending (his preferred kind of climax, to be fair) without distraction.


So now we’re at the final 20 minutes, which are as gloriously awful as you could hope a closing, extended orgy of violence could be. Only Commando rivals it for sheer glee, but Commando is ultimately a much, much better film than this. Which makes this ending all the more hilarious. I think. Kersey’s woman is dead. Some of the poor tenants have been murdered. Then there’s no-bullshit police chief Shriker, played by 80’s mainstay Ed Lauter (no one does grump better than him, except Paul Gleason), who doesn’t give a shit how many bodies are wasted on the road to peace, serenity and peaceful serenity, just so long as they get there, and he’s secretly backing Kersey’s destructive vengeance mission.

So here we go: Kersey gets some serious lethal firepower (through the mail!), which includes an anti-tank/anti-personnel rocket launcher! He loads up with bullets, gets the bereaved (but strangely upbeat, considering) Mr. Rodriguez to tag along, and word of this reaches Fraker, who calls up what I suppose must be some kind of local criminal loan agency – he requests ‘more guys, as many as you can spare me’.


Before you know it, there’s a small country’s worth of cannon fodder in town, and they’re kicking the townspeople around (quite literally – one poor sap gets a boot right on the bum), stealing their groceries (paper, not plastic), dancing on their cars, cleaning their own teeth with loaded guns (idiots)  and trashing the buildings, but Kersey wastes no time in producing a massive automatic gun and, with Rodriguez providing bullets, kills about thirty people in as many seconds! Cue much OTT death throes, which I have to give the actors proper credit for given they’ve not been given any blood squibs to work with. Look, you can clearly see there are no impact wounds – I hate this in films, it just takes you out of the film immediately. You can tell it’s just a bunch of actors camping it up, giving it their best Hamlet. Why Winner would hold back on the violence in this bit is a mystery, given that it seems to be what’s getting him off. The squibs come back later on though.


Also, the word ‘motherfucker’ is heard a lot during these scenes – I’m sure it’s even the same vocal snippet of the word repeated over and over again. By the way, look at Rodriguez’s facial expressions compared to Kersey’s. One of them is trying to act. One of them isn’t.


The outside carnage provides much amusement for those trapped in the tenements – one of the neighbours is delighted that someone’s taking out ‘the creeps’. Later on they watch the carnage on the telly with great amusement, as though they’re watching You’ve Been Framed or something. Former good actor Martin Balsam, who plays one of the neighbours, even yelps ‘oh boy!’ like an excited schoolboy upon witnessing one of many explosions. Some of the residents are this close to breaking out into an impromptu street party after successfully killing a bunch of bikers with one of those chains tied between two lampposts. Seriously, they start dancing!


Before those bits though, a nearby car load of hoodlums are blasted to bits by Kersey and Rodriguez, and at last we get some much needed realism in the form of impact shots, which brings the grittiness back to proceedings and then some.


More bad guys/target practice show up, blow up some more buildings. The carnage here is definitely depicted as fun – we don’t know these people, or these random buildings, so let’s just get off on all the chaos! Blow up that car! Blow up that shop! Smash those windows! Set that guy on fire! Okay, that last one’s not very nice, but there you go. The shaky camerawork and wonky zooms only add to the all-over-the-place approach. One in every five deaths depicted here is accompanied by a hilariously graceless rapid camera zoom, and it’s these deaths that are the best. Not to mention the deaths that send the victim through whatever window or door they’re standing in front of. Or the ones that send them off buildings or stairwells. Kersey is soon introduced in one shot with his gun protruding from around a corner, and if that isn’t the most blatant cock-metaphor in cinema history, then I haven’t seen the one that is. Kersey gets shot a few times in the gut without realising, because you know, he’s wearing a bullet proof vest! That’s how those things work – you don’t feel a thing! The police and local fire services are on the scene to try and control some of this madness, but the bad guys are everywhere – a tasteless bit follows where a woman is dragged out half naked by a bunch of scumbags just to we can get some nudity in on the scene, but thankfully this bit is cut short as Kersey shows up and blows them away. Such is the power of his gun that when he shoots one of the would-be rapists, the guy actually is sent flying forwards. Fraker’s not present at that moment though, he’s too busy having a whale of a time killing the good guys. I mean, look at that grin. It’s so oily you could fry bacon with it.


I shouldn’t laugh at the scene that I’m about to describe but I can’t help it. An elderly couple are in their house, but they’re forced out when Fraker and Co. throw a bunch of molotov cocktails through the window, which leads to them running outside – on fire – after which Fraker kills them with a machine gun. God, that doesn’t sound funny at all, does it? I guess it’s the way you tell it, in which case Winner is a master comedian. What is definitely, no-two-ways-about -it funny are the few scenes where various hapless goons try to break into some houses and suffer the consequences. One guy falls victim to a plank with a knife in it which hits him right in the face (think an X-rated Home Alone), resulting in him falling backwards and off the stairwell (natch), and another guy gets far more than he bargained for when, after climbing in through the window, a panicked woman blasts him out of the house with a shotgun, screaming as she does so!


More deaths, more priceless Rodriguez reactions, more appalling attempts to kill Kersey and more smashing through windows follow, and the film has hit a shit hot streak (emphasis on shit) that should have you as gleeful as one of the tenement residents. I have rarely laughed so much at people getting killed on screen. Bill from Bill and Ted gets killed when Shriker deus ex machinas his way into the scene when neither Bill or Kersey are looking. After this bit, the soundtrack goes all ‘Edge of Seventeen’/’Bootylicious’ for just a few seconds, and the film almost becomes cool. But then it doesn’t. With Rodriguez off to get some more ammo, we get a proper Wild West bit where Kersey and Shriker walk down the streets killing people left, right and centre.

The final confrontation between Kersey and Fraker turns me into The Giggler just thinking about it. First of all the music keeps going back to this silly little melody that sounds like someone tapping on a Xylophone randomly. Kersey briefly decamps to one of the flats to get some ammo, only for Fraker to sneak in through the window, but before he can do any killing, Shriker shows up and and shoots him, but not before taking a hit in the arm himself. Kersey gets a few bullets in Fraker too, for good measure. Of course, Fraker isn’t really dead, for that would be an appalling waste of celluloid for Winner, so he has him open his eyes whilst Kersey and Shriker talk shop.


Fraker lurches up and reveals that he was wearing a protective vest (‘Bulletproof! Just like yours, asshole!’) which, like Kersey’s recent experience, seems to have not affected him in the slightest. So, Fraker has the gun, but like Shriker says, he can’t take on both of them; they’re too far apart for him to shoot them together. ‘Bet me!’, Fraker dares, moving the gun from Kersey to Shriker – there’s actually a good shot (the first and last in the film), where the camera is at Fraker’s hip and travels with the gun as it is aimed from one person to another. However, in that split second, Kersey produces THE ROCKET LAUNCHER and FUCKIN’ EXPLODES Fraker right there in the room, blowing out the wall in the process. Before his death, Fraker gets a wonderful zoom right into his horrified face, an expression that should be burned into the retinas of all self-respecting cineastes. It’s something (well, it’s exactly) like this.


Oddly, when Fraker’s girlfriend sees the explosion, she screams – it’s as though she just knows he’s been killed, even though there was no way for her to know this. But fuck it, she knows somehow. With him dead, the gang admit defeat in an instant, doing a pouty retreat that’s so mannered it’s almost like a music video. With that, Kersey plans to walk the earth once more until Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, which wasn’t directed by Winner and is therefore a Loser in the franchise. There is a funny bit in that film where a table full of crooks blow up but before they do they are quickly replaced with a bunch of distinctly un-human looking dummies that linger just a little too long on screen for us to believe that the characters really died. If you can believe it, the guy on the left is meant to represent Danny Trejo.


Invasion U.S.A (1985)

It’s time…


One of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ most iconic examples of Cannon fodder, Invasion U.S.A is 80’s action trash taken to the logical limit, and it’s bloody shite. Thankfully it’s also hilarious and excessively entertaining. As for Chuck Norris – well, it’s not so much that he can’t act, more that he won’t act. I have never seen a more non-descript action hero than our Chuck. His face is a almost entirely blank canvas – I say almost, since he does have a beard. Aside from a bit when he wrangles an alligator early on, he has no characteristics or interests beyond beating people and killing people. Sometimes he combines the two.

Here, he plays Matt Hunter, one of those ‘there’s only one man for the job’ types. He lives alone in the Florida Everglades, where he does little else except be a man. You do not fuck with him. If you do, he’ll hit you with so many rights you’ll be begging for a left. He’ll also, when demanding information, squeeze that hand you were using to hold your beer so hard the glass will break. Ouch. The villains in Invasion U.S.A are particularly despicable, their only personality traits being stuff along the lines of ‘complete prickheads’ and ‘murdering scumbag bastards’– I mean, we start off with a boatload of tired, lost refugees (including children) being ‘welcomed’ by the U.S coast guard, who turn out to not be remotely U.S-ish or even coastguard-ish. No, they’re our bad guys, of undecided ethnic origin (I think the film is more than happy to designate them simply as ‘un-American’) who kill them all and then take the secret stash of cocaine that was on the boat. The head bad guy, Rostov, is played by Richard Lynch, and this fucker just looks evil. He’s also the best thing in this movie, because he’s just so off the chain, but that isn’t saying much at all. It looks like there’s a history between Rostov and Hunter, with the latter lamenting that he should have killed him when he had the chance. Rostov has a nightmare where Hunter catches him unawares and insists that ‘it’s time’. As in, time to die. Therefore, if Rostov is going to successfully invade the USA, he best take Hunter out of the equation first. After a half-hearted attempt, Hunter is left for dead and so the invasion can commence. This involves Rostov and his gang going around and killing Americans in acts of outrageously OTT violence – they storm the beach and literally stomp over a couple kissing by the sea, they blow up a load of houses with rocket launchers that somehow never need to be reloaded, they kill a load of people at some bar in Miami, lay waste to a shopping mall (although Chuck does most of the damage) and a fairground too (though we never see this – given this is a Cannon film, I suppose the budget can only go so far).

They even try to blow up a church and a school bus full of children, but even that’s too much for Golan and Globus, so Chuck foils both plans at the last minute. How he does so is down to some weird sixth sense that has him arriving at the nick of time from out of nowhere in any situation. Apparently the film was ruthlessly cut to take out shit like explanations, continuity or common sense, so all we’re left with are action sequences. To be honest, this lean, mean approach does work in the film’s favour. There’s no way this film was going to be any good in any given cut, so the filmmakers might as well just give us the greatest hits. This is why Invasion U.S.A is the most fun out of all the Chuck films I’ve seen. It’s not his best – that’s still Code of Silence, which, keep it quiet, is actually a proper decent thriller, but it’s not an all-out mad piece of outrageous trash like this. You can keep The Delta Force, which is about an hour too long and not quite crap enough to work as an unintentional blast – this is where it’s at.

There’s an astonishing scene early on which encapsulates the madness of this movie. Rostov shows up at a seedy motel (natch) to sell the cocaine he’s just nicked and the dealer is BILLY FUCKIN’ DRAGO. Sometimes I think filmmakers simply put Billy Drago in a supporting bad guy role to make the real bad guy look even more evil. Poor Drago only lasts one scene here, but it’s a good one, and it essentially culminates in Rostov sealing the deal by killing Mickey (Drago) and some addict who’s busy snorting coke. This is how it goes down:

1. Rostov slams the addict’s face down onto the table whilst she’s snorting with her straw, which results in the straw going up in her head.

2. Rostov, after killing a few lackeys (two shots fired, three bullet holes in the door – eek), hurls Mickey up against the wall, pulls out a gun, sticks it down his trousers and SHOOTS HIM TWICE IN THE COCK AND BALLS!

3. Rostov grabs the screaming addict and hurls her through a window.

It’s a jaw-dropping moment, and the bit that stands out is Rostov shooting Mickey in the nuts. What an odd way to kill someone. If Rostov had only ever done this kind of thing once, then we could chalk it up to a moment of madness, but no – he shoots one of his own men in the cock and balls later on. Like I say, one time – off-the-cuff resourcefulness. Two times – this man’s clearly got a depraved M.O. You just know that this is how he’s aching to off the Chuck with, but by the end he’s so desperate he’s had to resort to the infinitely less initmate method of ROCKET LAUNCHER.

Nothing else in the film is quite as jaw-dropping as that Lynch/Drago face-off, but there’s lots of laughs to be had, be it the very obstinate man who tries to chase down the terrorist who ‘forgot his bag’, the lady who suffers an entire car chase being dragged along by the side of the vehicle, the kids who sing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ on loop without even moving onto the other verses (where’s the crocodile? The lion?), the car on display in the mall that’s just screaming to be used, and the utterly pointless reporter character who does no reporting, instead just taking a few snapshots and hurling a lot of abuse at our Chuck, who barely reacts. The reporter incidentally, is played by Melissa Prophet, who I recognised as Joe Pesci’s wife in Casino.

Oh yeah, finally the ending – essentially, Hunter and Rostov stalk each other around an office block with rocket launchers. Anyone who played multiplayer in Goldeneye on the N64 will remember there was an option to chase each other around with the bloody things, and they were frankly impractical. Let one off in a closed environment (just like letting anything off in a closed environment) was only going to do you more damage than anyone else. Yet we pretty much get a mano a mano stand-off in a corridor and it culminates in one seriously exterminated bad guy, a broken window and a stray boot – it is utterly, utterly ludicrous. Yet by this point in the film, I was pretty much sold on it. The thing is, this showdown isn’t even the best of its kind. That’s right, it wasn’t the Best Rocket Launcher Death in a Cannon Film from 1985. That prestige must be awarded to Death Wish 3, where Charles Bronson terminates the bad guy with a bazooka he ordered through the post. After Rostov is blown to pieces, the film ends. It makes sense – Chuck has literally nothing left to contribute after that, so he may was well just power down until he’s ready to be let loose as part of The Delta Force.

Invasion U.S.A works as a total comedy these days, but at the time it was lambasted as paranoid, dumb as fuck, xenophobic trash. Still, those critics, who were rightly offended, must have also been quietly laughing their arses off at that bit when Billy Drago gets his bollocks shot. They just didn’t put that bit in the review, that’s all.