The Purge: A Film Pre-Review


Hopefully, the film doesn’t run 12 hours.

After my first pre-viewing movie review, I received a request to pre-review™ the new Ethan Hawke film, The Purge.  As is my method, I have not seen this film.  After reading this pre-review, I may not want to see it, either.

The Purge stars Hawke, a movie star of sorts.  He was excellent in Training Day as a naive PCP-smoking cop who concludes his first day in Narcotics by shooting Denzel Washington in the ass.  He’s also been in other films, although I’m at a total loss to name one.  He was married to Uma Thurman at one point.  Uma is one of those people who looks much better in photos than live action, sort of like Gwyneth Paltrow.  Anyway, Hawke has to be a star if Uma married him.

The Purge is directed by James DeMonaco, of whom know I almost nothing.  According to the Internet Movie Database, he wrote The Negotiator, which I really liked.  He also wrote Jack, an atrocious film starring Robin Williams.  Jack centered around the humorous tale of a kid with some fast-aging disease.  Funny stuff.  How bad was it?  Diane Lane is in it, and I didn’t even care.  Inexplicably, it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola at what had to be the nadir of his career.  Imagine Martin Scorcese directing an Ace Venture sequel and you get the point. Oh, Jack was produced by Fred Fuchs.  That figures.

If I understand the trailer, The Purge is set is the near-future–I know that because there are no space ships and people aren’t wearing jumpsuits.  Unemployment and crime are at all-time lows because of the “Purge.”  During the Purge nothing is illegal and all emergency services are cancelled.  You can just run wild and kill people.  Most of the action looks like it takes place at night.  The movie poster says that it lasts 12 hours–the Purge, not the film (hopefully).

The Purge is some kind of cathartic exercise which keeps the country calm the rest of the year.  Don’t buy the hype that this is an “original” idea.  My best friend growing up–Jimmy–had this idea first.  When we were in high school, Jimmy wanted one day a year when we could just kill anyone we wanted.  He theorized that we had so much violence in our home county because, if you hated someone, there was no way to avoid that person.  Eventually, something had to give.  So, this idea isn’t original.  As an unrelated aside, he also suggested replacing the electric chair with “death by bear trap,” where the condemned would be thrown into a pit full of bear traps. Jimmy thought that would be more humane.  That’s questionable, but I still consider him to be the Father of Lethal Injection.

Hawke is the father of a nice, normal-looking family.  They lock down their house during the Purge and wait it out.  Some dude gets in their house right before lock down and other marauders terrorize the family during the Purge.  Michael Bay produced this film, so there are probably a lot of explosions.

Here’s what’s bound to happen.  This hapless interloper is probably not that bad guy, although the Hawke family is terrified of him.  They debate throwing him to the mob or maybe just killing him themselves. They might even try to kill each other.  Lots of stuff happens–attacks, injuries, killings, etc.  Eventually, Hawke realizes that his nice little family isn’t much different from the bloodthirsty goons on the street.  Other stuff happens and the movie ends.  Important lessons are learned about the true nature of humans.

The bad guys wear masks, but I can’t figure out why.  I thought everything was legal.  Why the masks?  I guess that just makes them scarier.  Without seeing the film, it’s hard to say, really.

Murderous goons on the prowl.  This isn't nearly as scary as Halloween in Harlan County

Murderous goons on the prowl. This isn’t nearly as scary as Halloween in Harlan County

I must praise Hawke’s performance here.  Normally, he portrays a disheveled, grungy-looking guy in need of a close shave and a good conditioner.  From what I can tell, he’s pretty clean-cut here.  That’s a stretch for him, and one must respect that.  On the downside, he’s still kind of squinty-eyed and fairly incomprehensible when he talks.

Looking at the cast for the film, I note that one character is named “Zoey.”  This is an obvious and shameless attempt to deceive the public into believing that Zooey Deschanel is in this film.  She is not–or at least she isn’t in the credits.  So, don’t go to this film expecting to see the charming and beguiling Zooey.  Shame on Michael Bay for engaging in such fraud in order to sell a film.

It also should be noted that Julianne Hough is not in this film.  I like her and want her in more films–every film, in fact.  How hard would it have been to write a dancing scene?  If you’re locked down all night, you’d get bored. Dancing would be a good way to kill time.

I have to ask a question about the plot:  Why the hell would this Purge work?  I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky, where we were in a state of almost constant Purge, and it didn’t seem to help crime OR unemployment.  If people go bat-shit crazy for 12 hours, do they just calm down afterwards?  Maybe there is some kind of Draconian police state that takes care of that.  If so, why even have the Purge?  The whole thing seems rife with problems.  It’s just not realistic.

It’s a close call, but I can’t recommend The Purge.  On the one hand, I am pleased to see my friend’s idea come to the Big Screen some 35 years after the fact.  On the other hand, I haven’t seen the film, so there’s that.  Ethan Hawke is a plus, because of Training Day–I like all films starring Denzel Washington.  Characters such as “Bloody Stranger” and “Interrupting Freak” are intriguing, too.  But, there’s Jack to consider, too.

I give The Purge a 4.25.


After Earth: A Review of Sorts


At first, I thought Kid N Play had made a House Party sequel. Turns out it was just a shadow.

Folks love to review movies.  The Internet is full of professional and amateur reviewers.  Since I’m a blogger and enjoy films, I think I should join in.  The question is how to distinguish my reviews from the sundry others out there in the blogosphere.  I’ve hit upon an approach that sets me apart.  I shall only review films that I have not actually seen.

I’m not the only person to do this, of course.  A generation ago, many people condemned Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ without seeing it–and it was a great movie.  How shall I approach this task?

I will call them “films,” not movies.  A film is important, while a movie is something you could produce in your basement.  I am a film critic, not a movie buff.  I gather my knowledge through Wikipedia, trailers, word of mouth and my knowledge of films in general.  Armed with this information, an actual viewing of the film is a waste of my valuable time.

My first such review is of the new film from director M. Night Shamalayn (I have no idea how to spell his name, so I’ll mostly call him “M”) After EarthAfter Earth stars Will Smith and his son, the Fake Karate Kid.   I heard somewhere that the Fresh Prince came up with a plot outline and had someone else write it.  Then, Will hired M to direct.  One can assume that Will was too busy making tripe like Hancock and I Am Legend to have seen any of M’s recent films.

As a general rule, I’m okay with science fiction films.  A Boy and His Dog, Silent Running, Star Wars and Planet of the Apes (original, not the remake) are among my favorites.  I only ask that the premise be something at least remotely plausible.  Hey, maybe apes can learn how to talk–who knows?  Don’t make it something so damn ridiculous that I can’t focus on anything else–like The Happening (Oooh, the trees are going to kill us!) or Roger Corman’s It Conquered The World (Run for your life!  It’s a giant space pickle!).    This film is probably like that.

Will and the Karate Kid live at some time in the distant future when Earth has been destroyed by nuclear war or pollution or overpopulation or global warming or some kind of plague. One way we know it is the future is that people wear jumpsuits.  If my grandfather gets regenerated at some point, he will fit right in.  I know from the trailer that the Smiths are in a space ship and crash on Earth where they are terrorized by a variety of CGI beasts.  One can safely assume that there are no humans on this Earth.

It looks like that animals and plants have taken over and now try to kill people.  That plot device worked so well in The Happening that I guess M couldn’t resist revisiting it.  He probably thought people laughed out loud at that piece of cinematic flotsam only because he cast Mark Wahlberg at a science teacher.

A staple of all futuristic or space alien films is that all alien life forms have one goal in mind:  The total annihilation of the human race.  (Okay, E.T. was an exception, but you saw what kind of treatment he got).  Although After Earth takes place on Earth, it’s safe to assume that plot device is in play here, too.

Anyways, I’m guessing that Will is a stern but loving father unable to show his emotions while the Karate Kid is a rebellious hellion of some sort.  No doubt there is much father-son angst as the son is in danger of being killed by something or other a bunch of times.


The Smiths wearing cool futuristic space seat belts.

Will plays a dour, super-serious, unemotional, enigmatic character.  How do I know this?  Because that’s always the lead role in Shamalongadingdong’s films–Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable; Mel Gibson in Signs; Mark Wahlberg in The Happening; and everyone in The Village.  (I couldn’t sit through The Lady in the Water long enough to say if that was the case there).

There’s a lot of action interrupted by long, dull father-son bonding.  The Karate Kid runs a lot and is chased by things.  Someone will get grievously injured–probably the Dad–and the other one will heroically save him.  Or maybe one of the bloody-thirsty, human-hating animals will do it.  Then, there will be some greater understanding of something important.

In the end, something uplifting happens and Will and Junior hug.  Maybe Will saves him from giant piranha out of the SyFy Network classic, Mega Piranha.  Regardless, Will has learned more from his son than he could ever teach him.

What can I say about Will, Jr.’s performance?  It probably wasn’t very good.  Ever since Sofia Coppola ruined The Godfather Part III, I’ve condemened performances of the children of stars and film makers without seeing the performances.  (Remember poor Andy Garcia having to pretend that he couldn’t control his lust for Sofia?  He deserved an Oscar).

This film is really long.  Directors get carried away with CGI action and fill in plot holes with it.  M’s plot holes, being much larger than most, will require long, drawn-out CGI sequences.  My guess is that After Earth clocks in at just under 4 hours–or at least it will seem like that.

I bet this is one of those films where you think it’s about to end and then goes on for another hour, like Steven Spielberg’s A.I.–Artificial Intelligence.  That one starred the creepy kid from The Sixth Sense as an even creepier robot who wanted to be a real creepy boy.  He ends up under water staring at the Blue Fairy.  Hell, I thought it was over and then it went on for another hour.  After Earth is like that, I’m sure.

What of M’s famous “twist” endings?  You know, like in The Sixth Sense and The Village and Unbreakable?  What happens here?  POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT:  Turns out that Will Smith is dead.  Maybe they’re not on Earth at all but on another planet made to look like Earth.  There’s bound to be something, and you’ll probably figure it out during the opening credits.

I can’t recommend this film, mostly because I haven’t seen it.  If Clint Eastwood starred in it, I would recommend it regardless. I’m sure I’m not alone in my disappointment that neither Zooey Deschanel nor Julianne Hough are in the film, as far as I know.  Zooey is the most darling girl in film.  That’s why I still recommend The Happening. If there were a scene of the comely Ms. Hough dancing and seductively gyrating about the space ship, I would change my recommendation. Grown men weep when they look directly at her.   If some aspiring film maker will remake After Earth with Zooey and Julianne, it will get my highest recommendation.


Zooey proved her sci-fi bona fides in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There’s no reason she shouldn’t have been cast in After Earth.

Based upon my super-secret proprietary rating system, I give After Earth a 3.

© 2013

An Updated Review of Rain Man

In light of recent events, the media has focused on autism, particularly Asperger’s Syndrome. In the haste to break the latest “news,” accuracy has been sacrificed for speed. Asperger’s is being portrayed as an excuse for the inexcusable. In truth, the unspeakable crimes of recent days have nothing to do with this condition. This misinformation has made me wonder how one of my favorite films, Rain Man, would be viewed through today’s prism. If Rain Man were released today, I think the review would read like this:


Rain Man is the latest film from Barry Levinson, known for such diverse output as Diner, Good Morning Vietnam and The Natural. This time, he takes on the difficult subject of mental illness with decidedly mixed results. Dustin Hoffman is excellent in the role of Raymond Babbitt, a psychotic middle-aged man. Tom Cruise, best known for Risky Business and Top Gun, is Hoffman’s equal as Charlie, Raymond’s brother. Unfortunately, these stellar performances are weighted down by Levinson’s unrealistic take on a serious subject and a script best described as a work of pure fantasy.

Charlie is the Narcissistic son of the recently deceased Sanford Babbitt who leaves his $3,000,000 estate to a Cincinnati mental institution while Charlie receives only a vintage Buick Roadmaster and some prize rose bushes. Charlie immediately travels to the hospital to get to the bottom of his father’s inexplicable largesse. At the hospital, which is clearly a hospital for the criminally insane, Charlie discovers his long-lost brother Raymond. Raymond, he learns, has been in the hospital for many years. The horrific crime committed by Raymond is never fully explained.

Outraged that his father has left millions to care for his homicidal brother, Charlie kidnaps Raymond and sets out for Los Angeles. In a particularly disturbing scene where Raymond has a dangerous psychotic episode, Charlie decides not to fly to LA, no doubt realizing that Raymond poses a grave threat to the safety of the passengers. Thus, Charlie, his girl friend (the lovely Valeria Golino from Big Top Pee Wee) and the unhinged Raymond set out cross-country in Charlie’s Buick.

After a series of misadventures, Charlie learns that Raymond is an autistic savant with amazing abilities to recall dates and make complex mathematical calculations. During a chilling scene where Raymond flies into a rage of violent insanity, Charlie learns that Raymond was actually hospitalized for attempting to murder him when Charlie was an infant.

Early in the film, Levinson builds a tense story reminiscent of Psycho. Then, he loses his nerve and Rain Man becomes little more than a modern-day Road Movie where the audience must suspend disbelief for such diversions as a trip to Las Vegas. The thought that a shallow character like Charlie could keep a raging maniac like Raymond at bay is at best laughable. In one particularly inane scene, Raymond actually visits the home of complete strangers. Does he strangle the family or perhaps hack them to pieces, as the story to that point would dictate? No. He watches TV with them. Imagine Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre attending a church fish fry and you get the idea of the grotesque and inappropriate imagery.

By the end of the film, Levinson abandons any effort to bring realism to the film The penultimate scene involves a show down over the inheritance, pitting Charlie against the hospital. I won’t give away the ending other than to note that it was a crushing disappointment. Raymond, having been led across the country like a mad dog on a VERY short leash, sits passively while the action takes place around him. Just at the moment when logic and the story itself dictate a hail of gun fire, the directors cops out for saccharine sweet ending. I have no respect for film makers who won’t stay true to their own story. The only reason I don’t give away the ending is that it is so ridiculous no one would believe it. Just as Levinson did with The Natural–by tacking on a Hollywood ending and rendering his source material unrecognizable–he does the same here turning homicidal psychopathy into little more than a series of parlor tricks.

Every so often, a director has a chance to explore the inner workings of the mind of a psychotic without exploiting the story (Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood). Rather than take that bold leap, Levinson settles for a cheap story of a lovable misanthrope played for laughs and manipulated for false sentimentality. It’s a shame that Hoffman’s and Cruise’s fine performances end up obliterated by the nonsense of the story.

Not since Hogan’s Heroes treated Nazism as sitcom material has the public been subjected to such baffling artistic judgment. Levinson has made fine films and may well do so again. If Rain Man interests you, I suggest you search for a copy of the Jerry Lewis’s lost classic, The Day The Clown Cried, about a clown in a Nazi concentration camp. I guarantee it is more believable.

Unfortunately, today’s news is just as inane and inaccurate as this review.
© 2012

Five Horrors

I like horror movies, and I’ve seen a lot of them.  My earliest memory of being scared of a movie was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken starring Don Knotts.  Okay, it was a comedy, but I was 5 years old, and it scared me to death.  I saw it at the Roaden Theater in Loyall, Kentucky.  When I left the theater, I had chewed my shirt sleeve up to the elbow.

I’ve watched horror films in every sub-genre:  Monsters, zombies, Japanese, slasher, splatter, gore, vampires, werewolves, killers.  My favorites are ones with more atmosphere than blood.  An assault on my senses (or stomach) won’t scare me, even though I’ve enjoyed films like Saw and The Devil’s Rejects which infuse new ideas into the tired approach of shocking me.

If you like horror movies, here are five good ones.  You may know all of them.  You may not.  There are some spoilers here, but I’ll try not to ruin them for you.  I’m not including my favorites, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, because most folks have seen those.  I’m offering five, which while not necessarily obscure, may not be on many “can’t miss” lists.  These are the types of films you’ll either love or hate.  Horror, like comedy, is subjective.  With that in mind, here they are [WARNING–THERE ARE SPOILERS INCLUDED]:

The Bad Seed (1956).  This was directed by Mervyn Leroy (The Wizard of Oz) and is based on a play of the same name.   I first saw it when I was a kid and have watched it many times since.  The basic plot is that 8-year-old Rhoda (Patty McCormack) is an evil, murderous bitch.    She kills a classmate to steal his penmanship medal, kills her elderly (and extremely annoying) neighbor and burns the family handyman alive.  All of this action occurs off-screen. On-screen, Rhoda is a manipulative, preening, prissy-ass.  It turns out that her biological mother was a serial killer.  Once her adoptive mother finds out, she’s convinced that the girl is a “bad seed” and plans to kill her.  She can’t bring herself to do it and instead shoots herself.  I won’t give away the end of the movie, but I will note that it was changed from the stage play.  At the time, the Hays Production Code was still being followed and criminals were required to get their comeuppance in Hollywood.  I’m glad.  As a little kid, I don’t think I could have handled a different ending.

Patty McCormack as Rhoda. Hell in pigtails.

For a modern audience, this film may have its faults–a lot of dialogue, slow pace.  Why do I love it?  Because Rhoda is the creepiest, most vile child ever to be filmed.  She’s mean, scary and evil.  How bad?  At the end of the film, the cast is introduced on-screen one at a time.  The actress playing Rhoda’s mother then says:  “As for you, young lady…” and turns Rhoda over her knee for a spanking.  Why do this?  Because something had to be done to take the edge of that girl.  It didn’t work.  Every time I see the film or even a photo of Rhoda my blood runs cold.

The director’s effort at some comic relief at the end of The Bad Seed.  I would have preferred Rhoda being shot.

Patty McCormack continued acting into adulthood without great fame.  Wherever she is now, she can say:  “Ever see The Bad Seed? I was Rhoda.  Top that!”

The Baby (1973).  This may not be a horror movie.  Maybe, it’s a thriller.  I think it’s horror.  Directed by Ted Post, it defies categorization.  The “baby” is actually a 20-something man living with his demented mother and his two equally demented–and possibly perverted–sisters.  The film is pure 1970’s with short-shorts, pastels and wild acting.  Baby doesn’t have a name or, if he does, no one ever says it.  He can’t walk or talk and lives in a giant, freakin’ crib!

A concerned social worker (R) inquires about Baby’s living conditions and about why the mother needs a jacket and the sister is pantless.

Baby’s odd living arrangement draws the attention of a kindly–and persistent–social worker. The social worker quickly surmises that Baby is kept in his infantile state by his screwed-up family.  She may be on to something.  When one of the sisters screams “Baby doesn’t walk! Baby doesn’t talk!” and pokes him with a cattle prod, you get the impression that all is not well.

The story pales in comparison to the ending which I will NOT give away.  Let’s just say that the “twist” ending is a jaw-dropper.  I didn’t see it coming.  I’ve watched it many times on the Internet just to relive the total freakiness of it.

I assume that The Baby has fallen into the public domain.  The entire film is available on YouTube as multiple downloads.  Occasionally, I’ll watch parts of it again.  It’s always worth my time.

Ted Post wasn’t a great director.  He made some decent films (Magnum Force) and some bad ones, too (The Harrad Experiment).  This one, though, is his best.  I was entertained, and I never forgot it.

Dead of Night (aka Deathdream) (1974).  Bob Clark directed this one.  He also directed Black Christmas, which holds its own place in the annals of horror and A Christmas Story, which is now a classic of a much different genre.  He also managed to direct the Porky’s trilogy.  There may not be a director with a more diverse resume’.  Dead of Night was one of his earliest films and is simply great.

The story is borrowed from W.W. Jacobs’ short story, The Monkey’s Paw.  Andy is in Vietnam and gets shot.  As he’s dying, he hears his mother’s words when she made him promise to come home.  Andy’s family then receives notice that he died in combat.  Dad, Mom and Sis all freak.  Mom can’t accept it and spends her time muttering that Andy promised to come home.  Guess what?  He does, showing up at the door in the middle of the night in full uniform.  It’s all been a terrible mistake… or has it?

War changes men, but not like old Andy.   Now, he spends his time sitting in a rocking chair, wearing sunglasses and long sleeves at all times. At night, he livens up.  Mom wanted him to come back, but be careful what you ask for.  Andy has to prowl at night drinking blood to keep from decaying.  The film ends with a wild scene at a drive-in theater.

Andy is a precursor to the mysterious stalker in Halloween and many other films. I’m convinced that John Carpenter used the same lighting for the night scenes in Halloween.   Some shots, like when Andy is outside staring into a house, seem to have been directly lifted and placed in later films.  There is a creepy atmosphere of the unknown through the whole thing.  The acting is also excellent.

You know it won’t end well for Andy, but you like him.  He didn’t ask to come back.  They brought him back.  It’s part vampire, part Zombie, part Frankenstein, part slasher film.  Well done.

The Minus Man (1999).  Owen Wilson (!) is a serial killer.  And a good one.  He travels around poisoning people–people he decides don’t have lives worth living anymore.  He narrates the film explaining his methods (for example, he never stays in one place very long).  He also carries on a running dialogue with two imaginary police detectives, so he’s probably schizophrenic, too.  The tone, the acting-everything is understated.   It’s probably too slowly paced for some people, but I loved it.  Owen Wilson plays the killer as a nice, normal guy with only a couple of overt flashes that he’s not right in the head.  Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl are the couple that take him in.  They may be as unbalanced as he is.  Even Janeane Garofalo is excellent as his would-be love interest.

Is it a horror movie?  I think so.  It creeped me out from start to finish.  Screenwriter Hampton Fancher (Blade Runner) directed it.  As far as I know, he hasn’t directed another film.  I don’t know why.

Audition (1999):  This Japanese film is directed by Takashi Miike, a famed director.  Apparently, he’s made many excellent, shocking films.  I haven’t seen any of those other films, but I saw Audition.  That was enough for me.

The plot is complicated, but here’s a quick summary.  A lonely middle-aged widower wants to find a woman.  A friend suggests that he run an ad for a fake movie audition in order to meet attractive women.  One catches his eye.  He concludes the interview by telling her that he will call her.  A later scene shows her sitting in her empty apartment staring at her telephone.  Oh, the apartment isn’t entirely empty.  There’s a large burlap sack in the middle of the floor.  While our man has been trying to work up the courage to call her, she’s been staring at the phone for FOUR FREAKIN’ DAYS!  Finally, it rings.  The sack lurches forward with a sickening groan.  Okay, we’ve got us some messed up stuff going on.

A pretty girl. A telephone. A guy in a sack. Japanese weirdness.

Cutting to the chase, the man eventually gets up with her.  She’s demure and shy–until we find out that the sack contains a man whose tongue she cut out, along with his fingers and feet!  Oh, and she has a wee bit of a jealous streak.  Our man ends up drugged and tied to a table where she’s got some of the same sick crap planned for him.  I won’t tell more in case you want to see it.  At a film festival, an audience member reportedly screamed at Miike “You are evil!”  Indeed.

Here’s a sign your date has gone all wrong.

This film is an exception to my general disinterest in gory films.  Make no mistake: This film is in your face with some vicious imagery.  It is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.  What sets it apart is the complexity of the girl.  What the hell is wrong with her?  To some extent, her back story is revealed during the film, so you understand why she might have some relationship issues.  Her oddness builds.  It is revealed to the viewer much the same way it is to the man–quickly and with blunt force.  This is Fatal Attraction on acid.  I heard it called “cringe-inducing.”  That it is.  I would not watch it again, but I’m glad I saw it once.

So, there are five good ones.  Strange, creepy and scary.  You’ve been warned.  Enjoy.

© 2012

An Homage to Next of Kin

Have you seen the 1989 film Next of Kin?  If you have, I don’t expect a public acknowledgement.  Just softly say to yourself  “Yes, I have seen Next of Kin.  Please blog about it.”  I have, in fact, seen NOK, several times in fact.  Understand that this is not a movie review.  NOK is unreviewable with its wild cast of characters, Byzantine plot and acting that borders on hysteria.  Yes, I love this movie.  Allow me to explain why.

NOK stars, in no particular order:  Patrick Swayze, Adam Baldwin, Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Liam Neeson, Ben Stiller and Michael J. freakin’-Pollard.  I’m not making this up.  There may not be a more diverse cast in the history of cinema.  Pollard alone makes it worth watching.  You know him–he’s the weird dude with the scrunched up face in Bonnie and Clyde.

Here’s the plot.  Swayze (at his the peak of his Swayzeness) is a Chicago cop from Eastern Kentucky (Hazard, I think).  Neeson and Paxton are his brothers.  Paxton loses his job in the coal mines and moves to Chicago.  He somehow crosses the Chicago mob headed by the guy who played the one-armed man in The Fugitive.  Paxton gets murdered, and Swayze sets out to find the killer.  Neeson, portraying “Briar,” heads to Chicago to exact Mountain Justice.  He is disgusted by Swayze’s unwillingness to join in the blood feud.  He moves into a sleazy hotel run by Pollard who twitches and shrugs through all his scenes like he’s mainlining Thorazine.  Briar speaks with an accent which can only be described as “brain-damaged,” but I have to give him credit for trying.  I’m sure it’s difficult to go from an Irish brogue to Eastern Kentuckian.  Not since Edward G. Robinson played an Egyptian in The Ten Commandments has there been such a bizarre casting choice.

Anyway, Ben Stiller is the nephew of the head of the Mob (One-Armed Guy).  Ben gets himself brutally murdered.  Meanwhile, Briar is trying to find Bill Paxton’s killers, while Swayze is trying to stop him from being a vigilante.  Helen Hunt is Swayze’s wife and teaches the cello.  She frets a lot. There’s a lot of violence and other stuff.  Briar is also murdered after being framed for killing Ben Stiller.  Unbeknownst to the Mob, Briar has left instructions with Michael J. Pollard to call his relatives in Kentucky if something happens to him.  Swayze then quits the police force to join in the blood feud.  The Kentuckians show up in a bunch of trucks and a school bus.  A battle takes place between the mountain men and the mob in a cemetery. Swayze goes off on the Mob with a crossbow. The mob is wiped out with some of them even being killed by a huge collection of deadly snakes on the school bus.  Then the movie just kind of ends–happily, I guess, expect for Liam Neeson, Bill Paxton and Ben Stiller–and the Mob.

Why do I love this piece of cinematic tripe?  Maybe it’s Liam Neeson, at what was surely the low point of his career, portraying an Appalachian backwoodsman. How did he establish a successful career after this? Then again, Helen Hunt won an Oscar after NOK.  Perhaps it’s Ben Stiller in a decidedly non-comedic role playing a mobster. He also went on to great success.  It could just be Swayze, beating and killing people when the dude was only about 5′ 7″, 145 pounds.  Michael J. Pollard might have been the key.  I envision the casting director saying:  “What’s the name of the weird cat in Bonnie and Clyde?  Wonder where he is these days?”  He was probably working the hoot owl shift at a convenience store.  Hell, he may have actually been working at that sleazy hotel.

Ok.  I don’t know why I like NOK, but I do.  I like to think that somewhere in Eastern Kentucky there is a family that would load up and head to Chicago and wipe out the Mob.  That Michael J. Pollard works at a sleazy hotel somewhere.  That Helen Hunt teaches the cello.  That Ben Stiller is in the Mob.  That Swayze is still alive and implausibly kicking ass somewhere right now.  I don’t know.  Maybe I just have no taste.

© 2012

Reflections on Road House

On February 3, 2012, Ben Gazzara died.  He was an actor, and I’ll admit that I don’t know much about him.  I vaguely recall that he was in movies directed by John Cassavettes, none of which I’ve seen.  He was one of those actors that looked familiar.  If you saw him in an airport, you’d probably say “Hey, there’s Glenn Ford!”  I heard once that all men deserve to be remembered for their best work.  Of course, this isn’t at all true.  Charles Manson is a fine guitar player and Hitler liked dogs, but they shouldn’t be remembered for these traits. Mr. Gazzara probably had kids, hobbies and many fine qualities. I shall remember him for one thing:  Road House.

Road House is a movie directed (I think) by Rowdy Herrington who probably directed other films, but I don’t know that for a fact.  I love Road House.  I don’t pretend that it is art or even necessarily entertainment, but I can’t take my eyes off it when it’s on TV.  It stars Mr. Gazzara, Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch (as a doctor!), Sam Elliott (who seems drunk), Kevin Tighe (star of the TV series “Emergency!” as the guy who isn’t Randy Mantooth), John Doe (that’s his name), Red West (Elvis’s best friend), Terry Funk (the wrestler) and bunch of other people.  It centers around a bar—or “road house”—called the Double Deuce in a non-descript Missouri town.  The DD doles out liquor, drugs, sex and ass-whippings in equal measure.  It’s the kind of place that I hope exists somewhere.  Swayze is a “cooler” which is a kind of bouncer CEO.  He fights, loves, smokes, drinks coffee and cleans up the DD.  Mr. Gazzara is Brad Wesley, a kind of Godfather of the town.  He evidently controls all the local vice and has made a large fortune doing so.  He can do things like drive a monster truck over a car lot, burn buildings and stab Sam Elliott without so much as a police investigation.  After a lot of fighting and killing, the movie ends with a blood bath at Wesley’s mansion punctuated by wildly inappropriate comic relief.  In the final scene, Swayze and Dr. Lynch happily skinny dip.

As Brad Wesley, Ben Gazzara is over the top in all the best ways.  He sneers, chews up scenery and menaces everyone, including his own cabal of inept henchmen.  He beats women, kills people and terrorizes the guy from Emergency! who owns the DD.  He is completely foul and contemptible.  In other words, he’s the ultimate villain.  He’s not an anti-hero.  You can’t cheer for him.  You want him dead, and that’s exactly what happens.

Like a lot of poorly scripted movies, there are way too many characters and way too much going on in Road House.  The constant, steadying force is Brad Wesley.  He’s hated by everyone in the no-name town, and he hates them more.  In the end, he absorbs a tremendous ass-whipping from Swayze of the sort that would fell Jason Vorhees.  Yet, it takes about 200 rounds of ammo to finally take him out.  He’s dead, and we’re happy.  That’s fine acting, I say.

I love every rotten, poorly-shot, over-acted minute of Road House, due in no small measure to Ben Gazzara.  I bet he made a lot of good movies.  Maybe he even won awards for his acting.  You’d probably like to have a drink with him.  I doubt he ever killed anyone, but who knows? Maybe he did.  Like Swayze, he died of pancreatic cancer.  If he had children, they’re mourning his passing—unlike Brad Wesley whose violent end was met with laughter.  He probably had a bunch of friends and did a lot of good things.  What I’m saying is that I’m sure almost everything he did was better than Road House.  I’m also willing to guess that more people have seen his performance as Brad Wesley than anything else he did.  That’s not a bad thing.  RIP Ben.