Andy Sidaris season! Do Or Die (1991)

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As much as I’ve enjoyed the movies of Andy Sidaris so far, there’s always a vague sense that things could go off the rails in terms of the sexual politics and rather strange plots. It’s with “Do Or Die” that this happens, which is both loads of fun and really quite annoying.

One for the “fun” column is this movie gets going immediately. There’s literally zero preamble, as no-one’s starting on the Sidaris train with his 8th movie  and you’re expected to know who super-sexy special agents Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) are. They’re approached by some beefy hombres and taken outside to meet villain Kane. Pat Morita! The genial star of “The Karate Kid” and a few seasons of “Happy Days” is in full-on villain mode here, and he really wants revenge on the ladies for the events of the previous movie. I think. He says of the two “your skills are legendary” which is being a little generous – I mean, they keep stumbling onto drug-running operations staffed by absolute incompetents and killing them, if that’s what you mean. Anyway, his plan is, he’s going to send 6 groups of assassins after them, make a bit of a game out of it.
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And that’s really all the plot. Donna and Nicole go to the hot tub first, because of course, then call the head of their still-unnamed federal agency, Bruce (Bruce Penhall), and he assembles the troops. Most of them are the same actors and characters from “Guns” – lounge / country singer Edy (Cynthia Brimhall), terrible shot Shane Abilene (Michael Shane), and that blond guy whose name I never write down and who’s difficult to spot from the IMDB page. Add in a woman who definitely wasn’t just hired because of her monstrous chest, Pandora Peaks as Atlanta Lee, and you’ve got a team.

The best thing in this movie, by a million miles, is the computer game that Kane has created to track the progress of his six assassin teams. It consists of a list of the assassin teams and a small box called the “Death Zone” where the names are moved to when they fail and die. Helpfully, Kane’s programmer added a little animation, like a mini-firework display, to show that people are dead. It’s used regularly, as well, because the vast majority of this film is – team moves around; local assassination team is dispatched; team beats them extremely easily; two team members have sex while they really should be on guard duty; sad Kane and his sad assistant look at another team name move into the Death Zone. Repeated six times.
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There’s also a classic low-budget movie trick on display, which Sidaris has used before, christened by the guys at Red Letter Media as “shoot the carnival”. Basically, if you want to make your budget look bigger, find some small town with a large public event and ask if you can film it. Have your cast wandering about in the background and it looks like you paid for all this stuff! This movie’s event is a quarter-sized remote control vehicle display event (to be fair, it does look quite good fun), and he even uses a device from it for his finale, showing a fine and inventive mind.

I guess I ought to get onto the sexism. I’ve been pretty kind to Sidaris up to now, as even in movies starring Playboy models with rampant female nudity, there’s been a sense that the women are in control and are having just as good a time as the men. Here, however, there’s none of that. The federal agency they work for keeps hiring more men, and Sidaris keeps giving them more of the plot, which culminates in a fairly appalling scene where good guy Erik Estrada (he played a bad guy in “Guns”) picks Donna off a bike and gets on it himself, because women! She replies with her list of kills and Presidential commendations, and all Erik does is make a condescending quip and drive off, while blond guy laughs at the idea of women being in any way equal to men. Of course, Erik ends up with Donna, because women just need putting in their place.
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Okay, the fight at the end features just Donna and Nicole fighting the last two assassins, but all they do is nearly beat them and then run off, a routine which is repeated three or four times, the final kill being left to the device that Erik made up. Although I will never get tired of people so delighted that they’ve just killed two people that they high-five.

Sidaris likes his broad, Dukes Of Hazzard style humour (the fake redneck assassins are a particular highlight), and there’s plenty of it on display here. It’s loose and fun, although there’s less of it than before, while there’s a lot more sex scenes, indicating our director was steering more towards the erotic thriller market than he was the redneck action comedies of before (okay, the differences are pretty slight, but noticeable the more you watch). I want to like his movies, they’re loose and easy on the eye and everyone looks like they’re having a good time, but not so much here, none of the women even look like they’re enjoying themselves. Less of the neanderthal sexual politics next time please, Andy.
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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Battle Planet (2008)

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SyFy Channel has, thankfully, stopped making quite so many original movies (I think they were up to one a fortnight in 2014), so I’ve got half a chance to catch up, thus completing one of the ISCFC’s grand projects. To that end, I suggested a SyFy review to my wife, and she said “can you make it a funny one?” This, dear reader, represents my best shot, with a main actor who’s famous for one of the most beloved comedies of all time, and…well, no-one else you’ve ever heard of. But that’s par for this course!

 

That comedy actor is Zack Ward, a name you might not recognise but a face you definitely do. “A Christmas Story”, hugely beloved in the USA, features him as a young kid, playing the neighbourhood villain and doing such a great job that he gets recognised by kids who are upset with him to this day. He also starred in Uwe Boll’s “Postal”, which he had a hilarious story about – after watching the first cut of the movie, he spent an entire weekend going over it, offering suggestions of edits and alternate takes they could use, and…Boll just released that first cut, entirely unaltered. In this movie, he’s Jordan Strider, one of the heroes of the New World Alliance, a multi-species grouping that’s been at war with the Aquarians, a sea-going species (they have suits full of water for the fight scenes) for some time. He completes a tricky mission and during his commendation by the rulers of the Alliance, is given an even trickier one, to go to Terra 219 and arrest some traitors who are passing on Alliance secrets. Because they’re not sure about the atmosphere, they give him a powered suit which completely encloses him and provides for all his needs.

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But there’s a problem, in that he’s not really there to “do” anything. He’s a military experiment, to see how long a soldier can survive in the suit, entirely separated from the environment, and to take all sorts of readings from him in order to create the perfect future-soldier. The ticket is one-way, and he could theoretically die of old age inside it. He doesn’t learn this til quite a way into things, of course.

 

His only companion is the suit’s computer, which has a bit of an Iron Man vibe to it, who he picks a nice friendly female voice for. She injects him with adrenaline when he’s tired and provides food when he’s hungry, although I’m not entirely sure where it stores a lifetime’s supply of these things. Then he encounters the alien warrior Jun’Hee (Monica May), who befriends him but she’s considered an enemy of the Alliance, so they decide to send some troops down to kill them both. I didn’t really understand this, either, as she vanished from the radar some years ago…bit of a coincidence that the planet they picked for this experiment had public enemy no.1 on it.

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The extremely low budget of “Battle Planet” manifests itself in a number of ways. The makeup on Jun’Hee and her people is pretty good, but everything else isn’t, including military outfits, weapons (look like spraypainted toys), and sets – if you’ve seen one movie where they just walk through the wilderness and pretend it’s an alien planet, you’ve seen em all.

 

And the acting! Ward is fine, but everyone else is miserable, like they’ve barely ever acted before. Ward’s friend at the beginning, who might as well have “obvious villain” painted on his forehead, is just shockingly bad, the worst of the bunch, but it’s not like he’s got anything to play against. And the people you think might be good, like the voice of the suit (LA improv comedian / puppeteer Colleen Smith) are terribly badly served by the script.

 

Why make up an elaborate plan to get rid of their best soldier? What does, say, 50 years of data give you that a month wouldn’t? What sort of war requires soldiers to stay inside completely sealed suits for the entirety of their natural lives? It’s quite an art-house concept for a sci-fi movie (even more so for a SyFy movie) but it feels like they dreamed it up but couldn’t think of a good reason why a guy would be required to spend his entire life trapped in a suit. Or perhaps they were going to do a version of the Iain M Banks short story “Descendant”, which also features a man trapped in a suit on an alien world, but they were refused permission and had to jury-rig what they could. Or maybe they were going to make a TV-movie sequel to “Enemy Mine” but didn’t get the rights to that either. Ah, who knows?

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The tone doesn’t help proceedings, flipping from fairly broad comedy to hard sci-fi to a sort of Shakespearean tragedy by the end. The ending could have been beautiful, too, but it didn’t feel earned. None of it did. I kept wondering if I was watching a particularly confusing edit, or the second half of a mini-series, but apparently not. A bunch of interesting ideas desperately looking for a coherent narrative to put themselves in.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Andy Sidaris season! Guns (1990)

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Once more into the breach with Andy Sidaris, and his “Girls, Guns and G-Strings” collection, which has provided me with much entertainment since buying it. And, I think, this might be the best Sidaris film so far – it’s got action, a plot that I could understand, lots of fun characters, the return of a gag I always liked, and more of the wonderful tricks of the low-budget filmmaker. And the nudity is perhaps even more crowbarred-in than ever before!

 

DANNY TREJO WATCH – he’s appeared in hundreds of movies, and he shows up here as the chief goon of bad guy Juan Degas / “Jack of Diamonds”, Erik Estrada. Erik Estrada! Off of “CHiPs”! Anyway, Trejo is, of course, brilliant, but you might be thinking “Mark, is this the earliest appearance of the great man in an ISCFC review?” Well, it’s close, but we have Trejo reviews going back as far as 1987, his third ever role, in “The Hidden”; and there’s also another one from before this, 1990’s “Maniac Cop 2”. Even at the beginning of his career, he picked good ones!

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But we’re not here to talk Trejo, we’re here to talk Andy Sidaris. I wanted to make sure that you understand what you’re getting when you watch a Sidaris movie, and it’s not the most original thing in the world. All his movies, so far at least, are set in and around Molokai, a small island in the Hawaiian peninsula, and feature variations on a theme – a central female partnership get involved, inadvertently or not, with a mission to stop some criminal from using Hawaii to do something bad. All the women are happy to disrobe at the drop of a hat, often in teams (there are regular hot tub scenes), and up to now there’s always been a big role for a male member of the Abilene family, although they’ve gone from the stars of the series to definitely secondary to the ladies. They’re all roughly the same, to be brutally honest, so if you’ve seen the classic “Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and aren’t driven like me to watch every film in a certain series or from a certain director, then you don’t really need to watch any others.

 

From this line on I can assume you’re all with me and want to know just what “Guns” is all about. Sadly, the gorgeous 80s sparkly bikini-clad singer is not the star, but she’s the first thing we see, and she certainly gets us ready for the sort of entertainment we have on offer. Degas is a guy who everyone thought had died in a boat explosion some time ago, but he’s out and about, not exactly living in secret, and hires a couple of assassins to get revenge for…someone who did actually die on that boat? I’m really not sure, and it’s not like it matters who he’s getting revenge for.

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The assassins are the dumbest guys, treating murder as a job they sort of like but still enjoy slacking off on. Their speciality is small bombs inside electrical things, completely undetectable, but Degas wants this particular murder to go down a certain way, and that way involves them dressing up as women and murdering their target in the middle of a crowded restaurant, then leaving a Jack of Diamonds playing card on the victim’s chest, with the name of the revenge-ee on it. The two guys don’t seem thrilled about becoming, as one character memorably describes them later on, as “shemales”, but for the entire rest of the movie are constantly found at transvestite bars dressed as women, or just dressed as women. Given Sidaris has featured transvestitism before (in “Malibu Express”), and it’s not mocked, one should perhaps give him the mildest of kudos. Even if it’d be nice to know if these were actually transvestite assassins or just assassins who’d taken the wrong disguise bag out to work with them.

 

Anyway, the assassins, due to a dress mixup, kill the wrong person. The person they were trying to kill is Nicole (Roberta Vasquez), who’s the new sidekick to Donna (Dona Speir), our statuesque blonde friend who’s a Sidaris regular. It would appear Taryn from the previous three films took the money she found at the end of “Savage Beach” and left this weird life forever – she was still in witness protection, I think, but was the equal of Federal agent Donna and shot just as many people as she did. Luckily, sparkly bikini lady Edy (Cynthia Brimhall), and a woman we’re introduced to taking part in the sleaziest oil wrestling I’ve ever seen captured on film, are both agents too, so we have a bit of a “getting the team together” segment. Joining them is the same Abilene brother from the previous movie, and a guy who’s in charge of the squad, although who he is, why he’s in charge and what the squad’s called are questions we never get the answers to.

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Seriously, I’m expecting some “L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies” and through five movies, neither hide nor hair of them. It’s like watching “Charlie’s Angels” if the Angels don’t form until halfway through season 2! I paid really close attention too, on the off chance I missed the name, but nothing.

 

Anyway, “Guns” is really entertaining. The action hops back and forth from Las Vegas to Molokai, Donna’s mother – the local Vegas DA – is kidnapped by Degas, and the two sides go tit for tat in elaborate ways of murdering their enemies. I’ll give you one very odd segment – one of the members of the team is Abe (veteran character actor Chuck McCann) and he goes to interview a couple of Degas’ men, who’ve been arrested. Rather than do anything normal, he straight up murders the pair of them and pretends they were armed so he had to do it! So, he walks away fine, but later on is blown up by a remote controlled boat (RC vehicles are something of a directorial fetish) sent by Degas’ girlfriend.

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I’ve spent quite a lot of time talking about a fairly typical Sidaris movie, but if you were going to pick one to watch first…actually, I’d still go with “Hard Ticket To Hawaii”, but this runs it a close second. Lots of fun, nothing too much to worry about, and provided you’re cool with tons of female nudity and zero of the male variety, you’ll have a good time.
Rating: thumbs up

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

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So, we come to the end of another surprisingly durable franchise (first movie was from 1990, so it’s done pretty well to avoid a reboot). Michael Gross makes it through all five, but nothing else does, not even the “classic” Graboids. After a classic part 1, it’s been a bit sad to sit through the largely dull parts 2-4, with part 3 being the absolute pits, but can part 5 turn it round? It’s a welcome return to the ISCFC for Don Michael Paul, aka “The Director With Three First Names”, who we covered on “Lake Placid: The Final Chapter”, and who also acted in “Robot Wars”.

 

Burt Gummer is now a reality TV star, where he hunts Graboids and whatever else wanders across his path, teaching his viewers how to make a clay oven and cook rattlesnake out in the wild. While he never struck me as a particularly hands-on sort of guy to this point (he had lots of Army rations in his bunker in part 1, implying he wasn’t that bothered about fending for himself), it’s a decent bit of character development. His cameraman gets a better job and quits, but not before finding him a replacement…Jamie Kennedy, whose introduction is doing some “extreme” biking, like was popular 20 years ago.

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Jamie Kennedy is one of those people I dislike for no particular reason. Since he was given the cool speech in “Scream”, he’s been given an almost endless series of chances – numerous starring vehicle TV shows, stand up TV specials, award hosting gigs, and “the funny guy” in tons of movies. He’s never once shown any appreciable charisma or talent, yet here he is, in 2015, still top billed in movies. Okay, not very good movies. But, if you don’t believe me, and think I’m being harsh on poor Mr Kennedy…an early starring role, “Son Of The Mask”, got him a Razzie nomination for worst actor. He hosted Activision’s E3 event in 2007 and was mocked for performing drunk and having no knowledge of Activision’s stuff. He lied about going back to the “Scream” franchise. His New Year’s Eve 2012 show is still mocked now as maybe the worst TV show ever made. There are plenty of others. Yet he’s famous and I’m an office drone who writes these for my own amusement.

 

So, a South African guy from their Ministry of the Environment, or whatever it is, finds Burt and asks for his help in putting down an outbreak of Ass-Blasters, who’ve popped up there; Burt’s payment will be the South Africans paying for the production of his TV show for the next three years. At the same time, a pair of local archaeologists discover a creature which is a bit like a Graboid, only longer, leaner and more intelligent (I guess).

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The first thing to notice is the acting is better and the script is stronger than anything since…well, I think it’s probably the best of the sequels, but I know a lot of people like them. The South African muscle, played by Brandon Auret, is a lot of fun, as is Gross’s brother from another mother, Ian Roberts as the lunatic helicopter pilot Den. Best of all, though, is local vet Nandi, the mother of a young kid that Jamie Kennedy befriends. She’s played by Pearl Thusi, and without wanting to be too sleazy, she’s a very beautiful woman, but more importantly she’s a decent actress. Those of you (us) wanting more can see her on season 2 of “Quantico” or the South African version of “Lip Sync Battle”.

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So, it’s pretty much a remake of part 2, but done better. One of the original Perfection crew goes to another country to help them sort things out, and takes a wacky friend along for the ride. Pondering why no-one bothered to learn how to fight the Graboids in the intervening 25 years, or why so few people in South Africa are aware of what must be the biggest news of the century, or why they forgot they’d already captured one at the end of part 3, are questions sadly unanswered. The Graboids, Shriekers and Ass-Blasters are a different evolutionary chain to the ones Burt’s used to, which basically means they’re taking advantage of the far superior CGI to make something which looks decent and terrifying – the difference from the terrible use of computers in part 3 is like night and day. It’s really cool to see it filmed in South Africa too, giving it a different and interesting look to what we got in the first four.

 

ISCFC FAVOURITE THING – the wooden guard tower! And you know it gets destroyed by a super-Graboid!

 

There’s a moderately interesting story behind this – the original writers, directors and producers kept trying to get their Australia-based Tremors script made with Universal, but it was stuck in development hell for a decade, until finally an exec came along who liked it, but didn’t want the original creative team to have much input at all. Perhaps they’d seen parts 2-4? So, that whole group of people walked away, and we ended up with…well, an actually decent film for once. I imagine they were a bit upset when they saw it and were like “oh, I can see why they kicked us off it now”.

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If you can put up with Jamie Kennedy, who’s the least annoying he’s ever been here, then there’s a heck of a lot to like. Rips along, lots of good characters, good effects, funny occasionally, and I sort o hope they carry on with the series.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

 

 

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

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All prequels are rubbish. Okay, I’ll give you “The Godfather 2”, maybe “X-Men: First Class”, and “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”, but one of them was made by Coppola at the height of his powers and the other two were more new-franchise starters than they were prequels. The point stands, though, that they’re all rubbish, because they answer questions nobody really asked. Does anyone really care why Hannibal Lecter was turned into the thing he was? Well, “Hannibal Rising” thinks you do, even if it doesn’t actually answer anything. Think Boba Fett was cool because he was a silent force of nature? Not any more you don’t, thanks to the “Star Wars” prequels! And so on, and so forth. A good half of them seem purely to exist because the coolest character dies at the end of (FILM), so to make more movies with that popular character they have to be prequels – this accounts for the weird timeline of the “Fast And The Furious” movies, for instance.

 

Our “Tremors” prequel takes place in 1889, 100 years before the first movie. The small town of Rejection, Nevada, is enjoying the fruits of the nearby silver mine, and things are going well for everyone, until something mysterious starts killing people down in the depths. The transient working population sods off, and all we’re left with is a rough approximation of the people we’d see in part 1 – Asian store owners and their young son; Hispanic wannabe farmer; attractive hotel owning lady; an old barfly; and a few assorted bits of cannon fodder on the periphery. As the mine stops producing and most of the miners are dead, into town comes the mine’s owner, Hiram Gummer (Michael Gross, playing his own great-grandfather, who’s really stopped trying by this point).

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What you’ll notice throughout is how hard they try to make you remember “Tremors”. There’s lots of little “oh, so that’s the origin of that thing I never cared about”, such as the flagpole outside the shop, the family who own the local farm, and moderately importantly, how the Gummer family became obsessed with guns. Oh, and Gummer teaches the kid of the shop-owners to always try and exploit dumb customers, which explains how his descendant is such a scumbag in 1990. I find it vaguely sad there’s so little mobility in peoples’ lives, but whatever.

 

The slight difference in the Graboids this time is they’re brand new, hatched from long-dormant eggs thanks to a warm water runoff from the mine, so they can propel themselves through the air. This isn’t quite as offensive to my filmgoing sensibilities as the “Ass Blasters” in part 3, and they’re only in it briefly before we’re back to the big ugly beasts we know and love (presumably, they grow quite quickly). The second half is remarkably similar to the second halfs of all the other movies – a small group of people, isolated from any help, taking on a large group of creatures. I keep trying to think of something new to write about this movie, but if the people who made it couldn’t think of anything fun or original, why should I?

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The only other face you’ll recognise apart from Gross is Billy Drago, one of the great 80s / 90s villains (“The Untouchables”, “Vamp”, and previously covered by us in “Cyborg 2”). He’s the gunslinger who Gummer hires to help the town defeat the Graboids – sort of a one-man Seven Samurai – and he’s a lot of fun, playing a little against type from time to time. Then you have character actor Sara Botsford as the love interest for Gummer, another bit of pipe-laying for the future as she’s a feisty redhead just like Reba McIntyre, his wife in part 1; and she’s the person who brings guns into his life. One could assume that, given the Gummers survive all the way down to the present day and they look identical, that the two of them will have kids fairly soon, but Botsford was 53 at the time of filming and probably a little on the old side to be having kids, especially in the remote Old West.

 

I mean, it’s not terrible. There are a couple of inventive Graboid kills, and even a decent gag or two. But, the same criticism I levelled at part 3 could go for this, too – it’s billed as a comedy yet I’m not sure any of its creators understand how to make people laugh. Wacky over-the-top characters are all we get, and unless you find the idea of a prissy businessman in a tiny Old West town funny in itself, you’re probably going to have a rough time with this one.  Luckily, there’s less CGI in it than there was in part 3, but there’s also less Graboids.

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Writing duties on this one were given to Scott Buck, who will hopefully direct some search engine traffic this way, as he’s now the producer of “Iron Fist”, the Marvel superhero. He also did “Dexter”, so you can partly blame him for that cliff of quality the show fell off (this is his only movie writing credit). Directing is once again by SS Wilson, who directed this, part 2 and nothing else.

 

A disinterested shrug is about as much as I can manage for this one. They’ve managed to coast a long way on the accumulated goodwill of part 1.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Tremors 3: Back To Perfection (2001)

This might be the ugliest video cover I've ever seen

This might be the ugliest video cover I’ve ever seen

It appears “Tremors 2” has a lot more fans than I previously thought, as feedback for my review has been “that was a bit harsh” – I’m moderately surprised to even get feedback, honestly, but it happens when you review films that other people have actually seen. I feel fairly confident that many fewer of you’ll have watched anything from the “Tremors universe” past part 2, though, so we can continue.

 

This does give us an opportunity to talk about the straight-to-video sequel. It look like Disney and Universal led the way, with sequels to “Aladdin” and “The Land Before Time” being released that way in 1994, but now everyone’s into it, and all the major movie studios have departments that exist solely to exploit their most popular movies, although now they’ll be on Netflix or DVD rather than “video” (I’m too lazy to change the name, though). These tend to follow a certain business plan, which roughly speaking is:

 

“How much money can we cut from the budget of these movies before people stop paying to watch them?”

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From part 1, user of many inventive special effects, and one that still looks great today; to part 2, which used whatever they had lying around left over from part 1, but still looked sort of okay; to part 3, which is mostly CGI and crappy-looking models, the budgets fall and fall and fall. The other thing about straight-to-video sequels is that they obviously can’t afford to pay the stars of the original, so part 2 had Fred Ward and a sort of vague Kevin Bacon-alike, and now with part 3 we’re down to Michael Gross, who worked in the first movie because he had a tiny part as the wacky survivalist guy who was there because he had lots of guns and was enthusiastic about getting the chance to use them. But as the lead?

 

Let’s recap. It’s 11 years since part 1, and Burt Gummer (Gross) has lent his Graboid-killing abilities to the government of Argentina. This immediately robs the film of any tension or scares, as he’s seen destroying hundreds of the “Shriekers” with a couple of huge aircraft guns mounted to the back of a truck. There’s also the small question of why no-one else appears able to just point a gun in one direction and shoot a lot, as Gummer’s skill doesn’t seem any greater than that. Anyway.

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But this is just preamble, as he’s soon back in Perfection, the tiny, remote town which was the site of the first movie. He’s had his compound completely remodelled with a concrete barrier (which goes all the way underneath his house), but other than that the town has barely changed, with the population being down to 5. The kid from part 1 is now a sleazy property developer in his mid 20s, who wants to buy the entire valley up and build houses, and there’s a new guy called Jack (Shawn Christian), who runs very low-rent Graboid tours of the local area. Oh, and Chang’s convenience store has been taken over by his niece Jodi (Susan Chuang). There’s a nice cameo near the beginning, where Mary Gross, aka Michael’s sister, aka off the terrible years of “Saturday Night Live”, pops up and calls him “Mr Goober”, but sadly she’s not in it more as I quite like her. Pretty much everyone who wasn’t Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward and was still alive at the end of part 1 pops up in part 3, but you could be forgiven for not remembering as some of them were pretty minor.

 

I know no-one likes an armchair quarterback, but think about it for a minute. Imagine the town had turned into a Roswell-style tourist trap after the events of part 1 (where the two stars were pretty big celebrities for a while), and now, 11 years later, there’s no Graboid sightings and all the businesses are closed up, with the area being a complete ghost town. The rest of the film could run the same, even, and the “evil property developer” subplot would make a lot more sense – why’s he so fixated on building in that extremely inhospitable valley with no phone service and nowhere near anywhere? But those things would have cost money, I guess.

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So now we’re treated to yet another evolution of the Graboid, the Ass Blaster. Think they were running out of ideas? These creatures fart fire, which propels them into the air, where they can glide. Having a sequel to a movie called “Tremors” with a monster which flies through the air is about the same as making “Revenge of the Dragon” which reveals halfway through the dragon is a mere evolutionary stage to an angry dog. These creatures, much like their parents, the Shriekers, only sense heat, unlike the Graboids, which only sense vibration. Why not?

 

Oh, another thing. There’s a rack of comics in the shop at the beginning, the fictionalised tales of what happened in parts 1 and 2. Only no-one told the guy they hired to draw the covers of the comics how to spell “Shrieker” – proof:

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So, the acting’s sort of alright, but it’s just not that funny. It thinks just having weird creatures in it, and people shouting at each other occasionally, is good enough and it really isn’t. They’re being sold as funny monster movies but by this point, they’re just not trying hard enough at that side of things. There’s also an extremely unconvincing and irrelevant central “romance”, which feels like an extremely hasty last-minute addition and doesn’t really make sense in the world of the movie. Perhaps it’s the fault of writer John Whelpley, who also worked heavily on the abysmal “Earth: Final Conflict”. Or perhaps it’s the fault of Brent Maddock, with this being his only directorial credit (he wrote the first movie, as well as “Short Circuit”)?

 

A small aside: throughout the three movies, Michael Gross is sporting an “Atlanta Hawks” hat. The Hawks are an NBA team, and Atlanta is all the way on the other side of the country from Nevada (where this and part 1 are set, I think). It’s a nice touch that he’s both a fan of basketball (him being a bit of a redneck) and a team from so far away. Or perhaps it’s just Michael Gross’s own hat and they let him wear it.

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An unfunny comedy, and a monster movie where they’re all cheap CGI. Separately they’re awful, but put them together and give it just enough talent to make it bearable, and you’ve got “Tremors 3”. To be immediately forgotten.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Andy Sidaris season! Savage Beach (1989)

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Our Andy Sidaris season is taking a little longer than we expected, because if the ISCFC ever actually completed a project our website would probably stop working in sheer amazement. But we’re still enjoying them, and we hope you enjoy these reviews too (and pick up the “Girls, Guns And G-Strings” 12-film set).

 

Hot federal agent Donna (Dona Speir) and hot lady-not-in-witness-protection-anymore Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) are back for their third movie, and Donna is with her third Abilene man, this time Shane (Michael J Shane). Even though Taryn clearly says she’s just a civilian, she and Donna take part in a drug bust at the beginning, where the criminals are smuggling heroin inside pineapples. There are also a couple of other women in their group, but they do basically nothing other than take their tops off a few times and sit in a hot tub, so I won’t be mentioning them too much (or at all).

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Up to now, and at least as far as the next movie, 1990’s “Guns”, Sidaris’s movies all exist in the same universe (this stretches back to his early movies, 1973’s “Stacy” and 1979’s “Seven”). I think this is the first appearance of the “L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies” group of non-governmental ass-kickers, sort of Charlie’s Angels if the Angels all had huge boobs and were led by a guy with a cool mullet. But you don’t need to have seen the others; in fact it’s a positive hindrance if you’re not a fan of the same plot being repeated with largely the same cast.

 

Okay, I’d best recap the plot. After the drug bust, our two heroes are asked to take an emergency shipment of medicine from Molokai to Knox Island, but a storm knocks them way off course and they’re forced to land on a completely deserted island. At the same time, three other groups are also converging on that island – a couple of south American revolutionaries, two Japanese government agents, and two American army guys – because they discovered there’s a huge amount of gold stowed there from a sunk Japanese WW2 boat. Then there’s double-crosses (the male revolutionary is just in it for the fame, the woman is a true believer; the two Japanese guys are killed and a couple of evil guys assume their identity; and the CIA wants to take over the US Army mission) and lots of the things that make Andy Sidaris movies great.

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One thing his movies have always had in common is that it’s cool for men to cheat, almost natural you might say. At the beginning, Shane Abilene (fun fact: Michael J Shane only appeared in seven movies, and he was this character in five of them) is with his hot girlfriend, and she asks him to “put it on ice” when he goes back to Hawaii – his response is “use it or lose it”, and he almost immediately gets into a thing with Donna, making Shane her third Abilene, along with Rowdy and Travis from the previous movies. It’s a weird fetish, but I’ll allow it! Another commonality is a pathological hatred of bras, with the only bra in the entire movie being worn by one of the irrelevant team members…but that’s the only item of clothing she has on above the waist. When Donna and Taryn get changed in the middle of a plane flight, in a crazy storm, I really had to question if Sidaris’ love of buxom nudity had crossed over the line into some weird pathology.

 

There’s a Japanese WW2 guy on the island, who’s been there for…40 years or so?…and he helps out the ladies, after tying them up and threatening them of course. My favourite line of the entire movie is Taryn’s “what’s with that guy, anyway?” after he frees them, delivered with the same excitement you’d reserve for ordering coffee and not like HE’S A WEIRD OLD JAPANESE GUY ON A COMPLETELY DESERTED ISLAND WHO JUST ATTACKED THEM! At the end, he tells us his life story, and the flashback goes on for bloody ever, like they had the footage from something else and were determined to use it.

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As well as his stock company (Obregon would appear in all the rest of his movies, Speir in most of them, Shane too), there’s a couple of fine “That Guy” appearances too. You’ve definitely seen more than one Al Leong movie – he’s the guy they called from the mid 80s to the mid 90s if they needed an Asian villain. I was surprised to hear his actual accent was American, he speaks so rarely! There’s also the great James Lew, who occupied a similar role at a similar time but is a bit of a better actor so occasionally is called on to not just fight.

 

The acting is, by and large, terrible (again). Every non-main cast member is a rank amateur, and the trick of picking most of your female talent from the pages of “Playboy” and “Penthouse” doesn’t exactly help in those stakes. While Sidaris knew how to film Hawaii to make it look beautiful, and was completely solid when it came to filming action, he couldn’t be bothered to hire good actors.

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Although the cast list is smaller than “Picasso Trigger”, and the movie is therefore a lot easier to understand, there are still a number of irrelevant actors who are in it because they were in Hawaii and were going to appear in one of his other movies, so why not pop up in this one too? The two other agents (played by Lisa London and Teri Weigel, I think) are beyond pointless, and other than Sidaris needing an Abilene guy in his movies, I’ve got no idea why Michael J Shane was there at all. I get the feeling he kept hiring people because he liked them, even though he didn’t need any more cast members, and just crowbarred them in wherever he could.

 

Much like our previous three, it’s to be enjoyed, provided you understand how cheesy and female-nudity-filled it’s going to be. Everyone has a good time, the women give as good as they get in both the fighting and sex stakes, it’s lovely to look at, and it’s pretty funny at times too. Light, frothy, completely forgettable, but fun.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

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I watched “Tremors” a few months ago but didn’t review it, because it might be the perfect B-movie and I’d only spoil it with my words. Seriously, not a weak moment – every performance perfectly judged, funny, inventive special effects, pretty exciting at times…”Tremors” is an all-time great, no doubt about it. It was so good that it inspired four sequels, and I feel a bit more confident about reviewing them.

 

Director Ron Underwood (who also made “City Slickers”, and…”Pluto Nash”) doesn’t return, and instead directing duties are handled by part 1’s writer, S. S. Wilson. Wilson’s written at least one decent movie – “Short Circuit”; one I liked but no-one else did – “Wild Wild West”; and lots of rubbish – “Ghost Dad”, for one, starring rapist Bill Cosby. This and part 4 represent the entirety of his directing career, and he hasn’t really done anything since the turn of the millennium, so let’s see how good it was.

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“Not very”, is the simple answer. The Graboids from part 1 are back, but in Mexico this time, and they’ve forced an oil field to shut down by killing a bunch of the miners. Although a person might reasonably think “they must have done all sorts of tests on those creatures, and the Army will have figured out a way to blow them up”, the people behind this movie didn’t, so the owners of the oil field call on…Earl Bassett! Yes, Fred Ward was happy to come back for the sequel, but Kevin Bacon was not, possibly because it was straight-to-video and Kevin was getting paid better for starring in the Oscar-nominated “Sleepers” at the time.

 

Joining Earl is Grady Hoover, who’s the Bacon replacement (Facon?) and whose sole qualification is he’s the first guy the Mexicans met when they went to Earl’s town to find him. He’s played by Chris Gartin, who sort of looks like four different actors, depending on his facial expression and the way he’s stood. Despite Grady being so stupid he doesn’t even know what rock, paper, scissors is, they start off well, developing a solid system for killing the creatures which earns them a fortune ($50,000 a graboid), until they sort of start fighting back, so they decide to bring in reinforcements in the shape of the guy who stole part 1 with his brilliant performance, Michael Gross as Bert Gummer.

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It’s around this point when I turned against the movie, really. It’s a small thing, but…anyway, he drives up with a huge truck full of guns and explosives, and there’s an ADRed line about how the Mexican army gave them all to him, obviously as someone in the editing bay went “how did he get all these deadly weapons over the border?” But then he starts talking about a new rifle he’s got, which clearly wasn’t a gift, and it’s a whole mess. Pay attention to the details, people.

 

This is as nothing compared to the second half of the movie, though. Sequels, the good ones anyway, have to have some sort of escalated threat, whether in numbers, size or circumstances (for instance: the monsters are moving towards a big city! Or humanity is dying out and can’t fight them as well any more! You know the sort of thing I mean), but it’s important that they try and stick to some part of the formula that made the previous movie successful enough to warrant a sequel. “Tremors 2”, on the other hand, decides to just recreate the climax of part 1, with them in a small location trying to move round on top of buildings, but with slightly different creatures. Yes, the graboids  (who grab no-one in the course of the movie, because that effect was clearly too expensive to recreate) are actually larva for creatures we’ll come to know in part 3 as “shriekers” – sort of graboid-looking things that run round on two legs.

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The graboids have been around since pre-Cambrian times, apparently, when the only other creatures were single-celled (this is from the movie, not some weird theory I have), yet these two-legged things have never showed up anywhere, ever, until 1996 in Mexico? No explanation is given, although the original movie was supposed to be set in Australia (with Kevin Bacon returning) until the budget was cut by 75%. I could see them having evolved differently there, even though the movie sort of explicitly says they haven’t evolved in hundreds of millions of years, but…ah, I don’t know.

 

It commits the worst B-movie crime, of being boring. There’s not a second of this movie where you’re not thinking about how you’d rather be watching the first one, but for the last twenty minutes, it’s pretty difficult to keep your attention on the screen. It’s exactly what “Tremors” would have been with a poor director and no Kevin Bacon in it, which is sort of alright but completely forgettable.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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