Youtube Film Club – Banzai Runner (1987)

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The risk you take when watching cheap movies, or ones you’ve never heard of, is false advertising. Big-budget movies can’t really mess around too much, because if they billed something as a knockabout comedy and it had a load of murder and misery in it, they’d get mocked endlessly in the press and their investors might be unhappy. There are no such worries for our low-budget friends, and in fact making something rather dull and cheap to produce look as exciting as possible is pretty much their business model.

So we come to “Banzai Runner”. Look at the picture above. Pretty exciting looking, right? Super-powered sports cars, hot ladies, probably a few good fight scenes, men shouting at each other about honour and friendship. Right up my street! But the reality is, it’s a fairly low-key drama about a couple of broken-hearted men (Uncle and nephew) trying to come to terms with loss and move on with new relationships, with a distant b-story of the Uncle trying to break up an illegal street-racing ring.

Highway patrolman Billy Baxter (Dean Stockwell! Did he think this would be his post-Blue Velvet star-making role?) and his nephew Beck (John Shepherd, who was the main guy in “Friday 13th: A New Beginning”) are still haunted by the death of Beck’s parents in a drunk-driving accident a few years ago. Unless you’ve personally been affected by drunk-driving death in this world, you think it’s absolutely fine, as pretty much everyone drives hammered whenever they like. At the beginning, Billy rescues a baby from a burning drink-induced car wreck, although “baby” is putting it a bit strongly, the kid he wraps in a blanket is like three years old. Could they not find a real baby? Anyway, he spirals downwards a bit and is eventually fired.

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There are lots of curious supporting characters in “Banzai Runner”. There’s the Highway Patrol’s mechanic, Traven (Charles Dierkop) who’s apparently also a criminal, as he has a case about him due up before a judge very soon. Billy, upset that his patrol car can’t keep up with the illegal racers, asks Traven to help him illegally soup up the car, offering to get his case dropped. But he never really does, he just takes him for a few rides in his pickup truck which he’s modified so it can go above 150 mph. Sure, why not? Oh, the judge is a hipster who wears a t-shirt in his chambers and was almost busted once by Billy for smoking weed.

Talking of weed, there’s a really curious scene where Beck and Billy are driving back from somewhere, and Billy’s asleep in the passenger seat. Beck decides now is a good time to have a quick smoke, you know, next to your sleeping guardian who’s also a cop! I have literally no idea why anyone thought the jumble of scenes I’ve described in the last few paragraphs made any sense, but they’re all there (heck, you can check for yourself if you like).

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Instead of fun scenes with the street-racers, we get lots and lots of scenes of Dean Stockwell looking sad, or dealing with his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Perhaps the director wasn’t remotely interesting in telling the fast car story, but wanted to do a meaty drama? Then the producers said to him “we love you, seriously though, make this a fast car movie or you’re fired”. I sort of thought from the description that we were going to get a proto-”The Fast and the Furious” (the plot seems heavily reminiscent of part 2 of that wonderful franchise). If Paul Walker had sat around for most of the movie getting drunk and feeling bad about his life, well, we’d have never had a part 3. Actually, if Paul Walker had done those things, and had a nephew who was a complete asshole throughout the movie, then I’d call ripoff.

Eventually, Billy sort of goes undercover and gets involved in this street racing world, but it’s not really that either. There’s only two guys, and their business model is driving cocaine through the desert to Las Vegas at speeds so fast the cops can’t catch them. Although, as they appear to have paid off the cops, I’ve got no idea why they’d need to drive fast anyway? They also sort of dabble in bets on races, so Billy takes on a comedy German stereotype, then the main bad guy himself. I think, I’d honestly stopped paying attention by that point. If you were expecting actual fast cars actually racing fast, then be prepared to be disappointed – although your disappointment tank may well be tapped out by that point – as it’s just sped up footage of cars driving totally normally. They don’t even really make an attempt to not have it look like sped up footage either, and it’s terrible.

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I thought the description of the factory-modded Porsche as being able to go 200mph was stupid too, but it turns out 2017 models can do exactly that, so I’ll give them a pass. Driving that Porsche is one of the very few interesting actors in the movie, Billy Drago (who we’ve covered in such gems as “Cyborg 2” and “Tremors 4”). He’s the main goon but he’s really under-written, like they had to fit in a five minute scene where Stockwell wanders round his house trying to play a trumpet, but can’t be bothered to have a scene of Drago being awesome and evil.

Please don’t be like me, dear reader. And not in any of the normal, “oh my god he’s wasted his life” ways! Don’t be fooled by the blatant false advertising of “Banzai Runner” – and don’t ask what a banzai runner is, because this movie will not tell you – and watch something fun instead.

Rating: thumbs down

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