Night Of The Kickfighters (1988)

This feels broken. Like, the people who made it didn’t really understand how movies worked, but went ahead and made one anyway. None of the subplots make any sense, the main plot is missing hefty chunks, the acting is – to put it exceptionally politely – amateurish, the crew may have been drunk, some of the effects would be embarrassing if a ten-year-old kid made a film with them in it…but boy oh boy was it a lot of fun to watch.

We have new members of

THE ISCFC ONE-TIMERS CLUB

This is the highly sought-after prize for someone whose entire career is represented by just one movie. Director Buddy Reyes and writer / producer / star Andy Bauman, welcome!

Expectations are important. After the first scene, in which a wonderfully overacting Euro-hottie Kedesha (Marcia Karr, who’s already been in two ISCFC movies, “Death Blow: A Cry For Justice” and “Maniac Cop”) seduces a rather unprepossessing balding fellow then has Carel Struycken (the tall gaunt fellow from such movies as “Men In Black”) throw him out of a window, you’re expecting a hero to show up soon. When Adam West shows up as a scientist who’s invented a laser smart enough to ignore friendly people on the battlefield, you’re expecting him to sell it to some villains – joke’s on us, as they clearly only hired him for a day or two and he shares no scenes with the main cast. When his daughters and wife are attacked by the actual villains who figure kidnap / ransom is the best way to get the laser (I think, they don’t really tell us their plan at any point), surely, you think to yourself, the hero is going to show up soon? We’re nearly a third of the way into the movie and there’s not been a single star-looking guy show up yet.

What I wasn’t expecting was that middle-aged balding guy from the beginning to be the hero. He’s CIA agent Brett Cady, and is played by Andy Bauman, who was apparently a kickboxing world champion (although I can find no evidence of this other than the VHS box, which also claims he’s the star of three other movies – he isn’t) and now sells a cross-fit style exercise regime with his wife. He looks like a mid-level manager at a failing insurance sales company, not an action movie star, and this is probably the heftiest blow dealt to “Night Of The Kickfighter”. He’s not even that good an on-screen martial artist!

We’re also treated to one of the weirdest “getting the team together” segments of all time. There’s a computer expert who you might expect to be the love interest, but no; a generic brawler whose special skill seems to be that he owns a bar, then a sort of gutter version of Q from the James Bond movies, then a magician. A straight up stage magician! Aldo is his name, and I kept expecting him to drop the accent and delivery he’d gone with, but no – he speaks like a crazy person from beginning to end. Follow this weirdness with one of those team-training segments that manages to be even weirder, and you’re just strapping yourself in getting ready for a crash-bang-wallop last half-hour.

But, of course, that’s what a normal movie would do! What we actually get here is half the team go off to do the fighting, and half the team just sort of hang back for no reason, only getting involved when everyone else is tied up with a brain-frying lazer pointed at them (not the same lazer that Adam West was inventing, though). I’m not sure what the hacker gets up to, because she was so bland she started blending into the background. The magician guy does full-on disappearing tricks, inside the enemy compound, indicating he either went in there before and set all his tricks up while no-one was watching or he’s actually got magical powers. You know, the usual.

On top of all this, there’s the technical “shortcomings” too. The most obvious miniature I can remember seeing in years is blown up at the end – it’s only a few steps up from the “MRI machine made of paper” classic “After Last Season”. There’s the way the lazer effect moves with the camera, so a beam of purple light is sometimes beaming into someone’s head and then wanders over a few feet to the left or right. Tons of post-sync dubbing, like they kept forgetting to record sound too…then there’s the sets – the strip club is amazing, like a redneck version of a 1920s honky-tonk bar with a solitary stripper gyrating in the corner. Nothing fits!

This genuine puzzlement carries over to the acting too, with Bauman an utter non-presence in the movie he’s supposed to be starring in. Aldo and Kedesha are both overacting like their lives depended on it, and everyone else seems like they’re a little unsure that what they’re doing is a real movie, like maybe it’s just some rich weirdo’s vanity project that would never see the light of day.

One last acting comment – Carel Struycken. You’ll recognise him immediately, but what you won’t ever think while looking at him is “I bet he’s a good fighter”. Despite him having a powerful look, and being very tall, he just doesn’t look threatening at all. He looks like a slightly frail old man, but there he is, standing toe-to-toe with an apparent world kickboxing champion. Bauman has to wait for incoming punches and kicks so often, it almost becomes a joke after a while.

I feel like just how down-to-its-bones odd this movie is hasn’t been fully gotten across. It’s a thing that looks like a movie but isn’t – it doesn’t start or finish in a logical or fun place, it picks up and abandons plot threads like they’re going out of fashion, and, for a movie starring a martial artist and having the name it does, has not one single fight that’s interesting or exciting to watch.

It’s available for free, though, so you’d be a fool to not check it out. Ease yourself into this world, though, as it’s like an expert-level crazy 80s kung-fu movie. Also, there’s another movie with “Kickfighter” in the title, “Revenge Of The Kickfighter” (aka “Mission Terminate”, “The Kick Fighter”) which of course bears no relation to this movie at all. But it’s got Richard Norton in it and he’s amazing, so we’ll be watching it soon and reporting back.

Rating: negative thumbs up

PS – this is a production of AIP, Action International Pictures, which has a reputation apparently for producing movies of this sort of quality. Anyone interested in reading about a few more?

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Navy SEALs (1990)

Although our mission here at the ISCFC is to bring you reviews of movies where you’ve got half a suspicion that I’m just making them up, so obscure are they, every now and again we get time off for good behaviour and we get to review something you might actually have heard of. And so it is today with one of the greatest running jokes ever (in “Clerks”).

Before I start, this review was written on 23rd May 2017, the day after a terrorist attack killed almost 20 people at a concert in Manchester. This is the town two of my ex-girlfriends live in, one I’ve visited hundreds of times, and (obviously) my heart goes out to those who’ve lost loved ones or whose lives have been affected. The subject of terrorism and war in the Middle East is the main theme of this movie, and its attitude towards the innocent people caught up in a conflict they don’t understand or agree with is almost obscenely liberal, at least to the 2017 viewer. If, perhaps, this is a little too close to home, please feel free to skip this review and go read some of our other trash.

“Navy SEALs” feels like it ought to have been a Shane Black / Jerry Bruckheimer movie. From the very beginning, where we see co-star Charlie Sheen waking up on a beach, hungover from a bachelor party, it feels like part of that family, somewhere in between “Lethal Weapon” and “Top Gun”. A heck of a cast gradually wakes up and goes to a wedding – there’s groom and excellent moustache-wearer Graham (Dennis Haysbert); sort of background guy Dane (Bill Paxton, who really ought to have had a bigger role); the aforementioned Sheen, playing a fellow called Hawkins; and, the star of proceedings, Lt Curran (Michael Biehn).

By the way, I think Michael Biehn must have fired his agent after this, or every casting director in Hollywood got bored of his by-the-book military man shtick at once. Aside from a brilliant role in 1996’s “The Rock”, he never did anything nearly as big again. I mean, he was in “Aliens”, “The Abyss”, “Terminator” and this…he’s like the Sam Worthington of the late 80s.

When you’ve finished laughing at them all being interrupted by their pagers in the middle of the wedding ceremony, our team of badass Navy Seals is off to “the Eastern Mediterranean” to rescue some soldiers who’d been captured there. I want to doff my cap to the location scout, because it looks absolutely like it could be the middle of a warzone – all the exteriors were filmed in Spain, which is apparently full of bombed-out ruins (or it was all just really good camerawork and I’m an idiot). They also filmed in real military bases – you can’t help but be impressed when they’re having a conversation and the backdrop is a gigantic aircraft carrier. The action is strong, as you’d expect from a big budget macho movie of the era.

ASIDE: There are two very important speeches in this movie, which are even more surprising given it was made in 1990, before the Gulf War really started. First is an extremely modern-sounding anti-USA argument from the baddies holding the hostages, about what the USA does to his country; and secondly comes a lot later, and is the journalist who’s crowbarred into the story in order for there to be a woman in the cast (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, with a terribly underwritten part). She’s half-Muslim and, doing an on-air bit, basically breaks down the history of Islamic terrorism in a couple of sentences. Islam is a religion of tolerance, but enough bombs land on your head and you’re going to be less tolerant. It must have been of mild interest to viewers in 1990, but with 27 years of bombs being dropped on the heads of tolerant Muslims, it has a much deeper resonance. I realise how stupid that is to say about a ra-ra pro-USA big budget Hollywood movie like “Navy Seals”, but I call them like I see them.

There’s a beautiful party scene set on a golf course, which attempts to rival the beach volleyball scene in “Top Gun” for sheer bro-like homoeroticism, with two men going shirtless and just wearing small neon-coloured shorts; when this scene’s finished, and you realise the movie isn’t even a third over yet, you begin to wonder what on earth is going to be left for them to do for the next hour. Well, darkness and misery, of course. Sheen starts enjoying the violence a little too much, Haysbert (who might as well have had a target painted on his chest, after missing his own wedding) gets popped, and the team look miserable while the President and his top brass decide what to do about the cache of surface-to-air missiles the SEALs found on their rescue mission. Then there’s tons of action, in the air, on and under the sea, and on land, and apparently a group of retired SEALs who went to the premier were mostly happy with the action and portrayals of characters, so if you like authenticity, this may even have some of that for you.

It’s a poor cousin to the great action classics of the 80s and 90s, but it’s still in the family. You will start to drift away when they get sent back to the Middle East for the third time, but you shouldn’t, as the final segment is nothing more than “The Warriors”, with the SEALs trying to get across the city to their waiting submarine, while everyone wants them dead. It doesn’t match the rest of the movie at all (as that’s all precise military tactics and lots of EMOTIONAL conversations) but it’s great.

The writers and director are, perhaps unsurprisingly, ISCFC favourites. Director Lewis Teague also made “Wedlock” and the “Justice League” TV movie / pilot (poor Lewis, his IMDB bio lists him as “efficient and underrated”, pretty much the definition of damning with faint praise); and co-writer Gary Goldman penned “Big Trouble In Little China” and “Total Recall”, before making his money as a script consultant.

Chances are you watched this when it came out and have no memory of it at all – perhaps it shouldn’t be top of your list when it comes to rewatching, but it’s worth leaving on, should you ever happen upon it.

Rating: thumbs up

Bounty Hunters 2: Hardball (1997)

After the unexpected treat which was the first “Bounty Hunters” movie, we were pretty pleased to find out there was a sequel, with the same writer / director and the same stars; we’re pleased to report it maintains the same high quality.

But they try their best to confuse you, right from the beginning. A Western scene turns out to be an advert that bounty hunting couple Jersey (Michael Dudikoff) and BB (Lisa Howard) have shot to drum up more business. Now, it’s not the Western setting which was confusing, it’s that they needed to shoot an advert at all. Isn’t the entirety of their audience bail bonds people? It would’ve been cheaper to just drive to every bail bonds place in LA and do a personal pitch to them…but then we wouldn’t have seen them in goofy hats and shirts with Morricone-esque music playing in the background.

After the events of the first movie, Jersey and BB are living together again, but because no-one could figure out another way to get the back-and-forth dialogue working, they’re soon separated, thanks to a wild scene where they bring in a bail jumper while he’s in the middle of robbing a jewellery store (Jersey, again, leaves with a couple of perps, letting BB mop the others up). An interesting thing about this movie is BB is definitely the most ass-kicking of the two, despite Jersey being played by a martial arts movie star; he kicks a few people during fights almost by accident, like he forgot the sort of character he was playing.

While you’re being distracted by (the Canadian) Lisa Howard’s odd Bronx accent, the plot will be revealed. The jewel thieves they apprehended worked for Carlos (Steve Bacic, one of the hardest working men in show business), who’s sort of a Mafia guy, and he’s less than thrilled about losing the loot. He’s even less thrilled when his boss shows up in town, wanting to promote him but only when he’s taken care of this little bounty hunter problem they have.

Now, depending on the VHS / streaming service poster you saw, you’ll either be expecting Tony Curtis or going “huh? Tony Curtis is in this movie?” He’s the boss, and to say it looks like he didn’t want to be there is something of an understatement. Presumably he owed someone a favour, or had a mortgage payment due and a spare weekend. He wanders into a scene wearing a fancy hat, looks like he’s reading all his lines off a cue card, and then wanders off and is not seen again until the last ten minutes. Although there’s a lot of competition, this will be up there when we rank the ISCFC’s all-time laziest bit part performances.

Much like part 1, they love blowing stuff up. One of the villains is a bomb-maker, so we get plenty of chances to see him enjoy his work, including one scene where a building is blown up so well that a car next to the building explodes too. Or the scene where a car he actually wanted to blow up flies through the air a little, and touches another car…which then explodes. It’s a lot of fun, honestly.

Now, I talk about sexism and exploitation quite a lot. Firstly, I’m a socialist and feminist (feel free to stop reading if you really disagree with those things, I guess) so this stuff is important to me, but sometimes it’s so blatant that you have to talk about it. I want to watch terrible cheesy exploitation movies with women (well, those of them that don’t admire the female form) and have them enjoy them too – so, have plenty of male nudity as well, or just cut down on the nude ladies. I don’t mind. “Bounty Hunters 2” is far from the worst violator, but it’s just so blatant! BB is spying on a house, and we’re treated to a couple of seconds of a woman naked; later on, a woman working in an underwear store just gets one of her boobs out while talking to a customer. Er, shouldn’t you be wearing underwear if you work at an underwear store? I sort of want to create a little graphic of a crowbar with boobs to put in these reviews.

As Carlos sends lots of Mafia hitmen after Jersey and BB (my favourite – the wildly overacting Chili), as well as works on plans to take over the whole criminal organisation, you can feel confident you’re in good hands. The action rips along, the interplay between the two leads is still strong, and there are laughs to go along with the action. I mean, it might be nice if the two trained professionals were better at fighting than every random joe they met (there’s a scene with a couple of garbage men, for instance), because every single brawl goes on a trifle too long, but small potatoes, really.

The weirdest thing you’ll notice is the lousy stunt doubles. Perhaps Dudikoff and Howard had better agents by part 2, who stopped them doing all the stunts; no idea why they hired people so unalike the stars to be their doubles, though. I was about to provide you with a screenshot, but then I decided to be like the producers of this movie and not be bothered.

So, abysmal showing by Tony Curtis, and it’s a little less comedic than part 1, with only Dudikoff and Howard really delivering funny lines. Other than that, though, everything is fine. Perhaps don’t watch the two movies back-to-back, as they’re fairly similar plot-wise, but if you have any love in your heart for buddy-buddy crime/comedy movies, you’ll have a good time.

Rating: thumbs up

Bounty Hunters (1996)

Once in a while, the B-movie gods smile down on us and we get a gem from an unexpected source – in this case, a writer / director whose only previous experience was a Lorenzo Lamas vehicle (“Snake Eater”), and who’d go on to make a whole lot of pretty cheesy looking TV movies; and a couple of stars whose previous experience was in martial arts movies and fantasy TV shows. Let’s talk “Bounty Hunters”!

There are signs, early on in good movies, where you can tell immediately that someone was paying attention, or at least trying. As the camera pans over bounty hunter Jersey Bellini’s gun-rack, one of those ones where there’s guns encased in perfectly cut foam, only to see a couple of cigars with their own foam-slots…it’s like a calmness spreads over you. It’s an action comedy where both the action and the comedy work!

Bellini is played by Michael Dudikoff, who’s the reason we plucked this from the VHS mega-pile. After seeing him recently in “Cyberjack”, we know he’s got a light side, but it’s on full display here as Bellini is both incredibly well-prepared for all eventualities, and a complete slob who smokes constantly. While handing in one bad guy, he runs into his…ex-girlfriend? (it’s never really clear) BB, who’s also a bounty hunter – they work for the same firm! – and also kicks ass. They spar, verbally, but it’s not til they’re put on the same case by their unscrupulous boss that the sparks really start to fly. BB is played by Lisa Howard, who you might remember from such TV gems as “Highlander: The Series” and “Earth: Final Conflict”, and she’s better in this than I can remember her, ever.

The plot opens up logically and quite cleverly. As they’re going to apprehend car thief Izzy, they discover that he’s just, on a whim, stolen the Rolls Royce of a gangster by the name Deimos (Benjamin Ratner, looking for all the world like a poor man’s Lin-Manuel Miranda). As well as being a rather expensive car, it’s got a prostitute in the trunk (Erin Fitzgerald), and she was just on her way to get murdered for witnessing a mob hit when Izzy stole her car. So, our good-natured heroes, trying to find Izzy so they can collect the bounty on him, are drawn into the Mafia storyline because they want to keep him alive, at least until they get the money.

It’s not going to win any awards, for originality or anything else, but it’s important to remember that these as well as hoovering up all that sweet video shop money, these movies are allowed to be fun. It seems that Dudikoff and Howard, despite wildly different styles, work well together (there’s a sequel, and neither of them were short of work at the time, so they must have enjoyed it too). Their relationship, a sort of friendly antagonism with a medium-strength sexual undercurrent, could be cheesy if played the wrong way, but they both nail it.

Dudikoff is my favourite, though, and he clearly relished the chance to do comedy. An early scene involves him leaving BB to fight off a horde of goons, not because he’s chicken, but because he genuinely can’t be bothered; and him trying to blend in at a rap show is hilarious. Given he made his name in “American Ninja”, his fighting style here is that of a punch-drunk prizefighter – no kicks, no fancy stuff, and he even cheap-shots one goon right in the nuts. In fact, BB is a better fighter than he is.

I mentioned the signs up above, and another fine example that someone gave a damn is that every character has a character. It’s not “macho goon 1”, “macho goon 2”, and so on – from the woman who works in the video store (a store that displays only posters for director George Erschbamer’s previous movies), to the cast and crew of porno movie “Bimberella” that Jersey has to visit, to each and every bad guy, they all get a few lines and a chance to shine. I can’t tell you how rare that is, at this level of the movie business.

I didn’t care for the b-plot of the kid who lives next door, who adores Jersey, even if the parents think he’s a flake – he exists because the childless unmarried Jersey needs someone to care enough about to go and rescue – but I never like child actors so your mileage may vary. Other than that, though, I’ve got no reason to complain and neither should you if you’d like to track it down. The plot is simple, logical, and well thought-out; and even though there are a few tired scenes (hostage exchange has been done a million times, and there’s a very Lethal Weapon-y torture scene) and it goes on a shade too long, it’s a heck of a lot of mid-90s fun.

Rating: thumbs up

Van Wilder: Freshman Year (2009)

It’s times like this that I wish I’d not described a load of other movies as the worst comedy ever, because we’ve got a new kid in town that makes “Van Wilder 2” (our description: “miserable failure”) look like “The Godfather 2”. I’m not sure the words exist to truly convey how wretched this is, but I’ll give it a go.

Van Wilder is off to college, the sort of college entirely populated by soft-porn actors in their mid 20s. We get a delightful recreation of the scene from that “Police Academy” movie where Van, giving a speech to his high school’s graduating class, is given oral sex by the valedictorian who has hidden underneath the lectern. He’s a chip off the old block as his Dad is ready to take him to Amsterdam and party with him, but he has business and can’t make it; so the credits roll and we see a series of snapshots of Van’s summer before he gets to Coolidge College.

Then the realisation sets in that this is a competition movie. The person you’re most likely to recognise, Kurt Fuller, is the colonel who’s now in charge of Coolidge, and was a former classmate of Papa Wilder; he hated the Dad and now hates the son too. So, he forces Van to join the ROTC, along with a troop of nerds and stoners, assuming that the tough military discipline will force them all to drop out. That this will all end up in a sort of wargame act 3, for control of the school, is never in doubt.

ASIDE: Why did no-one check that the college had become a military school in the intervening years?

The plot is effectively the same as part 2. Van meets a beautiful young woman, Kaitlin (Kristin Cavallari, a former reality TV star), but she’s not only in the ROTC, she’s the girlfriend of the villain, Dirk (Steve Talley, who played the younger Stifler in the straight-to-video American Pie sequels). There’s also an organisation called Daughters In Christ’s Kingdom (DICK, because of course), which appears to be entirely made up of extremely hot women who are saying no to sex, despite them nearly devouring Van and his friends at one point.

Van’s friends are the aforementioned stoner and a character called, and I genuinely wish I were making this up, Yu Dum Fuk. He’s the Taj replacement, being desperate to pleasure as many women as possible; and the first great prank that the three of them pull is to steal all the dildos and vibrators…I thought this was to drive the women so crazy that they started having sex with the guys, but in reality it’s just to strap them all to the underside of the choir’s bench in church and turn them on at once so all the DICK ladies get an orgasm from the vibration. There is no reason for this.

Van, despite being a fairly obnoxious freshman, instantly becomes the main man of the school. He helps the football team break their long losing record by getting the cheerleaders to come out in little more than underwear and offer to have sex with the players if they win. Luckily, all the female students (who have all had pre-college boob jobs) are instantly okay with nudity, pole dancing and engaging in a bit of faux-lesbian play for the delight of the assembled men – not a single one of them, of course, has any lines or anything like that. Undoubtedly, if you watch movies to see attractive naked women, then this has an awful lot to recommend it. You’ll also really enjoy the sex ed class that Van takes over, where a supply of underwear models are helpfully on hand to demonstrate all the sexual positions (every one of which Yu knows the name of, which immediately makes him attractive to the women).

So, pranks pranks pranks. Van, at one point, laughs off being waterboarded by the ROTC assholes, as the substance they use is beer. I don’t even know if this is okay any more. Is it cool to joke about a modern torture technique? So he gets them back by replacing their camo-face-paint with dogshit.

Oh, let’s talk about continuity for a second. Van meets his dog for the first time as it apparently escaped from an animal testing lab (no payoff on that, in case you were wondering). It’s either the same dog from the first movie – set seven years after this – or he just happened to have two English bulldogs with grotesquely enlarged testicles. Because their names are different! Balzac is the dog from parts 1 and 2, and this fellow is called Colossus; and let’s not get into the whole thing about his testicles reverting to normal size after he’d “taken a load off” into those cream-filled doughnuts in part 1. If they don’t care, I shouldn’t either, I guess.

I actually felt bad for Kurt Fuller at one point; that point was, during a blindfolded massage, when he had his penis and testicles smeared with peanut butter by Yu’s Asian girlfriend (awfully nice of her to agree to do that) and had the dog lick it off, just as his wife paid him an “unexpected” visit. Kurt Fuller is a decent actor who’s appeared in comedies I like; this is a little like seeing an old school friend homeless.

In the cold light of the next morning, it reminds me of a porno version of a college comedy. There are a grand total of two women who have lines – one of which is Kaitlyn, the other the super-horny woman who offers to do Dirk’s dirty work for him in return for sex (not planting stolen test papers like in part 2, but planting a bag of weed which Colossus eats before the cops get there anyway). Every single other woman in the movie is there to get naked, grind on other women and get leered at by men. Or to perform acts that would probably qualify as prostitution? You know, good old fashioned teen raunch fun.

I might have made this sound moderately entertaining. It certainly never stops trying, but the relentlessly sleazy treatment of women is really hard to get past. Plus, if that’s your thing, there’s a ton of blatant homophobia in there too, as the ROTC sidekick masturbates to gay army porn and then is tied to a tree with Dirk, in the classic “accidental rape” pose, as the final joke of the movie. Good jokes would have given them a ton of leeway, but it’s just presenting a limp double entendre then pausing for the audience to have a chuckle before moving on to the next one.

But, the acting is largely okay, I guess? Cavallari is terrible, but everyone else appreciates that this might be a good thing for their careers and tries their hearts out. Our criticism must land squarely on the shoulders of the people who financed a movie solely for soft-porn addicts; dishonourable mention goes to writer Todd McCullough (his only feature-length writing credit) and director Harvey Glazer (whose first movie was a Jamie Kennedy starring vehicle in that crazy time when people thought Kennedy was remotely funny, engaging or bankable as a star; his second was a Jason Mewes vehicle!)

I just don’t buy that Wilder, father and son, are the same characters that appeared in the first movie. Dad seems to party more, and be a great deal more tolerant of his son, in part 3; plus, young Van doesn’t seem like the sort of man who’d spend seven years at college. Oh, there’s cellphones and references to modern stuff in this, which makes the whole prequel thing completely stupid. I appreciate this is a strange thing to fixate on, but when movies mess this sort of thing up, it’s a good indication that nothing is right.

What a thoroughly depressing experience. I always assumed that raunch movies had sort of died out, to be replaced with slightly more “conscious” efforts in the post American Pie world, but it turns out they just went straight to video and carried on with the fine work of elevating the white teenage male to godhood and exploiting the hell out of women. I’m sorry for bringing this into your life, dear reader.

Rating: all the thumbs down

Van Wilder 2: The Rise Of Taj (2006)

PRODUCER 1: We should make a sequel to Van Wilder.

PRODUCER 2: Ryan Reynolds costs too much-

PRODUCER 1: Kal Penn was in that “Harold and Kumar” movie last year! He’ll do!

PRODUCER 2: We don’t even have a script-

PRODUCER 1: Well, I’ve got this script from 1986. How about we just go through it and CTRL-F the star’s name with “Taj”, make the villain a racist and throw in two extremely brief references to Van’s character?

PRODUCER 2: I love it!

That is, I’m sure, how “Van Wilder 2: The Rise Of Taj”, was created. Were it not for 1990’s “Getting Lucky”, this would be in the conversation for worst comedy we’ve ever covered here. The first gag is Taj mentioning how he was “king of cool at Coolidge College” – if you laugh at that, you’ll probably be okay (because you’d clearly laugh at literally anything).

Into the beautiful English university of Camford comes a character with the same name and played by the same actor as Taj from part 1, but otherwise sharing no characteristics whatsoever. He’s basically Van Wilder, which either indicates Van rubbed off on him completely, or they just didn’t bother changing the spec script featuring Ryan Reynolds they’d already prepared. He’s come for his master’s degree and to work as a TA, and as his father (seen in a flashback from 1965, even though hippies and painted VW cards and all that wouldn’t come along for a few more years) is a legacy at the Fox & Hounds secret society, so he’s got a great place to stay – only they’re a bunch of idiots who apparently get to reject whoever they like then force those rejects to stay in a dilapidated barn somewhere on campus.

ASIDE: British universities don’t have fraternities, although they do have what amount to drinking clubs for rich people. No huge buildings, no bedrooms for members, none of that at all (one society I read about owns a building, but they rent most of it out and only have a small area to use as a “clubhouse”).

So, Taj is forced to go to the barn, and meets the collection of stereotypes that anyone who’s ever seen one of these movies before will know and “love”. The super-smart nerd, the violent Irishman, the slutty girl, and the computer gaming nerd; you may also spend a few seconds and think “this is going to end up in a competition of some sort, isn’t it?” and you’d be entirely correct. Taj forms the “Cock and Bulls” society and enters his outcasts in the Hastings Cup, a series of entirely unrelated events scattered throughout the term which the Fox & Hounds have dominated for years.

The villain, an actor whose career has hit the skids so hard he doesn’t even have a photo on IMDB, is doing a sort of evil Hugh Grant impersonation, and his girlfriend is Lauren Cohan, bumming around in trash like this til “The Walking Dead” catapulted her to stardom, with her extra-posh English accent just waiting for Taj to show a whisker of character growth so she can hop into bed with him. There’s nothing new at all here, and it’s so dull and formulaic I started doodling rather than writing notes, occasionally being roused to pen something like “they’re the most obvious body doubles I’ve ever seen” (although it appears Cohan didn’t use one) or “it’s like the worst 70s British farce ever”.

There are a very small number of bits that crack a smile, though. For instance, the bit where the villain, just before the “climactic” sword fighting scene, says ‘We are going to settle this like our ancestors would have!’ to which Taj responds ‘you’re going to exploit me economically?’ – a reminder that Kal Penn can deliver a line well when he really has to. There’s the small visual gag of the writers of newspaper articles having names like “Ben Derhover”, “Anita Hanjaab” and “Mike Oxsbig”. Taj’s parents, British sitcom stars Kulvinder Ghir and Shobu Kapoor, appear beamed in from a slightly funnier, more self-aware movie.

I don’t know where to lay the blame. Is it director Mort Nathan, who got his start as a writer / producer of “The Golden Girls”? Or is it writer David Drew Gallagher, a bit-part actor for whom this was his only writing credit? Or is it one of the 19 (!) listed producers?

It’s a movie made by people who have no idea about youngsters, or the UK, or comedy. Perhaps one of those 19 producers lost their virginity during a showing of long-forgotten 1984 Rob Lowe movie “Oxford Blues”, and wanted to recreate it only much much worse. I’m honestly at a loss here, people. It has no reason to exist – the first Van Wilder movie wasn’t that big a hit and Taj was a one-note supporting character, at best. Lazy is the best way to describe it – like Van apparently giving up his beloved dog to the guy he was briefly at college with, or saying Taj is from the USA when the first movie very clearly said he was Indian (perhaps to justify his constant accent slips).

As I hope I’ve indicated in the last five years, I like lowbrow humour as much as the next man (significantly more than most) but I also like it when the people who have the huge privilege of getting paid to make movies actually put some effort in. This is a miserable failure.

Rating: thumbs down

Chameleon 3: Dark Angel (2000)

Welcome to yet another instalment in our “pilots that crashed” series of reviews, which always get strong reactions from readers. Such as “why are you doing this?” and “are there not enough normal movies to review?”

“Chameleon” is unique in that all three parts of its trilogy are pilots, none of which were picked up. The only things the three movies have in common are:

  • Kam – played by Bobbie Phillips, she’s a “sub”, or “substitute human”. She has a small amount of animal DNA which gives her unique powers, although the exact amount changes from movie to movie (1% in part 2, 20% in this one).
  • The IBI – the crime-fighting organisation she works for. They’re occasionally bad guys, though, so the name is the only thing.
  • Sort of vague near-future setting

That’s it. One can look at the “Chameleon” series as what might happen if you gave three different scriptwriters those bullet points and no other information; it’s a shame, as it would’ve been nice if they’d built on the things that worked in the previous movies. But they were no doubt too busy desperately trying to get these pilots picked up to worry about anything as inconvenient as making them good.

We start off with an opening credits sequence straight out of a TV show – Phillips voice-over describes the world and herself, while clips from the action we’re about to see play. Do you not want to leave stuff for us to discover? There’s a reason movies don’t do this! We do discover, though, that she has the DNA from three specific animals – cougar, for…er…I got nothing; falcon, for the eyesight; and, of course, chameleon for the invisibility thing. We meet another sub later on who has three different animal powers, which conjures up the image of scientists with a bunch of labelled jars in front of them, picking three at random and injecting them into an egg.

The majority of the movie appears to be a cliché delivery system. Her boss tells Kam “you’re a wild card!”, the bad guy shoots one of his underlings for giving him bad news, people get taken off cases, someone does that thing where they keep getting closer to someone holding a gun on them til they’re able to kick it out of their hand, the whole set.

It’s not entirely cliché, though. A group of scientists, including 15 year old prodigy Tess (Teal Redmann) are doing some experiments with dark matter, and one of them, Dr Farrow, is actually working for the bad guys. Farrow might be the dumbest scientist in the history of science – my notes read “he’s not got any idea what he’s talking about” – but he’s not around for very long. There’s Kam and Tess, with occasional help from the rest of the IBI, against villains who have their own evil, super-powerful sub, who – not a spoiler because it’s the first line of the IMDB synopsis – is Kam’s brother.

First up, kudos to “Chameleon 3” (which, by the way, is subtitled “Dark Angel”, perhaps a trifle too close to the same year’s TV show “Dark Angel”, the Jessica Alba show) for predicting the future with its smart-watches. People do video calls on them, and I’m pretty sure we’re about a year or two from that happening to us. But the rest of the future is just the odd bit of tech here and there, with the rest of the world being identical to the one we have now.

Unfortunately, though, part 3 is just a catalogue of things that don’t work very well, or look stupid, or both. All the goons in one scene and one scene only wear balaclavas, as if they could only afford three extras and just kept recycling them; and the fight scenes are terribly shot, leaving what should be the most exciting parts of the movie just annoying to the eyes. They also throw in the “is that guy indestructible or are all these people just terrible shots?” conundrum.

There’s a romantic subplot between Kam and her IBI “handler”, Ben, but he alternates between seeing her as a machine to use as he likes, and a real woman with thoughts and feelings (“subs” can have their human status revoked at any moment, apparently). Plus, if you’re a straight man and can’t act more excited to be in bed next to Bobbie Phillips, then you’re not that good an actor – if you, the viewer, are a fan of extremely attractive women in tight leather outfits, then you’re in luck though.

There are two fairly large problems with “Chameleon 3”, though. First up is the weakness of the supporting cast, as they might as well just be a grey cloud that hovers around the background of about a third of the scenes. If they’d wanted it to go to series as much as they desperately appeared to, then this is a red flag, really. Second is the lack of use of her powers. She does the chameleon thing once, something which might be the falcon thing once, and I don’t think she uses cougar powers at all (although that might be a smell thing?) If you’re making a pilot epoisode about a woman with super-powers, then it might be handy to show her using those powers, build up a bit of interest in her, and so on. Or maybe that’s just me.

Oh, and the science is terrible and nonsensical as well – dark matter, black holes, unlimited power, and so on. But that’s small potatoes. Probably the weakest of the three (part 2 is the only one I’d have been interested in seeing taken to series), Phillips is far and away the most interesting thing about it and I’m annoyed she didn’t get a starring vehicle, as she has a great action hero look and clearly got the memo about bothering to show emotion. Three interesting failures, sadly.

Rating: thumbs down

Van Wilder: Party Liaison (2002)

Worst photoshopping ever?

This movie is a relic of a different time (and not just the time it was made). After “American Pie” and “Clueless” made the teen comedy big business again in the late 90s, everyone rushed on the bandwagon – “Ten Things I Hate About You”, “She’s All That”, “Not Another Teen Movie”, “The Faculty”, and “Bring It On”, among many many others; a bandwagon that had pretty much lost all its wheels by the time the third “American Pie” movie came around in 2003.

“Van Wilder: Party Liaison” was released around the end of that cycle, and although it did decently at the box office (enough to score a couple of sequels) it divides opinion when you ask about it these days. How well has it aged?

Probably slightly less well than its spiritual forebear, 1986’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, if we’re being honest. Ryan Reynolds (coming off a starring role in “Two Guys, A Girl And A Pizza Place”) is Van, the sort of ultimate good guy / party animal. Although he likes a drink and a smoke, he treats women with respect, helps out nerds and generally acts as the glue that keeps his whole college together. He’s so popular that there’s a queue round the block to become his new assistant; this is just a preamble to one of those “look at this wacky bunch of characters” quick hit scenes so beloved of cheerleader tryout movies.

So far, we’ve had a completely ordinary, brightly lit, fun, college comedy introduction. But then, we meet the people who want to be his assistant – one of them is a beautiful woman who has a very deep voice and is apparently transexual; another is a pair of gay guys who spout endless “we’ll work very HARD for you” style lines. These stereotypes would have been a little dodgy in the 80s and are just appalling to our 2017 eyes; one presumes that Reynolds, who’s apparently never seen the finished product, would be happy to trim this scene from any future reissue (it’s a double shame, because Erik Estrada is hilarious as one of the other applicants).

The winner is Taj, played by Kal Penn, who’s a stereotype of an Indian foreign exchange student, simply put. He’s fine, though, because he very quickly informs us of his desire to perform cunnilingus on as many American women as will let him. Anyway.

The plot is, Van has been there for seven years, although he doesn’t seem stupid, and his Dad finally remembers both that he has a son, and that he’s paying for his son’s continuing holiday from reality. The finances are cut off, and he has to pay his own way – he achieves this by taking his natural gift as a party organiser and monetising it. At the same time, the school newspaper decides to do a story on their most popular student, and asks Gwen (Tara Reid) to do it. They dislike each other at first! What could possibly happen? Factor in Gwen’s boyfriend, the super-uptight premature ejaculating medical student, who hates Van with a passion, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

Almost nothing will come as a surprise to you if you’ve seen any movies in this genre. Some of the jokes are excellent, some are older than I am, some are both. Perhaps I’m just jaded, but when they trotted out the real gross-out stuff, like collecting the semen from a dog’s grotesquely swollen testicles and replacing the cream in a donut with it, my response was a small shrug. That’s probably the grossest of the lot, but I’ll give them credit for really trying.

Some of the minor characters are excellent – the psychotically devoted sorority girl, and Aaron Paul (listed in the credits solely as “Wasted Guy”) especially. But some of the major characters – Gwen, most notably – are terrible. Tara Reid’s continued fame in the movies of the time is a puzzler to me, as she has zero range and seems unable to deliver a line in anything other than a monotone.

Ultimately, though, the movie is too sweet. The sole real villain ends up the movie taking a shit in a rubbish bin in front of the people who’ll decide on his career, and everyone else just has a good time. Van is far too nice a person, I think – if you compare him to Ferris Bueller, he seemed to get his following based on how cool he was, not what he did for other students (there’s no indication he genuinely cares for anyone other than Cameron and Sloane). Wilder is far less cool and far more helpful, to the point you’re occasionally not sure why all these people love him so much. No-one reacts to him with a “why the hell are you still in college?” sense of sadness, which would have been interesting to explore, even briefly – he comes to that conclusion himself anyway.

There’s a little stunt casting too, in an era before that became a commonplace – “Animal House” star Tim Matheson plays Van’s dad, Paul Gleason from “The Breakfast Club” is his economic teacher, Curtis Armstrong from “Better Off Dead” is campus security, Edie McClurg from “Ferris Bueller” is a campus tour guide; as well, future TV stars Simon Helberg and Sophia Bush pop up in tiny early roles.

This is the directorial debut of Walt Becker, who’d go on to make all-time flop “Old Dogs” in 2009 and not a lot else; he’s fine here though, with that bright colourful vibe captured pretty well. It is, perhaps, a movie you needed to see when it came out, and doesn’t fill me with a great deal of enthusiasm for the Kal Penn-starring sequel, or the disappeared-without-a-trace third movie, “Van Wilder: Freshman Year”, starring no-one you’ve ever heard of. Still, it’s perhaps not as bad as I made out, and Reynolds is great fun to watch, even when the material and people around him aren’t quite up to scratch.

Rating: thumbs in the middle