The Moolah Theatre in St Louis is a wonderful place, with a big screen, a bowling alley, and (more interesting for people such as you and I) regular Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays showing some of the oddest, stupidest or most obscure entries that cinema has to offer. I’m only annoyed it’s taken me this long to discover them – I missed a double feature of “Eating Raoul” and “Death Race 2000” in December – so I was delighted to go along for the latest “Weirdo Wednesday” showing, entitled “Off Brand Mark Hamill”.
Sadly for him, Hamill had a long fallow period in between “Return Of The Jedi” and getting the gig as the voice of the Joker in the animated “Batman” series in 1994, a role which is almost as beloved among us nerds as Mr Skywalker. He did a Jess Franco movie, for heavens’ sake! We quite liked his 1989 movie “Slipstream” though; tonight’s double-review features, from the comfort of the excellent sofas in the lounge of the Moolah, 1993’s “Time Runner” and 1991’s “Black Magic Woman”.
I imagine, if I was Mark Hamill, I’d have turned up for the premiere of this (or, more likely, been sent a VHS tape of it when it was released) and gone “seriously, could you not have slipped those Star Wars references in there?” While it’s much more like “Terminator”, with a dash of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, there are some scenes which are straight-up lifted from Hamill’s most famous work, such as the opening scene where a small space ship is chased by a much much larger one.
It’s 2022, and Earth is under attack from aliens. It’s not looking good for humanity, their large space-station-defence-thing is destroyed and laser fire is raining down upon their cities. A group of scientists (whose impact on the plot is zero, in case you were wondering whether to pay attention to them or not) is trying to launch Earth’s last remaining weapons at the alien ships, and one vessel manages to escape the station and, while it’s running away, slip through a wormhole.
Now, I may not have been paying attention, but the wormhole just seems to appear at a convenient moment, not be summoned by pilot Michael Raynor (Hamill). Anyway, he slips back to 1992 and gets involved in a government conspiracy plot involving scientist Karen Donaldson (Rae Dawn Chong) on one side, and government intelligence agent Freeman (Mark Baur) on the other. Baur, whose career went nowhere, looks a bit like a pudgy middle-aged insurance salesman doing cosplay as Frank Zagarino’s character from “Project Shadowchaser”; and for some reason, Rae Dawn Chong has been given a weird thick bob haircut, a bit like Velma from “Scooby Doo”.
After Raynor’s escape craft is found by Donaldson and confiscated by Freeman, she finds him and the two of them bond for no good reason other than they’re both nice people. Anyway, Raynor and Donaldson run away from the agents, while every now and again he gets a vision of the wormhole and sees a potential future which he can then change (like, he sees a woman getting shot, so when that event starts to play out, he can alter it by pushing her out of the way). Also, he’s due to be born the next day, and as soon as the bad guys figure this out too, there’s another race on to save his mother.
When we discover that a few, some, or more of the people Raynor meets are actual aliens, hiding sleeper-cell like to wait for the big invasion of Earth, all bets are off. By the way, it’s never explained who the aliens are, where they’re from, what they look like (it’s possible they’re all exactly the same as us, I guess?) or why they’re invading. Oh, and Brion James, as the Planetary President from the future and just a lowly Senator in the present, is named “Neila”. Read that word backwards, and know that no matter how dumb you feel, you’re smarter than at least one Hollywood scriptwriter.
There’s a really curious gimmick to this movie – that Neila is in favour of social spending and against military spending…because that makes it easier for the aliens to invade! Do you see, we should be ignoring the poor, the homeless and the ill, on the off chance another war breaks out! But, if you can ignore that rather bad-taste coda, and enjoy the colourful characters and action-packed plot, there are many worse ways to spend an evening. Just don’t think about it too much, or the many many joins caused by the 5 credited writers (!) will become apparent.
BLACK MAGIC WOMAN
Imagine if “Fatal Attraction” were even more sexist than it already is.
Okay, that’s about 90% of the movie right there, but I guess I ought to give you a little more detail than that. This one starts off with a bunch of normal-looking women congregating on a house and doing some black magic – but for what purpose? All will be revealed (possibly not by me, as you might want to check it out).
ASIDE: That purpose definitely isn’t eroticism, as there’s zero nudity or any other shenanigans here. Now, that might be the edited VHS version I saw, as there’s some occasionally crude edits and all the swears are bleeped out, so I can’t comment on that. Possibly not worth bothering with if your interests are more earthy than the average viewer’s, though. There is a brilliant scene where Hamill is wearing a pair of briefs and he appears to be…well, let’s just say he looks bigger than average in one certain location.
Apologies. Hamill is Brad Travis, the owner of Stratus Gallery, the sort of hideous place that sold awful looking art to people with more money than sense; his partner / girlfriend is Diane Abbott (Amanda Wyss), and the two of them are doing okay, apart from him being a little too much of a flirt for her tastes – he’s just doing it to make sales, although to our 2018 eyes, he comes across as a complete sexual predator.
One day, into the gallery walks Cassandra (Apollonia, former protege of Prince and a surprisingly natural actor), and sparks fly. They’re hot for each other, despite Hamill not being, let’s say, a classically handsome or muscular fellow; and after another argument about his womanising with Diane, he happily hops into bed with Cassandra.
Diane goes off to New York to wrap up a deal – set up with one of the more jarring cameos I can remember, Larry Hankin (aka Mr Heckles from “Friends”) playing a rich fool’s brother – and Cassandra and Brad act like a couple for a few days. Here’s the curious layer to things: the two of them make a great couple, they seem natural and happy round each other in a way he never is with Diane. But Hollywood morality means the plot can only go one way, and when Diane gets back from NY and sees the two of them together, she gets really angry and then supernaturally bad things start happening to him, including impotence and leukemia.
There’s a twist, and it’s surprisingly clever and well-laid out, if you ignore the couple of gigantic red herrings the movie lays in our path. There are some good characters, too, such as Brad’s housekeeper Carlita, the voodoo doctor who helps Brad, the doctor’s assistant, and so on.
Quite surprisingly, the director of this oddity was a woman, Deryn Warren. Brad’s desire to sleep with whoever he wants being treated as normal and good, the shrewish nature of Diane, the wild bitterness of Cassandra, the fact that not once does Brad ever consider just apologising, the meaning of the twist…these feel like they came from a fairly sexist guy. But maybe I’m missing something? Or maybe she just wasn’t very good? (this was her third movie as director, and her last for almost 20 years – she returned in 2008). The writer, responsible for all Warren’s other movies too, is Jerry Daly, who we’ve met once before, as he also wrote “Witchcraft 3”, which I didn’t like (the last word of my review of that was “avoid”).
I’m trying to think of something worthwhile to say about “Black Magic Woman”. Perhaps that half the budget was clearly spent on the rights to the titular song? It wasn’t boring, which I was surprised by, but it definitely wasn’t good. I think Apollonia was hired mostly for her looks and ended up blowing the other two main cast members out of the water in the acting stakes, which leaves it feeling a little lop-sided. Why did a selfish dullard inspire such obsession in two different women?
All questions we’re never going to get the answers to. But, I had a great night and if you’re in the area, you really ought to come along to one of the Moolah’s next movie evenings.
Rating for the evening: thumbs up
Rating for the movies: thumbs down