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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Cyborg 2 (1993)

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One of our favourite things here at the ISCFC is weird sequels – we’ve done an article on it, we coined the term “unquel” to describe some of them – and the last couple of days have brought us a few fine examples. “Cyborg 2” makes the least amount of effort possible to be called a sequel, but I presume very few of you are bothered about this preamble because, yes, it’s Angelina Jolie’s first movie (apart from one she did as a kid with dad Jon Voight).

The original “Cyborg” had a look, of sorts – arid post-apocalyptic landscapes, derelict buildings, that sort of rag-effect future-clothing – but part 2 is mostly indoors (the underground city where humanity lives, a large museum, and all sorts of tunnels and cellars, lots of blues). It doesn’t really feel anything like the first film at all – not the clothing, the people, or the world, so why they chose to resurrect the name of an awful 4-year old movie to make this a sequel to is a reason presumably relegated to a subclause of a contract somewhere.

At this point in things, the apocalypse is more a faint distraction than it is a thing that happened. Two companies, one Japanese, one American (Pinwheel), are feuding for control of the world robotics market; humanity lives in underground cities, except for the poorer folk who live “topside”. Cyborgs have taken over much of humanity’s grunt work, plus stuff like prostitution, but Pinwheel has yet another use for them and has invented Glass Shadow, a liquid explosive that cyborgs can carry round in their “blood” until it’s time for them to explode. They’ve chosen one particular model with the most advanced human-like personality, Casella (Jolie), to take a bodyful of Glass Shadow to the base of the Japanese corporation and destroy the competition.

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Elias Koteas, who’s entertained in movies as different as “The Thin Red Line” and “Some Kind Of Wonderful”, is the martial arts trainer for the cyborgs, and naturally, as Angelina Jolie is 22 and almost unfairly beautiful, he falls in love with her, despite fraternising with cyborgs being a complete no-no. But it’s handled in the weirdest way, like there’s no moments between them, the movie just treats it as a thing that has to happen.

Jack Palance shows up, although I’d lay good money on them having paid him for a day, filmed his three scenes then recorded all his oddball dialogue as quickly as possible (nothing like having hacker-speak coming out of the mouth of a 74 year old man). His skills mean he can appear on any screen anywhere to help our heroes with their quest, which starts to get a bit complicated when you factor in all the people who want to blow other people up and so on, including perennial bad guy Billy Drago as an extremely creepy assassin.

There’s a trek across “topside”, with an attempt to esape to Mombasa, the only free place for cyborgs to live apparently, and an underground fight league denouement that really feels like it came out of nowhere. There’s also a weird attempt to tie this into the first movie, as Angelina is shown video of JCVD, saying that cyborg succeeded because she had a human hero; so she needs to get one of her own. But…dammit! The bridge which is shown collapsed at the beginning of part 1 is seen fine during part 2! Of all the landmarks you could show! Why not watch your own damn movies?

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“Cyborg 2” feels like it’s four hours long. I realise getting angry, or just annoyed, is way more emotional investment than a 20 year old low budget sci-fi film deserves. Just laugh and move on! But…it’s a shame when interesting ideas are used this badly. It’s like a severely head-injured version of 1997’s “The Fifth Element”, honestly. It’s got a good (if rather oddly matched) cast, including one of the luckiest piece of lead casting in low-budget movie history, but none of it really makes any sense.

Perhaps it was written by a cyborg, who did not understand our curious human ways. Which would be a good way to explain the ending, surely one of the more inexplicable ones we’ve come across. The big dramatic narrator story about taking some of another’s life on to live like them, or whatever the hell it is, is utterly ignored, and we get a final shot which viewers of “Highlander” will recognise – only that shot was 40 minutes into the movie, and there was a load of fun stuff after that. This just had Jack Palance droning on for a few more seconds, then the credits.

Well done on making a boring movie about killer future robots, you guys! Seriously, how hard can it be?

Rating: thumbs down