The Hostage (1998)

Much like some nightmarish Escher-like painting, my quest to get to the end of David A Prior’s filmography appears to get further and further away no matter how many movies I watch. I’ve passed the point where I’m providing useful information to you, dear reader, and now it’s some war of attrition – which leads us to a slight backtracking and 1998’s “The Hostage”. I picked it because it features Ted Prior in a leading role, high billing for Dana Plato, just a year before her unfortunate death (I talk more about her in my review of “Compelling Evidence”) and Cynthia Rothrock, one of our favourite kung-fu / action movie stars.

But then, as the credits rolled, I noticed our old friend David A Prior as second unit director! This isn’t on IMDB (although I submitted a change after seeing this), and second unit directors do stuff like film stunts and establishing shots and so on. Was he bored and owed someone a favour, or did Ted lobby to give his brother a few days worth of work? We’ll never know.

ASIDE: Dana Plato was directed by three men the ISCFC has covered extensively: Donald Farmer (“Compelling Evidence”), Michael Paul Girard (“Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill and Jill”) and now this. This represents…well, nothing great, that’s for sure.

This is a story of a pathetically incompetent group of high-end thieves, who are out-thought and out-fought at every possible opportunity by security guards, cops and a few scattered FBI agents. Their plan, such as it is, is useless, their execution worse, and apart from Ted (playing a character called Ted) they’re all schlubby and don’t move like they’ve had any training at all. The guy who’s set up to have a big role, being the first person we see and getting a lot of screen time at the beginning, is unceremoniously shot in some crossfire about halfway through and never mentioned again, and the ending is stupid.

So, with all that being said, let’s do some recapping! After an irrelevant cold open, presumably just there to get it to feature length, we meet Ted, who’s sad that his wife is dead. He’s a former soldier of some sort, and decides the best way to earn money is to sign on with an Alex “Infowars” Jones lookalike criminal mastermind, who has picked a super-rich businessman as his next target.

The team are boring and indistinct, and you will not go to your grave wishing I’d spent ages listing them all for you, so let’s just move on. The rich businessman, rather than having an office, does his business from a relatively large suburban home, with lots of assistants and computers just in the dining room or the kitchen or wherever. This might be a deliberate choice or it might be that someone associated with the production had a big house they could film in (I’ll go with the latter), but there it is.

Three years of planning have led to this moment. Three years. So they walk in the door, act suspicious, the businessman’s guards ask them who they really are, then everyone starts shooting. I’m an idiot and I could have come up with a better plan than that after about ten minutes! The crooks are outnumbered and the guards have more guns – also, they call the authorities for help almost immediately. First, some cops turn up, then FBI hostage specialist Cynthia Rothrock. There’s a cool bit where some cops are sexist but the main cop, a fellow called Sparks, says “if she was a guy, you’d be running round saying yes sir admiring what a badass he was” which is perhaps the only line of any note in this whole experience.

Anyway, the plan rolls along, and they don’t bother doing anything like having either side be good guys or bad guys, or even just people you want to see succeed. It’s a businessman who might or might not be a scumbag against some thieves who might or might not be psychos. Later on, both sides even dress the same, to really amp up the confusion.

I feel like there’s not a lot of point saying more, as nothing really happens. One interesting thing is it’s shot on video, giving everything that ugly sheen. I’m surprised Prior and Rothrock agreed to take part in what amounts to little more than a home video, but one would presume their cheques cleared before they set foot on the set.

I’m not entirely sure this movie was ever officially released. The version I found says “for screening purposes only” and the only other online review of this I read got it from the same place as me – also, one of the actors commented on it and said they thought it had never been released either. So, good luck getting hold of a copy, if this review has for some reason made you want to watch it.

Director Bryan Todd (who also acts as one of the criminals) is now in reality TV, having made a Jersey Shore spin off about Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino’s post-superfame life among other things; writer Zac Reeder is an executive producer on “Outpost”. So, this movie didn’t kill either career, although it probably should have done. Oh, and there are actors by the name of Rob Lowe and Don Johnson as goons and extras, and no I’m not going back to check if it’s a couple of really well-hidden cameos by former A-listers, and not just a non-union production not giving a toss about the names they use.

A really genuinely tedious experience.

Rating: thumbs down


Different Strokes: The Story Of Jack And Jill…And Jill (1997)

Thank you at least, British VHS distributors

Thank you at least, British VHS distributors

I appreciate none of you are quite as interested in this stuff as I am, but this represents a coming together of two strands of bad movie history. Representing Donald Farmer, who brought her into the world of ultra-cheap and ultra-poor erotic thrillers with “Compelling Evidence”, is Dana Plato; and directing this movie is Michael Paul Girard, whose previous work we’ve covered with “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” and “Getting Lucky”.


We’ve already talked about Plato’s sad life story in our “Compelling Evidence” review, but this was a couple of years further on, and it seems she was still as decent as she ever was – in other words, a reasonably competent sitcom actress who was completely out of practice. No sign of the problems that were apparently ravaging her at the time. Here, she’s Jill, a fashion mogul of some sort who’s coming to LA to get a series of shots done by Jack (Bentley “grandson of Robert” Mitchum), a famous photographer. He has a girlfriend, also called Jill (softcore star Landon Hall), Plato is a lesbian and zeroes in on Hall, they get involved, erotic shenanigans!


That’s really all the plot you need. Or are given, for that matter. Where to start? Firstly, Jill’s pursuit of Jill just seems like a male fantasy of what these things are like, and so much of it is so abominably written and acted that it feels slightly sordid to be watching it. The stench of exploitation (of Plato’s fame for the title of the movie, for using a woman whose problems were common knowledge) is very strong. Girard went from a guy who was prepared to live in a van so he could afford to shoot his movies, to the worst sleaziest hack who was prepared to write and direct an erotic thriller starring a walking billboard for the problems with the use of child actors, in the space of a decade.


But then, why am I reviewing it? Literally the only reason anyone would find this movie today is because of its car-crash aspect, with a slight exception to someone who for reasons unknown was watching every Girard movie (we stopped at two, before this, because that second one was just beyond terrible). Honestly, that’s part of the reason I put it on too, so if you’re at all interested in the by-products of the sleazier, more dead-eyed side of Hollywood, then nothing I say is going to change your mind.


In terms of “sleazy”, I don’t even really mean the subject matter of the movie. Lots of perfectly fine ones have sex in them, and nudity, and lots of actresses who previously worked in sitcoms have done them. While they’re not usually my cup of tea, the erotic thriller is a broad church containing both great and awful work. I mean sleazy in the sense of exploitation – like this would have utterly disappeared forever without the presence of Plato, and the money that it made is more poorly earned. Perhaps I’m being over the top, and I am literally part of the problem, as at least some people reading this would have never heard of this piece of garbage without this review.


So, to sum up, a thoroughly wretched movie which most definitely doesn’t even work on its own pathetically low level, and one for which I hope someone involved in the production felt some shame about. Ha, what am I talking about? This is the same industry which made “Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave”, which not only doesn’t have Bruce Lee in it (him being dead and all) but isn’t even about Bruce Lee! And that’s what I feel about “Different Strokes: Jack And Jill…And Jill”.


Rating: thumbs down and buried in the producer’s eyeball

Compelling Evidence (1995)


Normally, when you’re looking through the filmography of some genre superstar (take, for ISCFC purposes, Joe Lara), you’ll ignore the non-genre stuff. No sensible sci-fi or horror fan will care that Lara starred in “Operation Delta Force 4” in 1997, for example. But Donald Farmer is different. Since his initial sub hour-long monster movies, we’ve been devoted fans here, and his entire filmmaking style is bizarre enough to give even his movies with not a single supernatural baddie a shot. There are, of course, other reasons to have a passing interest in “Compelling Evidence”, but more on that later.


Rick Stone is the world’s biggest movie star. As the clip of his new soon-to-be-released “Lethal Assault” does not immediately bring to mind a big blockbuster (it more brings to mind a typical Donald Farmer movie), we’re helpfully supplied with a couple of studio execs who tell us how amazing it is, how much money it’s going to make, and so on. Rick, though, wants out of the business, and wants to take his money and his mistress, Stephanie, and head off to Europe for ever. As he’s leaving the studio, he’s spotted by tabloid TV journalist Dana and her cameraman, and they follow him, capturing some X-rated home movie footage at Stephanie’s home from the bushes.


Now, I’ve got to break this off to discuss a couple of things. First things first, someone’s given Farmer a proper camera! He tries his best to make it look as cheap as possible, still, but it’s real! This is the first movie from “Stratosphere Entertainment” (which still produces Farmer’s movies today), and I’d guess it’s either Farmer himself or a rich friend, but good on him for working out a business model.


More important, though, is the acting. The first ten minutes will amaze and delight you. Danny Fendley is Rick, and he’s…unique? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a performance. He’s got a high-pitched southern accent and is so amazingly bad that I assumed he was the main money man behind the movie; plus, his sex scenes (and boy, are there a lot of those) certainly appear as if he’s never seen a female human before. He certainly got on with Farmer, though, as he appeared in several of his later movies; heck, perhaps he was the money man? His wife Michelle is played by Brigitte Nielsen! Now, she’s no A-lister, but can act (after a fashion) and has been in real serious movies; therefore, she’s the biggest star the director had to this point, by a million miles. Another solid performance from Farmer regular Melissa Moore as Stephanie and a wild cameo from the director himself (as the sleazy producer of the sleazy TV show) brings us to the only reason anyone other than us oddballs have ever even heard of this movie.


Dana Plato was the daughter in 1978-1986 sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes”, although every episode now acts as a cautionary tale about the use and abuse of child actors in Hollywood, judging by the lives of her co-stars. She was getting high on a cocktail of different drugs by age 13, became pregnant very young and was kicked off the show for a season in 1984. Her serious acting career stalled, and she was just very poorly served by almost everyone in her life, including an accountant who stole all her money. She posed for Playboy before it was cool to pose for Playboy, worked a variety of normal jobs in between acting work, but sadly didn’t have either the talent or the luck of people like Lindsey Lohan, another child star who descended into drug addiction but managed to make her way back out. Living with her “manager” in a mobile home, the day after an appearance on the Howard Stern radio show to say she’d been clean for 10 years, she died of a prescription pill overdose. It’s a sad story, for sure, and one that made sure my wife wouldn’t watch this film with me. An even later movie, titled “Different Strokes” to cash in on the remnants of her fame, was made by another ISCFC “favourite”, Michael Paul Girard (“Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars”) in 1997, and just sounds unbearably sad.


Aside from a few scenes where she looks wired, she seems absolutely fine here, though. She’s Dana the TV reporter, and she’s dragged into the story in the time-honoured way – Rick sees the TV show with his infidelity in it, goes round to the TV studio and tries to choke her to death (while being filmed). To say he has temper problems might be putting it mildly; but when he’s release from jail for the assault, and then attacks his wife, again on camera, outside the jail!, things get even crazier. His wife is murdered in a scene which seems assembled from cheesy drama clichés – the soft lighting, the large empty house, the meaningful swig of whisky…and then the offscreen murderer where our soon-to-be victim says “what are you doing here?” without thinking of mentioning the name of the person with the gun in front of her.


Before you get too excited by any of this, though, there’s still plenty of that Farmer flair. Plato is doing a piece outside a “top Hollywood hotspot”, but it’s some scummy dive bar they couldn’t even be bothered to sweep the leaves up from the front of. The locations are tons of fun – movie studio offices look like the sub-cellar of a failing tech company, and of course we get the huge budget “Lethal Assault” with its scene set in a field. There’s plenty to love in the background of “Compelling Evidence”.


I think the subplots of this movie are definitely personal to Farmer, and could be summed up with “Damn you media, and damn you movie studios!” Everyone’s just conspiring against Rick – the movie studio refuses to let him retire, and the tabloid TV people follow him everywhere. His mistress seems upset at his cavalier attitude over his wife’s death and notices his rather large alibi-hole; Dana smells blood…it’s all there. Rick has a plan to clear his name which I less-than-politely described in my notes as “dogshit”. He beats up Dana’s cameraman and leaves him unconscious, then kidnaps Dana, ties her up and forces her to say, on camera, that’s he’s innocent. Amazing! She kicks him in the crotch and escapes, then runs into the road, freezes much like a rabbit with a truck’s headlights bearing down on her…and Rick saves her.


I’m sorry I’m just recapping this, but like every Donald Farmer movie the plot is a rich stew of “what the hell?” Dana, realising that a proper murderer would have just let her die on the road, decides to help him prove his innocence and, of course, falls in love with him. And there’s still plenty of time to go! He’s remarkably chill about what a gigantic asshole he’s been (and the number of pathetically obvious red herrings he’s been leaving everywhere), and Dana quickly agrees to a live interview to help him clear his name.


Again, readers, I need to tell you how this movie ends. I whole-heartedly recommend you watch it, even after these spoilers, because it’s a lunatic classic. So…after the interview, Dana and Rick go backstage and, inevitably, have sex, with Dana going topless and Rick keeping his jeans on (as is the Farmer tradition). One might ask why he’s doing this, maybe two days after the death of his wife with his mistress being his alibi to get off a murder charge, but the reason would be because men should be able to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want; and women who get upset about that are obviously psychotic. Stephanie hears him lie on the show so goes to confront him, sees the sex, then storms off to call the police and blow his alibi.


It’s pretty obvious who the murderer is at this point, sorry Stephanie. But she kills Dana before she moves onto her endgame, which appears to be mussing her hair so she looks like a proper psycho, and then killing Rick too because reasons. The final fight between the two is hilarious – they take killing blows, and drop, but then a few minutes later they pop back up and the fight continues. It all wraps up with Rick shooting Stephanie a bunch of times; add in a little coda with Rick doing another interview on the tabloid show, where he announces his return to acting and they helpfully inform the audience all charges were dropped, plus a loving tribute to Dana, and we’re done.


Wait, what? In a movie as full of scenes that start nowhere and go nowhere as this movie is, it still feels way out of left field. Let’s backtrack. Rick is the suspect in three murders; the last of the three is the woman who he lied about being his alibi, and who just exposed his lie to the police. There’s no witness to any of this, so apparently everyone was fine with taking Rick’s word for it…a splendidly bizarre ending to a splendidly bizarre movie.


If you were a fan of “Diff’rent Strokes” growing up, it might be best to avoid this, just because of the sad memories it will inevitably bring. But Plato honestly looks fine, and a million people have done topless scenes in movies. However, if you’re a fan of sex scenes that look remotely fun or erotic, it also might be best to avoid this – Rick has one move, and that’s go for the boobs, then sort of have the woman sit on you and wiggle about while you’re still half-clothed.


It feels like Farmer really had some issues with women that he worked out with this – we’ve got the money-hungry shrew, the obsessed workaholic, and the deranged mistress (with an assist from the sociopathic agent), and while Dana gets redeemed by the end, it’s a bit too little, too late. But you have to take the rough with the smooth when it comes to his movies, and this is another fine example of his unique style, with the added bonus of being able to see and hear what’s going on! Although with the often pitiful acting, that might not be a good thing.


Rating: thumbs up