Guns And Lipstick (1995)

This might, just might, have the most ISCFC-level star-studded cast of all time. If you’re not at least intrigued after I list them, then…well, I’ve got no idea why you’re reading this.

 

Evan Lurie (Expect To Die; Hologram Man; Cyborg 3)

Sherrie Rose (Summer Job; Night Claws; No Retreat, No Surrender 3; Cy-Warrior)

Robert Forster (Maniac Cop 3; Scanner Cop 2; Supernova)

James Hong (Big Trouble In Little China; Epoch; Bloodsport 2; Operation Golden Phoenix)

Sonny Landham (Predator; Best of the Best 2; The Warriors)

Bobbie Phillips (the three Chameleon movies; TC-2000; Back In Action)

Wings Hauser (Rubber; Beastmaster 2; hundreds of B-level action movies)

Joe Estevez (The Roller Blade Seven; Karate Raider; Demolition Highway)

 

Add in a starring role for the great Sally Kirkland, whose oeuvre has sadly missed our critical eye, and you’ve got a hell of a cast. Which is nice because everything else about “Guns and Lipstick” is weird, or confusing, or both.

(Also, there are a few brief shots of full-frontal nudity in this, and tons of boobs. I thought Youtube was opposed to that sort of thing?)

 

With absolutely no preamble whatsoever, we’re right into the “action”, as private eye Danielle (Kirkland) gets a case from stripper Mary (Rose). She’s worried about a guy stalking her, and it turns out she’s entirely right to do so, as the moment Danielle calls it a night on her surveillance, Mary is murdered. Danielle is the prime suspect due to her being an ex-cop who was thrown off the force, and due to Detective Dimaggio (Forster) having it in for her. Well, kind-of, he seems like an okay-ish guy at the beginning.

 

The prime way “Guns and Lipstick” moves forward is the plot twist. Just when you think you understand something, a new wrinkle is introduced or everything suddenly lurches 90 degrees to the right, to the point where you just stop caring, knowing that the person you’re seeing will change motivation a couple more times before the movie ends.

 

There’s Mr Song (Hong), who wants Danielle to find the guy who’s suspected of murdering Mary. There’s Mary’s brother, Andy (Lurie), who is central to the plot for the flimsiest of reasons. There’s “The Albino” (the definitely non-albino Sonny Landham), who’s after the same thing as Mr Song. There are friendly strippers who keep turning up dead, like someone sort of wants to frame Danielle for all the murders but can’t be bothered to do a very good job of it – they leave no evidence behind or provide no plausible motivation. There’s Mr Song’s “daughter”, Felicia (Phillips) who’s brought in a little over halfway through and is just straight-up evil from the get-go. There’s Michael (Wings), who is living in a house that’s sort of guarded by Mr Song’s people, but no-one bothers telling us why he’s there.

The thing which motivates everyone is the MacGuffin Stone, which has a real name but I didn’t write it down and it appears none of this movie’s other reviewers did so either. Who cares? Song offers Danielle $2 million for it, and she seems like “hell yeah, let’s do this so I can get out of here” but never gets the chance to sell.

 

So, a private-eye plot (if a fairly bonkers one), with a couple of movies worth of stuff squeezed into 90 minutes. Let’s discuss details a little. The Albino has a couple of goons who came from “oddball central casting” – one of whom looks like a buff John Carpenter, the other a buff Cheech Marin. Song’s two goons are both English for no reason, and one of them has a magnificent mullet. Then, cars! Let’s talk cars. Whenever you see a fairly wealthy character driving a horrific-looking beat up old Volvo, you know the sole reason is they’re going to roll that car over, or set it on fire, or hurl it off a cliff (at least, to their credit, they didn’t just use stock footage and only match the colour of the car). They also do the terrible-looking trick of making a car chase look fast-paced by just speeding the footage up, a gimmick I thought had died with the legendary “Samurai Cop”.

But, my favourite detail is when Danielle goes to the library to find out more about the MacGuffin Stone. The librarian lists a couple of incredibly false-sounding book titles, but the final one is just wonderful – “Myths And False Beliefs Among The Prisoners Of San Quentin”. That’s the one she wants, because it was written by one of the people who died earlier on, and when she’s seen flicking through it, it’s very obviously the script of the movie with a new front page added. And then she doesn’t even bother reading it!

 

Evan Lurie is, once again, the best thing about a movie. He’s living in what looks like a college dorm, with a poster for “Gandhi” on the wall? I love a good weird detail. Anyway, he kicks a ton of ass in a bar-room brawl which starts for the flimsiest of reasons and is great and has the final, most-stupid-of-all, twist for himself. Kirkland is fun too, and even gets her own fighting move, doing what people in law enforcement refer to as the “pimp slap” (a chop to the neck, where a bunch of nerves are, that can drop a person apparently). The rest of the cast I listed above all give it their best, but I’m pretty sure no-one really knew what was going on.

My best guess is, this was pitched as a sequel to 1991’s “VI Warshawski”, the Kathleen Turner-starring story of a hot blonde cougar private eye who quips better than any man. Then they were turned down almost immediately so the writer, one Andras Totisz, wrote a book to pretend to base the script on, changed a few details about the main character, and away we go.

 

I mean, it’s available for free, so the only thing it’ll cost you is time. But even so, I’m not sure it’s worth it. It’s a mass of plot twists masquerading as a movie.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: Expect To Die (1997)

We here at the ISCFC are long-time haters of Jalal Merhi. He’s perhaps the worst actor to ever headline multiple movies – he made his money from his family’s jewel business and plowed all that cash into making his own starring vehicles, always producing them, and often directing too. It’s really hard to over-emphasise just how bad an actor he is, though, seemingly unable to portray any emotion or deliver a line in anything other than a monotone.

But, he knows how to surround himself with actors we like, and he’s at least competent as a director, so here we are, on our…tenth?…Merhi review. Today’s movie features David “not the British character actor” Bradley and Evan Lurie, both high-quality B-movie veterans, and tells a story of virtual reality, managing to get the future weirdly right (there’s a VR game coming out this year for the Oculus, PS4 and Steam called “I Expect You To Die”, coincidentally enough). Apart from the thing about VR killing people, I guess? Also, it’s not to be confused with the previous year’s “Expect No Mercy”, also about virtual reality being too powerful, also with people fighting inside it, also starring Merhi.

 

Things kick off with a military test of virtual reality software, where a soldier dies because the VR was too real – a solid standard 90s plot device. The guy who invented the software is Dr Vincent MacIntyre (Bradley, completely bizarrely miscast) and he’s furious that the military want to cancel the research; and he’s even furiouser that his company kicks him out because he’s a loose cannon. This is tied into his dead father, who was a Colonel who was framed for murder by the military establishment? This completely undeveloped plot thread makes “Expect To Die” feel like the sequel to an unmade movie.

Luckily, both the Army and the software company are okay with MacIntyre selling the software to a criminal, I think?

 

Hold on, I need to try and establish how confusing this whole thing is. There’s an illegal arms sale in a warehouse, where all these wealthy bad guys have women on their arms as nothing more than set dressing (Merhi is among the most sexist of the 90s action crowd, no mean feat), but one of the bad guys wants to pay for the merch with computer disks, which has “Expect To Die” on it. This is the game created by MacIntyre’s old company, but is a normal “Mortal Kombat” style fighting game – we learn this thanks to Merhi’s girlfriend, a computer programmer / plot device (she gets kidnapped later on). The virtual reality “game”, with the same name, is being developed in secret for some criminals, but why is either never mentioned or I wasn’t paying attention for those five seconds. How much profit is there in a game which just straight-up kills you?

 

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Merhi’s female partner gets shot (while in her underwear, for the flimsiest of reasons) so he needs a new partner. Evan Lurie! There’s a bunch of references to Lurie getting shot when they were partners before, which again leads me to believe this script is the sequel to something which never got made? Anyway, Lurie tries his best with the dead weight of his co-star but it’s tough at times.

What’s most important to note about this movie is it’s a complete ego trip for Jalal Merhi. He’s got a gorgeous female partner but he’s devoted to his wife; he’s also the best martial artist in the world. Want to know how I know this? Evan Lurie, a talented screen fighter, only has one fight scene, and David Bradley, who was the star of an entire action franchise, doesn’t fight at all. Can’t distract from the star! Merhi kicks ass all over the place, of course, and even shows off how buff he is in the VR bootcamp program he’s plugged into, but even then, there’s a weirdly small amount of martial arts in a movie with three martial arts stars as the top billed actors, especially as the plot seems designed to have fighting in it?

 

This is a really bad one. Even though it’s got two great action stars in it, it uses them terribly – Lurie really ought to have had a few starring roles, not second banana to a charisma-vacuum like Merhi; and it’s interesting seeing Bradley as the bad guy, even if he’s given a really weird character. But everything else just feels like it was thrown together at the last minute, mostly at random. The number of dropped plot threads might be, in the hands of anyone with a modicum of skill, a joke in and of themselves, but here you’re pretty certain they just didn’t consider why anyone would care about anything other than Merhi being the ultimate badass.

Definitely one of the more confusing 90s action B-movies. Worth watching for that purpose? I don’t know. Merhi’s previous directorial effort, “Operation Golden Phoenix”, was quite good, and “Expect No Mercy” was at least fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. This is po-faced, not very exciting and probably not worth your time (even if it is available for free).

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: T-Force (1994)

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Video shops were strange and wonderful places. Before Blockbuster took over, long before online destroyed Blockbuster, video shops were either dedicated shops or, and these were my favourite, a few racks of tapes in the back of a normal “corner shop” (convenience store, to my American readers?). Rental copies of big-budget movie VHS tapes used to cost a fortune (I saw them with £80 price tags, and this was the 1980s), so local shops didn’t buy too many of them, filling their shelves with whatever cheap trash companies like Cannon were making or distributing.

This trash is the subject of thousands and thousands of movie review blogs, of which this is but one (and it’s not like we do this stuff exclusively, either). It seems there were an infinite number of these movies, because even people like me are still discovering “new” ones, 20 years later, with the great benefit of having Youtube serve as a sort of surrogate (completely free) VHS shop. It’s even more surprising when it’s a near-future, robot-cop movie – hell, I thought I’d seen all those damn things! But “T-Force” is a little sleeper classic, featuring performances from ISCFC favourites old and new.

Those old and new favourites are Evan Lurie and Deron McBee. Lurie has entertained us in such fare as “Hologram Man” (which shares this movie’s director, Richard Pepin) and “Cyborg 3”, and after retiring from acting in the late 90s has had a surprising second career as a composer and owner of an art gallery. McBee is the magnificent over-actor from “Immortal Combat” and “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, and as soon as you see him (in those movies) you’ll love him too. They’re both androids, robots, whatever dumb name they give themselves, part of T-Force, a group of 4 who kick ass when the police are outnumbered or outgunned. Check out the amazing logo of the company that designed them:

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We’re introduced to them in a pretty brilliant opening sequence, which also happens to be a gigantic ripoff of “Die Hard”. Vernon Wells, looking like he’d just had major dental work before falling asleep on a tanning bed, is the Alan Rickman, and four super bad-ass robot cops are the Bruce Willis (okay, the analogy isn’t perfect). Unfortunately, our robot pals have a bit of a problem when it comes to orders with even the slightest grey area, and to stop the terrorists they straight-up murder a bunch of hostages too. If you’re going to create a bunch of perfectly human-looking robot cops, and give them personalities of a sort, then you really ought to work on their ability to understand and process differing instructions. Like, “if one of your solutions involves blowing up a bunch of innocent people, then maybe try something else”. But I’m not a future-scientist, what do I know?

It’s up to vehemently anti-robot cop Jack Floyd (Jack Scalia, star of more cheesy 80s TV than you could shake a stick at) and the one member of T-Force who decided to stay on the side of good to take on and destroy the rogue robots. Will these two mismatched cops become friends? I’ll leave that as a cliffhanger for you, dear reader. There’s a whisper of an interesting idea here, as Jack talks about how mechanisation threw good working people like his dad on the scrapheap, but it’s not really developed, as if they realised that to go too far down that path would lead to some miserable realisations.

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The low budget is admirably worked round most of the time, with some pretty inventive miniature work and that one disused factory that about a million films have used; but it comes up in other ways. A strip club scene features a terribly dowdy stripper – around 40, huge un-erotic underwear, looks a little too old to still be pursuing this line of work. But then it turns out she’s a robot! If you’re building a robot stripper, why build one who looks vaguely sad and ready for retirement?

I don’t want to rag on the script too much, because it’s a fun film, but the robots are pretty terribly written. They speak normally some of the time, then they revert to that no-contractions “robot style” so beloved of cheap movies and TV; and their whole motivation seems pretty bizarre. When Evan Lurie and the sole female robot have sex, to see what the fuss is about, I was hoping for the faintest whisper of them realising how ludicrous it was, but I’m not sure and think they just wanted to get some boobs on the screen. Plus, this movie has more “cool guys walk away from explosions” moments than perhaps any film ever. Did the writer not go “nah, too many of these already. Perhaps something else” even once?

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If we’re being honest, it’s not the most original movie ever. I mentioned the way the first segment rips off “Die Hard”, but then there’s a complete lift of the scene where Arnie slaughters the police station from “Terminator”, and a bit of “Robocop” too. There are certainly worse films to crib from, I suppose, and the end result doesn’t just seem like a bunch of sloppily meshed together ideas from better sources, so kudos to them.

I know I’ve just complained about a ton of stuff in this movie, but it’s a cheap sci-fi/action B-movie, and absolutely delivers on what it sets out to do. There’s plenty of fun, some bizarre acting choices, and even if it does waste its secret weapon Deron McBee by not letting him pose and grimace like a crazy person, it’s solidly entertaining and you could do far worse.

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Tiger Claws 2 (1997)

Jalal Merhi? Never heard of him

Jalal Merhi? Never heard of him

Dear Jalal Merhi in 1990 – please spend some of that stack of cash you have on acting lessons. Just a bit, so it looks like you’re supposed to be on camera, and that you and your ex-girlfriend feel like you’ve ever shared a room before. It’ll pay off! The garbage sequel to your garbage first movie might be more fun then!

In a frankly confusing opening involving undercover operations gone wrong, Chinese gangs and arms dealers, we see Bolo Yeung again. In case you haven’t seen part 1, he was a serial killer who murdered other martial arts masters with the “Tiger Claw” style of kung fu, which mainly involved scratching someone’s face and them dying immediately. Now, you need to forget the serial killer thing, because the movie does! He’s sat in a cell at a police station, not a prison, despite having been incarcerated for at least nine months (the elapsed time between part 1 and this is never really mentioned), and some people working for the super-evil Dai Lo Fu come and bust him out.

Because you have the opportunity to watch these movies for free, I don’t feel bad about spoiling them. Dai Lo Fu is, it turns out, Bolo’s brother, and he’s organising an underground martial arts tournament on the Chinese Centennial in order to…open a time portal to the ancient past, take a load of modern weapons through and take over the world. Now that’s a plan! Luckily, Tarek (Merhi) can enter the tournament, as does ISCFC favourite Evan Lurie (main villain in “Hologram Man”, playing an arms dealer here), and a bunch of other weird-and-wonderful looking fighters.

Cynthia Rothrock is third billed in this, despite the poster above, which is about right. She’s Linda, and is now a cop in San Fransisco; she and Tarek split up after the first movie but when they re-establish contact, despite him sounding about as excited as if he’s reading the phone book out loud, she’s incredibly hot for him. Dear me. Anyway, all roads lead to San Fransisco, so when they’ve met up again and got bored of pretending this is about police work, the move just turns into a martial arts tournament.

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It’s a very curiously made film. My wife was half-reading a magazine during this, and she looked up during a spell of very loud dramatic music to see someone just walking down a street. “Is this supposed to be exciting?” she asked, and as it was about the tenth scene where the action and the music didn’t match at all, I sadly had to say no. There’s a substantial stretch of the movie, where Linda is trying to fight her way out of the bad guys’ dungeon and Tarek is fighting the guys upstairs, where the two stars were obviously filmed weeks or months apart – they cross paths during the final battle and the camera is very careful to never include them in the same shot.

Even in a genre not renowned for its logical choices, this manages to be even more puzzling than usual. First, of course, is Bolo – Tarek at one point calls him an honourable man, which considering he’s a serial killer WHO MURDERED HIS FRIEND is at best a dubious choice of words; plus, given his arrest was definitely on the news, as would be his escape, no-one seems to give a damn that he’s just walking the streets. Right at the beginning, the villains have to ditch their vehicle because the cops will be looking for it – you’re probably okay, lads, there are zero cops in this garbage – and choose a bright yellow old-fashioned food truck as their vehicle of choice. What? Tarek has a photo of Linda in his apartment, and it’s the cheesiest headshot you’ve ever seen in your life. Why do people in films use publicity headshots from their real acting career? Why not take a Polaroid out into a park for half an hour?

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The magic portal ending can be left as the truly magnificent choice it is, but one character walks through it and never comes back. This is, very very sadly, Bolo Yeung’s last acting role – no idea why he walked away, as he was the rare shining light in what seems like hundreds of poor quality movies (he actually acted for Merhi again in 2007, apparently, but the film remains unreleased, which sounds like some complicated tax dodge).

The one minor positive about this movie is the fighting. Rothrock is really, really good, and the film lets her have a few scenes where her skills can shine. Merhi is a better fighter than he is an actor – oh, by the way, he in real life owns a few martial arts schools teaching tiger style, so you can see these movies as advertising – and the tournament itself is okay, while making no-one forget “Bloodsport” or “Enter The Dragon”. The ridiculously cursory way they dispatch the main bad guy at the end is worth a laugh too, as if the filmmakers realised they’d forgot that bit so quickly filmed ten more seconds with extras in the same outfits.

I preferred this to the first one, but in the same way I’d prefer to get punched in the groin once rather than three times.

Rating: thumbs down

Hologram Man (1995)

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Our Joe Lara season continues! For those of you who haven’t read our “Steel Frontier” and “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” reviews, Joe was the guy who played Tarzan on both the big and small screens, before retiring from acting in 2002 to concentrate on a country music career. In between Tarzan gigs, he made some surprisingly entertaining sci-fi-action movies, and we’re reviewing them.

Joe is Dakota, and it seems to be his first day on the police force (although someone calls him Lieutenant, which indicates I really ought to pay more attention to these movies) and he’s partnered with John Amos, who my American readers will know from “Good Times” and my British ones from “Coming To America”. He’s the grizzled veteran, you get the drift, and this scene appears to exist mostly to show that Amos has a gun so powerful it can blow trucks up with a single bullet.

I’m a huge fan of scenes where the director or other power-player in a film puts in a scene where they’re doing something gratuitous. Evan Lurie is the writer / producer of this film (his sole writing or producing credit) and we’re treated to an absolutely 100% unnecessary scene of him having sex with a pneumatically-breasted blonde lady. Have a screencap, and notice the rack of guns hanging in the foreground while the lovemaking is occuring:

MAXIMUM EROTICISM

MAXIMUM EROTICISM

Lurie is Slash Gallagher, as fine a name as you could hope for, and he’s got a plan which is sort of what Robin Hood would do if he were a violent psychopath. The city is run by an incredibly corrupt cabal so he’s all about taking them down – luckily, the city has Dakota to protect it, and at the end of a fairly amazing (for a low-budget B-movie) car chase / gunfight, Slash is arrested.

Now, here’s where the film gets a bit odd. The prisons of the future are rehabilitation facilities, where people are…turned into holograms and reprogrammed so their antisocial thoughts and feelings are removed, then (I think?) put back into their bodies and sent out as useful and productive members of society. If you think this makes no sense, then come join me on the “What the hell?” bench. Slash has been in prison for five years, and in that time the elite has built a huge dome over downtown LA to keep the air safe, but also to bleed even more money from the likes of you and me.

Slash is, of course, irredeemable even with this technology. Dakota’s girlfriend, conveniently, is one of the scientists in charge of the programme, and if only she had his powers of observation she’d have stopped the mole inside the prison from messing with the holograms and…turning Slash into an unstoppable hologram! He can move around freely and kill people with electricity. This, of course, makes no sense.

So, Slash and his cronies (Tiny Lister, awesome as always; the Hacker guy; and a chap with one eye whose co-cronies make an awful lot of mean jokes about it) continue on with his pre-imprisonment plans, and Dakota, now with the Joe Lara trademark stubble, continues on with his plans to stop him. Which is a bit difficult as he’s just a hologram – although, when they figure out how to create a plastic mold for the hologram, which looks exactly like their real human body (and then create perfect masks of other people), things get a bit blurred.

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This film is amazing. On the surface, it’s sort of a weird combination of “Demolition Man” and “Face Off”, but it’s more overtly political than the former and much stupider than the latter. There are a lot of big firefights and car chases in this too, because as any good B-movie person knows, you need to keep the audience entertained. Lara and most of the supporting cast range from solid to great in the acting stakes, and indeed the only one who lets the side down is Evan Lurie as Slash. I’m intrigued as to why this was his only writing / producing credit, but he’s not the greatest angry villain in the world. He was ripped in this film as well, and his dreadlocks certainly made him stand out in the crowd. So it’s slightly odd to see his current career, which is as an art gallery owner just outside Indianapolis. Good on him for doing what he loves, though!

So, this is another hit for our Joe Lara season. There’s weirdness, disused factory fights a-plenty, hologram-on-hologram action, and the women in this film (aside from the lady at the beginning) are treated fairly decently. Also, the ending is one of the funnest and out-of-nowhere ones I can remember.

Rating: thumbs up