Combat Academy (1986)

81EV5xb3JrL._SL1500_

Certain films from the olden days (well, the 1980s) only get brought up in modern conversation because of an A-lister slumming it in an early role. We’ve covered “Private Resort”, with a very young Johnny Depp; and today it’s the turn of “Combat Academy”, which I’m guessing has a recent-ish DVD re-release with third-billed George Clooney’s face plastered over the cover. Clooney had the good fortune to be in a few pretty good low-budget movies before fame took him – meta-shocker “Return To Horror High” and the classic “Return Of The Killer Tomatoes” – so will this join them?

 

While this is billed as a comedy, a much more sensible reading of it is a horribly dark drama, a cry for help from a psychotic. Keith Gordon is better known as a director these days, but he started off as an actor (you may remember him from “Back To School”), and in this he’s Max, the prank-pulling class clown. But there’s pranks and there’s pranks, if you get my meaning, and his go over the line from mild fun to feeling desperate. Max wires up the school the wrong way, changes the names on the doors, and releases pigs in classrooms, among many other things, and while he laughs he seems to gain no joy from any of it. His sidekick is Perry (Wallace Langham, a series regular on “CSI” for the last decade), and they both act like scum who’ve never had to deal with a problem a day in their lives. Max’s dad is a frustrated wannabe prankster and loves his son’s shenanigans, so there’s at least a mild reason for it all, I suppose.

Check out the gormless look on the extra to the left

Check out the gormless look on the extra to the left

Anyway, they’re kicked out of school by Principal Dick Van Patten, the first of a number of moderately big name stars who pop up – also, Robert Culp, Jamie Farr, Sherman Hemsley, Dana Hill and Richard Moll. On their way home from their suspension, they trick a group of workers into drilling the wrong side of a road, causing a huge traffic snarlup and puncturing a water line, get arrested and then end up in military school. Y’know, like normal pranksters do!

 

If you were particularly cruel, you could probably enjoy that first section. We’re clearly supposed to sympathise with / support Max and Perry, even if they come across as scum (imagine being one of those commuters, trapped in your car thanks to them just randomly deciding to mess with some working people?) but it’s when they get to military school that you start wanting to punch Max in the face, over and over. This is absolutely the end of the line for both of them – it’s this or prison, but Max just views this as an opportunity to be horrible to everyone he meets, snark after snark after snark, including the school head’s son Cadet Major Biff Woods (Clooney). There’s a scene where, after taking more than his fair share of crap from Max, Biff snaps and sets up a fight between the two. I, like everyone watching, was screaming at him to murder the obnoxious little prick…but he doesn’t, due to his conflicted relationship with his father and his lack of desire to be a real soldier, blah blah blah. You had your shot, Biff!

hqdefault (1)

So, Max keeps on playing pranks, some extraordinarily elaborate for a person trapped in military school, and befriends a few of the school’s other misfits – Andrea (Dana Hill, far too short at 5’ to be in the military, one would have thought) and Jai (Danny Nucci). Perry decides he likes military school and starts a relationship with beautiful wholesome Mary Beth, and during one of their punishments, the two of them have a big falling out.

 

Even though it’s not been terribly funny to this point, the movie basically switches gears and becomes a drama at about halfway, and also improves, a bit. A Russian military school turns up for a war-game exercise, and it’s screamingly obvious that the last 20 minutes or so of the movie will be the game, where Max has to do something or other in order to win the day (in this instance, getting Biff to snap out of his funk and lead the US to glory). There’s a tacked-on bit of romance for Max, and Richard Moll as one of the teachers seemingly got to write his own lines as he’s doing what amounts to a very poor bit of standup every time he’s on screen. As he was in the middle of his run on NBC sitcom “Night Court” at the time, it’s entirely possible he was viewed as the biggest star in the movie by some idiot producer and given the leeway to do whatever he wanted.

combat academy 4

It’s an extremely standard plot, and if you knew nothing but the title and the first five minutes, you could work out everything major that happens.  The only thing that really stands out is the beyond-obnoxious central performance, and I can’t think of a leading character in a movie I’ve wanted to punch more (and bear in mind, the last movie we reviewed was “Getting Lucky” – Max has that soggy douchebag knocked into a cocked hat). I’m as big a pacifist as exists, and I was firmly of the opinion that thrashing some sense into him was the only option.

 

It’s…tolerable. Clooney, while fine, gives zero indication he’s soon to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and he definitely grew into his looks, as my wife said. It was made as a TV movie, apparently, and I can imagine happening upon it on a lazy evening on TV and not being terribly upset at having watched it. So…eh?

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

Advertisements

Fine City Film Show Podcast

Jumping on the podcast bandwagon I joined Fine City Film Show host and regular contributor to the ISCFC Greg Foster to duel “Joel Schumacher’s awful Batman and Robin against Christopher Nolan’s self-important snooze fest The Dark Knight Rises.” Continue reading

Batman & Robin vs. The Dark Knight Rises

batman_and_robin

I had started out with the intention of simply writing a review of the gobsmackingly bad Batman & Robin but the more I thought about it, the more I kept drawing parallels with Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. So now I’ve decided to pit the two against each other in mortal combat and have a decisive face-off between the two worst from both series of Batman films.

1. The Bat
First up we’ll start with the caped crusader himself. In Batman & Robin, George Clooney dons the tight fitting bat-suit, complete with bat-nipples, and sets the tone of what’s ahead as when he’s tooling up there’s a close up of his bat-rump squeezing nicely into his leather trousers. He then drops a glib quote (“this is why Superman works alone”) in riposte to his sulking sidekick, Robin. This during the opening credits of course. Furthermore, Clooney is impossibly miscast as Wayne/Batman, Clooney can only play himself, not a brooding vigilante psychopath. He smarms about the film either grinning away to Alfred and Robin, sharing dull one-liners with Arnie or flirting with Uma Thurman and he doesn’t even bother with the bat-voice when dressed up which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I did like his 90s getup though, the slightly baggy roll-neck sweater with jacket combo and holding a rolled up towel around the back of his neck after a fight while shooting the shit with Alfred In the drawing room. These are both good looks.

Over to you Christian Bale. Bale is a deeper actor than Clooney and can easily play a brooding vigilante psychopath which he does well in all three of Nolan’s films but for the integrity of the competition I’m only looking at The Dark Knight Rises. First of all he hardly dresses up as Batman in this film (30 minutes screen time in a 2 hour 45 minute runtime) and he only has one bat-suit whereas Clooney has one for any occasion. He is particularly good at healing though, he’s got a gammy knee but a leg strap sorts that out plus he fixed his broken back by getting Tom Conti to punch it back in. He upsets Alfred but then makes amends by visiting the Italian bistro the butler fantasises about as to tie up all loose ends. In his final hurrah he saves the good people of Gotham by flying a big round ACME bomb out to sea but this is negated by his bland fashion sense.

Winner- 90s Clooney. Batman & Robin

2. Sidekick-Robin
Funnily enough Christian Bale had nearly got the part of Robin in the Schumacher films but narrowly lost out to Chris O’Donnell. Yes, Chris O’Donnell. He’s a whinging man-child who needs a good thump from Batman if you ask me. Does nothing but fuck around, talk back to his superiors and think with his cock.

One of the very few good bits of The Dark Knight Rises is at the end when it’s revealed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is actually Robin. He’s a good character all the way through and JGL is an infinitely better actor than COD. No further discourse needed.

Winner- JGL. The Dark Knight Rises

3. Sidekick- Catwoman/Batgirl
Alicia Silverstone was surely only cast in Batman & Robin because of the success of Clueless a couple of years earlier. She really is such a nothing character here, just filling up empty time in an already overinflated waste of time. She serves no purpose whatsoever. No further evidence your honour.

I like Anne Hathaway and, like Robin, Catwoman is one of the few shining lights of this film. The dialogue she shares with Wayne is generally pretty solid and she makes a real good go of the character despite being reduced to a mere cameo by the final hour.

Winner- Catwoman. The Dark Knight Rises

catwoman

4. Baddie- Bane
Jeep Swenson died a couple of months after the theatrical release of Batman & Robin, now I’m not sure if the two events are related but our dearly departed should’ve been proud of his efforts. All Jeep was asked to do was to roar a lot and flex his big muscles which he performed with aplomb. He looks a lot like the comic book character too.

Bane in The Dark Knight Rises starts off full of promise but shrinks as the film progresses and is almost completely ineffective leading up to the big Talia reveal. He sounds like an old English villain who, one might imagine, would wear a scarf and escape peril in a bi-plane. I didn’t like this Bane at all plus it didn’t give Hardy much opportunity to act and that boy’s got chops.

Winner- Jeep. Batman & Robin

5. Other Baddies
By the end of the 1990s Batman series it was all about packing in as many baddies with as many big name actors playing them as possible. This particular Hollywood keys-in-the-bowl party paired up Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman as Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze) and Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy) respectively. Is this Arnie’s worst performance? It’s certainly the worst script he’s had. Every line he says has a ‘cold’ pun shoehorned in; “ice to meet you”, “cool party”, “you’re not sending me to the cooler” and “let’s kick some ice” (ice/arse get it?) are some of the exceptionally mundane things he says with a glint in his eye followed by a nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

Uma Thurman isn’t much better, her lines aren’t anywhere near as forced as Arnie’s or anywhere near as thoughtful either. She mainly thrashes around with fearsome arm movements and blows love dust at people including Robin which turns him into even more of a hump than he was before. She gets Bane to do her horsework while she’s prancing around winking at every man in Gotham.

Talia al Ghul is thoroughly nonsensical in The Dark Knight Rises. Why go to all that trouble with Wayne when she freely admits to not even liking her father. Why not just kill Wayne after they sleep together? Why didn’t Wayne enterprises vet a high level promotion properly? This character development is insulting.

Winner- This would be a dead heat between two awful, poorly developed sets of baddies but, like the early days of the MLS, there’ll be no draws here so I’m giving this one to Batman & Robin for a zany Jason Woodrue. Kudos for having him in the film in the first place and kudos for making him a batshit crazy arms dealer. Batman & Robin

6. Story
Neither of them make much sense and you get so lost in bad acting and arsehole splittingly bad dialogue or gaping plot holes and offensive pomp that you forget there should be stories involved.

Winner- Actually I’m changing the rules as they’re both equally redundant here. Draw

7. Gadgets
Clooney has all sorts of fancy, shiny goodies at his disposal; thawing devices, laser beams, the trusty batarang, multiple suits for all weather conditions and ice skates in his bat-shoes.

Bale has a good computer and apparently a program that wipes a person’s identity. Yawn. Not a patch on bat-skates I’m afraid.

Winner- Bat-nipples and bat-skates. Batman & Robin

cloons

8. Tone
Batman & Robin is a balls-out drag party with Schumacher letting his inner fabulous out and frittering away his big studio budget on a massive homoerotic mess. Everything is neon, hyper and outrageous plus the fight scenes are choreographed like an episode of Strictly Come Dancing and you always expect someone to break out into song at any point. They didn’t care about writing, plot and acting, they just had fun. They had fun at our expense and at the studio’s expense.

The Dark Knight Rises is wedged so far up its own arse it can taste its last meal. Pompous, snooty and oblivious to its own failings, this is a film that needs a good talking to.

Winner- I’ll go with the gay. Batman & Robin

Well that’s my definitive, watertight, infallible test over and it finished 5-2 in favour of Batman & Robin.

Does this mean I think Batman & Robin is a better film than The Dark Knight Rises? Hell no, they’re both tiresome, forced sequels that nobody needed (especially in the case of Batman & Robin) and they both display the same arrogance that leaves a bad bat-taste in the mouth. One thing is for sure though, a reboot won’t be too far off.

– Greg Foster

The Dark Knight Rises on IMDB
Batman & Robin on IMDB
Buy The Dark Knight Trilogy (DVD + UV Copy)
Buy Batman & Robin [Blu-ray] [Region Free]

Three Kings (1999)

threekings2

Directed by: David O. Russell

Ordinarily a film which features the acting talents of Ice Cube and Jamie Kennedy could swiftly be written off as some kind of god awful mean mugging , stoner extravaganza; but both actors offer something on ‘Three Kings’, the essence of what they are best at, how their limited acting repertoire is their strongest and indeed only suit – in the case of Cube, his one expression, you know, that vacant serious look, makes him a steadying presence in the company of Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and Kennedy who, as a hopeless soldier driving a dune buggy across the oil rich deserts of Iraq on a wild goose chase in the company of a feisty news reporter and her bemused cameraman, provides an additional dumb dose of light relief.

‘Three Kings’ is a light-hearted albeit pseudo-serious look at the climax of the first Gulf War. Victory was in the bag in less than a year after Operation Desert Storm, and in early 1991 the US Army contained a host of restless troops camped out in the desert who felt rather nervous about going back to the States, and adjusting back to the prospect of civilian life. In a similar spirit to ‘Jarhead’ it reveals a different kind of military experience that we have in recent years grown accustomed to from the military occupation of Afghanistan. Whereas in Afghanistan, patrolling troops have found themselves involved in tense fire fights, seen colleagues blown apart and shot by rogue fire. ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Jarhead’ present the other side of life in a warzone, as idle troops crave war stories that they can take home with them as they unravel in desert tedium.

The film opens with a cluster fuck, as Troy Barlow (played by Wahlberg) shoots dead a surrendering Iraqi soldier. His deed is celebrated by fellow troops, until the stone faced Staff Sergeant Elgin (Cube) comes along and brings the party to a close. In another tent we see Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) shagging a desperate journalist.

A treasure map that is found wedged in between the arse cheeks of another surrendering Iraqi soldier brings the three men, and a slack jawed goon called Conrad Vig (played by Spike Jonze) together. They discover that the map leads to one of Saddam’s bunkers that is rumoured to contain stolen Kuwaiti gold. Figuring they could become rich, they head off, but along the journey find themselves drawn into the post-war conflict when they abruptly decide to help Iraqi civilians who are still being oppressed by the local Republican Guard.

The film is rather unsubtle in its political message. But that doesn’t dilute what is actually being said. As the Coalition Troops, particularly the Americans, found out; the problem with winning a war, yet leaving a maniacal dictator in charge, is that when your army pulls out of the defeated country, the people will continue to suffer as the dictator attempts to reassert control of his population. The message of ‘Three Kings’ was made all the more relevant post 9/11, when US Troops returned to Iraq and in blunt terms finished the job by eliminating Saddam Hussein as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or depending on which way you look at it, going on a pointless treasure hunt in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

On set bickering between director David O. Russell and George Clooney blighted the production of ‘Three Kings’, which first established Russell’s reputation as a visionary auteur who is notoriously difficult to work with. There isn’t much evidence of tension in the film, George is a pro throughout and makes for an accomplished lead, and the film is shot artistically, including the use of authentically disorientating handheld cameras. Although the colouring of the film is odd. The bright sun embellished scenes, create a strange uneasy on the eye sheen.

Though not on the epic scale of some of the great Vietnam war films, Russell created a tight film that has a very effective anti-war message which also perfectly illustrates the consequences of violence, showing that a gunshot wound fucking hurts, and isn’t something that a movie action hero can easily walk away from.

The characters in ‘Three Kings’ are all searching for gold. For the news reporters and journalist it is the golden story, for the soldiers it is compensation for risking their lives, and a financial security against dull civilian life, for the Iraqi people it is the gold of freedom. It is all gold really, ‘Three Kings’ is a gilded classic.

– RJW
8/10

Three Kings on IMDB
Buy Three Kings [DVD] [1999]

Red Surf (1989)

Directed by H. Gordon Boos

George Clooney was a jobbing actor for a good nine years before he found fame on ER and first received plaudits for his role in ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’. During those hard nine years he took whatever roles he could get, and searched, like many aspiring actors do, for a project that might launch his career and kick down the golden gates and provide him entry into Hollywood’s palatial grounds, where he might one day sit amongst the leading men and the leading ladies of the land. ‘Red Surf’ is one of the early Clooney films, fit for only the diehard film geeks and the menopausal ladies who swoon after Gorgeous George.

Opening on a shady cliff top, the eerie sound of crickets interrupts the silent night. (Remar) Clooney and Doug Savant (Attila) pull up in a clattered American Automobile. Clooney has crazy sideburns and looks like Steven Hyde from ‘That 70s Show’. Savant looks like a beafier version of Murray from ‘Flight of the Conchords’ mixed with a well-fed Layne Staley. Clooney sets up a crazy prank, which is bloomin’ dangerous; he basically drives the stolen car they are both in towards the edge of a cliff and pretends he can’t hit the brakes, forcing him and Savant to bail out at the last moment.

It’s the early nineties and everyone is dressed like they’re attending a Red Hot Chili Peppers gig. The duo, accompanied by more of their bros enters a house party for some boozing and cruising. Clooney gives his blonde girlfriend (played by Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister) a stolen guitar. She’s a little off with him and not thankful for the gift. She’s moody, defensive, something is up.

The guys then head off to meet Doc played by Gene Simmons from KISS; they go to his house to prepare for a job, which involves recovering drugs that had been dropped off in the ocean. Doc is a bit concerned about the job, but Clooney and co press on, they ride bright orange Jet Skis into the night and collect the drugs; narrowly avoiding a Port Police patrol.

After successfully completing the job, the rest of the film involves Clooney and his crew working with a Latino gang lord called Cavalera, and then getting on this firebrand’s wrong side when their friend True Blue provides information to the Police. Also, we find out that Clooney’s girlfriend is pregnant, and she delivers an ultimatum to him to curb his hedonistic lifestyle or she’ll move away to Portland. He responds to this by going on a Tequila binge. Meanwhile Clooney’s long suffering friend Attila has to play peacemaker between the couple.

I was a bit perplexed by the film’s title, given that you only find out that George Clooney was a surfing champion midway through the film, and that most of the action involves our anti-hero’s riding around on Jet Skis. The final few scenes are memorable, not least because Gene Simmons becomes a fearless killing machine (think a tortoise paced version of John Rambo).

‘Red Surf’ is a standard low budget light-Action movie from the nineties, you watch it with low expectations, and rate it depending on how bored you get. It’s watchable, not least because you’re trying to look for early evidence of George Clooney’s acting talent, although in my mind Clooney must’ve been a late bloomer because Savant’s happy-go-lucky performance showed more potential leading man magnetism.

– RJW
6/10

Red Surf on IMDB
Buy Red Surf [1990] [DVD]