I am pleased to be a Kickstarter backer of this movie (and not just because my rewards arrived on time and as described). I loved the first “Samurai Cop”, every single weird minute of it, with its technical incompetence, shockingly bad acting, hilarious gaffes – like Joe’s wig (which he only needed because he cut his hair after principal photography but the director needed weeks of reshoots) falling off in the middle of a fight – and general all-round accidental weirdness. It’s one of the most fun “bad” movies of all time, and in the last few years it picked up a real cult following. Thought to be dead, star Matthew Karedas resurfaced, healthy, happy and with a sense of humour about his brief time as a movie star; he started appearing at showings, and the idea of a sequel began to take hold. Most of the original cast was still alive and not too expensive, and they had a good base to market to; so all signs were positive. Sadly, no original director Amir Shervan (who died in 2006); and although villain Robert Z’Dar signed up, he died before filming his scenes (there are a couple of cops in here named Z’Dar and Amir in their honour).
If you’ve seen the original and hear they’re making a sequel, you’d expect several things. Lots and lots of cameos from everyone they could dig up (this happens, to be fair), lots of seemingly irrelevant scenes starring people who paid for the top Kickstarter rewards (ditto, probably), a million jokes about how terrible the first movie was (not really), while at the same time copying most of the plot – the villain would be expected to be the child or wife of the main bad guy from part 1, for example. But then the trailer came out, and we found out Tommy Wiseau and a bunch of porno actresses were going to be in it; anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves slightly. Let’s do a brief recap.
Frank Washington (Mark Frazer), the Danny Glover to Joe Marshall’s Mel Gibson, is still fighting the good fight as an LA cop. The gang war which (and I struggled to remember this) was the basis for part 1 has flared up again: Frank knows he needs his old friend Joe back, and tracks him down to a medallion factory in the middle of nowhere. Sure, why not? It’s around now we’re treated to the reason Joe has renounced violence and dropped off the grid – his wife Jennifer was murdered in seemingly random fashion back in 1991. Now, the original Jennifer, one Janis Farley, only ever acted in the first “Samurai Cop” and could not be tempted out of retirement, so she’s replaced with “adult” actress Kayden Kross, who does a surprisingly good job. Anyway, a bunch of goons attack the factory and of course Joe and Frank kick their ass; this brings Joe back into the fold.
So, there are three gangs, I think. Or it might be two. There’s definitely the Katanas, led by Fujiyama (Cranston Komuro, returning from the first movie) and the Ginzu, and there’s probably another one as well. Anyway, that’s not important. The main Katana enforcer is Dogge (Bai Ling, an almost restrained performance for her) and she’s got a crew of killers, including other porn stars Lexi Belle and Nicole Bailey. It’s a whole mess of fights and weird meetings and so on.
I feel like the more I try and recap, the further any understanding of this movie gets from me. There’s a scene on a plane where Joe and Frank have to fight off a ninja attack, and Joe rescues the beautiful Milena (also Kayden Kross, wearing a black wig), only to have the scene end as if everyone’s just bored of acting, wandering aimlessly off the set; then he and Milena start a relationship, and he has flashbacks to the first movie as well as dreams which are sort of surreal but mostly just annoying. He asks her to dye her hair blonde to be more like Jennifer, which she does…for one scene, going right back to black with no mention made of it by anyone. Oh, and Tommy bloody Wiseau shows up. You only hire him if you want jaded scumbags to see your movie and sites like this to give you free publicity, and he was apparently so terrible an actor that he had to have every line fed to him from just off camera…and still managed to mess most of them up. His “character” is a mysterious masked man, who does basically nothing, and spends the entire movie on one set as I’m pretty sure he couldn’t be trusted with movement. He’s long since stopped being a funny joke and I look forward to the day when he’s no longer a thing (although the movie of “The Disaster Artist” will keep him in the public eye a while longer).
Director Gregory Hatanaka has previous form as a sort of gutter David Lynch. “Blue Dream” from 2013, also co-starring Kayden Kross, descends into gibberish by the end and “surrealism” is used often to describe what he does. But the problem is, it feels too often like it was made by people who use “random” as a compliment, and misunderstands what makes the work of someone like Lynch so great. “Samurai Cop 2” goes out of its way to not make any sense, so if you watch it and go “huh?”, you didn’t miss anything, it was just designed that way.
I laughed quite a bit, as it was nice to see the references to the first movie and them trying to have a little fun with them. Frank’s insane mugging to the camera is recreated; Joe tells ladies to “keep it warm”; and as promised, they dredge up an absolute ton of people from the first movie, best of all Joselito Rescober as the ultra-camp waiter who keeps showing up. In terms of the original cast, Melissa Moore retired from acting maybe 15 years ago and has clearly forgotten how it’s done; but she’s barely in it, so it’s not too bad, and it’s fun to see her anyway. Matthew Karedas could, if he wanted, star in light-comedy action thrillers like this for another decade – he’s still in great shape and is an okay actor. Mark Frazer hasn’t acted in the meantime either but he tries his best, bless him.
By far the biggest surprise was Kayden Kross, who, if she ever decides to get out of the porno game, could be a completely decent mainstream actress. She’s got a great femme fatale look, and seems comfortable interacting with everyone. The rest of the cast who aren’t returnees are B-movie “legends” such as Laurene Landon and Mel Novak (both of whom who look like they ought to sue their plastic surgeons); plus Joe Estevez trying even less hard than he does for “On Cinema”. Mindy Robinson is also great, even if I’ve still got no idea who her character was.
But unfortunately, it’s got some pretty serious (and quite fundamental) flaws. The more I think about it, the more an image popped into my head, of a crew of smirking douchebags laughing at a cast full of rank amateurs, exploiting people like Wiseau. It feels like they want to mock certain elements of the earlier instalment while at the same time not having the skill to make a decent movie themselves. Remember how thoroughly miserable “Birdemic 2” was? Okay, the time between instalments was less for Birdemic than it was for Samurai Cop, but I’d lay good money on your reaction being the same – a happy smile that slowly turns into a pained one, as you realise that your mocking internet posts were part of the reaction that made this possible. Because of that hardcore fanbase, they knew they didn’t have to try either, and every criticism like mine can be handwaved away with “we meant to make it stupid”.
Probably coincidentally, it feels more like an adaptation of “Max Payne” – the computer game – than the actual “Max Payne” movie did. The heavy dose of surrealism, the endless fight scenes in a variety of weirdly lit locations, the love interest you’re never quite sure about, the way they eventually just do away with the plot and have a bunch of fights…
As big a fan as I am of the first “Samurai Cop”, this feels more cynical than anything else. It’s entirely competently made on a technical level, all the terrible acting choices are on purpose this time (with Kross being the only person to way outperform expectations) and it has some laughs. But it’s a massive wasted opportunity. Imagine a fourth-wall breaking Joe, “Deadpool” style, and not the occasional wink at camera we got? Or, imagine if it had been less self-indulgent and everyone had tried? What could have been. I read stories about the producers advertising on Craigslist to get actors on board who had their own investors, which basically means they wanted people to pay to be in the movie. They made a choice from the start to only appeal to fans of part 1, to which the question could be asked “why bother?” We were on board anyway. Is this anyone’s idea of a great second “Samurai Cop”? The number of movies that were made bad on purpose and were still fun to watch is incredibly small, and sadly this isn’t among them.
Rating: thumbs in the middle