Spaceballs (1987)

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Thanks to the news of some big sci-fi film or other being released this week, I decided to re-watch a beloved parody of my youth. While it was kicking off, my wife and I had the conversation that everyone has while watching a Mel Brooks movie in 2015 – when was his last good one? Of course, he had an amazing career as a writer of jokes for other people before the movies, but that falls somewhat outside of our remit here. Anyway, I realised he’s not actually directed anything since 1995, and I think the case is there for his first decade as a director being as good as any decade by anyone – from “The Producers” through to “High Anxiety”, several enduring comedy classics. But then…boy oh boy, did he fall of a quality cliff. “History of the World Part 1”, then a very long break, then “Spaceballs”, and then onto a career-killing trio – “Life Stinks”, “Robin Hood: Men In Tights” and “Dracula: Dead And Loving It”. Ye gods! I walked out of a cinema showing of “Men In Tights”, it’s just unbearably bad.

 

Since then, he’s seemed content to show up occasionally in other peoples’ projects (including those of the guy who managed for a time to be an even worse version of late-era Brooks, Ezio Gregio), make an animated series based on this movie, and collect fat royalty cheques for “The Producers”. Good on him, I say, but we’re not here to talk about his later life, we’re here to talk about 1987’s “Spaceballs”.

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Where to start? Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) has been dispatched from planet Spaceball to go and suck all the air from planet Druidia and take it back, as Spaceball is running out. Druidia has, for some reason, a protective dome covering the entire planet and the only way through it is with a password, so Dark Helmet decides to kidnap Druidia’s Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga). Her father the King then employs interstellar “hero for hire” Lone Star (Bill Pullman) and his half-dog sidekick Barf (John Candy) to get her back. In the course of their adventures, they meet the small, odd mystic Yogurt (Mel Brooks), President Skroob of Spaceball (Brooks again) and Vespa’s robot sidekick Dot Matrix (voice supplied by Joan Rivers).

 

But really it’s just a long parody of (mostly) “Star Wars”. The Force becomes The Schwarz, Darth Vader is Dark Helmet, C3PO is Dot Matrix, etc. etc. etc. Not only are there bits and pieces of other movies in there, though (like “Transformers” and, most memorably, “Alien”, with John Hurt popping up), but Brooks being Brooks, it’s got more of his humour in it and less straight parody stuff. So Dark Helmet is sort of powerful and feared but he’s more the stereotypical nebbish; the President is nothing like the Emperor, he’s just an idiot; and while you can track Star Wars characters onto the four main cast members, they don’t really share any characteristics with the originals.

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Brooks asked George Lucas if he could do a parody movie, and Lucas was apparently delighted by the idea, even letting him use Industrial Light & Magic to do the special effects. The only condition was that they make no “Spaceballs” merchandise at all, which goes some way towards explaining the running gag in the film where they keep having more and more “Spaceballs”-themed stuff on screen…talking of which, the whole gag about there being too much merch has been ruined by the most recent “Star Wars” movie, which has got tie-ins with just about everything – Star Wars water, Star Wars cheese, and so on. Never a good sign when reality is worse than a parody movie.

 

There are some great bits in it, to go along with the lame parody jokes and awful puns – I really liked the section where, to figure out what was going on, Dark Helmet and his cronies get the VHS tape of “Spaceballs” and watch it. The best jokes were them messing with the fabric of the movie itself, like when the bad guys accidentally captured the stunt doubles (a brilliant idea). Someone as talented as Mel Brooks is always going to be able to throw a couple of gems out there, and I liked the Jewish humour / deep space juxtaposition.

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“Spaceballs” is beloved by people of a certain age (mine, roughly); both as a great comedy and as part of that pre “Scary Movie” tradition of parody movies that don’t suck. But…the years have not been kind to it. There’s way too many gags that make you groan or just flat out suck (“comb the desert”, dear me), and it was almost as if Brooks’ heart wasn’t really in it any more. It sadly bears more in common with his later movies than his earlier ones, and while it was still entertaining enough to watch for me, an old fan, I think if you’ve never seen it before then…well, perhaps stick to Brooks’ classic period.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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The Fear Of Speed (2002)

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If you want to make a really OTT film, hire a bunch of porno actors.

That is the message of this film, an early one from Jeff Centauri, who’s one of those people who can turn their hand to anything – he’s written, directed, acted, been a stunt co-ordinator, done motion capture for computer games, photographed and done special effects. The first thing that appears on screen is “A Jeff Centauri Madness”, which is a pretty good indicator of how things are going to go.

This film could, broadly, be called a low-budget parody of “The Fast And The Furious”, but that doesn’t do it justice at all. Dale DaBone, who surely has one of the all-time great adult actor names, is Max Spears, a mechanic with a love of street racing, and the main threads of the story are started at a street racer gathering. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend, Brittany (Noname Jane, one of the other great names), and a former friend turned rival, Rico, who’s also Brittany’s ex. Now, here’s where things get crazy, and you’ll either read the next paragraph and immediately try and track this down or abandon this review.

Rico beats Max and wins his car because of his nitro system, which is powered by…here goes…his father’s radioactive sperm. Turns out that papa Hornero Martino (Mike Horner, who cornered the market for a while with XXX parodies like “Not Bionic Woman And The Million Dollar Man XXX”) was brought up in a village with high radioactivity, and this has left his sperm with several supernatural properties – it’s the world’s most addictive drug, it’s a high explosive, and it can super-charge an engine. YES!!

He's happy because of his magic semen

He’s happy because of his magic semen

So, Max has to build an even better car to win the big Car Wars race, Rico has to try and sell his father’s sperm to drug dealers, and the two sides continue to clash. The other bit of story is the title, and it’s Brittany (whose surname in the movie is Sears, which is just bizarre with a boyfriend called Spears, even if they mention it at the end). She passes out if she’s in a car going above 30 mph, but when Max gets his leg taken out by one of Rico’s goons, her lightning-fast reflexes need to be put to use driving the car for him…if only she can figure out a way to get over her tachophobia.

That’s a pretty basic framework for what is a refreshingly insane film. First and foremost, in case you were thinking of popping this on with your grandma, there’s a lot of sex in here. Centauri has produced three versions of this – one with more explicit scenes, which remains unreleased; the version I saw, which is the unrated cut released on Amazon; and an R-rated version which was made when it got picked up for mainstream distribution. Honestly, the sex scenes are an odd bunch. The editing is strange, and all the scenes are “typical” softcore ones – there’s a couple that want to have sex but don’t want to get caught as they’re at work, for example. Rather than keep as fully clothed as possible and find somewhere off the beaten path, they get naked, lay themselves over some industrial equipment and have a nice leisurely session. Don’t worry, I appreciate questioning the logic of a sex scene in a film full of sex scenes is perhaps the weirdest thing I’ve ever done as a film reviewer. Also, more people get walked in on having sex in this than in perhaps any other movie, ever.

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“The Fear Of Speed” also copies one of my least favourite choices of the “Fast And Furious” films, the decision to focus more on the flicking of switches and the changing of gears than the actual movement of the cars. As a non-driver, perhaps this is what drivers enjoy about these films, and there’s a certain energy to them, I suppose. What it does that F&F didn’t do (at the time, anyway) is have a bunch of really good fight scenes. The film’s fight co-ordinator acts too, as Max’s sensei, who just sort of turns up halfway through the film to help Max out in a fight then sticks around til the end. The fighting in this film looks like it belongs in a much higher-budget movie, and credit to everyone who did their own stunts as it looks great.

I’ve barely even scratched the surface of this film and how much I enjoyed it. If you can get past the first few minutes, which looks like decent home movie footage of an illegal street race, I think you’ll have a good time with this one. You’ll see Max’s mechanic, Sparks, also play two other roles in the movie (“Undercover Gay Cop” and “Lazy Scientist”) for absolutely no reason; Mike Horner and Voodoo (his son Rico) do truly wonderfully terrible Hispanic accents; you’ll see one of the wildest stunts ever, a couple having sex on the bonnet of a fast-moving car; you’ll see a fight scene apparently set on a spaceship (there was a spaceship set in the studio the crew were filming in and they borrowed it) and you’ll marvel at the OTT performances of the cast, who are clearly enjoying the chance to shoot a normal film.

This stunt is amazing

This stunt is amazing

Finally, huge thanks to Jeff Centauri for answering my questions about the film. He seems like one of the good guys, so check out his website http://www.hollywoodninja.com to keep abreast of what he’s up to now.

Rating: thumbs up

Trailer Trash: The Hungover Games (Red Band Edition)

First thought. Who watches these piss weak parody films? Second thought. Who actually laughs when they watch them?

I’m guessing the thought process behind the making of this movie was to combine ‘The Hangover’ with ‘The Hunger Games’ and then sprinkle on top the rancid muck of pop culture in the hope that beautiful flowers bloom from the manure. Voila! You have ‘The Hungover Games’. I think the key to making a good parody film is simple enough, pour on thick a rapid fire host of zinger one liners and get a talented cast to play it mostly straight. Nowadays makers of parody films aim for familiarity and lowest common denominator humour. The shit is literally thrown on the drawing board in the hope that it sticks. It appears ‘The Hungover Games’ goes beyond being so bad it’s good territory, like a carelessly thrown boomerang that flies full circle and ends up getting stuck straight in the arse crack inducing a splintering bleeding anus of agony.

The trailer features the three main guys in ‘The Hangover’ played by Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifinakis and Ed Helms played by lookalikes with the names Bradley, Zach and Ed. Fumes from a dodgy air freshener take the trio forward in time into a dystopian future. We see ISCFC favourite Tara Reid dressed up as Effie Trinket and then a bizarre action sequence that is a mix of ‘The Hunger Games’ (duh) and the chaotic melee fight scenes from the two ‘Anchorman’ films. There’s a Django lookalike, a Captain Jack Sparrow, Ted (complete with oversized dangling furry meat and two veg), the blue lass from ‘Avatar’ and Kardashian doormat Bruce Jenner dressed up as Cesar Romero from the old ‘Batman’ TV series.

‘The Hungover Games’ came out this year and already it feels dated. Jeez, I guess Pop Culture doesn’t age well in the high speed Tweetin’ and Tumblr-in’ digital age. With a trailer that showcases the most crass and unfunny moments of the film, an endless montage of bad lookalikes that wouldn’t look out of place in the Great Yarmouth waxwork museum and dick jokes. Limp, flaccid dick jokes ***sigh***. ‘The Hungover Games’ makes ‘Scary Movie 5’ look like ‘The Godfather Part II’.

– RJW

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