The Skid Kid (1991)

“The Skid Kid” is a masterpiece. Although I don’t often do this, here’s a trailer for it, produced for a 2015 showing at Cinefamily in LA (undoubtedly, the original release never had a trailer), and if you don’t immediately fall in love with it, I’m not sure we can be friends any more.

https://vimeo.com/119506070

This is part of our “Made In STL” season, which is really the “Made In STL” season of the St Louis Video Society, the fortnightly event where cult movie connoisseurs get together and watch some locally-produced gem. We’ve had “Justice: Ninja Style”, two early movies from Eric Stanze, and “Fatal Exam” (well, they can’t all be winners). There’s plenty more to come, so if you’re reading this and want to come along, get in touch with the Society on Facebook.

This movie features two actors who’d go on to real, serious careers. One much more than the other, I’ll admit, but impressive nontheless. Starring as the Skid Kid himself is one Gary Wolf, who’s been in “The Nice Guys” and has lots of bit-part work; and as his romantic rival for the beautiful Stephanie, Scott Wolf. Yes, the Scott Wolf from “Party of Five”, “Perception” and “The Night Shift”, one of the more dependable TV actors of the last 20 years, right at the very beginning of his career. They’re brothers, and in case you were wondering why Stephanie had zero chemistry with either of them, she’s played by their sister Jessica.

One might also wonder why the Wolf kids found themselves in Union, Missouri. Trying to think of something polite to say about it, it looks quite clean, but it’s a small town in the middle of nowhere and given the Wolf kids appear to have grown up in Boston, with Scott going to high school in New Jersey and college in Washington DC, it’s a puzzler. We do know a little about the origin of the movie, though, thanks to an interview with director Glen Gruner done by the great people at www.trashnite.com – he shot a short film on super-8 film as a college project in the early 80s, and in 1989 someone suggested he turn it into a feature, so he took his super-8 camera and did it (the reason there are no interior shots is because super-8 works much better in natural light, take it inside and it gets really grainy). Every frame of the original student film is in the finished product, too, which I like.

So, one day high school everyman Scooter (who’s apparently a distant relative of the famous director, having the surname Spielberg) is walking home from school when he finds a pair of black boots in the middle of a country road – we saw the original owner of them die after being hit by a car – and realises they’re effectively magic boots. So he puts them on and becomes the Skid Kid! This mostly involves sitting down and, via the magic of stop-motion, speeding along the ground. That his boots get worn out but the ass of his jeans doesn’t is one of the many magical things about this wonderful movie. Oh yes, and they’re powered with RC Cola!

Union is a crime-ridden hell-hole so the Skid Kid wants to clean it up, and the cops want to stop him. He doesn’t tell his girlfriend about his alter ego, but the cops figure it out remarkably quickly and are just waiting to catch him wearing his outfit before they pounce.

Apart from the clearly bonkers premise, this could be any one of a hundred ultra-low-budget, vaguely genre related movies produced in the early days of home video. But what sets it apart is its sense of humour (and, you know, having a couple of decent actors in main roles certainly helped too). Because continuity was almost impossible in a movie made over the course of two years with zero budget, and because he knew the kids who were its main audience wouldn’t care, Gruner had a laugh with it, as Skid Kid’s outfit changes, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, in the middle of scenes. Ten different Skid Kids were hired (hence the rather odd credit list for the character) but Gary Wolf was the only one who stuck with it – plus, if your main actor isn’t around but you get the chance to shoot some footage, just put the outfit on anyone who’s roughly the same size!

There’s some classic “Shoot the Parade”, the low budget film trick where they film some small town’s big event and subtly insert themselves into it. Here, it’s a biking carnival, featuring kids on Big Wheels and then teenagers on mountain bikes – the number of limbs that get run over in the free-for-all is horrifying to my 2017 eyes, though. Health and safety, people! Talking of bicycles, while at the carnival, Gruner decided he wanted a scene of a kid doing a really long wheelie to insert in a few scenes. One local volunteered, they went on a back road, shot a really long wheelie, and while Gruner got his name at the time, he’s no idea who the kid was (a kid who almost certainly never watched, or perhaps even knew about, the finished movie).

It’s just delightfully home made, though, with Gruner doing almost all the work (about three-quarters of the credits are fake, to make it look higher-budget than it was – Gruner contacted his friends and asked them if they’d mind their names being used as make-up supervisor, or whatever) and his family acting in a bunch of scenes. His mother is the TV news reporter, for instance. Gary Wolf brought Scott to the set, and got him his one scene, so it might even be “The Skid Kid” that persuaded Scott to give the whole acting thing a try – Gruner says that while the Wolf kids were great to work with, he’d no idea the stars they’d become. There’s a guy in a Halloween mask as an apparently real character, a local fraternity appearing as thugs who just happened to be the nearest frat to where they were filming…there are dozens of little stories like this that contribute to making it the gem it is.

I normally finish these segments off with “good luck with finding a copy, though”, but I don’t have to in this instance, as it’s available on Youtube. The sole distribution it ever got was through Gruner himself, who’d mail out VHS tapes to anyone who asked for $20 a pop, and made a nice profit from it; no special edition blu-ray yet, sadly. But now we can all see it and revel in what is a hidden classic of the video-shop era, made with love and dedication.

Rating: thumbs up

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Double Dragon (1994)

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Believe it or not, this film has a lot in common with 1991’s “Hudson Hawk”. Okay, the cast is several orders of magnitude less famous, and it was a lot cheaper to produce; the similarity isn’t really their box office failure either. It’s that both films were comedies that didn’t take themselves seriously and were over-the-top on purpose, and the huge majority of reviews of both don’t seem to grasp that, thinking that making a heist film (or a martial arts film) with so many oddball characters and insane situations detracts from the movie; to that, I say they ARE the movie.

After a primer on the mystical Double Dragon amulet and how, if the two halves of it were united, the world would be blah blah blah, we’re introduced to the heady far off future of 2007, and the city of New Angeles. Earthquakes have done for this city, but it seems the entire world is in flux, with damage being environmental? We discover this thanks to TV news, and the first indication that isn’t your average post-apocalyptic kung-fu movie is the news crew – George Hamilton, Vanna White, and Andy Dick, all playing themselves. Add this to some funny quake protection adverts and it’s immediately apparent that someone actually bothered building up an interesting world for this movie to be in.

The villain is Robert Patrick, playing “Koga Shuko”, who just wants your standard world domination and knows that the complete amulet will give it to him- he already has half. The streets of New Angeles are no-go areas at night, with a curfew leaving the gangs in complete control; Shuko is behind the scenes using them to find the amulet – imagine the various gangs of “The Warriors”, but with no need to tie them to any sense of reality, and you’d be pretty close. The sole beacon in this pretty dark future is “The Power Corps”, a loose and friendly gang led by Marian (Alyssa Milano, post “Commando” and pre “Charmed”) and into this mess step the Lee brothers, Jimmy and Billy (Mark Dacascos and Scott Wolf). Explanation for them not exactly looking like brothers? Zero. I love this movie! Their foster mother / guardian owns the rest of the amulet, and it’s her death at the hands of Shuko that really gets the brothers pumped for revenge.

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BREAKING BAD! Okay, that’s just an attempt to get some search engine action, but there is a strong link to “Double Dragon”. This movie’s scriptwriter was Peter Gould, who would go on to be a producer on “Breaking Bad” as well as write 11 episodes. Is your dismissal of its cheesy dialogue and ridiculous dystopian storyline starting to change a little now? Are you drifting towards the “it was always a minor gem” camp? See, I’ve loved it ever since I first saw it, so I don’t have that problem.

Apart from Milano, who’s trying her hardest, everyone seems to just be having a good time in this movie. Wolf and Dacascos have an easy camaraderie, Patrick is in full scenery-chewing mode, and the assorted gang members (including a brief cameo from horror superstar Michael Berryman) are overacting like their lives depended on it.

This film wasn’t cheap – there are a ton of well-dressed sets, lots of extras and actors, large-scale fight and chase scenes, and some decent special effects. I couldn’t find any confirmation of the budget, but it can’t have been small; there’s a lot of detail in the movie that you wouldn’t normally find – like, the way their car operates, and lots of little references to the actors’ other work in the dialogue. I think its comparatively poor performance at the box office allowed people to treat it as a bit of a punching bag, so like “Hudson Hawk”, the mockery it gets is wildly out of proportion with the quality of the film itself; by now, its very 90s aesthetic means it can be safely dismissed too.

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Now, I don’t want to make out like it’s a great lost classic, but there’s quality here, and it’s a lot of fun to watch, with a surprisingly satisfying ending. The fights are great, too, lots of speedy action and some of the set-pieces, like the final battle in the Power Corps base, manage to be both well-choreographed and comedic. Lots of bad puns too, if that’s your thing, and cheesy post-defeat one-liners. I haven’t even mentioned the computer game it’s based on! That’s mostly because I never played it, and now the game is over 25 years old I imagine fans of it are few and far between. Just enjoy it for itself!

Rating: thumbs up