2 Lava 2 Lantula (2016)


A brief break before we tackle the last couple of “Zombi” entries, with the sequel to one of our favourite films of last year. “Lavalantula” could have been an empty, jokey, typical SyFy effort, but director / co-writer Mike Mendez helped fashion a love letter to monster movies that was also lots of fun.


They sadly saved the empty, jokey, typical SyFy effort for part 2. No idea why Mendez chose not to return, but they replaced him with Nick Simon, whose only directorial work in the last five years was “The Girl In The Photograph”, a poorly regarded indie thriller from 2015. The two co-writers from part 1 are back, which I guess gives us an insight into exactly what Mendez brought to the table; also returning are The Gutte (obviously), Michael Winslow and Marion Ramsey. Nia Peeples, who played The Gutte’s wife, is “on a yoga retreat halfway round the world”, as is their son (although he gets thirty seconds on screen via Skype).


Presumably there’s a story behind why there’s a distinct lack of star power – relatively speaking – and everything seems a little cheaper. Perhaps SyFy isn’t doing as well as it was, and is putting all its eggs in the Sharknado basket, but it seems pretty obvious they’re not interested in making any more “Lavalantula” movies. Factor in two utterly baffling central performances from Guttenberg and Winslow – Guttenberg seems to be doing a weird impression of a dumb action hero, and Winslow just can’t act (although he was never able to) – and this feels like a contractual obligation on almost everyone’s parts.


Colton West (Guttenberg) is on the set of his latest movie, “Clown Cops”. Now, right at the very beginning is when they start throwing us curveballs – given the worldwide celebrity he’d have gotten at the end of the first movie, some cheesy garbage like “Clown Cops” is the best he could manage? Anyway, he’s doing the diva thing, demanding a chair just be placed behind him wherever he is, and so on, when he discovers his step-daughter is in Fort Lauderdale partying, instead of at college, he gets all upset. By the way, as far as I can remember, the stepdaughter wasn’t mentioned in the first movie at all, and I bet one draft of the script had her as his new far-too-young girlfriend.


So, lavalantulas just start emerging from the ground again, and it’s on. Colton and Marty (Winslow) head off to Fort Lauderdale to stop the infestation and save the day, the director of his movie (who was on “Glee”) shrieks ineffectively, stepdaughter Raya (Michele Weaver) meets a couple of local mechanics / lavalantula-killing enthusiasts, and milling around the plot is Colonel Jester, played by 80s stalwart Martin Kove, who’s friend and foe depending on what minute of the movie it is.


The subplot with Raya is fine, because while it feels a bit like a million other SyFy movies (the act 2 lull, where they’re just trying not to spend much money), it doesn’t feel like they’re just straight ripping off something else. It’s also nice to see a movie with a majority black cast, but there’s a bit which I’m still not sure about – when both “teams” meet up, they go to TJ the mechanic’s house, and his mother serves them dinner. Fried chicken? And the mother is the sassiest, most bad-sitcommy mother I’ve seen in ages.


If you’ve seen a SyFy movie, you’ll recognise every beat of this, with the sole difference being the presence of 80s movie stars in leading roles. But there’s a serious issue, in that one of the writers just decided to make this a reference-fest. There was a little of that in the first one, but perhaps Mendez kept it to a minimum? But here, we’re at a level not a million miles from people like Friedberg and Setzer (“Epic Movie”, “Vampires Suck”, etc). The following is a list of the movies and shows they just lift things from – no cleverness, just straight “hey, remember this?” moments.


Dr. Strangelove; 2001: A Space Odyssey; Sanford and Son; Deliverance; Star Wars: Episode IV; Apocalypse Now; Cocoon; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Poltergeist; Scarface; The Karate Kid; Miami Vice; The Terminator; Crocodile Dundee; Top Gun; Predator; Die Hard; Jurassic Park; Pulp Fiction; Friday; Apollo 13; Sling Blade; 2 Fast 2 Furious (obviously); Frankenfish; Burn Notice; Straight Outta Compton; Aliens; Armageddon; and Independence Day.


The only one of those they do anything fun with is “Crocodile Dundee”, when they meet a guy in the swamps called Alligator Dundee, who’s a predatory homosexual with designs on Colton’s assistant Kyle (Jimmy Bellinger) – perhaps a bit on the offensive side, but at least they tried. Then there’s a great bit where Guttenberg calls this movie’s big bad the “Gargantulantula”, and TJ questions him over what it means – it felt like it came out of improv, and is great.


Ultimately, and this is the most disappointing thing, it’s too much like a completely ordinary SyFy movie, played for laughs. No-one really bothered to make any effort (would a few more “Police Academy” cast members have been that difficult to dig up?) with the exception of Raya and TJ; and the genuine sweetness at the heart of part 1 has been replaced with…well, nothing. I’d be amazed if there’s a part 3, after this. It just feels like a waste – you can make a funny film and bother with plot and performance, as the first one showed.


Rating: thumbs in the middle


The “Police Academy” sequels (1985-1994)

The first “Police Academy” movie is quite good – not, by any stretch of the imagination, great, or hilarious, but it burbles along nicely for an hour and a half, and was hugely successful. Steve Guttenberg became a star, Michael Winslow guaranteed a life of work doing weird sound effects, and…that’s about it.


The sequels, on the other hand, are miserable affairs, and the idea of writing full reviews for each of them filled me with dread. But there may come a time, dear reader, where you’re faced with the tricky question “shall I watch one of the Police Academy movies?” and you may need my help.


The first thing to appreciate is you’ll be able to see the jokes coming. All of them. There’s not a single remotely surprising or interesting comedic idea in any of the sequels, and if you see a scene being set up and think “there’s no way they could do a joke that cheesy”, I 100% guarantee they will do a joke exactly that cheesy. The rough outline of the first four movies is exactly the same – the first hour will be some sort of academy-based shenanigans, where a new group of people will be trained, and the last half-hour will be a mission, where our wacky misfits will have to save the day. As well as the good guy cops, there’s a bad guy cop (either a rival Commandant or a precinct Captain) who hates our heroes and wants them to fail.


The characters are the broadest caricatures, with one defining characteristic each – the cool guy; the hot woman; the guy who does dumb sound effects with his mouth; the gun nut; the timid woman; the timid man; the clumsy guy; the tall strong guy; the lovable psycho; and so on. In every scene they appear, this one characteristic will be the sole basis of any comedy involving them.


So, now we’ve wrapped up the structure of every Police Academy movie, let’s move on to the movies themselves.


Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985)


Our heroes (well, the ones who the audience liked) reunite to help out Commandant Lassard’s brother and his failing precinct. Joining the series are Tim Kazurinsky and Bobcat Goldthwait – Goldthwait’s “Zed” is the antagonist here, as the leader of “The Scullions”, but the problem is he’s about as frightening as a small cloud on an otherwise sunny day, leaving no tension at all. Colleen Camp and her wacky family are also introduced, and they’re moderately good fun (the father and son always fighting each other).


I won’t bother mentioning this in every recap, but the “Blue Oyster” bar scene in this movie is spectacularly homophobic. The regulars beat the crap out of the Scullions, and the cops come to help out. So far so good, but as the scene ends Hightower is surrounded by the leather-clad gents. A fine end to the scene would be Hightower smiling and thanking the law-abiding locals for their time, but they gather round, obviously infatuated with the cop, and he looks frightened. End scene. It’s like they’re going out of their way to be homophobic.


The jokes are really bad here. I think you might reasonably expect some that are at least tolerable, but you’ll barely crack a smile. And it doesn’t get a lot better.


Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986)


The unnamed city that’s the home of the first three movies (in part 4 they just say it’s Los Angeles) has two police academies, and due to budget cuts one of them has to close. The bad cop from part 2, Mauser, is now the Commandant of the other academy, and our band of heroes has to get back together to help Commandant Lassard keep his job. The new recruits include Kazurinsky and Goldthwait, as well as a few other one-note characters (the Japanese guy! Clumsy Guy’s wife!).


The first movie was R rated, and had boobs and swearing in it; by part 3, though, the action was PG and would remain so for the rest of the series, ensuring that no-one ever died, swore, took drugs, had sex, or indeed took part in any normal adult human activity. Talking of normal adult humans, there aren’t any in this movie as they all behave like robots whose only function is to enter a scene, have a funny thing happen to them and then leave.


Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987)


There’s a bit more to talk about with this one. Comedian Art Metrano, who’d played Mauser in parts 2 and 3, asked to be replaced (presumably as he had taste) so they brought back Harris from part 1, who liked money more than he liked comedy. The gimmick to bring back the gang and a new batch of recruits is the “Citizens On Patrol” program, teaching average citizens crime prevention techniques (the “hey, we need to save the day” segment is hilariously perfunctory in this one).


The casting is more interesting too. David Spade, future Adam Sandler hanger-on, is a teen skateboarder who gets involved in the program instead of going to prison (mirroring Mahoney in part 1 – perhaps they wanted him to take over the series? Yikes) Appearing as Spade’s double is a 19 year old Tony Hawk (who also doubled for Josh Brolin the previous year in a movie delightfully titled “Thrashin”); also showing up in a small role is Sharon Stone, as the crowbarred-in love interest for Mahoney.


It’s absolutely stuffed with people – almost everyone returns from part 3, along with a huge number of new cast members. Hightower, Jones, Sweetchuck, Hooks and Callaghan are barely in it, all just happy for the paycheque, with Zed (Goldthwait) as virtually a co-lead with Mahoney, getting a love interest and a lot of stuff to do. I guess by part 4 everyone had settled into a rut. It’s also slightly better than part 3, but then watching a compilation video of people vomiting for an hour is better than part 3. The end chase scene is an almost exact copy of the previous movie, with boats replaced by planes and balloons; the last scene is Guttenberg and Stone flying off together in one of those balloons, with Guttenberg leaving the series for good. I imagine it must have been a good feeling.


Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach (1988)


The three employable members of the cast were out of the door (Goldthwait, Guttenberg and Colleen Camp) and we’re left with first-billed Bubba Smith, a man who barely does anything other than raise his eyebrows and do the occasional feat of strength. The plot of this one would struggle to fill an episode of the average American sitcom – our friends go to Miami so Commandant Lassard can be awarded with “Police Officer Of The Decade”, Captain Harris finds out he’s above retirement age, and a group of jewel thieves accidentally swap their bag with Lassard’s.


Three plot threads, the same as the average sitcom episode, and the acting is substantially worse. The evil Captain Harris and his incompetent sidekick are almost unbearable by this point, having become even stupider as the movies have gone on. On the other side, we have Matt McCoy as Lassard’s nephew and the obvious Guttenberg replacement; he’s a bland copy, and while he’s had a decent career since these movies, this was not a great beginning.


I knew I was in trouble when I saw the bit that was in all the pre-release publicity (me and my long memory) – the bit where Tackleberry threatens a shark with a huge handgun, and the shark skulks off. It raises, at best, a very slight smile, and it’s by a million miles the best gag in the movie. Knowing that Stephen Curwick is responsible for the writing of both this and part 6 makes me sad for part 6 before I’ve seen a second of it – he was an occasional TV writer before landing this gig, and then did pretty much nothing afterwards.


Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989)


Amazingly, part 6 attempts to have a plot of sorts, from beginning to end. For the flimsiest of reasons, Lassard (who, lest we forget, is a teacher and over the age of retirement) and the gang (looking a little thin on the ground now, but bringing back Matt McCoy as the very poor man’s Mahoney) are called in by the Mayor to help stop a criminal gang who are terrorising the city. Of course, as it’s a Police Academy movie the gang is three people and they’re all goofy idiots – including Gerrit Graham, a completely decent actor and wasted on this rubbish – but there’s a mysterious Mastermind behind their actions too.


Much like part 5, it’d be better as an episode of a TV show. Fackler (the clumsy one) comes back, and he knocks things over and appears entirely oblivious, every single time; Hooks squeaks until she’s forced to shout; Tackleberry will shoot things…etc. My god, by part 6 they were really sapping my will to live. Perhaps the sole thing of any interest in this movie is a very early appearance from Dean Norris, who’d go on to play Hank in “Breaking Bad”. He’s one of the horny cops who ogles Callahan as she’s exercising. You can tell I’m stretching for things to write about.


Police Academy: Mission To Moscow (1994)


Five years after part 6, presumably due to some sub-clause of some contract somewhere, a once-proud (well, proud-ish) cinematic franchise was brought out of retirement. Yes, there was still a failed, cancelled-after-one-season live-action TV series to come (an animated series having been produced in 1988) but for the sake of our sanity we’ll ignore that. Part 7 was the end.


The regulars that assemble at the beginning represent the “couldn’t find work anywhere else” contingent. So, making it all the way to the bitter end, we have Jones (mouth-noises); Tackleberry (gun nut); Callahan (big boobs); Captain Harris (stooge) and Commandant Lassard (well-meaning idiot). Joining them as the bland white guy who gets the love interest plot is Charlie Schlatter, who was briefly given leading man roles before going on to be third banana on “Diagnosis: Murder”; he’s spent the last decade as a voice actor.


Incredibly, despite these very slim pickings on the Academy side, the guest casting was the best the series had ever had, with three legitimate stars. Biggest of the lot is Christopher Lee as the Russian police chief, in that post-Hammer, pre-Lord Of The Rings part of his career (doing a favour for the producer); then there’s Ron Perlman, as the villain of the piece, a Russian Mafia boss; and bringing up the rear in the fame stakes is Claire Forlani, early in her career, looking staggeringly beautiful (okay, maybe it’s just compared to the lumpy regular cast, but still) as a Russian cop / translator.


It is, perhaps surprisingly, slightly better than parts 5 and 6, but then those two were abominably written. Although “Mission To Moscow” was written by a couple of people with a grand total of 5 credits between them, neither of whom wrote another word after this (or for a couple of years before, which indicates the script had sat on the shelf for a long time). Filmed in Russia during the 1993 attempted coup, so it’s got that interesting fact going for it, and it’s got Ron Perlman saying he considered his part in shutting down the franchise “a public service”. Christopher Lee remains the only person in 7 damned movies to notice what Jones was doing, not fall for it and just get pissed off…you know, because he’s supposed to be a serious police officer on an international mission and not a gibbering lunatic (in other words, the way he’s been played since part 1).


But we can’t end this on a positive! Marion Ramsey (Hooks, the squeaky voiced one) was not hired for this, and as she couldn’t get any other acting work, begged Bubba Smith (Hightower) to intervene on her behalf. The producers refused, and Smith, top billed in 5 and 6, quit the movie in sympathy with his friend. Oh, and the director disowned it and blamed the producer’s interference on it sucking. Finally – the first time you see “The Game”, the rather tedious linking segment in the big bad’s plan, it’s on a Gameboy…with no cartridge in the back! They can’t sneak that past a nerd like me!




So, what have we learned from watching all the Police Academy sequels? That I should really stop myself from taking on pointless challenges like this? That Michael Winslow’s mouth shenanigans are perhaps the most annoying thing about a major movie franchise ever? That if Bobcat Goldthwait quits on you because he thinks he can find better work elsewhere, you’re in trouble?


I could list dumb questions like that all day. But let’s at least try and analyse them. The first movie, for all its flaws, is okay-ish. There are real jokes that land, Guttenberg and Cattrall make a decent central couple, and the shticks hadn’t got tired yet. It had an actual conflict that generated the plot, too – Mahoney couldn’t quit the police academy, and they couldn’t throw him out. Solid stuff, and I can totally see why it was a hit. Even part 2 had its moments, even if it had effectively ossified by that point, with the characters appearing, doing their one “funny” thing and then disappearing again. Despite my fond childhood memories of parts 3 and 4, they’re both pretty bad, short on jokes and long on garbage, and 5 and 6 are just shocking, as bad as cinema-released comedy has ever been.


But why? I think it was a producer (Paul Maslansky) whose vision of comedy was that of a child – pratfalls, stupidity, and the idea that getting one over on “teacher” is the funniest thing ever. After part 2 (coinciding, I suppose, with the animated series, explicitly aimed at children), this franchise steered hard for the family market, ensuring that 6 year olds could understand every joke, that criminals were comic rather than frightening, and that every movie should end with a big noisy chase. Nothing has any consequence in this world, and no-one ever changes.


Doing this has bummed me out way more than I expected. I thought it’d be a few laughs and a weak final instalment, but aside from a few jokes here and there, they were miserable after part 1. Look, for example, at a show like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, a sitcom about a busy police station where any episode has more going for it than the best “Police Academy” sequel. Literally – look at that and leave these movies in the dustbin of history.


Rating: thumbs down x 6

Police Academy (1984)


Now, this is a little outside our normal wheelhouse here at the ISCFC. “Police Academy” was hugely successful, spawning 6 sequels, an animated series and a live-action series; plus, it’s a comedy, with no monsters in it. But, there’s quite a lot to talk about – well, for the first movie, anyway. I think I’ll just do one long review for all the sequels, as…there’s not an enormous amount of difference. The characters and their comedy tics are the same, the plots are largely the same (an hour of academy-based hijinks, half an hour of saving the day), and it’s definitely diminishing returns as the series goes on. But we don’t need to talk about how miserable “Mission To Moscow” was just yet!


It’s a beautifully simple premise for a movie. The Mayor decides that the stringent entrance criteria for the police force are to be removed, and a whole lot of people decide to sign up – most prominently for our tale are George Martin, a Hispanic fella who has five girlfriends; Eugene Tackleberry, a gun-obsessive who presumably failed the mental exam for the Army; Leslie Barbara, the fat loser (a character type I’m glad the movies don’t have quite as much any more); Moses Hightower, the 6’7” monster with super-strength but a heart of gold;  Laverne Hooks, the extremely timid one; and Douglas Fackler, the extremely accident-prone sort-of-douchebag who drives to the academy with his wife hanging on to the hood of the car, demanding he stop.


I’m spending a lot of time on the characters, because this will come in useful later, and they’re all rather lovely little comedy archetypes. On the police side of things, we’ve got bumbling Commandant Lassard; extremely evil Lieutenant Harris; and the inscrutable and beautiful Sergeant Callahan. Plus, of course, our star Carey Mahoney and his best mate Larvell Jones. Mahoney has been arrested (again) for parking a rich asshole’s car on its side, and is given a choice by a friendly captain of prison or the Police Academy. As he’s sat waiting in the lockup, he meets Jones, and the two of them get on immediately and Mahoney decides to help his new buddy out by getting him off his charge and into the academy too.


Mahoney is told he can’t quit, but he can be thrown out; the Chief of Police tells Commandant Lassard that he can’t throw anyone out (as it would be bad for publicity), but needs to make them quit. From this central conflict has sprouted the Police Academy franchise! In this first movie, where the family-friendly groove the series got into was not yet in effect, there’s boobs and swearing, perhaps even a smidgeon of mild drug use; but there’s a couple of extra threads that conspire to show that 1984 was not quite as modern and forward-thinking as you might have assumed.


Is racism bad when the villain is doing it? One of the two evil recruits says, on arrival at the academy, “there’s a lot of spades here”; then later on, when Timid Recruit runs over his toes during a driving test, he screams “you dumb fat jigaboo!” Now, he’s immediately punished by Hightower, but it really shouldn’t just be the gigantic black guy who’s upset by this sort of talk. I know, light comedy and all, but I can’t imagine black people who didn’t have freakishly strong and violent friends were all that thrilled about watching the “decent” white cast just let this happen around them. And the words themselves! Straight out of some 70s thriller, not a mainstream broad comedy.


But the most famous, the image that will pop into your head if you ask them about “Police Academy” being dodgy, is homophobia and the “Blue Oyster” bar. When the evil recruits are trying to find out where the others are having a party, Mahoney directs them to the Blue Oyster, where they’re immediately trapped / surrounded by a room full of stereotypical leather daddies. Forced to dance with the gents all night – with the “dancing” clearly standing for something a little more earthy – they’re seen the next morning, clearly badly shaken and insisting nothing happened. How to even process it? Okay, the gay guys aren’t effete pushovers, so at the very least I guess there’s that…but it’s the implication that they live entirely apart from the rest of society (no matter what time of day or night, the Blue Oyster is full to capacity) and are solely interested in raping whoever comes through the door – none of them have a word of dialogue, of course.


There’s a reference to the Blue Oyster in the recent “Lavalantula”, as Guttenberg says “I liked that place” upon hearing news it’d closed down. It feels like a very subtle apology, but…I don’t know. You can still enjoy the movie by ignoring that section, I suppose. But these two things – racist and homophobic elements when there’s no need for either – make it feel a lot older than 1984, like bizarre relics of the 60s and 70s, and are so old-fashioned that I imagine most kids watching this for the first time would have no idea what they were meant.


Even as annoyed as I was with those segments, they’re small parts of what is still a great film (bear in mind I’ve loved this since I was a kid, other opinions are definitely acceptable). There’s a reason it spawned so many sequels and is still beloved today, to the extent that, for example, “Tackleberry” is now a standard word in the private security industry for a gun nut); the jokes come thick and fast and are of a pretty high quality. They lucked into a great leading man with Steve Guttenberg, and while none of the other cast members are anything like as strong as him, they fill their mostly one-dimensional roles with gusto. All, that is, except Michael Winslow as Jones, the human sound-effect device. His part was written specifically for him after the producers saw his stage act, and they did a pretty poor job of integrating him into the movie – think of the number of times he’s just doing sounds for the benefit of nobody. There’s one scene where he’s doing all the sound effects for a video game, holding a pretend controller…and there’s no-one there. He comes across as a lunatic who’s followed Mahoney to police academy because he’s got nothing better to do.


So far, the series stopped in 1994, with a TV series in the late 90s. Plans to reboot it have been going on for over a decade, but I’m sort of glad they never came to fruition. Firstly, there’s a police comedy on TV right now which, while excellent, is doing poorly in the ratings (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”); and secondly, police comedies are a tough sell with the many many stories of police brutality and even murder by police officers. A knockabout comedy in this style would probably not go down all that well.


Rating: thumbs up


Amazon Women On The Moon (1987)


This is one for the “undisputed classic if you saw it at the time” pile.

Ten years after directing the fairly similar “The Kentucky Fried Movie”, John Landis was the driving force behind this odd film, a series of sketches linked by someone idly flicking through late-night TV channels. The central sketch, with the same name as the film, a parody of 50s sci-fi like “Cat Women Of The Moon” appears dotted throughout, making 5 or so appearances.

That’s all the background you need, really. As well as Landis, there are several other directors credited, including Joe Dante and Peter Horton; and the cast list is packed with big names of the time- Michelle Pfeiffer, Steve Guttenberg, Rosanna Arquette, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Preston, Ed Begley Jr, Griffin Dunne, Henry Silva and David Alan Grier; along with names with either cult appeal or who would go on to bigger things – Paul Bartel, Joe Pantoliano, and amazingly Bryan Cranston, whose role as “Paramedic 1” in one sketch is so small that no screen-grabs of it are on the internet. Or I’m just looking in the wrong place, whatever. Time to pop the DVD in and see if I can find his face:


(he’s in a section of the funeral sketch which was cut)


Ultimately, this lives and dies like any other sketch show or film (although it’s probably the greatest of all the sketch comedy films, such as they are), not on the cleverness of its central concept but on how funny the sketches are. And at least part of that depends on how old you were, and when it was, when you first watched it. I was in my teens, in the early 90s, when I first watched this, and most of those names were a lot bigger then. Seeing Michelle Pfeiffer in the missing baby sketch was extra-hilarious because she was that blonde ice queen in all those great thriller movies; and Princess Leia messing about in her underwear? Although, the Rosanna Arquette / Steve Guttenberg blind date sketch is maybe a little funnier nowadays, given how much you can find out about someone before a first date even begins.


I don’t want to just list my favourite sketches, but the one which almost single-handedly justifies the existence of the film is the story of Harvey Pitnik. From a film review show about him, to his death to the celebrity roast at his funeral (a group of famous comedians of yesteryear tell appalling jokes about him), it’s both clever and hilarious, and at the time was wonderfully dark for a mainstream comedy.


The main sketch, a not-all-that-loving pastiche of 50s sci-fi, is used well throughout, and although some of the sketches are slight misfires, it still holds up surprisingly well. The one thing I’d forgotten from my youth was just how many boobs are in this film. I hope that teenage me was only watching it for the high quality comedy.