Andy Sidaris season! Do Or Die (1991)

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As much as I’ve enjoyed the movies of Andy Sidaris so far, there’s always a vague sense that things could go off the rails in terms of the sexual politics and rather strange plots. It’s with “Do Or Die” that this happens, which is both loads of fun and really quite annoying.

One for the “fun” column is this movie gets going immediately. There’s literally zero preamble, as no-one’s starting on the Sidaris train with his 8th movie  and you’re expected to know who super-sexy special agents Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) are. They’re approached by some beefy hombres and taken outside to meet villain Kane. Pat Morita! The genial star of “The Karate Kid” and a few seasons of “Happy Days” is in full-on villain mode here, and he really wants revenge on the ladies for the events of the previous movie. I think. He says of the two “your skills are legendary” which is being a little generous – I mean, they keep stumbling onto drug-running operations staffed by absolute incompetents and killing them, if that’s what you mean. Anyway, his plan is, he’s going to send 6 groups of assassins after them, make a bit of a game out of it.
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And that’s really all the plot. Donna and Nicole go to the hot tub first, because of course, then call the head of their still-unnamed federal agency, Bruce (Bruce Penhall), and he assembles the troops. Most of them are the same actors and characters from “Guns” – lounge / country singer Edy (Cynthia Brimhall), terrible shot Shane Abilene (Michael Shane), and that blond guy whose name I never write down and who’s difficult to spot from the IMDB page. Add in a woman who definitely wasn’t just hired because of her monstrous chest, Pandora Peaks as Atlanta Lee, and you’ve got a team.

The best thing in this movie, by a million miles, is the computer game that Kane has created to track the progress of his six assassin teams. It consists of a list of the assassin teams and a small box called the “Death Zone” where the names are moved to when they fail and die. Helpfully, Kane’s programmer added a little animation, like a mini-firework display, to show that people are dead. It’s used regularly, as well, because the vast majority of this film is – team moves around; local assassination team is dispatched; team beats them extremely easily; two team members have sex while they really should be on guard duty; sad Kane and his sad assistant look at another team name move into the Death Zone. Repeated six times.
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There’s also a classic low-budget movie trick on display, which Sidaris has used before, christened by the guys at Red Letter Media as “shoot the carnival”. Basically, if you want to make your budget look bigger, find some small town with a large public event and ask if you can film it. Have your cast wandering about in the background and it looks like you paid for all this stuff! This movie’s event is a quarter-sized remote control vehicle display event (to be fair, it does look quite good fun), and he even uses a device from it for his finale, showing a fine and inventive mind.

I guess I ought to get onto the sexism. I’ve been pretty kind to Sidaris up to now, as even in movies starring Playboy models with rampant female nudity, there’s been a sense that the women are in control and are having just as good a time as the men. Here, however, there’s none of that. The federal agency they work for keeps hiring more men, and Sidaris keeps giving them more of the plot, which culminates in a fairly appalling scene where good guy Erik Estrada (he played a bad guy in “Guns”) picks Donna off a bike and gets on it himself, because women! She replies with her list of kills and Presidential commendations, and all Erik does is make a condescending quip and drive off, while blond guy laughs at the idea of women being in any way equal to men. Of course, Erik ends up with Donna, because women just need putting in their place.
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Okay, the fight at the end features just Donna and Nicole fighting the last two assassins, but all they do is nearly beat them and then run off, a routine which is repeated three or four times, the final kill being left to the device that Erik made up. Although I will never get tired of people so delighted that they’ve just killed two people that they high-five.

Sidaris likes his broad, Dukes Of Hazzard style humour (the fake redneck assassins are a particular highlight), and there’s plenty of it on display here. It’s loose and fun, although there’s less of it than before, while there’s a lot more sex scenes, indicating our director was steering more towards the erotic thriller market than he was the redneck action comedies of before (okay, the differences are pretty slight, but noticeable the more you watch). I want to like his movies, they’re loose and easy on the eye and everyone looks like they’re having a good time, but not so much here, none of the women even look like they’re enjoying themselves. Less of the neanderthal sexual politics next time please, Andy.
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Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Andy Sidaris season! Malibu Express (1985)

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Welcome to the wonderful world of Andy Sidaris! Making his name as a TV sports director, winning several Emmys for his work on the Olympics, and directing “Wide World Of Sports” for 25 years – if you’re wondering who pioneered “focus on a pretty girl in the audience of a sporting event”, it’s him – he also made a few movies in the 70s. He really went for it, though, starting in the mid 80s with a series of action movies usually starring former Playboy or Penthouse starlets, and usually filmed in Hawaii. It’s this series, collected in the “Girls, Guns and G-Strings” DVD box set, that we’ll be reviewing, and we started off with an absolute gem.

 

I feel I ought to get this out of the way first, but enjoyment of the movies of Andy Sidaris does not indicate agreement with what they do. Their occasionally sub-Neanderthal views of women and gay men are to be laughed at, not with, and provided you’ve got that fixed in your head (and have a high tolerance for nudity) I think there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy. There’s a sense of laid-back happiness about the whole enterprise, with a willingness to mock its own central character and plenty of weird little interludes.

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This is also apparently a remake of a previous Andy Sidaris movie, made in 1973, called “Stacey”. From what little information I can gather, that seems less sexist than this one, with the central character in that being split into two characters for this, with the woman remaining big-breasted eye candy and the guy getting to do all the actual plot stuff. But I digress! The star of this movie is Cody Abilene (Darby Hinton), a smooth-talking, handsome private investigator who we quickly establish, in quite a good running gag, can’t shoot worth a damn. We first see him with his case, full of gun, bullets, earplugs and fancy shooting glasses, he sets up…and misses the target every time, actually damaging the firing range mechanism with his last shot. We also learn he’s absolutely irresistible to women, and that is another message that gets hammered home (as it were) time and again. He actually refers to himself as getting raped a little later on when he goes to buy a new car and the owner of the car lot immediately shows him her breasts and demands he have sex with her; this is far from the stupidest thing this movie does.

 

The plot honestly feels like Sidaris had three unfinished scripts starring the same character and just decided to mash them together. Cody is friends with race-car driver June Khnockers (yes, that’s the correct spelling), and is helping her with preparing for a big race…only when he drives away, June and her friend look on admiringly and talk about what a fantastic driver he is…er, June, you’re a professional! Sorry, I can’t get sidetracked this early on, there’s a heck of a lot to talk about. Then that plotline gets dropped for about an hour and he starts a relationship with the beautiful Contessa Luciana (Sybil Danning), after she hires him to go and look after her friend Lady Lillian? This bit really made no sense. Lillian is rich and has tons of people living at her house, including a nephew, his wife, another woman whose relationship to the rest I totally missed, and the obviously bad-guy butler/chauffeur/house-boy, Shane. Pretty much by accident, he stumbles upon a plot to sell American computers to the communists, which is also being investigated by the female police officer he’s gym buddies with. I think. Shane owes the guy involved in selling the computers a ton of money (gambling debts) so decides to have sex with everyone in the house and blackmail them all. Yes, even the husband, who’s the worst-closeted gay guy ever (he gets done up in very good drag at one point and goes to visit his friend at a gay bar). Shane’s set-up involves enormous cameras that anyone could spot, and recording onto Betamax tape! Oh, and one of the villains hires Art “Commandant Mauser from Police Academy” Metrano and his two body-building sidekicks to kill Cody, which doesn’t go much of anywhere either.

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Cody Abilene mentions his Dad a heck of a lot, a Dad who never shows up at any point despite apparently being around; there’s also a pile of scenes with the Buffingtons, a family of rednecks who keep wanting to race Cody in whatever car he’s driving at the time, and are the most amazing group of stereotypes you ever saw. And I’m still leaving stuff out – this movie is absolutely packed with incident, and none of it is boring (like Cody using a porn line operator as his phone service). It’s certainly possible that Sidaris is laying groundwork for the rest of his cinematic universe – I notice his next movie has an “Abilene” in it, and a lot of his later films apparently feature the spy organisation L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies – but I’m really not sure. I think he was just having fun, and it’s really refreshing to see a movie which never sticks with anything long enough to bore the audience.

 

The references to the one gay character as “queer” or “faggot” would be more troubling if they weren’t coming from the mouth of the movie’s main villain (who’d already had sex with him); although Cody, when he sees him in dull drag, sniggers before complimenting his legs. It’s the amount of nudity and use of women as objects that ought to be the prime criticism of any sensible person, though. Virtually every woman in the movie throws themselves at Cody – the two gorgeous young women in the boat next to him, the woman who hires him, random women on the street, and so on – June Khnockers (never get tired of writing that name) strips off and tries to force herself on him while they’re involved in a high speed chase with a helicopter! Apart from Lady Lilian, every woman in this movie, at least once, strips off and insists on sex with the nearest available man, and they’re all, of course, hugely endowed. There’s also the casual reference to one woman as “body by Fisher, brains by Mattel” that had my wife gasping in shock. But it’s so relentless, that to me it passed through sexism and ended up in some weird new land. “Too daft to laugh at”, as the local saying goes.

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But the wonderful cherry on the crazy cake is the ending. After a series of events which don’t exactly wrap things up, we’re treated to a scene on Cody’s boat where he explains the plot to the remaining cast members! Sidaris perhaps looked at his footage, went “well, this is confusing, even to me” and then revealed the “twist”, which wasn’t even hinted at in the events up to that point. Marvellous!

 

I really enjoyed “Malibu Express” (which was an at-best confusing title, too). Hinton is a fine slightly nonplussed leading man, the ladies all play it broad, and a good time is had by all. Films this fast-paced, funny and odd don’t come along very often, and according to Sidaris fans there’s even better films to come. Pick up the “Girls, Guns And G-Strings” box set and watch along with me, why don’t you?

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Deathstalker (1983)

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From its first scene, this film sets itself apart from other sword-and-sorcery films of the era. When we meet Deathstalker, he encounters a guy trying to steal his horse; and a group of troll-looking fellas who are rescuing a kidnapped woman and tell Deathstalker they have no problem with him. Who should he attack?

If you said “first, the guys who look like good guys, despite their appearance; then second, the guy trying to steal his horse; then as an encore, stripping the kidnapped woman and almost having sex with her” then your power of predicting the oddities of these films is very strong indeed. Deathstalker is a bit of a slacker, a modern character trapped in this odd fantasy world, and his adventure is suitably strange.

There’s an evil wizard called Munkar, he has two of the three super-powered Thingies, and Deathstalker comes into possession of the third one fairly early on. Munkar is having a tournament, “Enter The Dragon”-style, and all the best fighters are going, to win the prize of being Munkar’s heir. Really, he’s just doing it to kill off all the best fighters and get the third Thingie. Deathstalker picks up two friends along the way – Oghris, in a pretty sweet half-mail-shirt outfit that shows off his six-pack; and Kaira, the beautiful blonde fighter whose outfit is effectively nothing, like a string that goes under her breasts to show them off.

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This counts as fully dressed for her

Deathstalker wakes Kaira up one night by feeling her breasts, so they have sex and then he pretty much never speaks to her again. This is a perfect summation of this film’s attitude towards women, really – they are almost all naked at all times, and they exist to pleasure the men…and nothing else. Kaira is the only one who does anything, and she’s still just there to fawn over the main character; the rest of them are in a harem and are desperate to be with the assembled tournament fighters. To say this film has a rather neanderthal take on sexual politics is an understatement. I mean, there are a lot of boobs in this film – I occasionally make the joke that some films feel like porn with all the porn taken out, but this feels like porn with everything but the penetration left in. Still, I can imagine the teen boys this was aimed at being quite pleased with its existence in the 1980s, and that’s all the producers were bothered about.

Thanks to the low budget, the many magical transformations in this movie are dealt with off-camera. The best example of this is Munkar turning one of his underlings into a woman to go and trick Deathstalker, so bits of his body keep changing while the camera keeps swapping position on him; but it becomes a bit cheesy by the end.

If you can ignore the way women are treated in this film, it’s pretty funny. Deathstalker is quite a modern movie hero for a film from 1983, and there’s a decent sense of humour running through it. The actual plot is pretty rotten, mind – the tournament is represented by a few half-hearted montages, and you never really get much of an indication why Deathstalker is doing the things he does. But it’s short (a little over 75 minutes) and if you really like boobs, you’ll find few other films that cater to you so completely.

Get ready for some sequels! Part 2 is directed by our old friend Jim Wynorski, so I’ll say that’ll be pretty okay, then there’s a 3 and 4 which I’ll guess will be increasingly humourless and cheap. Meet me back here when I’ve reviewed all four to see if I’m right!

Rating: thumbs up

POSTSCRIPT: Lana Clarkson, the woman who played Kaira, was the woman who Phil Spector murdered in 2003, I just discovered. I’m sure these reviews have featured other murder victims, but this one bummed me out.