Ratboy/Firewalker/Eye of the Tiger

ratboyOffbeat barely begins to describe the new film Ratboy, which is about a little boy, apparently half-rat, who is exploited and abused by the greed of others.

It’s an entirely unexpected Hollywood production – how, you  wonder, did this film get made? Well, part of the reason is surely that Sandra Locke, the star and first-time director, is the longtime co-star and consort of Clint Eastwood, whose Malpaso Productions produced the movie.

It’s still surprising that such a clearly non-blockbuster little moral fable could find the light of day. But Locke’s achievement is not merely in production. Her direction consistently brings a human touch, and often finds the humor of the often pathetic situations.

She plays a greedy loser who happens to acquire the ratboy (S. L. Baird, makeup by Rick Baker) and decides to give him a big media buildup: press conferences, Hollywood parties, a shot on the Merv Griffin show. The whole progression of the story has strong affinities to King Kong, as well as the obvious Beauty and the Beast angle.

The script by Rob Thompson (a writer originally from Seattle) is sharp and funny. The only fault with the movie is that it makes its points very early on and never deepens them; as nice and as well-produced as this story is, it exists almost wholly on a simple surface level. Locke’s story­ telling is able, but it is without real mystery that the subject matter requires.

*

JN2017-01986There’s certainly no mystery about the cloddish action movies that turned up over the weekend. Firewalker brings us the first outright Chuck Norris comedy, a thought that ought to fill all sensible people with trepidation. Some, of course, would argue that man of Norris’ straight-faced shoot-em-ups had a goodly portion of laughs, albeit unintentional.

Firewalker isn’t unendurable, it just isn’t very good. Norris is teamed with Lou Gossett; they’re a couple of adventurers who go treasure-hunting with a woman (Melody Anderson) who knows the location of a secret Central American cache of gold.

The usual Indiana Jones gunplay and horseplay ensues, with Norris about as leaden to the task as you’d expect. The direction of J. Lee Thompson (Guns of Navarone) matches Norris’ comedic touch.

*

eyeoftigerEye of the Tiger, at least, plays it honest. This is a straight-ahead revenge melodrama, very much of the Walking Tall school. The star is Gary Busey, whose career has been spinning out of control since The Buddy Holly Story. Busey recently lost a lot of weight and has found his edge again; here he plays an ex-con trying to go straight in his small hometown. Problem is, a gang of bikers have taken control during his prison stay, and Busey makes the mistake of crossing them.

A bunch of plot leads to the overblown and predictable showdown between Busey and his biker nemesis (William Smith) as well as the corrupt sheriff (Seymour Cassel). Under Richard C. Sarafian’s direction, it’s all dumb and plodding. The sole redeeming factor is Busey, who contributes some urgency. It’s good to have this electric actor back.

First published in the Herald, November 26, 1986

A triple! And what a batch for the holiday season. Ratboy didn’t led to a few other directing gigs for Locke, and a few lawsuits, too. Screenwriter Rob Thompson (whose breakthrough was the script for Hearts of the West) went on to produced and direct for shows such as Northern Exposure and Monk. The star of the film was former Mouseketeer and H. R. Pufnstuf performer Sharon Baird, a curious choice. For Firewalker director J. Lee Thompson, Firewalker came in the midst of doing a bunch of Charles Bronson pictures, and came from Cannon Films. I am sure Eye of the Tiger has its fans, because, I mean, look at it. Richard C. Sarafian was Robert Altman’s brother-in-law, and did Vanishing Point and lots of 60s TV.

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