Turk 182!

January 2, 2013

turk182Turk 182! is one of those inscrutable titles that film studios hope will prove intriguing enough to lure the ticket-buying public. That’s what they think, anyway.

The movie behind the title turns out to be an ordinary entry in the reliably popular (and populist) little-guy-against-the-system genre. These plots usually spring out of some injustice that our hero needs to make right, which gives the filmmakers the chance to whip up some Pavlovian rage and send the audience into a good heavy-lathered sweat.

Well…Turk 1982! doesn’t perceptibly raise the perspiration level. It punches the right buttons in getting its anti-Establishment points across, but the proceedings are too automatic to lift it above the level of a programmer.

The injustice here centers on an off-duty New York firefighter (Robert Urich) who, while having a beer, sees a fire taking place across the street. He rushes over, fights his way through the blaze to save a little girl’s life, then accidentally falls through a window and racks himself up pretty seriously.

Cut to six months later: The fireman’s physical wounds have healed, but he’s off the force and ineligible for his pension benefits because he was under the influence while performing the rescue mission. Enter his shiftless younger brother (Timothy Hutton), who revs himself up with righteous anger and takes the case to city hall.

When the slimy mayor (Robert Culp) won’t listen to him, Hutton papers the walls of the mayor’s office with his brother’s benefit-rejection letters. Then he figures if he goes on a spree of graffiti-perpetrating, he might just get the attention of the powers-that-be.

He aims his barbs at the mayor, to embarrass him into examining his brother’s case. He plants a mysterious signature (Turk 182) on highly visible landmarks—a graffiti-proof subway car that the mayor is dedicating personally; on the posterior of the city’s mounted police; on the huge scoreboard at a Giants game, where the mayor hopes to pick up a campaign boost and gets booted instead.

The unknown Turk 182 becomes a local hero, and the mayor sends some cops (Peter Boyle and Darren McGavin) out to track him down.

It’s not a bad idea, but let’s face it, it’s not particularly great either. The execution of this idea, under the loose (and sometimes agreeably funky) direction of Bob (Porky’s) Clark, is similarly wishy-washy. There’s the perfunctory love interest (Kim Cattrall) for our sensitive hero, and the perfunctory tender scenes of brudderly love, etc.

Hutton is okay; he clearly enjoys playing rebellious roles, and he’s effective in them. One note to the filmmakers: in Hutton’s last scene, when he is supposed to be triumphant, his face is bathed in stark lighting from below. Such is the topography of Hutton’s face that this lighting emphasizes his resemblance to a weasel, which is probably not the effect the filmmakers wanted to get for this outlaw hero in his ultimate victory.

First published in the Herald, February 1985

This was maybe the most mystifying of the mystifying run of movies Hutton made after winning an Oscar for Ordinary People and presumably having some heat in Hollywood (see also Iceman and The Falcon and the Snowman). It is very much of the Eighties, even if the basic idea seems like a Seventies stick-it-to-the-man leftover.

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The Ice Pirates

June 8, 2012

Somewhere within the 90 minutes of silliness that comprises The Ice Pirates is a halfway-decent science-fiction plot. But the movie plays so broadly you won’t find much time being spent developing anything like a storyline. It would get in the way of the goofy gags.

If you did search for the plot, it would sound like this: In the world of the future, water is almost nonexistent, and more precious than oil. A bunch of hooligan pirates trade in the stuff, but they are sidetracked from their standard dastardly deeds when they steal a princess (Mary Crosby) during one of their pickups.

Our heroes (Robert Urich and Michael D. Roberts) get caught, and are scheduled to be subject to a new painless operation whereby they will be turned into eunuchs, and thus slaves. At the end of the assembly line process, they look like Liberace groupies—white pompadours, tight silver lamé jumpsuits, high, squeaky voices.

Luckily, the princess has intervened, and halted the machine at crucial moments. They’re just pretending to be eunuchs (not an easy trick in a tight silver lamé jumpsuit). It seems the princess is searching for her missing father (has there ever been a princess without a missing father?), and can use the help of the ice pirates to journey to the much-fabled, but never discovered, seventh planet, where they say water covers most of the surface of the orb.

If you can predict from this that 1) the princess will be reunited with her father, 2) the fabled planet will turn out to be our own Earth, and most importantly, 3) that the princess and the pirate leader will start panting after each other pretty heavily, well, you can go to the head of the nebula. All will turn out well.

So what’s wrong with the movie? Most everything, really. The special effects are crude, the characters are cardboard, and the forward motion is haphazard. Of course, it’s supposed to be cartoonish, but good cartoons have a basis, if not always in reality, then in some kind of logic.

The worst thing is, The Ice Pirates wants to be funny, but it winds up falling flat on its tongue-in-cheek. The thing is being sold, via a series of teaser ads, as a kind of Airplane! for the Star Wars audience, but its humor is of a coarser kind. Airplane! got laughs by playing everything with a straight face; in The Ice Pirates, characters all but wink at the camera.

The tone is low camp, which encourages some of the actors—especially Ron Perlman, who was one of the apes in Quest for Fire—to go off on the occasional improvisation. There’s also a swishy planet lord who is decapitated but nevertheless continues to supply a stream of one-liners. (A number of things go unexplained in this film.) And then there is this thing that jumps out of an egg, scuttles across the floor a lot, and attaches itself to people. It’s called a space herpes, and we will not discuss it here.

First published in the Herald, March 20, 1984

I don’t remember this movie. Yes somehow I feel confident in standing by this review. I just want to point out that the cast also includes pre-Oscar Anjelica Huston, John Matuszak, John Carradine, and Bruce Vilanch.