Cold Steel

January 30, 2013

coldsteelCold Steel is a throwaway action flick, given some weight by the presence of a few good actors. Almost every idea in the film comes off as half-baked, and even the action sequences are strange.

The opening sequence promises a little something. We watch as two cops grab a container marked for the bomb squad, throw it in their car, and race across town through a series of stunts. They end by racing into a bar, where they have just won a speed contest for a Christmas party; there was no bomb involved at all.

Pretty good chase, and a pretty good twist. But this leads nowhere, like almost everything else in the movie.

One of the cops is a hothead (Brad Davis, from Midnight Express) whose father is murdered in a robbery of his jewelry store. This prompts the required scene in which a superior demands the wronged cop’s badge and gun, saying that he is “too close to the case.” Naturally, there’s no doubt Davis will continue to pursue the killers on his own.

Davis’s life is soothed by the presence of a woman he picks up in a bar one night. She’s played by Sharon Stone, an attractive actress who always seems to make terrible movies (she was the female lead in those excruciating Richard Chamberlain King Solomon’s Mines films).

Davis is being stalked by a bad guy (Jonathan Banks)—”They call me Iceman,” he says—and a stooge (Adam Ant) who are completing a bizarre revenge. Very bizarre, in fact; when the reason is revealed in a flashback near the film’s end, the incident that prompts this revenge is so lame it renders Banks’s ferocity unbelievable.

But then the movie has lots of problems, and loose ends. What to make of the implied relationship between Davis and a barmaid, or even the supposed recklessness of Davis’s lifestyle? None of this goes anywhere.

When the film, directed by Dorothy Ann Puzo, tries to be different, the consequences are mixed. A big car chase ends up in an auto speedway, where the incredible stunts are laughable. And when a dope dealer who operates a pet store is done in by a villain who shoves a poisonous fish in his mouth, it’s unintentional humor time, as is the other fish-feeding scene, when the supposedly hard-living, hard-loving Davis plies his new girlfriend with sushi. These really must be the ’80s.

First published in the Herald, December 15, 1987

Nope—this one doesn’t ring the vaguest bell. But I saw it, and there it is. IMDb reports that this movie was AFI-funded and the only directing credit in film for Director Puzo, who is, yes, the daughter of Mario Puzo.

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Action Jackson

April 30, 2012

Sgt. Jericho “Action” Jackson has a police officer’s badge, a 1966 Chevrolet Impala convertible, and a chest the size of Mount Rushmore (and just as neatly carved).

He uses all of these things in his job, which is running down criminals and basically scaring the bejeebers out of anybody who gets in his way.

He also has a degree from Harvard Law School. (Ahem.) Well, he doesn’t use that as much as his chest, but then he seems to prefer the hands-on approach: the legal niceties can wait.

He’s also the hero of Action Jackson, a new movie that clearly would like to establish this character as a sequel-worthy guy who could stretch well into the Roman numerals. Strange thing is, he might just do it. Surprise: Action Jackson is an unexpectedly fast and funny movie.

Action is played by Carl Weathers, the fellow who kept coinciding with the business end of Sylvester Stallone’s gloves in the Rocky movies. Weathers is, to put it delicately, quite a load, and his comedic talent has been heretofore quiet. But Robert Reneau’s script contains just enough clever bits to punch up the character, and Weathers has a sufficiently light touch with the one-liner.

Action, a Detroit cop, has a problem: a really despicable car manufacturer (played by the Poltergeist dad, Craig T. Nelson, with plenty of sarcastic snarl). It’s not that he makes bad cars; no, this guy is killing the auto-union officials who are getting in his way.

Nelson has a wife (Sharon Stone) who is innocent about almost everything. He also has a mistress (Vanity) who is innocent about almost nothing. They’re both in danger. Action tries to get to the man through these two, but can only manage to save one of them.

The plot exists, of course, as an excuse for a few car chases and some spectacular explosions. But to give the film its due, there’s some efficient exposition and a few good secondary characters who are sketched in colorful strokes, like the gravel-voiced ex-pug who manages a rundown hotel, or the hairdresser named Dee who speaks in heavily alliterative phrases prompted by her own first name: “Always delighted to help a detective, dear.”

Director Craig R. Baxley provides the obligatory action stuff, but he also gives Action Jackson a hefty measure of good B-movie bounce. Any director who cuts away from an immolating bad guy to a close-up of meat burning on the grill at a swanky barbecue is clearly enjoying himself.

First published in the Herald, February 1988

Baxley was an experienced stuntman, and is still going strong as a TV director. Vanity, I am sorry to say, did not become the star that Sharon Stone became, but go figure. The Action Jackson franchise did not ignite with this film, so the character wanders forgotten movie byways with Remo Williams and Jake Speed.


Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold

November 22, 2011

Richard Chamberlain debuted as the swashbuckling adventurer Allan Quatermain in 1985’s King Solomon’s Mines, a spoofy version of the H. Rider Haggard classic as retooled for the post-Indiana Jones crowd. The world held its breath for the release of the promised sequel, which had in fact been filmed at the same time as Mines.

Cannon Films kept scheduling the movie, then postponing it, perhaps hoping audiences would forget about the first film, a real stinker and a box-office dud. Now they’ve let the other shoe drop—a leaden jungle boot, by all appearances—and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is upon us.

It turns out that the sequel is a notch better than the first film, though that is a largely irrelevant distinction when comparing achievements this negligible. The opening of the movie finds Quatermain (Chamberlain) in Africa preparing to marry his honey (Sharon Stone) from the previous film when a man stumbles out of the jungle babbling a tale of a hidden city with streets paved with gold, populated by white natives (the latter a racial phenomenon that never is explained).

Of course Quatermain must find the city, and of course his woman must tag and tease along. Screenwriter Gene Quintano and director Gary Nelson throw in broad assortment of complications in their path, including snakes, wormy beasts, collapsing floors (lots of those), cannibals, and a craven Indian holy man who looks, speaks and acts like Sam Jaffe in Gunga Din, and presumably has “comic relief” stitched across his forehead, which remains thankfully covered with a turban.

Not much else to say, except that the film provides work for some fading character actors: Henry Silva doing his high-cheekboned ritual as the evil ruler of the Lost City, James Earl Jones embarrassingly relegated to wrestling with a lion, and the spectacularly built Cassandra Peterson (better known as “Elvira”) as the evil priestess, whose role has no dialogue until she exclaims “Oooh!” just before she is dropped into a vat of molten gold.

That the film is a bit easier to take than King Solomon’s Mines is due to the slightly straighter approach—there’s nothing quite as awful here as Quatermain’s observation in Mines, upon being dumped into a cannibal stew pot, that “At least we’re the main course.”

Chamberlain, who is not comfortable as the bearer of wit, struggles as before. But he can relax, and return to his TV miniseries successes; no one is going to call on him to do this sort of thing again.

First published in the Herald, February 4, 1987

Some strange careers came together for this dismal experience: director Nelson was a TV helmer with a huge list of credits, including, for the bigscreen, the first Freaky Friday and The Black Hole; screenwriter Quintano wrote and starred in the 3-D madness known as Comin’ at Ya! And, of course, Chamberlain, who really seemed like just absolutely the wrong guy to work on this, except you can’t really think of anyone who would’ve been the right guy to work on this.