The Night Before

December 11, 2012

nightbefore2_5“I was supposed to have her home by midnight. Instead, I sold her to a pimp.” Such is the existential lament of the high-school hero of The Night Before, a nerd who’s lost his date on prom night.

The only reason the popular cheerleader (Lori Laughlin) is going out with the school pencil-neck (Keanu Reeves) is that she lost a bet, and is stuck with his company. But the nightmare doesn’t really begin until they’re deep into the inner city, having taken a few wrong turns along the way. There, with unerring dimwittedness, Reeves manages to misplace his car, his wallet, and his date.

At a club called the Rat’s Nest, Reeves has been served a Mickey, in the form of a tequila and ginger ale. In this state, he unknowingly sells the cheerleader for $1,500 to a pimp (Trinidad Silva). A bystander notes that Reeves should’ve held out for at least $3,000. The rest of the movie has Reeves trying to recover the girl before she is sold into white slavery and shipped off to Morocco.

This movie shoots itself in the foot right away, since it begins with the night already half over and Reeves piecing together the preceding events in flashback. This device effectively halts any healthy narrative development, not that there is much to begin with.

Director and co-writer Thom Eberhardt piles on the bad news for our hero, but the inner-city disasters pale next to the recent model for such nightmare comedies, After Hours.

Reeves, who was the kid with a conscience in River’s Edge, gives an utterly graceless performance here, although that appears to be what the director wanted. Laughlin spends the entire movie in an attitude of perpetual (and occasionally amusing) disdain. The only performer to strike an interesting note is Theresa Saldana, who plays a good-natured lady of the evening. Other than that, this film is best consigned to that burgeoning population of films that are soon to be seen at a video store near you.

First published in the Herald, March 15, 1988

Eberhardt had directed Night of the Comet in ’84. Trinidad Silva should be fondly remembered for his ongoing role as the gang leader in “Hill Street Blues”; he died in a car accident a few months after The Night Before came out. Saldana had, earlier in the decade, been attacked and seriously wounded by a deranged man. Nobody remembers this movie.

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The Evil That Men Do

June 21, 2012

Fans of late-night movies have fun following the early career of a fellow named Charles Buchinsky (sometimes Buchinski), a striking supporting actor who hangs around the edges of scenes in program fare from the 1950s. He made B-movies, including Westerns, and his Slavic features were used for comedic effect when he played a milk-drinking tough guy in the Tracy-Hepburn movie Pat and Mike.

In the mid-50s he changed his named, and what a change it brought about. Charles Bronson. Grrr. Suddenly, he was one of The Magnificent Seven riding off into a squinty-eyed sunset. Bronson was to become even bigger in the 1970s, when his action films grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, and he was a gigantic box-office draw all over the world.

Bronson has made some good movies—such as Once Upon a Time in the West and The Great Escape—but he’s been coasting for years. He’s no longer as popular in the United States, but overseas his name still brings ’em in, and he continues to make movies with violent (especially revenge-related) themes.

The Evil That Men Do is formula Bronson all the way. He’s a professional killer lured out of retirement when a friend is murdered. This time, the fish is a big one: an evil man known as “The Doctor” (Joseph Maher) whose work and pleasure is in torturing and murdering innocent people.

Bronson goes undercover to what seems to be Guatemala (the film was shot in Mexico), accompanied by his friend’s widow (Theresa Saldana), who poses as his wife. She’s always saying things such as, “Why is he so cold? Nothing affects him,” about Bronson—which he finds out, because he can read lips. But he doesn’t care, because he’s cold and nothing affects him.

The Doctor is surrounded by vicious bodyguards, all of whom are destroyed by Bronson. Not too many surprises here, since we know how the film will turn out, but there is a kinky first for a Bronson film: One of these creeps (Raymond St. Jacques) propositions Charlie and Saldana, who pose as a sexually adventurous couple. Bronson even puts his wrinkled paw in the dude’s hand and proposes a threesome.

Charles Bronson? In a threesome?

Thanks heavens, nothing weird happens, because before the guy can get out his leather socks, Bronson wastes him good.

The rest is standard fare: Bronson speaks little, and much blood is shed. Director J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Naravone) keeps things moving at a snail’s pace, which really drags down a film with a dusty Mexican setting.

What gives the film a strange feeling is the presence of Theresa Saldana, who had a role in Raging Bull. A couple of years ago, she was stabbed on the street by one of those psychos who become obsessed with a media image. That’s the kind of scenario that might crop up in a Bronson film, and somehow her casting here—although she’s perfectly okay in the role—lends an uncomfortable eeriness to some aspects of the movie. Unfortunately, though hardly unexpectedly, that’s the only interesting thing going on here.

First published in the Herald, September 29, 1984

For me this one started the run of unbelievably moribund Bronson pictures in the 1980s, including three Death Wish sequels. Driving up to the Aurora Village theater to see one of these on the Friday afternoon it opened was a truly numbing experience, in every way.