In the mid-eighties, Albert Pyun was known as only an obscure and talentless maker of sci-fi cheapies. But then the Cannon Group — the Go-Go Boys — gave Pyun his (not very) big break, his chance to bust out into the (slightly more) mainstream. The result was a pair of thrillers: Dangerously Close and Down Twisted. Both are produced by Golan and Globus, directed by Pyun, feature Carey Lowell as the female lead... and have small parts for one Tony Kienitz, who would later write a book about vegetable gardening. (The second one also includes, in another tiny role, the screen debut of Courteney Cox.)
(Tony once told me that he quit acting because after his looks went, the only part he could get was to play a retard. That kinda tells you how Hollywood logic works, don’t it?)
So. How did Pyun do with his big chance?
With a title like Dangerously Close, you know what you’re going to get: a steamy erotic thriller with lots of nudity and gittin-it-on. Hey wait, this thriller isn’t erotical at all — at no point is it gotten on. It’s the story of a group of junior vigilantes in an affluent high school, and how their rough justice starts to get out of hand. It’s loosely inspired by the real-life case of a violent student group in Texas that called itself the Legion of Doom, of which eight members were indicted and five eventually convicted. Or juuuust maybe, it’s inspired by various other movies inspired by the real case, like Brotherhood of Justice starring Keanu.
Donny (J. Eddie Peck — for some reason the role is usually written as “Danny”) is one of several working-class students brought to affluent Vista Verde High School as part of a magnet program, along with his loud, wisecracking, mohawked friend Krooger (Bradford Bancroft). Donny becomes the editor of the school paper... which publishes an editorial questioning the vigilantism of a group calling itself The Sentinels, more or less led by Randy (John Stockwell, who was also one of the writers) and faculty advisor Mr. Corrigan (Madison Mason... what is this, a silver age Marvel book?), who it turns out is a tough guy and a Nam veteran. Concerned over negative publicity, Randy persuades Donny to volunteer as a Sentinel himself. Then one of the bad boys targeted by the group turns up dead, Krooger disappears, and a Sentinel known as Ripper (Don Michael Paul) seems increasingly out of control...
The aggression of the Sentinels is very class-based. They’re all rich kids, and the troublemakers they’re targeting are all non-richies brought in by the magnet program. And when Donny meets Randy’s parents, they lay on the class snobbery good and thick. I’m always struck by how eighties movies seem to have more institutionalized class warfare in them than seventies or nineties movies do, despite how the zeitgeist everywhere else in the media was all about denying that class issues even existed anymore. In the typical seventies message movie, an evil corporation would be exposed and greed and power would be castigated... but only on an individual basis as people who chose to do wrong, not as a class. In the eighties, on the other hand, completely generic formula movies routinely made plot points out of working people getting back at those who have class privileges. In hindsight it really lets you know that regular folks in the eighties could feel what was being done to them, even if they never articulated it, or voted on it. This movie is right in that vein. They even play the Evil Classical Music card. Whereas the good guys get, like, Depeche Mode hits on the soundtrack.
The story is reasonably well plotted. There’s suspense, there are clues to follow, the personality disorders of Randy and Ripper come gradually out into the open, there’s misdirection so the guys who look guilty aren’t the right ones, there’s a final twist that means maybe we were still misdirected after that... but they do take a cheap and improbable copout in the final minutes, and it’s hard to be sure whether they really knew what they were doing or not when it comes to the doubling-back of the guilt pointer. But on paper, the story ain’t so bad. (Note that Pyun has no writing credit.)
But in execution... oy. You’ll have to sit through plenty of Pyunitive incompetence. The dialogue is frequently unintelligible (not that it’s very much worth intelliging), the filming is often murky, fight scenes and so on have huh?-inducing discontinuities... and one thing that I’m beginning to recognize as a bit of a Pyun trademark is that he likes to cast the film so that the actors all look the same. Donny, Randy, and Ripper all have almost the same face! It helps that Donny wears glasses... but half the time he leaves them off. What the WTF is up with that?
And... and... there’s a scene where people are popping paintball guns at each other, and they dub in the sound of real gunfire!
The middle part of the film, where Donny decides to track down what’s going on and make like a detective, with the police not helping, is rather like Rian Johnson’s Brick, only without the not-sucking part. He’s assisted by Randy’s newly-ex girlfriend Julie (Carey Lowell), and a Sentinel who’s growing a conscience named Brian (Thom Matthews), who also has about the same face as the others —
Hey, omg, waitaminnit, omg, omg, waitaminnit, omg... the resemblances to Brick seem a bit closer than they ought. The protagonists even look alike. And... in one, the hero is assisted by Brian, and in the other, the hero is assisted by Brain! They both have scenes of violence around waterways. And muscle cars. It’s uncanny!! Okay, maybe not, but I can’t help but wonder if Brick might actually have been inspired by this lame piece-o-puckey Cannon fodder. The similarity of the protagonists is pretty strong. Rian Johnson would have been about thirteen years old when this came out... a time when random crap can be deeply influential...
Anyway, bottom line, it’s a lousy movie — something that could have been halfway decent, if uninspired, dragged down by a lack of competence in the director’s chair.
Our next cassette starts with a trailer for something called Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters, which is some cheap Indonesian martial arts exploitation movie redubbed with “funny” fake dialogue a la MXC . By some Troma people. I didn’t expect Cannon and Troma would intersect.
Down Twisted appears to be a bit of a Romancing The Stone ripoff. This time Carey Lowell isn’t fourth or fifth banana in a male-dominated cast, she’s the protagonist. And this time... the story is Albert Pyun’s own. We get a taste of the Pyunishment we’re in for with the opening expository caption:
Brilliant art collector, Alsandro Deltoid, hired six thieves.
They were to steal the Crucible of San Lucas, switch it with a Replica, and fly the Original out of San Lucas to Los Angeles.
Nothing was supposed to go wrong...
“Crucible”? “Alsandro Deltoid”??
Some superthief action, in which we see the “crucible” stolen and flown, and then at the handoff from one group of crooks to the next, it turns up missing and cops show up, which leads to some excitable persons losing their tempers. Then the opening credits in full-on New Wave style squiggly colors. (You know what? I still totally love New Wave styles in all things. Sue me.) And hey, we’ve got a score by Danny Elfman! Okay, not really. We have an Oingo Boingo song for the credits. And then we plunge headlong into the exciting life of ordinary waitress Maxine (Lowell). Who, it turns out, is the roommate of one of the pair of small-timers that ripped off the international jewel thieves.
Before you can say “Hey, the bad guys were right on their tail, how did they just disappear again like that?”, Maxine is shanghaied to San Lucas (which is in that part of Central America where the latitude is an imaginary number) by the thieves, who are convinced that she has the key to the bank box containing the crucible. (A “crucible”, apparently, is a sort of gold-painted and glass-beaded papier maché candlestick thingy. I did not know that.) We in the audience have no idea at this point where the key actually is... it may have been blown up.
The kidnappers do a piss-poor job of tying her up and she gets loose practically as soon as she’s awake. She escapes by falling off a boat, and even though they believe her to be the key to millions, they make some excuse for not bothering to circle back. And during this process she manages to hook up with a bold and unsavory he-man mercenary named Reno (Charles Rocket).
(Charles Rocket? The lame Saturday Night Live replacement? Yup. His real last name, if you’ve ever wondered, is Claverie.)
But wait, apparently he’s not bold and unsavory after all: her Michael Douglas adventure-man savior is a bumbling klutz and doofus. He is also, in a feat of anatomical diversity, both a pussy and a dick — that is, he manages to be cowardly and obnoxiously hostile at the same moment. And even better, he’s an attorney. So naturally the first thing you ask is, can True Love be far behind? Of course it isn’t! But not without a load of “cute” bickering between him and our heroine while they’re being shot at.
Because, see, once you get him into a third world rainforest, his true badasshood emerges. Turns out he was kinda faking being a doofus. In real life he’s just a viciously opportunistic scumbag. Who might be working with her kidnappers.
By the way, we’ve already met cast members who look like Charles Rocket, and Maxine’s fellow waitresses did run toward resembling Carey Lowell. Once Pyun figures out the look he wants, he sticks to it, by gum. But it’s not as bad as in the other film.
Fun fact about the country of San Lucas: their predominant military vehicle is the VW Thing. Also, it seems that the whole country is patrolled by about nine guys, who instantly recognize Maxine by sight whenever they see her.
So anyway, there’s some complicated double crossery, and we can’t tell what side the rascally Reno is on, and in the end... Maxine comes out ahead by virtue of a plot manoeuvre so forced and implausible that it kills off any goodwill the film had managed to build up. Then the ending trails off for several unnecessary minutes (despite the whole story being only 80 minutes long), during which that reconciled relationship we’d been dreading between Maxine and Reno appears out of nowhere, based on nothing. They don’t go so far as to spell out that it’s love, at least.
This is better made than Dangerously Close — Pyun has improved as a filmmaker by one notch. Things are somewhat less murky and jerky. It’s still a lousy movie.
...So how is Carey Lowell? A couple of months ago I was rather smitten after seeing her as a Bond Girl opposite Timothy Dalton. Shows you what access to the high tech cosmetistry on the Hollywood glamor assembly line is able to accomplish: in these two movies, I bet nobody would ever mistake her for Bond Girl material. In Dangerously Close they try to play her as hubbalicious and it falls totally flat; in Down Twisted she makes a solidly ordinary unglamorous Everywoman. In both cases, her acting is sound — certainly no one else in these crap films outdoes her. In the case of Down Twisted, she’s definitely the film’s best positive asset.
(google google) Oh dear God, she’s married to Richard Gere! I wish I could un-know that.
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