Band of the Hand (1986, directed by Paul Michael Glaser)

This place is Florida.  The time is the 80s.  Five juvenile delinquents have been given a chance to earn their freedom.  All they have to do is go down to the Everglades and train with Indian Joe (Stephen Lang), a no-nonsense Vietnam veteran who is determined to teach them not only survival sills but also how to work together as a team.  But Joe is interested in more than just reforming a group of youthful troublemakers.  He wants to turn them into a crime-fighting team who can help clean up the most dangerous neighborhood in Miami.  When Joe and delinquents move into and refurbish a previously condemned building, they get the attention of both the local drug kingpin (James Remar) and his main enforcer (Laurence Fishburne).

Band of the Hand is very much a film of its time, not only in its fashion and music choices but also in its full-on embrace of the war on drugs and the idea that the best way to clean up the streets is for vigilantes to do it on their own.  The film was produced by Michael Mann and, as directed by former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, the film has the look of an episode of Miami Vice.  That might be because the film itself was originally meant to be a pilot for a television show.  When the networks passed on it, it was released to theaters instead and advertised as being “from the maker of Miami Vice.”    The movie never escapes its television origins.  Things start strong in the Everglades, with Lang proving himself to be a master of glowering and the young delinquents struggling to not only survive Lang’s training but also resist the temptation to kill each other.  It’s less interesting once the action moves to Miami and it becomes Death Wish 3 without the blood or Charles Bronson.  The scenes with the young men goofing around are an awkward fit with the scenes of Remar and Fishburne terrorizing the neighborhood.

Band of the Hand is still worth watching if you want to see some familiar faces early in their careers.  John Cameron Mitchell and Leon both score early roles as two of the delinquents-turned-crime fighters and Lauren Holly plays the romantic interest who is inevitably ends up with the bag guys.  James Remar was always a good villain and Laurence Fishburne channels both his previous performance in Death Wish II and his future performance in King of New York.  It’s a good cast, even if no one really breaks free from the production’s television origins.

The idea of creating a show about a special unit of young crime fighters who battle drug pushers was one that Mann didn’t abandon.  The final episode of Miami Vice was essentially an unsold pilot that followed many of the same plot beats as Band Of the Hand.  (It also didn’t lead to a television series, though some might argue that 21 Jump Street took the same idea and ran with it.)  As for director Paul Michael Glaser, he would later do a much better job with The Running Man.

Spring Break On The Lens: The Real Cancun (dir by Rick de Oliveira)

Remember The Real Cancun?

This 2003 film tells the story of 16 good-looking and not particularly intelligent college students who go to Cancun for spring break.  For 8 days, they all live in the same beach house and they get to know each other.  They drink.  They flirt.  A few of them hook up but perhaps not as many as you would expect.  The dorky virgin dude says that he just wants to see “boobies” and then gets drunk off of one shot.  Two platonic friends debate whether they should take their relationship to the next level.  The women wear bikinis.  The men wear speedos.  There are bare boobs and behinds galore.  Snoop Dogg makes a special guest appearance.  One spring breaker get stung by a jelly fish so her new roommate pours a cup of urine on her ankle.  Good thing he had already had ten beers that morning!  What fun!

If this sounds like a typical spring break film, that’s because it is a typical spring break film but with one big difference.  It was produced by the people behind MTV’s The Real World and, as such, the 16 spring breakers are sold as being real people who are spontaneously acting like a bunch of movie characters.  In 2003, reality tv was still a relatively exotic concept and this film was an attempt to take the genre’s cheap aesthetic to the cinematic level.  Even more importantly, it was an attempt to duplicate the success of Girls Gone Wild, without actually admitting to being inspired by that sleazy enterprise.  As such, there’s a lot of nudity but there’s a strange lack of actual sex.  There’s a lot of drinking but there’s not much drunkenness.  It’s an oddly tame look at spring break, one that promises debauchery but which doesn’t deliver anything that would have kept the film out of theaters or off the cable networks.  I got more wild on my spring breaks than anyone in this film and I don’t even drink.

The film’s “stars” are all pretty bland and it’s not a surprise that, with one exception, none of them have appeared in anything other than The Real Cancun.  (That one exception is Laura Ramsey, who went on to have a somewhat busy acting career after appearing as herself in this film.)  The film manages to make nudity boring.  Seen today, The Real Cancun works best as a time capsule, largely because it was filmed at a time when there was no social media and, even more importantly, no phones.  Everyone is attracted to the crew and their bulky film cameras because there aren’t any other cameras around to record them and make them famous.  Today, anyone can make their own Real Cancun and post it to YouTube.  In 2003, if you wanted a shot at that type of fame, you had to audition and be selected to appear in a “documentary.”

Apparently, The Real Cancun was meant to be the first part of a Real World cinematic franchise.  The first Jackass film had come out the previous year so MTV was enthusiastic about producing cheap reality movies.  However, The Real Cancun was such a huge flop at the box office that it killed those plans.  There would be other Jackass films, of course.  But the Real World Cinematic Universe imploded as soon as it began.  And for that, we should probably be thankful.