Last night, I watched the 1987 film, Banzai Runner!
Why Was I Watching It?
Last night, it was my turn to host the #MondayActionMovie live tweet! The loyal members of MAM trusted me to find an exciting, action-filled movie with which they could start their week. I failed.
What Was It About?
Listen, it’s not totally my fault. I checked with the IMDb. I checked Wikipedia. I read the film’s description on YouTube. They all said that the film starred Dean Stockwell as a cop who goes undercover to bring down a group of wealthy street racers.
And technically, that is what the film’s about but only at the very end. Before we get around to any of that fun stuff, the film is basically just Highway Patrolman Billy Baxter (Dean Stockwell) driving around the desert and trying to keep his dumbass nephew, Beck (John Shepard), from getting into trouble. How big of a dumbass is Beck? He’s so dumb that he lights up a joint while he’s driving and while his uncle — the policeman — is sitting right next to him. Needless to say, Billy gets upset about that. (The scene is amusing if — and only if — you know that Dean Stockwell was one of Hollywood’s most prominent hippies.)
Eventually, Billy and Beck do go undercover to take out Syszek (Billy Drago), a wealthy drug dealer who likes to street race but who also does to much cocaine. In a coincidence that comes out of nowhere, it turns out that Syszek is responsible for the death of Billy’s brother and Beck’s father. Neither Billy nor Beck really seem to be too upset about it, though.
What Didn’t Work?
(Usually I like to start with what did work but I’m making an exception here.)
It’s an 84 minute film (not counting the end credits). It takes 60 minutes for Billy to go undercover. It takes another 5 minutes or so for Billy to actually meet Syszek. The only reason that anyone is going be watching this film is because they want to see Dean Stockwell and Billy Drago race against each other but that part of the film doesn’t even kick in until the movie is nearly over! Instead, we get an hour of Billy aimlessly doing his job and Beck complaining about his uncle being too strict. It’s very slow and dull.
Dean Stockwell was a good actor who gave some wonderfully eccentric performances in his adult years but he’s miscast as Billy. John Shepherd played Tommy in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and I’ve always preferred Shepherd’s interpretation of the character over Thom Matthews’s performance in Jason Lives. Shepherd had an appealing vulnerability in A New Beginning but none of that is present in Banzai Runners. It doesn’t help that the script portrays Beck as being a combination of every bad boyfriend I had from the sixth grade through my senior year of high school.
I’m a Southern girl and I’m also enough of a country girl that I do have a weakness for fast cars and the people who drive them. So, I could appreciate the film on that level. The car chases were fun, I just wish that there had been more of them. All of those scenes of Billy worrying about paying his mortgage (and yes, that was a huge subplot during the first hour of the film) should have been edited out and replaced with scenes from The Wraith. Or maybe just the Shangri-Las singing Leader of the Pack.
“Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments
There’s a scene where the rich daughter of one of the racers announce that she’ll remove a piece of clothing for every mile that Beck goes over 55. On the one hand, it’s a scene that feels like it was lifted from a Crown International cheerleader film. On the other hand …. well, like I said, I had a weakness for bad boys who drove fast cars. So, even in this rather bland film, I still found someone to whom I could relate. Yay!
Never assume that a movie is exciting just because of its name.