Midnight Ride (1990, directed by Bob Bralver)

Driving to a friend’s house after getting into a late night argument with her husband, Lara (Savina Gersak) makes the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker.  At first, Justin McKay (Mark Hamill) seems like a nice guy but he quickly reveals himself to be a serial killer.  Haunted by his terrible childhood and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother, Justin has decided to get revenge on the world by going on a killing spree.  He’s even got a polaroid camera with him so that he can have a souvenir of every murder that he commits over the night.  Holding Lara hostage, Justin forces her to drive him to his ultimate destination, the hospital where he was once the patient of Dr. Hardy (Robert Mitchum).  Following behind Lara and her murderous passenger is Lara’s husband, Lawson (Michael Dudikoff).  Lawson is a former military policeman turned civilian cop and has experience taking down the bad guys.  But Lawson’s leg is also in a cast and not even he is prepared for how savage and dangerous clever Justin turns out to be.

What is Midnight Ride like?  Think of The Hitcher, just without that film’s subtext of an unacknowledged attraction between the driver and the hitcher.  Also replace Rutger Hauer giving a smooth, menacing, and seemingly indestructible performance with Mark Hamill sweating, bulging his eyes, and fidgeting throughout the entire film.  Midnight Ride is a competent thriller and Michael Dudikoff is a good working class hero but the main reason to see Midnight Ride is to watch Mark Hamill chew the scenery and play a character who is so evil and destructive that not even Luke Skywalker would have risked going anywhere near him.  Justin McKay has much more in common with The Joker than with Luke Skywalker.  Justin is the type of killer who, after murdering a hotel clerk, steals her glass eye and wears it as a necklace.  Hamill really throws himself into the role, savoring every crazy moment.  Dudikoff is stolid and dependable while Hamill often seems like he might be trying to burn the entire movie to the ground.  While Hamill chews up the scenery, Robert Mitchum barely seem to notice the scenery at all.  Hamill gives a masterclass in overacting while Mitchum gives a masterclass in barely bothering to act at all.  Mitchum was famous for saying that he didn’t give a damn and I can’t think of any film where he gave less of a damn than Midnight Ride.  Dudikoff may be top-billed but this is a Hamill/Mitchum joint all the way.

Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 4.20 “Unhappy Hour” and 4.21 “Compromising Principal”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001.  Nearly the entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

This week, everyone has too much to drink and Ms. Noble tries to win a contest!

Episode 4.20 “Unhappy Hour”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on December 2nd, 2000)

Ms. Noble’s best friend, Kiki, hosts her town talk show because of course she does.  (How does a high school principal have all of these connections?)  Kiki wants to do a show featuring the students of Manny High discussing the importance of friendship.  To be honest, that sounds like the most boring show in the world but whatever.  Chris, Jamal, Dawn, Cassidy, Al, and L-Train all agree to be on it.

Cassidy’s parents are out of town so everyone ends up at her penthouse to discuss what they’re going to say on the show.  But before the discussion even begins, Al has brought over four pizzas and L-Train has discovered a bottle of Tequila!  Before you know it, everyone’s drunk.  (Apparently, no one learned a lesson from any of the other episodes of this show that featured everyone getting drunk and suffering as a result.)  Al and L-Train throws eggs off the balcony.  Chris tries to work up the courage to tell Cassidy how he feels about her, which is interesting since Chris and Cassidy dated during the second season so it’s not as if Cassidy doesn’t know that Chris has feelings for her.  Cassidy is so drunk that she kisses Jamal instead.  Chris gets mad and kiss Dawn.  Al gets mad and has no one to kiss.  Meanwhile, L-Train calls Ms. Noble at school and tells her that he loves her.

Big mistake.

Ms. Noble and her husband, Billy, break into Cassidy’s penthouse and yell at the students for drinking too much.  Apparently, it’s not bad enough that Ms. Noble’s entire life revolves around spying on her students.  Now, Billy has had to sacrifice his freedom as well.  The next morning, the kids are hungover and angry but they still have to go on Kiki’s show.

“Why did you drink so much?” Kiki asks.

Dawn confesses that they were all stupid and now they’re all suffering from the worst hangover ever while appearing on live television.  Chris apologizes for kissing Dawn.  Cassidy confessed to like Chris.  Al says that he can’t forgive Chris for kissing his girlfriend.  “How could you do such a stupid thing!?”  Jamal suddenly gets angry and says that Al was just as stupid for throwing eggs off the balcony.  Personally, I kind of think that kissing your best friend’s significant other is considerably worse than tossing eggs off of a balcony but maybe that’s just me.

“I guess you guys realize that drinking isn’t all it was made out to be,” Kiki says.

“Don’t let one drunken night ruin your friendships,” Ms. Noble says, as if this doesn’t happen at least once every season.

Actually, if they didn’t realize it after all the other episodes this show has done about drinking and doing drugs, they’re never going to realize it.  Face it, the City Guys are doomed!

Episode 4.21 “Compromising Principal”

(Dir by Frank Bonner, originally aired on December 9th, 2000)

This is what happens, according to plot description at Wikipedia: “When Ms. Noble decides to loosen up and be more cool in order to win a most popular principal contest, the school turns into an undisciplined zoo. In the midst of the chaos, the gang try their hand at after school elective classes.”

Wow, sounds exciting!  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), this is one of the missing episodes of City Guys.  As far as I can tell, it’s not streaming anywhere as of this writing.  So, let’s just assume that everyone learned an important lesson and that the students once again spent way too much time worrying about their principal.

Seriously, a most popular principal contest?

Film Review: Cocaine Bear (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

Cocaine Bear is the story of a duffel bag full of cocaine and the bear that gets into it.  It’s loosely based on a true story.  I say loosely because, in real life, the bear promptly overdosed and died.  In the film, the bear not only survives eating a bag of cocaine but it also subsequently goes on a coke-fueled rampage.

The film opens in 1985, with a series of anti-drug commercials airing on television and a drug smuggler flying high above Georgia.  The smuggler kicks his shipment of cocaine out of the plane, so that it can later be retrieved from the mountains below.  Unfortunately, for him, he also manages to slip and plummets out of the plane to his death.  A day later, in Georgia’s Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest, two hikers are debating which band they should hire to play for their wedding when they happen to come across a black bear.  The hikers decide to snap a picture of the bear.  The bear, whose face is coved in cocaine, decides to eat the hikers.

Yep, both the bear and her two adorable cubs have discovered the joys of cocaine.  It would probably be best to close down the park until someone can hold an intervention but, unfortunately, more and more people keep showing up.  For instance, there’s a detective named Bob (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) who is determined to track down the cocaine and use it to finally take down the St. Louis’s drug kingpin, Syd (Ray Liotta, in his final film role).  Syd, meanwhile, has sent his son Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and his employee Daveed (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) to retrieve the drugs.  Daveed is determined to get the job done while Eddie, who is mourning the death of his wife, just wants to leave the family business behind.  Local criminal Stache (Aaron Holliday) wants to deal the drugs himself but instead ends up bonding with Eddie.  Park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) wants to pursue her crush on animal inspector Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).  Finally, two kids, Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince) and Henry (Christian Convery) have skipped school and are lost in the park.  Dee Dee’s mother (Keri Russell) is determined to rescue them and then ground them for the rest of their lives.

Yes, there’s a lot of people in this film.  I haven’t even mentioned Stace’s partners-in-crime or the paramedics who pick an inopportune time to show up.  The majority of the people in this film end up getting ripped apart by the bear and, make no mistake about it, the bear is the true heroine of the film.  All of the actors do well with their roles, though I do wish that Liotta could have ended his career playing something other than just another psycho criminal.  Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., and Alden Ehrenreich all deserve a lot of credit for bringing their characters to life.  But the bear is the true star here.  The bear kills a lot of people and most of the deaths are pretty bloody but, at the same time, the bear doesn’t really mean any harm.  It just really likes cocaine and the majority of the people who the bear kills are killed precisely because they either got cocaine on their clothes (or face) or they allowed themselves to become a part of the cocaine trade.  The bear ultimately becomes a satirical representation of every anti-drug commercial that has ever aired.  If you’re not worried about overdosing, how do you feel about getting torn apart by a bear?  Not so much fun being a rebel now, is it?

Cocaine Bear is an admittedly dark comedy, one in which almost all of the human characters have at least one bizarre quirk to make them memorable.  Usually, I’m not a huge fan of gory comedies but the humor in Cocaine Bear has an appealingly weird edge to it.  Eddie, Stache, and an annoyed Daveed playing twenty questions while looking for a duffel bag full of drugs is amusing but it becomes hilarious when combined with scenes of the bear joyfully finding more cocaine.  As well, Henry and Dee Dee’s reaction to finding a brick of cocaine is every parent’s nightmare but also one to which everyone should be able to relate and maybe even chuckle at.  I laughed, even as I thought, “OH MY GOD, DON’T DO THAT!”

Finally, in a time when so many movies are full of unnecessary padding, Cocaine Bear deserves a lot of credit for telling its story in 90 quickly placed minutes.  The film doesn’t waste any time getting to the point and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  A lot of filmmakers could learn a lesson from Cocaine Bear.