Film Review: Return to Savage Beach (dir by Andy Sidaris)

“I was born for water sports!”

— J. Tyler Ward (Christian Letelier) in Return to Savage Beach (1998)

Never let it be said that I’m not a completist!

About a month ago, I decided that it would be fun to write up a review of Hard Ticket To Hawaii that I could schedule to publish while I was on vacation.  At the time, I really should have realized that this would probably lead to me also watching and reviewing all of the sequels (and the one prequel) to that film.  And that’s exactly what happened!

1998’s Return to Savage Beach is the final chapter of the story of the world’s most inept intelligence agency, L.E.T.H.A.L.  (That stands for Legion to Ensure Total Harmony and Law, which is almost as Orwellian a name as Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council.)  Once again, security at L.E.T.H.A.L’s Dallas office has been breached.  This time, it done by a woman named Sofia (Carrie Westcott), who randomly showed up and passed out slices of drugged pizza.  Of course, everyone ate the pizza.  After all, why would a bunch of national security professionals be suspicious of a total stranger handing out food?  After everyone’s unconscious, Sofia steals the file on Savage Beach.

Don’t remember Savage BeachSavage Beach was a previous Andy Sidaris film, in which two other undercover agents ended up on a desert island and discovered a hidden treasure of World War II gold.  If you still don’t remember the film, don’t worry.  Return to Savage Beach contains several minutes of flashbacks from Savage Beach.

Return to Savage Beach also features a handful of flashbacks to the previous Sidaris film, Day of the Warrior.  That’s because The Warrior (Marcus Bagwell), who was previously established as being a homicidal maniac, is now suddenly one of the good guys.  Apparently, one of the people that he murdered in the previous film was actually a serial killer and, as a result, he was only given three months in prison.  Now, he’s out and he’s the newest L.E.T.H.A.L. agent.  He’s an expert on lost treasures and that’s a good thing because it turns out that there’s even more treasure on Savage Beach than anyone realized.

L.E.T.H.A.L. is determined to get that treasure, which means that Willow Black (Julie Strain) has to assign her best agents to the mission.  (Of course, the best L.E.T.H.A.L. agent is the equivalent of a bigamist who tells his second wife that he’s working for the CIA as a cover whenever he has to go on vacation with his other family.)  And so, Tyler (Christian Letelier), Cobra (Julie K. Smith), Tiger (Shae Marks), and Doc Austin (Paul Logan) are sent to explore Savage Beach.

However, L.E.T.H.A.L. is not the only organization returning to Savage Beach.  The evil Morales (Rodrigo Obegron) is determined to get the treasure as well.  Morales wears a Phantom Of The Opera-style mask because he claims that he was horribly scarred when he was blown up during his last trip to Savage Beach.  (Cue more flashbacks.)  Morales not only has Sofia working for him but he also employs three ninjas who wear kabuki makeup.

Maybe you’re getting the feeling that Return to Savage Beach is not a serious film and it most definitely is not.  Like most Sidaris films, Return to Savage Beach is cheerfully aware of its own absurdity.  Towards the end of the film, after about a dozen or so outlandish twists, one of the L.E.T.H.A.L. agents even exclaims, “How many endings can this story have!?”  The song that plays over the end credits asks the exact same question.

All in all, Return to Savage Beach is a pretty dumb movie.  I compared the acting in Day of the Warrior to Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly playing Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell in Boogie Nights and that’s even more true when it comes to Return to Savage Beach.  At times, the stupidity of it all is amusing and, at other times, you just find yourself checking the time.

Return to Savage Beach was Andy Sidaris’s final film.  All in all, Sidaris directed thirteen films (12 dramatic features and one documentary).  Some of them were really bad.  Some of them were amusingly over-the-top.  One of them, Hard Ticket To Hawaii, has become something of a mainstay on TCM Underground.  Good or bad, Sidaris definitely had his own style.  In the end, no one would ever mistake any of his films as having been directed by anyone other than Andy Sidaris.

Cleaning Out the DVR #18: Remember Those Fabulous Sixties?

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There’s a lot of good stuff being broadcast this month, so it’s time once again to make some room on the ol’ DVR. Here’s a quartet of capsule reviews of films made in that mad, mad decade, the 1960’s:

THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE (MGM 1967; D: Michael D. Moore) –  MGM tried to make another Elvis out of rock legend Roy Orbison in this Sam Katzman-produced comedy-western. It didn’t work; though Roy possessed one of the greatest voices in rock’n’roll, he couldn’t act worth a lick. Roy (without his trademark shades!) and partner Sammy Jackson (TV’s NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS) peddle ‘Dr. Ludwig Long’s Magic Elixir’ in a travelling medicine show, but are really Confederate spies out to steal gold from the San Francisco mint to fund “the cause” in the waning days of the Civil War. The film’s full of anachronisms and the ‘comical Indians’ aren’t all that funny…

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Embracing The Melodrama Part III #5: Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (dir by Guy Green)

“Only in the movies, baby.” 

— Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas) in Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (1975)

Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough (for that indeed is the unwieldy title of this little movie) opens with a shot of two Oscars sitting on an end table.  Those Oscars belong to Mike Wayne (Kirk Douglas), a legendary Hollywood producer who hasn’t had a hit in way too long.  He’s struggling financially.  He may even have to fire his maid (Lillian Randolph), despite the many years that she’s spent making sure he wakes up and remembers to take a shower before leaving the house.  What choice does Mike have but to marry Deidre Milford Granger (Alexis Smith), the world’s sixth richest woman?  Mike doesn’t even mind that Deidre is having an affair with Karla (Melina Mercouri).

That makes sense to everyone by Mike’s daughter, January (Deborah Raffin).  As Mike explains it, January’s name came about as a result of January being born in January.  So, I guess if I was Mike’s daughter, I would have been named November.  Everyone in the film thinks that Mike’s being terribly clever by naming his daughter after her birthday but, to me, that just sounds lazy.

Does January have some issues?  Well, when she returns to America after getting into a serious motorcycle accident in Europe, she greets her father by cheerfully saying, “I hope nobody thinks we’re father and daughter.  I hope they think you’re a dirty old man and I’m your broad.”

Agck!  That sounds like the set up for a Freudian nightmare but instead, the film’s rather blasé about the whole incestuous subtext of January’s relationship with her father.  Mike is soon pushed to the side as the movie follows January as she tries to make a life for herself in New York City.  Fortunately, she’s able to land a job at a magazine, working for her old college friend, Linda (Brenda Vacarro).  In college, Linda was smart and homely but she has since had so much plastic surgery that January doesn’t even recognize her.  Linda’s either found the greatest plastic surgeon in the world or else January is just really, really stupid.

Linda gets all the best lines.  While talking about all of the work that she’s had done, she takes the time to brag that she had everything fixed by her navel, which she declares to be perfect.  When January comments that Linda is beautiful, Linda replies, “And now ugly is in!  I want my old nose back!”

Linda is stunned to learn that January is still a virgin but that problem is solved once January goes out on a few dates with David (George Hamilton), who is Deidre’s cousin.  David and January go out to a club and January is shocked when a random woman throws a drink in David’s face.  Later, January goes back to David’s apartment, which turns out to be the epitome of 70s tackiness.  When January asks David why the carpet and all of the furniture is red, David replies, “I wanted it to look like a bordello.”

Things don’t really work out between January and David but don’t worry!  January soon meets the world-renowned author, Chest Hair McGee (David Janssen)!  Okay, actually his name is Tom Colt.

Tom spends almost the entire movie drunk and acting obnoxious but January falls in love with him.  And, of course, it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s the same age as her father.  No, of course not.  Instead, she’s charmed by the way he slurs the line, “Forgive me, I can’t take my eyes off of your ass!”

January is convinced that she and Tom are going to be together forever.  Of course, Mike hates Tom.  And there is the fact that Tom’s married.  Literally everyone in the movie tells January that Tom is never going to leave his wife but I guess we’re still supposed to be shocked when Tom tells her that he’ll never leave his wife.  He does, however, thank her for allowing “a broken-down old man” to “feel like a stud.”  In the end, nothing really works out for January but she’s such an annoying and vacuous character that you really don’t mind.

Based on a novel by the same author who gave the world The Valley of the Dolls, Once Is Not Enough is a movie that manages to be both remarkably bad and also surprisingly watchable.  Some of that is because the film is a time capsule of 70s fashion, 70s decor, and 70s slang.  A lot more of it is because the cast is made up of such an odd mishmash of performers and acting styles that nobody seems like they should be in the same movie.  Kirk Douglas grimaces.  George Hamilton looks embarrassed.  David Janssen lurches through the film like a drunk trying to remember where he lives.  Alexis Smith and Melina Mercouri chew every piece of scenery they can find while Brenda Vaccaro shouts her lines as if hoping the increased volume will keep us from noticing what she’s actually saying.  Poor Deborah Raffin wanders through the film with a dazed look on her face.  Can you blame her?

Interestingly enough, Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough actually was nominated for an Oscar.  Brenda Vaccaro was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  Admittedly, Vaccaro does probably come the closest of anyone in the cast to creating an interesting character but I still have to wonder just how weak the Supporting Actress field was in 1975.

Anyway, this incredibly silly and tacky film is a lot of fun, though perhaps not in the way that it was originally intended to be.  Between the nonstop drama, the unintentionally hilarious dialogue, and the weird performances, the film plays out like a cartoon character’s dream of the 70s.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at another silly and tacky film from the same decade, 1978’s The Betsy!

Film Review: Day of the Warrior (dir by Andy Sidaris)


“Bring him in from the cold?  That’s real spy talk.  I love it when you do that.”

— J. Tyler Ward (Christian Letelier) in The Day Of The Warrior (1996)

Here’s two good things about the 1996 Andy Sidaris film, The Day of the Warrior:

First, a good deal of the film takes place in Dallas.  As I’ve said before, I’m always happy to see my hometown in a movie, regardless of whether the movie is good or terrible.  The Day of the Warrior not only reveals that a division of the Legion To Ensure Total Harmony And Law (a.k.a. L.E.T.H.A.L.) operates out of Dallas but also that it’s apparently headquartered on the top floor of the Bank America Plaza.  Willow Black (Julie Strain, who had previously played a villain in three separate Sidaris films) is the new head of the Dallas branch.  Apparently, her job largely consists of working out on the treadmill in her office.

The other good thing about The Day of the Warrior is that one L.E.T.H.A.L’s top agents is named Doc Austin (Kevin Light).  Unlike the Abilene cousins that appeared in Sidaris’s previous films, Doc appears to actually be good at his job.  For one thing, he can actually shoot a gun and his dialogue isn’t exclusively made up of painful double entendres.  But my reason for liking Doc Austin is because he shares his first name with my cat and his last name with one of my favorite cities.

Anyway, the film itself is pretty stupid but you probably already guessed that as soon as I mentioned that it’s an Andy Sidaris film.  The latest international super villain is a guy named the Warrior (Marcus Bagwell).  The Warrior used to be an agent with the CIA but, when the Cold War ended, he discovered that he was out of a job.  Because The Warrior’s mother was half-Native American, he decided to start wearing war paint and launched a career as a professional wrestler.  However, The Warrior’s wrestling career was really just a cover so that he could safely travel the world and set up his own black market operation.  He deals drugs.  He sells weapons.  He dabbles in human trafficking.  “The SOB is even into pirating porno flicks,” Willow says.  The Warrior takes the whole professional wrestling thing pretty seriously.  At one point, he gives orders to his henchmen while standing in the middle of a wrestling ring.

(It’s also established that The Warrior lives in “north Dallas.”  You probably actually have to be from Dallas to get the joke but, as far as Sidaris humor goes, it’s a good one.)

LETHAL has several agents working undercover in The Warrior’s organization.  Apparently, they’re so deep undercover that not even Willow Black knows how to get in contact with them.  (To be honest, that would seem to be kind of counterproductive but I’m not an international super spy so what do I know?)  However, The Warrior has employed a computer hacker known as Hard Drive.  (The Warrior calls him “Mr. Drive.”)  When The Warrior manages to compromise LETHAL’s computer systems, Willow and her agents not only have to track down the people undercover but they also have to stop whatever it is that The Warrior is planning to do.

(The Warrior’s ultimate scheme was never easy to figure out.  He seemed to spend most of his time flexing his muscles.)

As for the undercover agents, Doc Austin is investigating drug dealers in South Texas.  Scorpion (Tammy Parks) and Shark (Darren Wise) are trying to infiltrate The Warrior’s Vegas-based porn operation.  Fu (Gerald Okamura) is working as an Elvis impersonator.  Cobra (Julie K. Smith) is working as an exotic dancer in Beverly Hills because of … reasons, I guess?  Another agent, Tiger (Shae Marks) teams up with a pilot named J. Tyler Ward (Christian Letelier) because it’s not a Sidaris film without someone flying a plane over the bayous.  To be honest, it seems like most of these people are just hanging out.  I wouldn’t necessarily trust any of them with any national security secrets.

Anyway, this is pretty much a typical Sidaris film: stuff blows up, everyone gets naked, and there’s a lot of bad jokes.  Even by the standards of a Sidaris film, the acting is incredibly bad.  Remember those scenes in Boogie Nights where Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly played Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell?  That’s about the level of talent that we’re talking about here.  To illustrate, here’s a typical scene from Day of the Warrior:

In short, it’s no Hard Ticket to Hawaii but at least Dallas looks good.

Embracing the Melodrama Part III #4: The Grasshopper (dir by Jerry Paris)

“It’s very simple what I want to be: totally happy; totally different; and totally in love.”

— Christine Adams (Jacqueline Bisset) in The Grasshopper (1970)

Seriously, is Christine asking for too much?

Total happiness?  That may sound like a lot but trust me, it can be done.

Totally different?  That’s a little bit more challenging because, to be honest, you’re either different or you’re not.  If you have to make the effort to be different, then you definitely are not.

Totally in love?  Well, it depends on how you define love…

At the start of The Grasshopper, Christine thinks that she’s heading to America to find love.  While an oh-so late 60s/early 70s theme song plays in the background, Christine leaves her small hometown in Canada and she heads down to California.  She’s planning on meeting up with her boyfriend Eddie (Tim O’Kelly) and taking a job as a bank teller.

Of course, it soon turns out that working in a bank isn’t as exciting as Christine originally assumed.  Eddie expects Christine to just be a conventional girlfriend and that’s not what Christine is looking for. As well, it’s possible that Christine may have seen Targets, in which O’Kelly played an all-American boy who picks up a rifle and goes on a killing spree.

And so, Christine abandons Eddie and heads to Las Vegas.  Since this movie was made in 1970 and Uber didn’t exist back then, Christine’s preferred method of traveling is hitchhiking.  This gives her a chance to meet the usual collection of late 60s weirdos who always populate movies like this.  One driver crosses herself when Christine says that she plans to have a baby before getting married.  Another is a hacky Las Vegas comic.

In Vegas, Christine applies for a job as a showgirl.  As she explains to sleazy casino owner Jack Benton (Ed Flanders), she “once did Little Women in school.”

“Did you do it nude?” Jack replies.

Yep, that’s Vegas for you!  It’s the city of Showgirls, Casino, and Saved By The Bell: Wedding in Vegas, after all!

Anyway, thing do get better once Christine meets and falls in love with Tommy Marcott (Jim Brown), a former football player who is now working as a door greeter in Jack’s casino.  Everyone tells Christine not to get involved with Tommy.  One of Jack’s men, a menacing hitman who looks just like Johnny from Night of the Living Death (he even wears glasses), warns Christine to watch herself.

Through a long series of events, Christine ends up on her own again.  The usual collection of 70s events occur: murder, drugs, prostitution, and ultimately a stint as the mistress of a rich man played by Joseph Cotten.  The important thing is that it all eventually leads to Christine and a skywriter getting stoned, stealing a plane, and deciding to write a message in the sky.

That’s when this happens:

Yes, it’s all very 1970!

Anyway, The Grasshopper is one of those films that tries to have it both ways.  Establishment audiences could watch it and think, “Wow, those kids are really messed up.”  Counterculture audiences could watch it and say, “Old people are such hypocrites.”  Oddly enough, The Grasshopper was written by future director Garry Marshall and it’s an incredibly overwrought film.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in the entire film and the film’s direction is flashy but empty.  However, for those of us who love history, it’s as close to 1970 as we’re going to get without hopping into a time machine.

Film Review: The Dallas Connection (dir by Christian Drew Sidaris)

My first thought when I came across 1994’s The Dallas Connection:

Oh my God, it’s a movie about my hometown!

And, just judging from the film’s poster, it appears that Dallas is blowing up!  Look at all of those flames behind Reunion Tower!

(Whenever a film is set in Dallas, you know you’re going to see Reunion Tower in the background.  Depending on when the film was made, you’ll probably also see Bank of America Plaza.  That’s the green building.)

Of course, film posters are often inaccurate and it’s not really a spoiler for me to tell you that, at no point, does Reunion Tower blow up in this movie.  Don’t get me wrong.  A lot of stuff does blow up in The Dallas Connection.  It’s a Sidaris film, produced by Andy Sidaris and directed by his son, Christian Drew Sidaris.  The Sidaris name is pretty much synonymous with stuff blowing up.

That said, a good deal of The Dallas Connection does take place in Dallas and, unlike a lot of other films, it was actually filmed in Dallas.  This wasn’t a case of something like Dallas Buyers Club or Killer Joe, where New Orleans was used as a Dallas stand-in.  Nor was it like that terrible “Babylon” episode of The X-Files, where a bunch of Canadians in denim were awkwardly cast as Texans.  It’s always fun to see building that you recognize when you watch a movie.

That said, The Dallas Connection opens in Paris.  We know it’s supposed to be Paris because of all the French stock footage.  Inside a Parisian mansion (which looks suspiciously like a house one would expect to find in the suburbs of Dallas), an assassin named Black Widow (Julie Strain) is murdering a scientist.  Black Widow’s trademark is that she has rough sex with her targets before murdering them.

Meanwhile, Black Widow’s associates — Cobra (Julie K. Smith) and Scorpion (Wendy Hamilton) — are killing scientists in South Africa and Hong Kong.  The South African scenes feature a lot of grainy stock footage that was probably lifted from a nature documentary.  Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, death comes via an exploding golf ball.

Why are all the scientists being killed?  Well, it turns out that they’re all due to attend a scientific conference in Dallas.  (Woo hoo!  Way to go, Dallas!)  Apparently, they’ve developed some sort of missile defense system or something.  The last remaining scientist, Morales (Rodrigo Obregon), needs to be protected from Black Widow and her assassins so it’s time to call in Chris Cannon (Bruce Penhall) and his team of incompetent government agents.

In typical Sidaris fashion, the plot is pretty much impossible to follow.  That’s not because the story is especially complex or clever.  This isn’t one of those films where you need to rewatch it to pick up on all the details or the clues or anything like that.  Instead, The Dallas Connection’s incoherence feels as if it’s a result of everyone just making it all up as they went along.  It’s a Sidaris film so you know that, inevitably, everyone’s going to end up in the bayous, blowing stuff up.

And yes, yet another remote control boat shows up and explodes.  Of all of the Sidaris trademarks, the exploding remote controlled boats is perhaps the strangest.  At the same time, it’s also the most amusing.  Seriously, whenever anyone is standing near any body of water, you just know a tiny speedboat’s going to come along and blow him up.

In the end, The Dallas Connection is a typically incoherent Sidaris film but at least it features a lot of scenes shot in my hometown.

Rockin’ in the Film World #15: THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS (Apple Corps/Imagine Entertainment 2016)

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Beatle fans will have a blast watching THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS, director Ron Howard’s 2016 rock doc covering the Fab Four’s career from their earliest club days through the height of Beatlemania, until they stopped touring for good in 1966. The film features rare and classic footage of The Beatles live in concert around the globe, juxtaposing their rise with news events of the day and interviews with all four members.

Howard conducted brand-new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and included archival interviews with the late John Lennon and George Harrison. Through these and behind the scenes clips and press conferences, we get a sense of what it was like to be at the center of all the Beatlemania  madness. Ringo says it best: “We just wanted to play… playing was the only thing” far as these talented musicians were concerned, but…

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