All Hail Jan-Michael Vincent: Red Line (1996, directed by John Sjogren)


Jan-Michael Vincent, back in the day

When Jan-Michael Vincent died on February 10th, we lost a legend.

For obvious reasons, the life and career of Jan-Michael Vincent is often held up as a cautionary tale.  Vincent went from being a rising star in the 70s to being nearly unemployable in the 90s.  When you watch Vincent in one of his early film, like The Mechanic or Big Wednesday, you see an actor who had both the talent and the looks to be a major star.  He was such a natural and deceptively low-key performer that it is not a surprise that he was twice cast as Robert Mitchum’s son.  He could play everyone from a hippie to a cowboy to a surfer to an assassin.  Unfortunately, once the 80s rolled around, Vincent became better known for his struggles with drugs and alcohol than for his talent.  After a brief but profitable stint starring in Airwolf, Jan-Michael Vincent found himself appearing mostly in straight-to-video action films.  By the mid-90s, he was a mainstay on late night Cinemax.  Even though the films had gotten smaller and his famous good looks had been ravaged by years of hard living, Vincent was still capable of giving a good performance.

It is impossible to talk about the legend of Jan-Michael Vincent without talking about Red Line.  In this direct-to-video car chase film, Vincent was cast as a gangster named Keller.  When an auto mechanic named Jim (Chad “Son of Steve” McQueen) makes the mistake of taking one of Keller’s cars for a joyride, Keller blackmails Jim into stealing a corvette from a police impound lot.  Red Line was typical of the type of films that Vincent was usually offered in the 90s, an action-filled crime film with a handful of recognizable faces.

It was also a film that Vincent nearly didn’t live to make.  Two days before filming was to begin, Jan-Michael Vincent was nearly killed when he crashed his motorcycle.  Vincent suffered severe facial lacerations and he would later tell Howard Stern that his eye was nearly popped out of his head as a result of the accident.  Vincent was rushed to the hospital and put in intensive care.

However, Jan-Michael Vincent still had a movie to make.  So, what did he do?  Two days after his accident, he checked himself out of the hospital and, unexpectedly, showed up on set.  With his face noticeable bruised and swollen and with the stitches and sutures still visible, Vincent played the role of Keller.  If you watch carefully, you can even spot his hospital ID, still hanging around his wrist.  The script was hastily rewritten to explain Vincent’s injuries and, though he could barely speak or walk, he still delivered his lines and filmed his scenes.  And goddamn if Jan-Michael Vincent didn’t steal the entire movie.  Even after years of hard-living (not to mention just two days after nearly dying), Jan-Michael Vincent still had it.  Even though he had to whisper his lines and film most of his scenes sitting down, Vincent was still credibly threatening in the role of Keller. He even points out his own injuries, saying, “I’m sick of looking like Frankenstein!”

Jan-Michael Vincent in Red Line

The rest of the cast was made up of an eclectic collection of familiar faces.  Dom DeLuise played Chad McQueen’s boss.  Michael Madsen and Corey Feldman (!) both played rival gangsters while Roxanna Zal played the young woman who becomes McQueen’s partner in crime.  B-movie fans will want to keep an eye out for Julie Strain, Robert Z’Dar, and Chuck Zito.  None of them make as much of an impression as Vincent, though.

Red Line was meant to be an homage to the type of car chase films that Steve McQueen made famous.  Chad McQueen even gets to drive a replica of the car that his father drove in Bullitt.  Some of the chase scenes are exciting but Chad doesn’t have his father’s screen presence and the film never overcomes its low-budget.  Watching the movie is a lot like watching someone else play Grand Theft Auto.  Red Line is a forgettable movie but it will always be remembered as an important chapter in the legend of Jan-Michael Vincent.

Jan-Michael Vincnet, RIP

Something Wilder: THE ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER (20th Century-Fox 1975)


cracked rear viewer

The late Gene Wilder was well loved by filmgoers for his work with Mel Brooks, his movies alongside Richard Pryor, and his iconic role as Willie Wonka. Wilder had co-written the screenplay for Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and now branched out on his own as writer/director/star of 1975’s THE ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER.

The zany tale, set in 1891, finds Sherlock’s jealous brother Sigerson (Wilder, who derisively calls his more famous sibling “Sheer-Luck”) assigned to the case of music hall singer Jenny Hill (Madeline Kahn) who’s being blackmailed by opera singer Eduardo Gambetti (the enormously funny Dom DeLuise ). Assisting Sigerson is his own Watson, the pop-eyed Sgt. Orville Stacker (Marty Feldman), blessed with “a photographic sense of hearing” that he can only access by whacking himself upside the head. The plot thickens as Sigerson learns Jenny’s a practiced liar (who only trusts men when she’s sexually aroused), she’s…

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A Movie A Day #6: The Cannonball Run (1981, directed by Hal Needham)


cannonball_runA legendary Hollywood stuntman, Hal Needham moved into directing in the 1970s and proved that all he required to make a successful film were willing stuntmen, fast cars, Coors beer, and Burt Reynolds.  Following that logic, The Cannonball Run may very well be the ultimate Hal Needham movie.

The Cannonball Run follows several teams of racers as they compete to see who can be the first to reach California from Connecticut.  Trying to stop them is Arthur J.  Foyt (George Furth), who represents the Safety Enforcement Unit and who believes that cars are a menace.  However, Foyt is no match for these racers, who include:

  • J.J. (Burt Reynolds), who is racing in memory of his father, and his mechanic Victor (Dom DeLuise), who turns into Captain Choas whenever he is feeling threatened.  J.J. and Victor are driving an ambulance and are accompanied by crazy Dr. Van Helsing (Jack Elam) and a fake “patient” (Farrah Fawcett),
  • Bradford Compton (Bert Convy) who is riding a motorcycle and who, because of the weight of his mechanic, has to pop a wheelie for the entire race,
  • An Arab oil sheik (Jamie Farr) who is racing for “the glory of Islam” and who would probably not be in the movie if it were made today,
  • Sidney Goldfarb (Roger Moore), the heir to a mattress fortune who has had extensive plastic surgery to make himself look like Roger Moore,
  • Jackie Chan and Michael Hui, called “The Japanese team” even though they both speak Cantonese throughout the entire movie,
  • Terry Bradsahw and Mel Tillis because why the Hell not?,
  • Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman), using their cleavage to get out of speeding tickets, or at least they do until they’re pulled over by Valerie Perrine,
  • And Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., pretending to be priests and apparently drunk throughout filming.

Based on a real life (and very illegal) cross-country race that was held four times in the 1970s, The Cannonball Run is profoundly stupid movie that, if you’re in the right mood for it, is also profoundly fun.  It’s a movie that really has no plot but it does have a lot of cars, a lot of stunts, a lot of cleavage, and a lot of politically incorrect humor, some of which has not aged well.  Despite being hated by the critics, The Cannonball Run was a huge box office hit and it still remains a nostalgic guilty pleasure for a lot of people, myself included.  One person who did not like The Cannonball Run was Burt Reynolds who, in an interview with the New York Times, once said, “”I did that film for all the wrong reasons.  I never liked it. I did it to help out a friend of mine, Hal Needham. And I also felt it was immoral to turn down that kind of money. I suppose I sold out so I couldn’t really object to what people wrote about me.”

Burt has a point but, in defense of The Cannonball Run, what other movie actually features Jackie Chan beating up Peter Fonda?

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Or Roger Moore playing someone who thinks that he’s Roger Moore?

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Or Jack Elam playing a mad scientist?

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Or Sammy and Dino, phoning it in one last time?

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Or Captain Chaos?

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Like most of Hal Needham’s films, The Cannonball Run ends with outtakes of Burt Reynolds blowing his lines and hitting people.

Tomorrow’s movie a day will be a film that Burt Reynolds is presumably much more proud of, Sharky’s Machine.

Val’s Movie Roundup #1


I wanted to write about two gems today, but I don’t feel well. Today is as good a day as any to start this series of posts. I watch a lot of movies and I just can’t write full posts about each and every one. Instead, I am going to do little roundups like this from time to time. Here we go.

Talking Skateboard

The Skateboard Kid (1993) – When I was a kid, a piece of wood on wheels could make you cool. Studios knew this, so many stupid skateboarding movies were made. This was one of them. But this one has a twist. Ready for this? The skateboard talks! And it flies! To make matters worse, Dom DeLuise voices the skateboard. Stay away! Watch the Francis movies instead.

Another Talking Skateboard

The Skateboard Kid II (1995) – What do you do when a bad movie about a talking flying skateboard comes out? Make a sequel of course! But this one has two things different about it. One, the skateboard becomes possessed by Turhan Bey. Don’t recognize the name? He actually dated Lana Turner back in the day. Also, the movie was executively produced by Jim Wynorski. He made Chopping Mall back in the 80’s and the softcore porn film Sexually Bugged! in 2014. Haven’t seen the first one yet, but the second one stinks to high heaven. No wonder he directed it under the name Sam Pepperman. This Skateboard Kid is actually better than the first if you can believe that.

Time Barbarians

Time Barbarians (1990) – The movie starts in olden times. There’s a stupid warrior, a stupid amulet, stupid bad guys, and it takes an hour or so for all three to wind up in Los Angeles. It’s like waiting for Godzilla to appear in the 2014 version. Once they get there it gets as dumb as you think. He not only can block bullets with his sword, but bullets fired from an automatic weapon. That’s some fine work! Can you believe this actually came out before The Beastmaster did the same thing with it’s sequel?

Howard The Duck

Howard The Duck (1986) – Yeah, I finally watched this movie. I don’t know why it has the reputation it does. Maybe people were not familiar with what a bad movie truly was at the time or they made the mistake of worshipping a director. I’m leaning more towards the second since you see people spend years trying to find ways to defend bad movies made by otherwise good directors. It’s not good, but it’s stupid campy fun. Harmless. The major issue with the film is that they tried to make it like E.T. in that it’s almost all about getting Howard back home. I think audiences would have preferred more of the wisecracking fun and much less of the child friendly material. Still, I enjoyed it more than Iron Man 2 & 3 so it’s a better Marvel movie than those and they have received praise.

Shattered Politics #23: Fail-Safe (dir by Sidney Lumet)


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After watching Dr. Strangelove, you may find yourself asking what that film would have been like if it had treated its doomsday scenario seriously.  Well, you can find out by watching yet another film from 1964, Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe.

What’s Fail-Safe about?  Well, basically, it tells the exact same story as Dr. Strangelove, except without the humor.  Once again, an American bomber is accidentally ordered to launch a nuclear attack against Russia.  Again, the President (played, somewhat inevitably, by Henry Fonda) has to have an awkward conversation with the leader of Russia.  Again, a sinister defense advisor (this time played by Walter Matthau) argues that the world can survive a nuclear war.

Admittedly, there is no equivalent to George C. Scott’s Buck Turgidson in Fail-Safe.  However, there is a General Black (Dan O’Herilihy) who has a recurring nightmare about watching a bullfight while the sky around him glows with radiation.

Fail-Safe has the same plot as Dr. Strangelove but none of the humor.  In fact, Fail-Safe has absolutely no humor at all.  It’s one of the most somber films that I’ve ever seen.  It has a good opening with General Black’s nightmare and an effective ending that makes excellent use of freeze frames but the middle of the film is basically just a collection of endless debates.

And I’m sure that approach made sense at the time because, after all, Fail-Safe was dealing with a serious theme, it was directed by a serious filmmaker, and it featured a bunch of serious actors.  And maybe if I had never seen Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe would not seem like such a slow and boring movie.  But I have seen Dr. Strangelove and, as a result, it’s impossible to watch Fail-Safe without wanting to hear Henry Fonda say, “You can’t fight here!  This is the war room!”