Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979, directed by Daniel Haller)


In the year 1987, NASA launches it’s final manned mission.  Captain Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) is sent into space but, while he’s orbiting the Earth, he and his spacecraft fall victim to a strange space anomaly which leaves him in suspended animation.  On Earth, Buck Rogers is believed to be lost.  500 years pass.  Buck’s ship continues to orbit the Earth while, down below, mankind nearly destroys itself in a nuclear war.  Eventually, Earth is reduced to radioactive rubble and what remains of human civilization lives in the city of New Chicago.  (Old Chicago, meanwhile, has been taken over by mutants.)

Finally, in the 25th century, Buck and his ship are discovered by Draconia, a spaceship that belongs to the intergalactic Draconian Empire.  Buck is brought out of suspended animation and meets the beautiful Draconian Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensely) and her second-in-command, an Earthling named Kane (Henry Silva).  Ardala would obviously like to make Buck her prince but, after being in suspended animation for 500 years, Buck just wants to return to Earth.  The Draconians allow Buck to return home.

Upon landing in New Chicago, Buck discovers that the world is much different now.  Everyone wears skintight uniforms and a little robot named Twiki (voice by Mel Blanc) is the only person willing to be Buck’s friend.  Commander Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) is in charge of defending what’s left of human civilization and she’s immediately suspicious of Buck and his story.  When it turns out that Ardala and Kane implanted Buck with a tracking device, Deering want to execute him.  Can Buck prove his loyalty and also thwart Ardala and Kane’s plot to conquer humanity?

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century was originally a pilot for a Glen Larson-produced televisions series.  (Larson was also responsible for the original Battlestar Galactica, another sci-fi show whose pilot was given a theatrical release.)  Hoping to appeal to the same audiences who made Star Wars a monster hit, Universal spent a little extra money to upgrade the special effects, added a few suggestive scenes to prevent the pilot from getting the dreaded G-rating, and then released it in theaters a few months before the TV show premiered.  That was a good idea because the movie did become a minor hit and the TV series went on to run for two seasons.

As the movie itself, it never feels like anything more than an extended episode of a television series.  Gil Gerard is bland in the lead role and most serious sci-fi fans will probably lose interest as soon as the child-friendly robot shows up.  Buck Rogers may have been made to capitalize on the success of Star Wars but it doesn’t have any of the attention to detail or the careful world-building that went into George Lucas’s original space opera.  On the plus side, though, the Dads who took their kids to matinee showings of this film were probably happy to see Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley prominently featured in the film and Henry Silva is a great villain as always.  As with a lot of the sci-fi films that were released in the immediate wake of Star Wars, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century does have a definite camp appeal.  It’s bad but some people will enjoy it on a nostalgic level.

Probably the most memorable thing about Buck Rogers In the 25th Century was its James Bond-inspired title sequence.  Here it is, in all of its glory:

Megaforce (1982, directed by Hal Needham)


Megaforce is the code name for America’s daring, highly-trained, Special Mission force. Its purpose: To defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

Oh wait, that’s G.I, Joe!

Megaforce is another daring, highly-trained, Special Mission force.  Led by Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick), Megaforce is a group of international soldiers who have the latest technology at their disposal, like dune buggies and lasers and all of the cars the were left over from Cannonball Run.  They also have flying motorcycles that can shoot missiles and we can all agree that’s pretty damn cool.  When Megaforce is recruited to protect the Republic of Sardun from being conquered by the nation of Gamibia, it brings Ace and his men into conflict with Duke Gurerra (Henry Silva), who used to be a friend of Ace’s until he became a mercenary who would work for the highest bidder.  Duke’s latest employer?  GAMIBIA!

Megaforce is a strange movie.  Director Hal Needham later said that, when the film went into production, he felt he had his finger on the pulse of the country and apparently he thought America was ready for a movie about a group of men who wear skin-tight uniforms and who communicate almost exclusively by giving each other a thumbs up.  What led to Needham choosing to cast Barry Bostwick in the lead role?  Bostwick is very enthusiastic as Ace but he’s not a believable military leader.  We expect discipline and stoicism from our military leaders but Bostwick always seems to be a little too excited about everything.  “Remember,” he says, “the good guys always win!  Even in the 80s!”  Then he kisses his thumb, which is his way of letting the newest member of Megaforce, Zara (Persis Khambatta), know that she is loved.  I don’t know of many military leaders who were known for kissing their thumbs.  Patton probably could have gotten away with it.  Eisenhower, however, never would have been elected President if he had been half as enthusiastic as Ace Hunter.

There’s not really any plot to Megaforce.  Zara tries out for the group but she’s a woman so she has to prove herself.  Ace and his second-in-command, Dallas (Michael Beck), lead the troops in Gamimbia.  The soldiers shoot lasers and rockets from their glowing cars and their flying motorcycles but Megaforce is one of those strange action movies where no one is actually injured as a result of all the violence.  Megaforce was made for the kids.  It was made for an audience that cares more about flying motorcycles than plot or good acting or the non-existent romantic sparks between Barry Bostwick and Persis Khambatta.  In 1982, there probably wasn’t a parent alive who didn’t dread the prospect of their child demanding to watch Megaforce for the hundredth time.

Megaforce has a reputation for being one of the worst movies ever made but it’s not that bad.  How many other films feature something like this:

It’s impossible not to appreciate the brave efforts of the actors as they feign excitement over something that was definitely not actually happening in front of them.  Michael Beck and Barry Bostwick will make you believe that a green screen can be used to make a motorcycle look like it can fly.  Megaforce’s slogan may be Deed Not Words but who needs either when you’ve got a hundred dollars to spend on your special effect budget?

I will be the first to admit that Megaforce is no Delta Force but it’s dumb and sometimes it features Barry Bostwick on a flying motorcycle and it’s got Henry Silva in it, laughing like a maniac.  And finally, it leaves us all with a valuable lesson.  The good guys always win!  Even in the … 20s.

TV Review: Night Gallery 1.5 “Pamela’s Voice/Lone Survivor/The Doll”


The fifth episode of Night Gallery originally aired on January 13th, 1971.  It featured three stories, each one of which was introduced by Rod Serling walking through a darkened museum.

Pamela’s Voice (dir by Richard Benedict, written by Rod Serling)

Jonathan (John Astin) kills his wife, Pamela (Phyllis Diller), because he’s sick of listening to her shrill voice.  However, it turns out that not even death can stop Pamela.  While Jonathan is staring at a coffin, he starts to hear Pamela’s voice.

At first, you might think that this is going to be one of those stories where it’s going to turn out that the murderer has been driven made by his crimes and he’s imagining being taunted by his victim.  But then Pamela makes an post-death appearance herself and the story reveals it’s final twist.

For the most part, Pamela’s Voice is entertaining.  Both John Astin and Phyllis Diller give such eccentric performances that their fun to watch even if the majority of the audience will be able to guess this segment’s big twist.

Lone Survivor (dir by Gene Levitt, written by Rod Serling)

This wonderfully atmospheric story opens in 1915, with the crew of the Lusitania discovering a man (John Colicos) floating in a lifeboat.  The lifeboat is from the Titanic and the man, who claims to be a crewmember of that doomed ship, is wearing a dress, leading the ship’s doctor to assume that the man survived the sinking of the Titanic by pretending to be a woman and stealing someone else’s rightful spot in the lifeboat.

At first, his rescuers are skeptical.  If the man was indeed a survivor of the Titanic, that would mean that he had spent the past three years floating in that lifeboat?  How could the man have survived?  And, assuming that he is telling the truth about the ship that he came from, what has now brought him to the Lusitania?  Could the man possibly be a German spy?  After all, World War I has just broken out and the sea is no longer as safe as it once was….

Lone Survivor is an example of this often uneven show at its best.  It’s a genuinely creepy short film, one that ends on a frightening and rather sad note.  Lone Survivor is the tale of man trying to escape both his own guilt and the whims of fate and discovering that neither can be easily conquered.  In the main role, John Colicos gives a wonderfully intense and haunted performance.

The Doll (dir by Rudi Dorn, written by Rod Serling)

“Our painting is called The Doll,” Rod Serling says as he introduces this one, “and it’s one that you better not play with.”  Truer words were never spoken!

In this one, British Col. Hymber Masters (John Williams) returns home from India and discovers that his niece (Jewel Branch) has a new doll.  Someone mailed the doll to her.  Everyone assumed that Col. Masters sent the doll but he actually had nothing to do with it.  Masters is not happy to see his niece carrying around that doll and it makes sense when you consider just how ugly the doll is.  I mean, this is one creepy doll!

It turns out that the Masters was correct to be concerned because the doll was sent by Pandit Chola (Henry Silva), who holds Masters responsible for the death of his brother.  The doll has been sent to take revenge….

The Doll is another triumph, largely because the doll itself is so creepy that it looks like something that sprung straight out of a nightmare.  John Williams does a good job playing the well-meaning if somewhat stuffy colonel and Henry Silva is well-cast as the villain of the piece.  This segment deserves a lot of credit for taking a fanciful story and playing it totally straight.

The fifth episode of Night Gallery is a triumph.  After a run of uneven episodes, this episode is consistently creepy and entertaining.  For this episode, at least, Night Gallery lived up to its potential.

Previous Night Gallery Reviews:

  1. The Pilot
  2. The Dead Man/The Housekeeper
  3. Room With A View/The Little Black Bag/The Nature of the Enemy
  4. The House/Certain Shadows on the Wall
  5. Make Me Laugh/Clean Kills And Other Trophies

Allan Quatermain and The Lost City Of Gold (1987, directed by Gary Nelson)


Having previously discovered and escaped King Solomon’s mines, Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) and Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) are now living in a domestic bliss in Africa.  They’re planning on eventually returning to America so that they can get married but it turns out that Allan has one more quest that he has to complete before he can truly settle down.

When Allan receives information that his long last brother is not only still alive but has also discovered a fabled Lost City of Gold, Allan sets out to discover the city for himself.  Traveling with Jesse and an old friend named Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones!), Allan makes his way across the Sahara, survives a battle with a group of native, and manages to find both the city and his brother!

However, all is not well in the City of Gold.  Queen Nyelptha (Aileen Marson) is on the verge of going to war with Queen Sorais (Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!!).  Manipulating both of the queens is the evil high priest, Agon (Henry Silva!!!!).  To save the City of Gold and his future marriage, Allan will first have to figure out a way to defeat Agon.

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City Of Gold was filmed back-to-back with King Solomon’s Mines.  The two films were released within a year of each other and, while King Solomon’s Mines was a minor box office success, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold was not.  I wasn’t expecting much when I watched the film but, believe it or not, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is not that bad.  It’s a definite improvement on King Solomon’s Mines.  Richard Chamberlain is more believable as Quatermain in the sequel and he and Sharon Stone share the minimum amount of chemistry to be somewhat believable as a couple in love.  If that sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, it’s still an improvement over King Solomon’s Mines, where the two of them often seemed as if they couldn’t stand to be anywhere near each other.  Best of all, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold has Henry Silva in a ridiculous costume and that automatically makes the film worth watching.

Henry Silva, everyone.

Like King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain and The Lost City of Gold adds a large dose of intentional humor to its adventure story.  Fortunately, the comedy here is better executed than in the previous film.  There’s less mugging on Chamberlain’s part and some of the dialogue is genuinely amusing.

Of course, Allan Quatermain and The Lost City of Gold is not without its flaws.  This is a low-budget Cannon film that often tries too hard to duplicate the success of the Indiana Jones films without ever showing much understanding of what made those films successful in the first place.  Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold can’t hold a candle to the classic adventure films of the past.  But, for a low-budget Cannon film starring Richard Chamberlain as a rugged, jungle explorer, it’s actually a lot of fun.

Plus, did I mention Henry Silva?

Well of Loneliness: Randolph Scott in THE TALL T (Columbia 1957)


cracked rear viewer

I’ve told you Dear Readers before that Randolph Scott stands behind only John Wayne in my personal pantheon of great Western stars. Scott cut his cowboy teeth in a series of Zane Grey oaters at Paramount during the 1930’s, and rode tall in the saddle throughout the 40’s. By the mid-50’s, Scott and his  producing partner Harry Joe Brown teamed with director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy for seven outdoor sagas that were a notch above the average Westerns, beginning with SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. The second of these, THE TALL T, remains the best, featuring an outstanding supporting cast and breathtaking location cinematography by Charles Lang, Jr.

Scott plays Pat Brennen, a friendly sort trying to make a go of his own ranch. Pat, who comically lost his horse to his old boss in a wager over riding a bucking bull, hitches a ride with his pal Rintoon’s…

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A Movie A Day #304: Code of Silence (1985, directed by Andrew Davis)


It’s life and death in the Windy City.  It’s got Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Dens Farina, and a robot, too.  It’s Code of Silence.

Chuck plays Eddie Cusack, a tough Chicago policeman who is abandoned by his fellow officers when he refuses to cover for an alcoholic cop who accidentally gunned down a Hispanic teenager and then tried to place a gun on the body.  This the worst time for Cusack to have no backup because a full-scale gang war has just broken out between the Mafia and the Comachos, a Mexican drug gang led by Luis Comacho (Henry Silva).  When a cowardly mobster goes into hiding, Luis targets his daughter, Diana (Molly Hagan).  Determined to end the drug war and protect Diana, Eddie discovers that he may not be able to rely on his brothers in blue but he can always borrow a crime-fighting robot named PROWLER.

Despite the presence of a crime-fighting robot, Code of Silence is a tough, gritty, and realistic crime story.  Though Chuck only gets to show off his martial arts skills in two scenes (and one of those scenes is just Eddie working out in the gym), Code of Silence is still Norris’s best film and his best performance.  The film draws some interesting comparisons between the police’s code of silence and the Mafia’s omerta and director Andrew Davis shows the same flair for action that he showed in The Fugitive and Above the LawCode of Silence‘s highlight is a fight between Chuck and an assassin that takes place on top of a moving train.  Norris did his own stunts so that really is him trying not to fall off that train.

Davis surrounds Norris with familiar Chicago character actors, all of whom contribute to Code of Silence‘s authenticity and make even the smallest roles memorable.  (Keep an eye out for the great John Mahoney, playing the salesman who first introduces the PROWLER.)  Norris’s partner is played by Dennis Farina, who actually was a Chicago cop at the time of filming.  After Code of Silence, Farina quit the force to pursue acting full time and had a busy career as a character actor, playing cops and mobsters in everything from Manhunter to Get Shorty.  As always, Henry Silva is a great villain but the movie is stolen by Molly Hagan, who is feisty and sympathetic as Diana.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to force Eddie and Diana into any sort of contrived romance.

Unfortunately, none of Chuck Norris’s other films never came close to matching the quality of this one.  Code of Silence is a hint of what could have been.

A Movie A Day #302: Love and Bullets (1979, directed by Stuart Rosenberg)


Joe Bomposa (Rod Steiger) may wear oversized glasses, speak with a stutter, and spend his time watching old romantic movies but don’t mistake him for being one of the good guys.  Bomposa is a ruthless mobster who has destroyed communities by pumping them full of drugs.  Charlie Congers (Charles Bronson) is a tough cop who is determined to take Bomposa down.  When the FBI learns that Bomposa has sent his girlfriend, Jackie Pruit (Jill Ireland), to Switzerland, they assume that Jackie must have information that Bomposa doesn’t want them to discover.  They send Congers over to Europe to bring her back.  Congers discovers that Jackie does not have any useful information but Bomposa decides that he wants her dead anyway.

Love and Bullets is an uneasy mix of action and comedy, with Bronson supplying the former and Ireland trying to help out with the latter.  Not surprisingly, the action works better than the comedy.  Because Charlie is an American in Switzerland, he is not allowed to carry a gun and he is forced to resort to some creative ways to take out Bomposa’s assassins.  Unfortunately, the scenes where Charlie and Jackie fall in love are less interesting, despite Bronson and Ireland being a real-life couple.  Ireland occasionally did good work when she was cast opposite of Bronson but here, she’s insufferable as a ditzy gangster moll with a strange accent.  While everyone else is trying to make an action movie, she’s trying too hard to be Judy Holliday.  Steiger’s peformance starts out as interesting but soon devolves into the usual bellowing and tics.

Love and Bullets does have a good supporting cast, though.  Bradford Dillman, Michael V. Gazzo, Val Avery, Albert Salmi, and Strother Martin all pop up.  The two main hit men are played by Paul Koslo and Henry Silva.  Silva’s almost as dangerous here as he was in Sharky’s Machine.

A Movie A Day #266: Possessed by the Night (1994, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


Howard Hansen (Ted Prior) is a best-selling horror writer who is suffering from writer’s block.  With his agent, Murray (Frank Sivero), pressuring him to get something written, Howard decides to seek inspiration in Chinatown.  When he steps into a curio shop and sees a grotesque, one-eyed blob floating in a jar of formaldehyde, Howard buys it.  He hopes that the blob will give him an idea for a great book but instead, it just causes him to have nightmares and violent sex with his wife, Peggy (Sandahl Bergman).

Meanwhile, Murray is in debt with loan shark Scott Lindsey (Henry Silva) and Scott’s number one debt collector, Gus (Chad McQueen).  Murray needs money and he needs it quickly.  Murray sends his “secretary,” Carol (Shannon Tweed), to live with the Hansens and steal an unpublished romance novel that Howard wrote when he was just starting out as a writer.  However, the one-eyed blob possesses Carol and she is soon climbing onto both Howard’s workout equipment and Howard!  Soon everyone is under the influence of the one-eyed blob, Carol is forcing Howard and Peggy to make love while she holds the gun on them, and both Gus and Murray are sneaking around the house, trying to find the manuscript.

A movie that was once very popular on late night Cinemax, Possessed By The Night is a sometimes awkward but frequently entertaining horror/thriller hybrid from B-auteur Fred Olen Ray.  Along with giving Frank Sivero a rare leading role (Sivero is best known for playing Frankie in Goodfellas and providing the inspiration for the Simpsons character of the same name), Possessed By The Night proves that no movie can be that bad when featuring both Sandahl Bergman and Shannon Tweed.  When you watch a Fred Olen Ray/Shannon Tweed collaboration from 1994, you know what you’re getting and Possessed By The Night delivers.

A Movie A Day #7: Sharky’s Machine (1981, directed by Burt Reynolds)


220px-sharkys_machine_ver3After a drug bust goes wrong, Atlanta police detective Tom Sharky (Burt Reynolds, who also directed) is transferred from narcotics to the vice squad, the least desirable assignment in the Atlanta police department.  Despite all of his honors and commendations, Sharky finds himself reduced to busting hookers with Papa (Brian Keith) and Arch (Bernie Casey).  But then Sharky discovers evidence of a prostitution ring being run by Victor D’Anton (Vittorio Gassman), one that services the wealthiest and most powerful men in Georgia.

Working with Papa, Arch, and a burned-out bugging expert named Nosh (Richard Libertini), Sharky begins a surveillance of Domino (Rachel Ward), one of Victor’s girls.  As the days turns into weeks, Sharky falls in love with Domino, who doesn’t even know that she’s being watched.  Sharky also discovers that Domino is sleeping with Hotckins (Earl Holliman), who is about to be elected governor of Georgia.  At the same time, a heroin-addicted assassin named Billy Score (Henry Silva) is assassinating anyone who could reveal Victor’s crimes.

There are two great sequences in Sharky’s Machine.  One is the opening credits scene, in which a bearded Burt Reynolds walks through the roughest parts of Atlanta while Randy Crawford sings Street Life.  This scene lets everyone know from the start that this is not another Burt Reynolds good ol’ boy comedy.  The other is a cat-and-mouse chase through an Atlanta skyscraper, as Sharky and his partners try to track down Billy Score, who is so doped up on painkillers that he barely flinches whenever he’s shot.  Billy Score is one of the most frightening movie villains of all time, seemingly indestructible and capable of moving like a ghost.

henry-silvaWith the exception of maybe Deliverance, Sharky’s Machine is Burt Reynolds’s darkest movie.  There are moments of humor and appearances by the usual members of the Burt Reynolds stock company, like John Fiedler and Charles Durning.  But overall, this is one dark movie.   Likable characters die.  Sharky cries and loses two fingers when they are graphically chopped off by the bad guys.  A woman’s face is literally blown off.  Even when Sharky starts to talk about his childhood, a sentimental moment the occurred in almost every Burt Reynolds film, Domino tells him that she doesn’t care.

In other words, this ain’t The Cannonball Run.

Burt Reynolds’s first cut of Sharky’s Machine reportedly ran for 140 minutes.  Twenty minutes were cut before it was released into theaters and, as a result, Sharky’s Machine sometimes seems to be rough around the edges.  (One important supporting character is killed off-screen and if you don’t pay close attention to the dialogue, you might never know what happened to him.)  Still, this violent film noir, which Reynolds once called “Dirty Harry in Atlanta,” is one of Burt’s best.

sharky-machine

Worst of the Worst: Mad Dog Time (1996, directed by Larry Bishop)


Mad_dog_time_4841Remember how, in the 1990s, every aspiring indie director tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino by making a gangster film that mixed graphic violence with quirky dialogue, dark comedy, and obscure pop cultural references?  That led to a lot of terrible movies but not a single one (not even Amongst Friends) was as terrible as Mad Dog Time.

That Mad Dog Time was terrible should come as no surprise.  Most directorial debuts are.  What made Mad Dog Time unique was the sheer amount of talent that was assembled and wasted in the effort to bring this sorry movie to life.  As the son of Joey Bishop, director Larry Bishop was Hollywood royalty and was able to convince several ridiculously overqualified actors to play the thinly drawn gangsters and rouges who populated Mad Dog Time.  Much like the Rat Pack movies that his father once starred in, Larry Bishop’s debut film was full of familiar faces.  Some of them only appeared for a few seconds while others had larger roles but they were all wasted in the end.  Hopefully, everyone was served a good lunch in between filming their scenes because it is hard to see what else anyone could have gotten out of appearing in Mad Dog Time.

Mob boss Vic (Richard Dreyfuss) has just been released from a mental hospital.  With the help of his main enforcer, Mick (Jeff Goldblum), and a legendary hitman named Nick (Larry Bishop, giving not only the worst performance in the film but also the worst performance of the 1990s), Vic is going to reassert his control over the rackets.  Vic also wants to find his former mistress, Grace Everly (Diane Lane) but he doesn’t know that Grace is now with Mick and that Mick is also having an affair with Grace’s sister, Rita (Ellen Barkin).

(Grace and Rita are the Everly Sisters!  Ha ha, between that and all the rhyming names, are you laughing yet?)

Anka and Byrne

Ben London (Gabriel Byrne) has taken over Vic’s nightclub and, while singing My Way with Paul Anka, tells Vic that he should take an early retirement because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.  Before he can deal with Ben, Vic has to kill all of his other rivals, all of whom are played by actors like Michael J. Pollard, Billy Idol, Kyle MacLachlan, Gregory Hines, and Burt Reynolds.  The bodies start to pile up but Jimmy the Undertaker (Richard Pryor, looking extremely frail in one of his final roles) is always around to make sure that everyone gets a proper burial.

And there are other cameos as well.  Joey Bishop is the owner of a mortuary.  Henry Silva is wasted as one the few gangsters to stay loyal to Vic.  Christopher Jones, who previously co-starred with Larry Bishop and Richard Pryor in Wild In The Streets before dropping out of a society, plays a hitman who pretends to be Nick Falco.  Even Rob Reiner shows up a limo driver who talks too much.

Almost every poorly paced scene in Mad Dog Time plays out the same way.  Three or more men confront each other in a room.  Hard-boiled dialogue is exchanged for an interminable length of time until someone finally gets shot.  You would think, at the very least, it would be watchable because of all the different people in the cast but none of the actors really seem to be into it.  Richard Dreyfuss and Jeff Goldblum resort to smirking through their scenes while Gabriel Byrne often appears to be drunk.  Whenever he’s in a scene, Burt Reynolds seems to be trying to hide his face and it is hard to blame him.  There were many terrible movies released in the 90s but none were as bad as Mad Dog Time.