Horror Film Review: The Lawnmower Man (dir by Brett Leonard)


The 1992 horror/sci-fi hybrid, The Lawnmower Man, tells the story of two men.

Dr. Lawrence Angelo (played by Pierce Brosnan) is a scientist who is experimenting with ways to make less intellectually inclined people smarter. Dr. Angelo is kind of a burn out. You can tell he has issues because he needs to shave, he’s always sitting in the dark, and he’s never without a cigarette. You look at Dr. Angelo and you just imagine that he smells like smoke, bourbon, and lost dreams.

Jobe (Jeff Fahey) is the kind-hearted but intellectually disabled man who lives in a shack and spends his time mowing everyone’s lawn. Hence, he’s known as the …. wait for it …. THE LAWNMOWER MAN!

Together, Dr. Angelo and Jobe solve crimes!

No, not really. Instead, Dr. Angelo decides to experiment on Jobe. This leads to Jobe not only becoming smarter but also quicker to anger. Soon, Jobe is developing psychic abilities. He can move things with his mind. He can magically set people on fire. Basically, he can do whatever the script needs for him to do at the moment. Jobe is soon tormenting everyone who once bullied him. Father McKeen, the pervy priest, gets set on fire. Jake, the gas station attendant, is put into a catatonic state. An abusive father get run over by a lawnmower.

Dr. Angelo knows that Jobe is out-of-control and that the experiment has to be reversed. However, the sinister group behind Angelo’s research wants to use Jobe as a weapon because …. well, because they’re evil and that’s what evil people did back in 1992. Jobe, however, has other plans. He wants to become pure energy so that he can rule over a virtual world….

Or something like that. To be honest, it’s kind of difficult to really figure out what’s going on in The Lawnmower Man. The movie shares its name with a Stephen King short story but it has so little in common with its source material that King reportedly sued to get his name taken out of the credits. (Considering some of the films that King has allowed himself to be associated with, this is kind of amazing.) The film tries to be a satire, a slasher film, a conspiracy film, and a technology-gone-crazy film all in one and the end result is one big mess.

Along with all of that, The Lawnmower Man is also a time capsule of when it was made. A good deal of the film takes place in Jobe’s virtual reality universe, which looks a lot like a mix of Doom and Second Life. I imagine the film’s special effects may have seen impressive way back in the 20th Century but, seen today, they’re rather cartoonish, if occasionally charmingly retro.

On the plus side, the film does have an interesting cast. Pierce Brosnan is never convincing as burn-out but he tries so hard that he’s still fun to watch. Underrated actors like Jenny Wright, Geoffrey Lewis, Dean Norris, and Troy Evans all get a chance to show what they can do in minor roles. Finally, you’ve got the great Jeff Fahey, giving a far better performance than the script perhaps deserves. Though the film may be a mess, there’s something undeniably fun watching Jeff Fahey’s Jobe go from being meek to being a megalomaniac.

It’s a silly film and not one that’s meant to be watched alone. This is a film that has to be watched with a group of your snarkiest friends. Watch it the next time you’re looking for an excuse to avoid doing the yard work.

Quick Review – Grindhouse (dir. by Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)


The following was posted on 4/6/2007 from my LiveJournal on Grindhouse (which is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary). I’ll admit I respect Death Proof a bit more now than I did back then:

Gotta write fast. Have to jump into shower and head for work.

I got into the movie theatre at about 8pm, and spent the hour talking with a pair of film students from the School of Visual Arts. At 9 (an hour before the movie), the rest of the sold out crowd appeared. I was officially 3rd in line. Sweet. 🙂 I didn’t my preferred seat (the single one on the right reserved for patrons coming in with someone in a wheelchair), but did get a seat in the empty row (meaning I could stretch my legs, even better).

The short of it: Grindhouse is paying one low price for 2 bad movies, on purpose. You get 3 great built in trailers, and two mini movies. Between the two mini movies, I loved “Planet Terror” (the Rodriguez one) more than “Death Proof” (The Tarantino film), simply because Death Proof had too much of Tarantino’s conversational style that all of his films have. It’s like you’re listening to a conversation that absolutely doesn’t tie itself to any of the storyline’s major points. It’s just “cool” stuff, but I literally almost fell asleep until Kurt Russell showed up on screen. I think that if one knows to expect this from Tarantino, it comes across better. It’s like watching both Kill Bill volumes back to back. The first one’s cool and action packed, and the second one has some action (the chase scene alone in Death Proof had me wondering how they did that), but is so slow before getting there, you want to sigh.

Being a Charmed Fan, it was great to see Rose McGowan again, and there were so many cameos to laugh at. Fergie has a cameo, and Michael Biehn’s (“Hicks” from Aliens, Navy Seals) even in this. Where did they dig up these guys?

Grindhouse is easily a party film. I’d go see it again in the theatre, but I don’t see myself getting the DVD. It takes you back about a good 30 years, and does that really well. There are missing reels, serious jump cuts in the film and the sound sometimes cuts out. 🙂 In that sense, it’s really beautiful. The audience laughed and applauded, though there were some that at the end were like “Man, that sucked.” In the 60’s and 70’s, Grindhouse movies were pretty bad. I guess it’s like watching one of those old Hammer films, mixed in with a cheap horror flick. You have to walk into this movie not expecting “The Departed” for it to work. Just have fun with what you’re seeing and remember, this is what your parents sometimes saw in the movies (it should be noted that my parents went to something of a Grindhouse once – the movie they went to see was Night of the Living Dead. The other movie that was in the show was John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, which freaked my Dad out).

The music in particular is really great. Robert Rodriguez, Chingon, and a few friends come up with a sound for Planet Terror that’s in essence a John Carpenter like sound. If you have access to the Itunes Music Store, give it a listen (I bought it). Plus, if you’re a fan of some of the older movies out there, you’ll find references to some of Carpenter’s films in there (for example, one of the songs from “Escape from New York” is actually used in the film). The same occurs with the soundtrack from “Creepshow” – The story with the drowned couple. There are also tons of older Tarantino/Rodriguez references in there. One fellow actually yelled out a line, word for word, from what was on screen. It took me a second to realize the line came from “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Sweet.

The in betwen trailers are absolutely fantastic. If I were to get the DVD, it would probably be for this reason alone. You can tell that Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel) really had fun with their pieces.

So, Grindhouse is worth seeing in theatre at least once with a bunch of friends, but know what you’re walking into. The movie can get gross at times and no young kid should even be brought near to this (we got carded to actually get into the theatre, and a Weinstein Rep. was on hand after the film to let us take surveys). Also before the movies, one of the teaser trailers is for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. I haven’t been so excited for a horror film like this since Zack Snyder’s version of “Dawn of the Dead”. This looks really good, and I’m wondering what Michael Myers is going to look like when someone like Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from the first X-Men movie) is playing him. That’s going to be creepy.

Film Review: Revelation (dir by André van Heerden)


The world which started to end in the 1998 film Apocalypse continues to end in its first sequel, 1999’s Revelation!

Revelation beings three months after the end of Apocalypse.  The people of the world worship the president of the European Union, Franco Macalousso (Nick Mancuso, replacing Sam Bornstein from the first film).   The world is ruled over by O.N.E., which stands for One Nation Earth.  Those who oppose Macalousso’s claim to the messiah are known as “The Haters.”  At the start of the film, a school bus has been bombed and all of the children aboard have been killed.  O.N.E. claims that the Haters bombed the bus but counterterrorist agent Thorold Stone (Jeff Fahey) comes across evidence that it was actually an inside job.  When Macalousso’s second-in-command, Len Parker (David Roddis), attempts to murder Thorold, he’s forced to go on the run.

The Day of Wonders is approaching.  On this day, everyone on Earth is to put on a VR headset.  Macalousso hasn’t made clear what the headset will do but everyone’s planning on doing it because Macalousso has told them to do it and everyone on the planet does what Macalousso says.  Thorold tracks down Willy Spino (Tony Nappa), a wheelchair-bound programmer (in the 90s sense of the term, of course) who is somehow involved with setting up The Day of Wonders.  Willy says that O.N.E. is not the benevolent organization that everyone thinks it is.  You would have thought that Thorald would have figured that out after Parker attempted to kill him but Thorald remains convinced that Maclousso is the messiah and that his wife and daughter previously vanished not because they were Christians but because they were abducted by aliens.

Anyway, long story short, it turns out that Willy’s stepsister is Helen Hannah (Leigh Lewis), the news anchor from the first film.  Helen is now a leader in the Hater underground.  While she tries to convince Thorold that Macalousso is actually the Devil, Willy spends his time flirting with a cynical blind woman named Cindy (Carol Alt).  Both Willy and Cindy find themselves tempted to put on the VR headset, just to see what the Day of Wonders will hold for them….

Revelation is a marked improvement on Apocalypse though, considering how shoddy the production of that first film was, that’s really not saying much.  As opposed to the first film’s stiff performances and reliance on stock footage, Revelation features actual actors, actual sets, and an actual script.  There’s even a few action sequences and some attempts at intentional humor.  That said, if you’re a nonbeliever, Revelation isn’t going to convert you and, about halfway through the film, all of the action stops so that Thorold and Hannah can have a very long discussion about faith and whether or not God should prove his existence by turning over a glass of water.

Like the first film, Revelation actually works better as a political allegory than a religious tract.  Today, it’s kind of easy to laugh at the bulky computers that fill O.N.E.’s headquarters and the scenes where Willy carefully explains what virtual reality and computer viruses are serve as a reminder that, apparently, there was a time when all of this stuff was still viewed as being somehow exotic.  I mean, it’s easy to be snarky about this movie.  But let’s be honest — it’s probably easier today than it was when this film was first released to imagine a world where everyone blindly does whatever the government tells them to do.  And the idea of a group running a false flag operation — like blowing up a school bus and blaming it on unseen enemies — no longer seems quite as outlandish as it perhaps did it 1999.

Revelation was apparently enough of a success that it was followed by yet another sequel.  This one was called Tribulation and I’ll be posting a review of it in about 15 minutes.  Hope to see you then!

 

Cinemax Friday: The Hit List (1993, directed by William Webb)


Charlie Pike (Jeff Fahey) is an assassin with a conscience.  He learned how to kill while serving in the military and now, he uses his skills to help out the Committee, a shadowy organization of lawyers who are determined to take out the leaders of organized crime.  When Charlie announces that he has decided to retire from the killing game, the Committee’s Peter Mayhew (James Coburn!) asks him to take on one more job as a personal favor to him.

Mayhew puts Charlie in contact with the beautiful and alluring Jordan (Yancy Butler, making her film debut).  Jordan is the widow of a businessman who was murdered by the mob.  Jordan asks Charlie to kill the man who killed her husband.  Charlie agrees but, after he does the job, he discovers that the man he killed was actually a government informant who was scheduled to testify to Congress!  Someone double-crossed Charlie and now, Charlie’s got both the police and another group of assassins trying to track him down.  Jordan claims that Mayhew told her that the informant was responsible for her husband’s death.  Mayhew denies it and says that Jordan must have set Charlie up.  Charlie has to figure out who to trust before it’s too late.  Complicating matters is that Charlie and Jordan have become lovers.

The Hit List is essentially a 40s film noir reinterpreted for the direct-to-video age.  Jeff Fahey has the Alan Ladd role while Yancy Butler does her best imitation of Lana Turner.  Fahey was one of the best actors to routinely star in the neo-noirs that used to populate late night Cinemax and The Hit List features one of his best performances.  Fahey is a convincing killer but he still brings enough humanity to the role that you believe Charlie could find himself falling for Jordan.  Yancy Butler is a sultry and sexy femme fatale and James Coburn is James Coburn, supercool, slick, and always in control.  It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one of the two is betraying Fahey but all three commit to their roles and give enjoyable performances.  I especially liked the scene where Mayhew accuses Jordan of double-crossing Charlie and James Coburn grins like he’s having the time of his life.  James Coburn was one of those actors who could liven up and improve any scene in any movie and he proves that here.

The Hit List is a well-made B-noir that’s elevated by its cast and which will leave you nostalgic for Cinemax in the 90s.

When Justice Fails (1999, directed by Allan A. Goldstein)


In New York City, two men have been murdered in the same ritualistic way.  Both of the men were accused rapists who beat the system, getting their charges dismissed due to legal technicalities.  When detectives Tom Chaney (Jeff Fahey) and Rod Lambeau (Carl Marotte) discover that assistant D.A. Katy Wesson (Marlee Matlin) was the prosecutor on both of the dead men’s cases, she becomes their number one suspect.  However, Chaney has his doubt about her guilt, especially after he goes on a few dates and starts sleeping with her.  Katy is an enigma with a traumatic childhood and penchant for picking up men in nightclubs but is she a murderer?  Other suspects include a creepy artist named Josh (Charles Powell), who also works as the deaf Katy’s interpreter, and Katy’s overdramatic mother (Monique Mercure).

That a direct-to-video thriller from 1999 would be a rip-off of Basic Instinct is not a shock.  Almost every thriller released between 1992 and 2000 was at least partially cloned from Basic Instinct.  What sets When Justice Fails apart is that it’s probably the only Basic Instinct clone to actually feature it’s two main characters discussing the ending of Basic Instinct post-coitus.  (For the record, Chaney thinks that the final shot means that Sharon Stone was the murderer while Katy says that the ice pick showed that the director was playing a joke on the audience.)  I guess When Justice Fails deserves some credit for being willing to so directly acknowledge the film that inspired it but, when you’re a mediocre film, you probably don’t want to intentionally remind audiences that they could be watching something better.

When Justice Fails actually gets off to a good start, with Jeff Fahey playing another one of his driven loners and Marlee Matlin really committing to the role of the film’s femme fatale.  The movie even manages to avoid the usual awkwardness that comes from having a hearing character repeating everything that a deaf character either signs or writes down.  The early scenes have a Law & Order feel to them, with Chaney and Lambeau interviewing witnesses on the busy streets of New York and also talking to a world-weary coroner.  It would have been a surprise if Stephen Hill had suddenly shown up and said, “Your case is weak and this trial could drag on through election day.  Make him an offer.  Man 1.  Depraved indifference.”

Unfortunately, once Chaney sleeps with Katy, the movie becomes increasingly implausible and goes downhill.  There just aren’t enough suspects to generate any suspense over who the murderer is ultimately going to turn out to be.  The surprise at the end is only a surprise because it didn’t occur to Chaney to run a routine background check on one of his suspects, something that I would think most cops would do at the start of a murder investigation.  Marlee Matlin is a terrific actress who is always interesting to watch but When Justice Fails ultimately fails to be very memorable.

Cinemax Friday: Extramarital (1998, directed by Yael Russcol)


Traci Lords in Extramarital

Having quit her corporate job, Elizabeth (Traci Lords) has taken a position as an intern at We@r Magazine.  (Yes, that’s how it’s spelled.)  She’s not making much money and she and her husband, Eric (Jack Kerrigan), are really struggling to pay the bills.  However, Elizabeth is getting to work for her college mentor, Griffin (Jeff Fahey), and she’s pursuing her dream.  Unlike Eric, who surrendered his fantasies of being a professional photographer, Elizabeth is determined to make it as a writer.

The only problem is that she can’t seem to get anything published.  Griffin tells her that she’s too repressed and that she doesn’t put enough of herself into her stories.  He orders her to “confront your demons and nail your endings.”  Elizabeth gets a chance to do just that when she meets Ann (Maria Diaz).  Ann says that, like Elizabeth, she spent her youth at a Catholic boarding school and she married the first man that she ever had sex with.  However, Ann is now in an open marriage and she says that it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to her.  Intrigued, Elizabeth decides to write a story about Ann.  But, when Ann disappears, Elizabeth fears that she may have been murdered and she decides to track down Ann’s latest lover, Bob (Brian Bloom), herself.

Extramarital is the type of thriller that used to air on Cinemax, late at night, in the 90s.  In fact, it’s such a 90s film that the entire plot hinges on deciphering a garbled message that was left on a broken answering machine.  Like most of the Cinemax thrillers of the era, the plot borrows a lot from Basic Instinct and no one ever does anything intelligent.  (To cite just one example, after Elizabeth discovers the someone is planning to kill her, she calls everyone but the police.)  The film deserves some credit for actually having the guts to cast Traci Lords as someone who is sexually repressed.  Griffin calls her the “Virgin Adulteress,” which probably would have been a better title than Extramarital.

Because of her background in the adult film industry and the fact that even her non-porn roles usually required her to show a lot of skin, Traci Lords never got much respect as an actress but, as she shows here and in her other 90s direct-to-video films, she had more talent than she was given credit for.  Lords seems to really invest herself in the role of Elizabeth and her performance is often the only thing that holds this film together.  Her best moment is when she discovers that she’s been betrayed and she trashes a room while screaming, “Fucking liar!”  Traci could destroy a room with the best of them.

The film’s ending doesn’t make much sense and you’ll figure out who the main villain is just by process of elimination.  That’s one problem with low-budget whodunits.  There usually aren’t enough people in the cast to really keep you guessing.  But Traci Lords is both sexy and sympathetic as Elizabeth and Jeff Fahey gives another memorably weird performance.  As far as late night Cinemax features from the 1990s are concerned, Extramarital delivers exactly what it promises.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Unspeakable (dir by Thomas J. Wright)


So, here’s a few good things about the 2002 film, Unspeakable.

First off, Jeff Fahey plays the governor of New Mexico.  Any film that presents us with a world where Jeff Fahey can be elected governor of an actual state has to be worth something.  Seriously, I’ve long thought that the country would be more interesting if actors were elected to run each state.  Here in Texas, for instance, there was a movement to draft Tommy Lee Jones a few years ago.  (Personally, I’d rather live under Governor McConaughey.)  Steven Seagal (agck!) apparently wanted to run for governor of Arizona and, of course, Cynthia Nixon actually ran up in New York.  There’s always a chance of Alec Baldwin running for something and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger actually did govern California for two terms.  Val Kilmer, I should add, came close to running for governor of New Mexico, where this film is set!  Personally, I’d vote for Jeff Fahey over Val Kilmer,  It’s the eyes.

Another good thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dennis Hopper playing a crazed prison warden who rambles about how much he enjoys sending people to the electric chair.  “I am God!” Hopper says at one point and you have to enjoy any scene that features Dennis Hopper saying, “I am God!” in a southwestern accent.

Another fun thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dina Meyer and Lance Henriksen as scientists!  Meyer invents this weird little headband thing that allows her to look into your mind and see your thoughts.  Let me repeat this for those of you who might have missed the significance: DINA MEYER HAS INVENTED A MACHINE THAT ALLOW HER TO SEE EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING IN SOMEONE’S MIND!  If that wasn’t amazing enough, there’s also the fact that no one seems to be that impressed.  In fact, no one really cares.  Everyone just kind of shrugs it off.

Meyer and Henriksen ask for permission to test their invention out on death row inmates.  Sure, why not?  It’s not like Warden Hopper cares what happens to the inmates, right?  Meyer discovers that one of the inmates is innocent!  Unfortunately, no one cares.  Gov. Fahey, who is also Meyer’s former lover, refuses to commute the sentence because he’s got an election coming up and voters love the death penalty.  And so, that innocent man goes off to the electric chair.

But wait!  There’s a new prisoner on death row.  His name is Jesse Mowatt and he’s played by Pavan Grover, the doctor who wrote this film.  It turns out that he is America’s most prolific serial killer!  He’s murdered hundreds of people, all because of some weird issue he has with religion.  Anyway, it’s pretty obvious that this killer has a date with the electric chair but first, Meyer gets to use her amazing-invention-that-nobody-cares-about on him.  What she discovers is that this serial killer might be a demon-possessed monster who can use his mind to drive other people to do things like rip their faces off.  Or maybe he’s just really clever.  He does definitely have super strength and beats up any guard that comes near him.  It never occurs to the guards to use handcuffs on him or anything.  That’s just the type of prison that it is.

Anyway, I appreciated the film’s anti-death penalty theme but the film still got a bit too heavy-handed for my tastes.  Pavan Grover wrote himself a pretty good part but he doesn’t really have the screen presence necessary to do the whole irresistible sociopath thing.  Still, I appreciate any movie that features Jeff Fahey as a governor.

FAHEY 2024!

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Psycho III (dir by Anthony Perkins)


Norman Bates is back!

Released in 1986 and directed by Anthony Perkins himself, Psycho III picks up a few months after Psycho II ended.  Norman (Anthony Perkins, of course) is still free.  He’s still got his motel.  He’s still talking to his dead mother.  Of course, at the end of Psycho II, Norman was told that the woman who Norman thought was his mother actually wasn’t his mother.  Instead, Emma Spool told Norman that she was his mother, which led to Norman promptly hitting her with a shovel and then keeping her preserved body hidden away in the motel.  Got all that?  Great, let’s move on….

In Psycho III, business suddenly starts booming at the Bates Motel!  All sorts of people come by to visit.

For instance, there’s the obnoxious tourists who show up at the motel so they can watch a football game and get drunk.  Future director Katt Shea plays one of the unfortunate tourists, who ends up suffering perhaps the most undignified death in the history of the Psycho franchise.  Shea later ends up being stored in the motel’s ice chest.  At one point, the local sheriff grabs a piece of ice and tosses it in his mouth without noticing that it’s covered in blood.

And then there’s Duane Duke (a young Jeff Fahey!), who is superhot but also super sleazy.  For reasons that are never quite clear, Norman hires Duke to be the assistant manager at the motel.  Duke turns out to be thoroughly untrustworthy but he’s Jeff Fahey so he remains strangely appealing even when he shouldn’t be.

Red (Juliette Cummins) shows up at the motel so that she can have sex with Duke and then get stabbed to death while taking off her top in a phone booth.  That, I guess, is Psycho III‘s equivalent of the first film’s shower scene.  Later, Duke comes across Norman mopping up all the blood in the phone booth but he doesn’t say anything about it.  Duke knows better than to ask why there’s blood in the phone booth.

Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is a journalist whose sole purpose in life is to prove that Norman murdered Emma Spool.  Tracy’s main function in this film is to explain just why exactly so many different women have claimed to be Norman’s mother.  It’s a rather complicated story and you’ll get a migraine if you think about it for too long.

And finally, there’s Maureen (Diana Scarwid), the former nun who has lost her faith and her sanity.  She shows up at the motel and stays in Marion Crane’s old room.  She takes a bath instead of a shower and slits her wrists.  When Norman storms into the room to kill her, the barely lucid Maureen mistakes him for the Virgin Mary and sees his knife as being a crucifix.  Maureen survives and Norman is hailed as a hero for rescuing her.  Later, Norman and Maureen fall in love.  You can guess how that goes.

When compared to the first sequel, Psycho III is much more of a standard slasher film and there’s certainly never any doubt over who is doing the killing.  However, Perkins again does a great job in the role of Norman, making him both sympathetic and creepy.  Fahey, Scarwid, Maxwell, and Hugh Gillin (as the hilariously clueless sheriff) all provide good support.  There’s really not a single character in this film who doesn’t have at least one odd or memorable quirk.  Duane Duke, for instance, is one of the most amazingly sleazy characters in the history of American cinema.  Just when you think that the character can’t get any worse, he proves you wrong.

As mentioned above, Perkins directed this film.  It was one of two movies that Perkins would direct before his death.  As a director, Perkins had a good visual sense, even if he did allow the narrative to meander a bit.  There’s nothing particularly subtle about Perkins’s direction and several of the scenes — like the sex scene between Duke and Red — are so over the top that they become rather fascinating to watch.  That said, there was really no longer any need to be subtle when it came to Norman Bates and his story.

With the exception of the weird Gus Van Sant remake with Vince Vaughn, Psycho III would be the last Psycho film to be released into theaters.  It would also be Perkins’s second-to-last time to play Norman.  (The last time would be in a 1990 made-for-TV sequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning.  Despite it’s title, Psycho IV pretty much ignored everything that happened in the previous two sequels.)  Perkins passed away in 1992, at the age of 60 but the character of Norman Bates would live on, both in his own performances and in the later work of Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel.

A Movie A Day #217: Wyatt Earp (1994, directed by Lawrence Kasdan)


Once upon a time, there were two movies about the legendary Western lawman (or outlaw, depending on who is telling the story) Wyatt Earp.  One came out in 1993 and the other came out in 1994.

The 1993 movie was called Tombstone.  That is the one that starred Kurt Russell was Wyatt, with Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton in the roles of his brothers and Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday.  Tombstone deals with the circumstances that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday says right before his gunfight with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo.  Tombstone is the movie that everyone remembers.

The 1994 movies was called Wyatt Earp.  This was a big budget extravaganza that was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Costner as Wyatt.  Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday and supporting roles were played by almost everyone who was an active SAG member in 1994.  If they were not in Tombstone, they were probably in Wyatt Earp.  Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Annabeth Gish, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham, and many others all appeared as supporting characters in the (very) long story of Wyatt Earp’s life.

Of course, Wyatt Earp features the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it also deals with every other chapter of Earp’s life, including his multiple marriages, his career as a buffalo hunter, and his time as a gold prospector.  With a three-hour running time, there is little about Wyatt Earp’s life that is not included.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his time in Tomstone, Wyatt Earp’s life was not that interesting.  Neither was Kevin Costner’s performance.  Costner tried to channel Gary Cooper in his performance but Cooper would have known better than to have starred in a slowly paced, three-hour movie.  The film is so centered around Costner and his all-American persona that, with the exception of Dennis Quaid, the impressive cast is wasted in glorified cameos.  Wyatt Earp the movie tries to be an elegy for the old west but neither Wyatt Earp as a character nor Kevin Costner’s performance was strong enough to carry such heavy symbolism.  A good western should never be boring and that is a rule that Wyatt Earp breaks from the minute that Costner delivers his first line.

Costner was originally cast in Tombstone, just to leave the project so he could produce his own Wyatt Earp film.  As a big, Oscar-winnng star, Costner went as far as to try to have production of Tombstone canceled.  Ironically, Tombstone turned out to be the film that everyone remember while Wyatt Earp is the film that most people want to forget.

A Movie A Day #194: Lethal Tender (1996, directed by John Bradshaw)


Detective David Chase (Jeff Fahey) should not be mistaken for the creator of The Sopranos.  Instead, he is an eccentric and tough Chicago policeman, the type of cop who appears to have seen Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon one too many times.  His superiors send Detective Chase and his partner to keep an eye on a strike occurring outside of a water purification plant.  Chase, however, is less interested in the strike and more interested in hitting on Melissa (Carrie-Ann Moss), who works at the plant.

Before you can say Die Hard All Over Again, a band of terrorists led by Montessi (Kim Coates) seizes control of the plant.  Montessi threatens to poison all of Chicago’s drinking water but, what the authorities don’t realize, is that the attack is really just a distraction, designed to keep everyone from noticing Mr. Turner (Gary Busey) and his men running off with a bunch of stolen government bonds.  Since Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, and even Jean-Claude Van Damme were busy, it is up to Jeff Fahey to save the water, the money, and the day!

A Die Hard rip-off starring Gary Busey, Kim Coates, and Jeff Fahey does not actually have to be any good.  All the movie has to do is let those three actors do their thing and it will be watchable.  That is certainly the case with Lethal Tender, which is entertaining even if it is, ultimately, just another predictable Die Hard ripoff.  Jeff Fahey does okay as the hero but Lethal Tender belongs to the villains.  This was made in the days when Gary Busey playing crazy was still enjoyable instead of just sad.  Realizing that he was going to have to compete with Busey’s legendary ability to overact, Coates chews every piece of scenery that he can get his hands on.  Launching a major terrorist strike to cover up a simple robbery might seem like overkill but watching Busey and Coates compete to see who can steal the most scenes is so much fun that it really doesn’t matter that Chicago’s drinking water might get poisoned as a result of their shenanigans.

For fans of Busey and Coates, Lethal Tender is required viewing.  For everyone else, it’s the most successful attempt ever made to transport the plot of Die Hard to a water filtration plant.