A Movie A Day #350: The Chase (1994, directed by Adam Rifkin)


Why so serious?

Jack Hammond (Charlie Sheen) was just an innocent clown who worked birthday parties.  Then he was mistaken for an outlaw clown and was accused of a crime that he did not commit.  When police incompetence led to the only piece of evidence that could exonerate him being tossed out of court, Jack had no choice but to go on the run.  Now, he’s in a stolen car, being pursued by not just the cops but also the tabloid media, and he’s got a hostage.  Natalie Voss (Kristy Swanson) turns out to be a willing hostage, though.  She is the daughter of Dalton Voss (Ray Wise, playing a character who is literally described as being “the Donald Trump of California) and what better way to act out against her father than to fall in love with her kidnapper and help him as he tries to reach the Mexican border?

What’s this?

A good Charlie Sheen movie that was not directed by Oliver Stone or John Milius?

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Actually, it may be misleading to say that The Chase is good..  By most of the standards used to judge whether or not a film qualifies as being good, The Chase fails.  There’s no real character development.  The plot is as simplistic as a plot can be.  A good deal of the movie could be correctly described as stupid.  But The Chase has got to be one of the most entertainingly stupid movies ever made.  It is about as basic an action comedy as has ever been made.  Almost the entire movie takes place on highway, with jokes mixed in with spectacular car crashes and only-in-the-90s cameos from Flea, Anthony Kiedis, and Ron Jeremy.  The pace never lets up, Kristy Swanson again shows that she deserved a better film career than she got, and Henry Rollins plays a cop.  As for Charlie Sheen, he basically plays the same character that he always plays but at least, when The Chase was made, he was still putting a little effort into it.  Maybe because they had already previously worked together in Hot Shots!, Sheen and Swanson have an easy rapport and make even the worse jokes sound passably funny.

The Chase may not be great and it really would have been improved by cameos from Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson but it’s still damn entertaining.

A Movie A Day #316: 52 Pick-Up (1986, directed by John Frankenheimer)


Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) is a businessman who has money, a beautiful wife named Barbara (Ann-Margaret), a sexy mistress named Cini (Kelly Preston), and a shitload of trouble.  He is approached by Alan Raimey (John Glover) and informed that there is a sex tape of him and his mistress.  Alan demands $105,000 to destroy the tape.  When Harry refuses to pay, Alan and his partners (Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor) show up with a new tape, this one framing Harry for the murder of Cini.  They also make a new demand: $105,000 a year or else they will release the tape.  Can Harry beat Alan at his own game without harming his wife’s political ambitions?

Based on a novel by the great Elmore Leonard and directed by John Frankenheimer, 52 Pick-Up is one of the best films to ever come out of the Cannon Film Group.  Though it may not be as well-known as some of his other films (like The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, Black Sunday, and Ronin), 52 Pick-Up shows why Frankenheimer was considered to be one of the masters of the thriller genre.  52 Pick-Up is a stylish, fast-paced, and violent thriller.  John Glover is memorably sleazy as the repellent Alan and the often underrated Roy Scheider does an excellent job of portraying Harry as a man who starts out smugly complacent and then becomes increasingly desperate as the story play out.

One final note: This movie was actually Cannon’s second attempt to turn Elmore Leonard’s novel to the big screen.  The first attempt was The Ambassador, which ultimately had little to do with Leonard’s original story.  Avoid The Ambassador but see 52 Pick-Up.

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Hell’s Highway (directed by Jeff Leroy)


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“This is the worst trip ever!”

— Monique (Beverly Lynne) in Hell’s Highway (2002)

It certainly is, Monique!  It certainly is.

Hell’s Highway is a stretch of road that runs through the desolate California desert.  The side of the road is decorated with crosses, each signifying another person who lost her or his life on the road.  There are only a few cars on this lonely stretch of highway.  One car belongs to a serial killer who dresses as a priest.  Another car is being driven by veteran porn actor Ron Jeremy, who ends up getting castrated in close-up.

And then there’s a group of college friends on a road trip.  They drink beer.  They smoke pot.  They occasionally stop to camp out on the side of the road.  And they also pick up a hitchhiker named Lucinda (Phoebe Dollar).

Picking up Lucinda was probably a mistake because, as soon as she gets in the car, she starts talking about how much she enjoys killing people.  She then pulls out a gun and tells them, “My name’s not really Lucinda but it’s close enough.”  The road trippers manage to kick her out of the car and drive away.

But it’s not that easy to get rid of Lucinda!

The next day, they once again come across her hitchhiking.  They run her over and then drive off with her large intestine still wrapped around the back bumper.

And yet, Lucinda continues to reappear!  No matter how many times they destroy her, Lucinda always returns…

Like so many of the films that I’ve reviewed for this October, Hell’s Highway is included in the Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares box set.  Like every other film included in that set, Hell’s Highway is a low-budget, direct-to-video gorefest that doesn’t really waste much time with anything as mundane as plausibility.  And yet, for what it is, Hell’s Highway is actually pretty effective.  Lucinda makes for an effectively creepy villain and all of her victims are so unlikable that you won’t feel too bad when they get killed.

Perhaps best of all, Hell’s Highway ends with one of those out-of-nowhere twists that makes so little sense that it becomes oddly brilliant.  Just when you think the film can’t get any stranger or any more implausible, it goes there.  And it goes there with such conviction that you can’t help but slightly admire it.

Perhaps despite itself, Hell’s Highway works surprisingly well.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #95: 54 (dir by Mark Christopher)


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“A guy named Steve Rubell had a dream: To throw the best damned party the world had ever seen and to make it last forever. He built a world where fantasy was put up as reality and where an 80-year-old disco queen could dance till dawn. Where models mingled with mechanics, plumbers danced with princes. It was a place where all labels were left behind. A place where there were no rules.”

— Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe) in 54 (1998)

So, did you actually read that quote at the beginning of the review?  I don’t blame if you didn’t because not only is it ludicrous overwritten but it just goes on and on.  It’s one of those quotes that you read in a script and you think to yourself, “They better get absolutely the best actor in the world to deliver these lines,” and then you realize Ryan Phillippe has been cast in the role.

Except, of course, I doubt that any of those lines were found in the original script for 54.  54 is one of those films where, as you watch it, you can literally imagine the chaos that must have been going on during the editing process.  Subplots are raised and then dropped and the mysteriously pop up again.  Characters change both their personalities and their motives in between scenes.  Huge dramatic moment happen almost at random but don’t seem to actually have anything to do with anything else happening in the film.

In short, 54 is a mess but it’s a mess that’s held together by incredibly clunky narration.  Shane O’Shea, who spent the waning days of the 1970s working at Studio 54, narrates the film.  And, despite the fact that Shane is presented as being kinda dumb (think of Saturday Night Fever‘s Tony Manero, without the sexy dance moves), his narration is extremely verbose and reflective. It’s almost as if the narration was written at the last-minute by someone desperately trying to save a collapsing film.

I watched 54 on cable because I saw that it was about the 70s and I figured it would feature a lot of outrageous costumes, danceable music, and cocaine-fueled melodrama.  And it turns out that I was right about the cocaine-fueled melodrama but still, 54 is no Boogie Nights.  It’s not even Bright Lights, Big City.

54 does have an interesting cast, which makes it all the more unfortunate that nobody really gets to do anything interesting.  Poor Ryan Phillippe looks totally lost and, in the film’s worst scene, he actually has to stand in the middle of a dance floor and, after the death of elderly Disco Dottie (that’s the character’s name!), yell at all the decadent club goers.  Breckin Meyer is cute as Phillippe’s co-worker and Salma Hayek gets to sing.  Neve Campbell plays a soap opera actress who Phillippe has a crush on and…oh, who cares?  Seriously, writing about this film is almost as annoying as watching it.

Mike Myers — yes, that Mike Myers — plays the owner of the club, Steve Rubell.  The role means that Myers gets to snort cocaine, hit on Breckin Meyer, and vomit on the silk sheets of his bed.  I think that Myers gives a good performance but I’m not really sure.  It could have just been the shock of seeing Mike Myers snorting cocaine, hitting on Breckin Meyer, and vomiting on the silk sheets of his bed.

If you want to enjoy some 70s decadence, avoid 54 and rewatch either Boogie Nights or American Hustle.