12 November 2013

Ghetto Blaster

United States – 1989
Director – Alan Stewart
Prism Entertainment, 1990, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 19 minutes

So are you like, Rambo or somethin'?
Watching 80’s exploitation cinema one begins to tire of all the lamentation about Vietnam. Between the vets wracked by guilt for what they did, or haunted by flashbacks of the horrors and unable to reasimilate into civilian life you would think the cottage industry in ‘Nam vet characters was a symptom of some kind of national trauma. It was as if by cinematic proxy the U.S. was trying to come to terms with what had happened. Yet easily as common as the Regret Vet was his cinematic contemporary, the Vengeance Vet. He reclaimed all that was lost, fixed everything that was broken and righted all that was wrong about post-Vietnam America (lord knows the government couldn’t do it.) If the war had taught us national humility, Vengeance Vet hadn’t gotten that memo.

Ghetto Blaster’s Travis is not the kind of ‘Nam vet who needs to commiserate. Like his eponymous 1976 predecessor Travis Bickle, he’s more interested in talking about cures. The film opens with Travis’s return to his childhood home in Los Angeles where he reunites with his estranged father for the first time after returning from The ‘Nam. In search of some sense of normalcy after the loss of his wife, Travis and his daughter find that the familiar old neighborhood has instead become a "hood." But if routine has taught us anything, the very war Travis is trying to put behind him is where he learned the same esoteric martial-arts combat skills that will enable him to fight it all over again in the streets of America.

Who you trying to get crazy with ese?
Within minutes of arrival, Travis finds himself at odds with The Hammers, a movie-tough gang of Chicanos who promptly murder Travis’s father. Despite a desire to quickly sell his dad’s corner-store and re-leave L.A. just as fast as he came, Travis makes the same mistake as his dad; he refuses to pay The Hammers for protection. But it takes the death of his most loyal customer (how’s that for American prioritizing!) for Travis to revert once again to his “urban warfare, extractions” training and hit The Hammers back as if he were, as his rivals mockingly suggest in a moment of fourth-wall-shattering clairvoyance, “some kind of Rambo.”

As a matter of fact… Camouflaging himself in what clearly is the urban equivalent to mud and leaves; a clown suit, Travis hijacks a shipment of cocaine from the Hammers, leading to the reciprocal and banal hostage/chase/shootout-in-the-abandoned-warehouse climax all too common in low budget drug-crime action films. Still, re-waging the entire war (racial demarcations included) in the ghetto not only reinvigorates Travis and America’s masculinity, it does the tough and morally burdensome job of drawing a clear line between who has the right (and might) to dictate the rules. Set to that wiggy-wiggy wild rap beat all the kids love these days, Ghetto Blaster mixes roughly equal parts of The Exterminator (1980) and Colors (1988) in an almost flawless agglomeration of the ‘Nam Vet revenge/vigilante trope that re-invigorated 80’s exceptionalism and the ghetto-drug-crime genre that would scare the piss out of white people in the 90’s. And as if spoken by former president George H. W. Bush himself, Ghetto Blaster proves without a doubt that we’ve finally defeated the Vietnam Syndrome.

Go read my friends review over at Explosive Action!

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