27 May 2013

The Wild Pair

United States - 1987
Director - Beau Bridges
Media Home Entertainment, 1988, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 29 minutes

As a late entry into the 80’s buddy-cop cycle that was turned up to 11 by one Eddie Murphy, The Wild Pair is yet another white-cop/black-cop combo, but it is also another local-cop/federal-cop pairing. Yet neither of these “ironies” is mined for its humor. Baby-faced Beau Bridges plays FBI agent Joe Jennings with enough suave confidence and pig-headdedness, and Bubba Smith plays short-fused Narc Benny Avalon with sufficient pathos to be convincing, but given that by this late date the context has been standardized, it’s not surprising that their performances are also comfortably standard. Together they foil a criminal endeavor perpetrated by a fairly run-of-the-mill array of semi-inept punks and nominally-sinister kingpins and all ends more-or-less happily. As a result, The Wild Pair is both predictable and unsensationally flat, an otherwise forgettable flare-up of Action’s most chronic case of sub-generic herpes.

And yet, beneath this placid, run of the mill surface is a not so subtle current of transgression just waiting to drag you under. The Wild Pair could have gone the way Hellbound  and Cop and ½ eventually did (following precedent), making Benny into a Jim Crow stereotype to compensate for the film’s flaccid storyline. But Benny is not the comic relief to Joe's more serious (and hence we are led to surmise more important and worthy of our identification) quest/project. His physicality, in it's unusualness (to the film) is certainly hard to ignore, and (as with obesity, shortness, boobs etc.) simply must be exploited by the conventions of low comedy (Police Academy) reliant on physical idiosyncrasy for narrative engagement. What humor there is in The Wild Pair (and there aint much) is dependent on Smith's being huge, not on his “acting black" and fulfilling those standards that make white viewers feel safe liking him.

This works because while Jennings is technically on the other side of the tracks, the film is not about his discomfort and the sort of coming to terms for which white audiences need irony and stereotype to feel vindicated. It makes sense then that Benny is the character with depth, history and personality while Jennings is a two dimensional milquetoast (despite Benny’s pointed questioning: “Do you drink your own bath water?” “Sometimes.”) It is after all his neighborhood, his friends and ‘his’ kids who are being subjected to the terrorism of drugs and political violence perpetrated by a racist white conspiracy that goes right to the top levels of government.

Thanks to Ronald Reagan’s little war, drugs and junkies were as necessary to 80’s cinema realism as punk-rockers, but it was his predecessor Richard Nixon who initiated the War on Drugs, clarifying that it was really about black folks, you just couldn’t say it was. At the same time, the CIA really was deliberately introducing narcotics into black neighborhoods to undermine the Black Power movement. (Not surprisingly this was also the same time that the NRA was for gun control; to prevent armed Blacks.) To be sure, there’s a black guy in there peddling drugs in The Wild Pair. It’s easier to dismiss all of this conspiracy stuff if they do it too, but I choose to see his name “Ivory” as somewhat more than accidental. As my friends over at Comeuppance Reviews said in their write-up of The Wild Pair, “it’s all there,” to which I would add; IF you choose to see it. It may appear too convenient to find all this baggage in a forgotten crime dramedy, but after realizing that The Wild Pair has already subverted the staid norms of its genre, its allusions to history appear much more deliberate. The Wild Pair may not be the most original buddy-cop flick out there, but for rocking the narrative boat, it does have the most to say.

24 May 2013

Genre Box Stickers

Remember these things? Used to be they were on almost every VHS tape in the shop, as if you didn't know what genre you were getting into.

I couldn't help but turn them into refrigerator magnets and buttons. (I'm always on the lookout for small round images) Yes this is a shameless plug for a product I make; you can buy a set of four, in a cool package, at my Etsy shop An Enormous Door.

Leave a note saying you saw this on Lost Video Archive and I'll throw in a fifth one for free.

23 May 2013

Flying Down to Rio

United States - 1933
Director - Thornton Freeland
Turner Home Entertainment, 1990, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 29 minutes

20 May 2013

Last Chance Detectives

United States -  1994
Director - Steven Styles
Leucadia Family Films, 1994, VHS
Run Time - 50 minutes

Great cover art by "Rodriguez". It looks like s/he did the art for several of the other videos or books though I can't confirm it with any of the images I found.

14 May 2013

Half of the Action

a.k.a. - Last Man Standing
Canada - 1987
Director - Damian Lee
VCII Home Entertainment, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes

We recently heard from Canadian producer/director Damian Lee with another boxing movie, 1986's Busted Up. This entry came the following year and followed the same generic plot outline. I wish I could say more but the tape I have is dysfunctional. About a third of the way through the picture and audio disappear completely. The tape keeps on playing, but there's no content.

I have however noticed the distributor is one VCII, my favorite vintage VHS company. The logo is different though and so is the full name. Instead of VCII Incorporated we have "Home Video." My guess is that the VCX parent company had dropped VCII by this time and someone else picked it up under a slightly different name. Clearly VCX didn't get rid of their licenses. Now some 30 years later they're re-releasing them on DVD under the Code Red label.

13 May 2013

Lethal Weapon

United States - 1987
Director - Richard Donner
Warner Home Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 50 minutes

I've been working on an essay about buddy cops and watching a lot of movies that fit the mold. I decided to post this because it's the first VHS release of this iconic entry in the genre, and it also features another movie trope I'm interested in exploring, the 'Nam Vet.

06 May 2013

Lunch Wagon

United States - 1981
Director - Ernest Pintoff
Media Home Entertainment, 1982, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 28 minutes
In the metropolitan areas of the United States, the food truck has now become ubiquitous. The taco truck was probably the first contemporary incarnation, but you can find just about anything these days. A few blocks from my apartment in Seattle, in the parking lot of a gas station/convenience store you can get fresh sushi, while a little further down the same street, Haitian Creole is available. Although they’ve been around practically forever, this level of cultural variety is a relatively recent development. I cannot of course speak for anywhere else, but virtually all of these rolling establishments seem to have appeared in the last 10 years, most in the last five. Talk all the nonsensical ignorant trash you want about immigration, but even bigots love a curry.

Presumably intended to be just as exotic as the smorgasbord of international options now available from food trucks, Lunch Wagon unfortunately comes from an era when, as its name implies, the typical vehicular dining establishment offered a much more banal culinary experience, like hot dogs and burgers. It is also, again one can only assume, supposed to be more titillating than the average food truck of today* since its owners are two scantily clad and buxom young women (prominently advertised on the box as former playmates Pamela Bryant and Roseanne Katon.) Unfortunately both the exotic and titillating spins on the food truck premise, which might under other circumstances actually work really well together, are afterthoughts. The truck itself, painted pink and named the “Love Bites,” plays only a peripheral role in the film, serving predominantly as a vehicle (literal and figurative) for a septic stew of lounge-act comedy.
A thrilling surprise cameo by Evel Kneivel pinball!

Move it Proles!
After inheriting their lunch wagon from Dick van Patten, our two leads recruit a sexy cook and begin selling food to construction workers. By parking over a particular manhole cover however, they run afoul of a swanky white-collar criminal type who is using said manhole to gain access to a bank. With the help of freshly landed (color coordinated) boyfriends, the female trio manage to foil not only that dastardly plan but another, less dastardly but no less annoying plan by another set of cloying “comedians.”Snagged on the undercarriage of this heretofore thrilling ordeal and dragged along like week-old road kill is yet another tangentical story, this one a talent show which goes on for days and days and is notable only for an early appearance of Missing Persons whom repeatedly perform their song Mental Hopscotch.

It’s an apt metaphor for a film that jumps all over the place yet somehow still lands on a conclusion. Using a food truck as the crux of your film is clearly not a lucrative source of material. As Wheels on Meals, the only other film with a foundational food-truck demonstrates, some other element is critical (in that case incomparable kung fu.) Instead, Lunch Wagon takes its cue Loose Shoes style, from the trashy and titillating exploitation trailers that are entertaining when compressed into 3 minutes, but stretched to feature-length become a chore.

Yes, it's that good.

*Here in Washington State there are a number of drive-up coffee joints that “offer” young women in lingerie or bikinis making the coffee. I suspect these exist elsewhere in the country as well. However, the interior of food trucks in my experience are not typically attractive, sexually or otherwise.