Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Carolco Files Part III: 1988-1989

From 1988 to 1989, Carolco churned out films at a steady pace, mostly action with a few other genres covered too. Production was steady, profits were acceptable and while the films weren't exactly great, there were a lot of them.

Carolco's lone shot at an animated film, this was one of the last theatrically released movies based on a toy line and subsequent cartoon. I haven't seen this. I have no plans to see this. As a matter of fact, the amount of money it would take to get me to see this would cripple the world economy.

Let's move on, shall we?

From the "I recapped this for The Agony Booth several years ago" file comes this halfway entertaining third entry in the franchise that put Carolco on the map. Sly is back as Rambo, this time going into Afghanistan to rescue pal Richard Crenna from from nasty Russkies. The first fifty minutes or so are pretty blah but the film does pick up in the second half and turns into an acceptably cheesy and entertaining action film. If the second film asked you leave your brain at the door to enjoy it, this one doesn't even need you to bring it in the first place!

We go from middling Stallone to middling Schwarznegger as Arnie teams up with Jim Belushi for a tired retread of Lethal Weapon only with a Russian. I'm gonna repeat that, this film is a tired retread of a film that had been released a little over a year previously. That's how uninspired it is. The inspiration begins and ends with the notion "What if we had Arnold Schwarzenegger play a Russian?"

That's not to say Red Heat is entirely without merit. Arnold and Belushi have some decent comic chemistry together (one of the few times Belushi has ever been close to being as funny as his brother); there are some fun character actors in supporting roles (Laurence Fishburne and Gina Gershon among others) and the action is acceptable. Overall though, this one is pretty dull.

The unnecessary movie event of the year, this is the sequel to the original that managed to make a tidy enough profit despite not being very good either. The sequel though is just dull. Somehow, two more sequels came afterwards. I think I caught bits of this on cable when I was a kid and even at age ten was bored by it.

This adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel was a co-production with Roger Corman's Concorde Pictrures and involves a genetic mutant running around killing people while a hyper-intelligent dog befriends a teen played by Corey Haim (the character is an adult in the book) while Michael Ironside provides some human menace as... Well, the standard Michael Ironside bad guy. The film is mildly entertaining in spots but not really worth much more than that. Ironside is good as usual, the ploy is silly and the f/x are cheesy. It's definitely more a Roger Corman film than anything else.

Carolco kicked off 1989 with the first of several underwater horror/sci-fi flicks released that year with this rather limp effort from Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham. A decent enough cast is more or less wasted on a rote story that  borrows liberally from Alien but does little of interest with it. The creature is interesting but honestly, the one in Leviathan is better and that film is no great shakes either.

The joint US/Canada production was distributed by Carolco and is a sequel to the 1976 Bert I. Gordon original b-movie though really the only thing the two films have in common is giant rats. In the film, a bunch of animal rights activists accidentally release a bunch of giant rats that have been given a growth formula (intended as a baldness cure though the company behind it claims its for a cancer cure) and naturally, chaos ensues. There is also a subplot about a little kid who has been given the formula to cure his dwarfism and is now a pissed off giant kid as well as a bizarre dream sequence that sees the male lead turning into a giant during sex. It's cheesy and cheap all the way with some effectively gross moments but really, if you can't do better than this you're just not trying hard enough.

Stallone's other movie for the company this year, Lock Up is a formulaic prison drama that features a decent turn from Donald Sutherland as the evil warden (though the reason he puts the plot in effect is quite dumb) but the film runs too long and, as noted, is quite stupid. Sly plays a parolee forcibly transferred to a garden variety hell hole run by Sutherland who ran the prison Stallone escaped from one time. It's a definite "watch once and forget" type of movie. Watch the more recent Escape Plan instead. It's actually quite fun, though no less formulaic.

Johnny Handsome is a solid little noir thriller from director Walter Hill that benefits from a decent script and stellar cast of character actors. Mickey Rourke plays a disfigured petty thief who is double crossed by his partners (Ellen Barkin and Lance Henriksen) and is given reconstructive surgery by a kindly prison doctor played by forest Whitaker. Upon being released from prison, he sets out looking for revenge while falling in love with a young woman played by Elizabeth McGovern and being tailed by a cop played by Morgan Freeman.

Performances are good across the board as one would expect (I find it darkly amusing that pre-surgery, Rourke doesn't look much different under the make-up than he does now just in general with no makeup at all. Taking up boxing will tend to mess up the face) with Barkin and Henriksen standing out nicely as the bad guys. They're a nasty pair and Barkin goes all out with her femme fatale role, making a fairly typical character type something interesting. A little too hammy at times (though for the kind of movie this is it works) but still good. Henriksen is fine as always and the end result ends up being pretty damn good.

Last off is this mildly sordid drama from writer Joe Eszterhas who would also pen Basic Instinct (which made a ton of cash for the studio) and Showgirls (which was one of the two bullets to the head that killed the studio off). Jessica Lange plays an attorney hell bent on proving her father was not a sadistic war criminal during WWII by way of doing pretty much everything a lawyer is not supposed to do, save for boffing her client. Joe already used that in Jagged Edge four years previously anyway.

1988 and 1989 were decent but unexceptional years for the company with some solid films surrounded by a lot of crap. The next two years, however, would be a little different.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.