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Spymate

SpymateIMDB
(Robert Vince, 2006)

With this entry, I’m proud to participate again in the 7th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only, even though I’m now really late for its April Fool’s Day deadline.

Come on, of course I was excited to see this. It’s a monkey movie. Even if it was terrible, it was guaranteed to feature some outrageous behavior not natural to the primate world. If artists like Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood, Tim Burton, and Ronald Reagan have fallen for the hairy charms of our nearest ancestors on film, who am I to argue?

Spymate is one in a series from director/producer Robert Vince, who is responsible not only for the somewhat-silly Air Bud series as well as its spawn, the Air Buddies series (awwwwww, puppies!). There are over a dozen films with an Air Bud connection–most straight to DVD–which may be beloved by children and perhaps those who adore cute doggies, but are tolerated/reviled by discerning parents who are forced to endure these cloying films time and again.

Spymate, however, features a burgeoning star of the monkey-movie-genre, a chimp named simply Louie. Like a young Bruce Willis, Louie quickly has become a multifaceted action hero, dazzling on the hockey rink in MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000), and shredding skateboards in its sequel (in name only), MVP: Most Vertical Primate (2001). In this film, Louie plays an international superspy called Minky, who reenters the spy trade when his former human partner, Mike (Chris Potter), needs help rescuing his daughter (Emma Roberts), who has been kidnapped by an evil scientist (Richard Kind) in order to use her award-winning laser drill invention for fame and profit.

Truth be told, the plot is dumb as hell and barely matters.

Overall, one must realize this movie’s primary audience is children, and leaps in logic should be considered par for the course. Why, the leaps in logic are actually the best parts. The sheer amount of dizzying, disorienting cuts in the first 5 minute “rescue” sequence is staggering, likely because it’s the only way to showcase a chimp’s climbing, running and swashbuckling “expertise” as even remotely smooth or natural. Louie’s talents are best utilized in small, heavily edited action scenes, such as those where he performs karate against none other than Mr. Miyagi himself. It’s true – thanks to Robert Vince, Pat Morita has now suffered a worse career setback than the sequels in which he was paired with Ralph Macchio.

The weakest parts of this particular movie feature non-primate characters, some of whom might even be offensive to some viewers. For instance, there’s an over-the-top Arab threatening to blow up the President, and Asian taking photographs, as well as transpose spoken R’s with L’s. Minky’s circus colleagues who join in the rescue are neither funny nor interesting. And while preteen co-star Roberts has got acting in her blood (she’s daughter of Eric, and cousin of Julia), she has difficulty finding a foothold in this poorly constructed film, that requires its viewers to believe Roberts is among the greatest innovators in science.

Ultimately, it’s a disappointing film. I only wish Spymate stuck closer to my monkey-film fantasy, and provided even more sequences of monkey/D-list actor fist-bumps, and roundhouse kicks to human groins. Until that dream becomes a reality, there are moments in this flick that will continue to appease me momentarily. Here’s one:

Poor Pretty Eddie

IMDB

(Richard Robinson, 1975)

2.0/5.0

With this entry, I’m proud to participate again in the 6th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only, in time for April Fool’s Day. Last year, I got to analyze another “forgotten gem” of the 1970s, featuring Joe Don mother-loving Baker. This year, it’s backwoods blaxploitation with Shelley Winters, Slim Pickens, Lurch from The Addams Family, and an Elvis Presley wannabe. Remind me, why do I do this to myself?

“I don’t care if she farts Shah-nel Number 5. Now I want her outta here, right now, understand?”

That’s a line from two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters in this low-low-budget film of rape, revenge and sleaze. To say it’s not worthy of Winters’ pedigree to be uttering Chanel as “Shah-nel” is an understatement. But it’s also consistent with  the recurring quandary in which I viewed this film. On one hand, it’s forgettable trash. On the other hand, to borrow a phrase, there’s just something about Eddie. 

Winters portrays an ex-stripper who fears she’s losing her boyfriend, the titular Eddie (Michael Christian), to a young, beautiful singer (Leslie Uggams) who had the poor luck to (1) have her car break down in the middle of a straight-outta-Deliverance burg and (2) be African-American in same. Fact #2 plays an important part in this flick, as Uggams is certainly the smartest and classiest human depicted, but is treated the worst, and it all starts with poor, pretty Eddie.

You see, Winters’ boyfriend, the titular Eddie (Michael Christian), is also a bit of a crooner himself.

To say that he resembles Elvis is one thing, but this film makes no bones about the fact that Eddie is essentially aping Elvis (2 years before his death) and perhaps even going so far as to indicate that those that appreciate his style of music are rednecked and backward. At the time, the former King was slowly spiralling down into what may be called “full Vegas.” And yet, his origins lay in the small-town South, in towns not unlike the one in this film.

The fact that Eddie/Elvis then proceeds to take a shine to the lovely Liz (Uggams) and decides to show his appreciation by forcibly raping her speaks even louder volumes. Oh, we’re not talking graphic, I Spit on Your Grave-level rape, but consider if you will how the scene is presented for the audience – via slow-motion and regularly intercut with a pair of dogs doggy-styling to the amusement of a group of hicks.

What exactly am I watching here?

Is this a terribly racist and/or sexist depiction of non-consensual sex? Or is it filled with dark humor? Should I mention that the song playing over the scene has a repeated refrain of “You don’t have to say/You’ll love me in the morning”?

This is a twisted flick from the get-go, and I haven’t even mentioned Slim Pickens and Dub Taylor, who portray two corrupt officials of hillbilly truth and justice. Pickens, the local sheriff, doubts that Liz was even raped, but asks all sorts of lurid, leading questions such as “Would you like to suck on a tomato?” or more directly, “Did he bite you on the t*tties?”  Unswayed, Liz takes her case before Justice of the Peace Floyd (Taylor) in the only appropriate place – the local dance hall. Floyd demands that he see the presumed love bites on Liz’s naughty bits right then and there, as several local boobs and the house band leers on. When she refuses and smacks him across the face, the Justice of the Peace tears off her blouse completely, and compliments her on her impressive bits of evidence.

It’s disturbingly trashy, but also certainly has much to do with race, violence and power. Would I equate this flick’s impact with those of Shaft and Super Fly or the films of Pam Grier? Not on your life. But the message is there.

However Poor Pretty Eddie is intended, I can’t help but find it inflammatory and shocking for the sake of shock. It’s never truly a horror movie, nor is it satisfying as a rape revenge drama.

And yet…. this cast is so very talented. Winters has a heartbreaking scene in which she discusses why she needs Eddie, mostly because she’s past her prime and he’s so young and beautiful and actually cares for her. Pickens and Taylor are crudely funny and Uggams holds her own in a thankless role.

And yet…. director Richard Robinson took some grade-Z material and added a few shocks of his own, as well as some tricky camerawork pulled off with a paltry budget.

And yet…. Ted Cassidy (Lurch from TV’s The Addams Family) is quietly affecting as a local who bucks the local authority in a effort to do right but unfortunately ends up getting shot, but not before Eddie feeds him his own free-loving dog:

Again, I would never say Poor Pretty Eddie is worth your time, and certainly not your money, but after viewing it a second time, I’m still conflicted, and not ready to dismiss it either. There’s just enough going for Eddie to make a viewer think twice. What I guess I’m saying is that your mileage may vary, but it left its hooks in me, and that can’t be all bad.

It doesn’t make me feel any better to say that I rewatched a film prominently featuring dog-on-dog love, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. I hate you, White Elephant, for the things you make me admit publicly.

Welcome Home, Soldier Boys

IMDB

(Richard Compton, 1972)

2.5/5.0

An entry for the 5th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only. Read the rest of this year’s entries here.

The subject of damaged soldiers returning from war has been the basis for many a film.

The Best Years of Our Lives. The Deer Hunter. Taxi Driver. Coming Home. The entire Rambo franchise.

What those films lack that is prevalent in 1972’s Welcome Home, Soldier Boys can be summed up in three glorious words:

Joe. Don. Baker.

Read the rest of this entry

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

IMDB

(Michael Pressman, 1991)

2.0/5.0

An entry for the 4th Annual White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Silly Hats Only.

It’s sort of a cruel joke that I ended up with a movie aimed at children for the White Elephant Blogathon. With one young child and another on the way, my life is already bombarded with all things Disney, SpongeBob and Dora. As the good folks at Pixar have proven, kiddie movies don’t have to suck. But for every Wall-E, there are dozens of Space Chimps, Marmadukes and Squeakuels released each year to the chagrin of parents all over the globe destined to shell out for them.

As a child of the 70s, I can recall being on the other side of the conversation, which consisted of two words: Star Wars. There were the movies, and then there was the STUFF. There were Star Wars wearables, video games, comic books, trading cards, and fast-food tie-ins. Those little George Lucas projects introduced a generation to the collectible action figure — fun to play with, but more valuable if they were simply purchased and preserved for eternity. Of course, Star Wars merchandising set a new standard, and didn’t stop when the movies left theaters. Due to this over-saturation of product and the general crappiness of entertainment aimed at children, I’d never consumed a single Ninja Turtle-related film, cartoon or comic. So, as a Teenage Mutant Ninja virgin, were my fears realized? Or was I able to see the light?

The verdict came after the opening sequence.

Our story begins in the city of New York Only Seen in the Movies (TM), where a pizza delivery boy is dispatched to a female reporter’s apartment. Upon arriving, he witnesses some bad guys in masks in the midst of a robbery, which he attempts to thwart using his martial art skills. Unfortunately, he’s completely outnumbered and quickly overcome. However, then the Turtles arrive to save the day, and my soul started to weep. The ass-kicking reptiles proceeded to dispatch every baddie with a lame catchphrase delivered surfer-style. THUD! “Yee-ha, ninja cowboy!” POW! “Awesome!” In retrospect, Keanu Reeves could’ve sued.

At this end of this sequence, perhaps 10 minutes into the film, the turtles were completely unfamiliar and indistinguishable to me, and more or less remained so for the duration. All I knew is they were freaking annoying.

The reptiles apparently wore out the welcome of their female reporter friend as well, saddling her with housing and feeding them pizza after pizza in her luxurious New York Only Seen in the Movies multiple-level apartment (TM). The turtles and their spiritual guru/teacher, a rat voiced by Kevin Clash (the voice of Elmo from Sesame Street), vow to find different digs in the near future.

On top of this, there’s the title ooze, shown in eerily glowing canisters, which is being unearthed and disposed of by a nerdy scientist employee, played by David Warner. Apparently, it’s the original ooze that was responsible for the Mutant part of TMNT many years ago, which produced super-strong but freakish walking, talking turtles, among other crimes of nature. Last but not least, a shrouded nemesis called Shredder is back and angry enough to seek revenge against the crew, by stealing the ooze in order to create more mutant monsters at his beck and call.

Overall, TMNT II improves after its opening, but never truly engages the viewer, because the action and dialogue are pretty danged lame. The “ninja” violence is quite tame and comic and our heroes are never really in any danger. Upon many hours of research (read: Wikipedia), I discovered that the action in TMNT II was toned down from the “darker” original film. As a result, fight scenes seem rather empty, since there’s really no logical resolution. Veteran character actor Warner carries off his scenes well, and I was pleasantly surprised by a goofy performance from Vanilla Ice, timed perfectly when my attention was flagging.

With a child entering into this very target market, I see multiplexes filled with movies like this one, disguised as entertainment and merely the origin for parental bilking. I’m tired of seeing insulting movies aimed at a family audience. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze isn’t terrible, just dull, forgettable and driven right at your wallet. Sure enough, it killed at the box office.

Finally, TMNT II is dedicated to the memory of then recently-departed Jim Henson, whose Creature Shop supplied the mutants in this film. Don’t get me started about the injustice of this. RIP Mr. Henson, not for TMNT II, but for your impact on other green creatures.