Modern American action movies are universally ridiculed across the globe for being brainless, CGI driven spectacles of complete nonsense. And that assumption would be correct. It’s been a long time since the likes of McTiernan could blow your socks off while still delivering a story you gave a shit about. Today, the boundaries of the action movie are being pushed forward elsewhere on the international stage, most notably in Europe and Asia. But as great as the current run of international action movies are, they’re missing one vital ingredient that made the American action movie so great – Muscle.
KILLING AMERICAN STYLE
USA, 1990, Amir Shervan
The late 80s to mid 90s was a ripe time for that kind of movie, and almost all the credit has to go to Ahnoldt and Stallone for not only kicking open the door for this kind of garbage to go mainstream, but also for inspiring a legion of brainless Californian lugs to try and follow in their footsteps.
Enter Amir Shervan and his roster of poorly acting bodybuilders. I love Shervan’s vision. Previously I had seen Samurai Cop, his stone cold masterpiece of garbage, testosterone and sex. It’s the ultimate example of what happens when a genre has become saturated, and it really makes me wonder about just how excessive the 80s were if movies like Samurai Cop could actually be released. Never have I seen a film so deeply rooted in the so-bad-it’s-good cannon of cinema, and I couldn’t wait to see what Shervan came up with next.
Which brings us to Killing American Style.
This is a strange movie. It’s well paced for the first half, and takes some risks with its narrative that I didn’t expect. The movie opens up with the owner of a strip club auditioning girls who can’t dance. The strip club manager is called Lynch (played by the awesomely porn-tached John Lynch). He takes the best dancer backstage to screw until his brother Tony (Robert ‘The Chin’ Z’Dar) arrives with a big job ripping off the payroll of a courier service. A lengthy robbery scene follows, and the two guys (and a few other gang members) escape.
After this opening, you’d be forgiven in thinking this was going to turn into a standard cops and robbers scenario, but it’s more convoluted than that. The gang are caught and arrested pretty quickly and sent to a maximum security prison without as much as an interrogation, let alone a court case. I guess that’s just how quickly the system works in the USA.
As Tony and Lynch are being taken to prison, they are busted out in a daring, if not ridiculous, scheme by the rest of the gang (who are in drag). Someone from the gang is shot during the escape, and the gang need to lay low until they can find a way to collect their money. Hot on their heels is a tough as nails, world weary cop, Lt. Sunset, played by big Jim Brown, sporting a “How did I ever wind up in this shit?” face for the entire movie.
And who can blame him during meaty scenes that are as tightly written as this one…
Cue John Morgan (Harold Diamond aka the fucking Stick Fighter from Rambo III) running his ranch with his son and Mexican servants. He seems like the nicest guy in the world. Loves animals. Has a great family relationship. Treats his servants real good, showering them with his cast-offs. Basically, the best guy who ever lived.
Hell, and if that ain’t enough for you then just check out his wife and her sister. They spend most of the movie either in bikinis or naked. Even Morgan’s son refers to his aunt as “Hot Aunt”. Now I’m no crook, but if I was, I’d say this was a pretty sweet place to park for a while.
However, the crooks have overlooked one vital detail – Morgan is a bad ass kick-boxer with pride issues. We learn this when he takes his son to a kick boxing lesson, and one of the other kid’s dads calls him a pussy for not accepting his challenge of a fight. Morgan tries to set an example for his son by refusing the challenge, but when the guy calls Morgan a pussy, Morgan gets him in the ring and kicks the living shit out of him. Seriously, the guy would need medical attention after that. Way to set an example to your son, Morgan.
Once Morgan and son arrive home to find it’s been invaded by lots of muscled men, the stage is set for forty minutes of sweat, grappling, evil laughter, flowing hair and shoulder pads.
I gotta break it to you all right off the bat – this ain’t a great movie. Was I really expecting anything more than a Samurai Cop rip off? I guess not, but the main surprise of the movie is that it genuinely tries a lot harder than its predecessor in a number of ways. For a start, it’s not funny in the slightest, bar a few fashion mistakes. (Seriously, the selection of vests flexed out in this movie are ridiculous – I think Shervan must have hired these guys straight out of the gym: “Hey you guys look like you’re in pretty good shape, you wanna be in a movie?”)
Also, it takes itself very seriously (despite the appearance of the everyone involved). Being that there’s a family involved, Shervan genuinely tries to create some drama, especially through Morgan’s wife after she’s brutally assaulted.
I wouldn’t go as far to say the acting in this movie is good, but the tone is appropriate and the actors do the best with what they have. I wasn’t expecting the movie to go down the home invasion route and at times it came across like a true exploitation movie rather than a dumb actioner. The plot itself shares more than a passing resemblance to the far superior Fight for Your Life (1977), only Killing American Style drops the use of outrageous racism found in that movie and replaces it with outrageous displays of muscle and Robert Z’Dar’s chin. Fair swap if you ask me.
These are all surprisingly positive things, but the film is ultimately let down by a terrible script and atrocious pacing. I found myself skipping through bits and pieces in the final third just to get to the climax. The fact is that these actors are not good enough to deliver dialogue this bad while trapped in a single location for the duration of the movie. And it’s a shame because by the time the big shootout happens at the end, we don’t really give a damn who gets killed American style anymore.
I’ll say this though, I was definitely impressed with the quality of the movie compared with Samurai Cop. Shervan obviously had a better grasp on how to spend his money and it’s nice to see a filmmaker working at such a piss poor level actually trying to improve his craft. It will be interesting to see what he came up with next – if I can find it.
I guess, despite it’s promising title, Killing American Style won’t reignite your passion for the great American action movie. But then hey, neither does The Expendables, and I know which one I’d rather watch (clue: the one directed by Amir Shervan).
At one point considered a lost film, a month ago Killing American Style received an excellent DVD release from Cinema Epoch (who were also responsible for the fantastic Samurai Cop release).