Before sick-inducing shaky-cam defecated all over action films. Before Tough and Deadly added toughness and deadliness to video stores. Before Billy Blanks gave up his straight-to-video action career for Tae Bo instructing videos. Before all that happened, wrestling-bagpiper Rowdy Roddy Piper joined forces with Tae Bozo Billy Blanks in Back in Action. Or as I like to call it, The Kicking Guy.
BACK IN ACTION
USA, 1993, Steve DeMarco & Paul Ziller
Piper pairs with the wooden Billy Blanks. Well… wooden would be a compliment. Wood has grains and knots. In other words wood has character. Blanks is more like MDF. A muscled shirtless slab of fuming MDF. But Blanks makes up for his comically-limited range by turning Back in Action into his own kicking rampage. Seriously, it’s like Billy is throwing a 90-minute kicking party, has sent out invitations to all the bad guys in town and has asked them to BYO: face.
Back in Action opens with a foreboding drug deal at a cemetery. Frank (Piper) goes undercover to deceive a slimy dealer Chakka (prolific stunt guy Matt Birman). But bloody Billy screws up everything. He appears from nowhere, tiptoeing through the graveyard, on a mission of his own: he wants to wrangle his sister away from her bad guy boyfriend Gantry. And before you know it Billy causes a fatal shootout between the cops and the dealers. Bullets start flying and bodies start dying in slow motion.
Bullet Down Under writer Karl Schiffman penned the Back in Action screenplay and similar to Bullet Down Under, an aging cop partner is killed in the opening ten minutes – this time it is Frank’s partner. Chakka guts him like a fish in front of Frank. And it is all Billy’s fault. Luckily for Billy, Frank is an idiot cop and never pieces that together.
Billy is an ex-Green Beret/cab driver struggling with civilian life. The only thing he can make sense of is his love for his sister Tara. Now he is in danger of losing her. OK I filled in some of the backstory, but you don’t need war flashbacks or characterisation to know Billy is severely damaged. Why else does Billy make Tara live with him? It’s not like Billy is a clingy, psychotic brother who goes around booting everyone who comes near her, is it?… No, he is. He is exactly like that.
Here Billy displays some completely normal brother behaviour, scorching his sister’s name into the wall:
15 minutes into the film and Billy is in what seems like his 100th fight, this time with permed twins who are wearing the same outfit. Well they’re not wearing the same outfit they have two outfits that look the same. I was hoping they would appear later in the same outfit. Sadly they don’t because Billy murders them. Nice one, Billy.
Maybe someday an action film will use this outfit-sharing device. I mean imagine if all The Expendables were firing bullets, punching and quipping while inside the same pair of pants. You’re right, it’s a great idea. That’s why I have suggested it to Sly Stallone via his twitter.
Back in Action unfolds with head honcho Kasajian (Nigel Bennett) wanting Billy dead. Frank is one step behind Billy as he keeps finding a trail of Kasajian’s men. One of them who gets his arse handed to him by a fence:
Not only does Frank “hate the karate shit”, he wants Billy found. Frank also wants Kasajian’s right hand man Chakka dead for killing his partner. Luckily Frank remembers his goal about halfway through the movie. A goal that gets Frank booted from the drug case. Fortunately, Frank’s reporter lover Helen (Bobby Philips) is better a cop than he is and she helps him locate sad-faced Billy.
I felt sorry for Billy. Not only does the actor playing him not have the emotional depth that is required for his part, he can’t seem to keep his clothes on.
On several occasions scumbags strip Billy’s shirt off while he is beating the shit out of them. Can’t an insanely buffed man stay fully clothed while fighting, just one time? Billy also makes a lot of mouth-noises while kicking. I started to think Billy had some kind of incurable condition. That his feet were face-magnets and he was in pain trying to control them.
Roddy Piper also has some amazing moments. Famous for one of the most ridiculous lines in movie history, this moment might be Piper’s second greatest line of his career:
Back in Action, or as it is known in Poland: Eagle Talons 2, is a fun flick. Blanks and Piper make a great, goofy pair. In terms of cinematography, it is a fine example of how action films should still be shot.
The film does have some unusual plot devices. For a buddy movie, the buddies don’t pair up until the 60-minute mark. Also, Billy wreaks havoc trying to find the bad guys, thinking they have his sister, but they don’t. She’s hiding out with her boyfriend. This makes Billy’s relentless violence utterly pointless. A salient point about the meaningless of violence? Probably not. And to top it off, during the final confrontation on a ship (a similar setting to Bullet Down Under‘s finale), Frank the hero cop is having a bloody nap.
Some would say these devices are flaws, but for me they are not. These are the reasons why Back in Action rises above the usual buddy action fare. That and Blanks’ doesn’t like guys jerking off on concrete poles.
Steve DeMarco and Paul Ziller are both credited as the directors of Back in Action. I discover why on my next Mondo Exploito article in my interview with its writer Karl Schiffman.