Friday, May 20, 2016

More Than a Mouthful of Action: RAW FORCE

I love an ambitious failure. I love when someone's vision far exceeds their capabilities.  More importantly, I love it when that person realizes this, but pushes ahead valiantly anyway. Sometimes, the ambition overcomes the failure.  Sometimes there is so much heart and passion poured into a project that you have to overlook the obvious shortcomings.  Other times you get a glorious mess that leaves you dumbfounded.  On the rarest occasions, you get Hitler jumping up from behind a tombstone with a rocket launcher.  This and so much more awaits you in 1982’s kung fu/zombie/booze cruise adventure RAW FORCE.
Capsule:
A gang of leering creeps transports a plane full of kidnapped women to a mysterious island. You know these creeps are bad news because their boss is a chubby Hitler in a white suit. He's going by the name Mr. Speer and wearing Clark Kent style glasses, but who is he kidding?  They sell the women to a bunch of weirdo monks for chunks of raw jade, which look a lot like green painted styrofoam, but what do I know about geology. Cut to a cruise liner captained by a perpetually drunk Cameron Mitchell. Three members of the Burbank Karate Club (most likely the only members of the Burbank Karate Club) want to sail to the mysterious Warriors Island.  According to legend (documented on the forbidden island’s travel brochure), disgraced martial artists from around the world go there to die in the hopes of being resurrected.  It’s a long journey, so that leaves them plenty of time to pal around with a sleazy middle-aged horndog, attend drunken parties, and find romance.  Their fun is interrupted when Chubby Hitler’s goons attack their cruise ship to keep them from the island.  They manage to escape, along with a tough SWAT policewoman, a kung fu fighting steward, and a few others, only to wash up on Warriors Island, where the real action is about to begin.  

I so want a Burbank Karate Club tee shirt.  It has to be the dorkiest name ever for a martial arts school, and it fits these guys perfectly.  I’ve seen this movie a few times now, and I still can’t remember any of their names.  The IMDB page doesn’t help much (67 roles listed, four with photos).  I just know them as the stoic romantic, the hothead, and the worthless guy with the mustache who has to be rescued by the other two.  They are competent if unspectacular fighters, though the hothead does a dramatic, slow motion flying kick into a truck.  SWAT Lady is much more impressive, since she’s played by Jillian Kesner, star of the thoroughly entertaining exploitation kung fu flick, FIRECRACKER.  All the other female characters in the movie are pretty stereotypical, but Kesner is a serious ass kicker.  She gets the best kill in the film, or at least the most technically impressive. If I was stuck on a zombie filled island, I'd stick by her. 

The real star of the movie, though, is Cameron Mitchell.  He was slightly past his prime in 1982 (by about 20 years), but you wouldn’t be able to tell from his performance.  Actually, you can instantly tell, but Cameron Mitchell certainly can’t.  He plays Captain Dodds with such gusto that you have to love him.  I’m just not sure what movie he thought he was making.  All the rest of the cast might be hopping around with their high kicks and their fancy stunts and what not, but all Mitchell needs is a revolver and a (off camera) bottle of booze.   He lumbers around like a dangerous grandpa.  While taking cover with the others during a shootout, he tells them, “I saw Clint Eastwood do this in a movie once.”  Then he just stands up and starts firing randomly.  Right, he must have been thinking of that one movie where Clint shoots a gun at something.  I’m betting he improv’d that line.  And his entire part.  You don’t direct Cameron Mitchell, you just roll camera and let him go.

The best (and worst) part of the movie is undeniably the boat party raid.  There are so many things astonishingly wrong with this section.  One of them is that the director apparently decided to film a college frat movie in the middle of his kung fu action movie.  Our BKC heroes go to a boozy social held in the cruise ship’s wood paneled rec room (not someone’s basement, honestly).  There they party down with the sleazy horndog,  his clueless wife, SWAT Lady her sister, tipsy Cameron Mitchel and the horrible cruise director all arguing like the Lockhorns.  Oh, and about 20 people we’ve never seen before.  These aren’t just background extras, these people have multiple, unrelated scenes with full dialogue.  There’s the remarkably average guy who is somehow a chick magnet.  He’s also a devout Christian, or possibly a Satanist, not entirely sure where they were going with that.  There’s the bartender who looks like a human troll doll and smashes blocks of ice with his forehead for no reason.  There’s the gangster’s kinky ex-girlfriend seducing an oblivious square.  There’s the knucklehead in the bathroom who doesn’t understand how pants work attempting to undress the woman from I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE while she stands on the toilet drinking a beer.  That was weird.  It’s seriously like two completely unrelated movies accidentally intersected.  

At least they had an exit strategy for getting out of the spontaneous frat movie.  A boat full of Chubby Hitler’s goons sneaks onto the ship and brutally slaughters every extraneous character.  But even this is incredibly bizarre because all of the creeps are dressed like they are infiltrating a Halloween party.  We have a swordsman in a silver Ziggy Stardust vest three sizes too small.  There’s a guy in Kabuki face paint and a balaclava.  A dude dressed like the Village People construction worker.  One of them is wearing a Superman shirt (most likely not endorsed by DC Comics).  One is in ski goggles and bumblebee pants.  It's all pretty amazing.  I’m fairly sure the Costume Designer was the director’s 8 year old niece.  I’m amazed no one was wearing fairy wings or tutus.  

The best part is that this section is played entirely straight.  These are serious criminals.

The survivors of the doomed frat ship eventually wash ashore on Warriors Island.  After a firefight in a graveyard with the remnants of Chubby Hitler’s men, our heroes (plus the horndog) meet the monks and learn the truth of the island.  It’s the same truth that was spelled out in the travel brochure, except that it turns out the monks get the power of resurrection from eating people.  Mostly women, so maybe it has something to do with estrogen.  Either that or they are just sexist cannibals.  On a side note, this may be the only movie where the zombies don’t try to eat you, but the living do.  Also, it’s never explained why the monks are resurrecting the dead martial arts warriors anyway, since they never do anything with them.  The zombies just shuffle around the island, slashing the occasional undeserving victim or very deserving horndog [SPOILER FOR SOMETHING YOU WERE WAITING FOR THE WHOLE MOVIE].  I don’t see why any martial arts warrior would bother coming there to die in the first place, disgraced or not.  It’s not a thrilling afterlife.  They don’t even get a training montage.

The last part of the movie is a long fight against blue skinned ninjas and samurai zombies as our heroes make their way to Chubby Hitler’s plane.  The cannibal monks don’t fight, by the way.  They just walk around laughing and looking way too pleased with themselves.  Seriously, they stop just short of high-fiving each other.  They get no comeuppance at all, other than having to live on a boring island with a bunch of zombies.  At least their supply line of tasty prostitutes has dried up, so that sort of sucks for them.  


Chubby Hitler, on the other hand, gets a much more satisfying end.  [SPOILER]  He jumps into a lake while trying to escape, despite the clear warnings over and over during the movie that it is filled with ferocious Asian Piranha.  It’s even mentioned in the travel brochure.  Just to make sure you know what’s happening, he actually says “I’m being eaten by piranha!”  Cue the piranha stock footage, some bloody makeup, and a few plastic fish pinned to his suit, and Chubby Hitler gets his just dessert.  Or just becomes dessert.

This was director Edward D. Murphy’s first film, and he jam packed it with as much awesome as he could fit into one movie.  Then he stuffed about three more movies into it.  He wound up with the most demented episode of Fantasy Island ever.  It is literally an embarrassment of riches.  Very, very cheap riches.  And in the enthusiastic spirit of the movie, it ends with TO BE CONTINUED…  Only in our hearts, Edward D. Murphy, only in our hearts.
C Chaka  

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