The Blue Iguana, recently released to DVD nearly 20 years after its theatrical run, follows a simple plot. Bounty hunter Vince Holloway (Dylan McDermott) is sent by a couple of IRS agents to recover $20 million from an illegal bank in Mexico. With the help of the beautiful Dakota (Pamela Gidley), who owns the Blue Iguana bar, and other assorted allies, the chain-smoking “recovery specialist,” as Holloway calls himself, plays the criminal elements against one and other and regains the money.
To complete this assignment, Vince travels to “Diablo,” one of those lawless border towns characterized by street brawls, gunfights, rapes, and robberies. Here, he walks a fine line between action hero and total cheeseball. He charms women as easily as he guns down bad guys, and never sullies his clothes. In this, he typifies The Blue Iguana‘s awkward straddling of tones and ambitions: whether it’s feminism or smoking, McDermott or Mexico, the movie’s ideas seem a series of punch-lines in the making for the next installment of Scary Movie.
As unremarkable as the storyline sounds, John Lafia’s comedy is notable for its consideration of that laudable icon, the ‘80s badass. Vince’s cigarette dangles from his lips as he drinks Johnny Walker Black and declares, “Johnny and I are… very close.” He’s surrounded by women on the verge of threatening his self-assigned supremacy, whose dress and actions both affirm and mock he “women’s liberation” movement. These women include Dakota, bank owner Cora (Jessica Harper), and Detective Vera Quinn (Tovah Feldshuh), who wears her wife-beater with no bra (to achieve that visible nipples look). But Holloway remains in charge. Whether he’s trying to bed Dakota or win over Cora, he’s equal parts charisma, street smarts, and brawn. Zoe, the intimidating female bartender, remarks, “Found a new sport that I like. Know what it is? Golf. Know why I like it? Because golf is walking through a park… with a purpose.” Plainly, Holloway has his work cut out for him.
Holloway is similarly one step ahead of the criminals, led by Reno (James Russo). Holloway and his sidekick Yano (Yano Anaya in an excellent performance) repeatedly outsmart them and occasionally outmuscle this group of some 20 thugs (among their number they count Flea, appearing here without his tube sock). But Holloway makes clear that he’s superior: amid all the fighting and killing, he takes time to remark, “I used to have so many friends, I didn’t have to see anyone twice.” He’s a loner, get it?
We might read The Blue Iguana as a movie ahead of its time, relishing its stereotypes even as it piles them on. Holloway borrows from any number of previous tough guy heroes, and looks forward to comic versions in the future. Alongside his posturing, the film’s hyper-aggressive women and villains provide a window into the recent past. Back in 1988, George Bush the First was elected to the Oval Office. Israel and Palestine were fighting. The U.S. was bombing the Middle East (Iran was the target that year). The Blue Iguana suggests that macho acting out was as ineffective then as now.