Four Different Kinds of Dumb: ‘Action-Packed Movie Marathon’

[7 April 2013]

By David Maine

The four movies contained in Shout! Factory’s Action-Packed Movie Marathon are a diverse bunch, but they have several elements in common: B-list actors, weak special effects, ridiculous plots, wooden performances, and—mostly—a stagnant, static visual style, which is odd, considering that these re supposed to be “action” movies. With the exception of the Mario Van Peebles-enriched Exterminator 2 (1984), these movies are surprisingly staid, and lacking in over-the-top mayhem.

It’s a pretty solid package, in terms of sheer quantity: four movies on two discs at a bargain price. They range from the cheeseball sci-fi of Alienator (1990) to the urban vigilante flick Exterminator 2 to the weak biker-on-the-run trope of Cyclone (1987) to the revenge fantasy of Eye of the Tiger (1986). That said, it’s a shame that the movies themselves aren’t better than they are.

The problem isn’t that the films are extravagant and outrageous; it’s that they’re not. Cyclone kicks off the proceedings with a weak story of a super-motorcycle whose inventor is ruthlessly murdered. The bike, which was the product of a secret government program, risks falling into the wrong hands, unless the inventor’s girlfriend can deliver it to where it’s supposed to go. Girlfriend Teri is played by easy-on-the-eyes Heather Thomas, who channels a kind of Farrah Fawcett vibe, only sweeter—and, if possible, even more willowy. She’s capable enough in her role, but the movie is just plain dumb, with pistol-packing gangsters chasing her through the bulk of the film, lame attempts at comic relief (usually involving some sad sack eyeing her curves), and not much else happening. Even the presence of Martin Landau, whose face looks as elastically pained as ever (what on earth was he thinking?) can’t salvage more than a scene or two.

Alienator kicks off far more promisingly, when an interplanetary rebel escapes the penal colony planet where he awaits execution. Fleeing the evil imperial troopers who have imprisoned him, he makes his way—unsurprisingly—to Earth. Sadly, the movie falls flat after the opening 15 minutes, as the action shifts to a quartet of campers driving through the mountains. They encounter the escaped convict, and more importantly, the Terminator-style enforcer sent to kill him. The apparently female executioner bears an uncanny resemblence to Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, but has, if possible, even less charisma. Despite occasional, enertaining jumps back to the prison planet, the bulk of the action takes place in the nighttime gloom of earthly mountains, and lacks much in the way of suspense or chills.

Eye of the Tiger is probably the best-known of the four movies here, partly due to the relatively big-name presence of Gary Busey and partly due to the wretched theme song, which was inescapable in the summer of 1986. Better-known or no, however, the story is as flat as the others. Busey plays an ex-con named Buck who is trying to get life back on track, but must face up to both a vindictive sheriff and the motorcycle gang that is terrorizing his hometown. There is a reasonable amount of chaos, as well as rather more soap opera than might be entirely desirable, but this is one of the better-looking films here. And Jorge Gil does a fine job as Buck’s ex-con buddy who supplies much-needed reinforcements to help save the day—or at least, raise more hell. To the film’s credit, there are no lame attempts at comic relief; the actors aren’t afraid to play it straight.

The most morbidly entertaining of these films, Exterminator 2 is the sequel to Exterminator, a movie I have never seen. Don’t worry if you missed the original, too: it’s not tough to keep up with the plot this time around. Bad guy Mario Van Peebles, known to his pals as “X”, runs a crime syndicate with dreams of taking over the city. Nice guy John, played by Robert Ginty, gets caught in their web of spiraling violence and decides to fight back. The plot is as ludicrous as anything on these discs, but the gleefully over-the-top performances of Peebles and his crew sell it in a way that the other movies don’t.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the titular Exterminator, some guy who dresses in a metal mask and carries a flame thrower for the express purpose of barbecuing evildoers. He pops up now and then to remind the audience that the movie is named after him, then sets somebody on fire and leaves. Yeah, this movie ain’t half bad. And the finalé, although overlong, certainly deserves the accolade “action-packed”.

Exterminator 2 is also the only film here with any extras, in this case a commentary track by director Mark Buntzman and Van Peebles himself, which is entertaining enough and provides a few insights into the thinking that went into this low-budget extravaganza. None of thee other movies include any extras at all, not that they’re likely to be missed. In any case, the picture and sound quality of all four films is excellent, much better than might be expected for such B-grade movies.

Shout! Factory is to be commended for releasing these low-budget films—between these releases and the blue ray/DVD packages put out by their subsidiary Scream! Factory, a truckload of films is seeing release that would have otherwise been lost forever. For many viewers, this would be no huge loss, but for fans of campy B-grade kitsch, it’s a godsend. This particular package might have more filler than killer, but cheesy movie fans will likely get a kick out of it anyway, meanwhile hoping that Shout! Factory will continue with these releases.

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