Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Mario van Peebles (HEARTBREAK RIDGE, RAPPIN'), Robert Ginty (THE EXTERMINATOR), Frankie Faison (all the Hannibal Lector movies, C.H.U.D., CAT PEOPLE), Arye Gross (HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, SOUL MAN), supposed bit parts by John Turturro and L. Scott Caldwell (Rose on TV's LOST)- he's 'man shouting in vacant lot, but I never found her, even though I was looking pretty hard. Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Music by David Spear (MORTUARY ACADEMY).
Tag-line: "John Eastland is back - He Knew You Were Lying - The Frightmare Continues!"
Best one-liner: "You want to clean out the streets? I AM the streets!"
The film starts right off with a bang, or rather a FOOOOOSH, with the Exterminator (Robert Ginty) pointing his flamethrower at the camera and letting it rip. We later see the exact same shot in the context of the film, but it doesn't really diminish it's 'FOOOOOSH in the face' impact.
We're talkin' DEATH WISH- but with a flamethrower.
Now I have never seen the Cannon logo do THAT.
And basically, this is Cannon's precursor to DEATH WISH 3. It was their trial run. And it's not perfect- they learned a lot. But I think it also has much to teach all of us. Now clearly, they wanted to create an ominous, crime-addled dystopian world on the brink of ruin. Old people are shot indiscriminately by cackling ex-dancers, police helicopters are blown up, and women are stabbed (and their attackers then brag "I like it when their faces go crazy like that, when they think the world has gone psycho and there's no way out!"). Dudes on roller skates abduct women just so they can get them hooked on smack. It's set up like a post-apocalyptic Middle Ages, with drawbridges, suits of armor, torches, subterranean hideouts, giant blades, etc. But there are unwitting elements of this world that at times seem more like a utopia. Allow me to explain: completely integrated gangs hang out together in complete post-racial harmony. Our main characters spend all of their time at a sleazier version of the bar from FLASHDANCE, which offers "Free Beer" every night. At least that's what the sign out front says. It's all boarded up and has trouble maintaining a clientele, but with free beer every night, it's unclear to me why the entire city of New York is not constantly frequenting this bar. Plus, the Exterminator's pseudo-stripper ("About six months ago, I came to New York, and Broadway seems about as far away as ever!") girlfriend is gyrating and crotch-thrusting to some sweet 80's beats every night. Everything is accompanied by tunes that alternate between rootin' tootin' MIDI basement porn music and the something that would maybe play on the start-up screen for a really shitty martial arts-based NES game. Here's a taste. I mean aside from being caught by Mario van Peebles and ritually crucified- I don't know about you, but this definitely feels like a place in which I could spend some serious time.
The film has an odd feel to it. Golan and Globus were still finding their voice. They had already made DEATH WISH II, BREAKIN', and a couple of Ninja movies, but hadn't done the bulk of their Bronson work, any of their Chuck Norris, no Michael Dudikoff, nor the real dance classics, like BREAKIN' 2, RAPPIN', SALSA, etc. And I don't know how involved they were in the production. I mean, clearly they were around when van Peebles was having his hair and costume done, and clearly they're responsible for the dancer girlfriend
the random break-dance interlude, and the odd roller skating performance art
set to music from BREAKIN', but first-time director Mark Bunztman is probably responsible for a lot of the wacko awkwardnness. Everyone mumbles in this movie, except for van Peebles (as "X"), who thinks he's playing a Shakespearian villain.
Albeit a Shakespearian villain with spiked shoulder pads, one-strap overalls, equal amounts of glitter and sweat, nipple-covering suspenders (on occasion), and a hairstyle that keeps alternating between a foppish Jheri curl and a Grace Jones-style flat-top 'fro.
His main henchman wears a tail coat, juggles fire, and rides around in roller skates for no particular reason. Yeah, this is pretty terrific. But the mumbling is insane, and at times the film seems completely improvised. The pacing is ludicrous as well. "X" and his crew take about 15 minutes to ritually kill an armored truck driver. But it's not a 15 minute torture scene, which could at least be forgiven as an attempt to insert some gratuitous gore– here, they're just carrying him around.... very, very, very slowly. You'll see probably one of the most awkward 'date' scenes in film history, between the Exterminator and his gal. The poor man's Fred Williamson (Frankie Faison)
does some drunk garbage truck driving, feeds some stray dogs and talks and laughs under his breath a lot to Ginty.
Ginty really doesn't know how to deliver a one liner. He gives no emphasis as he off-handedly mutters things like "Looks like some garbage needs to be removed." On the other hand, "X" carefully vocalizes entire speeches about being and owning 'the streets.' Half the time, though, you have no idea what exactly is happening as you strain to hear the half-assedly ad-libbed dialogue.
But don't allow me to lose my focus. This movie was designed for one reason, and one reason only: so that we could watch dudes in asbestos suits running around on fire, waving their arms helplessly in slow motion.
Get used to the POV shot of 'criminal-about-to-be-torched," cause you're gonna be seeing it a lot.
They shoulda shot this in 3D!
Promotional materials called the Exterminator a 'Sherman tank on two legs who breathes fire like Godzilla.' Damn! And these flamed dudes are not just any criminals- they're criminals who put drugs on the streets! This idea would come to a bigger budget fruition in Cannon's DEATH WISH 4- THE CRACKDOWN, but it's still pretty damn solid here. "X" proclaims, "With this powder, I CONTROL THE STREETS!" after he snags a bunch of coke from some carnation-wearing mobsters. Later, when the Exterminator cleverly switches out his drugs, "X" carefully enunciates: "THIS IS FLOUR.... WHERE'S MY DRUG?!?"
Anyway, the Exterminator captures a gang member, and tortures him by leaving him in the back of a garbage truck. Several days later, we get a little of the old Cannon 'comic relief' when they show the hoodlum, still in the back of the truck, munching on some trash. This all leads to a finale where the Exterminator tricks out the garbage truck with hidden machine guns and a snow plow to make it an unstoppable combat vehicle. Of course, there's the high stakes showdown between "X" and the Exterminator, which has to add the whole "we're not so different, you and me" cliché to the mix.
"X" taunts: "How do you like being the animal, Exterminator?! What are you hiding from, masked man? What's the matter, are you nervous? Are we too much ALIKE?" Yeah, this is a subtle movie. That's why I like it. Four mumbly, flaming stars.
Note Peebles' Patrick Magee-style posturing!