Friday, April 9, 2010

Film Review: FATAL BEAUTY (1987, Tom Holland)

Stars: 4.6 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Whoopi Goldberg, Sam Elliott (FROGS, THE BIG LEBOWSKI), Brad Dourif (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, CHILD'S PLAY), Harris Yulin (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, ST. IVES), Cheech Marin, Mark Pellegrino (Jacob on TV's LOST, MULHOLLAND DR.), James LeGros (DRUGSTORE COWBOY, GUNCRAZY), John P. Ryan (IT'S ALIVE, CLASS OF 1999), M.C. Gainey (Tom Friendy on TV's LOST, SIDEWAYS), Rubén Blades (PREDATOR 2, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO), Charles Hallahan (Norris in THE THING, SILKWOOD). Music by Harold Faltermeyer (KUFFS, THE RUNNING MAN). Holy shit, the only people missing from this movie are Clu Gulager, Donald Pleasence, and James Remar.
Tag-line: "An earthquake is about to hit L.A. It's called Detective Rita Rizzoli."
Best one-liner: "Do you want a glass?" –"Do I want a glass? No, wrap it in a taco, dumb motherfucker, yes, I want a glass!"

FATAL BEAUTY is an extremely underrated (buddy) cop thriller directed by Tom Holland (CHILD'S PLAY, FRIGHT NIGHT) and written by Hilary Henkin (ROAD HOUSE) and Dean Riesner (DIRTY HARRY). The cast is extremely eclectic and chock full of undersung, prolific 80's character actors, and Whoopi has never been more likable. There's ginormous boom boxes, zany high-heel'd hookers, chubby Latino queens channeling Divine, Cheech Marin as a smarmy bartender ("Gimme a kiss"), and Rubén Blades as a bearded, milquetoast cop who doesn't even know who Richard Gere is (zany, right?).

It's a forgotten film, misplaced in a sea of BEVERLY HILLS COPS, LETHAL WEAPONS, and DIE HARDS. Discarded, derided, and disregarded, this is the sort of thing that Drug Mart puts in the 50-cent bin, then withdraws from circulation entirely 'cause no one is renting it... except me. I am renting it. And then I am proclaiming it to be a "hidden gem" for all the world to hear. So here are thirteen reasons why FATAL BEAUTY deserves its place in the pantheon, beside the likes of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and TURNER & HOOCH:

#1. John P. Ryan (R.I.P.) as the crusty Lieutenant who you love to hate. He drinks Pepto Bismol out of the bottle, smokes a pipe, and is always threatening Whoopi with that old standby– We'll stick you behind a desk if you screw up one more time, you whacky action-luvin' cop! He gets to deliver the classic "Gut feeling! We need probable cause– we can't go down to the D.A.'s office with your gut!" But then he pulls a disappearing trick halfway through the narrative and is never heard from again. It's a thankless job, and John P. Ryan has to do it. And I don't even grace him with a screencap here. That's completely unintentional, but probably an all-too-common theme for the credit owed to John P. Ryan. Lost in the shuffle. IT'S ALIVE? You probably just remember the killer baby. CLASS OF 1999? You can't think of anything but Pam Grier's robot boobs. RENT-A-COP? All you can think of is Liza getting goosed and James Remar dancing up a storm. THREE O'CLOCK HIGH? The bully. DEATH WISH 4? Bronson. WHITE SANDS? Dafoe. And John P. Ryan doesn't even get credited in that one. Where is the love? One of these days, I will devote an entire week to John P. Ryan. But, poetically, I'll probably forget that I ever promised that.

#2. M.C. Gainey and Norris from THE THING (Charles Hallahan) as two sexist cops who Whoopi schools the shit out of.

In fact, that's kind of the set-up for the entire film: A. People offend Whoopi, calling her "bitch," "cunt," or by engaging in illegal activity. B. Whoopi kicks their asses and has a snazzy retort. Case in point: "Kevlar, bitch!" BLAM BLAM BLAM –"Smith & Wesson, asshole!" The retort doesn't even have to be that scathing, it just has to be sassy: "Hey, stay bent over like that and I'll show you a good time." –"Oh yeah? One quick hump and you'd be in the hospital, honey."

#3. Whoopi's style- she's got a cat like Philip Marlowe, drives around in a snazzy pink Mustang (shades of "AWSOM 50" anyone?),

decorates her home with Chuck Berry paintings, shoots dudes in the ass and then tortures them, and whomps a WASPin' country club beyotch into a pool and thru plate glass window.

"Everywhere I go, people are dyin' to meet me." I didn't even get to the scene where she steals cookies from a restaurant before she leaves to abuse a suspect in the meat locker. Yes, she is awesome.

I must admit, in the past I have generally had pretty lukewarm feelings on the subject of Whoopi Goldberg. Now she is a lifetime member of Junta Juleil's Hall-o-Fame.

#4. Rizzoli! I guess Whoopi is an Italian-American. Have-a some more s'getts, you look-a too thin! Whether or not the screenplay was written for a black woman is certainly open to debate, since they definitely run with some of the jokier aspects (in retrospect?). Either way, I love it.

#5. Whoopi's undercover costumes. Whether she's dressed as "Tina Turner meets Golan-Globus crackwhore":

Note sunglasses.

or like a 1960's housewife-slash-debutante:

her many disguises are guaranteed to delight and inspire.

#6. Mark Pellegrino as Billy Idol-lookin' punk named Frankenstein. Compare it to his character in DEATH WISH 4. It really puts a whole new spin on LOST. (And one scene in particular even eerily anticipates the Season 5 finale.) In fact, wait a minute- this movie is full of LOST alumni (M.C. Gainey, Cheech Marin). The wheels are turning.

Note the black and white imagery.

#7. The guy who chews on a glass bottle for no reason. Hey, Busey lit his arm on fire in LETHAL WEAPON, so why not.

#8. Whiny James LeGros. He's the first of two characters to drop the C-bomb on Whoopi (Dourif being the other) and is referred to as a "snot nosed limp dick in designer jeans."

LeGros prepares to drop the c-bomb with little to no warning.

Don't worry, though, the country club douchebomb who Whoopi whoops with such commitment and élan... is his mom.

#9. Sam Elliott. So soothing.

Seriously, though, he and Werner Herzog should team up and do a radio show. The show could air from, I don't know, maybe 7-10 AM EST on weekdays, and I could set my clock radio to it, and that way I could bestir myself to something other than "Time keeps on slippin' slippin' slippin'...into the future..." which I guess is soothing in its own way, but it feels very old hat to me at this point in my life but I guess it's my own fault for having the dial tuned to a classic rock station only plays about five or six different songs. I digress. Regardless, Sam Elliot says, "I always had a thing for Italian ladies." Ro-mannnce!

#10. The eponymous cocaine blend which will kill you or drive you crazy in thirty seconds. WHATTT?! What a great plot development! It's so over-the-top and with such high stakes, that I have to say we're nearly in DEAD HEAT territory.

#11. Brad Dourif. Cast (in a pre-Chucky Tom Holland flick!) as the main villain, it doesn't matter if he's in silk shirts, ridic 80's wool sport coats or weird little red shoes- his frizzy hair is in that classic lopsided part, and he's skittering around like he's king of the drug world.

He's surprisingly earnest, too. Well, at least before he starts killing everybody. We're entreated to the sight of Dourif blasting automatic weapons and shooting up innocent bystanders and security guards at a mall, which is strangely similar to the opening scene of CHILD'S PLAY- in fact, in addition to thinking of it as a second parallel universe on LOST, I'm going to start considering FATAL BEAUTY as a prequel to the Chucky movies. Hey, they both use the word "bitch" a lot.

#12. Harris Yulin. Always typecast as this sort of character. Always great at it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Is that a terrycloth smoking jacket or an especially dignified robe?

#13. The ending that may or may not involve a mustache kiss and a freeze frame, and the closing credits song "It's Criminal" by Shannon. "It's crim-in-nal. I THINK IT'S A CRIME! It's crim-in-nal. DOIN' TIME!"

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

You certainly make a convincing argument but I dunno. Whoopi Goldberg never did it for me, 'cept maybe for her recurring role on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

Now, for underrated buddy cop films of the '80s, I'll have to go with RUNNING SCARED - Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines? Comedy gold! Not to mention Jimmy Smits plays the drug-peddling baddie!

Sean Gill said...

I've long been meaning to give RUNNING SCARED a spin, and now really have no excuse. Plus, I'm a sucker for anything involving Smits, from a guest appearance on PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE to a memorable season-long run on DEXTER.

J.D. said...

Yeah, I dig Smits. Just re-watched THE BELIEVERS, an '80s supernatural/voodoo thriller with Martin Sheen and he played a very sympathetic cop in that one. In fact, he was the best thing in the entire film.