Friday, July 11, 2014

Film Review: COLLISION COURSE (1989, Lewis Teague)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Tag-line: "Not So Much A Lethal Weapon, More Of A Liability!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Pat Morita (THE KARATE KID, BLOODSPORT 2), Jay Leno (SILVER BEARS, AMERICAN HOT WAX, THE TONIGHT SHOW), Chris Sarandon (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, TALES FROM THE CRYPT: BORDELLO OF BLOOD), Tom Noonan (MANHUNTER, THE MONSTER SQUAD), Ernie Hudson (GHOSTBUSTERS, THE CROW), Al Waxman (CLASS OF 1984, MEATBALLS III: SUMMER JOB), Dennis Holahan (HALLOWEEN II, KUFFS), Soon-Tek Oh (DEATH WISH IV: THE CRACKDOWN, MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING), Randall "Tex" Cobb (RAISING ARIZONA, BLIND FURY), Richard Gant (ROCKY V, "Hostetler" on DEADWOOD).  Music by Ira Newborn (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, SIXTEEN CANDLES, WISE GUYS).  Directed by Lewis Teague (CAT'S EYE, CUJO).
Best One-liner: "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!"

In a familiar, darkened alley, two Thunderbird-swilling cineastes make small-talk:

–"I'm bored.  Whatcha got for me?"
"Here's a philosophical question.  What's better than watching a train wreck?"
–"I don't know.  Is that a trick question?"
"What about the moment of anticipation, right before the train wreck?"
–"Okay..."
"When the train is on course to collide with something.  A "COLLISION COURSE," if you will."
–"Where are you going with this?"

"Alright.  What I got here, is a big, dumb, character actor-heavy buddy cop movie in the tradition of such classics as RUNNING SCARED, V.I. WARSHAWSKI, and FATAL BEAUTY.  It stars Jay Leno and Pat Morita.  Interested?"
–"Keep goin'.  I'm gonna need more than that."
"Well it's kind of a East-meets-West, fish-out-of-water story where Motor City cop Jay Leno  becomes begrudging partners with Pat Morita of Tokyo PD after a Japanese businessman is murdered over the design of a car prototype, which leads to plenty of villains shouting things like 'WHERE IS THE PROTOTYPE?!' and it's also personal, because an old ex-cop buddy of Leno's was murdered by the same prototype-seeking bad guys.  Also, I'd bet you anything Leno agreed to do this based on his unhealthy love of custom cars alone."

–"It sounds mediocre, like a second-tier RED HEAT.  I need to know more."
"What?!  How much more do you need?"
–"I don't know.  If I'm going to watch a movie with Jay Leno in it, I'm probably going to need at least thirteen reasons."

"Alright.  Easy peasy Leno squeezy."
–"Please never say that again."
"Fine.  #1.  How 'bout DEATH WISH 4's Soon-Tek Oh as Morita's no-nonsense boss in Tokyo, who's always coming down hard on him for bein' an action-luvin' hot-dog of a cop?"

–"You're leading with Soon-Tek Oh?  This movie hasn't got a chance."
"When did you become so picky?  And besides, Soon-Tek is the man.  He was on AIRWOLF, THE A-TEAM, he's in MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING...  not to mention GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK, NIGHT GALLERY, T.J. HOOKER..."
–"Okay, I'm sorry."
"You should be.  Ready for #2?  Here it comes: Chris Sarandon."

–"WHAT?!  But also, I don't really like that 'stache."
"Too bad!  You think he cares?  Sarandon's the big villain of the piece, but he's built a persona of respectability where he hands out giant checks to underprivileged youths."

–"He sounds like a ROBOCOP antagonist."
"That's not too far off the mark.  And that ain't a bad thing, either.  He's sort of phonin' it in, but every once in a while he does something fantastic, like beating a man about the head and neck with a napkin.  That's #3, by the way."




–"I was about to tell you it wasn't fair to use Sarandon for two different slots, but I have to admit that's a thing of beauty."
"Yup."
–"Wait, who is that, off to the right, looking vaguely uneasy about the napkin-beating?  He looks familiar..."
"Ohhhhhh yeah.  #4.  Tom motherluvin' Noonan!

He's here to occupy that 'villain's right-hand-man' spot, like Gary Busey in LETHAL WEAPON or Alexander Godunov in DIE HARD.  And he's playin' it weird."
–"What do you mean?"
"Imagine a kind of three-way cross between his blood-curdling 'Francis Dolarhyde' in MANHUNTER, Mr. Rogers, and an 80s prep school bully."
–"I don't think I can."
"I can show you better than I can tell you.  It's a clip called 'Tom Noonan's Quiet Menace.'"
–"I'm so scared."
"You should be.  Cause, #5, Noonan's got his own rocket launcher, too."

–"That's surely not worth it's own number.  Isn't that a given?"
"Lemme rephrase that:  #5, Noonan's got his own rocket launcher pistol."
–"Okay, you win.  You win everything."
"And feast your eyes on #6:  Leno's partner (before Pat Morita shows up) is none other than ghostbustin' Ernie Hudson."

–"I love Ernie Hudson!"
"Sadly, they don't give him much to do.  He has an action scene and a half before being relegated to 'the friend our hero calls for occasional favors and advice' duty.  It's sad, really, and a waste of Ernie Hudson.  One of the few sins this movie commits."
–"I've always been a GHOSTBUSTERS II man, myself."
"Of course you are.  Now, are you ready for the heavy stuff?  #7.  Social commentary."

–"Huh?"
"Yes sir:  this movie makes an occasionally earnest effort to say... something.  It's rarely sure what that is, exactly.  But it shows the decay of Rust Belt-era Detroit, and says 'that's a shame.'  It says, this city used to be proud of itself. It shows the resentment toward Asians and Asian auto manufacturers in a post-Vincent Chin world, even if it's masked by bad karate and Chop Suey jokes.  It reveals actual racial tensions, then grows uncomfortable with itself and drowns them in zany synth music and one-liners like "I oughta stir fry your face!"  So nobody's going to really draw any greater meaning from this movie, but as a document of 80s Detroit– forsaken by Big Auto and Big Money and thrown to the wolves– it might carry some kind of historical value.  I don't know."
–"You're kind of depressing me, man.  I had a buzz going."
"Ooookay.  Uh, how 'bout #8:  Jay Leno gets the drop on his quarry and delivers the following one-liner:

"Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!"

–"Awful.  And brilliant!"
 "#9.  The cat-and-mouse game between Leno and Morita before they realize they're both actually on the same side.  It involves both Leno hiding behind that "Get Well Soon" standby: a tiny balloon attached to what is essentially a glorified straw.  I suppose the joke is that his enormous chin is ill-concealed by the tiny balloon, which is not quite a joke, really, but I that's the sort of back-asswards comedic sensibility that makes this movie work.

Also, Pat Morita tries to hide himself inside a garment bag which is terrific.  I mean, look at this:
 
 it's a loopy kind of brilliance that simply doesn't exist outside an 80s action-comedy."
 –"I like it.  What next?"
"#10.  The awkward, drawn-out scene where Leno and Morita become true buddies for the first time.  It involves polishing off a box of KFC and an entire bottle of 12 year Chivas Regal and the repeated toast, 'Banzai!'  The pacing is seriously weird, even for a movie as uneven as this one.


Though I suppose we should be happy with the result, which is a hungover Jay Leno waking up underneath his coffee table

and smacking his head with tremendous force."
–"I like the sound of that."
"So you'll love the sound of #11: Scrappy L'il Pat Morita.  He knocks muggers unconscious with garbage pail lids

and bites the ankles of beefy henchmen.

It's all the lowdown, dirty action you always wanted in the KARATE KID movies but never got."
–"I feel like a kid on Christmas."
"You should.  But that's not all there is to his character– there's a touching scene where Jay Leno sends him to the dance floor in a BBQ restaurant so he can steal his ribs, or something,

but the joke is on Leno because Morita's having the time of his life flirting with the locals and throwing his hands in the air, waving them like he doesn't care, etc., etc...

That's #12, I suppose.  I haven't seen anybody that dignified rock that hard since David Warner did to Vanilla Ice in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE."
–"Fair enough.  So what's #13?"
"I saved the best for last.  So it's the grand finale.  (Spoilers are about to be unleashed, if you think that matters for a movie like COLLISION COURSE.)  Jay Leno's wounded.  He's been shot in the lower buttock.  Pat Morita's trying to help him.  Jay's pulling the 'ole melodramatic 'Go on without me...' bit.  Just then, Chris Sarandon shows up in his luxury automobile, ready to run 'em down like dogs at the far end of a dead end alley. 

I mean, just look how happy he is.  But instead of turnin' tail while Chris tries to go all CHRISTINE on him, Pat Morita makes a stand, running at the vehicle with the confident élan of a Medieval jouster.

He launches himself into the air (er... at the blue screen, rather)

And, well.... perhaps I'd better just show you the splendorous result:
–"Sweet mother of mercy!"
"Yeah."
–"My God."
"Yeah."
–"I just watched it...  forty times."
"That's how it's meant to be watched, my friend."
–"You... were right... about a... Jay Leno movie..."
"I guess hell must have frozen over.  Wanna give AMERICAN HOT WAX a try?"
–"You know... I think I'd better not press my luck."

–Sean Gill


P.S.– COLLISION COURSE is directed by one of my favorites, Lewis Teague, who did ALLIGATOR, CAT'S EYE, CUJO, WEDLOCK, and NAVY SEALS.  It occurred to me just now that there's a  weird connection between Lewis Teague and fellow 80s maestro Todd Holland- both did multiple Stephen King adaptations, one weirdo buddy cop movie in the late 80's, lots o' horror flicks, and worked with Chris Sarandon.  Kinda weird.  Or maybe not.

6 comments:

Buck Atwater said...

Ha! I was wondering if this one would come along. You hit on pretty much all the reasons I liked myself, mostly for the actors in it. I'm still not sure if Jay Leno pulled it off or not, though his acting did surprise me a few times in it. Apparently, Leno would rather this movie was forgotten and regretted making it, but I think it's entertaining enough.

Besides the obvious finale scene, my favorite part is seeing Tom Noonan's house of guns and the shootout that follows.

Mike B. said...

It's a compliment to your site of the highest order that I will now at least consider watching this, but I can't promise anything more than that! Noonan is intriguing, though. He was great in the 'movie within a movie' in "Last Action Hero," which is itself a fairly reviled film that I will defend to no end!

Francisco Gonzalez said...

I like watching crazy movies like these...I just might give it a chance, it sounds totally bonkers!

Sean Gill said...

Buck,

Indeed! Many thanks for the recommendation; this found its way into my Netflix queue shortly after you mentioned it in the BORDELLO OF BLOOD comments. And, oh yes, I love Noonan's house of guns, and the watermelon exploding finale that follows.

Mike,
Glad you enjoyed. I think you'd get a kick out of this one.
I, too, love LAST ACTION HERO, and Noonan's dual roles as The Ripper and himself!

Francisco,
Yeah, it's nuts, alright, and nearly reaches Cannon Films levels of insanity. Give it a try, if you're in the mood!

Nathan Forester said...

Ah yes, my guilty pleasure movie.

Sean Gill said...

Nathan,

Thanks for stopping by!