When I first joined Netflix, I had the typical enthusiast's reaction of immediately filling up my cue with the first 500 pictures that came to mind, which took approximately an hour, because I'm me, and, well, I have this thing about movies. In the years since, I've tended to just add new things I want to see, occasionally doing the “bump to the top” thing, but not really planning what order I want stuff to come beyond that. And, considering that writing this paragraph is the most sustained period of time I've ever spent thinking about my Netflix queue—seriously, the world is such a big place—I've mostly just watched stuff as it arrives, with very few exceptions, and since scaling back to the one-disc-at-a-time plan, the occasional double- or triple-feature is no longer on the table. Until, spectacularly, because the warehouse or whatever didn't have Hard Ticket To Hawaii immediately, they sent me The Package (not the Gene Hackman/Tommy Lee Jones/Pam Grier one, the one with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Dolph Lundgren) as well. And, on the evening of April Fool's Day, I decided to be a proper fucking fool and watch these pictures consecutively.
|Stone Cold, lulling his enemies into a false sense of still being alive.|
First up was The Package. Now, I'm rather attached to the one from the 80s, which actually holds up as a solid thriller and an example of Andrew Davis' modest auteurism (signatures: Chicago, Ron Dean/Joseph P. Kosala, skillfully mounted ownage). I saw a trailer for the Stone Cold/Dolph one and immediately summoned it (before doing the same with Hard Ticket To Hawaii, bumping this to 2nd). I was actually pretty excited to see it, and if I have to explain why you're in the wrong place. Yes, they were both in The Expendables, and The Expendables sucks, but without Sly around to fuck things up, hey. Possibilities are endless.
One possibility I hadn't considered was that it would actually be good. And it kind of is, in a weird way (and, admittedly, by the extremely low standards of direct-to-video ownage pictures). Stone Cold plays a Seattle-based enforcer who collects debts for a soft-spoken crypto-Irish boss who holds court in a dimly lit club with comfy armchairs. One day Stone Cold is assigned to deliver a package (c.f. the title of the picture) to a mysterious and dangerous motherfucker known as “the German” (Dolph, whose non-German-ness is actually dealt with deftly). Stone Cold, looking to both erase his jailbird brother's debt and get out of the business so he can go somewhere peaceful and fuck his wife, takes the job, but is immediately set upon by various heavily armed dickfaces with homicidal intent. Stone Cold does not take this lightly, and proceeds to kill everybody.
Now, the gentleman's physical size was well-established in his illustrious wrestling career. But one thing I hadn't realized about Stone Cold until seeing The Package was that the fucking guy can actually act. Sure, the role of “enormous bald man who kills everyone” isn't exactly a stretch, but Stone Cold has sharp timing and conveys a pleasantly surprising degree of emotional depth. It shouldn't, at this point, be any great shock when wrestlers turn to more traditional forms of acting and do well, though you have to remember I came up in an age when Hulk Hogan made movies where he basically mainlined steroids into his fucking eyeballs and chewed cars in half, which, as much fun as it is to watch when (really) high, doesn't require a lot of theatrical chops. But in the past decade we've seen The Rock (hated though he is by wrestling fans) become an occasionally quite excellent leading man in action pictures, and even John Cena, whose foray into cinema was an order of magnitude shittier than Dwayne's but still quite watchable (The Marine, though forgettable, did the job). And if CM Punk ever decides to try movies, look the fuck out. So, why not Stone Cold? Why not, indeed?
Dolph is enjoyably eccentric, per his usual recent tendency to show up in a role much smaller than the trailer would indicate, give a crazy speech about religion or cooking, then get in an almighty fucking altercation with someone else with huge muscles, resulting in expensive destruction and several photogenic deaths. There's this one bit where he's holding a guy as a bulletproof vest about five feet away from these greaseballs who are unloading automatic weapons at him except the (soon dead) guy absorbs all the bullets and Dolph empties a deceptively voluminous clip from his own gun into said greaseballs, again all from five feet away.
The one thing holding The Package back, oddly, is that the things it does right highlight the limitations imposed on it by its genre. For one: the action scenes, per the above paragraph, are shot in refreshingly long-ish takes, rather than all the cocaine hummingbird editing people tend to blame on Michael Bay (but that really started in music videos and ads around the 80s). But the longer takes highlight the fact that a lot of the action isn't blocked all that well. Now, there are some all-time classic moments. Stone Cold, tied to a chair that's bolted to the floor, manages to kill an Evil White Guy In A Suit with one fucking headbutt. That's duro, no room for debate. But some of the other shit, like those numbnuts missing Dolph about eighty times from five feet away, or all the fisticuffs shot in long enough takes that you can see that the stuntmen Stone Cold is beating the shit out of are slowing it way the hell down to give him time to cave in their faces with punches. This is why action movies started cutting quickly and often in the first place. But still, the impulse toward longer takes and clarity is a good one. And that kind of directorial care is also reflected in the performances, which—in a huge departure from most low-budget action pictures—are actually kind of (gasp) good. No one goes off on one of those Nick Mancuso-in-Rapid Fire scenery-chewing rampages. No one even blows a line reading. And I know that sounds like backhanded compliment, but I'm serious: there was actual filmmaking (fuck, there I go again) going on. The Package, much like its eponymous (though otherwise completely unrelated) predecessor, is quite enjoyable.
|Oh, the look on that dude's face....heh heh heh|
There are no backhanded compliments for Hard Ticket To Hawaii, on the other hand. It's one of the most glorious things I've ever seen. Writer-director Andy Sedaris, kind of the tumescent man's Roger Corman (for a very rough parallel that's almost as gleefully dumb and sensationalist as his movies), here presides over an enchantingly shameless melange of tits, absurd plot devices, and stunningly over-the-top violence.
The story involves a “contaminated” snake that accidentally gets sent to Molokai on a plane flown by a busty blonde DEA agent and her busty blonde sidekick, who's apparently in the witness protection program (and who crushes hard on James Bond). They ferry a honeymooning couple out to a remote spot (with the “contaminated” snake in tow) where almost immediately they're set upon by cop-killing drug dealers, who are being sent a couple boxes of diamonds via remote-controlled helicopter. The blondes (non-fatally) shoot the drug dealers' henchmen and fly away—completely abandoning the honeymooners—and repair to the jacuzzi to talk over what just happened, because toplessness is essential to investigative discourse.
Because shit has commenced going down, the DEA agent's boyfriend (or guy she fucks; sunshine is conducive to being mellow about such things) and his bro arrive to help kick ass. The baddies, however, wish them harm. Thus, this happens:
Tonally, that's the movie in a nutshell. There are a couple surprises that shouldn't be spoiled, though not without about a half hour of asking yourself “hmmm, is the movie actually aware of this?” One involves the much bally-hooed “contaminated” snake, about whom the movie forgets for huge stretches of running time. The other major one involves a staggeringly (and hilariously) inappropriate subplot about the bad guys' mole in the good guys' camp. Let's just say the word “transphobia” didn't exist in 1987 and leave it at that.
Hard Ticket To Hawaii is, objectively, a bad movie (ludicrous plot, shitty acting, weirdly overwritten dialogue where the characters blurt out literally everything on their minds), but it's also awesome (wonderfully insane plot, sublimely doofy acting, gloriously overwritten dialogue where the characters blurt out literally everything on their minds). If you have a medical condition where you go into anaphylactic shock if you go more than 15 minutes without seeing tits, fear not, you can't swing a tit without hitting a tit in this movie. And ho boy is there violence. The thing about violence in 80s movies is, special effects technology had yet to advance to full photorealism, so you could kill the fuck out of people in movies and be buffered against it really being disturbing due to the distancing effect inherent in the shitty effects.
The most important factor in Hard Ticket To Hawaii being such a blast is that the whole thing feels like it was written and directed with a good-natured smile. The hilariously cheap opening titles, basically just pieces of paper taped to boxes, set the tone. The fact that the busty blondes are the ones who actually get shit done and the muscular square-jawed dude needs a fucking bazooka to hit anything at all (note also, when the main busty blonde shoots the helicopter out of the sky at the end, her gun has a much longer barrel than his, because heh heh heh phallic “subtletly” ha ha ha) help counter enough of the gaze-y 12-year-old-ness re: titties as to make it fun rather than “fun except for the junior high school sexism.” It's more, “hey, man, titties and explosions are cool, right?” To which neither I, nor any civilized person, can pose no rebuttal. (Oh yeah, there are nice butts, too.)
Ahem. So yeah, this was a fun double feature. I highly recommend it, to the sophisticated cineaste.