Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: RoboCop 2

RoboCop, getting his ass handed to him.

Film: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Director: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Tom Noonan

Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green


I’m not going to argue that the sequel to RoboCop is better than the original (especially since Red Forman died in the first film), but I will say that RoboCop 2 is a great sequel that pushes the story of this ghost in the machine into bold, inevitable territory.  The first film was funnier, sure, and it did have Red Forman killing fools and maligning bitches, but the second act is frighteningly prophetic.

RoboCop’s creators in the industrial conglomerate OCP were portrayed in the first movie as sort of a Shakespearian collection of backbiters and scumbags, yet they weren’t really the story’s villains.  Sure there was a villainous VP who closed the film on the receiving end of some iron justice, but for the most part RoboCop spent his days taking out the ground level trash and left the white collars to scheme.  In the second film, there’s no ambiguity to it; OCP is the evil empire.  Its goal: to force the city of Detroit to default on its debts and then convert the city into its own corporate fiefdom.

Sounds rather modern, no?

Sure, RoboCop spends a good chunk of the film fighting the street trash, in this case represented by a drug cult comprised of an ecstatic Tom Noonan, a member of the Memphis Mafia, and a monstrous little shit that shoots RoboCop in the face.  Yet it quickly becomes clear that OCP is pulling the strings, and all the later disasters that RoboCop must undo are entirely the responsibility of the corporation.

There’s a great segment in the middle of the film where OCP’s meddling has a funnier result.  After getting dismembered by the drug cult and having his ass handed to him, RoboCop is “fixed” by the conniving head of R&D, who focus groups him into irrelevancy.  Thanks to the input of nervous soccer moms, RoboCop’s four Prime Directives grow into hundreds, and the bureaucracy forces him to behave so benignly that he’s completely useless.  Breaking up a robbery perpetrated by an evil Little League team, RoboCop gives the kids (and their dead coach) a stern talking-to, which they promptly ignore.  Then he opens fire on a guy enjoying a cigarette.  So great is the idiocy that our hero finds no other option but to open up a power station and electrocute the stupidity out of himself.  If only it were so easy for the rest of us.

I really like RoboCop 2, even if the end involves a battle to the death between RoboCop and a junkie deathbot.  Films like the RoboCop series are a good reminder that all the political and corporate shit we’re dealing with now is nothing new.  People decades ago knew where we were headed, and here we are.  Perhaps we should have heeded the warnings.


Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Jammin’ George’s Very Jammin’ Christmas

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Flag Day!


Film: Jammin’ George’s Very Jammin’ Christmas (2011)


It’s entirely in keeping with everything I know about the great Jammin’ George that he would send me a Christmas-themed video at a time nowhere near the holidays.  It’s both an absurd decision and a delightful one.  Very Jammin’ Christmas is a quick burst of Jammin’ George’s comedic genius largely infused with (though in no way limited to) Yuletide spirit.  While this 10 minute show doesn’t have the variety or the sheer mindfucking of George’s hour-long epic, Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun, it is a joyous bit of goofing around.

As opposed to the greater diversity of that epic, George’s tribute to Christmas largely sticks to quick impressions and snippets of song.  He does bring back a few classic bits from Land of Fun, one of which is appropriate for the Christmas theme and the other so weird that I’d watch it a thousand different ways.  The first is Jammin’ “George’s 12 Days of Christmas,” featuring George reading down a list of things that make the holidays great, including hot body poses, quenching Orangina, and falafels a-falafeling.  The weird bit is George showing his audience how to make toast.  There’s no swerve; it’s simply George putting bread in a toaster and buttering it when it comes out.  But he’s pumped about it, which sells the entire bit and makes it hilarious as well as bizarre.

His new bits are more or less Christmas-based, the most notable of which features George as the fourth wise man, late for the nativity and looking for a good place for falafel.  He also does a wicked impression of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Still, some of my favorite bits ended up being the times when he’d go off topic.  There’s a great joke about George’s dad being a hedge fund guy before it was cool, and he does a sweet impersonation of Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood.  Then there’s George’s weird, mild-mannered rant about going on a bus ride and not getting a tuna sandwich that was promised him, which would have been out of left field from a lesser comedian.

I do wish that George would have gone longer on this video and diversified his skits a bit more; there’s so much more holiday-themed gold that the man could have mined.  I am more of a fan of Land of Fun, but Very Jammin’ Christmas is a good introduction to those who haven’t seen that masterpiece, as well as a great companion piece for those who have.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Hobo with a Shotgun

Film: Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Director: Jason Eisener

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith

Written by: John Davies

Flat out: Hobo with a Shotgun made me feel good to be alive.  It’s the most wonderfully ridiculous film I’ve seen in ages.  A perfect mixture of dirtbag 80s vigilante cinema with the sort of bloody exploitation flick that most filmmakers totally fuck up by trying to play it cool, Hobo’s secret ingredient is its winning personality.  While there’s no shortage of tits and blood to be found here, those elements aren’t crammed down the viewer’s throat to compensate for the rest of a dull fucking movie.  Instead, the creators of this instant classic are obviously great big wonderful dorks, and it’s clear that their first and foremost goal in making Hobo with a Shotgun was to have the most fun they could possibly have.  They succeeded.

There’s something almost Road House-esque about the resulting hour and a half of cinema, featuring Rutger Hauer rambling around the urban decay as a half-crazed train-hopper.  Hauer’s unnamed vagrant hobbles into a town ruled by the razorblade fist of a murderous tyrant, and after a brief and ill-advised period of trying to get by unscathed, our hobo hero finds his trusty shotgun and trusty hooker sidekick, and he goes on a philosophy-and-pun-fueled ass kicking rampage.  Sure, Swayze’s Zen bouncer was a touch less schizophrenic than Hauer’s glass eating Hobo, but their hearts are filled with the same triumphant justice!

Our Hobo’s epic saga is fraught with awesome villainy.  The city’s genocidal dictator is a Napoleonic imp on an endless seizure of spastic screaming, and his demon enforcers, two walking suits of murder armor, are completely kickass.  The cream of the scum, however, comes in the form of the two sons of the dictator, a pair of letter jacket and sunglasses-at-night sporting yuppie bastards who wreak bloody entitlement with the greatest of glee.  These jerks are responsible for most of the film’s greatest moments, including its zenith in which they take a flamethrower to a bus full of kids while getting down to “Disco Inferno.”  It might have been a gruesome scene if it wasn’t played so silly.

In Hobo, the absurd is everywhere, and it’s hilarious.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie with so many fantastically bad one-liners, and the shit which comes out of these characters’ mouths is the gold which steers the ship.  The Hobo’s behavioral idiosyncrasies and violence so over the top as to be rendered slapstick only enhance the film’s sense of nonsense.  For all of its hoboeroticism, I love the shit out of Hobo with a Shotgun.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: RoboCop


Film: RoboCop (1987)

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith

Written by: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner

It can be a great thing to watch a movie as a child and see one film, and then watch it again as an adult and see something completely different.  It’s kind of appropriate, given the current state of our country, that I recently rediscovered this classic tale of American decline.  The dirty cyborg ultra-violence in the RoboCop film series morbidly evolved into a sleek kid’s franchise (which I, as a one-time aspiring robot policeman, loved), but the real genius of this toy robot flick is in the subtext.  Like John Carpenter’s They Live, which on the surface is an alien invasion story and an epic alleyway brawl, RoboCop has a heart of punk.

Its great subversion is envisioning the end result of Reaganomics, a world of gas-guzzling wrecks and corporate feudalism.  Detroit and its media serve as a microcosm for the rest of the nation, with talking heads attempting to distract the peasantry from the cataclysm surrounding them.  The Benny Hill-esque TV pervert who chuckles “I’d buy that for a dollar!” is actually a fairly sinister figure in a society where businesses own everything worth having and leave everything else to rot.

The twin cancers of unchecked privatization and overblown defense spending come to a head in RoboCop, as Detroit’s largest corporation buys out the city’s police force and begins a process of replacing the beat cops with massively weaponized machines.  Executives scheme against each other in each one’s attempt to get his pet project greenlit, yet the flaws of a drone police force are immediately realized when a boardroom demonstration ends with a walking tank glitching and gunning down a hapless executive.

RoboCop comes about as a direct result of that incompetence.  He’s a step up from the walking tank due to his consisting of a human mind placed in a robot’s body.  The acquisition of the murdered policeman who would be RoboCop leads to another interesting moral dilemma: the question of human beings as property.  It’s assured by the tech people that RoboCop will not have the memories of his former life, but of course that isn’t how things turn out.  However, that doesn’t stop the corporation from treating RoboCop, memories or no memories, as their product, to use and abuse at will.

Of course, RoboCop gets all triumphant action hero, putting his boot in Red Forman’s ass, causing one of the most disturbing toxic waste spills in film history, and generally saving the day.  Yet the underlying theme of unchecked corporatism in RoboCop is much more interesting (and relevant) than the game of Cyborg Cops and Robbers that it disguised itself as.  Clever trick!

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Con Air


Film: Con Air (1997)

Director: Simon West

Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich

Written by: Scott Rosenberg


I think Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, and their audiences are the death of cinema’s artistic merit in general and the death of action movies in specific.  But allow me to give Bruckheimer his due for producing this ridiculous masterpiece of explodey fight film.

In addition to having the guts to name itself after a brand of hair dryers, Con Air has the boldness to pretty much recycle the theme of a previous Nic Cage flick, The Rock. In that film, Cage is the straight man sidekick to Sean Connery’s reformed con, both set after the usual gang of ne’er-do-wells.  Con Air sees Cage promoted to the reformed con role and bequeathing his sidekick status to the chronically flustered John Cusack.  Yet there’s an additional bonus in the casting of the film’s villains, a plane full of irredeemable criminals including Dave Chappelle as a cracked-out arsonist, Steve Buscemi as the world’s nicest mass murderer, and thespian John Malkovich giving his take on Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Malkovich is such an awesomely ludicrous contradiction in Con Air. His villain, codenamed Cyrus the Virus, is talked up by being said to have killed more people than cancer, and yet there’s such a nasal condescension to the nasty man that he sometimes comes off as your average Starbucks customer.  Cyrus could have said that he would tear a guy’s face off and wear it as a diaper, and I’d have heard a demand for a triple shot of espresso and non-dairy creamer.

It doesn't help that he does stuff like this.

Just as wonderful is the glowing aura of triumph that wraps around Nicolas Cage in every scene, lingering like a strong deodorant.  His Bastille Day-obsessed hero is so over the top magnificent that one imagines him waving an American flag in one hand while he rains justice down on scum and villainy everywhere with the other.  In this hyperreality, our hero also has a third arm to clutch onto the stuffed bunny that he aims to give to his daughter, whom he is meeting for the first time and who, by God, needs a bunny delivered by the greatest man alive.

Con Air was made long before the advent of the Chuck Norris Fact, but I’d be willing to bet that the creators of that meme took in more than their fair share of Nicolas Cage cinema.  Most action films of the Bruckheimer/Bay School of Shit try a little too hard to be cool.  Con Air gives not the slightest shit about such trivialities.  As such it becomes so ass-kickingly ridiculous that it’s almost surreal.  If any action film has gone to plaid, Con Air is it.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: The Maddams Family

Film: The Maddams Family (1993)

Director: Herschel Savage

Starring: Ona Zee, Mike Horner, Ron Jeremy

Written by: Cash Markman


Beyond function, I don’t really care about porn.  I like the absurd stories and personalities which populated smut of the 70s, but otherwise it’s all interchangeable to me.  I guess I’m of the opinion – in both life and in porn – that if a person doesn’t have anything interesting to say, then shut up, get to business, and stop trying to make yourself a star.

Still, there’s always been one dirty film which never fails to bring a smile to my face when it comes to mind: a wonderfully absurd parody of The Addams Family in which the family opens up a whorehouse.  For some reason I’ve always found porn parody names to be hilarious (see: Forrest Hump, Spongebob Sorepants), and in its own Oscar Wilde-like wordplay Maddams Family delivers.  The whole Addams clan gets new names: Morticia is now Whoreticia, Lurch becomes Crotch, Cousin It is, well, I’m sure you can guess.  And that disembodied hand that was an Addams family hallmark – guess what it does.

The stars of the show, however, are Cortez, the Maddams patriarch, and moronic man-child Uncle Pester, played by Ron Jeremy.  While Pester’s bumbling eroticism and comparisons of sex acts to ice cream are delightful, the swashbuckling Cortez is just brilliant.  Actor Mike Horner could have coasted on a pinstripe suit, pencil mustache, pilfered lines, and a boner, but instead his Cortez runs on all cylinders: cracking wise about the arms industry, somersaulting around his backyard, competing in what is essentially a one-man fencing match with his Frankenstein butler, and engaging in some fine spastic humping.  The man is gold.

I’ve always thought that porn actors are kind of like stand-up comedians, and that there ought to be an element of comedy involved in the act of screwing on camera.  The Maddams Family seems to agree with me.  I’ve seen a great many mainstream comedies that made me laugh far less than this dirty film.  The ability to get off to it is a strong bonus.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Dumb and Dumberer

Film: Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003)

Director: Troy Miller

Starring: Derek Richardson, Eric Christian Olsen, Eugene Levy

Written by: Troy Miller, Robert Brener

I don’t intend to use this time to glorify what is a pretty terrible prequel.  On the whole, Dumb and Dumberer is a substandard ripoff of a film that I don’t think has aged that well in the first place.  Here, the dimwits Harry and Lloyd are teenagers bumbling around hormones and high school, handled with all the subtlety and restraint as any teen flick in the past decade.

It should be a sign that Eugene Levy, a guy who has unfortunately become a code word for a franchise’s worn out welcome (see: American Pie 8: Stifler Takes Manhattan), pulls out his stock flustered old man character for this gem.  This time around the typecast, Levy is the villain, a corrupt principal who attempts to exploit Harry and Lloyd for some nefarious financial scheme.  Throw in a bros before hos subplot and Harry’s MILF, and, wait a minute, this is an American Pie movie!

There is one aspect of Dumb and Dumberer, however, that I could appreciate.  For all of their other sins, the creators of this movie did a good job casting the lead idiots.  Though it would be impossible to replace Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey, Derek Richardson and Eric Christian Olsen fill the shoes of Harry and Lloyd as well as anyone could have.  Both actors seem to actually care about keeping the characters true to the first film, in both presentation and behavior, and as such they hit moments where the teen and adult versions are barely distinguishable.  In what is essentially a series of slapstick situations thrown at the pair, Richardson and Olsen weather the figurative and literal crap as best they could.

If the people around them weren’t a pack of shit and retard-obsessed opportunists, Dumb and Dumberer actually could have been a decent film.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Bundy: Legacy of Evil

Film: Bundy: Legacy of Evil (2008)

Director: Michael Feifer

Starring: Corin Nemec, Kane Hodder

Written by: Michael Feifer

This isn’t the first time I’ve tangled with Ted Bundy in film, though this is likely the first time I’ve seen a Bundy flick in which the serial killer wasn’t a lovable slapstick goofball and was played as, you know, a serial killer.  Whereas Matthew Bright’s 2002 take on the Tedster was a laugh riot that occasionally paid lip service to the fact that its hero was a real life monster, Michael Feifer’s take on Bundy reverses the ratio.  Sure, there are a few absurdist moments in the film (more, if you consider the omnipresence of Ted’s tight pants, faux cowboy boots, and sweet 70s do), but there’s no ambiguity to the film.  Unlike Bright’s Bizarro treasure, I didn’t wonder whether I should be laughing or recoiling in horror.  The Ted Bundy presented here is at best a twitchy yet likeable prick; at worst he’s, well, Ted Bundy.

The entire strength of this film rests upon good casting.  Corin Nemec of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose fame is absolutely spot-on as the lanky, baby-faced psycho killer.  Nemec excellently portrays both ends of Bundy’s psycho personality, playing up the man’s overbearing charisma and the rage beneath the veneer.

And when Nemec lets loose with the crazy, he is legitimately frightening.  The best example of this comes when Ted goes on a nighttime rampage through a sorority house, smashing girls’ brains out with a baseball bat and explosive ritualism.  Throughout, Nemec plays Bundy straight out of Nosferatu, creeping around the dark hallways, more predator – indeed, more vampire – than man.  The outbursts of violence that follow feel as though they end not because Bundy runs out of hate, but because the human body can only absorb so much damage.

Yeah, there are a few great moments of goofiness.  The scene where a drunk Ted rambles his red VW Beetle of Death along a highway before getting busted for owning a rapekit is pretty happy-go-lucky.  Better yet, Bundy pulls one of history’s great dick moves when he reunites with his ex-girlfriend in California.  After a swell day out on the town they hit a classy restaurant, where Bundy proposes to the girl.  Overjoyed, she accepts, after which Ted hits the bathroom and just leaves her.  Perhaps all the murder got desensitizing, but that move was just cold.

I’ll always have a warm spot for Matthew Bright’s screwball slaughterer, but Michael Feifer’s Bundy is the superior film.  Corin Nemec’s magnificent portrayal of Bundy hits all the right notes, most of all a sense of reality which makes this horror film all the worse.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy (2002)

Director: Matthew Bright

Cast: Michael Reilly Burke, Boti Ann Bliss

Director Matthew Bright has done the impossible – he has turned Ted Bundy into a comedic genius. After watching this movie, I can’t even look at pictures of the most notorious serial murderer in American history without Bright’s bumbling caricature popping up and making me snicker. Ted’s not scary anymore; he’s a slaughterhouse rodeo clown, traipsing the country in his yellow VW Beetle of Death, raping and killing to an upbeat disco score. Ted Bundy is the mass murderer’s equivalent of Springtime for Hitler, so stunning in audacity that it must become a cult classic.

The film doesn’t screw around in belaboring its statement of purpose. Our first glimpse of Ted comes in his morning routine, looking into his mirror and performing what appears to be a Tourette’s-fueled rubberface. From there, Ted embarks on a pleasant day out, frantically stealing televisions from storefronts and gigantic potted plants from hotel parking lots. The evening draws Ted to a swinging club, where he boogies down with a co-ed before following her back to her place and angrily masturbating outside of her bedroom window. After a second-floor neighbor cockblocks Ted with a pitcher of ice water, the creep scurries away, clubbing a random woman in the head and stealing her purse for no good reason. Yeah, the rest of the movie pretty much follows this formula, and (seriously) ends with Ted getting a fistful of cotton balls up shitter, followed by credit music that would be more appropriate as background for winning a new car on The Price is Right. Jesus.

Though there are a few scenes which induce genuine squirm, it’s clear that Bright – no stranger to crap filmmaking – set out to make a comedic slasher flick, and slapped the Bundy swerve on for the illusion of weight. Michael Reilly Burke plays a passable Ted, though any depth he hoped to bring to the role was surely squashed after clubbing the fifth or so oblivious girl to death. Boti Bliss plays Ted’s girlfriend with such dithering stupidity that they ought to have put a helmet on her. The victims may as well be crash test dummies. This is both a glorious skewering of a dreadful affair, and a spit in the face to all those affected. It’s hard to determine which is greater.

Oh, Ted, you rascal. You got us again.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Gentlemen Broncos


Film: Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

Director: Jared Hess

Starring: Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell

Written by: Jared & Jerusha Hess

Imagine what would happen if Napoleon Dynamite – the film in total, not only the frizzy-haired embodiment of geek irony –  was plunged into a barrel of toxic ooze, then set loose to shamble around as its cinematic flesh rotted and peeled from its body. Along with recreating an excellent scene from Robocop, you’d also get something very similar to Gentlemen Broncos. This is one of the most hideous films I’ve seen in a while – and I mean that in the best way.

This film sees director Jared Hess attempting to return to the suburban freakshow style which made him a mint with Mr. Dynamite. Yet instead of legitimizing the fringe as he did in his former film, Hess dives into it. While Gentlemen Broncos has more of a plot than its more Seinfeldian predecessor, that fact almost seems secondary. Instead, Broncos feels like it’s trying harder to freak out its audience than to make it laugh. The plot of a boy author being plagiarized by a famed sci-fi novelist (played with great baritone self-importance by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) pales in comparison to the terrible spectacle of a bowl-cutted, Nosferatu-mouthed Mexican kid (far and away the film’s most hideous creature) blowing into a girl’s ear for way too long. Or a snake suffering diarrhea on a frizzy mulleted creep’s shoulder. Or the hero’s mother – a ridiculous caricature of a Mormon woman – getting hit by blowgun fire. Or a vomit-caked kiss. Or the plagiarized story in question, a sci-fi gem named Yeast Lords in which, depending on each author’s fantasies, Sam Rockwell prances around as either an unkempt carnie or a gay Edgar Winter, riding flying deer and romancing a bald woman. Napoleon Dynamite – ligers, bad hairstyles, and all – comes off as positively Hollywood in comparison.

Edgar Winter - Intergalactic Hero

Hess has always played fast and loose with unnerving characters and situations, something which, combined with his films’ generally optimistic tones, lent his first film the goofball accessibility which made it such a cultural phenomenon. Gentlemen Broncos has no such designs at widespread acclaim, and whether one enjoys this film or not depends entirely upon what connotations one puts upon the word freakshow. Unsurprisingly, it works for me.

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