Not knowing what to watch, but wanting to do a blog post this weekend, I asked my husband to assign me a movie. The last time I did this, he wanted me to write about Goodfellas, but this time you can see from the title he went with more of this site’s usual fare. I groaned because I had it filed away in my head with other movies we watched around the same time such as Dangerous Men and Parole Violators, but I was misremembering. It doesn’t happen to me often, but on this, my third viewing of Action U.S.A., I had to completely change my assessment of the movie. This is not a bad movie, or a so-bad-it’s-good movie. It’s a tightly shot collection of stunts with a simple story to bind them together. And it’s full of intentional humor. It kind of throws all of the 80s actioners into a blender and serves them with a little umbrella sticking out. And it’s a surprisingly delicious cocktail. No brain freeze either.
I remembered nothing about Action U.S.A. other than that someone drove a car through a house and then said, “Sorry bout your house, Buddy,” before the house exploded. But there is also a barfight where the lead actress jumps on stage and sings a song to get away from the bad guys chasing her. The second lead, William Hubbard Knight, gets thrown through a lattice wall, twice. A guy falls out of a helicopter, a guy falls out of a building, a car drives through an R.V., a car jumps over a school bus full of kids, a guy jumps into a hotel room through a window, a guy licks oil from a dipstick (yes that is a stunt fight me) and many other things blow up or get wrecked or fall on the ground. Also, boobs. If we had a hot guy’s bare ass it would be the perfect movie.
Oh, and the main female character is running from some jewel thieves when she gets help from a buddy cop pair made up of a bemulleted white guy in an army jacket and a black guy in a suit. That’s the story. The action pretty much never stops. I will admit that I watched this with the commentary track on, so I didn’t hear the dialogue this time, but I did get a tutorial on how to film a low budget movie in 17.5 days in Waco Texas. I highly recommend that you listen to the commentary after watching this because it’s glorious. Basically, a stunt man named John Stewart decided to direct a movie, and they made it in Texas for the budget, and the whole town pitched in. And I loved hearing the input of male lead Gregory Scott Cummins because I mostly associate him with Hack O’Lantern, and that’s not fair to the actor. I don’t want to say much more because the story of how Action U.S.A. got made is the real story.
Whenever I watch an 80s movie that gets famous in the 21st century for being hilariously bad, that I didn’t see in the 80s, I ask myself, would anyone have really noticed that this was any different from every other cheesy movie that was on our screens? Other than budget, or where the actors fall on the alphabet of lists, or whether or not Cameron Mitchell shows up for some reason, usually not. Miami Connection for example, is goofy, but I think the fight scenes as well as Dragon Sound’s music would have fit right in. Nobody would have howled and pointed like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers if one of your friends rented Miami Connection to watch on Saturday afternoon. As a martial arts movie, I’d honestly rather watch it than The Karate Kid. I didn’t see Action U.S.A. in the 80s, but I think it would have been considered a standard weekend rental.
Another thing I remember about the 80s is a sort of cultural divide by which action movies were pretty much all critically panned anyway. Movie critics on TV and in the paper considered everything action to be schlock, and yuppies pretty much followed suit. La ti da, come on Brad, let’s watch Out of Africa again. Meanwhile, people watched Super Fuzz every day on HBO and didn’t even notice anything weird about it. That’s not to say I don’t welcome jokes about Miami Connection, because as you know I am a Rifftrax devotee, but I’m saying first of all that a lot of movies which now get watched “ironically” would not have been viewed that way at the time they came out, and secondly all action was considered lowbrow unless of course a Pepsi can was being prominently displayed in all scenes.
I think about my three favorite action movies that I actually watched in the 80s, meaning I took them in context, and they are Super Fuzz, The Highlander, and The Terminator. Super Fuzz, yes, is a good bad movie. The Highlander is what you might call a sleeper hit, and spawned a cheesy but long-running Canadian TV show. The Terminator is a fucking masterpiece. It’s action, horror, sci-fi, and romance all in one. So now here we are living in the introspective future that Kyle Reese has fought and died us to have, we know that action movies have tiers, and once you throw in all the Hong Kong stuff that we in the U.S. mostly became acquainted with in the 90s, there’s an incredible amount of nuance and variety. Action U.S.A. is not The Terminator, it’s not a John Woo bullet ballet, sometimes you can see the cables the actors are hanging from, but you can’t tell who is the actor and who is the stuntman, and there are no mannequins floating gently off of buildings. It’s pretty good at what it does. It says it right in the title.
P.S. As a bonus, I’m very happy to say that from looking through the short filmography of female lead Barri Murphy I found a movie I have been looking for but couldn’t remember the name of, and it was Time Tracers. I don’t remember her from Time Tracers but if I can find it to watch again I will wave hello to her as I watch.
This sounds wonderful!
Wednesday's Child said:
I think you would like it. I forgot to mention it’s free on Tubi and Pluto.