Saturday, February 20, 2016

Retro Review: BULLETPROOF (1988)

(US - 1988)

A year after playing memorable bad guy Mr. Joshua in the smash hit LETHAL WEAPON and about six months before the motorcycle accident that would be the first step in turning him into a walking punchline, Gary Busey got to headline the ridiculous LETHAL WEAPON ripoff BULLETPROOF. Trying and failing to introduce the pejorative "butthorn" into the lexicon ("Your worst nightmare, butthorn!"), Busey--an Academy Award-nominee a decade earlier for THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY--is Frank "Bulletproof" McBain, a sax-playing, renegade L.A. cop who plays by his own rules, prompting his straight-arrow partner Roger Murtaugh, er, I mean, Billy Dunbar (Thalmus Rasulala) to go through his entire allowance of "Dammit, McBain!"'s in the first five minutes of the movie. Bulletproof is such a badass that he has a collection of self-removed bullets he keeps in a jar in his medicine cabinet (you see, because he's "Bulletproof"). Bulletproof turns out to be ex-CIA, and he's called back into action when a military convoy in Mexico is taken over by a generic consortium of Arab and Latin American terrorists led by Col. Kartiff (Henry Silva). Kartiff wants what the convoy is transporting--a high-tech, experimental supertank called the MBT Thunderblast. Of course, among the military officers taken hostage is Devon (Darlanne Fluegel), who happens to Bulletproof's one-that-got-away. She was also the ex of his old CIA partner, who was killed by a Russian goon (William Smith, essentially playing the same role he did in RED DAWN), now a Soviet general in cahoots with Kartiff.

BULLETPROOF shifts into RAMBO III territory midway through, with Bulletproof making his way to Mexico to rescue the hostages and commandeer the MBT Thunderblast, stopping just short of draping himself in the American flag to take on the commies and the "Ay-rabs," as R.G. Armstrong's CIA honcho calls them. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, and Luke Askew turn up in supporting roles, adding further evidence to support my hypothesis that the three grizzled character actors shared a house with a Three Stooges-style triple-stacked bunk bed and got gigs in B-movies as a package deal. It can't be a coincidence that BULLETPROOF is as absurd as any of Rainier Wolfcastle's MCBAIN vehicles on THE SIMPSONS, but it also helps that McBain is just a great name for a pissed-off police captain to shout, as Lincoln Kilpatrick (in the blustering Frank McRae role) gets to do with an early "Cut the shit, McBain!" BULLETPROOF has to be one of the most sublimely stupid action films of the 1980s, and even though it bombed in theaters in the summer of 1988, it's a great crowd movie, filled with idiotic one-liners ("Bird season's over, butthorn!" Bulletproof declares before blowing three dudes away), over-the-top action scenes (a getaway ice-cream truck explodes, Bulletproof screeches to a halt in the chase car, cue the '80s sax lick), and stereotypical, one-dimensional evildoers (Islamic extremists! Commies! Mexicans!) straight out of the deepest recesses of a Donald Trump voter's spank bank. Fred Olen Ray was originally set to direct--he retains a story and associate producer credit--but was replaced by veteran action guy Steve Carver (BIG BAD MAMA, AN EYE FOR AN EYE, LONE WOLF MCQUADE) just prior to filming. Also with Rene Enriquez, Mills Watson, Lydie Denier, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Danny Trejo, and Juan Fernandez, aka "that shitbag Duke" from Charles Bronson's KINJITE. The awesome BULLETPROOF is a must-see and is right up there with 1986's EYE OF THE TIGER as essential B-movie Busey, butthorn! (R, 94 mins)

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