Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Friday, February 20, 2009

EXTREME SPORTZ OVERVIEW: The Good, the Ill and the Whack

Thanks to a lengthy stint as a second tier film critic for Muze I've come to know a lot about "EXTREME Sports" movies. I've covered everything from the FAST AND THE FURIOUS "original" remake to the sequel, to TORQUE, BIKER BOYZ and even some weird thing where evil Yugosalvian spies chase kids down a mountain.

While the critical eyes of the cinematic blogosphere (at least the ones I read) tend to focus on the yucky trends in teen horror remakes, the extreme sports movies have quietly inherited the Roger Corman mantle of "Hey, bro, the producers aren't even here, let's you know, actually make something good before the suits realize it, want to attach their names to the screenwriting credits and thus stagnate every creative decision via memo-exchanging consensus!" So while the horror films just pile on cliches and editing flash and scrape out every last drop of unique insight, the sports movies have evolved into some quietly cool shit (asides from the commercial editing tricks, product placement and bad writing, I mean). The zenith of which I would say is the DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS remake (that is, the Catherine Hardwicke feature version of the documentary). Awesome!

Find what you want to do in life and keep doing it, that's the moral of these crazy flicks. We can get all sweaty-palmed over the neck risking, but it comes down to something beyond winning, it's about how when people let go of fear they can do badass stunts. I hear that bro; I had to give up my real ambition, which was to quietly drink myself to death while watching THE THING (1951) over and over again. So now I just cheer these kids from the sidelines, and then run to an AA meeting. Whoops!

So, in case you are inexperienced, let me turn you onto what to netflix and what to flick aside in the colorful sub-genre known as "Extreme Sports" movies. A few things y'all need to know first off:

1) In this universe, there's very little racism (aside from having the lead be snowy white, even if he's black) and everyone talks in Cali surfer lingo, even if it's set in Waukeegan, Illinois.

2) The straight boring lead guy would never dream of doing drugs, though he may have one beer, if he's not driving (but he won't finish it)

3) The character to watch isn't the bland leading man but the "other" dude headlining the cast, the Vin Diesel, the morally ambiguous brute with the most muscles, the best dialogue and maybe real tattoos. He's allowed more than one beer.

4) While none of the leads is likely to get drunk, half the film is taken up with party footage, ideally there's an array of locales at which these events take place: the skater/surfer crash pad with its hammocks and spliffs, the MTV Cribs style bling palaces with their indoor/outdoor pools and acres of bimbage, parking lots, speedway bleachers, etc.

5) Lots of great pumping alternative music on the soundtracks, all right!!!! Sometimes, even if the movie sucks, it's worth getting the CD (BIKER BOYZ especially).

First, THE GOOD:

LORDS OF DOGTOWN (2005): Damn, I loved this movie! Thanks go to Kim Morgan for turning me onto it. I'll write more on this film sometime later, but first let me just say two words: Heath Ledger. And not only that, but he's playing Val Kilmer! That's two incredibly brilliant fucked up dudes for the price of one.. and they're both playing Mitch Hedberg! The kid who plays Stacy might be the prettiest boy I've ever seen; his name is John Robinson and he was also in ELEPHANT and he reminds me of Scarlett Johansson, and it's okay because he's a sensitive, good actor. How ever id he avoid the narcissist trap which enslaves even less pretty actors than himself? And there's great party scenes. And no bad guy (if you don't count Kid Rock, I mean Johnny Knoxville). The soundtrack is pretty good too, especially with Sparklehorse singing "Wish You Were Here." Heath, it's you we're still singing for.

BLUE CRUSH (2002): I already wrote about this but here's some paste: "If you can look past the surface colloquialisms and girlishness, this is practically a Howard Hawks film: overlapping dialogue; strong camaraderie, good sense of continuity and pace; issues of courage, maturity and nobility... and best of all, the film explores the issue of how romance can get in the way of your dreams--yeah you heard me: romance getting in the way of your dreams... since when has Hollywood ever addressed that?"

THE ILL (by which I mean "so bad it's good... if you're drunk")

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2002): Vin Diesel creates an instant icon out of his bald ass self in this sleek little roadster of a picture, a remake of a very obscure Roger Corman race flick from the mid-50's. The drawbacks are Paul Walker sniveling his way through the role of a speed junky narc. This was a huge hit in 1999, singlehandedly reviving the race car genre, paving the way for Diesel's rise and fall, and the inevitable sequel(s).

2FAST 2FURIOUS (2003): Hey man, great title! John Singleton directs. What? Didn't this guy do BOYZ IN THE HOOD? Hate to break it to you, but that movie is the granddaddy of all this shit. Even if it aint got no Cuba, it's got Fishburne and Cube and, hey, what, oh yeah... they aint in this. what did I say about it for Muze back in the day? "O'Connor (Walker's character) recruits his bickering childhood pal (model/singer Tyrese), now a nitro-burning ex-con from the Diesel school of toughness, to help him pull the bad guys to the curb with a tire-spinning vengeance." Shaza-what now?

TORQUE (2004): As generic as he is, Martin (RING) Henderson is leagues better (which is to say micro-notches less narcissistic) than Paul Walker as the bland lead. And helige scheisse, who is this chick Monet Mazur, pictured above? I was kind of in love there, just for a second and she has her own bad girl double to fight. Then we got Ice Cube in the Diesel role (he's head of a group of black bikers who get tricked into thinking our hero murdered one of their own, etc.) Great editing, flashy colors and product placement. As I wrote for Muze in 2004: "It acknowledges its junky exploitation roots proudly, and at times seems to achieve some sort of twisted new level of pop art with its well-paced, colorful, giddy, gritty forward momentum." I was shillin' but I wasn't lyin'! Just stop watching before the ridiculous CGI "climax" bike chase.

THE WHACK (that means bad bad, but still these aren't that bad, how can they be?):

BIKER BOYZ (2003) - Thing is with this flick, it's got Larry Fishburne as the dad figure who lords over a big black motorcycle gang, but he does so without much mirth. Head of a gang you'd think the man could lighten up and get drunk and piss on the fire or something, but he's got to set an example for his dumbass son. What... Ever. The best part about it is the awesome soundtrack, which I entirely recommend. Hearing it in a nearly empty Brooklyn theater with the bass pumped to shake the walls was a religious experience; I basically transcended space and time: there's Mos Def and yo, is that The dude from the Spinners, Ron Isely, singing "Big Business" with Jadakiss? I was flippin' - too bad the film itself was such butt, but I still had a few good things to say in my Muze report: "Bronx-born director Reggie Rock Blythewood keeps the action flowing from drag race to party and back again, steeping the audience in the ritual of the subculture, allowing it to serve as more than a mere backdrop to the coming-of-age mythos and adrenaline pumping, kinetically edited race and stunt sequences." Jesus Christ, that's just one sentence, Playa!!

EXTREME OPS (2003) - I saw this totally alone in a big top floor theater one weeknight at the at the edge of Prospect Park; a surreal experience. Not a very good film but I was glad to be able to make cell phone calls throughout the running time without bothering anyone. Of course I glass half-fulled it for  Muze: "There are sturdy performances from the attractive cast, and a script mercifully free of corny dialogue and groan-inducing one-liners. Hamlet on ice this ain't, but potential viewers cruising for a no-frills adrenaline-rush will do well to take the plunge."

So that's it, oh and PS, you can find almost all these gems on for 75 centavos. Such a deal! And they also use the search engine for whom I wrote the reviews quoted above, so you can dig both the film and the closure of reading the whole breathless, byline-less shebangi.

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