Friday, 19 November 2010

Steve Guttenberg

The role of cheeky cop Carey Mahoney in the first four Police Academy movies made Steve Guttenberg an icon, forever associated with comical roles, he's the last person you’d expect to see in a straight action movie.

The producers of Canadian thriller Airborne obviously felt differently, choosing the actor to headline their low budget effort back in 1998.

Perhaps understandably fed up of being typecast in bland nice guy roles, Guttenberg stopped grinning and started scowling.

Having established himself in the 1980s with the extremely successful Police Academy (1984), Cocoon (1985) and 3 Men and a Baby (1987), not to mention their sequels, Guttenberg was simply unable to sustain his success into the 1990s.

While fellow funny man Tom Hanks’s star continued to rise beyond the 80s, Guttenberg’s fell and fizzled. Generally cast only in low budget family comedies, playing charming single fathers in films like It Takes Two (1995) and Zeus and Roxanne (1997).

As the big screen roles dried up he continued to find steady work in family films shown on TV and released direct-to-video, such as Casper: A Spirited Beginning (1997), and he’s become a staple of the genre.

But as his 40th birthday approached he attempted to trade those single father roles for the chance to play a tough guy. The opportunity came first with Overdrive (1997), an obscure TV thriller from Roger Corman’s stable that cast Guttenberg as a racecar driver. But it was Airborne, made soon after, that really gave the one-time joker the chance to kick some ass.

Apparently shot for less than three million dollars in Toronto, Airborne is a blatant attempt to imitate blockbuster successes such as The Rock (1996), Face Off (1997), Mission: Impossible (1996). While Guttenberg is miscast, trading in his natural warmth for a cold stare, he does a serviceable job playing gruff, unshaven, scarred special ops soldier Bill McNeill.

The plot finds Guttenberg’s elite “Mach One” team tasked with gaining possession of a stolen biological weapon, but as usual the mission goes awry and things get complicated. One of the team is killed, another barely survives and McNeill finds himself under suspicion and on the run and after 80 bland minutes Guttenberg runs around with two-guns, John Woo-style, uncovers the traitor and retrieves the weapon.

This cheap, derivative production got international distribution (the casting of Sean Bean in a villainous supporting role got it noticed here in the UK) but it’s reviews were poor and a return to family flicks and TV work was inevitable.

Guttenberg’s continued to make efforts to find roles in more mature movies, such as the German-made thriller Fatal Rescue (2008) and slasher movie Cornered (2009), but he’s destined to continue to be associated with juvenile fare such as The Gold Retrievers (aka Bosco and Me, 2010).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Blake Bahner

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Roger Corman and collaborator Cirio H. Santiago cast every kickboxer they met in their cheap action movies shot in the Philippines. But for every Don Wilson or Jerry Trimble they discovered there was a guy like Blake Bahner, destined for obscurity.

Little is know about Bahner. Scouring the web for biographical information I could find only his birthdate (14/02/1959) and even that I'm uncertain of. What is known is that he starred in a handful of B-movies, including Lethal Pursuit (1988) and Contra Conspiracy (1990), before apparently making his final bid for stardom in 1993's Blackbelt 2: Fatal Force.

Like other Corman action stars, Bahner’s name appears on the poster and the film credits to Blackbelt 2 together with his status as a World Kickboxing Champion. This is, in my experience, a marketing strategy typical only in Corman films.

Sharing nothing in common with its 1992 predecessor, the film was titled as a sequel only to give it a better shot at making a profit and was in fact made several years earlier than that Don Wilson vehicle.

Shot and released outside the USA in 1988 as Spyder, the film was reedited with new scenes added and deceptively released as both a new film and a sequel. Original director Joe Mari Avellana shares credit with Kevin Tent on the rehash. It's interesting to note that Tent has gone on to a very successful career editing films of the caliber of Sideways (2004) and The Golden Compass (2007).

One wonders why Spyder failed to get a domestic release in its original form, surely it couldn't be any worse than the film it ultimately became? Copies of the original cut are so rare that I guess only Fred Adelman knows the answer to that question.

All this backstory is far more interesting than the film itself, which has some nice old school action (you simply don’t get motorcycle stunts and bar fights like this in action movies anymore) but is far too messy.

At it’s heart a revenge movie about a renegade cop hunting down the man who killed his partner, but while this was enough to motivate the hero writer Steve Rogers seems to have had greater aspirations for the film as a whole. Sidelining his hero for half the movie so as to develop a complex plot.

With dark hair, blue jeans and plenty of attitude, Brad Spyder is your typical less than one-dimensional hero. The only thing we know about him is that he’s a cop and when his partner dies he wants revenge, that’s it. He gets into a lot of fist and gun fights and even goes Rambo at the film’s climax, but he doesn’t make much of an impression. In fact he seems like a bit of a jerk. He actually introduces himself to one lowlife as “Brad Spyder. Your worst nightmare.” and it's these moments that remind us why Stallone is so great at these kinds of roles.

After establishing his badass credentials in a drawn out rooftop brawl, Spyder argues with his “Irish” lieutenant about his excessive methods and then sits on the sidelines for a good half an hour, waiting to be called into play. This happens a little past the half-way point in the film's 77 minute running time, when Spyder heads to Hawaii to seek justice.

Needless to say, Blackbelt 2 didn’t prove to be a breakthrough for Bahner. After several years in the business he disappeared from screens in 1996 following a film called Cyberstalker aka The Digital Prophet.