Sunday, December 30, 2007


Greetings. Herein is the repository of my Videocrity column, begun in the Washington Post and continued in the Washington City Paper. I think it was four years' worth of video watching; the mind grows foggy.

When I was reviewing them, mostly on VHS (and it wasn't THAT long ago!), "direct-to-video" was largely a pejorative term. Now studios are creating whole DTV departments and proudly marketing "home video exclusives," often sequels and threequels to movies that were successful enough to warrant another go, just not in a theater.

This is how I began the column's relaunch in City Paper and serves as my mission statement:

"There will always be a market for Brian Bosworth movies."

This frightening quote comes from Don Gold, senior V.P. of Vidmark, one of the big guns in direct-to-video entertainment. In fact, the DTV world is so expansive it not only embraces failed athletes but can supply constant work for the tiny Coreys, Feldman and Haim. In killing the radio star, video has unleashed opportunities for almost everyone else.

The home-video business is larger than the multiplex market, and growing. Independence Day and Fatal Attraction get all the press, but what of the horde of also-rans and blatant rip-offs they inspire? Each month, their flagrantly packaged boxes arrive on the rental shelves, having been scoffed at, scorned, and utterly dismissed by critics, who are more concerned with art and meaning than an insightful shower scene or ingenious explosion.

Since there will always be Brian Bosworth movies, there must be someone who will take such works as seriously as they take themselves. Someone who will review them, who will provide perspective on the art of the shower scene, offer analysis of the meaning of the monster-POV stalking shot. Someone to pass judgment on the obligatory parking-garage or abandoned-factory chase scene.

That person died of a massive brain hemorrhage, so I'll have to do.

Each month, this column will dive into the cultural dumpster, where bright intentions are thwarted by lack of talent, and talentless hacks succeed by exploiting greed and lust. It's a stinky job, but every once in a while, you come up with a rose.

As a further aid to befuddled videophiles, we offer the following rating system: At the bottom of the bottom is BULK ERASE. Do not get this tape near your VCR. Less virulent, but not worth your time, is EJECT. PAUSE means some of it is worth some of your time. FREEZE-FRAME: Some scenes suggested for mature audiences. The highest accolade is PLAY, but caveat emptor always—this is not necessarily synonymous with "good."

So you may read all the columns in order beginning below. The absurdly huge list of all the DTV movies in my collection is here.




Triboro Entertainment Group

So nice to see John Carradine working again, even though he's been dead since 1988. As the "Judge of Hell," he is glimpsed in a few mugging close-ups and heard in brief sampled dialogue--never at the same time. Ed Wood would be proud. Equally inspiring is the conspicuous use of stuffed dummies standing in for poleaxed victims. Monty Python would be proud. Viewers who make it through this low-watt Halloween "homage" may not be proud. (Mitigating recommendation: Scream Queen Linnea Quigley is introduced in a shower scene gratuitous even by her gratuitous standards. PAUSE.

PM Entertainment Group

Choice: Pay first-run money to watch Denzel Washington in Virtuosity, or save bucks renting Hologram Man--the exact same story starring the Cro-Magnonesque Joe Lara? Hint: The first word uttered is a scatological exclamation. So is the second. One could likewise sum up the entire effort. Since he's been converted into a super energy being--with a "more robust power base"-- why does evil psycho/psycho co-writer Evan Lurie escape from "holographic stasis" only to spend his time in martial arts fisticuffs? Hologram Man is a paen to the militia mindset that lacks even the illusion of one dimension. For the easily fooled. EJECT.

Turner Home Entertainment

We always suspected that Brigitte Nielsen was a terminatrix from another planet. She's on Earth to save her people from TV's Richard Moll. He's wearing a Darth Vader suit (and filling it well); she's wearing a leather outfit that showcases her linebacker shoulders--head and which she is above the short lead actor. In addition to listing Fred Asparagus, Alan Fudge and Patrick Peach in the credits, Evil Dead director Sam Raimi has a cameo as the Neville Chamberlain of interstellar overlords. (Nice death scene, Sam). On the Blow'd Up Real Good scale, this rates a Pretty Good, thanks to ace blast guy Albert Lenutti. Cliche checklist: Anyone scream, "NOOOOO!" at the side of a fallen comrade? Yes. Climactic shootout in an abandoned factory? Yes. Nudity? No. Laughs? Barely and unintentional. Pause-button moments to clear the head? Many. Sequel possibility? Open. Recommended for pyromaniacs. EJECT.

Cascom Home Video

Truth is stranger than fiction, and acting is better than re-enactment. The producers try too hard when they stage fake depictions of blooper stories told--with Jack Webb prowess--by various law enforcement officers. The same tales read much better in books like Chuck Shepherd's America's Least Competent Criminals. If you rent videos for their readability, the trivia screens are amusing. EJECT.

Touchstone Home Video

Give Julia Sweeney credit for effort, execution, and vision. Her androgynous character is more fully developed than most movie creations. But even the nude scene fails to answer the question that pops up every two minutes: What ARE you?!? As infuriating as this 90-minute tease is, there are some genuine chuckles. Pat isn't as annoying as Billy Madison, fellow SNL cohort Adam Sandler's feature, which WAS released theatrically. One would suggest sexism--if one were sure which sex was being ismed.

Dimension Home Video

If, like me, you missed I and II, you may find yourself wondering just who is "He Who Walks Behind the Rows"? After a lot of quasi-religious mumbo jumbo from a pre-teen antichrist and much vomiting, "He" is revealed to be a rather arbitrarily designed stop-motion THING, easily dispatched with a few blows from a handy scythe wielded by the formerly dim, suddenly valiant post-teen teen hero. Grotesque without being scary, Corn III's greatest horror is the clear intention for future harvests. Not worth the fertilizer. EJECT.

Ancient Mysteries: New Investigations of the Unsolved

A&E Home Video

Talk about bait and switch! The box promises the haunting face of a real spooky looking guy (Turin, I guess), but he never shows up to waste anybody. What we get instead is a lot of yaketa-yaketa about carbon-dating and medieval weaving techniques from a bunch of sleep-inducing scientists and scholars without the slightest sense of drama. Besides, it was made in 1988. We should by now be watching Shroud Three: Turin's Revenge!

Next: Not With My Wife You Don't


LIFE 101
Monarch Home Video

Congratulate me, I just met my next wife! The preciously perky Ami Dolenz--yes, she's Monkee Mickey's daughter--lights up this modest '60s coming-of-age tale. In fact, all the scenery in this movie is of interest, because it was shot extensively on the University of Maryland campus by Davidsonville, Md., physicist/real estate tycoon/low-budget auteur Redge Mahaffey. After the opening theme--Ted Nugent and the Amboy Duke's most excellent "Journey to the Center of the Mind"--things slow down a bit, but co-star Corey Haim turns in a surprisingly unpretentious performance. And gals, I understand he's available as well. PAUSE

Orion Home Video

Congratulate me, I just met my next wife! Fresh from her triumph as a giggly teen in Clueless, Stacey Dash puts on--and takes off--an adult wardrobe to vamp and lip-sync her way through this tepid erotic thriller. You can tell it's an erotic thriller because everything looks like Lakeforest Mall after hours. Both Eros and thrills are seriously undermined by co-star Dan Gaulthier's unfortunate resemblance to Jim Carrey--not allrighty then. And maybe I missed something while fast-forwarding to the good parts--of which there are only three, none particularly good--but it seems as if my betrothed got away with murder--of her husband. Hmmm.... EJECT.

MCA Universal Home Video [CC]

Darkman's first outing was basically "Phantom of the Batcave," and this sequel has also fallen victim to the Batsuit Syndrome: Goodbye, Liam Neeson, hello, Arnold Vosloo (Hey, we laughed first time we heard the name "Schwarzenegger," too). Stepping into the bandages as disfigured, semi-deranged scientist Peyton Westlake, Vosloo has a certain appealing Connery coarseness. Unfortunately we see more of his real (i.e., fake) face than his hooded one. This is really Larry Drake's show, and as Robert Durant--so evil even the flaming high-speed helicopter crash of D-I didn't kill him--Drake mugs so fiercely you'd swear HE has the rubber head. Despite lines like "Only I am allowed to wear my face!," and much unashamed cigarette smoking, II doesn't have the comic zip of the Sam Raimi original. Which is irrelevant, because the trailer already alerted us: Coming soon--Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die. Another unlikely scenario. PAUSE for Halloween.

Columbia Tristar Home Video

If you laughed the first time you heard the name "Vosloo," you'll REALLY laugh when Björn Jörundur Friöbjörnsso is on screen. This Icelandic comedy proves that from bitter cold comes a fine dry wit. An impossibly convoluted shaggy dog tale, "Control" revolves around Björn's need to retrieve a TV remote control for his demanding Mum so she won't empty the bathtub and kill his goldfish. Accomplishing this odd but simple task somehow involves "the most experienced gang in Iceland"--who take their cues from comic books--Monopoly-playing soft-drink bootleggers, sleepy metalheads, incompetent kidnappers who can't tell right from left ("So what?" they counter) and pettiness beyond belief--all the more enjoyable because, deep down, we know it CAN happen here. Of course, quirky songbird Björk sings the closing theme, as she probably does for all Icelandic films. PLAY.

SMV Enterprises

Defining the line between clever and stupid, professional wisenheimers Johnny Brennan and Kamal are not everyone's cup of obnoxiousness. Obviously produced as an MTV special that proved too real for the "Real World" network, the Jerkys add surveillance-camera voyeurism to their usual audio outrages. The result is "Candid Camera" without Allen Funt's disingenuous pretense that it's all good fun. Funny it is, but good? After all, we're laughing because it's such utterly bad behavior: Commandeering the PA in a grocery store to mock the customers, confusing tour bus patrons and pestering MTV interns. Well, that last IS fairly worthwhile, especially when they yank an earnest MTV receptionist's feminist chain--she instantly cries sexual harassment. No, honey, it's just jerkiness. PLAY

Active Home Video

The best thing about this dubious endeavor is the ironic cast it gives to the FBI warning at the beginning of the tape. After quickly suggesting that one avoid getting a ticket in the first place, the producers pad the following 29 minutes with more of the blatantly obvious. The most interesting advice comes from a psychologist who prescribes humanizing any cop encounters by imagining John Law standing there wearing only a swimsuit and a funny hat. Yeah, tell THAT to the judge. EJECT.

New Video

It may sound like a horror show to sit and watch a man beset with untreatable pancreatic cancer, but this smile-filled interview with the author of "Pennies From Heaven" and "The Singing Detective" is one of the most life-affirming 70 minutes you may spend. Facing his impending demise with a flask of liquid morphine and packet of cigarettes, Potter seems the healthiest, most vital, most thoroughly alive person on the planet. Utterly clear-eyed about himself, Potter brightly discusses his life, work, politics, death and the importance of "nowness." He died mere weeks after this recording, but left a more enlightening TV chat than any Baba Wawa soft-focus flatter-fest. PLAY.

Next: Tickle Me, Clint


Republic Pictures

Brother Ron puts him in all his big-budget pictures, but in "Apollo 13," Clint Howard didn't get to stare at the screen with an oozing, pustulated face and scream, "I'm infested--SHOOT ME!" I'm predicting Opie grabs a statue come Oscar time. Tragically, I fear the Academy will once again ignore Clint's efforts. True, other than some tick-cam imagery and a tick stampede, this isn't quite as commendably absurd as Frogs (with Oscar-winner Ray Miland). But Clint seems happy, maybe because he's working with his father, Rance. Dad smiles pleasantly in one scene before his lifeless corpse is pulled from a swamp in the next. Who says Hollywood doesn't understand family values? With respect for Clint, and my ex-flame Ami Dolenz--PAUSE.


It's been more than 70 years since the film industry abandoned New Jersey for the West Coast. Somehow, the feverish folks at Troma Films haven't gotten the news. Typically, most of "Femme's" creative thought went into the catchy title. One would think that having characters like Master Sun, Madam Li, and lesbo Nazis would guarantee some intrigue. But the plot is so huge, most of the film is spent just getting to the next sadistic complication. Quadruple threat writer/producer/director/star Margot Hope plays a secret agent/assassin/avant-garde artist/peeping tomette who is also a mistress of 1,000 disguises. None of them, however, quite hide the shame. BULK ERASE.

Triboro Entertainment Group

Can't anyone make a decent lap dancing movie? Instead of "Showgirls'" overblown score, this visit to Silicon City offers bad Jersey rock and lyrics Richard Marx wouldn't even write: "Does anybody hear you scream, on the boulevard of broken dreams?" Innocent starlet Angie fails her big audition, flubbing the line: "I'm sorry that I can't be everything to you--mother, sex-goddess, businessperson." But after a week writhing all over strangers, she learns the meaning behind those words: "It's more than dance moves--it's an attitude." Now she can dance the lap dance of her life and get the part. More importantly, she cares: "You're a battered woman! You need to go to a battered woman shelter!" Soft-core with an imagined message. Makes me wanna shout, I'm infested--SHOOT ME! FREEZE-FRAME

Live Entertainment

"Get that money!" "A'right." "Get that money!" "Ow! I'm gonna get it! I'm gonna get it!" "Get that money, man!" "Oof! A'right, man. A'right, man!" LL Cool J finally gets the money, but he certainly doesn't deserve it. The usually likeable rapper is LL One Note in this uninformed crime story about a DJ with a past who gets involved with The Wrong Woman. Mostly he gets people dancing lethargically to lame rap ("Say 'Yeah!' Wave ya hands in the air!"), when he's not clenching his jaws and flaring his nostrils to bad Quiet Storm music--even in the sex scene, which takes place during a quiet storm! But everyone keeps their raincoats on, so all we get is some wet shoulder action. Of the many unanswered questions in this slow-going caper, this I want to know: Where did they find that 1972 chunka-chunka, wah-wah guitar car-chase music? EJECT.

Live Entertainment

Poor Elizabeth Hurley--such bad luck with boyfriends and screenplays. Here she plays a scientist with a smart collection of satin lingerie who works at The Institute. Days are spent giving a psycho killer brain injections of her hormone discovery, "BFND." At night, she, too, imbibes. Instead of mellowing Psycho out, BFND causes everyone in England to disappear except the lead actors, who wander around in each other's stylish nightmares while Nutboy does a fair Freddy/Hannibal Lecter impression. Two points: A. The producers don't insult us by trying to explain everything; B. What the hell is going on here? Liz apparently cooked up gallons of BFND. For this, the generic brand brain injection seems more appropriate: Wild Turkey. EJECT.

Next: Virtual Virtues


Triboro Entertainment Group

Nothing virtual here except the many breasts--perfect compliment to the fake acting. Intercutting between bulky porn-quality thespians sitting in front of computers typing sensuously somehow fails to convey much "Tom Jones"-style eroticism. More interesting are the aged, dispeptic cops--graduates of the Foster Brooks Police Academy--who quote "TV's Most Wanted" when formulating theories and tell the prime murder suspect to "do a little investigating on your own." This much incompetence is always entertaining. And--hey! Isn't that the girl from "Lap Dancing?!" PAUSE.

Turner Home Entertainment

"Blade Runner meets Die Hard," says the box. Make that minor BR character (Brion James) meets shameless DH knockoff. The dazed Michael Dudikoff is an ex-cop turned janitor who must use every janitorial skill to defeat a shaggy-blonde James--resembling Connie Stevens with a goatee more than a techno terrorist--before James can "disrupt the entire matrix." The office park setting is as virtual as it gets. EJECT.

Columbia Tristar

Cyber Bandits aren't as lethal as Virtual Assassins but they're both so faux. Still, I've always dreamed of hearing Grace Jones say "Strap him down boys!" Sadly, the moment passes too quickly, and involves mush-mouthed Martin Kemp. In a Trader Vic's 2000 environment, Kemp snarls at sinister-bearded Robert Hays about a super weapon that Henry Gibson (wearing Brion James' wig) invented. It's a piece of plumbing and it doesn't do anything. Unstrap me, please. EJECT.


Pat Morita truly is a TimeMaster. Here he makes 90 minutes of your life disappear. But blame the director, who apparently cast his own children in major roles and co-wrote a script that--to quote it's oft-used phrase--"sucks the life out of you." EJECT.

Full Moon

A troubled American family inherits a castle filled with bad furniture and a strange little man in an anatomically creepy nude suit. (Attention body piercers and tattoo enthusiasts--here's the new look!) Content to remain locked in a dungeon and whipped by his mother for 40 years, Naked Boy has become Macho Man since Countess Dearest kicked, strutting his unpleasant butt grotesquely. Strap him down again, boys. EJECT.

Live Entertainment

Wilfred Brimley is a genial general who doesn't enjoy killing. Powers Booth is some kind of dark-suited operative who does. Who didn't know that? Kinda "Outbreak" meets "Predator." Those are two good films. This is a mutant species. EJECT.


In this second "chapter" of a 6-part series, many lessons are sweetly learned amid swordplay and pre-Jurassic dinomation as a plucky 9th-grader flies through time saving the universe. Real 9th-graders may find this all so silly, but K-6ers should be diverted. Parental warning: Some creatures bear a frightening resemblance to Truman Capote. PLAY.

First Run Features

This is a Swedish comedy, which means it's funny in a very sad way. After his wife dies, kooky old dad runs away to find the woman he had an affair with the year his daughter was born. Grownup daughter tags along, fleeing her distracted husband, leaving him with a baby that can apparently cry on cue. That's painfully amusing. Maybe it's collic. Maybe it's just Sweden. PAUSE.

A&E Biography

Like most A&E biographies, this begins happily, charts a rise to stardom, then ends tragically. Useful for the lapsed, respectful for the faithful, with some interesting fun facts for trivia buffs (He was a stone-mason, not a carpenter, some say). PLAY.

A&E Biography

Unlike most A&E biographies, this ends cheerfully. Jack Perkins sounds almost Brimleyesque in his folksy recitation of the 1,700-year history, from Turkish bishop to consumerist spokes-Santa. Along the way there are scads of fun facts and Father Andrew Greeley's sanctioning of pitchman St. Nick. An informative way to crush the kiddie's fantasy. PLAY.

Next: They'll Be Back


Turner Home Entertainment

Woah! Robocop and Terminator in the same movie! Even without their metal suits, Peter Weller and Robert Patrick remain very likable killing machines. They also rise above the handicap of having to portray what might loosely be described as "human beings." As mercenaries with emotions, they quote Shaw (oddly, I didn't puke), and keep the body count fairly low while being pursued by Charlotte Lewis--a hit-woman who believes that tight leatherware is appropriate mid-summer outdoor attire and has more testosterone than either guy. PLAY.

Live Entertainment

"Are you thinking of what brought you to this moment?" Peter Weller asks a hapless foe in "Decoy" before dispatching him, samurai style. Watching an erotic thriller directed and starring C. Thomas Howell definitely sets the mind to spinning deep, dark thoughts about life's cruel turns. Despite a Fabio haircut that must be constantly brushed out of the eyes, and obvious sympathy cameos by buddies Donny Most, Lou Diamond Philips, Kieffer Sutherland, and--Carrot Top?!?--this generates as much heat and sense as if it were directed by and starring C. Thomas Howell. EJECT.

Live Entertainment

Or as the titles have it, saintsandsinners. For you see, they're all squooshed together, two old buddies and the gal who, literally, comes between them--caught up in a menage a dysfunction, menage a deception, menage a screaming and yelling and drug-dealing. Yet, there's a safe sex message. And, after almost everyone is gunned down, a happy ending. If they'd kept shooting, it would have been much happier. EJECT.

A&E Home Video

This is largely a biography of the 1931 Universal film, but that's deserving enough--after 64 years, Karloff & Co. still deliver. From Edison's 1910 version to Kenneth Branagh's faithful flop, from Sir Walter Scott to geeky collectors, the narrative veers almost drunkenly over the topic, spending as much time with Mel Brooks as with Mary Shelley. Even the abundance of bow-tied eggheads can't dull the appeal of Ms. Wollstonecraft's "pale student of unhallowed arts"--though host Roger Moore comes close. PLAY.

Turner Home Entertainment

Where the A&E biopic ends with Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash," this begins with it. What is more amazing is that 34 years after his one-hit, and 20 years after "Rocky Horror," Pickett is the star of this musical monstrosity, which is based on his play. And, yes, he'll be singing that song again later. Wacky with a capital Ack, this seems best timed to cash in on whatever goodwill Jimmie "J.J." Walker has left. I'll be too kind. PAUSE.

Republic Pictures [CC]

Yes, Alicia Silverstone gets naked, but you ain't seeing nothing. In fact, if it weren't for the overheated fantasy sequences of a bunch of drunken white people and their slightly less inebriated kids, this would be one dull night. As it is, only the 10-year-old sees any real action--a view of Playboy--until imagination becomes real and reality turns more unpleasant than the sight of Alicia kissing J.T. Walsh. PAUSE.

New Horizons

The last viewer of this act-fest about a talky psycho holding hostages in a nudie bar bailed after only 32 minutes. Interestingly, that's the exact point at which I grabbed for the remote. Being a professional, I fast-forwarded a few more minutes, saw that it only got uglier and considered the words a wise man once asked me: "Are you thinking of what brought you to this moment?" I killed the power altogether and reached for my sword. BULK ERASE.

Next: Battle of the VJs


WarnerVision Films

In the ever-expanding pantheon of MTV VJs--and now MTV VJs making movies--Duff rules. Go on--argue for perky Martha Quinn, saucy Daisy Fuentes, even scary Nina Blackwood or kooky Kari Wuhrer. I don't care. While I'm insanely obsessed with those gals, too, they don't quite radiate Duff's sparkling combination of spunk and smarts. Now acting under the pseudonym "Karen Duffy," the videotrix is surrounded by an almost "A" cast in an almost surprising futuristic story which almost compensates for the cruel use of body doubles. Despite her grimace-heavy "stern" acting style, Duff remains charmingly spunkified. How spunky? She removes her own "goad." (You don't really want to know.) PAUSE.


The current MTV vid queen I obsess over is ex-Playboy centerfold Jenny McCarthy, co-host of Singled Out, the music channel's hyperactive version of The Dating Game--for people who positively should not be encouraged to meet and reproduce. The only dirt here is how filthy you feel witnessing such smugly witless single-entendre banter. Jenny, we're through. BULK ERASE.

WarnerVision Films

Having your mind ripped is far worse than having your goad removed. In fact, it's much like watching a monster movie without any monster suit. This Alien plot-ripper offers a shirtless, Fabio-style pretty boy becoming increasingly less pretty as he "evolves" into the perfect killing machine. This he accomplishes by writhing and vomiting. Ever since Halloween, nobody stays dead anymore, but the triple-resurrection cheat ending is not nearly as scary as screen psycho supreme Lance Henriksen playing a loving dad. EJECT

Live Entertainment

Choice: Lonette McKee or a 1931 Bugatti? Billy Dee Williams goes so gaga over the car, he lets Carl Weathers run off with wife McKee. One would think that such studly hunks locked in a love triangle would set the VCR to steaming. Instead, co-executive producer (?) Weathers is topless far more than McKee, and while, thankfully, Billy Dee keeps his clothes on, I fast-forwarded through the "love scenes" in hopes of finding some action, jackson. "I never thought it would end like this," gasps McKee at one point, though it was obvious from Frame One. EJECT.

Triboro Entertainment

Trying to follow the plot will give you a severe case of whiplash, but credit Aussie martial arts star Richard Norton with trying to add some maturity to the adolescent chop-socky genre. Not an unadvisable plan for a 40something kung fu fighter, but Norton is big on Down Under charm and can act well enough to suggest that with a coherent script he might take a flying leap at an A actioner. But then, the executive producer is listed as "Richard Norton," so maybe he's content with putting on a nice suit and, maturely, kicking people silly. FREEZE-FRAME.


By no reasonable standard a good movie, but proof that if you throw enough expletive deleted at the screen something's gonna stick. So I caught myself laughing out loud several times at this relentlessly juvenile Airplane-style parody of Sharon Stone films, among others. Occasional flashes of near-wit--like a "twin half step-sister" character--aside, don't tell anyone I'm almost recommending it. PAUSE.

Triboro Entertainment

One entire tedious plot comes and goes before we get to any massage, which lasts maybe 40 seconds and is hardly enlightening. But this is women's erotica, meaning the nakedness is in the sympathetic service of topics like economic empowerment, sunbathing and the art of pool boy maintenance. Sorry, ladies, but playing "Spot the Investors" during the party scene wasn't diverting enough to prevent one from longing for a house call from Mr. Mind-Ripper. EJECT.

Next: Corey!