Sunday, June 30, 2013

Light Blast (1985)

Original title: Colpi di luce

Beautiful San Francisco is in trouble! Mad scientist Professor Soboda (director Enzo G. Castellari's brother Ennio Girolami) wants astounding amounts of money, or else, he will destroy the city - and he has the face-melting death ray and henchpeople to do it. Later, in his mandatory speech about his further plans, the good Professor will cast his blackmail attempt as only the first step in a highly optimistic plan for world domination.

Alas or fortunately, between Soboda and a lot of money (and later: the world!) stand two of San Francisco's finest policemen, Inspector Ronn Warren (Erik Estrada) and his partner Inspector Swann (Michael Pritchard) of the stupid hat. Ronn, with his ability to commandeer improbable and fast vehicles at the drop of a hat, his tough guy habits and his librarian wife/girlfriend (Peggy Rowe) is just the right man to chase, shoot, and punch his way to the safety of his hometown. Why, he'll even be doing a bit of investigating between the violence! However, even a manly man like Ronn might just not be able to get to his enemy before Things Get Personal™.

1985 sees Light Blast's director, the wonderful Enzo G. Castellari right at the end of the awesome phases of his career, before he stepped into the arena of desperately bad TV (believe you me, those Bud Spencer TV movies are even more painful when you think about the actual potential of the man directing them), but when already so little money came his way, even a man who never had high budgets to work with must have felt rather dispirited.

However, what Castellari still and always had was a great eye for pacing, for the visual and emotional rhythms of action cinema, an ability to use a silly set-up (Light Blast's final chase must be seen to be believed in this context) and just run with it. If you're like me, willing to accept the whole death ray business, and able to ignore that Estrada's chase and shooting actions generally put as many people into danger as they may save, then the experience of watching Light Blast is the movie equivalent of sinking in your comfiest of comfy chairs - at least, if your comfy chairs have a propensity to explode - or cuddling up to a lovely yet possibly dangerous and clearly mad kitten.

Apart from driving me into the arms of dubious metaphors, Castellari has two secret weapons, one of them obvious to anyone who has seen masterpieces like Warriors of the Wastelands, the other one quite particular to Light Blast. The latter secret weapon is - perhaps a bit surprisingly - Erik Estrada. Now, Estrada is clearly not on the acting level of other male leads Castellari worked with in the past, but then, we are talking about people like Franco Nero here, and Light Blast isn't really as subtextually complex as some of those films, so all Estrada needs to bring to the table is natural charisma and a believable physique for the fights. Both are things Estrada brings in spades; when it's needed, he's even helping the film's sillier moments (and boy, do they get silly) out with a bit of dignity.

Of course, and that's the not so secret weapon in Castellari's arsenal, the director's 80s work always showed a particular hand for taking the silly and turning it into the sublimely awesome. Case in point (and absolutely not the only example in the movie) is Ronn's introduction and declaration of badassitude. In that scene, our hero solves a hostage situation the old-fashioned way, by undressing down to his underpants and shooting a guy with a gun hidden inside a turkey. Wonderfully, both Castellari and Estrada play the scene perfectly straight, as if that sort of thing were a perfectly natural part of police work and reality.

Light Blast is full of this sort of thing, scenes which should be complete, probably even annoying, nonsense but that turn out exciting and delightful (in a bad face-melting special effect sort of way) through the sheer conviction of everyone involved.

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