Saturday, November 15, 2014

In short: Tough and Deadly (1995)

CIA agent Jack Monk (Billy Blanks) is captured and nearly killed for reasons that will become sort of clear much later. He barely escapes with his life and ends up as an amnesiac John Doe in a hospital bed. Bounty hunter and private dick Elmo Freech (Roddy Piper) stumbles over him in hospital. At first, Elmo only hopes there might be a bounty and therefore profit involved, but when somebody tries to kill his new-found interest, he saves Jack’s life, springs him out of hospital, lets him move in, trains him up again and makes him his new bounty hunting partner under the exciting name of John Portland. Why? I suspect the love that dare not speak its name.

Of course, John’s/Jack’s enemies are soon on his trail again. As luck will have it, the mysterious traitorous CIA agent (Phil Morris) after Jack’s life just happens to be in business with Elmo’s old nemesis, mafia boss Milan (Sal Landi), which will most probably raise the body count a bit.

After they turned out to be a rather effective duo in 1993’s Back in Action Roddy Piper and Billy Blanks reunited again – and unfortunately for the last time – for this little lark. Directed by Steve Cohen, Tough and Deadly features your typical Direct-to-DVD movie script, where nobody’s motivations, not to speak of plans, make much sense, but where bone crunching kicks happen every five minutes; mostly to bad guys’ faces. Though, to give the script credit where credit is due, it is well-paced - aka contains only scenes of male friendship my brain can’t help as parse as romance, a few one-liners, and ass-kicking of varying and increasing brutality, and nothing else to slow it down any – and clearly knows what its viewers will want out of their low budget US action flicks.

I for one can hardly resist the siren song of crunching bones, gun shots, and very minor explosions set to a synthesizer soundtrack possibly even more generic than Tough and Deadly’s title, particularly not when all the cheap yet cool carnage is committed by a martial artist and fitness guru who is a neutral actor (so good enough for this sort of thing) and a pretty fantastic, if showy, screen fighter, and by everyone’s favourite unmasked wrestler-turned-actor easily getting by on regular Joe charisma, a shit-eating grin, who is also a pretty fantastic - and completely different - screen fighter.

As a buddy action movie couple Piper and Blanks work quite well too, with many a tender look between the two, speaking dialogue that is at worst so unfunny it becomes funny again, at best quite purposefully funny, and tending more to the latter. As always, it’s a bit of a shame the romance between the two is never consumed on screen but I suspect action cinema won’t be ready to make its obviously yet unspoken gay characters just gay until 2025; I’d be glad to be proven wrong, particularly because certain critics can then stop pretending every tender male friendship on screen is a sign of repressed homosexuality, and instead concentrate on praising those that actually are, like the one here.

Anyway, Tough and Deadly is another fine outing for Blanks and Piper, and while it didn’t make me think, watching it made me pretty happy.


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