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Weekly Alibi "Deathwish IV: The Crackdown" and "American Pop"

By Scott Phillips

APRIL 20, 1998: 

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

OK, I've gotta admit, my mind tended to wander a bit during this flick, but hey--my mind wandered like crazy during Titanic, and that's a great movie, right? So draw your own conclusions. Jeez, where to begin. Ya' know, the first Death Wish was a really cool movie. All the others have been pretty damn bad. This one opens with a woman entering a dark parking garage and getting into her car, which of course won't start. She spots a band of masked hoodlums standing nearby. As they move to commit their evil deeds, Charles Bronson (350 years old but still kicking ass) shows up and guns 'em all down. Then we find out it was all a dream as Charlie wakes up all sweaty and upset. At work, Chuck is visited by his girlfriend's teenage daughter, all freshly scrubbed and powdered. This sweet 'n' wholesome gal visits the amusement park with her boyfriend, and ... well, this is one of those places where my mind wandered. The next thing I knew she was dead of a big crack overdose. Chuck unholsters his gun and goes on a short-lived kill-spree, then convinces his "journalist" squeeze, Kay Lenz, to do an investigative piece on the drug problem. Kay approaches the neighborhood dope peddler and then just sort of disappears for about 75 minutes (much like Kurt Russell in The Strongest Man in the World). Meanwhile, Chuck is hired by a multi millionaire to instigate a war between rival druglords, then we get a whole bunch of scenes where Charlie guns down bad guys. The standout is when he kills a passel of bastards with an exploding bottle of fine wine! Anyway, a whole bunch of other crap happens, most of which made my eyes glaze over, then Kay Lenz reappears, now the captive of an evil druglord. Some stuff blows up, and there's an attempt at a "twist ending," but I dunno. Whatta ya gonna do? On the cool side, the millionaire is played by John (It's Alive) Ryan, one of the bad guys is the great Danny (From Dusk Till Dawn) Trejo ("Lowly dogs!"), and if you don't blink you'll spot Scully and Mulder's boss Mitch Pileggi as a warehouse guy. I don't know what the hell was goin' on. (Media)

American Pop (1980)

I gotta get this outta the way up front--I think Ralph Bakshi is one of the most overrated filmmakers around. He's no better a director than, say, Peter Hyams (Quick! Name three movies he directed), but people give him a lot more credit than he deserves simply because his movies are animated. I mean, c'mon, why should people be willing to accept less in terms of story and characterization just 'cause you're looking at a bunch of cartoon characters? Don't get me wrong--I don't wanna come off like the guy in Entertainment Weekly who started his review of "South Park" by saying, "I hate cartoons"--I love cartoons, but if you're gonna refer to a director as "visionary" and his movies as "classics," they'd better be damn good movies. Bakshi's works are entertaining but remarkably average, and American Pop is right in there with 'em. Following four generations of men who, in one way or another are involved in the music scene, Pop takes us on a fairly heavy-handed ride through the land of clichés, but does it in a manner that's at least fun to watch. Unfortunately, Bakshi's over-reliance on rotoscoping (filming the actors performing their scenes, then basically tracing that film) makes me wonder why the hell he even bothered to animate the thing--in some scenes, I could actually recognize the actors under the paint! This slavish reproduction of the live-action footage tends to separate the characters from their environment, too--as if they're floating around on a flat background. It's kinda like watching George Reeves fly on the old "Superman" TV show. And to make it even more disconcerting, the background characters are all stylized and funky-looking, the way the main characters should have been! Sure, it's cool to see an animated Jimi Hendrix, but thanks to Bakshi's crazed tracing, it's like watching the live-action Jimi with some garish paint slathered over himself. But ya' know what? Despite all this bitching, I'd have to say this is one of Bakshi's more entertaining flicks--in fact, I liked it as much as I like some of Peter Hyams' stuff (Outland, 2010, The Relic). Fun, but far from visionary or classic. (Columbia Tri-Star)

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