Thursday, December 22, 2011

Deadly Farce: LIBERTY & BASH (1989)

When it comes to '80s low-rent urban cop/vigilante movies, I'll admit it, I have no shame. I may be hesitant to admit that I actually enjoyed the 1988 excuse to pay Lee Major's mortgage, KEATON'S COP (also with Abe Vigoda, Don Rickles, and Art LaFleur!), but I will say I've done some serious barrel scraping in my day. Even with a lifetime of experience, nothing has prepared me for LIBERTY & BASH.

Somehow I missed this one back in the day. Maybe it was there and I never noticed it due to O’Keefe-Fatigue Syndrome. You know what I mean. Back in the ‘80s Miles O’Keefe was all over the low-rent Euro scene in more ATOR movies than you could count, a couple of action movies and even took a turn as, of all things, Count Dracula in Anthony Hickox’s first, and in retrospect, best film WAXWORK (1988). Maybe it was just the crushing deluge of tedious and formulaic flicks that finally degenerated into insipid self-parody such as COP AND A HALF (1993). Burt, my brotha, how could you? Ok, we better keep moving or I'm going to deeply digress into that quagmire of suffering and torment.

Miles O’Keef is Liberty, a Los Angeles social worker (yes, you read that right), who tries to keep the lamest gangsters you’ve ever seen off the dope and off the streets. One of his pet projects is a Korean gang-banger named Juan Ton (say it out loud) who is such a cracker-ass, he makes Buster Poindexter look like 50 Cent.

His live-in girlfriend Sarah (Mitzi Kapture) also works in his dinky skid-row offices, leading to the main plot. But first we’re going to sucker you into thinking this movie is headed in a different direction! Liberty’s sketchy past as a mercenary for hire catches up with him when one of his soldier buddies, Jerry (Richard Eden) from the Angola mission (we don't even get any flashbacks to this) has gotten himself into a mess with the local mob. It’s not very clear, but it seems Jerry was double crossed when making a drop. Something about a severed undercover narc’s head, some missing cash and a black van that guns down some cops leaving Jerry holding the bag as it were. Jerry is having all sorts of personal and relationship issues and is looking after his kids with his sister, who works as a stripper. Ummm... what court granted custody of two children to an ex-mercenary with a rap-sheet and a drug problem? This is never adequately explained. Matter of fact, so little is explained that it will take you the entirety of the film’s 92 minute running time to figure out who is related to who and what in the Sam Hell is going on around here! Not that there is all that much of a plot anyway and no, you don't get to see the stripper do any stripping.

Jesse finally reaches out to Liberty whose relationship with his needy girlfriend has progressed. When a couple of goons come around and put the hurt on Jesse, Liberty manages to show up just in time to watch him die. Now it’s on sucka! Oh, wait. No, sorry, no it’s not. Liberty must have more relationship discussions with his girlfriend first. The only thing that makes these conversations remotely attention-holding is the fact that O’Keefe sounds like he’s doing a really bad Elvis impersonation and that even though he’s supposed to be this bleeding heart counselor, he really is a total prick to everyone around him.

From here on out (at the 50 minute mark and not a single action sequence), it’s Liberty talking to his friend Bash (Ferrigno), who runs a gymnasium that he uses to toughen up Liberty’s gangbangers (think about that for a moment), or is talking to his girlfriend who finally tells him that she’s pregnant. Oh fuck. It’s the ‘80s. A pregnant girlfriend can only mean one thing… yes, we need to have a frank discussion about the subject of abortion. No, really. Forget about the mob, forget about the cops, forget about the cry-baby gangbangers who need to be taught how to be macho, let’s spend the rest of the movie discussing the Right to Life. Oh, and don’t misunderstand, this is no thoughtful contemplation of the pros and cons of a serious and deeply personal matter. Nope, this weighs in on the issues with all of the contemplative gravity of George Michael’s “Choose Life” t-shirt. Not that George Michael would ever have to worry about that, in any case.

Seriously, what I endured should never be inflicted upon another living soul, or dead one for that matter. First off, if you look closely at the poster it tells you everything you need to know. Painstakingly created in photoshop over a laborious span of several minutes, it is desperately trying to tell you that it’s a classic buddy action flick (it is not), that O’Keefe and Ferrigno are hip-to-hip in a firearm frenzy (they are not), and that it, hopefully, will strike a chord with viewers who desperately wanted a sequel to TANGO & CASH (it did not).

Truth be told, I feel really bad about laughing at Lou Ferrigno’s delivery of tough, wannabe R. Lee Ermy dialogue. I mean, the man is deaf, he can’t help it, but they are the very few entertaining moments in the film. This movie blunders about so badly, they even do a car chase about an hour into the movie, but botch that entirely by cutting to two different cars driving along the street, that for all we know could have been shot at completely different times without any shooting permits! As if that wasn't criminal enough, director Myrl A. Schreibman (who was actually responsible for a few bad movies that were good, including Marilyn Chamber's ANGEL OF H.E.A.T.), seems to be completely confused by the trappings of the genre. Myrl, buddy, why is it that strip clubs are featured in every single cop movie? Because it effectively taps the emotional perspective of the main characters who's profession exposes them to the cold underbelly of the lowest moments in life? Ummm... no. It's an excuse to show hot topless chicks in g-strings without needing to rationalize it in the plot! Yes, that's right, Mr. Schreibman is the only director in the history of cinema (that I'm aware of) who decides that he does not want to have any nudity during the completely gratuitous strip club scenes. Maybe Mr. Schreibman was sleeping during Gratuitous Nudity 101 while pursuing his Masters in Fine Arts at UCLA.

It actually feels like the script was originally a straightforward action flick that was drastically re-written to turn the main plot about Liberty, Jesse and the mob into a sub-plot taking a back seat to the main thrust of the film: relationships, which are good and abortion, which is bad. If you don’t mind a bit of a spoiler, I’ll prove this point by showing you the final showdown. This is literally the biggest action sequence in the movie. I shit you not.

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