Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adrenaline Shot: COURIER OF DEATH (1984)

If you haven’t figured it out already, we’re big fans of regional flicks here on Video Junkie.  Be it action, horror or sci-fi (no low budget comedies or dramas, thanks), we’re always down for some lo-fi cinematic madness.  Of course, this is probably why we hate ourselves in the morning as more often than not they end up sucking.  But every now and then you will pop in a flick that manages to push past its budget restraints and somehow entertain the hell out of you.  A perfect example is COURIER OF DEATH.  Made in Oregon by director Tom Shaw, this is the type of not-so-good action cinema that was produced on a budget that was probably 1/20 of the cost of craft services on AVATAR.  But would I seriously watch this over some bloated James Cameron epic?  Every freakin’ day, my friend!

COURIER OF DEATH centers on top-notch deliveryman J.D. Blackman (Joey Johnson).  You know his life is hectic as the film opens with J.D. and his partner Frank in charge of delivering 7 million dollars and getting ambushed by some dudes who apparently all bought the same sweat suits outfits at Sears. To let you know what kind of movie COD is, the villains stand in plain sight when J.D. and Frank land at the airport and one of them is even on a walkie talkie right as the courier van zooms past them.  Luckily for them our couriers aren’t as observant as the bad guys are obvious and the sweatpants mob isn’t noticed until they start open firing on the road.  J.D. and Frank make it to wooded area and a firefight breaks out. Frank, who we barely got to know, buys it, but not before J.D. blasts a few dudes for good measure (Tom pointed out a particularly hilarious bit where a guy dives off a roof, but gently puts down his gun before falling off).  Despite the villain’s snatching the secure briefcase (by blasting off Frank’s hand), J.D. manages to get it back thanks to his cannon of a gun that is as big as his head.  Ah, such is the life of a courier.

You know what they say about men and their guns...


Back at home, J.D.’s wife Julie (Joan Becherich) is worried about her husband’s dangerous occupation and voices her concern to family friend Katie (Barbara Garrison).  After all, how will all this killing affect his family life with his young daughter Kat around?  I guess we’re about to find out as the courier service calls with a “priority one” for J.D. Damn, no time off after you blow away a dozen bad guys and watch your partner get killed?  Or is the courier service running that low?  Anyway, J.D. takes the job, which entails him taking a “priority four” to San Francisco and returning with a “priority one” from Reno.  Wow, I think he really might be the only dude on the payroll.  The bad news is crime boss Bigelow (John H. Schmeer, also the film’s DP) finds out about this and has his goon Carver (Mel Fletcher) kidnap the courier service secretary Nancy (Diana Bauer) to get the where and when info.  For good measure they also kidnap Julie so when J.D. arrives for the “priority one” delivery, they can use her as a hostage to get him to hand over the briefcase.  Once they have the delivery, the bad guys shoot and kill Julie on the spot.  Man, J.D. has had a rough couple of days on the job!

Sweatsuit Team...Activate!
No doubt hoping to relax, J.D. is at home with Katie when he gets a call from Colonel Johnson, his old boss from ‘Nam, with instructions to meet him in an hour.  Seems the contents stolen were $76 million dollars in bonds that the bad guys are using to fund their fascist army.  That’ll buy you a lot of sweat pants.  Johnson wants J.D. to track down the leaders and eliminate them, with full protection from the governor’s office, of course.  Johnson hands over some incredibly detailed files with the name of every person involved in the organization.  Haha, just kidding.  He gives J.D. four black & white Polaroids and says they believe one of these men is the ringleader.  Uh, thanks?  Luckily, J.D. knows how to find bad guys and, with Katie tagging along, hits all the seedy bars in town.  He quickly finds one guy, whose name we are never privy to, at a strip club.  Apparently he is the type of law breaker who’s never heard of sticks and stones as he says, “You don’t come into my part of town and call me names.” When he doesn’t give J.D. the info he wants, our hero blows away the guy and his two henchmen in front of everyone (“Wrong answer, dude!”).  Damn, J.D. is certainly taking advantage of that “no prosecution for bad deeds” deal.

Somehow this encounter leads J.D. to the house where Nancy is being held hostage.  After freeing her from some more guys in sweats, she tells him that he needs to get Hayden.  J.D. quickly locates this guy in a bar and proceeds to beat the crap out of him before Hayden says J.D. should locate an unnamed man in Ocean City.  Good deal, J.D. will let you live.  Oh, that is until Hayden bursts from the bar with a gun and J.D. shoots him in the crotch.  The next day J.D. gets ready to fly to Ocean City with his pilot buddy (director Shaw, who uses his own plane in the film).  The Colonel gives him another B&W picture and says, “This lady’s a direct link to the top man. Our intelligence indicates he’s one of these three.”  Wait a sec…first the Colonel gives him four photos and J.D. kills one of the guys.  Then the Colonel says his intelligence says it now one of these three men?  Man the only thing worse than this Colonel’s “intelligence” is J.D.’s perception skills.  Anyway, J.D. meets up with this chick Angel (Amy Sachel) and she proceeds to kick him in the balls a few times before J.D. kills her by inadvertently making her drink some poison champagne she had set aside for him.  Jeez, am I still summarizing this movie?  Okay, I’ll speed it up.  J.D. gets the bonds back from Bigelow, who quickly dies of heart attack; J.D. contacts the Colonel and finds out he was using J.D. to get the bonds (shocker!) and the Colonel and the bonds are blown up in a car due to the briefcase being loaded with a bomb; finally, J.D. and grudge holding henchman Carver have a big ol’ fight on a mountain and J.D. wins.  But not before an innocent family gets held hostage and shot.  Damn, seems like J.D.’s luck is rubbing off on folks.

Okay, where do I start with a movie like this?  I guess the lead is probably the best place.  Joey Johnson as an action lead is quite amusing. He is about 5’2” on a good day and looks like the lovechild of comedian Paul Rodriguez and Alex Winter.  Not only does he not encapsulate the 80s standard for action heroes (think Stallone or Schwarzenegger), but he also doesn’t get it on with the ladies.  You read that right – he does not try to seduce the leading lady.  I’m thankful for that because 1) I didn’t really want to see him in a lovemaking scene and 2) it gave audiences this glorious dialogue exchange when J.D. says he is going to take a shower.

Katie: “Can I join you?”
J.D.: “I’m not ready for that yet, but when 
            I am you’ll be the first one to know.”

I haven’t laughed that hard since Leo Fong turned down the advances of a topless Playboy Playmate in one of his flicks.

Worst...family day...ever!!!
Yes, the dialogue and wonky staging are integral to this movie’s entertainment factor.  For example, when J.D. confronts the femme fatale Angel, she asks if he would hurt a woman and he responds, “I don’t see one.  All I see is a (dramatic pause) greedy slut.” When she gets the upper hand, she says, “I’ll kick both your eyes out!”  Damn, both?  This chick is hardcore.  The film’s finale also encapsulates the zaniness on display.  Carver chases J.D. onto a bridge that leads to an island.  Instead of giving chase, Carver says, “That island’s a dead end. I’ll be right here in the morning.” He then proceeds to plop down and fall asleep before we show it is dawn.  So he wasn’t worried J.D. might pull some sneaky move like step over his snoring body?  And then we have that poor family that just happens to wander into the middle of a fight between two government trained assassins.  Not only does the little girl get held hostage, but Dad takes a bullet in the leg and mom has to help kill the villain by beating him with a stick until he falls onto a knife J.D. is holding.  This poor family is regretting they said, “Today would be a great day for a picnic!” Of course, this is what makes the film so damn entertaining.  It is never boring and you can always enjoy some crazy ass dialogue and action bits.  Simply put – the COURIER OF DEATH delivers (ah, boo yourself)!

Moments of Clarity:

3 Reactions:

  1. Oh wow, just wow. This sound fantastic, on par with ROTOR? I'm all over it, thank you.

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  2. Greetings from Portland! I was stoked to find an ex-rental several years ago (remembering Shaw talking about it in the local press back in the day), and even more excited when I saw that my old boss Jim Caputo (RIP) not only played one of the toughs but also dubbed Shaw's performance! There is also at least one great shot of the (since demolished/rebuilt) Fox Theater on Broadway where I spent many an afternoon as a kid and even saw Nirvana play in Oct. '91, right before they blew up.

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  3. Thanks for the comment, Ian. If you are looking for more Portland-sploitation, Shaw made another film called OPERATION TAKE NO PRISONERS (1987). The IMDb doesn't even have a listing for it, but you can find it on cheap DVD. Damn, I should review that.

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