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REVIEW & VIDEO | Action U.S.A. (1989)

26 Jan 2018

Cameron Mitchell makes his grand entrance stumbling on a jogging machine and swearing into a telephone. Need another reason to see this? There are plenty.


Country: USA | Runtime: 89m | Director: John Stewart

Starring: Gregory Scott Cummins, William Hubbard Knight, Barri Murphy, William Smith, Cameron Fucking Mitchell



Just the facts: Carmen (Murphy) witnesses her boyfriend's murder at the hands of a criminal gang. Fortunately she bumps into FBI agents Osborn (Cummins) and Panama (Knight), unfortunately their crooked boss Conover (Smith) isn't inclined to help and hangs them out to dry. Many, many car chases, kidnappings, gunfights and explosions ensue as our protagonists attempt to make it... somewhere, before... something. Eventually it ends up being about diamonds somehow. Conover dies, the goodies don't.



“Alright... fight!”


Perhaps it's something to do with concussion, but there's a rich history of Hollywood stuntmen deciding they should be directors. However falling over in front of the camera doesn’t automatically qualify you to call the shots behind it, so their movies tend to be rubbish. Hal Needham smashed the glass ceiling and got off to an atypical start with Smokey and the Bandit, but soon gifted us the majestically awful Megaforce. Die Hard Dracula, from former stunty Peter Horak, is another masterpiece of the genre. And there's plenty of fodder too, with schlock like Shark Night 3D, the Red Dawn remake, Snakes on a Plane, and many more, all directed by men more used to hurting themselves than audiences. The stuntman resume of Action U.S.A. director John Stewart takes in a surprising number of good bad classics including Hard Rock Zombies, Creepozoids, Death Spa and Night of the Demons (in addition to some proper films), so it makes sense that his directorial debut should be this... awesome! 



“How do you want to be buried, ass up or head down?”



Action U.S.A.'s similarities to Samurai Cop are striking. Like Amir Shervan's showpiece, it's 'influenced' by Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon. Our heroes are a straight-laced black cop in a dark suit; and a scruffy white cop who takes care of the running, jumping, fighting and being all edgy. It also features Samurai Cop's failed humour, misplaced dramatic intensity, seedy tone, and the familiar erratic grade that suggests the lab was never paid for the answer prints so refused to deliver a final colour corrected cut of the movie. This last point is surprising, because although the presence of William Smith and Cameron Mitchell generally suggests budget was an issue, there was plenty of money for blowing shit up. Herein lies Action U.S.A.'s unique appeal: it's essentially just one long bullet-riddled car chase.



“I thought you were dead.”

“They don't build a bullet big enough.”


From the opening car chase and shoot-out to the final car chase and shoot-out, it's impossible to keep track of who's kidnapped whom, what’s blowing up and where anyone is chasing to at any given moment. At one point we find ourselves in a redneck bar and, presumably terrified things could slow to the point at which dialogue might be required, Osborn starts a fight with a random stranger and Carmen jumps on stage to sing. There's no obvious reason for either. This is a few hours after Carmen saw her boyfriend murdered and these people are meant to be slipping quietly over the county line without being spotted by the assassins and gangsters trailing them. To be fair it's a welcome change, all the other fight scenes take place outside. But even after re-watching the whole sequence I don't understand why it plays out the way it does. No matter. Within a few minutes we're back to ramming cars into explosions. 



“Me? I bury people, bitch!”


The cast are just what you'd expect. Cummins and Knight are inoffensive enough, with the former a sort of cut-price Michael Biehn and the latter apparently on the verge of realising acting isn't for him. As usual, the most entertaining thespians are the has-been character actors drafted in to fill the smaller, cheaper roles. Ross Hagen plays a brilliantly funny cowboy-flavoured hitman, William Smith stretches himself as a law enforcement agent who turns out to be a bad guy, and Cameron Mitchell is a crime lord who does nothing but shout, complain and swear at people. Fans of Cameron will not be surprised, but should be warned he only appears in two brief scenes (although the last word he speaks in both is 'asshole' - muttered under his breath of course). I don't know whether or not introducing him on a running machine (walking very slowly) is a nod to his infamous reluctance/inability to move about on screen, but it makes for a sight so comical I missed the scene through laughing and had to play it again to hear what he was swearing about.


 Did you spot theme?


“Yeah, yeah, yeah, wha, wha, what? Asshole.”

Cameron Mitchell


So what happened to John Stewart? He made a couple more genre movies before settling into a career juggling stunt coordination on films with directing gigs on Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, before ploughing everything he had into his final directorial offering... a biopic of himself. This guy's filmography has potential.








WHAT?: 9





Video: The Title Doesn't Lie


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