Monday, November 8, 2010

Never Too Young to Die (Gil Bettman, 1986)

If you're related to a secret agent, do their talents transfer over to you when they're inevitably murdered by an hermaphroditic super villain? Of course they do, what a silly question. Even if the person inheriting the talent is just unassuming teenage gymnast with thick, lustrous hair? Yes. And even more so if that's the case. As most people know, the thick-haired gymnast is one of the last vestiges of truth and justice left in this world. In a society overrun by disco punks and their gender ambiguous overlords, a thick-haired gymnast named Lance Stargrove is about to find out that you're never too young to die in Never Too Young to Die, an action-adventure movie where, according to Stargrove's theme song, no one runs away from the danger zone. Filmed smack-dab in the middle of the 1980s, this unqualified crumpet features enough erratic gun-play, heavy metal hoedowns, customized motorcycles, homemade rocket launchers, scene stealing intersex super-villains and cackling henchmen to fill a moderately priced gunnysack. Having just watched the The Road Warrior on LaserDisc and the memory of the United States of America destroying the competition at the Games of the XXIII Olympiad still fresh in his mind, filmmaker Gil Bettman and his formidable team of writers and hangers-on (a shady collection of drug dealers and mealymouthed sycophants) have wisely chosen to combine the two, and by doing so, have created an entity so righteous, so mystifying, that it resembles an actual movie at times.

After the death of his bulletprooth umbrella-carrying father, Drew Stargrove (George Lazenby), at the hands of Velvet Von Ragnar (Gene Simmons), an unhinged intersex psychopath with sinister plans for California's water supply, Lance Stargrove (John Stamos), a teenage gymnast/closet gynemimetophile, is about to find out that he has inherited more than just a humble farm from his late dad. Whether it's just a case of like father, like son, Lance, while being roughed up by two of Ragnar's goons, summons a tiny lump of courage and uses his gymnastic skills to beat them to a moldy pulp. It's true, he's gonna need to summon a lot more than courage if he expects to take on Velvet Von Ragnar and his-her disco punk army. But judging by this display alone, it's clear that he has what it takes to follow in his father's footsteps.

Discovering that you're a super suave man of action isn't the same as finding out you're good at Galaga or posses the anal elasticity of a promiscuous dust mite. Assisting Lance make the transition from the blue tank top fantasyland of your typical wide-eyed teen to the hyper-violent world of espionage is the alluring Danja Deering (Vanity), a woman who isn't afraid to make use of her supple anatomy to bend the will of others.

It should be said that Lance's best friend, roommate and sidekick Cliff (Peter Kwong), an amateur weapons expert (his beloved "Fire Blazer" helps get Lance and Danja out of numerous jams), has been supplying him with gadgets for some time now. In one scene they even text each other (using their wristwatches) in order to cheat on a test. What I'm trying to say is Lance ain't exactly a shrinking violet, whatever the hell that means.

Excuse me. Yeah, hi. Why is an "unhinged intersex psychopath" trying to kill Lance and Danja? Excellent question. While he-she isn't really trying to kill them, per se, what he-she does want is to extract some information from them. Particularly about the location of a computer disk (RAM-K) containing the security codes that protect the state's water supply from unhinged intersex psychopath's who want to contaminate it with radioactive waste.

Every time they would appear on-screen, a feeling of embarrassment, discomfort, and misguided admiration would simultaneously wash over me. Giving a brave and thoroughly demented performance, the normally loathsome Gene Simmons is a campy delight as the evil and fabulous Velvet Von Ragnar, the maniacal, Robert Englund-employing thorn in the side of the film's principal hero. Willing to sacrifice the entirety of his-her punk rock army (a loose assemblage of post-apocalyptic thugs and leather-clad cross-dressers) for the betterment of his-her cause, Gene chews up the scenery in a manner that really gets the unsavoury juices flowing.

Provoking similar juices, but without the intense aftertaste, Vanity is asked to cry at a funeral, talk softly to a horse in a puffy shirt, riddle a henchmen's body with bullets, stand in a kitchen while wearing a white bra, and look chic in a blue dress adorned with an alarming amount of sequins all within the span of five minutes. I know what you're thinking: Is the Prince protégé able to pull off this seemingly arduous acting task? You better believe she is. Inducing one to not ask: Why can't Vanity be in every movie? The racially complex singer/actress, on top of looking semi-convincing while firing an AK-47, displays a real knack for enunciating scripted dialogue.

However, Vanity does her best work in the scenes where scripted dialogue is completely unnecessary. The best example of this can be found when Danja Deering is attempting to arouse the ladyboy-obsessed genitals of John Stamos's reluctant spy character on the deck of their secluded chalet. When the act of doffing her white outerwear fails to even evoke a response, Vanity lounges seductively on a deck chair in an earthy bikini with matching eye shadow. Applying lotion and brandishing the occasional come hither look, Vanity attacks her stubborn prey with the ferocity of a caged beast. When that fails, she employs a garden hose, which eventually causes Lance to drop his bottle of Perrier and come to his senses. Call me a nudnik, but I think the reason Lance took so long to get hard was because he actually prefers the company of trans-women, cross-dressers, and, of course, unhinged intersex psychopaths. At any rate, it's a beautiful sequence, not only from an aesthetic point of view (the fact that Vanity and John Stamos have a brother-sister vibe about them made the scene even hotter), but in the way it gives us to prepare for the mayhem we know is just around the corner.

In all honesty, the scene where Lance Stargrove asks Velvet Von Ragnar for his-her autograph was by far the film's hottest. The way Velvet thrust the mysterious contents festering underneath his-her salmon bustier in Lance's general direction was off the charts in terms of erotic ungainliness.

Drinking in his meaty thighs, which are being constricted by a super tight pair of black pantyhose, and no doubt hypnotized by the cascading wall of pink feathers shooting out from his Cher-quality headdress, Lance may agree with Danja's critique of Ragnar's Las Vegas-style stage show (she thinks it's "revolting"), but his eyes tell a completely different story. (Quirky fun-fact: While Gene's costume might have a "Cher-quality," it's actually the exact same outfit the divine Lynda Carter wore during a KISS-centric number on a television show called Encore!)

He may be a new breed of action hero, but John Stamos still needs to work on his craft, especially when it comes to shaping his overall personality, as his many attempts to be witty and clever were all met with a regular breed of scorn. You could say that his awkward, unfunny demeanor was part of his overall charm, but I don't feel like saying that. Check out the scene at The Incinerator, Velvet Von Ragnar's Streets of Fire-esque biker nightclub (a rowdy dive that serves beer and motor oil), where a gorgeous transgender waitress (a fabulous Ivar Mireless) with claw-like fingernails and a Dale Bozzio (circa Color In Your Life) hairdo flirts and trades gibes with the future star of Full House, he so outmatched, it's not even funny.

Even though he affectionately calls them his "little turdballs" and his "little scumbuckets," Velvet Von Ragnar's devoted throng of unwashed followers are the real victims in the Never Too Young to Die universe. Used and abused (an unwashed follower played by the muscly Ed Brock has his face immersed in horse shit during one particularly humiliating scene), they carry out the orders of the intersex despot without fail, yet they seem to get no reward for their diligence. I don't know 'bout you, but there's something inherently depressing about watching the fashion forward punks and freaks unceremoniously mowed down by a bunch of camouflage-wearing squares who take their orders from a non-gynandromorph.

Utilizing their inspiration like it were a blunt object being swung to and fro by an overly lubricated lunatic, the brain trust responsible for this undertaking deftly mix subtle intelligence with sheer idiocy in order to satisfy the plethora of eyeballs that will surely try to extract a fair amount of cinematic nourishment from its bulky yet highly-developed corpse. Let me break it down for you. Do you like frantic shootouts that boast automatic weapons of every calibre and make imaginable? This flick has got you covered. Do you like to see films that examine the human condition and feature performances by actors at the top of their game? Um, yeah, so, the shootouts in Never Too Young to Die are pretty crazy, man. I mean, the characters totally shoot bullets at one another. Anyway, I can't wait for Never Too Young to Die 2: Lance Stargrove vs. The Lady Boys of Bangkok.



  1. This review is a delicious word-salad of excellence. I had no clue that this movie existed until just now, and it feels a little like I just found God--or at least *a* god, the kind with feathers and spangles and stilted dialogue (to whit: the BEST kind of god).

    I need to see this movie posthaste (too bad it doesn't have a monkey sidekick, the only thing that could make it more sublime, but imperfection is the bittersweet beauty of life).

  2. I just can't believe that Gene Simmons wore the same size as Lynda Carter!

  3. I hate to pose too easy a question, but how much better would this have been if Stamos died? Better still if he became the villain's personal salad tosser, but that's a bit much to ask of the '80s.

    Sorry I have not been around lately, the internet at work is wonky, and I find it hard to get to most blogger blogs. Sad, really.

  4. @Tenebrous Kate: I'm glad you liked my salad. :)

    A monkey sidekick would have been the perfect accessory for Gene Simmons' Ragnar.

    @The Vicar of VHS: Well, I'm sure the feathery headdress was probably one size fits all. As for the rest of the outfit, it's most likely a team of seamstresses were flown in from the Philippines to alter it to fit Gene's bulky frame.

    @Darius Whiteplume: A lot better. But then again, I think every movie like this should end with the hero buying it in the most disgusting manner imaginable.

    Do you mean a salad tosser as in it's now his job to prepare all the meals at Hermaphrodite HQ? (Tossing salads, lubricating zucchinis.) Or do you mean that he would start eating his meals out of the villain's spacious butthole? Either way, I like where your head is at.

    I don't worry, man. I can totally feel your presence.

  5. Any film could be improved by a dead Stamos.

  6. Those of us in the teaching composition biz often refer to word salad as a way to describe prose that is indescribably unclear/barely literate. So I had to laugh at Tenebrous Kate's comment because your prose is awesome! It's a really good word salad, like chicken caesar or something. ;)

    I was trying to explain to my students the Soviet boycott of the XXIII Olympiad. *blank stares*
    They're too young to remember the Cold War. The 1980s? Ancient history.

  7. @Darius Whiteplume: I have to admit, I was gonna say something along those harsh lines. Nevertheless, you're absolutely right, any movie that ends with a dead Stamos is super-terrific in my book. ;)

    @Karim Amir: Holy crap! The term "word salad" is also called "schizophasia," which is apparently a type of mental illness. :D

    Anyway, I appreciate the fact that you dig my chicken Caesar or something. :)

    At first I thought you meant that they couldn't grasp the whole: *bad Russian accent* "you no go to our games, we no show up at yours" mentality (you have to feel bad for the athletes). But then I realized they probably never even heard of the boycotted games of 1980 and 1984.

    "Black stations / white stations / Break down the door / Stand up and face the music / This is 1984"

    Still kicking myself for blowing today's Oklahoma-themed final Jeopardy!

  8. If anyone wants more Never Too Young to Die goodness it is one of the two films discussed on the Gentlemen's Guide to Midnight Cinema podcast this week... that's Ep #106.

  9. John Stamos! This one sounds ridic! Gotta see it.

  10. The exclamation mark you placed at the end of "John Stamos" is totally justified. :)

  11. I recall renting this film back in the golden age of VHS. I rented it to see Vanity but the rest of the film was like ROCKY HORROR collided with a Matt Helm movie.

  12. Yeah, come to think about it, Gene Simmons does have a certain Dr. Frank-N-Furter vibe about him.

  13. I enjoyed the motorcycle and truck chase part quite a lot!

  14. It's probably the best action sequence in the entire film.

  15. One of the best parts of the movie is the song they play in the beginning: "STARGROVE!"

  16. This is one of my all time favorites, the other is Glitter, starring the sexy Mariah Carey. I have enjoyed reading your blog over the years. You cover a lot of great cinema. I added your blog to mine recently. Keep up the good work. Hope all is well.