Monday, September 18, 2023

Space Marines (USA, 1996)

Whether or not you will like Space Marines will probably depend on what you are expecting and how you approach this D2V movie. It is doubtful that most people who decide to watch this flick are actually in any way familiar with John Weidner, the director of the movie, but if one is familiar with his two prior (and to date only other) feature-length film directorial projects, Private Wars (1993 / trailer) and Midnight Man (1995 / trailer), or his screenwriting credit on films like Dead Man Walking (1988 / Portuguese trailer), Maximum Force (1992 / trailer, with Richard Lynch) or Midnight Kiss (1993 / trailer), and you go in expecting something equally "adult", well, you gonna hate this flick.
Trailer to
Space Marines:
While John Weidner surely knew he was making something somewhat different from his normal action cum gun-play flicks when he made Space Marines — otherwise he surely wouldn't have allowed some of the characterizations in the film — the true influence that makes Space Marines the kind of film it is likely comes from its screenwriter, Robert Moreland, who seems to have begun his film-writing career with this film only to quickly moves into kiddy films — specifically: animation films like Gnome Alone (2017 / trailer) and the generally forgotten Happily N'ever After (2006 / trailer). And that is a tidbit of trivia that is perhaps good to know before watching Space Marines, for despite this movie's inexplicable R-rating, the movie is very much a kiddie film, perfect for the children of the sort of people who like the kind of movies reviewed at Comeuppance Reviews.
Okay, there is a lot of adult fun stuff like cussin' and alcohol and lots of shooting — considering that the film is set in space and therefore obviously in the future, everyone still uses nice, old-fashioned stuff like rocket launchers, handguns and (the weapon of choice) M-16 rifles — and a lot of explosions and blood and death (all three in one when someone explodes from the inside) and fistfights and even strategically covered, holographic mega-titties (courtesy of plastic babe TJ Myers), but there is nothing in the movie you won't find in many of today's pay-channel TV series, where it is all shown far more convincingly and realistically (and, in the case of the titties, uncovered if normally smaller). But unlike most of today's quality TV product, Space Marines consciously veers in a direction seldom taken: high camp and persiflage. And that is the movie's saving grace.
[Get ready for a paragraph or two of run-on sentences.] The plot is fairly linear and unoriginal B-movie stuff: space pirates, headed by the hilariously arch Colonel Fraser (Australian John Pyper-Ferguson, of Wolves [2014 / trailer], Die [2010 / trailer] and "the Blue Velvet [1986 / trailer] of high school horror movies", Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II [1987 / trailer]), and his nasty second-in-command Gunther (Michael Bailey Smith*) — who, unluckily, never gets naked and oiled-up to flex his impressive, professional bodybuilder body — kidnap Vice Minister Adams (John Mansfield of Forbidden Sins [1999 / trailer]) while hijacking a yitload of raw nuclear material.
Retaliation comes in the form of the intergalactic warship The Missouri, commanded by the by-the-books Commander Lasser (Meg Foster**), and a group of marines (the modest size of which was obviously dictated by the film's budget) commanded by the hard but fair Capt Gray (Edward Albert [20 Feb 1951 – 22 Sep 2006] of the anti-classic Galaxy of Terror [1981 / trailer] and the fondly remembered if terrible TV movie "classics" Killer Bees [1974 / full film] &  Death Cruise [1974 / full film]). But things go south, and soon Fraser has Ambassador Nakamura (James Shigeta [17 Jun 1929 – 28 Jul 2014] of Brother [2000 / trailer], Drive [1997 / trailer] and Death Walks in Laredo [1967 / Italian credit sequence]) and his two attachés, the prerequisite female interest for the hero named Dar Mullins (Cady Huffman of Choose [2011 / trailer]) and the hero himself, Zack Delano (Billy Wirth, whose tall, dark and handsome droolability we already noted in the fiasco that is 7 Mummies [2006]), who's actually a marine in disguise...
* Sporting an abysmal haircut in the film, former competitive bodybuilder and current business man Michael Bailey Smith, whose muscles just make you wanna squeeze 'em, made his film debut as "Super Freddy" in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989 / trailer), impressed as Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes remake (2006 / trailer), and deserves recognition for playing The Thing in the infamous and never officially released first film version of The Fantastic Four (1994 / trailer). More successful now in the world of business, he has not been all that active since Bus Driver (2016 / trailer), but his resume of fun to terrible films includes Cyborg 3: The Recycler (1994 / trailer, with Richard Lynch), Monster Man (2003 — he's the titular character), the slasher Chain Letter (2010 / trailer), the truly trashy and fun Blood Shot (2013 / trailer), and the what-were-they-thinking? Kids vs Monsters (2015 / trailer).
** Let's hear it for Meg Foster, an actor whom we still cannot figure out why Tarantino hasn't cast in at least a tiny role. For that, Rob Zombie has: she's in both The Lords of Salem (2012 / trailer) and 31 (2016 / trailer). She may have never achieved major-name status (her eyes were/are probably too unique for that), but since her early role in the cult horror Welcome to Arrow Beach (1973 / trailer), a film that has yet to have a stateside release uncut, she has appeared in curious and insulting time capsules like A Different Story (1978), classic genre films like They Live (1988 / trailer), major misfires like Masters of the Universe (1997 / trailer), intentionally culty fair like Oblivion (1994 / trailer) and Oblivion II: Backlash (1996 / trailer), and so much more — like Carny (1980 / trailer), The Wind (1986 / trailer), Leviathan (1989), Blind Fury (1989 / trailer), Relentless (1989 / trailer), Stepfather II: Make Room for Daddy (1989 / trailer), Shrunken Heads (1994 / trailer), Victor "I Like 'em Young" Salva's Jeepers Kreepers III (2017 / trailer), A Reckoning (2018 / trailer), Any Bullet Will Do (2018 / trailer), Overlord (2018 / trailer), There's No Such Thing As Vampires (2020 / trailer), Hellblazers (2022 / trailer) and The Accursed (2022 / trailer). She is a character actor extraordinaire.
So far, perfectly generic, and so it pretty much remains — including even a point in the narrative when the normally by-the-books Commander Lasser finally bends the rules to help save the day — so there is really no reason to explain much more about the plot. Were it all played straight, Space Marines would be a pretty dry and abysmal film, especially since no one gets completely naked and the violence is all so half-assed.
But Space Marines doesn't play it all straight, and in doing so it manages to achieve the luster of the pirate films or war films — perhaps even peplum films — of yesteryear. Indeed, John Pyper-Ferguson's Colonel Fraser seems to have walked in from the wrong film: he is a retro-dressed, killer psycho channeling Dr Evil or Hans Gruber possibly originally intended for some unproduced John Waters pirate flick. Even Gunter, despite the cold-bloodedness initially shown in an opening scene where he kills three innocent people, becomes more and more of an obvious joke at the movie progresses. 
The filmmakers — scriptwriter, director and actors — obviously knew that Space Marines is an Aldi-level movie at best and play with it. Some (Pyper-Ferguson & Smith) by camping it up, most others (including Foster and Wirth) by playing totally straight, no matter how inane the dialogue or situation. Some jokes, like the shoot-outs, are less blatant: Space Marines is one of those films in which the bad guys and good guys shoot at each other at a point-blank range for an incessantly long time without hitting each other before the bad guy finally gets shot — but here, it is often in such excess that it eventually hits that it is done this way as a joke. Other jokes, like the difficulties Dar Mullins has with an inter-space telephone operator, are pretty in-your-face.
We are not in any way saying that Space Marines is a "quality" movie, because it really isn't. But there are many levels of "good" and the movie does achieve several of them, particularly if you know that the flick you're watching is truly meant to be fun. It's quick and cheesy and entertaining, doesn't drag or dwell too much on any given plot point, gets more than enough giggles and easy laughs, and more than a couple of hearty ones. Space Marines is a kiddy film in adult clothing, and as such makes for an easy evening of entertainment with a joint and your kids.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...