Judge Jason Panella also has a killer jawline.
There are all kinds of killings. The best is American style.
Killing American Style is straight-up Z-grade trash, which means it's fairly amazing. This isn't in the same league as the top-tier nonsense of Psycho Kickboxer or Andy Sidaris's movies. Writer/director Amir Shervan's crown jewel Samurai Cop is also perfect in this way: it's so bad yet so good. Shervan's Killing American Style fails to live up to its predecessor's reputation, but there's enough idiotic fun here that you can overlook the sheer badness on hand.
Walking jawline Robert D'Zar (Maniac Cop) plays Tony Stone, a tough criminal with questionable recruitment criteria for his henchmen. After he and his goons pull off a heist at a surprisingly well-guarded ice cream truck depot, they're caught by Lt. Sunset (Jim Brown, The Dirty Dozen) and shipped off to the slammer. En route, Stone's brother—disguised as the most unconvincing woman ever—springs the gang and gets gut-shot for his efforts. In search of medical help, the bad guys invade the home of all-American badass John Morgan (kickboxer Harold Diamond, Hard Ticket to Hawaii). Morgan plays along with the criminals to save his family, but an all-American badass can only take so much before deciding to kill…American style.
After his exile from Iran, Shervan relocated to California and made five ultra-low budget action flicks. Two—Hollywood Cop and Samurai Cop—gained a cult following since their late-'80s release. For good reason, too; there's enough quality ineptness to fill a dozen lesser grade-Z flicks. Shervan made three other movies (Young Rebels, Gypsy, and Killing American Style) that have become rare, sought-after artifacts for trash cinema aficionados. Thanks to Cinema Epoch, these three films—starting with this one—are getting a DVD release.
Good thing. Let's look at all of the awesomeness you get with Killing American Style.
• Unintelligible Fight Scenes—There's a lot of killing (American style) in this movie, and most of it makes no sense. John Morgan beats a lot of people up; I'm guessing he's a wizard of some kind, though, since his hands and feet never seem to actually come close to bad dudes' faces. We get to see that Morgan is human, though, because he takes some lumps…and makes a high-pitched noise that sounds like a kid suffering from a stomach virus. You don't just get fisticuffs—there are plenty of gunfights in Killing American Style, most of them involving people popping out from cover and blasting away. (The victor is the one who can pop out and blast away last.) This sounds like typical crap action movie fare, sure, but the fight scenes are filmed with no clarity whatsoever. Which, of course, is wonderful.
• Script, Acting, Direction—When people aren't getting pummeled by sweet kickboxing moves, they're talking to each other. Or rather at each other. Most of the scenes in Killing American Style feel like they were written by someone who has never interacted with human beings before. Shervan also recycles tons of filming locations and brain-scorching dialogue from his previous movies ("Keep it warm, baby"), and the parade of one-liners land like wet washcloth. Most of the cast struggles to remember lines and, when they do, deliver them like they're halfheartedly giving a report in middle school. Jim Brown, the sole big name in the cast, seems consistently confused, which ends up yielding some comedy gold when his character visits a brothel to dig up some information on the escaped criminals.
To add to this, Shervan piles on one awkward direction choice after another. The camera lingers on the cast much longer than needed, resulting in lots of people standing around looking at each other for several excruciating seconds before a cut. He also likes to include reaction shots in the middle of exchanges of dialogue. So while Tony Stone is threatening people, the camera focuses on his goofy Gomer Pyle face-making sidekick.
• John Morgan: Badass Dad—John Morgan is a great dad. He takes his son to kickboxing practice and, after the son is bullied by another kid, proceeds to beat that kid's father into an unconscious sack of meat. John Morgan: awesome dad! Said father looks like a roadie for Mr. Mister, which is a bonus.
• Robert D'Zar—The man with the jaw is easily the best thing about this movie, and maybe the sole person in the cast who looks like he's having a good time. He screams most of his lines, and takes his shirt off as often as possible. After an uncomfortable love scene, Tony Stone's got the moxie to shoot at tons of cops while bellowing "What do you want from me?" Good question, Tony.
• All The Little Things—The Japanese Dr. Fuji, who is played by an actor who is definitely not Japanese. A motel named Motel. John Morgan's gaudy outfits, which look like they were stolen from Cher's tour bus. The sheer stupidity of Tony Stone's hoodlum crew. The "sexy auntie." The non-stop keytar solo of a score. And the list goes on and on.
So why isn't this the finest, most pure nugget of cinematic gold? The middle stretch of Killing American Style is dull beyond belief, and the unintentional humor in that section isn't enough to keep it interesting (something I doubt any amount of alcohol will fix, either). At about 100 minutes, the movie is way too long—if Shervan could've cut out one of the awful car chases and some of the repetitive home invasion scenes, it would've helped the movie immensely (regardless of how seriously you take the material). There's also a bit of misogyny in this stretch that goes too far. Look, I realize that gender equality was pretty lopsided in action movies from that era—I can recognize that and still love the cheese. Still, the scene in question here is one bit of nastiness too many. It doesn't ruin the movie for me, by any means, but it does take it down a notch.
Cinema Epoch does a nice job cleaning Killing American Style up for release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks good overall, though there are a few parts where the master's poor quality seeps through—there are a few brief moments that look like the screen is on fire. I wish I could say it was with awesomeness, but it's just a result of print damage. Still, Epoch did a great job of making this look good. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is pretty solid, too, especially when the synth score starts to smother you. For extras, there's an ultra-long slide show of other Epoch titles, and a 20-minute interview with actor Alex Virdon (who plays Stone's gut-shot brother) that touches on the magic of Shervan and his films (it's worth noting that the last few minutes of the interview are really just a computer-animated short made by Virdon. Watch at your own risk).
While Killing American Style isn't top-shelf cinematic scuz, it's pretty close. Dig in.
Not guilty, American style.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
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