Wednesday 28 December 2016


In many respects, this is a very convincing film: it’s a heist movie that leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve actually been robbed.

That’s right. Just check your watch at the end, and you’ll realise that those canny criminals from Takers (2010) have shamelessly robbed two hours of your life without so much as a please or thank you.

But that’s not even this movie’s biggest crime.

Oh, no. Not content with pilfering your hard-earned downtime, the film-makers have also brazenly nicked the entire plot from Michael Mann’s classic movie, Heat.

Now, that wouldn’t be a problem if Takers was a sizzling hot thriller. (Some of Exploding Helicopter’s favourite movies have been, ahem, a touch derivative. Yes, we’re looking at you, Firebirds.) Unfortunately, this low budget knock-off is little more than a lukewarm rehash of the original. They should have called it Reheated.

The plot

The story follows a group of gentlemen thieves who, when they’re not helping the poor and dispossessed (as most criminals are famously wont to do), execute elaborately staged robberies against high-value targets.

But as they plot their biggest ever payday, our merry band of outlaws find themselves pursued by a dogged cop who’s determined to bring them to book.

As the clock to the big job ticks down, we’re left wondering: will the Takers escape with the take, or will the Takers become the Taken? (At which point, Liam Neeson might well start issuing gravelly-voiced ‘Oirish’ threats on his mobile phone again. You know what he’s like about showing off his ‘special set of skills’.)

The cast

Idris Elba: "Give me the lead in a big film or I will shoot."
Given that Takers is a cheap, second tier enterprise, it’s no surprise to find that the cast is a curiously eclectic hodge-podge of nearly men and has-beens.

The dubious honour of topping the bill goes to Idris Elba, an actor for whom A-lister status remains frustratingly elusive. After justifiably coming to fame in The Wire, old Stringer Bell’s desperate efforts to elbow his way into the elite premier club have become increasingly painful to watch. And there’s literally nothing he won’t do achieve it.

Puppyishly eager to please, the aspiring star has deftly chiselled away at his own credibility with a series of unwise choices. In particular, he seems to think that any role in a big budget blockbuster is a good idea.

So he’s been a glorified doormen with a silly hat in Thor, an expendable extra in Prometheus and a tedious, cliché-spouting soldier in the execrable Pacific Rim. And who could forget his unrecognisable ‘blue muppet’ in last year’s Star Trek Beyond? Answer: everyone. (Note to Idris: There’s little point being in a film if the prosthetics mean no-one can actually see you).

Not content with these big banner bad choices, our Idris is also something of a cameo machine – with a peculiar weakness for schlocky horror pics such as Prom Night, The Reaping and 28 Weeks Later. (Complete-ists should also definitely check out his five-minute turn as a gangsta exorcism priest in ‘scary’ yawnfest The Unborn, a self-harming career choice so marked it almost counts as a cry for professional help.) And let’s not even get started on his tiresome campaign to be the next 007…

Joining the wannabe Bond in this movie are two other perennial B-listers: Paul Walker (whose pre-crash career consisted of action flicks even less memorable than the Fast & Furious series). And, wait for it: Hayden Christensen. Yes, the human balsa wood block who, in a spectacular feat of reverse alchemy, transformed an almost unprecedented career break in the Star Wars prequels into two Razzie Awards. (As Yoda might croak: “Truly terrible as an actor he is.”)

Matt Dillon: from Eighties nearly man to Noughties nobody
This unlikely trio are pitted against a resolute cop played by Eighties has-been Matt Dillon. With his immaculately chiselled cheekbones and soulful eyes, Matty oozed charisma in some of the decade’s touchstone films (Rumblefish, The Outsiders and Drugstore Cowboy). He was once even hailed as the best actor of his generation by no lesser figure than uber-film critic, Roger Ebert.

But perhaps, like the sensitive-type characters he typically played, the quiff-coiffured star didn’t quite have the mettle for the cut-throat world of a Hollywood career (where success is mostly enjoyed by robotically-driven sociopaths with the personality traits of an apex predator. Hi, Tom!). By the Noughties, Droopy-eyes Dillon’s slow descent into run-of-the-mill fare like Takers was well and truly under way. Still, it beats queuing at the job centre.

A lukewarm Heat

As Exploding Helicopter has already mentioned, Takers ransacks the plot of Heat – focussing on the ‘cat and mouse’ between the cops and robbers.

But while Heat gave us stunningly filmed LA cityscapes, a noir-tinged script, and superlatively staged action sequences, Takers instead splutters up epilepsy-inducing shakey-cam, cliché littered dialogue (“Just like old times!”) and derivate set pieces.

Such uninspired aping is bad enough, but it’s when Takers tries to be different that the problems really start.

Unlike Michael Mann’s deliberately chill portrayal of ruthless professionals, Takers desperately wants us to like the criminals. Cue awkward attempts at creating empathy.

Big Idris is given an entirely pointless sub-plot where he dutifully tries to help his drug-addicted sister. And there’s a hugely unconvincing scene where the gang divvy up the swag from their last robbery, only for Paul Walker to suddenly ask: “Ten per cent to the usual charities?” (See kids, they’re not all bad!)

The cast of Takers. Or possibly a crap Nineties boyband. 
But it’s during the central heist that the film’s bloody-minded determination to preserve the villains’ ‘good guy’ status reaches absurd levels. As their plan goes awry, our heroes find themselves locked in a gun battle with heavily armed security guards.

Despite standing just a few feet apart and spraying automatic weapons fire at each other, not one bullet hits a human form. It’s ridiculous. Star Wars’ famously target-shy Stormtroopers look like crack shots in comparison.

Exploding helicopter action

While the film blanches at depicting flesh and blood casualties, it’s fortunately not so squeamish when it comes to showing the fiery end of one of our favourite rotor-bladed friends.

Takers opens with our criminal brothers-in-arms robbing a jewellery store located on the upper floor of a skyscraper. To make their escape, Elba and his gang flee to the roof and commandeer a helicopter that, with credulity stretching convenience, just happens to have landed there.

After making their aerial getaway, our plucky anti-heroes abandon the chopper in a deserted car park. As they stroll away, one of the thieves triggers an explosive killing off the helicopter. Rest in pieces, whirlybird.

Artistic merit

Pretty good. The fuselage of a very realistic looking helicopter is blown-up without the need for any obvious digital effects. The explosion is nice and juicy with a soupcon of dramatic slow-motion. Nice.

Exploding helicopter innovation

As everyone knows, cool guys don’t look at explosions. So naturally, Elba and his gang studiously ignore the chopper fireball that erupts behind them as they slowly saunter towards camera.

We’ve seen this action movie cliché countless times before – the earliest one Exploding Helicopter has discovered is in Blue Thunder (1983). And more recently, The Expendables 3 kicked off with Sly, Stath and the rest walking away from a digital chopper explosion so terrible you almost expected to see an ‘Atari’ logo in the corner of the screen.

While we don’t object seeing this trope trotted out yet again, it would have been nice if director John Luessenhop given the scene an original twist somewhere.


Exploding Helicopter loves a good tagline (“In space no-one can hear you scream”; “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” etc). So it’s genuinely painful to encounter piss-poor examples of the marketing art. And Takers has some of the worst ever written.

There’s the meaningless: “Money doesn’t count.”

The feeble: “Taking theatres soon.”

And the unutterably mundane: “Everybody’s after something.”

One gets a very clear sense that, having watched the movie, the marketing team must have decided: Well, if even they couldn’t be arsed to put in any effort…

Review by: Jafo

Saturday 17 December 2016

Alone In The Dark

Given that notorious schlockmeister Uwe Boll recently announced his retirement from filmmaking, now seems an apt time to look back at what may be his most infamous film.

Adapted from a popular computer game series, Alone In The Dark (2005) was – like the rest of his unheralded cinematic canon - released to universal critical derision. Reviewers panned the terrible direction, incomprehensible story, shoddy special effects and awful acting.

Unsurprisingly, the film received a brutal thumping at the box office. And poignantly, the film’s title accurately described the audience experience for those few unhappy souls daft enough to actually traipse to a cinema and sit through this impenetrable merde.

Today, Alone In The Dark languishes in IMDB’s 100 worst movies list and has just a 1 per cent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But does it deserve its reputation as a bona fide stinker?

For reasons solely related to cataloguing an invented micro-genre of film, Exploding Helicopter sought to find out.

The plot

A paranormal investigator, Edward Carnby, hunts down artefacts belonging to a fictional Native American culture called the Abkani.

Carnby believes these objects hold the key to stopping sinister supernatural forces that are threatening the world. Not only that, the ancient artefacts could also unlock the secrets of his own mysterious childhood.

To achieve this goal, the psychic private eye must confront forces from another dimension, a shadowy government agency and most terrifyingly of all (at least in Exploding Helicopter’s experience of dating) his former girlfriend.

The cast

Christian Slater: karaoke Jack Nicholson
Our ghost-hunting hero is played by Eighties teen icon Christian Slater. Once upon a time, Young Cheeky Eyebrows was the mainstream star of cult favourites such as Heathers and True Romance.

However, he always was a one-trick pony, and his cloying karaoke-version-of-Jack-Nicholson routine inevitably started to wear on audiences. His ability to land plum roles also wasn’t helped by a string of drug, alcohol and assault convictions.

Still, one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain, and Junior Jack’s non-ringing phone meant he was available to lend the tarnished lustre of his talent to ‘paying gigs’ like Alone In The Dark. And while this won’t ever rank among the boy’s finest work, his smirking charm and mischievous air do admittedly give the often flaccid proceedings some much needed ‘watchability’.

The same cannot be said for his co-star, LA party girl turned actress, Tara Reid. Having made her name playing vacuous blondes (i.e herself) in teen comedies like American Pie and Van Wilder, the air-headed fembot was perhaps not the obvious casting choice as a brainy archaeological expert.

Those who manage to sit through the movie may not be entirely surprised to hear that young Tara’s turn resulted in a Razzie nomination. Flatly intoning her lines like a first-grader in French class, the Sharknado star proves singularly incapable of reacting to any of the events taking place around her.

Tara Reid trying to read her cue card
Whether she’s confronting life-threatening peril, learning the secrets of an ancient civilisation, or enjoying a bit of ‘how’s your father’ with Christian Slater, the blonde moppet maintains the same blank ‘where’s my cue card?’ expression throughout.

Elsewhere, Stephen Dorff (Blade, Immortals) gives a performance of workman-like competence. You get the sense that, among those used to grander roles, there was an on-set calculation that the sooner everyone did their job, the sooner everyone would be able to go home again and forget they ever appeared in this guff.

How bad is this?

Ah, we must all tread carefully here, friends. In the past, reviewing Uwe Boll’s work has proven to be dangerous business.

A few years ago, angered by so many negative reviews of his films, the prickly German challenged his worst critics to a boxing match, threatening them to either “put-up or shut-up”. (In a telling comment on the strength of their critical feeling, four journalists took up the challenge and fought the cranky kraut in a televised contest).

But even in the face of a pugilistic pummelling, this blog promises never to pull its critical punches. Exploding Helicopter will always give you a straight verdict straight (before quickly hiding behind a big lad and threatening to tell teacher).

Anyway, everything the critics say is true. The story really is a convoluted mess of impenetrable mumbo-jumbo. (Even Dan Brown - the patron saint of highfalutin nonsense – would be rolling his eyes at some of the unlikely japes on display here.)

The ‘special’ effects are anything but, and somehow worse than the graphics from the computer game which inspired the film. Many scenes are directed with staggering ineptitude (one supposed action scene sees Slater and Reid blaze away on machineguns at an enemy you never actually see).

Yet, for all those lamentable failings, Alone In The Dark just isn’t as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Exploding Helicopter has witnessed, and had the misfortune to review, far worse films. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Deadly Prey).

Never shy of self-publicity (self-released videos of the temperamental Teuton slagging off Michael Bay and Eli Roth went viral), Boll is really just a victim of his own inflated public profile. He may be the worst filmmaker you’ve heard of, but he’s not the worst filmmaker.

Hard though it may be to believe, many other film-makers are even worse – they’re just wise enough to stay in the shadows.

Exploding helicopter action

During the film’s climatic battle, Carnby and a team of soldiers have to fight a horde of otherworldly creatures. Luckily, a couple of helicopters are on hand to give aerial support to the embattled troops.

So that’s alright, then. But wait, what’s this? In an all too familiar mistake, the pilot - when will they ever learn? - flies too close to one of the supernatural animals. The beastie leaps into the air and grabs on to the tail of the chopper. The aircraft spins round clipping the second whirlybird, which then falls from the sky and explodes.

The first out-of-control whirlybird continues to spiral dangerously towards the ground. Finally, it crashes into the earth in front of the camera. But just before we get a chance to see a second explosion, the action cuts away.

Artistic merit

In a word, dismal. Boll completes fluffs the staging of this sequence, depriving us of the action we want to see.

In a directorial cheat, the helicopter that explodes drops out of the frame before a mushroom cloud of flame erupts back into shot.

It’s quite cool watching the second helicopter spin to its doom and crash right in front of the camera. It seemed a prime opportunity to deliver a close-up chopper fireball, but the special effects department must have considered if too much work. So in a huge anti-climax the action just cuts away. Outrageous.

Exploding helicopter innovation

That’s a negative.

Interesting fact

In 2015, Boll opened a restaurant in Canada called Bauhaus. The eatery has subsequently been awarded a Michelin star, making it the best reviewed project he’s ever been involved with.

Review by: Jafo

Monday 28 November 2016

Active Stealth

It’s a film buff’s favourite game: name that Baldwin.

You get thrown the name of a film and then have to guess which of the brothers Alec, William, Daniel and junior frère Stephen, it features.

It’s simple to play, but devilishly hard to get right. Not least because apart from senior sibling Alec, the rest of the Baldwin clan are as indistinguishable as their work is unmemorable.

Still, fear not, for Exploding Helicopter has a secret formula to help you win this quiz every time.

Don’t believe us? Well, let’s play a round in this review and use it to find out which Baldwin is the star of Active Stealth.

The plot

A drug cartel in the invented Central American country of San Sedros (presumably close to such other fictional creations as Commando’s Val Verde or Delta Force 2’s San Carlos) is flooding America with cheap cocaine.

Officially, the United States is powerless to act. But the niceties of international law have long been an optional extra for Uncle Sam, so instead they cook-up an off-the-books ‘black op’ to put the drug lords out of business.

Using a new, highly sophisticated fighter plane that’s invisible to radar, an elite team of Army Rangers are sent in to shut-down the narcotics operation.

Following the immutable laws of the action movie, the plan quickly goes tits up. All of which (if we may temporarily be permitted to use the vernacular of rap music) leaves our heroes ‘fightin’ to preserve their health, stop the drug barons buildin’ wealth, an’ tryna escape using Active Stealth’. Word.

The cast

Of course, none of this tomfoolery answers the pressing question of the day: which Baldwin is the star of Active Stealth? Not quite sure? Don’t have a monkey’s idea? Let Exploding Helicopter help you.

Daniel Baldwin and Fred Williamson
Whenever you’re faced with such a sticky conundrum, just ask yourself the following questions:

Have I seen it, and was it any good?

If the answer is yes, it's Alec.

Have I seen it, and was it mostly terrible?

If the answer is yes, it's Billy.

Have I heard of it, not seen it, but instinctively know it's bad?

That would be Stephen.

Does this look like something that couldn't afford a Baldwin, but tried anyway?

That's Daniel. The notional ‘star’ of this risible, direct-to-DVD action flick.

It’s true. Unquestionably, Danny is the dullest constellation in the Baldwin firmament.

While Alec (when he’s not stropping-off at photographers, airline stewardesses or indeed his own daughter) can exude a charismatic authority; Billy a wonky seductiveness; and Stephen a roguish danger, the only quality Daniel brings to his roles is confusion as the poor viewer tries to remember which Baldwin he is.

(Note for Baldwin completists: The which-brother recognition task is made even harder by the existence of Adam Baldwin, who despite possessing the sort of instantly forgettable CV that is the hallmark of the family, is not actually a Baldwin brother).

In Active Stealth, Danny Boy is cast as the leader of an elite squad of Army rangers. But his performance is betrayed by a generous paunch that suggests his military training involves more time with the dessert course than the assault course.

Filling out the cast, former American footballer turned thespian Fred ‘the Hammer’ Williamson (Black Caesar, From Dusk Til Dawn) does a turn as Baldwin’s grizzled, cigar-chomping commander. And one-time wrestling champion Terry Funk appears as a villainous muscle-bound henchman.

Daniel Baldwin: "I don't know if I can do this anymore,
jumping out of helicopters for Uncle Sam."
While the name may not be recognisable, the permed mullet will be familiar to all fans of cult Eighties classic Road House, in which the spandex-clad warrior had a memorable showdown with Patrick Swayze.

Haven’t I seen this all before?

As the action unfolds, viewers of Active Stealth will be forgiven for experiencing a strong sense of déjà vu.

In part, that’s due to the utterly formulaic nature of the ‘men on a mission’ plot. But it will also be as a result of the fact many viewers will literally have already seen this film – or at least parts of it.

That’s because owing to its low budget status much of the action has been lifted from other movies. Shots of a stealth fighter plane are lifted from another, equally terrible, DVD actioner: Black Thunder. A helicopter attack towards the end is nicked from Eighties cop movie Bulletproof.

And that explosion of an all-important military base? Stolen from Harrison Ford thriller Clear And Present Danger. Or in this case: Clear And Present Duplication.

Exploding helicopter action

After completing their mission, our escaping heroes are pursued by some of the drug lord’s goons who are aboard a Mil Mi-24 type attack helicopter. Things look very bad for a moment – after all, the chopper is bristling with heavy duty weaponry.

But in much the same way that any respectable gun-toting baddie, faced with a prone hero defenceless on the floor before them, will always find an implausible reason to let them get up again and ultimately kick their face in, so too do the helicopter goons have a sudden lapse of judgement.

Despite being equipped with enough devastating weaponry to wipe out a small town, the henchmen instead opt to fire a pea shooter-looking machinegun from the open door on the fuselage.

Which handily gives one of Baldwin's commando hombres, a pint-sized Mexican sidekick, plenty of opportunity to whip out a rocket launcher and blast it at the whirlybird. The missile streaks towards the aircraft which, inevitably, erupts in a gloriously huge explosion.

Confusingly, our Hispanic friend then delivers the puzzlingly Italian flavoured pay-off line: “Arrivederci, you bastard!”

All of which makes about as much sense as giving a steroid-inflated Austrian a bit of Spanish doggerel as a catchphrase. Hasta la vista, indeed.

Artistic merit

There’s a juicy aerial fireball when the missile first hits the chopper, and we get a second detonation when the flaming fuselage crashes to the ground.

But even before all that, there’s a nice shot of the gun-toting henchman flinching as he watches the incoming rocket and realises his fate.

All-in-all, the above-par helicopter explosion is a lot better than the rest of this uninspired film.

Favourite line

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, jumping out of helicopters for Uncle Sam.”

Interesting fact

Whilst Exploding Helicopter doesn’t want to trivialise drug addiction, we couldn’t help but be amused by this piece of trivia. In 1998, Daniel Baldwin was found running naked through the halls of New York's Plaza Hotel shouting "Baldwin!" and was arrested for possession of cocaine. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to three months in drug rehab.

Popular opinion holds that the 40-second CCTV clip of Danny flouncing down a hotel corridor, flaccid todger swinging, remains the most compelling work he’s committed to film. Like the Hoff’s sublime ‘eating burger off the floor while shit-faced’ clip, it suggests that some Hollywood D-listers can only truly ‘inhabit the character’ when their own character is inhabited by half a pound of coke and four bottles of hard liquor.

Review by: Jafo

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Hickey & Boggs

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the idea of Bill Cosby as a repellent sleazebag with an enthusiasm for drugging then groping women would’ve been unthinkable.

He seemed as cuddly and harmless to US audiences as Rolf Harris was to Brits. No, wait. As trustingly avuncular as that weather chap off This Morning. Hang on. As chucklingly innocent as Dave Lee Travis. Oh, sod it. You know what we mean.

Things went badly south for ‘America’s Dad’ a couple of years ago when scores of ignored but persistent women with strikingly similar sexual assault allegations, like brave little Lilliputians, brought the celebrity giant crashing down.

All of which makes Hickey & Boggs (1972) a fascinating curio. Especially as you may be more than a little weirded out to learn that Cosby’s character in Walter Hill’s buddy cop movie has a singular hobby – illicitly spying on people when they’re asleep. Who knows: maybe this is the flick that first gave him those alleged ideas.

The plot

Hickey and Boggs (Bill Cosby and Robert Culp) are two down-at-heel private investigators who are hired to find a missing woman.

It seems a routine job. But when the people they interview start turning up dead, the pair realise they’re pawns in a much bigger game. One that involves rival criminal gangs and the search for the missing loot from a big bank robbery.

With our heroes caught in the crossfire between warring gangsters and with the police content to blame them for the escalating body count, their quest becomes less about solving the mystery than simply finding a way to stay alive and stay in business.

The cast

The stars of the film are Robert Culp and everyone’s favourite comedian-cum-allegded-pharmacist Bill Cosby.

Here Cosby plays a depressed private investigator who likes to sneak into the home of his estranged wife so he can stare at his children whilst they’re asleep. So definitely not creepy.

The duo had previous worked together on the ground-breaking Sixties espionage series, I Spy (it was the first TV drama to feature a black actor in a lead role).

Robert Culp
Much of the series’ popularity rested on the easy chemistry between Culp and Cosby, who famously ad-libbed much of their dialogue. That easy rapport can be seen in this film. Culp certainly looks relaxed. Perhaps Bill fixed him one of his special cocktails we’ve heard about.

As for the supporting cast, it’s a veritable who’s who of reliable character actors: Jack Colvin (the dogged Jack McGee in The Incredible Hulk), Michael Moriaty (The Last Detail, Law & Order) and Vincent Gardenia (Death Wish). Not to mention Ed Lauter who it seems was contractually obliged to appear in every TV series filmed during the Eighties (Magnum, The A Team, Murder She Wrote, Automan, and The Equalizer to name but a few).

Eagled-eyed film fans should also keep an eye out for a disturbingly fresh-faced James Woods in what was only his second big-screen role. At the time, ‘Woody’ must have only been in his early twenties – which coincidentally is also the age of most of his present day girlfriends.

Is this any good?

Assuming you can put aside some of the casting issues, Hickey and Boggs is a great neo-noir. The genre has always been concerned with the darker side of humanity. But few entries in the canon are as bleak, or so utterly lacking in the possibility of redemption.

Our under-gunned and under-manned heroes survive shoot-outs and police harassment to make it through to the end of the film. But it’s not by dint of their own resourcefulness. Ultimately, it’s their insignificance to the more powerful forces around them that saves them.

As the pair cynically observe at the end of the film,
“Nobody cares.”
“Nobody came.”
“It’s still about nothing.”

Exploding helicopter action

At the end of the film the two competing groups of gangsters look to cut a deal over the missing loot.
They arrange a meeting on a deserted beach but, natch, one of the gangs plans a double cross. (In fairness, they are gangsters.) Machine gun-wielding henchmen arrive in a helicopter to wipe out their rivals. A gun battle breaks out, bullets fly and the chopper is inevitably damaged.

It spins around out of control and crashes into the sand. A fire breaks out on board as some of the crash survivors try to escape. But before they can clamber out of the wreckage, oh no…the helicopter explodes! Fiery death for unnamed characters ensues.

Artistic merit

This is an unexciting helicopter explosion. The confusion on board the damaged whirlybird is decently done but the lack of exterior shots betray the film’s lack of budget.

This scene also features the cardinal sin of low budget action movies - the off-screen crash. What? No money for special effects? Don’t worry, just don’t show a crash at all. No-one will notice! (Note to film-makers: EVERYONE notices.)

What we get here are a few frenzied interior shots as the ‘bird’ goes down followed by an incredibly brief glimpse of something approximating a helicopter fuselage, then a big non-descript explosion. Poor. Very poor.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None to report. The circumstances and method of destruction are very routine.

Favourite line

“I gotta get a bigger gun. I can’t hit anything.”

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Suicide Squad

‘If all our goodies are so bad, then maybe our baddies might turn out to be good..?’

This, clearly, must have been the thinking at DC Towers when they green-lit this movie. After the massive, almost global-level, raspberries that were blown at its recent Superman and Superman vs Batman movies, something had to be done. So the bigwigs at Marvel’s ailing rival decided to get down and dirty.

And undoubtedly, on paper Suicide Squad (2016) sounds like a great idea. Simply inject mini-bombs into the necks of a group of super baddies, then send them out to covertly tackle the obscenely hazardous jobs that nobody else can do. Brilliant! But the question is: by this point, is there any idea so good that DC can’t make a complete Horlicks of it?

The plot

With Superman presumed dead, impressively nasty government mandarin Amanda Wheeler has assembled a motley collection of proper wrong ‘uns to tackle any emerging super-powered threats.

The star of her embryonic team is the Enchantress, a polite young lady possessed by an incredibly powerful sixteenth century witch. But it’s okay because Wheeler has the witch’s heart locked in a sealed box, and so can control her. Until the witch steals her heart back within the first ten minutes and starts building a device that will destroy the world. (Though she’d better get a move on if she wants to beat Trump to it.)

The Suicide Squad are unleashed to tackle the new threat, without anyone pausing to acknowledge that their enemy is simply one of their own members gone to pot, the super baddie equivalent of a sacked burger chain worker pissing in the French fries. The stark fact is, if Wheeler hadn’t tried to form the Suicide Squad, the whole mess literally wouldn’t have happened. At source, this is an HR problem dressed up as an action movie.

The cast

First, the good news: the ladies own this movie. Both the bonkers Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and cold-as-ice Amanda Wheeler (Viola Davis) are terrific.

Will Smith, being Will Smith, of course insisted on his Deadshot character having a schmaltzy backstory (he’s a great dad, doesn’t hurt women and kids, quite the gentleman etc) that jars horribly with the rest of the movie. It’s fascinating how the former Fresh Prince, who in real-life literally worships an alien race of giant lizards – Hello, Scientology! – always ensures he plays grounded characters.

Then there’s Joker. During filming, Jared Leto apparently got into his villainous role by sending live rats and dead pigs to fellow cast members, and watching footage of real gangland killings.

All of which sounds a lot more interesting than anything he manages on screen. Admittedly, Heath Ledger’s titanic Joker performance, crystalized by his early death, was always going to be a tough act to follow. But Leto’s turn here, hammy and mannered without the remotest sense of threat, is pure panto. (Perhaps he should have remembered Laurence Olivier’s advice to that other method junkie, Dustin Hoffman: “My dear boy, why not just try acting?”)

Unsurprisingly, given that the rest of the Squad are each given roughly one-and-a-half lines to establish their character, they remain cardboard cut-outs.

Is this movie any good?

Not according to Rotten Tomatoes, which gave the movie a measly 26 per cent. However, Exploding Helicopter suspects that, after the turgid Man of Steel and the unending torture of Batman vs Superman, critics had already decided that the next DC movie was due for a good kicking.

This seems a mite unfair. True, Suicide Squad is crass, simplistic and dangerously uneven, and nicks ingredients from better movies with grave abandon. But there are some good performances and it rollocks along at such an entertaining pace that there’s not time to consider how duff it all really is.

Exploding helicopter action

There are three helicopter crashes in Suicide Squad, though only the second one actually results in an explosion. It happens when a freshly rescued Harley Quinn is smooching Joker on the opened back ramp of a military chopper. Suddenly a missile hits the front of the craft and Harley, back-flipping out on to the roof of a building below, lands in time to momentarily see the flaming craft hurtling earthwards before it disappears behind another skyscraper. Oh, no! Will Joker survive? Yes.

Artistic merit

Precious little. A standard CGI explosion, at night (always a cop-out), followed by a quick shot of the flaming craft going out of sight. This is seriously middling stuff.

Exploding helicopter innovation.

Nada. Niet. Zero. None.

Non-exploding helicopter action

The sorry spectacle of the weak explosion is partially redeemed by the two non-exploding crashes, which once more prove right a pet theory of Exploding Helicopter – that it is technically impossible for a named character to be killed, or even seriously hurt, by a chopper smash, no matter how catastrophic it looks.

Early on, a chopper carrying the whole Suicide Squad is hit by gun-fire. Hurtling fifty feet towards the ground, it crashes onto a concrete city street then rolls over at high speed around seventeen times. There’s even an internal shot of our heroes bouncing around inside, like an old pair of trainers in a washing machine.

Of course, the actual result of such a crash would be smashed bones, cracked heads, massive internal hemorrhage and across the board deadness. But naturally, this being an action movie, everyone emerges without a scratch. Harley Quinn even gets to say: “That was fun!”

Later in the film, a helicopter containing Suicide Squad Svengali Amanda Wheeler (basically the Simon Cowell of super villain groups, only not so vindictive) is smashed out of the sky and totally wrecked. Naturally, everyone else aboard the craft is rendered either dead or unconscious, but our Mandy’s tip-top and strutting around the place again within minutes.

Favourite line

Spoken by a prison guard, as Deadshot holds a gun to his head: “Ames, If this man shoots me, I want you to kill him and I want you to go clear my browser history.”

Review by: Chopper

Saturday 20 August 2016

The Towering Inferno

No film genre is more synonymous with the Seventies than the disaster movie. (Well, apart from hairy porn movies.)

Beginning with Airport’s aviation perils in 1970, the decade saw Hollywood gamely trying to wipe out great swathes of humanity on a regular basis. Barely a week went by without some grim-faced thesp having to face an earthquake, volcano, avalanche, capsizing cruise ship, meteor or even swarm of killer bees.

But while each terrifying threat may have been different (not to mention increasingly outlandish), the formula the films employed was uncannily similar.

It invariably involved pitting a couple of big name actors against an exaggerated catastrophe, while a cast of once-famous Tinsel town stars (whose dimmed lustre handily made them both affordable and expendable) tried to stay alive until the closing credits.

Looking back, it’s hard to understand audiences’ enthusiasm for seeing silver screen luminaries meet a grisly fate. But there is no better example of this curious phenomena than The Towering Inferno (1974), a film which sets out with the sole aim of serving up some prime chargrilled celebrity.

The plot

As the world’s tallest skyscraper is officially opened, a select group of distinguished guests enjoy a lavish party on the 83rd floor.

Unbeknown to them, cost-cutting and shoddy workmanship during the construction has turned the tower into a glorified death-trap. (Presumably, Donald Trump was involved in the process.) So when a fire breaks out, the guests find themselves stuck on the upper floors with little chance of escape.

Who will live and who will die? Or, in this case, fry.

The cast

The Towering Inferno features not one, but two of the era’s most notable leading men.

Twinkly-eyed charmer Paul Newman plays the architect of the sky-scraping death-trap, while moody scowler Steve McQueen plays the fireman leading the rescue operation.

McQueen and Newman: The Towering Egos
The pair’s flinty onscreen relationship (“You fighting me or the fire?” asks Newman at one point) powers much of the film. Intriguingly, it also mirrored what was happening off-screen.

Both men saw themselves as the film’s biggest star and demanded top billing on the film. It seemed as if there was no solution until producers hatched a cunning compromise.

Famously, McQueen’s and Newman’s names are arranged diagonally across the posters and opening credits.

It may have looked like a typesetting error, but it meant that both actors could claim their name appeared first - depending if you were reading from left-to-right, or from top-to-bottom. Phew!

Inevitably, the petty squabbling didn’t stop there. After counting his lines of dialogue, McQueen discovered that Newman had 15 more than him. This prompted the self-styled ‘King of Cool’ to insist that the screenwriter write half a page of new lines for him.

Never mind Infernos, this movie was more a case of The Towering Egos.

They were expendable

Of course, the true pleasure in these films is seeing which of the expensively assembled cast of stars will get to live and who will perish. (In this respect, the Seventies disaster genre foresaw the rise of countless ‘who’s-next-for-the-chop’ reality shows, such as Big Brother. The key difference is that audiences then didn’t have to suffer some Geordie berk saying: ‘Steeeeve’s gaun tae the diiiiia-ry roooooom’ every three minutes.)

But we digress. Back in 1974, an ageing William Holden, playing the shambolic tower block’s owner, seems a sure bet for some barbecue treatment. You can almost smell the mustard sauce on him. But despite being largely to blame for the disaster, he ultimately shows sufficient contrition to secure ‘humbled survivor’ status. Result.

Richard Chamberlain: Richard
by name, Dick by nature
No such luck for dastardly Richard Chamberlain. As the electrical engineer responsible for the dodgy wiring that actually caused the fire, you’d think he might show just a twinkle of remorse – but not a bit of it. Instead, Tricky Dicky spends most of the movie hurling out insults and getting increasingly shit-faced.

So when a rescue chair winch is set up and Chamberlain, in the process of forcibly skipping the queue, callously kicks several other guests to their death (including – gasp! – the Man From Uncle’s brylcreem smoothie, Robert Vaughan) you know the bells are tolling.

Sure enough, a fortuitously-timed ‘sudden’ explosion blasts out the winch, breaks the rope and sends dastardly Dicky plunging to his death.

And still the stars keep coming. Former Fifties heartthrob Robert Wagner turns up briefly as a sleazy PR man who’s having a secret affair with his secretary. After a sweaty tryst in his office, the pair find themselves trapped by the encroaching fire.

With a fiery doom fast approaching, Wagner makes a kamikaze dash for help. We later learn it was a forlorn effort when the remains of his charred watch are discovered. But the film never resolves the fate of his girlfriend.

Still it wouldn’t be the only time Wagner left a woman to die in mysterious circumstances. Just ask Natalie Wood.

Perhaps the most undignified death is saved for screen legend Jennifer Jones. An Oscar-winning star of the Forties and Fifties (Duel In The Sun, A Song For Bernadette), Jones was coaxed out of

retirement for the role of a wealthy widower who is being courted by a charming conman played by Fred Astaire.

But just as their delicately handled romance blossoms, our Jenny is unceremoniously bumped off. In an ineptly staged scene, with absolutely zero sense of occasion, she simply tumbles from a damaged elevator like a piece of luggage.

Worse, nobody shows the slightest reaction to this supposed tragedy. The impression given to the audience is that, in a movie stuffed with so many competing egos and such bloated self-regard, the bigger stars were unwilling to even ‘act’ upset for the cinematic demise of such a faded name.

Poor Jenny. It’s hard to think of a more inelegant or ungraceful way for an actor to exit a film, or indeed a career. Jones never acted again. And Exploding Helicopter doesn’t blame her.

Exploding helicopter action

After a credulity-stretching amount of time, someone finally (finally!) has the idea using a helicopter to evacuate the partygoers from tower’s roof.

But in keeping with the plot’s many anti-escape contrivances (blocked stairwells, faulty alarm systems) a high wind conspires to make the air rescue a dangerous endeavour.

Sure enough, as the first helicopter comes into land, a couple of over-keen party guests run straight out onto the landing pad – literally where the chopper’s about to land – for reasons that remain unclear to this day. The pilots try to avoid crushing the people below, but the aircraft is caught in a gust of wind and crashes into the roof, exploding instantly.

Burn baby, burn. It’s a chopper inferno.

Artistic merit

Not a lot of this scene makes sense. Where have these gale force winds suddenly sprung from? What made the chopper explode instantly like that? Why were the idiot guests throwing themselves on to the landing pad in the first place?

Don’t waste any precious brain cells trying to work this lot out. Clearly, the scene’s only purpose is to put the helipad out of commission for the rest of the film.

Still, the explosion does produce a nice, juicy, fuselage-consuming fireball. But one qualm: we only get to glimpse it briefly before the action moves back inside the building.

This is strange. Given that The Towering Inferno is a big budget blockbuster – almost exclusively dedicated to blowing stuff up and burning things – shouldn’t the producers want to dwell a bit on such a magnificent sight as a flaming chopper?

Generally, yes. But in this case, perhaps the director understood just how creaky and convoluted the circumstances of the helicopter’s destruction were – and opted to whizz through the scene before anyone had time to realize how bonkers it all was.

Exploding helicopter innovation

There’s nothing new in the manner or execution of this chopper fireball, but the location is fairly distinct. The only other film where Exploding Helicopter has seen a helicopter destroyed at the top of a tower block is Die Hard (1988).

Favourite line

After sniffing some smoke one hopelessly optimistic tower worker asks: “Did you leave a cigarette burning?”

Interesting fact

Desperate to capture a truly surprised reaction from the cast, Irwin Allen actually fired a handgun into the ceiling without warning the actors, who were understandably ‘surprised’. The trick worked and he got his shot.

Review by: Jafo

Thursday 28 July 2016


Ever felt like you’ve seen a film before?

Usually that nagging sense of déjà vu is just a trick of the imagination. A product of inspiration-lite directors regurgitating the ideas of other, invariably better, movies.

But when Exploding Helicopter watched Epicenter (2000) that feeling of familiarity was no mental illusion. Most viewers really had seen this film before.

That’s because Epicenter is a bona fide Franken-movie. No joking, folks. It genuinely has been made from large chunks of other movies, which have then been clumsily stitched together with a few original scenes.

And like the mad doctor’s ghastly creation it’s ugly to look at, lumbers along slowly, and deserves to be put out of its misery.

The plot

Nick Constantine is the disgruntled employee of a Los Angeles technology company. But rather than do what the rest of us would – ie. skive around on Facebook all day and loiter in the staff kitchen moaning about Barry from Accounts – he instead steals their plans for a top secret weapon.

We know: it sounds fool proof. But just as Nasty Nick is about to flog the blueprints to a group of shady mafia types, he’s arrested by a saucy undercover FBI agent. D’oh.

It looks like our boy is heading straight for the slammer until another entirely believable development occurs: a devastating earthquake suddenly strikes LA, destroying buildings and roads, and knocking out all communications.

With the city in chaos, the cop and the criminal somehow find themselves being hunted by illegal arms dealers and rogue CIA agents who all want the super-weapon’s specs.

So: a secret weapon, FBI, mafia, massive earthquake, rogue CIA agents and arms dealers – and all this happens within the first 20 minutes. In case you were wondering, this is not a Ken Loach movie.

Who’s in this?

Traci Lords: used to going down for her work
In the role of the heroic FBI agent we have the *ahem* legendary Traci Lords. Now the name may not be immediately familiar, but she was once the highest paid, most in-demand actress in the film business.

Or, to be more exact, the pornographic film business.

It’s true. In the mid-Eighties Madame Lords was the lonely man’s masturbatory fantasy of choice, starring in such seedily titled fare as New Wave Hookers, Black Throat and the pun-tastic Beverly Hills Copulator.

Unfortunately, the Princess of Porn’s reign ended in infamy when her real age was discovered. Turns out our Traci was barely 18, meaning her entire oeuvre had been made whilst she was a minor.

The ensuing scandal threw the adult entertainment industry into crisis and saw Lords herself arrested – although by this point in her career our Traci was probably used to going down for her work.

Her co-star is martial arts nearly-man Gary Daniels. He plays the criminal computer nerd Lords must bring to justice.

The Brit-born kickboxer was a B-movie action star during the Nineties. But unlike messrs Seagal and Van Damme, he never made the jump to top tier fare.

The problem was that Daniels could only really do one thing: beat people up. His thespian abilities were as wooden as the bokken sticks he routinely used to batter opponents.

Gary Daniels: transformed from action star to computer
geek simply by wearing glasses
And let’s face it: when someone’s watching Big Steve’s movies and thinking ‘I just wish I had such range…’, you know they’re in trouble.

All of which makes his casting here rather puzzling. Gazza’s role as a nerdy techno boffin almost by definition requires him to not crack any heads together, so we’re left watching the acting chops of a man who can only do karate chops. It’s like casting Timothy Spall as the lead in a martial arts cage-fighting movie. What on earth were they thinking?

And be warned: while his fellow actors were no doubt relieved to not be getting kung fu kicked in the gonads, for the audience this is still a very painful experience indeed.

Déjà vu

Let’s cut to the chase (or more accurately, cut to someone else’s chase): Epicenter lifts entire scenes from other movies.

Some examples: early in the film, there’s a sequence where a car chases an out of control trolley car. You might enjoy it if you hadn’t previously watched Eddie Murphy’s risible action comedy Metro (1997), where it first appeared. You can even see Murphy’s gurning face inside the vehicle.

Once the earthquake hits, destruction is wrought upon Los Angeles in spectacular big-budget style. Unfortunately, Epicenter’s budget barely stretched to Traci’s upholstered bras, so what you see are clips from other movies.

Those three characters trapped inside a damaged building, where the elevator fails and crashes? Hello, Speed (1994). That impressive subway crash? Hmmm, looks like Money Train (1995) Even the footage of the earthquake ripping buildings apart is nicked from The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake (1990) (TV Movie).

Ironically for a film about an earthquake, the shakiest aspect is the actual veracity of what you’re seeing.

Exploding helicopter action

But here’s a surprise! The exploding helicopter action appears to actually be an original sequence.

Pursued by corrupt government agents who are aboard a helicopter, Lords and Daniels take shelter inside a quake-damaged building. While the gunmen on the whirlybird try to shoot down the doughty FBI agent (who, in fairness, presents two almost unmissable targets), Daniels sneaks onto the roof of the building.

Grabbing a piece of broken masonry, Daniels hauls if over the side of the roof. The rubble plunges downwards into the rotor blades of the chopper. The damaged aircraft flies into the side of the building and then falls to the ground, where it explodes.

Artistic merit

In keeping with the film’s shoddy tone, this is a lamentable chopper fireball. The explosion looks unrealistic and the fuselage doesn’t disintegrate nearly enough to satisfy ardent chopper fireball fans.

Exploding helicopter innovation

However, there is a refreshing simplicity to this whirlybird conflagration. We’ve seen helicopters destroyed in all sorts of convoluted ways, but never by someone just dropping a bloody big rock on it.

It’s unsophisticated, but oddly satisfying.


‘Las Vegas is about to become beach front property.’ Ho, ho.

Review by: Jafo

Wednesday 25 May 2016

The Siege Of Firebase Gloria

“No dumb bastard ever won a war by dying for his country,” said the notoriously blunt General George S Patton. “He won by making some other dumb bastard die for his.”

If ever a war movie embodied this famous remark, it’s The Siege Of Firebase Gloria (1989). During 99 blood-soaked minutes, we follow a small group of soldiers as they shoot, stab, garrotte and strangle a seemingly inexhaustible supply of enemy extras.

There are no stirring heroics. No rousing patriotic speeches. And certainly no examination of the conflict’s causes or consequences. Just the cold, efficient butchery skills of men killing other men. Watching it, General Patton would’ve been wiping a sentimental tear from his eye.

The plot

It’s the Vietnam War. Inevitably, a small patrol of marines are trapped behind enemy lines as the Vietcong launch a major offensive. So far, so Platoon, you might think. But if it’s jingoistic clichés and slo-mo heroics you’re after, look elsewhere. This movie ends up looking more like a military snuff tape.

The story is simplicity itself. With no other route of escape, the soldiers have to make for a remote, undermanned, and largely undefended Army outpost called Gloria.

The base is quickly surrounded by ‘Charlie’. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, our heroic ‘band of brothers’ resolve to fight a desperate battle to the death. And that’s it, really. It’s not called The Siege Of Firebase Gloria for nothing.

Who’s in this?

Wings Hauser and R Lee Ermey
As veterans of the Vietnam War movie genre will know, marines in these films always have to be commanded by a tough-as-nails, take-no-shit, sergeant. (Think Sean Penn in Casualties of War or Tom Berenger in the aforementioned Platoon).

And in this hallowed gang of men, no actor has shown more nail-hardiness – nor more firmly refused ordure of any kind– than that grizzled, mean, king of ornery: R Lee Ermey. (Of course, it helps that Ermey actually was a bona fide sergeant back in ‘nam – he served in ‘the Corp’ for 11 years – before finding fame with a film-stealing turn in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.)

And that’s the difference, really. Good as Sean Penn was in Casualties of War, you know that between scenes he was probably sat in a penthouse trailer holding conference calls about endangered pandas with the Dalai Lama and Bono, or screaming for an espresso with the sugar stirred anti-clockwise NOW!

But when Ermey delivered his memorably foul-mouthed turn as drill instructor Sergeant Hartman in Kubrick’s Eighties classic, he wasn’t even really acting. He merely reprised the parade ground bollockings he’d dished out to thousands of raw recruits. (Trivia fact: Ermey actually wrote or improvised his own dialogue in the film).

Since then old R. Lee has, with military discipline, reprised his trademark boggle-eyed shouting and swearing shtick in more than 100 films (much like Al Pacino, only without the Oscars and critical plaudits). And true to form, in Firebase Gloria the perma-enraged sergeant regularly unleashes an ungodly amount of guttural insults at decibel-shattering volume.

But it gets even better. Also in the cast is Wings Hauser, the cult star of such straight-to-video classics as The Art Of Dying, Reason To Die and L.A Bounty, as Ermey’s gung-ho – and ever so slightly unhinged – second in command.

Throughout the film, Wings displays a worrying enthusiasm for machine-gunning ‘dinks’ (as they’re charmingly referred to) at every opportunity. It’s meant to portray patriotic fervour, but more readily suggests an urgent need for psychiatric care.

Cometh the hour, cometh R Lee Ermey

With thousands of kill-crazy gooks launching relentless assaults, the situation for Ermey and his dwindling group of troops couldn’t be grimmer. Morale and ammunition are in equally short supply.

Recognising this moment of crisis, Ermey realises that a rousing pep talk is needed. An inspirational cri de Coeur that will stiffen the resolve of his wavering men. Perhaps something akin to the stirring poetry of the ‘Once more unto the breach’ speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Or of course, he could just scream and bawl about how shit they all are while holding on to the severed heads of two of their fallen comrades, dangling from his fingers like some ghastly giant’s testicles.

“Anyone know who these belong to?” asks the puce-faced sergeant, swinging the freshly hewn noggins of the two now very much ex-marines.

“This is Corporal Miller,” he continues. “He’s dead. I don’t have any respect for Corporal Miller anymore, because he allowed his troops to relax. They let their guard down for five fucking minutes, and Charlie took advantage. Look at ‘em, goddamnit. Stay alert, stay alive. It’s as simple as that.”

Now, Exploding Helicopter is no expert on such matters but it’s a fair guess the above probably wasn’t delivered in iambic pentameter. But then again, when did Shakespeare’s plays ever serve up a flame-challenged whirlybird? Speaking of which…

Exploding helicopter action

So, the exploding helicopter. Early in the film, the good sergeant’s squad are being flown in a chopper towards the Gloria firebase. As they approach to land, they come under machinegun fire from hidden VC soldiers. The pilot is killed forcing Ermey, ever the take-charge guy, to land the damaged whirlybird.

The prospect of imminent chopper conflagration satisfaction is signalled when someone yells: “I can smell fuel.” Everyone is ordered out, and as they jump clear the helicopter explodes. Kaboom.

Artistic merit

This is a glorious helicopter explosion. It doesn’t look like any expense was spared on the pyrotechnics. The fireball is truly huge and features the kind of rich, orangey hues that only come from burning a considerable amount of gasoline.

Clearly impressed by his own special effect, the director treats us to multiple replays of the explosion. It’s a fireball feast for the eyes.

Favourite line

R Lee Ermey obviously gets the choicest bits of dialogue in this movie, and gets to deliver this particular gem in his own inimitable way: “It’s time to sprinkle some shit on Charlie’s rice.”

Review by: Jafo

Monday 4 April 2016

Police Story 3: Supercop

It’s hardly a secret that actors drive directors crazy.

Highly strung and unreliable, actors turn up late, say the wrong lines, have furious rows with other cast members and whinge about not being able to ‘find’ their character.

Unquestionably, directors have it tough. But even still, let’s spare a special thought for poor Stanley Tong, the man responsible for ensuring Jackie Chan made it to the end of Police Story 3 with an intact pulse.

Because troublesome as they are, most actors tend not to end scenes with actual teeth kicked in, eyebrow bones broken, arms slashed by real swords that were meant to be blunted, or broken vertabraes.

Your general thesp almost certainly will not get all the skin burned off their hands by sliding 80 feet down an electrified pole. And you can almost guarantee they won’t dislocate their pelvis: an injury considered medically impossible until Jackie gamely sported the look.

Nor (Exploding Helicopter’s personal favourite) is your run-of-the-mill board-treader likely to sustain an impact so hard during filming that part of their skull cracks and shoots up into the brain, necessitating eight hours of surgery.

Welcome to the world of making a Jackie Chan movie. Please check your health insurance.

The background

At the height of his powers in the mid-Eighties, Jackie Chan wrote, directed, and starred in a pair of chop-socky cop thrillers, the imaginatively titled Police Story and Police Story 2.

While those films were high on kung fu action and slapstick comedy, they were sadly low on budget and exploding helicopters.

But when the martial arts maestro returned for a third film, he sought to correct those flaws in spectacular style. Police Story 3: Supercop (1992) is an altogether more ambitious film.

The shanty town settings of the previous films are gone, replaced with an action story that sweeps through Hong Kong, China, Thailand and Malaysia. The series’ trademark stunts have been pushed to even crazier, death-defying levels. And chopper fireball fans finally get the whirlybird pyrotechnics they’ve so desperately craved.

The plot

Chan Ka-Kui works for the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. But don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s an ordinary cop. Oh, no: despite being about four foot two and wearing a smiley, slightly vacant expression, he's a ‘supercop’.

This, after all, is the man who previously used his bare hands to chop crime syndicates in two and deal a death blow to terrorism. (That he also sustained an impressive laundry list of real-life serious injuries, breaks and concussions while filming these heroics is, of course, quite incidental.)

So when the Hong Kong police launch a joint operation with China to take down an international drug cartel, Ka-Kui is the only man for the job. And he really is the only man, because Ka-Kui’s partner from the Chinese police is a woman. (I know: they’ll be letting them vote next).

Who’s in this?

Jackie Chan returns to the role of Chan Ka-Kui (or ‘Kevin’ if you’re watching the dubbed version).

Given the higher budget, Wee Jackie decided to also ramp up the almost-certain-death quotient of his showpiece stunts for this movie. But weirdly, the shoot turned out to be pretty quiet by his standards. He only suffered a broken shoulder, fractured rib, deep bruise on his back and dislocated cheek bone. The big softy.

Police Story 3 happily sees the return of action vixen Maggie Cheung as May, Ka-Kui’s long-suffering girlfriend. And after chortle-worthy turns in the last two films, Bill Tung also returns as manipulative police chief Bill ‘Uncle’ Wong. (Insert own ‘Two Wongs don’t make a…’ gag here.)

Michelle Yeoh plays the Chinese police inspector partnered with Chan to crack the case. Typically, this type of team-up would see our hastily thrown together heroes irritate each other to breaking point, before suddenly realising they actually fancy each other daft and bumping uglies.

This, though, is more of a chaste affair. While there’s some playful banter between the two leads, their relationship remains strictly professional and plutonic.

All of which stands in stark contrast to Yeoh’s experience a few years later, when she signed up to fight crime alongside 007.

In Tomorrow Never Dies, the unfortunate Yeoh was subjected to the amorous attentions of Pierce Brosnan, then in the midst of turning the Bond character into a spy equivalent of that pervy uncle at a wedding who clasps all the teenaged bridesmaids too tightly round the waist: ‘My, how you’ve grown’.

(And never forget: Tomorrow Never Dies also features the old Oirish smoothie archly delivering the sub-Carry On film groaner: “You always were a cunning linguist.) Still, while the Bond/Yeoh coupling was as unnecessary as it was inevitable, at least old Brozzer was knobbing someone vaguely his own age for once.

Mercifully, in Supercop, Chan is kept too busy kicking literally every other male character in the goolies to stop for a snog. And that means Yeoh – not to mention the viewer – is spared any leering one-liners and crude innuendo.

Was this a sequel too far?

The first two instalments of Police Story were comparatively low-budget affairs which relied on Chan’s chop-socky prowess and gift for light comedy to sell the package to viewers. This time, though, it’s all about the action.

From the destruction of a military camp in Thailand to a high-octane chase through the streets (and skies) of Kuala Lumpur, all the set-pieces are ambitiously staged and executed. And the finale, which sees Chan and Yeoh really, truly battling villains atop a speeding train – no CGI bollix here – is rightly hailed a classic.

(Just watch the outtakes at the end to see how insanely dangerous this sequence was for the actors to film. There’s a surreal scene where wee Jackie starts to genuinely fall off the hurtling train, only to be grabbed in the nick of time by one of his ‘baddie’ co-stars. The wee man just raises his eyebrows and giggles, as if to say ‘Wot larks!’ instead of ‘Jesus-Fucking-Christ-I-was-a-split-second-from-being-decapitated-there’.)

The introduction of Michelle Yeoh’s character also gave the film a new dimension. Intelligent and professional, her Inspector Yang character contrasts nicely with Chan’s well-meaning, but slightly tittish Ka-Kui. As a Chinese philosopher might observe, Chan is the Yin to her….. well, you get the idea.


While Supercop boasts more explosive action than a Chinese New Year fireworks display, it comes at the expense of the roustabout comedy that had previously given the franchise so much of its charm.

In the first two movies, Ka-Kui’s dysfunctional relationships with his superiors (and his perennially-wronged girlfriend) were always good for a corny guffaw or two. But cramming in all that action has obviously left precious little room for light-hearted banter and as a result all the talky scenes have a stilted, perfunctory air.

Most disappointingly still, the movie’s villains – previously a rich seam of derisory incompetence and slapstick tomfoolery – are here played straight as a die. And dull as dishwater.

Exploding helicopter action

With Chan and Yeoh closing in on the roof of a tall building, the villains attempt to make their getaway in a helicopter. (Little known fact: 67 per cent of all helicopter journeys in films are made by baddies making an ill-fated attempt at escape. Oh, okay: Exploding Helicopter just made that up.)

Not to be stopped, Chan jumps off the vertiginous building onto a rope ladder that is still conveniently dangling from the chopper. The pilot tries to shake off our little hero by bashing him repeatedly through a series of advertising boards, but he doesn’t budge.

And why would he? This, after all, is a man who survived filming the lamentable crime caper The Tuxedo with Jennifer Love-Hewitt. This is the brave, brave soul who endured several scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger playing an Arabian Prince (‘I ahm der Eas-dern Prinzz’) in Around the World in 80 Days. There is simply no punishment he cannot take.

Spotting an approaching train, the pilot tries to rid himself of the pesky Chan by swinging him like a conker into the onrushing locomotive. But with some artful gymnastics, Wacky Jackie avoids a splatty demise and ends up atop one of the train carriages.

Meanwhile, the trailing rope ladder gets caught up in the workings of the locomotive. Unable to fly away, the villains have no choice but to land the whirlybird on top of the train.

Naturally, a Hong Kong fist-fight breaks out between Chan and the bad guys, which is probably why no-one notices an approaching steel-girded bridge. Sure enough, the chopper smashes into the ironwork and promptly ignites.

As they used to say at British Rail: ‘Let the train take the strain.’

Artistic merit

At this point in the movie, the helicopter has already made a number of tantalising appearances. And of course, any fool knows there’s only one reason for a chopper to be in an action movie – so in cinema terms, it’s been showing a bit of leg and flashing its cleavage for quite a while now.

By the time it finally lands precariously atop a speeding train, helicopter conflagration enthusiasts – rubbing their thighs and panting for some hard action – are literally gagging for some blessed release.

Fortunately, director Stanley Tong duly obliges with a nice, bejazzling explosion. Though he doesn’t linger nearly long enough on the chopper wreckage: the big chopper-tease.

Exploding helicopter innovation

To the casual viewer, this train-related chopper fireball might appear unique. But exploding helicopter scholars will already know that there’s actually a surprising number of them.

See Broken Arrow, Derailed, Lasko: Death Train or Blue Thunder. And perhaps most spectacularly, Mission Impossible. (Although that movie is certainly sullied by the presence of CGI.)


Meet the cop that cannot be stopped!

Interesting fact

This film includes “probably the greatest stunts ever filmed in any movie ever.” Those aren’t Exploding Helicopter’s words, but those of no lesser an authority than Quentin Tarantino.

That wasn’t the view of judges at the Hong Kong Film awards though, who gave that year’s best action choreography gong to Once Upon a Time in China II. Boo!

Review by: Joe

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Big Ass Spider

Big Ass Spider is the moving tale of a young Yiddish girl struggling with her own sexual awakening in a nineteenth century Polish village beset by stringent gender codes.

Okay, no it’s not. It’s a big dollop of crass, in-yer-face, made-for-cable, creature-feature mayhem. A film in which a vaguely convincing CGI spider performs all kinds of merry anarchy, while indulging every monster movie cliché on the list.

Our heroes, it turns out, are a cross-cultural comedy pairing. The film takes place, inevitably, in downtown Los Angeles. There’s even a King Kong-lite showdown atop a tower. And before you ask, yes, there is a scene where lots of pneumatic bikini-clad women run (and bounce) away in terror from the angry arachnid.

Exploding Helicopter won’t spend too much time explaining what happens in Big Ass Spider (2013). Anyone who has already seen one of the plethora of giant-sized creature movies (where, as a rule, the only small components are the budget and the leading men’s resumes) will already know what kind of intellectual territory we’re in.

So, the only sensible questions to ask are: can Big Ass Spider spin a diverting yarn? Will you be caught up in a densely woven web of thrills? And does the story have enough legs?

The plot

Near-future Earth has been hit by a global food crisis. We’re all doomed! Faced with global catastrophe, scientists attempt to solve the extinction-level threat by combining a sample of extra-terrestrial DNA with…a tomato. I’m sorry: a what with a what?

(Presumably, the scriptwriter was on the wacky baccy while writing this particular scene. Or he had guessed, correctly, that the demographic audience for his film wouldn’t be paying a blind bit of notice until the big, hairy spider came along.)

As it turns out, the boffins’ grand plans to create a super-salad go disastrously wrong when a spider is accidentally caught up in the experiment.

Infused with Martian genetic code, the eight-legged mutant quickly grows to a prodigious size and begins a homicidal rampage across Los Angeles.

With the web-weaving menace running amok, the fate of the city falls to two unlikely heroes: a jovial pest-exterminator and a wise-cracking hospital security guard. Their mission, as one of them pithily summarises, is to: “Stop the spider, save the city, kiss the girl.”

It’s almost as if he’s seen one of these movies before…

Who’s in this?

Greg Grunberg or a fat Ben Affleck. We're not sure.
Greg Grunberg, who looks very much like Ben Affleck’s tubby older brother – a Fat Man to his Batman, if you like – plays the bug killer ‘ordinaire’. You'll probably remember Big Greg best from his role as the powerful telepath in Heroes, where he used his mental powers to solve murders and order free burgers (or something).

A specialist in lovable everyman characters, Grunberg is perfectly cast as the ordinary Joe who unexpectedly finds his inner Superman when confronted with the big bug crisis.

He’s thrown together with Lombardo Boyar’s fast-talking Mexican security guard. With his goofy antics and an accent as broad as a burrito, Boyar veers dangerously close to racist cliché: a sort of Hispanic Jar-Jar Binks in human form.

This not-so-dynamic duo sounds as good an idea as, well, melding tomatoes with E.T. But, in the finest traditions of odd couple movies (see just about any Eighties buddy cop movie), their friction-filled relationship proves to be the film’s most entertaining aspect.

Adding a much needed touch of class to proceedings is stern-faced character actor Ray Wise (Robocop, Twin Peaks). A specialist in authoritarian roles, he’s spent the last thirty years profitably playing Sheriffs, Senators and other representatives of officialdom whilst scarcely ageing a day.

Not-so-dynamic duo Lombardo Boyar and Greg Grunberg
Unfailingly perma-tanned and with a spookily unchanging hairstyle (only Robert Redford possesses a similarly time-resistant barnet) our Ray could still pass for late forties despite the fact he’s now pushing 70.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Sundance Kid, whose face these days seems to be crumpling like a decaying peach. (Which reminds Exploding Helicopter of David Hockney’s priceless observation while painting the wrinkly poet, W.H. Auden: ‘I just kept thinking: if that’s his face, what must his balls look like?’)

Is this any good?

Despite the predictable plot, shaky special effects, and some decidedly questionable science, Big Ass Spider is a thoroughly likeable piece of hokum.

That’s because, like other notable monster successes such as Eight-Legged Freaks and Slither, this film knows that it’s meant to be good fun. And for the most part, it really is a hoot. There’s genuine wit in Grunberg and Boyar’s good-natured bickering, while the grisly deaths are entertainingly engineered. And overall, the genre tropes are embraced with a deft blend of humour and homage. Which is by no means as easy as it looks – just ask Snakes on a Plane.

Sure, you can pick Big Ass Spider apart. But that would make you rather like a mean-spirited kid pulling the legs off a helpless insect. This whimsical yarn isn’t doing any harm, so why be cruel? It’s only meant to be a piece of trashy fun. The best bet is to just sit back and enjoy it.

Exploding helicopter action

Don't fly too close to the.....oh too late
In a teaser for the climactic scene, the film opens with the giant arachnid atop a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles as heavily-armed Army helicopters hover nearby.

The choppers should be in no danger. But as Exploding Helicopter has observed many times before, cinematic pilots have a curious inability to remain at a safe distance from a clearly observable threat.

Within seconds, one of the Apache-style helicopters inexplicably flies within swatting distance of the giant spider. The irritated insect smacks the aircraft with one its hairy legs, sending the whirlybird crashing into the building where it promptly explodes.

Spider: 1. Helicopters: 0.

Artistic merit

The helicopter and its explosion are rendered in fairly decent CGI. The scene is shot from below, which allows the flaming wreckage to fall towards the camera – always a nice touch.

Exploding helicopter innovation

This blog has seen helicopters destroyed by all sorts of weird and not-so-wonderful creatures – piranhas, crocodiles, bees and even, most bizarrely, flamingos. But this is the first recorded example of a helicopter being destroyed by a spider – mutant or otherwise.

Favourite line

Fittingly, given the title of the film, the titular arachnid is ultimately destroyed by our heroes firing a bazooka up its backside.

This allows for the apt payoff line: “Up yours.”

Trivia fact

The movie's DVD cover blurb – which describes an annoying little insect bloated to massive proportions by unlikely circumstances, then raging havoc across the USA – led some to initially assume it was a Donald Trump biopic. No, it didn’t. But would anything surprise you about America at the moment?


Ten stories high and very hungry.

Review by: Jafo