Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Project Terrible: Brainsmasher: A Love Story

Welcome back to Project Terrible. I'm starting off my part of this round with Al's selection for me...

Brainsmasher: A Love Story is a cheesy action comedy about a bouncer named Ed (Andrew Dice Clay), also called Brainsmasher, and a model named Samantha (Teri Hatcher), also called Sam. I think she got gypped on the nickname front, myself. The two get involved in Sam's sister's battle against a group of evil Shaolin Monks who are chasing a flower called the Red Lotus, which they believe will grant their leader ultimate power if he eats the petals.

It's obvious from the start that Brainsmasher doesn't take itself all that seriously. Heck, it's obvious from the title. It's going for a lighthearted mood and features some wisecracks and general hijinks. It's difficult to tell if it's aiming to be an action comedy, or an outright parody of action comedies, but...either way, unfortunately, it just isn't very good.

Starting with the good or at least decent...the acting isn't outright terrible. Teri Hatcher is fine, and notably communicates quite a lot with her expressions and little elements of her performance. Her role isn't written all that well--it's difficult to tell if she's supposed to be intelligent or a ditz, as it seems to change by the scene--but she makes the most of it. Andrew Dice Clay is...well, he's Andrew Dice Clay. He's tolerable but not actually good. He manages to play a simple tough guy decently enough, but there's often this kind of feeling that he doesn't believe the role. He struggles to express much beyond a general sense of toughness and I didn't get much of a sense of the role beyond that. I can't fault Clay entirely for it--the film really isn't written to give him that much depth--but he doesn't do all that much with what he's given.

The various bit characters vary...most seem to have been given only the most basic direction on their roles, like a few cops who basically just talk about drugs in angry tones and don't do much else. Most are only in the film for moments, so it's not a big deal, but they just...I can't buy their acts, most of the time. It feels like people playing roles, rather than like actual characters. You can tell some are just going through the lines they've learned. Others seem jazzed to be on film. Nice they were having fun, I guess.

The monks...they're a mixed bag. The leader does a great job with what he's given and does his best to be intimidating and interesting despite the entire film fighting him--more on that later. His subordinate is mostly there to get annoyed at being called a ninja--more on that later too--and occasionally make not-actually-funny faces. The rest...they exist only to make vaguely martial-artsy noises, so I can't much evaluate their ability.

The action varies. I have one major, major, major complaint about it I'll get to later--again--but to be generous to the film first, people generally seem to be able to throw at least half-decent punches and kicks and the Shaolin guys manage some good spinkicks and flips and such. Most fight scenes are at least choreographed and performed decently, without notable flubs.

The film is competent,'s just not any good.

It's quite a dull film overall. It feels slow and meandering, and that's despite frequent action scenes. The plot seems to extend unnecessarily at a few points--for instance, Ed takes Sam to his parents' place to pick up some cash for gas and his license and registration (which they have for some reason), but there's no reason that needs to happen. Sure, the monks find out where he lives from his folks, but they found his folks by tailing Ed to the't they just tail Ed to where he lives? Similarly, there's a largely unnecessary side trip where Sam, on the way to her destination of a church where she's to meet her sister, decides to check her messages at her hotel instead of just going to the church. This leads to her getting tricked into waiting at a bar instead, where she gets attacked by monks and Ed gets captured. It happens only moments after another fight scene where the monks attack a police station while Ed and Sam are there. There's no real reason Ed couldn't have just been captured in the closing moments of that sequence, or while he's fighting monks in the street right afterwards--which would let us skip an entire sequence of the film that exists only because Sam suddenly and for no discernible reason decides to ignore the plan she's been following for the entire film. It doesn't do much but add to runtime.

The larger problem, though, is that there just isn't that much in the way of a sense of danger from the main villains. These guys are Shaolin Monks...who evidently were intentionally trained wrong.

I'm not kidding. I'm used to action movies with a lot of low-skill bad guys who get taken out in droves. Thing is, they often get to do at least one or two offensive moves first--at least, a few of them do. Right? Look at Bruce Lee films. He kicks a bunch of people down in seconds, but in most cases at least a few get to try to hit him over the course of a fight scene. They fail, oftentimes, but they try. Even Steven Seagal, who I swear has some of the most one-sided fights in the history of film, lets people try to hit him.

Not so here.

The very first thing that happens involving the monks in an action scene is one of them getting clocked by a woman who shows no particular fighting ability. In the next scene, chasing Sam down city streets, one of them actually trips and falls. Next up? They encounter Ed, who immediately KOs two of them at once with a double punch.

It takes him longer to face a few random gang members, drunk no less, who show up moments before the monks than it does to take down two trained Shaolin monks. The thugs actually get a few attempts at hitting him that he has to block. The monks? Nope.

To be fair to the film, the monks often get to beat up random normal people, and later even get to take on cops. But for most of the film, anytime they go up against Clay they get taken down in seconds, usually without throwing a single punch or kick. Were they paying these guys by the spinkick or something? I cannot possibly properly express how very strange this feels. We're meant to think of these guys as extremely dangerous threats--the film dialogue tries to sell them as such--but every time they encounter a main character they go down immediately.

Any main character. Even Sam, who has no combat training at all, gets a blink-and-you'll-miss-it KO of a monk during the police department bit.

What makes it even stranger is that this isn't some elaborate joke about the monks actually being horrible at kung fu. They're shown performing acrobatic stunts to scale and exit buildings, dodge cars, and more...they just don't get to use any of that against a main character. Ever.

Their boss can even catch bullets. Easily. But he gets hit in the face by a fire extinguisher and a chair in different scenes. I didn't know that fire extinguishers and chairs flew faster than a speeding bullet, but I guess they're from Krypton or something.

(I should note that the head monk can actually not just catch bullets, but throw them back so fast they penetrate a man's skull. And yet the heroes keep escaping him with utter ease.)

It's just this strange disconnect between what the film keeps trying to tell us about the monks and what they keep showing us. The monks are not in any way portrayed as a major threat to the heroes for most of the movie...but Sam and eventually Ed keep talking like they are the most terrifying force alive, and the head monk is filmed like he's this scary, intimidating badass and acts mysterious and dangerous and threatening. It just doesn't connect--it's not a funny mismatch or played for laughs, it just doesn't connect. It hurts the film very badly. There's no sense of tension because we repeatedly see the monks get their butts handed to them in a split second. Using fewer monks but putting them in longer fight scenes would have done this movie immense good.

Later in the film, the monks finally do start being treated as a threat...but that feels like it comes out of nowhere, because up until this point--save for the incongruous "throwing back the bullet" scene--they haven't seemed like a danger at all. When they manage to beat Ed at a bar, it feels like...the best description I've got is if you played some fighting game on Super-Easy for an hour and then suddenly switched it to Expert and got your butt handed to you. There's no sense of build to Ed suddenly being able to be beaten by these guys. It just happens. Juxtaposed by one of the monks being knocked out via breasts.

Not joking.

In any case...if the monks had spent the movie being treated as dangerous, but stoppable if Ed could take them one at a time, and then they took him down by sheer numbers, it'd feel more like your average action movie ninjas or some such. Instead, it feels like they just don't even fight for most of the movie, then remember they can all of a sudden.

Speaking of ninjas...there's a running gag involving people calling the monks ninjas, which annoys them. It's...kind of racist, honestly. They don't dress anything like ninjas. They dress like Zorro mixed with The Matrix--wide-brimmed hats, black masks over the eyes, long coats. The only thing they have in common with ninjas is that they are Asian. Not Japanese, even, just Asian--they're Chinese. So basically what the film is saying is that people see a bunch of Chinese guys walking down the street and feel compelled to shout, "Hey, a ninja!" Pretty sad. It does at least have a tiny bit of payoff when Ed's dad recognizes that they're Chinese, not Japanese, being the only guy in the film to get it...but the joke doesn't end there, it keeps being used for the entire film. The heroes even somehow claim moral superiority on the point of calling the monks ninjas in the final fight scene.

Speaking of the final fight scene...I'm not going to spoil the ending, but let me just note that the final fight scene is slow and pretty much boring...and utterly pointless given things revealed at the very end of it. It literally does not need to happen at all.

Not sure why he's called "Brainsmasher" when he smashes eyes, but whatever.
I've gone on long enough about this film, so let me just note one more thing and then I'll wrap. The intro is...odd. We set things up with Ed on a pay phone trying to get a friend to listen to his story. After hanging up, he gets a call from his mom. On the pay phone. I get that that's the joke, and that he even asks her how she got the number, did she get the number?

Ed then starts to narrate the setup to the story. Andrew Dice Clay is a terrible narrator. He just has that kind of sound in his voice that makes it obvious he doesn't buy what he's saying...and if he doesn't, I can't. He's got this "gee whiz, golly" kind of note to his voice that shows up nowhere else in the film, and it feels forced. He also doesn't share any information that we couldn't learn from what was happening on screen, or by simply showing a city name on screen. Flashbacks to Scared to Death here.

And then the film just abandons his narration, with Ed saying "setup over" or some never comes back. Ever. Not even for the ending. Not that I mind, entirely, since it sucked, but why did they bother with it at all?

...the same question could be asked of much of this film, frankly.

Ah, well. Overall, this was far from the worst film I've watched. It wasn't particularly entertaining, though there were a few parts that gave me a bit of a chuckle (some that I'm sure weren't intended to). I can't say it's terrible, but I can safely say you can give it a miss. It isn't a good action film, and it isn't a bad enough action film to be ridiculous and worth a look for a laugh. It's just there. So...just pretend it isn't, and it'll go away.

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