Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Malibu Express (4 Stars)

This is the first film in the Andy Sidaris collection, made in 1985. It's actually the third film that he made, but for some reason he distanced himself from the first two films he made, "Stacey" (1973) and "Seven" (1979). It's his last 12 films that he promoted as his official collection.

Andy Sidaris specialised in making low budget action films for the direct-to-video market. However, he always made the best of the budget he had available. "Malibu Express", for instance, features a helicopter chase, something you would not expect in a low budget movie. The five minute scene must have eaten up all the money he had available -- unless, of course, he had a friend who offered him the use of his helicopter for free.

His films often feature the same characters, so you might think that they should be watched in order. This isn't the case. There's no continuity in the first nine films, so they can be watched in any order. Only the last three films follow a strict order, with references to events in the previous films. It's common for actors to be re-used; i.e. if they're killed in a film they return in a later film with different names, so please don't give yourself a headache by trying to make a consistent series out of them. I tried. I failed.

Andy Sidaris admitted that he picked his actors out of magazines. If he saw a woman he liked in Playboy he contacted her and offered her a role. He picked male actors out of bodybuilding magazines. Considering how often he worked with non-actors his films are remarkably good. That's the result of his skill as a director. The films that resulted from this technique have a lot of eye candy; beautiful women and muscle-bound men.

Apart from the eye candy, there are typical traits to his movies. The plots are always complex. There is usually a plot twist at the end. There is almost always a summing up, when the main characters stand together drinking champagne.

The film's title is irrelevant to the story. It's the name of the yacht which belongs to the hero, private detective Cody Abilene. Here he is at the end of the film drinking champagne with the police, the CIA and his friends. I doubt you can tell who's who.

The film has two plots which run side by side. The first plot is the smuggling of computers to the Russians. That's something I remember from the early 1980's. When personal computers were invented it was a big technological advance for the West, leaving Russia far behind. Russia wanted IBM XT's, but America made a trade ban. To get around this Russia bought IBM XT's from European countries which didn't participate in the trade ban. In the film the CIA is investigating a company that is allegedly selling computers to European companies with the sole purpose of selling them to Russian state-owned companies. The CIA asks Cody to stay with the Chamberlain family, friends of his, because they are investors in the American computer company.

When at the house a second plot unfolds. Lady Chamberlain's chauffeur has gambling debts. He's making money by blackmailing all three of her children. Early in the film he's shot, and everyone has a motive, so Cody assists in finding the killer. This becomes the film's main story, and the computer smuggling fades into the background. It isn't until the end of the film that Cody reveals over champagne that the computer smuggling and the chauffeur's murder are connected.

Andy Soidaris was a genius, in my opinion. He made 12 outstanding films from 1985 to 1998 which will always be remembered. At least, they would be remembered if they were properly distributed. His films have never been released in England. In America the films were released in 2005 on DVD in four box sets with three disks each, packed with special features. Those are the DVDs that I bought soon after their release. I'm glad that I moved fast, because they soon went out of print, and they were replaced by a single box set, all 12 films on three DVDs, highly compressed, no special features. That's the only version available in America today, I'm sorry to say.

In Germany the strange step has been made to release all 12 films on a single Blu-ray disc in DVD quality. It's a relatively cheap way for new fans to acquire all the films, but don't expect any remastering. I don't know if the German Blu-ray includes any special features, but it's preferable to the current American DVD release, if you're able to play Region B Blu-rays.

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