Sunday, November 4, 2012

T.L. Bugg’s Sunday Cult: Karate Cop (1991)

Hello, all, and welcome to the first installment of T.L. Bugg's Sunday Cult here at The Gentlemen’s Blog to Midnite Cinema. Each week I'm going to look into a different hidden nook of cult film, and try to uncover a tucked away gem deserving of Cult status. Today’s film scores on many marks starting with the title, Karate Cop. As we all know, anything with a descriptive or noun before the word “Cop” is always worth watching. Rarely does this formula go wrong, but every so often there’s a K-9 Cop that comes along to mess with the average. Not only does the film follow in the proud footsteps of Maniac, Top, and Samurai Cops, it also contains the word “Karate” in the title, another mark of greatness to be sure. (Well, except for Karate Dog. What is it with mutts ruining my systems?) What I didn't know when I watched it was that it was a sequel to another “Cop” film, 1990’s Omega Cop directed by Paul Kyriazi (Death Machines, Ninja Busters). Thankfully, I was not lost in the all too familiar post apocalyptic background of Karate Cop. What drew me to the film initially was the tie to director Alan Roberts, who made an infamous film this very year that was recognized, for better or worse, worldwide. 

Karate Cop begins with a couple of girls, Rachel and Micca (Carrie Chambers and Vibbe Haugaard), eluding your typical Max Max-ish group of thugs. There does seem to be a large number of field hockey masks involved to set themselves apart from other sports paraphernalia street gangs, and I will give them credit for picking a lesser beloved sport. The gang, lead by the mutated lisper Snaker (Michael E. Bristow), are stopped in their tracks by, you guessed it, the Karate Cop himself, John Travis (Michael L. Marchini). The thugs get away with Micca, but John saves Rachel who offers him a warm meal back with her street family, The Freebies (who I desperately wanted to see eat Beans or have a turf war with The Beans or something.) Lincoln (D.W Landingham), who would surely have to be played by Guy Fieri in the inevitable remake, is the local top crime lord, and he’s none too happy with Travis and The Freebies. After Lincoln and his men execute Micca in front of him, John promises to help in a dangerous mission to gain a crystal needed to power a transporter, and, as you might guess, take out the scum with a well planted boot to the head. 

For what it is, a low budget action affair with enough heft to get David Carradine to cameo, but not into a main cast role, Karate Cop is not the worst way to spend an hour and a half. It’s not so much of a great way either, but little things like a countdown device gag that works, some tight, decent camerawork on the action sequences, and Lincoln’s Roman style coliseum /Thunderdome-Mini lair complete with a Mini-Master Blaster, all add up to outweigh the wooden acting. As I teased earlier, the real interesting story revolves around director Alan Roberts. Though he directed several films before Karate Cop, such as Young Lady Chatterley (1977) and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980), and has maintained an ongoing career as an editor, Roberts will perhaps be infamously known now as the director of Innocence of Muslims. The sleaze and cult film director was hired on to make a picture called “Desert Warrior”, but with a little redubbing it became the movie that incensed a religion and fans of decent films. Exactly what Roberts knew remains somewhat unclear, and in the wake of the riots in Syria, he has completely kept a low profile. It should be said that he has not been detained, unlike producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula a.k.a “Sam Bacille” who may or may not have simply just stolen Mr. Roberts identity. It would be quite a career to go from Happy Hookers to Karate Cops to the Salmon Rushdie of internet videos. 

Other than the director’s infamous ties, the main attraction in Karate Cop is Ronald L. Marchini. Besides appearing in the aforementioned first film in the series, Omega Cop, he generally liked to stick to two word film titles. Jungle Wolf, Arctic Warriors, Return Fire, all appear on his résumé with only Marchini’s directorial sequel Karate Commando; Jungle Wolf 3 deviating from the pattern. For an actor who carved out a place playing action lead roles, I could find little out about the man behind Karate Cop save for a listing for his out of print book The Ultimate Martial Art: Renbukai. From this I can assume he had some martial arts training, and it does show on the screen. His co-star Carrie Chambers was comely and charismatic, and I barely recognized her from her role as Allison in the 2012 unfortunate sequel Sleepaway Camp IV. The big surprise for me in the film was the David Carradine cameo. I didn't know he was in Karate Cop, and it came as a shock when he showed up as a sleazy bartender named Dad. Michael E. Bristow and D.W Landingham really ham it up as the bad guys, and they alone make the flick worth watching. 

The question I had to ask myself going into and coming out of watching Karate Cop was whether I would have cared to even seek this movie out, if not for the newsworthy connections. While I’m not sure a casual synopsis or running my eyes over the title somewhere would have grabbed me, if it did, I would have still had a pleasant time checking out a silly slice of early Nineties action. Karate Cop belongs with the other “Cop” features beloved by genre films fans, and I hope that Alan Roberts is remembered by a great many as a man who made some interesting slices of genre films and not the man who was bait and switched to produce hateful propaganda. If that is what happened, and only Alan Roberts knows for sure. No matter how he is remembered in the long run, his story is another in a long list of directors who struggled their whole career to make films, ultimately making compromises that were more compromising than they thought. It is a story of film, and it is the kind of story that makes for the richness of cult movies. Until next week, I call this meeting of the Sunday Cult adjourned. 

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