Tuesday, June 26, 2018

B-Movie Review: "Rolling Vengeance" (1987)

Redneck drunk drivers killed his family … so now he’s gonna’ exact revenge on ‘em using a homemade monster truck with a giant drill penis.

By: Jimbo x

You know something I really, really miss? 1980s vigilante action movies.

We’re talking Death Wish II, III and IV. We’re talking Cobra, we’re talking 10 to Midnight and you better believe we’re talking Savage Streets. Sure, sure, a whole lot of them were flat-out terrible (ever seen The Exterminator 2 or 1990: The Bronx Warriors?), but a surprisingly high number of them weren’t just entertaining B-movies, some of them — like Fighting Back — even teetered on the verge of being legitimately great movies. And then there are flicks like Stand Alone, which I honestly, genuinely, unironically consider to be one of the absolute best movies of the entire decade.

With Donald Trump getting elected POTUS and synthwave aesthetics coming back into vogue, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the once-dead subgenre springs back to life (you know, pending Hollywood ever grows a set of cojones, which, let’s face it, probably ain’t gonna’ be happening anytime soon.) Even now I’m not entirely sure what it is about movies of the like that make them so comfy, but they just plain are. Is it the vengeful undercurrent of unremorseful, Reaganomics-era white rage? The deliciously anti-P.C. counter-fascistic thematic tones? That weird, still kinda’ reassuring sense of hyper violent conservative-tinged moralizing? Whatever the case may be, movies of the like are entertaining and enjoyable as all hell even WHEN they’re substandard dreck.

Well, 1987’s Rolling Vengeance is a formula film that straddles a very fine line between being exceptional B-movie fare and almost legitimately good cinema. It’s hokey and corny and degenerate enough to appeal to the midnight wacko set, but it’s also filmed so surprisingly well — with way better than average cinematography and acting — that you kinda’ have to wonder how great of a motion picture these people could’ve made had the budget been more than $13 Canadian. But even as is this is a really fun genre offering, and one that’s well going out of your way to experience if you really miss trips to the video store and/or voting for Ronald Reagan.

The flick begins innocuously enough, with these two guys in semi-trucks using their CB radios to tell each other they’re full of shit. Then one of them clips a mechanical wheat thresher and he tells the other one to “eat his shorts.” Meanwhile, a generic power ballad with the chorus “driving all day, driving all night” plays in the background, and unfortunately, it is catchy as all fuck.

So they drop off their delivery of Jack Daniels and Budweiser, except the driver ain't too good and he can't back the thing up and he loses a couple of boxes on the dock.

Then we meet Ned Beatty, wearing a leather jacket and rocking  a Wolverine haircut, who’s the owner of a trashy honkytonk. He gets visited by a bunch of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers advocates who call his business "disgusting." Oh, by the way, he's also a used car salesman AND the owner of a strip club. Fuck, how many scumbag stereotypes can you fit into one character, guys?

Next, we've got a pair of two Canadian rednecks in pickup trucks drunk driving and throwing beer bottles at the windshield of the semi-truck. Which, I know, doesn't make any damn sense ... why would stark-raving mad alcoholics just waste booze like that?

So we learn that the cigar chewing older trucker is actually the dad of the younger truck driver who has a quick temper and can't figure out why they HAVE to make deliveries to so many miscellaneous assholes. His name is "Big Joe Rosso," and the name of his truck driving operation, naturally, is "Big Joe Rosso and Son." Then they have a birthday celebration for the youngest child in the family (dude's get three kids, by the way) and then the girlfriend of Joey (the son) shows up and they make out a little. So he takes her for a ride in his dad's new big rig and they drive by that one dude's liquor store and they talk about how much they hate that spirits-serving motherfucker. Then the little girl asks her dad when she's going to grow boobs the size of Dolly Parton's (no, really) and then she asks her pa to play her a  music box. Then Joe and his wife have a discussion about how they want Joey to go to college instead of becoming a truck driver. Then he tells his wife "god damn it, I like you," which is certainly something every woman one day dreams of hearing from her man.

If you're looking for a good video game pairing with this movie, might I recommend Double Axle?

We cut to the ruffians who work at the liquor store, who unsurprisingly, are getting drunk as fuck and 'rasslin. As it turns out, Ned Beatty has his *own* disappointing son (actually, about four or five of them) so it looks like we've got some narrative parallelism going on here, don't we? Next up, Joe's wife and his youngest daughter go for a drive, and then the drunk ruffians start throwing beer bottles at HER car and then they break into her ride and then threaten to rape her so it's time for our first car chase of the movie. (An aside: I just noticed the kid is wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. Is that some sort of trick to make audiences think this shit is happening in America? If so, they probably should've taken greater measures to obscure he license plates that clearly read "Ontario" on them.)

Well, irony is a motherfucker, so the wife and kid end up getting creamed by, you guessed it, Joey's truck. Cue the triple funeral, as Joe and Joey mourn the loss of their entire household. Joey tells his girlfriend "he feels kind of empty now." Then the dad goes into his little girl's room and listens to that music box play and he cries very manly tears.

Cut to that trashy ass liquor store/dive/whorehouse, which apparently holds about 200 customers at a time. The owner chews out the regulars for killing what's her name and his kids, but like you'll pay attention because there's this one broad with HUGE knockers shaking her milk cans directly behind him the entire scene.

Then the redneck ruffians are on trial for vehicular homicide, or manslaughter, or something else like that. Fuck, the lawyer looks like Christopher Reeves. It's uncanny, really. Anyway, the judge only fines them $300 and Joe yells "they ought to be strung up by their balls" and the judge says he can sue them in civil court and the rednecks LITERALLY let out a "yee-haw!" after the judge bangs the gavel. Then Joey tells one of them "he drives like he has a firecracker up his ass"  and then Joe and Joey go the dive and order two beers and one of the rednecks pours a beer on Joey's head and yep, that leads to an all our barroom brawl battle royale. Then the bar owner comes in with a shotgun and starts blowing holes in the roof and then Joe, Joey and their hitherto unmentioned pal Steve grab the dude's gun and vamoose on out of there.

Then the rednecks come up with a new plan to exact revenge ... they stand on an overpass and throw fucking cinder blocks at their trucks. It's a surprisingly effective strategy, which results in Joe's truck flipping over. Although in critical condition, he appears to survive, while his son vows to "get the bastards."

Time for a montage of Joey digging through a dump and welding shit while a song that sounds like a very slowed down version of "War Machine" by Kiss called "Coming Up On You This Time" plays in the background. Well, five minutes later, that motherfucker has his own homemade Grave Digger, and then ... time for more titties at the dive.

So, naturally, the very first thing Joey uses his monster truck for, of course, is steamrolling EVERY single used car in the bar owner's car lot. And oh yeah, that shit is ALL kinds of satisfying to witness. Also, it just dawned on me how much the bar owner looks like Archie Bunker, which makes everything that happens in the movie about 15 times funnier by default.

Then Joey and his girlfriend play tonsil hockey some more, then they make sweet love by a roaring fire. And the lighting is all ghostly, too, so it's kind like watching two poltergeists bump uglies.

The next morning, a whole bunch of MADD protestors are at the bar. The owner surveys the damage to his used car lot and his redneck brethren comment on how most of the tires are still good. The sheriff asks the bar owner if he has any enemies and he says "nobody since the Gooks." Then when the cop asks him how he hurt his arm, he tells him he tripped over his own dick in the shower. Goddamn, do I miss the 1980s.

Now the owner is all kinds of liquored up, and he tells one of his sons his mama was a straight up slut and then some of the rednecks grab their shotguns and start chasing after Steve's truck at night. And that's when Joey  shows up to make the save in his custom-made killing machine. He runs over one dude (flattening him like a pancake in the process) and uses a drill apparatus impale and then crush another motherfucker.

LOL at Steve's last name being Tyler. Also, LOL at the sheriff looking like Mike Pence, too. Back at the bar, the owner curses at the rednecks for not praying before they eat and shoves potato salad in their faces. Then the owners says they've got to kill Joe and Joey or else he'll kill THEM himself and then they have a team prayer to "help get the low-life sons of bitches" that killed their two drinking buddies. And instead of Amen, he concludes the oration to the Almighty with the refrain "fuckin' A, we need more potatoes out here."

Guns don't kill people ... guys in gigantic, unrealistic, highly improbable homemade monster truck death machines kill people.

Then the rednecks (you know they're rednecks because one of them is wearing a rebel flag tank top) decide to sexually molest Joey's girlfriend, because all is fair in love and war ... especially rape. Of course, it's only a matter of time before Joey hops in his big rig and starts chasing after the no-good white trash that defiled his gal pal. Some more trucks get turned into paperweights and then this one Okie gets splattered in a cornfield while this really triumphant, SNES-sounding music plays in the background and it is glorious. Also, I love how ALL of the death scenes in this movie are in slow-motion. I mean, if you're going to show a guy having his guts busted within the treads of a homemade tank, you might as well be able to savor the moment, shouldn't you?

So Joey chases another rube through an abandoned warehouse and winds up splattering his ass while he's locked inside this makeshift office. Then a TV crew asks the sheriff if he finds it just a little suspicious that all these people getting killed by monster trucks are all related to the bar owner. I mean, shit, it's gotta' be pretty hard to hide something like a homemade killdozer ... even as protectionist good old boys, you'd think SOMEBODY would've at least paid Joey and pals a visit, eh?

Then the sheriff visits Joey at the hospital and tells him he knows he's the one monster trucking everybody to death and he politely asks him to stop murderizing everybody and he'll leave him be. Then Joey's dad FINALLY dies. He tells his girlfriend to go home and he starts rushing towards the exit. Well ... I guess you can figure where this is headed.

The bartender is holed up in his dive, swigging Jack and brandishing a shotgun and just waiting for any nearby monster trucks to come smashing through his front door. His last surviving son is also drunk as shit and he starts crying because his daddy doesn't think he's tough and that's our cue for an impromptu demolition derby. Only this time, the po-po is waiting for the monster truck to show up, but even by then Joey has pretty much torn half of the bar asunder. But then the bartender’s sole surviving son shoots the cop AND STEALS THE MONSTER TRUCK! Oh fuck, that is a brilliant twist of fate right there.

The musically literally turns into the boss theme from Altered Beast and then the bartender's son uses the truck's penile-like drill to chase after the girlfriend, who is stuck in a very womb-like canal. Joey manages to smoke the bartender's son out of the machine and then it's time for some kung fu, complete with Joey hitting that motherfucker with some Wanderlei Silva-like knees to the noggin. The girlfriend narrowly avoids getting her uterus scrambled by her boyfriend's redneck skewering apparatus, and we cut to an ambulance where the sheriff is alive and well after all. Then a deputy pins the monster truck deaths on the bartender's son, and Joey and his girl walk off into the early morning sun while some sappy love ballad plays in the background. And yep ... that's all she wrote, folks.

It truly is a happy ending ... even though literally everyone they love is dead. And she just got raped by an STD-ravaged hillbilly. And he's probably going to go to jail for the rest of his life for killing like, six or seven people.

In case you were wondering, the flick was directed by a guy named Steven Stern, whose filmography primarily consists of Canadian made-for-TV movies with names like Camp Grizzly and Murder in Space, but he’s probably best known for helming Mazes and Monsters, that one TV movie starring Tom Hanks as a guy who plays so much D&D it literally drives him insane. The writing credit belongs to this fella named Michael Montgomery, who produced a couple of episodes of BeetleBorgs and Masked Rider, but that’s about it.

Lead actor Don Michael Paul went on to become a veteran TV actor, with recurring roles on shows like Models Inc. and The Hat Squad. And if “Big Joe” looked familiar, he should. He was played by character actor Lawrence Dane, who has been in everything from The Red Green Show to Scanners to Bride of Chucky. And of course, Ned Beatty is Ned freakin’ Beatty, whose oeuvre includes such all-time classics as Deliverance, White Lightning, Back to School and Toy Story 3, among tons of other movies.

All in all, I’d consider Rolling Vengeance to be a pretty entertaining little vigilante action thriller. The whole “monster truck” gimmick certainly makes it stand out from the deluge of Death Wish wannabes from the epoch, and at times, it almost takes on a slasher-like atmosphere … only instead of Michael Myers, you’ve got a dude sneaking around in a 15-foot-tall automotive monstrosity that literally spews fire.

It’s corny and cheesy at times, but I really dug the rawness and roughness of the plot. It’s so unsavory and so nihilistic, and at the end of the day nobody really walks out of the picture morally unscathed. That’s not to say the flick gets all high and mighty on us, but it is nonetheless refreshing to see a contemporary genre flick hit us with a somewhat unconventional ending.

It’s fun and grimy and scummy and violent and cynical, playing out like a darker, more jaded iteration of Walking Tall. The whole monster truck motif could’ve resulted in the movie becoming a self-parody, but to their credit the filmmakers play the whole thing 100 percent serious, and for that it never becomes tedious or unengaging.

It’s not for all tastes, but if you’re a serious vigilante action enthusiast — or hell, anybody who misses the Cannon Film Group — Rolling Vengeance is right up your alley. Calling it a genre classic might be a stretch, but it’s certainly way better than it probably had any right to be; and really, just how many movies are there out there in movie land that’ll quench your thirst for slow-motion mass death by vulcanized rubber?


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