L.A. Crackdown (1989)

L.A. Crackdown (1989)- * * *

Directed by: Joseph Merhi

Starring: Pamela Dixon, Kita Harrison, Tricia Parks, Tyrone Van Haynes, and Jeffrey Olsen as Paul

“I always have salad with chicken.” – Paul

“I am Paul.” – Paul

Karen Shore (Dixon) is a policewoman and chief member of something called the Social Youth Organization. Karen is earnest and caring when it comes to the downtrodden girls of L.A. who are mired in drugs, prostitution, pornography, and other forms of sleaze. She’s so nurturing and motherly that she takes Angie (Parks) and Fiona (Kita Harrison), two wastrels caught in the grimy underworld, into her home to try to rehabilitate them. 

That puts her at loggerheads with her husband Paul (Olsen), who doesn’t want them there, but ends up getting caught sleeping with Angie (what did Karen think would happen?) – eventually Karen decides to take the law into her own hands and go right to the source of the drug epidemic – the pushers. This despite the admonishments of Wallace (Van Haynes). Will Karen crack up? Or will there be an L.A. CRACKDOWN?

L.A. Crackdown is a prime example of a City Lights production (for those who don’t know, that’s the company that preceded PM Entertainment), and it’s written and directed, as usual for City Lights, by Joseph Merhi, who also gets a killer death scene as a baddie named Speed. Watch out for that. Actress Pamela Dixon never did a movie outside the City Lights/PM universe. Surely that must say something.

A lot of what we said in our review for The Glass Jungle also applies here – it simultaneously works as a time capsule, and as an example of a truly independent low-budget film made by people who just wanted to make entertaining movies. That shows in every scene, and despite some flaws (amateurish technical aspects, stodgy plotting, acting that defies any logical definition), we as viewers do NOT see movies like this being made anymore. Products like this should be, if not cherished, certainly investigated and re-evaluated. If they were ever evaluated in the first place.

What we’ve got here is a social drama with gun-shooting. Like a lot of movies of the time, it seems influenced by Miami Vice (which, let’s not forget, was a phenomena of that time). Interestingly, the movie seems especially informed by the episode called “Little Miss Dangerous”, which first aired in ’86. That episode starred musician/actress Fiona. Could that be a coincidence? Or maybe a subtle tribute?

In any case, like a lot of low-budget independent movies, it starts to flag a little way past the halfway mark. It needed a main, super-evil baddie as a central villain, like a diabolical pimp or something like that. That would have given the movie more of a motor and a motivation for Karen’s actions. On the funny side, the two girls are labeled as “juveniles” but they seem considerably older. Like Beverly Hills 90210 older. Or maybe, as is usually the case, movies like this are just ahead of the curve.

Like most City Lights/PM productions, the music is by John Gonzalez, and it’s excellent and adds a lot. Gonzalez contributes some of his best-ever cues here, with some funk that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mega Man video game. 

L.A. Crackdown - which actually got a sequel that was made the same year and further continues the adventures of Karen – may not be perfect but it’s at least interesting. And that’s more than you can say for a lot of movies, especially ones made with much higher budgets. We can see they were trying and putting forth effort. It’s time the City Lights canon sees wider viewership.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Forced To Kill (1994)

Forced To Kill (1994)- * *

Directed by: Russell Solberg

Starring: Corey Michael Eubanks, Kari Whitman, Michael Ironside, Rance Howard, Clint Howard, Mickey Jones, and Don Swayze

Johnny (Eubanks) is a dedicated repo man who looks a lot like a young Patrick Dempsey. He’s so into his repo’ing, he’s built a whole life for himself and his fiancĂ©, Heather (Whitman) and they’re on the road to marriage. When Johnny’s boss tells him to drive a Jaguar from L.A. to Utah, Johnny hits the road without a care in the world.

Suddenly, he runs afoul of stereotypical rednecks Rance (Howard) and his sons Dwayne (Swayze) and Neil (Jones). This crazed family takes note of Johnny’s fighting skills, so naturally they put him in chains and force him to fight/train in local Punchfighting competitions. Sheriff Wilson (Ironside) is certainly aware of the situation…but what side is he on? All the locals, including higher-ups in the government come to these illegal Punchfighting matches. But when the sinister good-ol’ boys kidnap Heather, Johnny goes out for revenge, and this time he’s not just forced to fight, he just may be…FORCED TO KILL.

We’re all familiar with the classic Coreys of the 80’s. Those being, of course, Haim, Feldman, and Hart. But like one of the lost tribes of Judah, there was another Corey who is only being uncovered today: Corey Michael Eubanks.

Unusually for a PM film, Forced To Kill is just kind of lackluster. The filmmakers probably just assumed that they had an awesome ace in the hole by getting Bob Eubanks’s son to write, executive produce and star in the film. And while Corey Michael Eubanks (henceforth to be referred to as CME) is indeed a gem, this movie has some structural problems that even he can’t overcome. 

The simple plot is extremely repetitive and there are no real surprises. At about an hour in, we get into boring tournament sequences that just aren’t that interesting to watch. There’s no one, singular, charismatic, evil villain such as a Brakus to provide a foil to CME. On top of that, to have stereotype redneck characters as these baddies are is just played out. Although, to be fair, if you’re going to get some redneck baddies, it was smart to get Don Swayze and Mickey Jones, who specialized in that sort of thing.

In other cast news, we do get two Howards for the price of one – both Rance (playing a guy named…Rance) and Clint Howard are on board. One of the better scenes appears when a bunch of aging punks (not quite in their 40’s as is usually the case but they appear to be getting there fast) begin bullying Drifter (Clint Howard) and CME intervenes and beats up the bullies.

Director Solberg is primarily known as a stuntman but he doesn’t hold it together too well behind the camera. A lot of what we see is stodgy and the pacing is off. We don’t even get as many CME wisecracks as we should. On the bright side, we do get some classic PM car flips and blow-ups, this time done up in a country-fried style rather than of the usual urban variety. While we appreciate the difference, it just wasn’t enough to keep the movie afloat. 

In the end, Forced To Kill (not to be confused with Trained To Kill or Forced To Fight) is Punchfighting by numbers. That was disappointing because some of the talent on screen is capable of much better. On the whole, it’s not weird, wild, and wacky enough for our tastes. While the movie isn’t bad, it’s really just okay - we can only wholeheartedly recommend it for Punchfighting completists. Or Don Swayze completists. We know you’re out there.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

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