Friday, September 20, 2019

Review: Guns (1990) and Do or Die (1991)


Mill Creek Entertainment has delivered two more Andy Sidaris films on Blu-ray! This time, we're treated to 1990's Guns and 1991's Do or Die, both newly-restored and featuring all the hallmarks of the director's low-brow masterpieces!

By the arrival of the 1990s, the Malibu Bay Films playbook had settled into a proven formula. Andy and Arlene Sidaris would take a cast of good-looking people that often featured martial artists and bodybuilders for the male roles and Playboy Playmates for the female roles, place them in beautiful and/or exotic locations like Hawaii, have these attractive people chase and shoot at each other, never forgetting to remove articles of clothing every ten minutes or so. It's not a complicated formula, but it's one that earned Andy Sidaris a ton of love from those who saw these movies on VHS or late-night cable programming during their adolescence. These are cult films with enough positive word-of-mouth that they're now also sought after and appreciated by a whole new generation.
1990's Guns is the fifth in the Malibu Bay Films series, and there is a sense of continuity, with many of the performers reprising roles that they've played two, three, even four times before. Donna Speir again appears as an agent of L.E.T.H.A.L. (the government entity that employs all these models and bodybuilders), this time accompanied by Roberta Vasquez, who replaces Hope Marie Carlton (Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Picasso Trigger, and Savage Beach) as the second female lead.

They face off against an arms dealer named the Jack of Diamonds, played with maximum camp by Erik Estrada (CHiPs), who is apparently well-aware of the movie that he's in. In his introduction to the film on the Blu-ray, Andy Sidaris tells us that this was Estrada's first ever starring bad guy role; the actor definitely seems to relish the opportunity to delight in being bad, as there's a twinkle in his eye every time he's on screen doing something evil. Another CHiPs star, Bruce Penhall, also appears, and seems to be having just as much fun as Estrada. Danny Trejo even plays one of Estrada's henchmen!
Perhaps realizing that the setting of Hawaii had become a bit monotonous, Sidaris sets a good portion of Guns in Las Vegas, giving another one of his featured players, Cynthia Brimhall, the opportunity to showcase her singing and performing ability as Edy, a showgirl and club performer whom we witness becoming an increasingly-larger talent in these films. Playing out so much of the story in Las Vegas really does give this movie something of a unique identity, and so does the presence and star power (as it was in 1990) of Erik Estrada.

For 1991's Do or Die, the action moves away from familiar locations entirely and ends up being set almost completely in the bayous of Louisiana during the fall or early winter, giving us something we haven't seen before in this series of films. Our L.E.T.H.A.L. duo of Donna Speir and Roberta Vasquez returns, as does Cynthia Brimhall, Bruce Penhall, and Erik Estrada (complete with a motorcycle chase that serves as a CHiPs reunion), though this time Estrada is playing a different character who's on the side of the angels. Rounding out the cast of this film is Pat Morita, aka Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid and its sequels. Just as Estrada seemed to be having a blast being evil in Guns, Morita also seems to enjoy being bad, though his performance is full of the same quiet subtlety and mystery that he brought to Miyagi. Morita's villain is a world away from Estrada's. He's quiet, calculating.
To my mind, the plot of Do or Die is the thinnest of any of these films to date, but that doesn't stop Sidaris from filling it with a buffet of bullets, babes, and blood. In other words, all the exploitative elements that make these movies so fun (and gleefully ridiculous) to watch are still here in ample supply. Even the over-the-top death scenes that Sidaris had become known for are present. In each of these films, Sidaris manages to blow someone up with an explosive device planted in something no one would expect, be it a remote control airplane, a remote control car, or a remote control boat. Sidaris seems to have had an remote control vehicle fetish. Do or Die takes things to the next level with an even crazier gimmick, which is played almost as beautifully as the "death Frisbee" scene in Hard Ticket to Hawaii.

Both Guns and Do or Die feel thinner and not as surprising as some of the films that had come previously, but a lot of that seems to stem from the fact that we're becoming more familiar with his bag of tricks. Plot was never the reason to watch these movies; we enjoy them because they're fun and allow us to have fun with them. They invite us into their world so that we can experience them genuinely, not ironically. To watch Sidaris movies ironically would be to ignore that they're done by a master in complete control of his stories. I can almost hear Sidaris asking us "Wow, isn't this cool?" Beginning with his days in sports television production, he knew how to give the audience what they wanted and keep them coming back for more. His movies--filled with crazy chases in cars, boats, motorcycles, and helicopters, Playmates, body builders, massive martial arts men, ninjas, cross-dressers, and destination locales--may not be strong on structure or plot, but they have a charm that's all their own.
As with the the four previous films from Sidaris' company, Malibu Bay Films, Guns and Do or Die have been given new 4K restorations and look absolutely fantastic. It's somewhat ironic that these movies spent virtually their entire lives on video cassette and late night television, yet have been restored from their original 35 mm film negatives to look film-like and packed with detail. Who knew they could ever possibly look as good as they do now?

The Blu-rays are also loaded with features, all carried over from DVD editions from the early 2000s that were created when Andy Sidaris was still alive. Just as with the four previous films, each disc features a film introduction by Sidaris, an audio commentary by Andy and Arlene Sidaris, and behind the scenes footage narrated by the filmmakers. Mill Creek Entertainment has included digital copies that can be redeemed via their proprietary digital service MovieSpree.
Those familiar with the earlier film work of Andy Sidaris know exactly what to expect here: buff bodies, bullets, explosions, interesting locales, humor, and a skin break every ten minutes. Guns and Do or Die do not reinvent the wheel; in true Sidaris fashion, they chase the wheel in a helicopter, blow it up with a bazooka, and then pump their fist. Long live the films of Andy Sidaris!

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