When a guy like me finds out there’s an ’80s action movie called HARDCASE AND FIST there’s pretty much only one choice: watch it immediately. The box says that Hardcase and Fist are cops who are framed so they have to bust out of Folsom to prove they’re innocent. That’s a classic arc, the 1980’s version of the hero’s journey. I was hoping of course that the characters would be named Detective Jack Hardcase and Lieutenant John Fist, but unfortunately there is nobody in the movie who is named, nicknamed or even referred to as Hardcase or Fist.
But I got a good idea that Hardcase is Bud McAll (the credits say McAll, not McCall) because he’s a cop so he has to make a hard case or something. And Fist would have to be Eddy, his heartsick, kung fu obsessed cellmate. Hardcase was a cop framed by his crooked partner and Fist was in a “Hey Joe” type situation where he killed the dude he caught his stripper girlfriend with. The movie opens on Fist, dramatically lit in his cell, going through all his badass kung fu routines as a low keyboard drones John Carpenterishly and the camera slowly pulls out. Meanwhile, we keep cutting to Hardcase as he approaches in the prison bus.
When Hardcase is brought to his cell, Fist is sitting on the ground, still doing his exercises, staring menacingly into nothingness. Then out of the blue he reaches to shake Harcase’s hand and says, “Hi, I’m Eddy” in a much friendlier tone than you expect. This historic first meeting is not supposed to be funny, as far as I can tell, and is a good example of the type of weirdly inept highlights of this low budget, amateurish movie.
The director/producer/co-writer/original story writer/music editor/co-star is Tony Zarandast. While watching it I kept thinking this was just some guy with no filmatic background who decided to make an awesome action movie on the weekends with his buddies. It’s all so laughable but I figured hell, if I wanted to get together a bunch of dudes and film a bunch of car chases and shootouts it would probaly be even worse because I wouldn’t know how to set up a shot or film stunts or get a non-actor to deliver his lines properly. Mine would have better dialogue though. But the point is, for a regular guy with no experience or talent, Zarandist did an okay job, I thought. Then I looked him up and found out he had already made several movies before this, which makes you wonder what the hell the deal is. Zarandast is still at large today and has a web sight at www.tonyzarandast.com with hilarious promo photos and copy editing that makes my sight look like the god damn Webster’s dictionary.
According to his bio, Zarandast was an editor before he started directing, but you would never guess that because the movie has a horrible sense of rhythm. It’s actually the opposite of the problem with action movies today, the shots are too long. It’s not like they’re making a dramatic point, or a Gus Van Sant ELEPHANT type realism. They just don’t seem to know when to cut off the shot and get on with it.
One funny example is the medium speed car chase/shootout in which the heroes drive over train tracks as a train is approaching. The bad guys who are chasing them haven’t gotten to the tracks yet, and the gates are lowering. In a normal movie, the bad guy cars would either crash through the gates and just make it, or they would crash through and get hit by the train and blow up, or they would dramatically spin out trying to avoid the train and crash. But this isn’t a normal movie, this is a Tony Zarandast movie. So instead he has a really long shot of the cars approaching as the gates lower. Apparently they were lagging way behind, which makes the chase a little less tense, in my opinion. When they get there, they just stop. Then there is a really long shot of the train passing. Then the gates go up. Then they start driving again and catch up.
The low budget and ineptitude causes alot of confusion in the way things are staged. There’s a whole lot of action scenes where cars suddenly go off ramps into the air for no reason, or where it cuts to a little girl smiling as a car rolls over. One of the most laughable parts is when a guy catches on fire and runs around. For this shot, the sky suddenly turns dark and a picture of smoke covers up the left half of the screen to hide some mistake they made or something.
Zarandist also acts in the movie, playing Tony Morino, Hardcase’s Vietnam buddy turned small time criminal who is now supposed to “ice” him but instead busts him out of prison. Zarandist is a middle aged businessman-looking dude from Iran, so he is a funny choice to play an Italian American Vietnam vet tough guy. But that weird casting makes him the most interesting character in the movie. It almost seems like they’re going for a John Woo heroic bloodshed type deal with his loyalty to Hardcase. Rather than showing his past, they zoom in on his eyes and cut to stock footage of helicopters and bombings. This is a pretty long scene that establishes an emotional resonance. Or at least gets us closer to 90 minutes without breaking the bank. This is the only use of stock footage but it’s not the only zoom into eyes. It seems like half the movie is overly long shots of characters looking at things. And one thing that’s funnier than actors who don’t know how to deliver lines is actors who don’t know how to make facial expressions.
I guess I should say who the actors are. Nobody you ever heard of. Hardcase is played by Ted Prior, a bearded pretty boy who kind of looks like a soap opera version of Chuck Norris. I looked him up though and it turns out he wasn’t in soap operas, he was a Playgirl model. He’s in alot of these types of movies because his brother David A. Prior directs them. Fist is played by Carter Wong, a guy you might’ve seen in legitimate martial arts movies going back to the early ’70s, many of them with “Shaolin” or “Wu Tang” in the title. You would most likely recognize him though as Thunder from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. His fighting here is pretty good but his acting and English speaking are below terrible. It’s funny because before he talks he’s pretty intimidating but after he does you think of him as this boyish goofball for the rest of the movie.
Like many of the individual scenes, the plot as a whole doesn’t make much sense. Hardcase is innocent so he’s talking with the FBI trying to prove it. But then Tony shows up and busts him out so he goes on the run. Then he kills his old partner and it ends, and nobody ever tried to prove anything about innocence. After they’re out Hardcase and Fist decide to part ways because they have “separate destinies.” Fist goes straight to the titty bar to reconcile with his stripper girlfriend. This is the perfect excuse for a four minute strip tease/fire eating sequence. When it’s over Fist tries to approach his girlfriend but you know, they got all those rules about not touching the dancers so suddenly ten or fifteen guys jump out and he has to do a damn ENTER THE DRAGON just to make his way to the stage. Suddenly Hardcase walks in and joins the fight, no explanation offered. When they’ve subdued everybody in the bar, the girfriend comes out from backstage, still wearing only a g-string. And then Hardcase and Fist leave without saying anything to her.
Hardcase also has a girlfriend, she actually gets some dialogue but her main part in the movie is getting kidnapped and tied up by the ex-partner villain guy. The villain makes a speech about how he plans to “take off your clothes piece by piece and bite you.” That’s his whole plan, is to bite her. Then he cackles.
Without question though the highlight of the movie is the very last scene. There is an awesome shot where Hardcase is standing dramatically in the sun, silhouetted while firing a gun. A car approaches behind him, and for no reason it flips over right behind him. And he just stands there and doesn’t flinch.
It wasn’t until the third time I rewinded it that I realized he was actually facing away from the camera, firing at the car, and that’s the reason why it flipped. I liked it better when I thought it flipped just from getting too close to him, but it’s still a good shot. I immediately thought wow, that’s the shot of the movie, you know that’s gotta be the end of the trailer. But then the next shot is even better. The car is on it’s side, in flames, and Hardcase is shooting at it. Suddenly some dude (a stuntman portraying the evil partner guy) runs out from behind the car, completely in flames. And then the camera actually turns and follows him as he runs about 30 feet and jumps into a river to put the flames out. All in one shot. That’s the kind of shot we live for. That’s what the art of cinema is all about. Tony Zarandist may be on the list of all time worst directors, but he made this shot. So he should be proud. Way to go Zarandist.
The bad guy doesn’t seem to be in bad shape but he starts talking like he’s horribly disfigured and begs Hardcase to put him out of his misery. When he does, Fist smiles and raises his fist in the air. The end.
I guess it goes without saying, but you should definitely find a copy of HARDCASE AND FIST and watch it with a bunch of friends. It’s pretty slow in parts but it will pay you back for your patience. If your attention span is just too short, the DVD (yes, this somehow got released on DVD) includes the trailer, which shows most of the best parts. You get explosions, people on fire, a hefty nutgrab, some boobies, etc. Everything you could ask for in a movie other than complex insights about relationships, a powerful statement about foreign policy or cool robots.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.