UNDER PRESSURE is another one by director Craig Baxley, this time starring an actor I’ve never heard of before named Charles Sheen. This guy reminds me almost EXACTLY of the better known actor Charlie Sheen, but with the more formal name “Charles” obviously he must be more sophisticated and more serious about acting.
Mr. Sheen plays a fireman, and in the opening scene he saves a baby from a burning crack house. Nobody should go in there because all the vials of delicious crack ingredients are exploding, but for chrissakes there’s a BABY in there! So he goes in and he saves the baby. There is a pretty impressive amount of close up fire in this scene and you could tell the stuntman in Baxley was getting excited, figuring out how to get some good fire stunts in there.
Then in the next scene there is a ceremony where Charles is given some kind of award for his heroism.
But then in the scene after that the movie starts to follow the typical suburban family who live next door to Charles, and it’s only when Dad goes out to his car to leave for work and gets in a big argument with Charles over neighborhood parking protocol that you figure out what the movie is really about: Charles Sheen is a crazy fuckin psychotic prick. DO NOT live next door to this guy.
This movie was recommended to me by somebody, unfortunately I blew it and forgot who it was that suggested it and can’t find the email. But whoever this kind individual was they said this was sort of like Baxley’s version of FALLING DOWN. The funny thing is, in that type of movie there is supposed to be sort of a slow breakdown, you see how an accumulation of traumatic and stressful events causes the dude to eventually snap and go on a rampage. But in this movie the snap has already occurred at some point before the movie began. You’re not gonna relate to this asshole. There is no transition from hero who saved a baby from a crackhouse to crazy bastard breaking into the neighbors’ house and trying to kill them. And later you find out that even when he saved the baby he wasn’t all that heroic because he actually purposely left the baby’s mother in the crackhouse to die. Which in my opinion shows the folly of a zero-tolerance policy toward drug abuse.
(What if Charles had to raise the crack baby? That would’ve made for a very different movie full of suspense and cuteness.)
See, Charles is the judgmental type of psycho, like THE STEPFATHER or killer Santa in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT or one of those type of dudes. Part of his conflict with the neighbors is that he doesn’t like their kids doing normal kid shit, he feels they should spend their time either at school or getting whooped with a belt, and brings up the ol’ “spare the rod and spoil the child” cliche more than once. So there is a little bit of a social message here with the protagonists being a modern, slightly liberal family and then Charles represents a pretty ridiculous exaggeration of traditional conservative values. You get the feeling it’s supposed to be one of those things where behind the All-American veneer of the suburbs lies a dark secret. But, like I often say, this one is not gonna blow the lid off the suburbs. It’s a pretty standard TV movie type of villainy, I didn’t think it really had much insight to offer about human nature or anything like that.
The biggest laugh is when the kid and his friend are playing with a remote control airplane and you fuckin know it’s going through Charles’s window. Baxley stretches it out CARRIE style and keeps cutting to a remote-control-plane-POV. Cranking up the tension.
Another thing that’s funny is the only hope for this family is to convince two cops of Heroic Fireman’s true nature, and the cops happen to be played by Dawnn Lewis (from the Cosby Show spinoff A DIFFERENT WORLD) and John Ratzenberger (Cliff the mailman from CHEERS). I thought Ratzenberger did a good job and he looks much more like a real life cop than most cops in movies do. So it got me thinking about how unfair it is that once an actor has had success in a sitcom like that they might never be taken seriously again. More often than not, just the idea of a sitcom star from the ’80s being in a movie makes you laugh and think the movie is cheesy. Same goes for Ratzenberger’s Cheers co-star George Wendt. I thought he was good in the Stuart Gordon picture KING OF THE ANTS, but I still couldn’t stop my brain from saying, “Ha ha, it’s Norm from Cheers.”
But I feel bad about it. Good work is good work. It’s not their fault they were memorable in something they did a long time ago. We have moved on with our lives and don’t base everything on Cheers, so they should be allowed to do the same thing.
And I’m sure Baxley wants the same leeway, but I don’t know. When you’re really good at something we want you to keep doing it. Unfortunately the excitement in this movie all comes from “oh shit, is Charles hiding in the closet?” and “this guy is obviously crazy, how far will he go?” instead of, say, showing a big explosion and a guy flying out a window or something like that. And I don’t think it’s an insult to say that that’s what you would want to see from Craig Baxley, or any guy who started out as a stunt coordinator and then started directing. I’m sure he wanted to stretch out his wings and challenge himself and do more of a dramatic psychological thriller. But he’s only adequate at that type of thing while he’s outstanding at coming up with ridiculous action beats and filming them in exciting ways. So even if this is one of his most serious, I wouldn’t say it’s one of his best.
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.