I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Back In Action

Yesterday was Roddy Piper’s birthday. I’m celebrating late with the Piper/Billy Blanks picture from 1993, BACK IN ACTION.

Script-wise, I gotta say, this is a half-assed affair. They got the maverick cop (Roddy Piper), the ex-soldier who is back in action on a one man mission of justice (Billy Blanks), standard issue evil druglords, damsel-in-distress sister and also the female reporter love interest always looking for a good story but who ends up trying to help (see also DARKMAN 2, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER). Also some obvious one-liners that I guess I got a laugh from, like when the bad guy thinks (let’s face it, naively) that Piper won’t kill him because of his Miranda rights. Piper stabs him and says “You have the right to remain silent. Forever.”

Other than that there is no effort to put any spice on the usual cliches or put them together in a way that makes sense. And it’s kind of stupid that Billy only thinks he’s on a one man mission of justice. He’s going after these drug dealers who he thinks kidnapped his sister, but actually she’s hiding from them in an apartment with her boyfriend. The filmatism is low rent like an American International Pictures jungle commando movie or something. There are lots of scenes at bars, warehouses and docks.

Piper seems to be trying, doing what he can with a nothing character. I realized during the scene when he looks at his dead partner that movie acting really has nothing to do with wrestling acting. He lets you read his facial expressions but doesn’t project them to the back row. I wonder if he ever fucks up and does wrestling acting on a movie shoot and gets yelled at by the director? And then he breaks a chair over the director’s head? That could explain why there are two directors credited. One had to tag in when the other one got knocked out.

mp_back-in-actionThere’s a few cheesy laughs. I thought it was funny that Billy Blanks lives with his sister. That would be unusual even if they were college kids, but when you get a side angle on his high top fade you realize Billy has a pretty serious receding hairline going. Did they move in together after high school and just never move on after that? I guess he’s been in the military for a while, maybe she’s helping him out now that he’s back. By the way, he sleeps in his boxer briefs. We know because he has to fight a home invader wearing those. Buddy, your sister lives there, time to invest in a bathrobe.

Since I brought up the high top fade I want to mention something that occurred to me during the movie. I started to wonder if the ’90s were the only time in American history when black guys dressed more ridiculous than white guys. Any other time period they had the best fashion or pulled it off the best. ’50s and ’60s – nice suits. Late ’60s – you know Jimi looked better in that hippie shit than white people did. ’70s, white people start trying afros with little success. The other stuff, the collars and bellbottoms and shit, black dudes always wore it as good or better than white dudes. And I’ve already written about Richard Roundtree’s mastery of the turtleneck. ’80s, everybody’s wearing the same jeans and ringer t-shirts, except you got all those fuckin white rock bands wearing girl makeup, pretty hair and cheetah skin spandex and shit. Not working. In the rare cases where the brothers did it – Rick James, Prince – there is absolutely no question, they did it better. Way better.

But here we have Roddy Piper wearing a leather jacket he could’ve worn any time from 20 years before the movie until today and look pretty good. Nothing too flashy, a timeless getup. Meanwhile Billy’s got some loud purple speckled Huxtable vest, one like Cuba Gooding Jr. might’ve worn in BOYZ N THE HOOD. He doesn’t go too far, he never wears the white and black polka dots or the MC Hammer harem pants, but he looks pretty silly, and his sister dresses like she’s on her way to Fly Girl practice.

It seemed like a reasonable theory until the scene where Billy had to throw a white dude out a window. The guy had a wavy mullet, a blue tank top and zebra-striped Zubaz pants. Theory disproven. Oh well, I heard we live in a post-racial society anyway.

There’s alot of action, Billy doing lots of kickboxing, a car chase, some shootouts, a couple of explosions that cause guys to fly through the air. Cheesy but professional. By far the best scene is when Blanks and Piper first meet and get in a bar fight. Piper gets to do the whole fight like a wrestling match – clotheslines, leg drops, drop kicks. When Billy comes at him with high kicks he does the ol’ blinky “I just got hit in the face” wrestler expressions. It shows how the two styles differ and where they meet, and treats the less disciplined as equal to the highly disciplined. (Piper also uses wrestling moves in a couple other fights.)

But if this was supposed to be a Piper/Blanks buddy movie it didn’t really work out that way. They’re not in many scenes together and hardly get to know each other. Also, Piper never seems to realize this, but Billy is indirectly responsible for his partner’s tragic death at an undercover drug sting. Billy is a protective brother so he tries to get his sister away from her gangster boyfriend. He’s sneaking around at the cemetery where a drug deal is going down and causes an accidental uzi discharge that turns the sting into a shootout and ends up killing the partner. Thanks alot, Billy. (And his sister doesn’t even want his help anyway.)

This isn’t a very good one, but I’ve seen worse, and if you’re a big Piper fan like I am you’ll like him in it, which may make it worth it.

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.
This entry was posted on Saturday, April 18th, 2009 at 12:05 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “Back In Action”

  1. Sadly, for me, most of Hot Rod’s movies apart from They Live disappoint. Among the worst was Immortal Combat, also starring american gladiator Malibu who looks like a horse with a perm.

  2. I agree with you, Bryan but let´s not forget the fantastic “Hell Comes To Frogtown”! It´s a shame that Piper didn´t do any sequels to this one. I think it would´ve made for a great franchise and the character was right up Piper´s alley. The sequel that Doanld jackson did do later on was pretty awful. A wasted opportunity.

  3. Doctor Freudstein

    April 19th, 2009 at 7:35 am

    “You have the right to remain silent. Forever.”

    is also the tagline for MANIAC COP, written by Larry Cohen and directed by William Lustig. According to legend, Mr. Cohen actually came up with the tagline before anything else. At any rate, it’s right there on the title page of the script, dated 1987. So someone on the BACK IN ACTION team had solid influences!

  4. Did Piper’s acting career never really take off because he was a wrestler? Was that it?

    I mean he was pretty awesome in THEY LIVE, not because of his one-liners or kicking ass and out of gum, but due to his ability to come off as a normal jack you can get behind when he wakes up from the bullshit and smells the coffee.

    I mean hell, if not for Piper, Hulk Hogan never would have made it far as a wrasslin star as he did. Batman needs Joker, you know?

  5. I just saw one with Roddy Piper in it called, Last to Surrender. I enjoyed it although without him it probably would have been unwatchable.

    He definitely elevates the movies he’s in.

    I always though it would be cool to see him in a movie with Kurt Russell. I don’t know what it is, but the two seem like kindred spirits.

  6. Jacks Lack of Motivation

    April 20th, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Piper and Russell also pretty much caught John Carpenter’s last hurrah in the ’80s. Well, Prince of Darkness was cool too. They should team up against Alice Cooper in a Carpenter revival.

  7. My cousin Richie was in the ‘other’ Piper/Blanks movie, Tough and Deadly. During the fight in the pool hall, he pulls a knife and one of the heroes, can’t remember if it was Blanks or Piper, throws a cue ball at his head and knocks him out.

    Thanks for the great reviews, Vern!

  8. Holy monkey balls…the idea that there were Piper/Blanks MOVIES (as in more than one!) is kind of like if some minor Olympian hero teamed up with Forrest Gump or if they signed Chris O’Donnell to play Robin in the next Bale Batman or something…it’s just kind of OFF, y’know?

    That said, I did just see Rowdy in an episode of “Highlander” from the nineties, so it’s not like he had far to fall.

  9. I always liked Piper… he seems like he’s in that rare class of guys (Bruce, Kurt Russel, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford) who are seamlessly transition from very believable regular guys to badass action heroes. I mean, who would believe someone like Arnold, Stallone or Vin Diesel in an everyman kind of role? Guys like Piper have that natural charm that gives them a wider range of possibilities, I think, and it means that even if the action is a little lacking they may bring a sense of fun to a movie. I do hope Roddy gets another shot at some good material somewhere down the line

  10. Sweet merciful God…looking at Rowdy’s recent filmography actually has me getting sad. Super Sweet 16: The Movie?!? I hope he beats the hell out of some teenage girls in it, ’cause otherwise nothing in the universe makes sense anymore.

    “Put ’em on!”

    “Umm, like, not this year, OHMYGOD.”

  11. Ah, I watched They Live last night and I’m still as in Love with this movie as I ever was.

    “PUT THE GLASSES ON!!!”

  12. I once met Piper and I told him that I loved his Billy Blanks collaborations. The highlight of meeting him was when he told my friend and I “You guys look great! I bet the three of us could really make some trouble on a Saturday night!”. He was very out of it, pain killers I assume.

  13. Aw, I loved this one.

  14. “There´s been a traffic jam down in the morgue ever since you got involved” is easily the best line in this generic but enjoyable action fodder. I liked Roddy as the “psycho cop-go-against-the-rules-and gets- suspended-off- the-case”-cliche. Has he done more of these roles? I´d like to know.

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