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

Chains of Gold

tn_chainsofgoldJohn Travolta plays Scott Barnes, a social worker who plays by his own rules. He was a rich investment banker or something until 4 years ago his son died of a drug overdose. He blamed himself and his alcoholism so he quit drinking and took this job. Of course, you know how it is: red tape, the fuckin bureaucrats, etc. He has to break the rules and defy orders from his asshole boss just to help out sad old men and endangered kids and stuff. Nobody else seems to give a shit and his boss is always looking for an excuse to take away his gun and badge, or whatever. “BARNES! IN MY OFFICE. NOW!”

mp_chainsofgoldThis character could have many different social-working adventures in a long series of hit movies, but this particular one involves The Case of the Missing Joey Lawrence. Lawrence (the kid from “Gimme a Break”) is some kid Scott checks up on, he lives with his junkie mom and he’s obviously been doing something illegal because he bought her a new TV. Scott hasn’t seen him in months but seems to think they’re blood brothers or something. He obviously sees this kid as a do-over for saving his son.

What he quickly finds out is that the kid is working for the Youth Incentive Program, which is not some thing where you sell magazine subscriptions and try to win prizes. It’s a drug gang that uses exclusively minors as foot soldiers (because they can’t go to prison). I’m not sure if I’d say there’s an area where this movie excels, but if there is it’s in the extravagance of the bad guys. They brand all members with tattoos, which seems unnecessary. If somebody crosses them or tries to quit – which Joey does after the lecture from Scott – they kill them or lock them up in a cage. For Joey they choose the cage.

The leader of the gang is Benjamin Bratt as kind of a cross between Scarface and a motivational speaker. He owns an exclusive club where all his kids dance to live music (a full band with horns and everything, although it sounds like keyboards) and enjoy the creative expressions of topless dancers. Bratt comes in and they treat him like Morris Day as he walks on stage and gives an inspirational key note address. His top henchmen wear gold ropes like Eric B and Rakim, but I think the title is supposed to be a metaphor. You’re enslaved by the money they throw at you.

Travolta finds out that an old flame (Marilu Henner) is a lawyer for this criminal empire, and he tries to guilt her into getting him inside. When she says no he leaves her with a harsh “Enjoy your money!”

But of course she changes her mind and vouches for him so he’s able to go undercover in hopes of locating the kid. So yeah, he’s an undercover social worker. They show him the ropes, but it doesn’t get to the part of the story where they’re suspicious of him but he almost goes too deep and is forced to do bad things to earn their trust and begins to feel a loyalty to them and they’re devastated when he’s revealed as a traitor because they trusted him. No, he just finds out where the cage is and tries to unlock it.

It’s almost a great scene when they find him out, though. They think he’s a cop, so when he convinces them that he really is just a social worker trying to save one kid they have a long laugh. Bratt says ha ha ha, you should’ve just told me… then I would’ve just killed you. See, it’s one of those deals where an evil person pretends to be nice just so it’s even more cold-blooded when they suddenly drop the hammer. But I think this is one case where it would’ve been way more interesting if he wasn’t just trying to be scary. Turns out this guy is not a cop, is not trying to bust them, is not capable of busting them. Why not just let him go? I mean, wouldn’t it be better if they decided they didn’t have the heart to kill some dumb social worker with the balls to infiltrate their gang? You wouldn’t expect that, so it would be cooler than the more expected “I’m going to kill you.”

On the other hand, the way they try to kill him is to throw him into an elevator shaft that they have filled with alligators for just this purpose. And it would just be preposterous for me to try to pretend that that doesn’t add something to the movie. Of course it does. I can’t lie.

The great Bernie Casey plays the one cop who sort of helps, and he’s as charismatic as ever but isn’t in it enough. But I like that this isn’t a cop movie. I sort of like where the movie’s cornball heart is at, showing how the kids are lured with money and materialism, and to be a good guy you have to realize that money isn’t enough. And I like that he’s a social worker who would go through that much trouble to help somebody. You would want this guy on your case.

It’s also fairly well directed. The skipper is Rod Holcomb, a TV directionist going all the way back to “The Six Million Dollar Man” and as recent as “Justified.” It’s one of the first credits for cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who went on to shoot fancy lookin shit like THE CROW, DARK CITY, SWEENEY TODD and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN pictures. They make it pretty cinematic. When Travolta scurries around the bustling office with a cigarette dangling from his mouth it kind of reminds me of some gritty ’70s drama by Sidney Lumet or somebody. But the script (written by Travolta himself with three other writers) is pretty bad, with some real obvious dialogue and cliches (we’ve had our guy undercover for years and you fucked it up!), and things that you really can’t take as seriously as they probly want you to. Not the alligators, that part I’ll buy.

It’s kind of interesting because it was made in ’91, at the height of Travolta’s pre-Tarantino has-been-ness. Since he wrote it with some of his producer buddies I assume this was something he really cared about, it was his idea of the type of movie he wanted to do. He’s pretty decent in it, and seems sincere. So I give him credit for that. But I’m not saying you should necessarily watch it. That’s not really my place, I don’t think.

I’ll tell you this though. I believe very strongly that CHAINS OF GOLD is a movie that exists, that you could theoretically watch, if you wanted to and could find it.

Thanks to Andrew Wright for tipping me off to this one

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 Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 at 2:10 am and is filed under Action, Drama, Reviews. 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.

15 Responses to “Chains of Gold”

  1. once again Vern makes a movie I’ve never heard of sound interesting, is it on dvd?

  2. “I believe very strongly that CHAINS OF GOLD is a movie that exists, that you could theoretically watch, if you wanted to and could find it.”

    Double + good.

  3. So does he fight with alligators ala Ong Bak 2 ? That would be awesome.

    Ong Bak 3 is on the way!!!

    I loved Benjamin Bratt as Juan Obregon in Traffic. He should play more gang leader roles coz he makes them fun but still dangerous.

  4. To be fair: This one was Travolta’s follow-up to the first two “Look Who’s Talking” movies, so you can at least say that he had two box office hits in a row when he made this one.

  5. I vaguely remember this trailer around the time of the First ‘Look Who’s Talking’ movie. Seemed to recall it didn’t look very good, think it was when i watched that Nic Cage film about Apache gunships with Tommy Lee Jones.

    Can’t think of the title and to lazy to Imdb it, was it FireBirds, WarBirds or something ?

    Don’t think that was very good either, not enough mega acting

  6. Hector Elizondo is great in the real Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, where he plays the original Mr. Blonde, Mr. Gray. He’s a great wiseass psycho in that movie.

  7. Here’s the great thing about the Taking of Pelham 123 remake: There’s no such train as the Pelham 123 anymore. Subway lines are named after their endpoints, and the 1, the 2, and the 3 all have different ones, none of which are in Pelham. Of course, no one in modern-day New York ever actually calls subway lines by such names, so you can see how ridiculous the remake is.

  8. Heh, I had never heard of this one before. Thanks, Vern!

    I do love that generically bad poster art above – does he even handle a gun in this movie? From your description it doesn’t sound like he does (unless he grabs one from the bad guys). It makes it look like a typical 90s low rent cop flick. I also love how it’s so apparent that the artist/composer of the work really has no concept of what he is working with – sure, Travolta’s posed with the gun, but then they add in a half-assed muzzle flash coming out of the barrel. I’m assuming it’s to give it a bit more of an action-y look, even though he wouldn’t actually be firing the thing while holding it like that. Classic.

  9. Actually, the closer I look at it, the more I realize the gun was probably a stock picture of somebody firing the thing and it was just isolated and added in, because the perspective/proportions of the hand seem way off. Still funny.

  10. Is it a poster? It looks more like video box art. But like you say, classic. I wonder, did this one get a theatrical release at all?

  11. With all this reviews of action movies from the nineties, and specially after this one with a gang of young delinquents, could this mean that Vern is finally close to review the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie?!

    (I wish.)

  12. Any of you guys watching “Justified”? Vern, with your appreciation of Elmore and Timothy Olyphant, I’m guessing you are. What a good show.
    I know you don’t review non-Seagal/Adult Swim (Aaron MacGruder only) cartoon shows on here, Vern, but if ever a show cried out for your take, this is it.

  13. No, Vern, I need you to tell me succinctly whether or not to watch this. Last night I watched a movie from last year called “Sherlock Holmes” where he fights robot dinosaurs and a squid. The notes for it on Netflix said “not to be confused with the blockbuster film of the same name.” Even with several robotic dinosaur creatures it just couldn’t keep me from feeling lobotomized. Thus, I now leave my movie choices up to your reviews. I just don’t trust myself anymore.

  14. darth_irritable

    May 5th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Yes!!! Adding a vote for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I! That shit rocked.

  15. My husband was the assistant sound engineer on Chains of Gold. It never had a theater release due to the Look Who’s Talking movies – they didn’t want 2 movies out with Travolta at the same time. We had a t-shirt from the movie, but can’t find it. Does anybody know where I can buy one?

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