“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Florida Straits

Speaking of Florida projects, here’s one where three guys with very little in common set out on a small fishing boat to try to snatch some gold abandoned in Cuba. FLORIDA STRAITS (1986) is a fun little adventure from GET CARTER and I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD director Mike Hodges.

Chalk another one up to video store browsing. I had never heard of this when the flashy painted art on the tape cover caught my eye. When I noticed who the director was and that Fred Ward was in the cast I decided to give it a shot. Apparently it was made for HBO, but it seems like a theatrical release (and was in many countries). I was thinking maybe it would be an attempt to cash in on Miami Vice. Instead, the way the setup unfolds in a series of compelling, non-expository scenes reminded me of the excellent Billy Dee Williams slow burn spy-revenge movie HIT!, and this is probly my best only-on-VHS discovery since that one (which has since been released on Blu-Ray and DVD). As of this writing, FLORIDA STRAITS doesn’t even have any external review links on IMDb, which is very rare and always something I will brag about.

First we meet Carlos (Raul Julia, THE ROOKIE), a Cuban revolutionary just released from a 20 year stint as a political prisoner, and seemingly up to something. There’s a great scene where he stands in front of an old friend who doesn’t recognize him until he takes off his sunglasses, and I totally bought it because I didn’t recognize him. Could be any suave Latin dude until you see those eyes. Then it’s unmistakable.

Next we meet Lucky (Fred Ward, MIAMI BLUES), and he’s a total Fred Ward character. Beard, jeans, baseball cap, lives on a small charter boat called The White Witch that his ego causes him to risk in a poker bet against some asshole kid he never saw before. Mac (Daniel Jenkins, O.C. AND STIGGS) is a convincing enough arrogant douche that I was surprised he wasn’t a one-scene villain but in fact the third protagonist who becomes co-owner of the boat and forces Lucky to take Carlos’s money for a charter that turns into a treasure hunt. He’s a skinny twerp with Willy Aames hair who claims to be a black belt in karate, enunciating it weird like he’s only read it, never heard it said out loud. But as a young brat looking to find himself he ends up going through the shit with Lucky enough to break through the gruff cynicism, bonding with him and becoming a son or nephew or little brother type figure.

There are many tense situations that come up. They get caught stealing fuel from a Cuban army dock and have to start shooting. Later they get stopped while there are dead soldiers on their boat. They have to answer questions from Cuban police and they get on the bad side of some rebels including a crazy killer called El Gato Negro (Antonio Fargas CLEOPATRA JONES, FIRESTARTER, BEYOND SKYLINE).

But it’s the little moments that make the movie, like when the guys watch from afar as Carlos carefully cleans himself up with river water and changes into a white suit to try to make a good impression on his long lost lady Carmen (Ilka Tanya Payan, SCARFACE). Or the laugh they share after defeating an adversary in a pretty clever way.

It’s an interesting theme that this Cuban revolutionary is taking two Americans on a quest for gold. What does this say about capitalism? I don’t know, but ultimately it seems like the gold is only the incentive for somebody to give him a ride. Once he has an answer from Carmen he only continues the quest as a manner of honor. When they get there he just laughs watching them freak out over the gold, and tells them they can have his share.

For Mac it’s really not about the money either. I mean, it is, but when he thinks they lost it all he doesn’t seem too upset. He came down here to find himself after college graduation, and going on that adventure must’ve done the trick. He doesn’t necessarily know what to do with himself career-wise, but once you’ve snuck into a foreign country and evaded trained killers the American job market probly seems less intimidating. Plus he learned about boats.

That would’ve been enough of a happy ending for me, but they have another twist that kinda symbolizes “Don’t worry guys, capitalism is still amazing” and also gives them an excuse for that bikini lady on the cover. Not my favorite part, but I forgive it.

This is a very enjoyable movie, and that’s about 50% on the cast. It was Ward’s follow-up to REMO WILLIAMS and therefore pretty much him at his peak. He’s usually a supporting player, though, and I don’t know if I can convey just how much I appreciate seeing him in the lead of a good movie like this. And Julia of course was a beloved and acclaimed actor and had co-starred in the best picture nominated KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN the year before, but this is a particularly good showcase of his charisma and gravitas. These two Americans fancy themselves as cool, capable guys, but they have a certain amount of awe toward this guy who has been through troubles and dealt with forces they could never really comprehend.

The screenplay is by Roderick Taylor, a poet turned rock singer turned screenwriter who happens to be the father of Bruce A. Taylor, the writer of ELVES! Father and son worked together on Super Force, Witchblade and THE BRAVE ONE, among other things.


 

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 Thursday, January 11th, 2018 at 11:08 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Florida Straits”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    January 11th, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Now this was a great little read, thank you Vern.

    I remember seeing this occasionally on HBO…the white suit on Raul Julia jogs a memory.

    Nice to know I wasn’t hallucinating it. Hopefully they’ll bring this to Blu-Ray someday.

  2. This sounds awesome. Nice find Vern. I worry that many these type of little know action films from the VHS boom of the 80’s and 90’s are due to be lost to time. You can find films like DEADLY PREY on Blu Ray and DVD but they are cropped and cleaned up VHS transfers. There is no original print. Hopefully this one will get the treatment HIT! did.

  3. Charles, I know what you mean. Recently I became a bit obsessed with “forgotten movies”. Movies that simply were not popular enough to ever get re-released beyond their first home video release, don’t run on TV anymore (and if they ever did, maybe only once or twice), maybe were only shown on festivals or in foreign (from an American POV) countries.

    It’s fascinating and depressing to imagine there might be hundreds or thousands of professionally made movie in existence, that will maybe never be seen again, because not enough people care.

  4. CJ, someone should create a database of hard to find or forgot films like this so that they are on people’s radar and help direct people toward ways to see them. You would think that in the streaming media arms race going on between different platforms where companys need content and Netflix is spending crazy amounts of money on original programming that these sort of films could at least find a home on a streaming platform even if they don’t receive a physical release on DVD or Blu.

  5. Hodges is one of my favourite directors. Maybe a box of his movies could be a sollution? They usually throw in some unknown stuff with the bigger hits.

  6. Whoa… A new Hodges movie to see (if I’m able to see it). I don’t know how I’ve missed when looking at his imdb page.

  7. Amazon Prime has a ton of 90s DTV action films and some of them I’ve watched have been damn good.

    Speaking of IMDB, I’m always fascinated by external review links. Sometimes an 80s horror or 90s action only has one or two foreign websites that did a review in a different language. Sometimes you get one or two from sites that are barely geocities sites. It’s a weird thing.

  8. Sternshein, Prime has my favorite selection of movies on any of the streaming platforms. Lots of 80s & 90s genre stuff, and titles from Arrow and companies like them.

  9. also speaking of Florida projects— i watched Cocoon for the first time a few months ago, and boy howdy, i really didn’t know what i was in for. It’s like mainlining every 1980s “new age” fad for 2 hours straight. In a good way.

  10. That poster art is glorious, it’s like a modern parody of the 80s style (think the poster for MIAMI CONNECTION) but it’s the real deal.

  11. It looks like they’re doing another Expendables movie. Do you think Stallone has noticed there are actual action film directors capable of filming this movie where the action scenes are actually good?

  12. There’s not much about him on Wikipedia or IMDb but, from what little there is, that Roderick Taylor seems like a real character. I wonder what his deal is.

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