DEADLY WEAPON is another randomly-stumbled-across VHS rental. This one got my attention with a faded lenticular cover and warranted further investigation when I saw that it was written and directed by Michael Miner, the less-discussed co-writer of ROBOCOP, and stars a bonafide Dream Warrior, Rodney Eastman, aka Joey from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 and 4.
Caveat: It’s produced by Charles Band.
The opening text of this 1989 low budget teen angst sci-fi tale explains that it takes place “in the mind of a fifteen year old boy.” I guess that explains its cartoonishly broad idea of how people and relationships work. Eastman plays Zeke, a lonely teen who narrates in the third person, referring to himself as “The Visitor” because he’s “a visitor from another galaxy.” (Not really. That’s his fantasy.) He lives in dusty King Bee, Arizona (Population 4,852) with an abusive alcoholic stepfather and is anxious to grow up and move out, so he says he “watched the skies waiting for a sign, some signal that everything was gonna be alright.”
Like all ’80s movie kids he has a toy spaceship hanging from his ceiling to represent his wonderment with space and sci-fi. He also has fantasy paintings on the wall, a bit of a mullet, wears a Robert Plant t-shirt and experiences guitar noodling on the soundtrack. His dog (or “star dog” as he narrates) is named Van Halen. He hangs out at a diner where he plays the video game “Laser Challenge” and briefly talks to one of his only friends, “Indian Joe” (Michael Horse, PASSENGER 57, SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON, Twin Peaks), who actually uses the term “firewater.”
Zeke has a sister who’s unhappy too, but not much of a help. She wants to fit in, and makes out with some dude in the kitchen while Zeke is trying to make a peanut butter sandwich. She blames him for their mother leaving, or as he puts it, “the mothership had to take off early and left me behind.”
The authorities at school don’t like him either. He reads a short story about “The Visitor” in class, a fantasy about this alien getting revenge on all the humans for mistreating him, including a part where “he chewed off their balls so they couldn’t have anymore children.”
“Zeke, you’ve made a mockery of my creative writing assignment,” says the teacher. “This is obscenity, not imagination.” The bow-tie-wearing, temple-rubbing, one-eyed vice principal is even less understanding. He twists Zeke’s arm, asks him if he skips P.E. class because he’s a “faggot,” and spanks him with a wooden paddle.
His stepdad also beats him up sometimes, which is why he wears a wrist cast. That asshole tosses a bunch of coins in his face and says “Get me my friggin booze. NOW!” (Doesn’t specify type or brand so at least he’s not picky, I guess.) But to get into the teepee-decorated Barney’s Liquor Zeke would have to get past “George and his wrecking crew,” the bullies drinking and punching each other in the parking lot. They go to his school but look about ten years old than him. They’re bodybuilders with ratted out hair-band hair and muscle shirts. One guy has a jean jacket with “lone wolf” painted on the back and a folded American flag in his front pocket like a pocket square.
They hold Zeke upside down by his ankles and bash his head in the dirt until all his money falls out, then step on his already broken wrist and take a treasured letter from his mom out of his pocket and read it in sarcastic voices while he cries in the dirt.
This sort of stuff is occasionally punctuated with narration like, “But it’s tough being a visitor from another planet, because nobody ever understands.”
But one night a train derailment outside town leaves a wooden crate marked “office supplies” floating down a river like Baby Moses or Elora from WILLOW, and Zeke is the one who finds it. Inside is an experimental military weapon, some kind of death ray.
Bad time for stepdad to flip out like Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING. He says “Monsters have got me boy. And now they’re comin for you,” running parallel with a monster movie Zeke’s sister is watching. Shockingly, he hits Van Halen (the star dog, not the band) on the head with a baseball bat, sending him across the room dead, splattering blood on Zeke’s face. Big mistake.
So yeah, this about a troubled teen on a revenge rampage with a laser gun. He finds the bullies still in the liquor store parking lot and they make fun of his “Lazer Tag” gun so he shoots the store, setting it on fire. I guess he has some kind of religious guilt about that so he goes to the reverend (William Sanderson, BLADE RUNNER) for advice and is sold out in literally about 2 seconds because “those Earth people were always trying to trick The Visitor.” So he starts collecting authority figures in his trunk.
Along for the ride is Traci (Kim Walker, HEATHERS), a popular rich girl who one of the bullies calls “my girl” but she decides “No I’m not. I’m Zeke’s girl now,” and they drive around in the pink Cadillac convertible that her “daddy” gave her thinking it would keep her out of trouble.
Only a good guy with a death ray can stop a brooding teen with a death ray, but there is only one death ray, so they have to send the entire military after him. It fits into that ’80s tradition like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and NIGHT OF THE COMET where the military are kind of a scary secretive organization who don’t have the average citizen’s best interests in mind. He takes hostages in the diner and says “I ain’t yer son” to anyone who calls him son. His actual father is in a Utah state prison, his mother is in California, and when they track her down she’s not the idealized person in his mind. She’s an asshole too.
Zeke and Traci do dumb things like slow dance to the jukebox, leaving the laser gun on the floor.
John (pronounced glow-ver) Glover (Gary Kroeger, RADIOLAND MURDERS) busts through a roadblock to come in and interview Zeke live on “Video People Magazine,” so I guess this is one of those “satirizing the out of control media” movies we had so many of in the ’80s, but without nearly the accuracy of ROBOCOP. To me the most successful sort-of-satirical moment is when one of the military commanders tells his people “and I can’t stress this enough. By no means – by no means – are you to hit…” (is he going to say to make sure they don’t kill the kid?) “…a backpack that this individual may be wearing.”
Zeke says he’s “sick and tired of a world that ain’t got a future” and (ENDING SPOILER) he’s right! They kill him! Made all the bleaker by sort of treating it like a happy ending.
As you can probly tell by the description, this is certainly strange enough to be interesting. But I wish it was better. Miner was the cinematographer for two Night Ranger videos from the Dawn Patrol album, so I shouldn’t question his rock ‘n roll credentials, but if the dog being named Van Halen and stuff were supposed to give it a hip youthful feel, it’s done in by the stiff and cheesy feel of the filmatism. And all the stereotypes and simplistic “I’m gonna prove myself and I’m gonna get the girl and then I’m gonna die and that’ll show ’em” teenage boy world view could do with a better person to root for. Yeah, he’s mistreated but that doesn’t make him sensitive to “his girl” and then the movie portrays a way, way, way nerdier person (sweater-vest wearing, squeaky-voiced class president Lest [Richard S. Horvitz, original voice of Alpha-5 on Power Rangers]) as a bad guy that it’s okay to bully. I only really side with Zeke by default.
But I like when Kim decides to paint his face Bowie style to make him look on the way she sees him on the inside. She doesn’t believe his dumb alien shit but it’s kind of her to do that for him.
Apparently Band originally hired Miner to do a sequel to LASERBLAST, but then they decided for it just to be an unrelated movie in the teenage-loner-finds-high-tech-laser-gun genre. I haven’t seen LASERBLAST, but if it’s a high class affair this is not as good. It’s important to disclose that the score by Guy Moon (CREEPOZOIDS) uses the “Digital Native Dance” synth sound at least once. Scroll down to the bottom of my HOLLYWOOD’S NEW BLOOD review for more information on that.
Most of Miner’s IMDb credits are for creating characters on various derivations of ROBOCOP. Also he directed the TJ Lazer sequence from the original movie, and I guess it could be argued he brought that style to DEADLY WEAPON. He also got a story credit on LAWNMOWER MAN 2 and he’s one of the writers of ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID. His only other narrative feature film as director is THE BOOK OF STARS, a drama starring Mary Stuart Masterson, Jena Malone, and no death ray.
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.