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

The Flintstones

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

May 27, 1994

The Flintstones are an example of a pop culture phenomenon that’s long past its relevance, but it’s so simple and recognizable that it lingers like a ghost in the public memory. Or like a fossil! As the first prime time cartoon, it originally aired between 1960 and 1966, but more than half a century later – whether because of the spin-offs and TV movies, the vitamins and cereals, or just cultural omnipresence – almost any American could identify the show on sight.

That doesn’t mean they’ve given it much thought, though, because there’s not much to chew on here. I know I watched it for some period of my life, but couldn’t point to a favorite episode, or even a specific one. There are different stories, technically, but the joke doesn’t really go beyond “what if there was a Honeymooners type family sitcom, but with cave men?,” and with the gimmick that modern lifestyles and technology (cars, drive-in theaters, kitchen appliances) exist, crudely constructed out of rocks, bones, wood, animal skins, and talking, subservient prehistoric animals. The plots reflect the same middle class concerns as a normal show would – trying to keep your job to pay for the house, trying to make your wife not mad that you spend too much time out with your buddies – but mostly it’s that one anachronistic joke of “the modern stone age family.” It’s humor with one wink and a whole lot of taken-for-granted cartoonist ingenuity. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Meteor Man

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

August 6, 1993

We got a few super heroes in this series, but THE METEOR MAN is the first original one. I mean “original” as in appearing here for the first time, not as in distinctive and unique. This is a comedy(ish) by Robert Townsend, so it’s basically “what if a regular guy became a super hero?,” which means intentionally generic super power/vigilante tropes, sometimes setting up jokes, but not always. In fact the opening credits have no comedy at all. It starts with Cliff Eidelman’s STAR WARS-esque scoring and a special effects sequence of a meteor exploding as the title flies at us ala SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE.

After that it pretty much looks and feels like a comedy, but it’s mostly serious in its story about a guy wanting to protect his neighborhood from a gang.

The guy is Jefferson Reed, wimpy Washington DC substitute teacher and, because this is a couple years after MO’ BETTER BLUES, member of “the baddest jazz trio in DC.” So they mention Wynton Marsalis a couple times, he has white suits, musical note pajamas and jazz memorabilia, and he tries to trade records with his neighbor Mr. Moses (James Earl Jones, BEST OF THE BEST), but we never actually see him play his bass (rip off).

Nice character detail: he has one of those car stereos that you pull out and carry around with you. (read the rest of this shit…)

Coneheads

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

July 23rd, 1993

Dan Aykroyd was the mastermind behind two of the most beloved comedies of the ’80s: THE BLUES BROTHERS (possibly my favorite comedy of all time) and GHOSTBUSTERS (male version), so what could be more of a no-brainer than to have him turn his most famous Saturday Night Live sketch into a movie?

Like GHOSTBUSTERS, CONEHEADS teams him with an ensemble of great comedic talents from SNL and elsewhere to build on a comedy premise about an intersection between the regular world and a fantastical one. Instead of a supernatural element it’s an extra-terrestrial one. The Coneheads are an alien couple who crash their Remulakian space cruiser outside New York and while waiting for extraction decide to live as earthlings, first in a motorhome, then in the New Jersey suburbs, raising a daughter, owning a house, golfing, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Rose

BLACK ROSE is a competently made, very formulaic movie about police trying to stop a serial killer who has been murdering immigrant women, leaving a black rose and a Russian-language note on each body. When the LAPD can’t seem to crack it they call in a specialist from Moscow, Vladimir Kazatov (Alexander Nevsky, MOSCOW HEAT), an ex-special forces cop getting the Chris-Tucker-in-RUSH-HOUR treatment from his bosses for his aggressive handling of a bank robbery (led by I COME IN PEACE alien Matthias Hues).

Actually, that’s one of the best parts. After strutting in with shades and no gun (electric guitars praising him on the score by Sean Murray [SCORPION]) he fails to talk them down, so he goes back outside, crashes a car through the window and shoots them all. Luckily no hostages are harmed.

In L.A. he buddies up with Detective Emily Smith (Kristanna Loken, TERMINATOR 3, MERCENARIES), and they have the usual getting-to-know-you cultural exchange. She mocks his Russian food, talks up American hamburgers, explains what a Valley Girl is, etc. Then she finds out his last partner died but he won’t talk about it but then they get close and they talk about it and they fight and make up and all that. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wonder Woman

Remember when they first announced Gal Gadot would be playing Wonder Woman, and people complained? I remember, because to those of us of the Fast & Furious faith, we knew her as Gisele, and it offended us that they would disrespect her like that. We knew she could be good.

Turns out she’s great. I can’t imagine a more perfect actor for this interpretation of the character. She’s the best thing about an overall sturdy movie.

In a quick prologue, young Diana – they never call her Wonder Woman, but I will, because I don’t feel like I’m on a first name basis with her – gently defies her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, SOLDIER, DEMONLOVER, 3 DAYS TO KILL) to train with her badass aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright, BEOWULF, MONEYBALL, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) to become a great warrior. She lives a good life of training montage and power discovery on the all-female island of Themyscira, until one day a fuckin dude floats up on shore.

It’s Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, SMOKIN’ ACES), a WWI flying ace and Allied spy shot down while trying to escape with stolen plans for a deadly chemical weapon. German soldiers attack and feel the wrath of the Amazons, a great action scene where Antiope gets the most badass move: a flip and mid-air simultaneous firing of three arrows that hit three different foes. So clearly Wonder Woman learned from the best. (read the rest of this shit…)

Super Mario Bros.

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

“Are you tellin us that you’re gonna arrest a guy for bein a plumber? Get outta here!”

May 28, 1993

Okay, look. I’m not claiming to know a better way to make a live action movie based on a video game about an Italian plumber eating mushrooms, punching bricks and murdering hundreds and hundreds of turtles but also collecting coins while trying to rescue a princess. And seeing how directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel reimagine the world of the famous Nintendo game as a dystopic Manhattan in an alternate dimension where people evolved out of dinosaurs is the closest thing to fun this movie has to offer.

But still. What the hell? It’s a question that must be asked. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cool World

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

July 10, 1992

In the early ’90s, American animation was on the rise. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST had birthed a new golden age for Disney. Other studios tried to ride their coattails with movies like ROCK-A-DOODLE, THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN and ROVER DANGERFIELD. On TV, the massive phenomenon of The Simpsons had everybody else scrambling to put a cartoon in prime time even if all they could come up with was The Jackie Bison Show, Hollywood Dog or Fish Police.

But even amid this gold rush I don’t think anybody expected a new movie by Ralph Bakshi, the iconoclastic animation rebel best known for the x-rated FRITZ THE CAT. Having started in Heckle & Jeckle cartoons, he founded a studio to do Rocket Robin Hood and Spider-man episodes, then forged a completely new path with personal, idiosyncratic, adults-only features like FRITZ, HEAVY TRAFFIC, COONSKIN (a controversial blaxploitation riff on SONG OF THE SOUTH) and HEY GOOD LOOKIN’. He also had a fantasy period with WIZARDS, the abbreviated LORD OF THE RINGS and the Frank Frazetta collaboration FIRE AND ICE, which had been his last feature way back in 1983. Several years back he’d made a small mark in television with an influential Mighty Mouse update, but that’s about it. He was as unlikely a candidate as any to direct a major summer release starring Kim Basinger. (read the rest of this shit…)

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

August 23, 1991

Dump all the macho pop culture of the ’80s – movies, TV shows, music videos, beer and cigarette ads, wrestling – into a strainer, shake it around, and the chunks you got left are HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a buddy-action movie that plays at first like a satire of, but then maybe a tribute to, our basest ideals of masculinity.

It starts with a disclaimer that no, this is not affiliated with the two products it’s named after. The title characters are not supposed to be advertising mascots come to life, some weird meta thing like FOODFIGHT!. It’s tempting to think so, though, when you see them sitting on billboards, Harley (Mickey Rourke, DOUBLE TEAM) always wearing his patch-covered motorcycle jacket, Marlboro (Don Johnson, DEAD BANG) his cowboy gear, cigarette dangling from his lip (though he supposedly quit).

It’s more like it takes place in a pure world of action movie tropes. In the first 10 minutes there’s both an interrupted convenience store robbery and a bar brawl. (Marlboro, being a cowboy, has a disagreement with some Native Americans at the pool table.) They drive motorcycles and leave women naked in hotel beds without saying goodbye. They start in Amarillo and Colorado is mentioned but for the most part their whole world seems to be Las Vegas, L.A. and the dusty desert roads (and train tracks) between them. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Rocketeer

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

June 19, 1991

THE ROCKETEER has all the right ingredients for an aw schucks old timey circa-1938 super hero yarn. The hero, Cliff (Billy Campbell, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD), is a pilot for air shows – small time enough to be an underdog, but cool enough to strut around in his brown leather pilot’s jacket and clock a guy when necessary.

The setting is Los Angeles, so his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly, CREEPERS, LABYRINTH) is an aspiring ingenue, the villain is suave, swashbuckling “#3 box office star” Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton, BRENDA STARR), and the experimental technology they’re fighting over was originated by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn, THE STEPFATHER). Also involved are mobsters (because Sinclair hired them), Nazis (because he is one), G-men (led by Ed Lauter, DEATH WISH 3, THE ARTIST) and a giant named Lothar (former Austrian basketball pro Tiny Ron Taylor [ROAD HOUSE, SASQUATCH MOUNTAIN] made up by Rick Baker to look like Rondo Hatton).

The random way Cliff becomes a jet-packing hero is pretty cool. During a test flight of the craft he and his mechanic/mentor Peevy (Alan Arkin, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN) have been working on for years, he flies over a chase between the mobsters and the FBI. The mobsters think he’s with the feds and turn their tommy guns on him! Some kind of mixup causes the gangsters to get away without the jetpack they stole from Howard Hughes, but Cliff accidentally finds where they stashed it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dick Tracy

Oh hey, look guys, it’s summertime! And you know what that means: 1) time to sit back and unwind 2) that hardcore dance has gotten a little bit out of control, and 3) there will be a bunch of big special effects type movies coming out. As soon as the sunny days start I get excited for all the greatness and/or crap that’s coming out every Friday, I get nostalgic for the joy I’ve had in movie theaters throughout my life, or even that certain feeling I get from sitting down and waiting for some big expensive heavily advertised movie that will turn out to not be artistically worthy of its Slurpee tie-in. I still cherish the experience.

And in between watching the new movies I usually do some kind of summer movie retrospective. I’m sort of running out of good anniversaries to do, though, so this year I decided to try a different approach. This will be a series of films that have come out in the past couple decades of summers but didn’t exactly catch on culturally. Some of them will be financial flops or disappointments, others made decent money but were undeniably rejected by audiences. We’ll look at some misunderstood gems, some horrible pieces of garbage, and various stages in between.

I’m calling them SUMMER FLINGS – things the world flirted with briefly on the screen, then left in the past. Or movies that were flung out there and nobody caught them. Today’s movie is arguably remembered more than most of the others we’ll be looking at, but it definitely didn’t catch the world on fire the way Disney hoped it would, so I didn’t want to skip it.

P.S. I’m shy about bringing this up, but I’d have a hard time doing a series like this without my benefactors on Patreon, whose generous donations help offset some of the extra days I take off to really dig in and research and what not. So thank you to them and if you enjoy these reviews and can afford it please consider donating (or using any of the other methods of support mentioned on the right side of your monitor/bottom of your phone). Thanks!

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June 15, 1990

When the ’90s began, Tim Burton’s BATMAN seemed like the gold standard for summer movie excitement. In 1989 it had been a phenomenon at the box office, in record stores and at bootleg t-shirt stands, and every studio wanted to find their own Batman. (read the rest of this shit…)