Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bulletproof (1988)

Full disclosure: I had never seen or heard of Bulletproof (1988) until I stumbled upon a collection of the best/worst movie insults of all time.  This caught my attention:
That's right, Gary Busey, perched in the rafters of a warehouse, called Danny Trejo a "butthorn."  Needless to say, that placed Bulletproof on the top of my to-do list.  But is it really worth it to track down this virtually unknown late-80s action movie, just to hear Gary Busey say "butthorn"?

Yes.  A thousand times, yes!  The glory of Bulletproof is not merely that single line, but 93 minutes of ridiculous action movie silliness that is blissfully unaware of how incredibly, laughably stupid it is.  You might worry that an entire movie's worth of enjoyment cannot come with just one "butthorn" comment.  You're wrong, but just to put your mind at ease, I'll let you in on a secret: it's not just the one comment.

So what is Bulletproof about, aside from butthorns?  It's the story of "Bulletproof" McBain (Gary Busey), a reckless cop who is also a semi-retired secret ops agent because of course he is.  The film opens with him on a stakeout with his older partner (Thalmus Rasulala), who implies that he is too old for this shit.  They're on the lookout for a potential illegal arms deal, and the first hint that the deal is going down comes from a limousine and an ice cream truck that drive into an abandoned warehouse.
Don't try to justify that logic.  You will hurt yourself.
Instead of calling for back-up, McBain decides to sneak into the warehouse and handle things on his own.  And by "sneak," I of course mean "take absolutely no cover in the rafters of the building."  A firefight ensues, one that features a lot of bad guys shooting automatic weapons and not hitting anything.  On the bright side, McBain kills someone every time he fires his revolver.  Over the next few minutes, the following things happen:
  • McBain avoids being inured by a rocket launcher that was fired at him from across a room.
  • "I think we blew him up!"  "You don't blow up a dude like McBain!"
  • A car chase involving an ice cream truck filled with weapons instead of ice cream.
  • Multiple 360° spins during the car chase.
  • The longest grenade fuse (or whatever determines when grenades explode) ever caught on film.
  • McBain's boss arriving at the crime scene, looking around and saying "Well, I guess you had to be there," before secretly complimenting McBain on his work.
Keep in mind that this is just the opening sequence, designed to give the audience subtle hints that McBain is awesomely bad-ass.  After a hard night's work, McBain comes home to rest, but instead finds his attractive quasi-girlfriend/hump buddy waiting for him.
"I'll be Ernie, if you'll be Bert.  Oh, rubber ducky, I'm awfully fond of you...sexually!"
You know what makes this scene great?  Well, yes, the gratuitous nudity.  But it's more than that.  Hump buddy's explanation for why she's there is, essentially, because she's crazy and wants to share that craziness with McBain's penis.  Also, I have to point out a few things in that picture.  How many candles, bubbles and flowers do you think "Bulletproof" McBain keeps in his bathroom?  That's right, none.  So this crazy woman A) made a copy of McBain's house key to get in B) brought in at least a bag's worth of her stuff to feminize his bathroom and C) anticipated waiting a while for him and brought her rubber ducky with.  Oh, and apparently McBain's bathroom has rooms inside it; while Sexy McCrazy is sudsing up, McBain goes to the next room so he can use the sink and mirror to pull out a bullet he caught in the shoulder that night.
Perhaps "Bullet Magnet" would have been a better title
Why am I going into such detail with this plot?  Because this particular plot has absolutely nothing to do with the bulk of the movie.  After an opening like this, I expected a Lethal Weapon knock-off, especially with the old, cranky black partner who loves to remind McBain that his ass is, in fact, black.  That is the beauty of Bulletproof.  Just when you think the movie is going to play it safe and predictable, it decides to make absolutely no sense.  At this point, it becomes an international spy story.  The US government has a super tank, code-named Thunderblast, which is ridiculously powerful.  Like, it's probably worth two, or maybe three tanks.  The government then makes the deliberate choice to allow the Thunderbolt to be captured by terrorists, as part of a larger master plan.  They make sure that McBain's former girlfriend (Darlanne Fluegel) was on the mission, to serve as bait.  So, what's the master plan?  The government wants McBain to recover the stolen tank...that they purposely allowed the terrorists to steal.  So...hmm.  That's a toughie, a point that the script wisely chooses to not address.  What about the terrorists?  Who is McBain fighting?  Cubans.  Nicaraguans.  Arabs.  Russians.  You know, the groups that typically work together and decide to invade America through Mexico, powered by a single tank.  My god, the 80s were hilarious.
I love that the Russian has to wear a fur hat in the Mexican desert so we know where he is from

How is the acting in Bulletproof?   Predictably ridiculous.  Gary Busey leads the way, and I found myself enjoying his over-the-top performance.  It isn't actually good, but it was fun to watch.  Some actors would look terrible in a role that required them to spout horrendous dialogue and be a complete asshole to any character they don't kill first.  Not Busey.  He was as believable in this role as anybody could be.
And yes, the urge you feel to punch his teeth in is perfectly normal
The rest of the cast is far less interesting and entertaining.  Honestly, I don't know why they bothered with any non-Busey scenes in this movie.  Of the good guy supporting cast, L.Q. Jones and Darlanne Fluegel were probably the most noteworthy, although that isn't saying much.  The cast of villains had a few unexpected surprises, though.  William Smith, who was born to play direct-to-video villains in the 80s, plays the evil Russian (oddly, he is credited as "Bill Smith"), and makes sure that there is no question about his character's poorly accented nationality.  Even better than Smith's Yakov Smirnoff impression was Henry Silva.  Silva frequently acted in bad movies and, for some reason, he was often chosen to portray some other ethnicity.  In Bulletproof (1988), he plays an Arabic terrorist with (I guess) Communist leanings and a penchant for rape and murder.  Thank goodness that's not racist at all.
"Nice costume.  The beret really sells the whole 'Arabic terrorist' thing"
One of the funnier things about Bulletproof is the fact that there are two great action movie bad guys in the cast, but they play bit parts.  Danny Trejo and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (who was left uncredited for some reason) were both just starting out in Hollywood, and this was the best work they could get. 

Steve Carver's direction is not too bad, from a technical standpoint.  I mean, sure, he edited out the explanation of why the US government wanted McBain to single-handedly attack terrorists on foreign soil.  And yes, he was responsible for some of the most unintentionally funny flashback scenes I have ever seen.  My favorite was the one where McBain's lying in bed, shirtless, cuddling with his saxophone, and then he flashes back to the time when he wooed his girlfriend by playing the sax on the beach --- and the soundtrack to his dream was clearly not what he was playing on the beach.
Boy, I certainly am convinced that Busey can play the saxophone
But I'm getting off the subject.  Steve Carver put as much stupid action as he could fit into Bulletproof.  One of the more obvious examples of that comes from the scene where the bad guys repeatedly fail to follow through on their threat to find out, once and for all, just how bulletproof McBain is.  I don't know why, but these terrorists, who are happy to kill any supporting character without provocation, treat the murder of McBain and his ex-girlfriend like a seven-year-old treats cleaning his room.  They're totally going to do it, just...not right now.  So, here's the setup.  McBain is tired and helpless, tied to a gigantic wooden spool.
Yes, you heard that right.  A spool.
The bad guys are (finally) going to execute him.  How does he escape?  Well, a grenade blows up and sends his spool rolling down the hillside.
That is absolutely Gary Busey.  I recognize that shirt.
The villains, who are numerous and have cars and trucks, can't seem to track the giant spool down, and McBain escapes.  Does that blow your mind?  It blew mine.

What makes Bulletproof more than just a bad movie is the incomprehensible script.  This story was written by the team that brought us Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, but doesn't make quite as much sense.  This movie doesn't feel like something written by completely sane adults.  It's more like the fever ramblings of a six-year-old, doped up on Nyquil.  What else can explain the fact that Gary Busey is more deadly with a revolver than with a tank (that, for some reason, has cubicle chairs and a coffee maker)?
And why would anybody go to the trouble of giving McBain such ridiculous obstacles and then waste precious time showing McBain trying to figure out the tank's control system?  Reality left this movie before the first butthorn sounded, so this late development was bewildering.  Do you want some more examples of the writing excellence on display in Bulletproof?  Of course you do.
  • The password to let McBain know who to team up with in Mexico, on his quest to recapture the Thunderblast, is...wait for it..."Thunderblast."
  • Actual comeback, part 1: "Yeah...your FACE!"
  • Actual comeback, part 2: the Arabic terrorist is told to go "fuck his camel."
  • The Russians recognize McBain by his nickname, "Bulletproof."
  • After it's all over, McBain has to drive the tank back to America, though the border patrol.  And they just look confused.
There's a lot more than that, but I don't want to spoil everything.  I would totally buy enough copies of Bulletproof to give to all of my friends, but the only DVD pressing of it is truly awful.  It's in 4:3 aspect ratio and looks like it was recorded directly from a VHS tape.  That wouldn't be a deal-breaker, but the damn thing is still fetching $14-$50 on Amazon.
"What the hell, butthorns?  You know this is worth $5, MAX!"
As a legitimate movie, Bulletproof is not very good, but it is filled with action and is makes sense, if you are incapable of coherent thought.

From the completely unreasonable perspective of Lefty Gold, Bulletproof is so hilariously bad that I watched it twice, back-to-back, before returning the rental.  If you're in the mood for stupid, I cannot recommend this any higher.


  1. Did Bulletproof kill BVM?! What gives?