Nether Regions: 07.19.11: Captain America (1990)
Posted by Chad Webb on 07.19.2011
Brush up on your Captain America movie knowledge by checking out my article on this Albert Pyun disaster featuring Chris Evans' predecessor, Matt Salinger.
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990)
Starring: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, and Darren McGavin Directed By: Albert Pyun Written By: Stephen Tolkin Running Time: 97 minutes Original Air Date: December 9, 1990 (UK) Missing Since: 1994 Existing Formats:VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Mildly Rare
As I sat down to write this, I read that MGM plans to release this through their on demand service and on a limited collector's edition DVD, today. It was totally a coincidence that I planned to submit this review on the 19th. Anyway, someone will have to let me know how the DVD holds up because I can promise you I will not be purchasing it. If I see this title in a store, I will walk the opposite direction. I'm not sure how readily available the DVD will be, but hopefully it will come packaged with a warning label.
The Red Skull: Ready for pre-gaming and a night of clubbin'.
In 1990, theaters displayed posters which advertised a Captain America movie that was coming in the spring, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the character. That never happened, aside from a limited theatrical release for a few international markets. It wasn't until 1992 that Albert Pyun's Captain America finally arrived on VHS. One has to fantasize about what the world would be like if this menace had been locked away in a vault forever so that no one could be harmed by it.
Several years ago, each time I attended a convention, I would pick up an out of print or bootleg copy of a rare comic book film, whether it be The Fantastic Four (1994) or the Captain America (1979) movies I reviewed last week. Apparently I was a glutton for punishment. I won't lie, part of me regrets revisiting this lousy excuse for a film for a second time. For anyone that feels being faithful to the comic books is an automatic win, perhaps you should watch this and reconsider your position. Is this worse than the 1979 movies? Hell yes. This junk is a monumental waste of time, and you will feel icky all over after the 97 minutes has elapsed.
The action kicks off in fascist Italy, circa 1936, where a young boy is taken from his home. His family is slaughtered and he is forced to be the test subject for an experiment. One of the scientists involved with this program, Dr. Vaselli (Carla Cassola), escapes once she sees what they plan on doing to the boy. As she leaves, his screams can be heard as they turn him into...THE RED SKULL. Seven years later, Vaselli has brought a similar formula to America and wants to help the military create an army of super soldiers. The first volunteer is Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger), who suffers from polio. He says goodbye to his girlfriend Bernie (not to be confused with Weekend at Bernies) and the rest of his fam and is prepared to be a hero. After undergoing the procedure, which is signified by loud sparks and flashing blue lights, Steve is transformed into a perfect human specimen, minus any military training. His code name: Captain America. His mask and outfit: Lameness Personfied. His shield: Has a Mind of Its Own.
A Nazi murders Vaselli right after Steve becomes a superhero, and since the details of her work were limited to her head, Steve and The Red Skull (Scott Paulin) are now the only ones of their kind. Steve's introductory mission is to deactivate a missile that the Red Skull is aiming to launch at the White House. Captain America is defeated by the Red Skull during his attempt to thwart this and is tied to the rocket, which is fired off as planned. Before it hits the White House, Steve changes its course...by kicking it with his heel. He then lands in Alaska and is frozen until 1990. It turns out that a young boy named Thomas Kimball took a picture of Captain America on the rocket as it was heading towards its target. He would grow up to be the President (Ronny Cox) in 1990 when Steve is de-thawed. As Steve struggles to adjust to this new time period, the Red Skull is still alive and has undergone extensive plastic surgery to alter his features. He wants Captain America dead and even kidnaps the President.
Steve Rogers and his main squeeze Sharon, a.k.a. the cures for insomnia.
If Reb Brown was lackluster as Captain America, Matt Salinger is equally as imbecilic and comatose. At least Brown had the physique for the role. Salinger is not particularly impressive looking, and so the editing is manipulated in a manner to cover this issue up, and his costume includes an artificial six-pack. The only reason I could fathom why Salinger was selected is that he resembles the Captain America of the comics in the face. Or maybe he knew someone that had pull. Since he's decked out in the same patriotic tights as seen in the source, he looks ridiculous. He is supposed to be a symbol of America, but that doesn't explain why he's dressed as a circus clown, which is oddly enough what the Red Skull refers to him as late in the picture. Salinger, son of famed novelist J.D. Salinger, is not a man you have the urge to root for. If you saw him running by, most of us would point and laugh like little school girls.
Have you ever seen a performer on screen and no matter how hard you tried, could not think of what their name was, or perhaps who they reminded you of? That happened with me in the case of Scott Paulin, whose interpretation of The Red Skull can only be described as cartoonish. His Italian accent aggravated me to no end, not only because it's annoying, but because it reminded me of someone. Finally it hit me; Paulin is doing a piss poor impression of Bela Lugosi! Don't believe me? See it for yourself. President Kimball's friend Sam (Ned Beatty), a conspiracy theory aficionado, mentions that no one knows who TRS (he will be abbreviated now) is or where he is located. Maybe they should look at Fortress Lorenzo, where he's been since he became TRS well before World War II.
What is baffling is that the "super hero powers" in this movie are almost non-existent because Pyun wastes so much time watching Salinger fiddle with that shield. By the way, the shield can hit objects far away and magically return of the hands of its owner, leading me to believe its creator was a student at Hogwarts. The immense strength of TRS and Captain America is proven when they engage in fisticuffs, and the fight choreography translates to overly elongated, slow strikes. Ok, Salinger does shoulder block through a diner wall, but if his physical and mental prowess is not presented fully and clearly to the audience, how and why are we supposed to care about this character? Was it the way the character was originally written? Only time will tell, but this appears to be the biggest hurdle for every attempt at adapting Captain America. When Salinger isn't whipping the shield around, Pyun and screenwriter Stephen Tolkin relegate the plot to "fish-out-of-water" shenanigans. Rogers awakens, not knowing world history up until that juncture, and like Austin Powers, he just pops in a VHS from the library to catch up.
There are some intriguing supporting cast members intermingled throughout this film, such as Ronny Cox as President Kimball, Ned Beatty and his news reporter pal Sam, and Darren McGavin as General Fleming. All are talented, but none of them manages to salvage this silly script regardless of their passionate (or exaggerated) exertions. I'm still confused as to why the sub-plot of Kimball as a boy taking a photograph of Captain America on the rocket, only to have them reunite when he's President, was inserted at all. It adds nothing because once Captain America discovers the connection; his profound response is "Gee whiz!" Kim Gillingham pulls double duty as Steve's first love Bernie, older Bernie, and her daughter Sharon. Making the pile of stupid decisions sky high, they cake heavy, grotesque makeup on Gillingham to play elder Bernie, and proceed to linger on her face, which looks atrocious from a cosmetics standpoint. Why not just cast someone else for this 2 minute scene? Gillingham graduated from the overly melodramatic school of acting, and to say she fails to be convincing as the tag-along heroine is an understatement.
Compare and contrast: Did we learn from our mistakes?
I should make note of some hilariously awful scenes that are worth remembering. Before performing the procedure on TRS, a rat is presented to satisfy any doubters that the formula is effective and foolproof. This animatronics catastrophe is a creature Ray Harryausen might have concocted if Ray Harryhausen were wasted one night. As Captain America and Sharon try to infiltrate TRS's castle, our dimwitted hero can be seen fleeing on a bicycle. And here I thought the hang glider Reb Brown cruised around on in the 1979 movie was as retarded as it could get. As pathetic and reluctant a savior as Salinger's Captain America is, TRS is not much better since, despite having the same abilities as his arch-nemesis, he sends his slender daughter out to do his dirty work. Call me crazy, but if I were a globally recognized criminal kingpin, I think I might purchase some appropriately hired goons instead of enlisting MY CHILD!
The Red Skull has numerous motivations as a supreme meanie, all of which are a jumbled clusterfu** that the storyline refuses to committed to. Want to know why he has kidnapped the President? Eventually he wants to become the President, and I suppose try to rule the world (that's a pre-requisite isn't it?), but it all begins because Preside Kimball wants to protect the environment and darnit, TRS and his inside political source disagree with that stance. Near the conclusion, TRS pulls out a detonator and threatens to bomb everything to smithereens. He explains that this was ready to go all the time as a last resort, and if the explosion occurs, it will level half of Europe. This completes all the clichés of villainy. He even captures Sharon and tosses her in a cell for good measure. In one scene that is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud, President Kimball decides he has no other option but to commit suicide, thus preventing TRS from using his DNA to become him. He is rescued of course. Spoiler alert.
And what would a Captain America movie be without a soundtrack that is grating to the eardrums? Yes, Pyun and company splice in tunes that one might find on a bad jukebox, such as throw away pop numbers by artists no one has heard of and horrid R&B love melodies. I hated this movie, truly hated it. The production company behind this was Golan-Globus, the same geniuses who killed Christopher Reeve's iconic franchise with Superman IV: A Quest for Peace. This was greenlit to capitalize on the success of Tim Burton's Batman (1989), but every party involved takes all the wrong routes to construct an even remotely tolerable offering. Zero aspects of the story are logical or entertaining and Sharon sums up it best with her brief, yet fitting line: "This sucks!"