Friday, January 21, 2011

GUILTY PLEASURES: "Army of One" (First of a Series)

‘Fess up. We all have them.

We all like certain artifacts of popular culture that we’re supposed to like: “The Bicycle Thief”; A Farewell to Arms; Rhapsody in Blue; “Guernica.”

But in the course of our movie-watching, book-reading, music-listening-to, or art appreciation, there are those works that will never make it onto any top ten lists of achievements in their field; face it, they’ll never make onto any top ten thousand lists.

They’re your guilty pleasures. Those works – I hesitate to call them “works of art” – that are dumb, sentimental, so-bad-they’re-good, obscure, one-hit, or just flat awful by most critical standards – that you nevertheless find irresistible for some reason or another, or maybe for just those reasons. Maybe you even feel sorry for them, or the people who made them. Some of them may even have artistic merit, perhaps even considerable artistic merit, but for some reason slipped through the cracks of public consciousness.

I’m going to tell you some of my Guilty Pleasures. And I’m going to start with the one that defines the concept for me: “Army of One,” originally released in 1993 as “Joshua Tree.”

We’ll start with the cast: Dolph Lundgren, my favorite (and, in my view, a very underrated) action star; George Segal, in his most scenery-consuming performance, which is saying something; Michelle Phillips, playing an improbably beautiful alcoholic; and a bunch of others: Kristian Alfonso, Bert Remsen, Khandi Alexander, Geoffrey Lewis.

Now, I confess, it has been some time since I have seen this movie, so I have jogged my memory on the plot with some adroit Googling. Actually, the plot hardly matters, so I’ll just give you the premise. Lundren is a truck driver wrongfully imprisoned for murder, framed by a police executive (Segal). He escapes from prison and seeks justice. He gets a girlfriend along the way – by kidnaping, I think (Alfonso) – who turns out to be a po-lice.  (Lundgren, so capable in many other ways in this film, selects for kidnaping (in order to get her car) a woman who has not yet put gas in the car, which obviously requires it, making it a bad candidate for an escape vehicle, especially when this kidnaping and car theft takes place in a parking lot in which several police cars are parked, with their police officer occupants standing around outside them.)  Other police chase him. I’m sure that Michelle Phillips had something to do with this plot, since I remember her, but I can’t find a plot summary quickly that even mentions her.  Wait, here she is nuzzling Dolph, who is acting.

Dolph Lundgren (left) and Michelle Phillips

The show starts a little slow, but if you stick with it you will be rewarded with gobs of gratuitous violence and two truly unbelievable scenes.  (Well, the whole thing is unbelievable, but these scenes are unbelievable in context.) The first is a shootout between Lundgren and several dozen Uzi-wielding Asian bad guys, and even some cops, in a chop shop. It is entirely absurd – Lundgren apparently kills them all amid many explosions, fires, shooting, and paint. Paint? You’ll find yourself start to laugh and finally shake your head at the sheer over-the-topness of it all.

The second is the climactic car chase between a Ferrari F40 and a Lamborghini Countach. Surely they’re replicas; the budget for this thing couldn’t possibly have included the real things. It takes place largely in Joshua Tree National Monument, hence the film’s – excuse me, the movie’s – original name.  I tell you true -- it will legitimately put you in mind of the car chase from "Bullitt."  I mean, even the brief nudity uses replicas; it is pretty plain that they employed a body double for Ms. Alfonso, whose face is not shown during this -- yes, entirely gratuitous -- scene.

A warning: I saw it on TV and enjoyed it. I have read that the DVD version is not a good transcription, something to do with the aspect ratio, but I wouldn’t let that stop you if you’re looking for a couple hours of mindless pleasure, lots of asplosions, bad guys dying in large numbers, destruction of automobiles, dialogue so wooden you could burn it and make s'mores, and George Segal finally shutting up.

A final note on the fine, fine acting of Swedish muscle thespian Dolph Lundgren. If you haven’t encountered his splendid work before, you might recall him as villainous boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, or the former consort of Grace Jones, or the original Punisher (a likely future Guilty Pleasure). I don’t know exactly what the note on his acting should be, just that he’s fun.

Dolph Lundgren (left) and Kristian Alfonso

And now, a final confession, which I truly regret having to make.  While I urge you to seek out the entire work so that every absurd moment of it can be enjoyed without interruption and as the auteur – director Vic (don’t call him Victor!) Armstrong – intended in his artistic discretion, the truth is that you can watch the entire movie on You Tube. Just enter “army of one lundgren,” find “Part 1,” watch it, and you will see the successive “parts” show up on the right-hand side as related videos. And candor further requires me to disclose that the chop shop battle is in Parts 7 and 8, and the car chase is Parts 11 and mostly Part 12.

So get out your rosary, and check it out.

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  1. My Guilty Pleasure is that iconic Second Revolutionary War film early in Patrick Swayze's career, the inimitable RED DAWN. The unforgettable scenes of Cubans parachuting into the Swayze's local high school in rural
    Montana(?) and gunning down shocked science teachers are only the beginning of a taut, emotional "Damn, they're invading my country" experience. It makes me long (briefly) for our own invasion so we can take up arms and fight off them (pick an invader).Though I rarely seek it out, I cannot stop watching when the remote leads me to Red Dawn.

  2. I've seen people walk out of exactly three movies in my life: Clockwork Orange, originally released as an "X," during the "speed rape" scene; Red Dawn, during the paratroopers' shoot-up of the school; and Watchmen, when Rohrshach dispatches the child murderer with a hatchet to the head. Although they are not for everyone, I liked them all, so I guess that
    makes them my guilty pleasures.

    Gotta run now and check out "Army of One!"


  3. I wonder whether Michelle Phillips ever imagined, when she was recording "California Dreaming," that she would ever be giving a cinematic hickey to a Swedish muscle star, portraying a drunk married to George Segal sporting a porn-star moustache.