I’m not the biggest fan of Bill Maher now that he seems to concentrate on politics, but he’s always been a sharp and witty comedian. Now he sets his sights on religion with Religulous, taking the cue from Richard Dawkins to stop being apologetic for atheism and say what you really believe. There are reasons that you don’t talk politics or religion in bars, and this documentary sets out to be offensive, but I didn’t find it as strident as I expected. It’s actually very funny and only gets to be a bit much at the end when he tries to put a message on it.

The movie doesn’t purport or try to be fair; directed by Larry Charles (Borat), it intercuts the interviewee’s words with silly images, clips from hilariously bad religious educational films, soundbites and info-taters. It’s sort of like when Bugs Bunny stands next to someone holding an image of a screw, and a baseball. Screwball. Get it? But it still works, because he chooses his targets wisely. He goes after Jews for Jesus, strict Mormons, pagans, Scientologists, Bible-literalist evangelical Christians, ultra-Orthodox Jews, a man who claims to be the second coming of Christ, and some Fundamentalist Muslims. He doesn’t let anyone off the hook.

Going to the Holy Land with a film crew and asking about religion was already done in this year’s decent Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?, and Morgan Spurlock got kicked out by his Saudi keepers, and chased out by Orthodox Jews threatening violence. Maher doesn’t manage to top that, in fact he walks out on a rabbi so tolerant that he attended Iranian Holocaust denial conferences. In fact, Maher was so angry he barely let the guy talk, so I couldn’t decide whether he was stupid, crazy, or an apologist. That was distressing, seeing Maher lose his cool. But otherwise he’s pretty in control and doesn’t get too snarky when asking people why they believe what they believe.

If you’re on the internet or watch Stephen Colbert or South Park, you know some of the secret and trademarked tenets of the Church of Scientology, and just how crazy they are. I won’t go into it here, because I don’t want to be attacked by lawyers, strangled with cans attached by string called e-meters, or pelted with enormous tomes of L. Ron Hubbard’s space opera sagas. Go to Operation Clambake at if you’re curious. Maher spouts their teachings at the Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park , where nuts have shouted their imprecations for over a century.

What’s his point? When someone laughs at the idea of aliens nuking our souls in volcanos, he says “yeah, but Jonah living in the whale, that’s perfectly sane.” When he’s talking to the Bible literalists this comes out. “No, it was a very big fish.” Oh, that makes more sense. He speaks to the man who plays Jesus at a Christian theme park- who seems like a nice enough fellow, even as the Romans whip him for the entertainment of the Christians this time around- but he can’t put into words why he believes what he believes, and that’s some of the point. He goes to the Creation museum to see dioramas of the Flintstones, where kids can play with pet dinosaurs.

These are easy targets. Some are valid and scary. Do I want a politician who believes the Rapture will come in our lifetimes, and Armageddon will be soon fought on the fields of Megiddo? I’d prefer if he tried to stave that off. Maher even goes to Megiddo. Looks like a strip mine. Let’s hope it stays untouched. It’s not all fun and games- he goes to where film maker Theo Van Gogh was murdered for speaking out against fundamentalist Muslims. He speaks with rapper Propa-Gandhi, who looks like a nice hipster doofus, but sings about destroying the West. He gets a friendly Muslim to sneak him into the Temple on the Mount where Jews are not allowed. The guy looks very nervous.
If you’re not religious, this is very funny– but sometimes Maher’s pretty strident, and he’s obviously not trying to convert anybody. He may go for easy targets but he’s even-handed, going at it with rabbis and a company that sells products to help observant Jews try to trick their way around violating the sanctity of the Sabbath, by not really dialing the phone. He even goes for the obvious joke about how this is lawyering with God. He gets kicked out by the Vatican and the Mormons. He speaks with Satanists and even pot worshipers. For atheists it’s very entertaining and reassuring, and it’s a good record of the current state of religions all over the world in 2008 from the eyes of an unbeliever with a sense of humor. But there are no revelations here, either.

3.5 atheists in foxholes out of 5

Tropic Thunder

Well, I finally got around to seeing Tropic Thunder, and I was not disappointed. Sadly the hype machine took the juice out of many of the best scenes by putting them on heavy rotation, but the movie is a lot of fun and a good way to bounce back from the gut-wrenching thrills of The Dark Knight, which it neatly knocked out of the #1 spot, at least for now.
By now even the isolated Yanomamo tribe of the Amazon knows that Tropic Thunder is about what happens when a bunch of actors making a big-budget Vietnam War movie get lost in the jungle and have to fight actual bad guys. It is directed by and stars Ben Stiller, who when he’s not being hit by whale penises and bumbling his way through formulaic romantic comedies, actually makes some funny movies. The Cable Guy was hilarious, and flopped because people didn’t want to see Jim Carrey’s obnoxious persona from “In Living Colour” turn into what it would be in reality- horrifying. I haven’t seen Zoolander, but if it’s anything like his underrated “Ben Stiller Show,” where he mastered the art of mocking Hollywood movies, I’ll be renting it. For example, check out his trailer for Die Hard 12: Die Hungry, which is actually better than the fake trailer he introduces his character with in this new movie.

After seeing Meet the Fockers on cable a billion times, it’s hard to want to see Stiller on the big screen again and actually pay for it. But let me assure you, this new movie may not be better than Pineapple Express, but it’s as least as good as Get Smart with three Steve Carells would be. The movie begins with three fake trailers and a commercial that introduce us to the big-name stars who collide in this spoof of the typical bloated Hollywood epic turned money pit. There’s Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson, Roll Bounce) the young rapper of the minute who sells his own energy drink called Booty Sweat; Tugg Speedman the action hero of the “Scorcher” series, now in the double digits, whom Stiller plays using his familar action-hero parody schtick; Jeff Portnoy, played by Jack Black as a poke at Eddie Murphy, the great comic who’s stooped to playing a family of fat farty fucks; and of course, Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, the method actor who undergoes a “contoversial medical procedure” when he finds out his character was supposed to be black. I won’t spoil the trailers for you, because they are some of the best laughs of the film.

From there the movie dumps us on the set, which seems modeled on the production of Apocalypse Now as depicted in the documentary Hearts of Darkness. Steve Coogan (A Cock and Bull Story, 24 Hour Party People, Hamlet 2) plays director Damien Cockburn, who can’t wrangle his 3 bad boy actors and is risking losing the production. After an argument that messes up an expensive explosion scene, he gets chewed out on a video conference by hirsute, intense producer Les Grossman, played by Tom Cruise in a fat suit. I’m sure there will be comparisons to the last time Cruise tried acting in Magnolia, but I found this the most distracting part of the film. I’m sure he took the role to draw attention away from his psychotic outings on youtube and show him as a self-effacing guy who doesn’t think he can fly or cure you with B-12, but it doesn’t really ring true, and the joke wears thin very quickly, especially when they try to play it up by having him dance whenever a joke deflates.

“So this is what extra body thetans feel like”

Thankfully the rest of the cast picks up the slack. Director Cockburn (hurrrr) is at the end of his rope when the author of the book his movie is based on, Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) takes him aside with a proposition- drag these prima donnas out to the jungle, and have Cody the one-eared pyrotechnician (Danny McBride, Pineapple Express, Hot Rod) play some pranks on them so they get a taste for what it’s like to shit your pants in the jungle. It’s too bad Nolte couldn’t smack some acting chops into Cruise, because he’s pitch perfect here. It’s not much of a stretch for him to play the Scary Vietnam Vet, a role he mastered way back in Who’ll Stop the Rain, but when things fall apart, we see nuances to the character that amp up the comedic energy exponentially. He really adds something to every scene he’s in.

Once they’re in the jungle everything goes pear-shaped, and they have to try to survive. Robert Downey Jr. steals the show, refusing to break character “until the DVD commentary,” and trying to grab the reins from “the Tugger,” who expectedly refuses to believe that it’s not still being filmed, and that everything’s okay. Stiller playing someone stupider than Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin’s love child isn’t anything new, but thankfully the other characters play off him well, and also reduce his screen time. Jack Black manages to come up with a new character to play, as fart-boy Portnoy starts getting withdrawal symptoms. It was quite refreshing to see JB slip into a gruff fat GI character and then become a trembling addict, without doing any of his trademark wild-eyed manic persona. The big surprise was from Brandon T. Jackson as the rapper- he plays the straight man most of the time, but fits right in among the 3 big stars and doesn’t get lost, unlike Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Almost Famous) who’s good, but sort of melds into the background scenery.

From Iron Man to cast iron

They bumble their way into a heroin processing plant, and have to fight their way out- with blanks, mind you. We’re never expected to believe it’s realistic, and when it gets over the top ridiculous, Stiller wisely makes it just absurd enough that we’re laughing and don’t care. There’s a great gag on the action movie cliche of the little kid who befriends the hero that takes a long time to pay off, but when it does, I hope you don’t have to pee. You’re likely to do it in your 128oz. Medium soft drink cup. There’s a side plot with Tugg Speedman’s agent (Matthew McConaughey) that seems poised to sink the picture with unnecessary drama, and that gets torpedoed with a great gag too. The screenplay, penned by Stiller, Justin Theroux (The Baxter, Mulholland Dr.) and Etan Cohen– not Ethan Cohen– manages to avoid being episodic and the expected cliches. It also lets the actors infuse their roles with enough character that we never think they’re just delivering jokes.

Only slightly less embarrassing than Envy

There’s an apparent controversy over the use of the word “retard” in this movie. While it is certainly a hurtful word to call someone with a learning or mental disability, here it serves another purpose- skewering the Hollywood Oscar train for anyone who portrays a mentally challenged person on screen.  The joke here is that Tugg Speedman tried to be taken seriously by starring in a movie called Simple Jack that parodies these Hollywood feelgood movies and fails, but it keeps coming back to haunt him. If people want to protest, why not picket the next movie where Sean Penn gets the part instead of Chris Burke (Corky from “Life Goes On”). According to his IMDb resume he can use some work right about now. And even he calls himself retarded!

People said I could never become an actor because I’m retarded. It goes to show you that anyone can make their dreams a reality… unless they’re brain dead.

I worked with “Special Young Adults” in high school as part of community service– no, not for carrying a bushel of knives to school, either– and I think Stiller did a great job mocking the Hollywood cliche, and was not making the joke at the expense of the mentally handicapped.

Anyway enough about this controversy. Tropic Thunder may be a bit overhyped but it’s a refreshing big-budget comedy where Hollywood pokes fun at their own. Of course it falls flat when they try to mock the money men- after all, a bunch of Les Grossmans probably financed this. I hope Cruise sends a royalty check to Saul Rubinek, who played the hyperactive asshole producer to perfection in True Romance, and was so funny he didn’t need to dance to get laughs. If Cruise ever puts down the cock and the e-meter, we might see him act again- if he gets away from his handlers.

Batman Begins … Revisited

In anticipation for The Dark Knight, I finally got around to watching my HD disc of Batman Begins. After hearing oodles of comic book nerds complain about Katie Holmes, and Gordon driving the Batmobile, I wanted a fresh look to see if it’s as good as I remembered, or if it was just great compared to Joel Schumacher’s bat-nipple camp-a-rama and Tim Burton’s Gothic take, which concentrated more on the villains.
I wanted to see how this held up after Iron Man. The movie still has the weak points of Katie Holmes’s superfluous Rachel Dawes and Gordon’s goofy Batmobile adventure, but other than that, it’s one of the best superhero movies yet made. Christian Bale gives a nuanced performance, only dipping into the well of Patrick Bateman when he’s expected to play the sleazy playboy. We meet him as a man consumed with the desire for revenge, whose morals barely keep him from killing the man who murdered his parents in broad daylight. This is where we first meet fiery Rachel Dawes, the one Assistant D.A. in town who can’t be bought. Her fury at Bruce’s attempt at vengeance is what sends him on his pilgrimage to find what he must do. He first confronts mob boss Carmine Falcone; he tried to corrupt the young Wayne heir by putting a hit on the man who killed his parents, and this adds a layer of depth to the story. When faced with Falcone’s brute power and control over every element of justice in the city, Bruce realizes that facing him head-on is a death sentence for him and the people he cares about. He has to find another way. He needs to learn how the criminal element works.

Stop calling me “padwan,” dude.

This eventually leads him to China; a place he can disappear and infiltrate a gang of thieves, and toughen himself for the battle ahead. He is still aimless and confused, picking fights with groups, penitence for letting Rachel and his parents down. When Liam Neeson and the Brotherhood of Shadows find him, he is once again tempted down the wrong path, and this second time it nearly works. The movie’s complexities are what make it so good. We spend a lot of time watching him train, and such montages are commonplace, but here they build a bond between Bruce and his mentor, making the inevitable betrayal hurt that much more. While having three villains hurt the previous Batman movies, here they are woven together, using each other for their own purposes, creating a singular enemy unbeknown to some members of the triumvirate. It’s clever, and works much better than teams of rival super-villains ganging up for shallow reasons.

We’re telling you you’ve got issues, mate.

Bruce has allies as well; we see the young Detective Gordon as the lone good cop in a sea of corruption, and trusty Alfred kept things running for him while he fled his problems. Michael Caine is the real glue that holds the film together, since we believe everything he says and he’s wise enough to know how far to push the comic relief. Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox “Q” character together give us a foundation to make the ridiculous comic-book world believable. Yes, the latest reboot of the Batman franchise is much darker, but in essence it is still a rich man who dresses up to fight crime. The film takes great pains to justify the bat costume, and succeeds- but Caine and Freeman’s little smirks and grins at Bruce Wayne’s issues help us along as the ears get explained as communicator antennas, and the cape– shown in The Incredibles to be a deadly bit of foppish extravagance– here becomes a hang-glider, so the bat has more tricks up his belt than the grappling hooks we’ve seen since the Adam West days.

It runs on testosterone.

The film also dips into the true reboot of the Batman that began when Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns. The bat-a-rangs aren’t little flying deus ex machinas, but more akin to ninja shuriken, made by hand on a grinder as painful, untraceable calling cards. It’s too bad we never see a criminal in the E.R. biting the bullet as a nurse pulls one out of his forehead with a pair of forceps. The new Batmobile most resembles the crazy riot tank Miller used from DKR, toned down into a cross between hot rod and Tonka Toy, tapping into every male moviegoer’s inner 6 year old. It’s even sillier than the ridiculous Burton-era vehicle, but when we see it in action, plowing through concrete and stomping squad cars like a monster 4×4, all is forgiven. Miller also wrote Batman: Year One, which brought the series back down to earth in the gritty streets, and built Batman again from the ground up. It’s from here that we get Carmine Falcone— played with delicious glee by Tom Wilkinson– and the Chicago setting for Gotham makes an above-the-law don running the city utterly believable. Gordon’s sleazy partner is underappreciated, and looks like he came from a Serpico-inspired cop movie from the 70’s. Just one look at him with a badge, and you know the city is corrupt top to bottom.

We get to see Batman learn the ropes, too- his first foray into crime-fighting isn’t all that perfect. He does get better, and his first strike at Falcone has us on the edge of our seats, showing how he strikes fear into the hearts of criminals and uses their panic against them. Nolan also took inspiration from the excellent Batman: The Animated Series, which was surprisingly brutal. When Batman pulls a bungee jumping act to get a corrupt cop to talk, it’s something we’ve never seen him do in movies before; he always had a supernatural ability to appear where crime was occurring, and he never had to do any sleuth work. Batman’s roots are in Detective Comics, after all.

What? I’ve got something on my face?

The fight scenes are a bit forgettable, reminiscent of the Bourne movies, which make better use of the close-up, jarring quick-cut method. Nolan does keep the fights nasty, brutish and short as they ought to be, especially when he’s up against multiple opponents. They seem believable and real, and you’re never wondering why they don’t just gang up on the good guy… they are. This foundation once again prepares us to accept the unreal, such as Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow. He’s yet another over-the-top character reined in perfectly to fit the film’s dark world, a mob-bought psychiatrist with sick fantasies of his own. The film does have flaws, but they aren’t with its villains, but its heroes.

Gary Oldman plays Gordon perfectly, but he is given very little to do except establish that he is not corrupt, and that he’s willing to help this unconventional vigilante clean up the city. He’s almost too much of a milquetoast everyman, and it feels like Oldman wanted to veer away from his over-the-top villain characters, and plays it too bland. When he echoes “I gotta get me one of these,” last uttered by Will Smith in Independence Day, it hits a sour note. It was the wrong thing for the beaten-down good guy to finally pipe up and say, when he sees the bad guys getting taken down.

Katie really nailed this scene.

I hadn’t seen Katie Holmes in anything since Go and The Ice Storm, and she seemed fine in those. Here she’s not given much to do except be a one-note character, chiding Bruce for his selfish moping, and not living up to his parents’ heroic philanthropy. I’d like to blame this on her future as a Scientologist baby factory, but it feels like the script. Unless there’s a lot of bad acting on the cutting room floor. It would have taken a great actress to do much with so little screen time and dialogue, and we all know Katie Holmes is not that actress.

That’s a small nitpick at what is a great script, executed with panache by Christopher Nolan, who wouldn’t have been my first pick for a Batman film. I was really interested when Darren Aronofsky was attached, and The Fountain remains one of my favorite underappreciated films. His Batman would have certainly looked interesting, and seeing Year One through the gritty, paranoid filter of Pi would have been something, but I think Nolan was obviously the right choice. Memento‘s complex web of motives is evident in the trifecta of villains in Begins; the noir edge of his masterpiece Following translated well to gritty Gotham.
The movie wisely never shows the bodies of its villains, and gave us a 3-year tease for the next one, all beginning with that little Joker card in an evidence bag. It set the bar high for superhero movies, and is on par with my other favorites- Iron Man, Spider-Man, and 1978’s Superman. Even if you include non-hero comic book movies like Sin City, A History of Violence, 300, and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, it’s high on the list. We’ll see if Zack Snyder’s take on the uber-graphic novel Watchmen takes its place next year. The Dark Knight is assured to be as good if not better than its predecessor, but Superman is in the emo toilet in Bryan Singer’s incapable hands, so Watchmen is our only hope.

80’s Trash of the Week: Runaway

It Is The Future… where every home has a robot, Tom Selleck saves us from Gene Simmons, who has made evil microchips that turn projectors and erector sets into deadly killing machines.
All the good parts condensed into a trailer.

I can be pretty forgiving of a movie that makes me nostalgic. I saw Runaway back in ’84 as a 13 year old idiot, and it was the greatest thing ever. Robots, computers, boobs, and Gene Simmons. Now just a few years earlier, the horrible KISS album Unmasked came out and shattered our childhood dreams that KISS were exactly like they were in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, demons from another dimension who bring us Rock and save us from monsters. Before the blessed internet, the movie was the only way we could glimpse what Gene Simmons looked like in human form. If he was truly human… we all knew he had a cow’s tongue grafted on, so perhaps his make-up was really a tattoo, or a birthmark.

According to the wikipedia, Runaway was meant to be “the sci-fi blockbuster of the summer,” but Michael Crichton’s dreams were smashed like a poseur band under KISS’s boots when James Cameron, the one true god of the action film, came out with another little killer robot movie called The Terminator. Crichton would have to shut up about the d-d-dangers of technology until 1993, when he stole Charles Pellegrino’s idea about getting dinosaur DNA from amber. So we have James Cameron to thank for not another retread of Westworld coming out every few years. Crichton’s other bad 80’s film, Looker, which was about making CG “models “of perfect fashion models and then killing them, will be the subject of another week’s review.

This movie starts out bad and gets progressively worse. It has a few interesting ideas that it executes clumsily, and it’s hard to believe that it’s made by the same guy who gave us the pretty damn good 70’s movie Westworld, also about killer robots. Futureworld had come out already, so maybe we were sick of killer robots that looked like Radio Shack leftovers. Either way, watching it now is like getting teeth pulled.

It begins with Tom Selleck and his female partner (see, in the future we won’t be as sexist as Michael Crichton’s novels) show up at a corn field to catch a runaway robot that looks like a Tonka truck.
The wily robot runs all over the field, and the cops, as a robot version of Animal Control, can do nothing better than chase it on foot and tackle it. It of course, explodes. That’s what technology does. Later, they show up at a hostage situation where the home robot has a gun and shot its masters. There’s a baby inside, so Selleck dons chain mail and some oven mitts, grabs his trusty laser, and heads in to kill Rosie the Robot, who looks a lot like an old projector with wheels on it. Sort of like Battlebots would be, years later. So maybe they got that right.

To Selleck’s discredit, he plays the part completely straight.

Our hero is pretty bland and has no personality, except hating robots (despite owning one) and being afraid of heights. This and the spy flop Lassiter pretty much buried any hopes of a Tom Selleck action hero career. Even with the porn ‘stache. Magnum, P.I. always had some humor, and this movie would have benefited from a little. As usual, Crichton takes his nervous-nelly technology-fearmongering incredibly seriously, with such awfully written exchanges as:

Ramsey: Lemme tell ya the way the world is. Nothing works right. Relationships don’t work right, people don’t work right, people make machines so why should machines be perfect?
Karen: Because they’re machines.
Ramsey: Yeah, well thats not the way it is.

Pretty deep, huh?

J-NEE’s got a gun…

Once they check out the killer projector, they find a custom chip in it with a red mark on it, the universal symbol of evil. Once the token black cop inspects it, he declares it can “turn any domestic computer into a killing machine.” Dun dunt DUN! Who would do something so diabolical? Gene Simmons from KISS, that’s who. Just look at how deliciously evil he looks. He’s loving every minute of it.

That little smirk means “I was banging Kirstie Alley in my trailer.”

Yes, Kirstie Alley. Back in the 80’s she was smokin’, now she’s a smoked pork loin. Actually that’s a cruel and easy joke, but she’s a Scientologist and we show them no mercy here. I guess she’s just got a lot of body thetans now, or the cans on her e-meter were filled with gravy. But here, in the magical 80’s, she was hot stuff, with some wild eyeshadow.

If I only knew that thetans lived in pie.

In this scene, they are checking her for bugs. Not coochie-thetans, the electronic kind. It’s a clever excuse for her to get topless. In the 80’s, discerning audiences demanded at least one boob scene.

Gene Simmons’ gun pre-dates the cool RoboCop gun by a few years, but isn’t as cool. Instead of being a machine pistol, it uses Acme Cartoon Technology to sniff out its target, turn corners, and double back. Tom Selleck actually runs away from it, dodges it, and so on. We later learn that it is a mini-rocket that traces your heat signature, when the black scientist cop lights a smoke next to one they captured. Yes, he lights a smoke next to an unexploded rocket cartoon bomb that chases you all around the studio backlot to explode up your ass. The movie is that smart. They also use a fucking psychic to track where the bullet came from, to show that flim-flammery is better than science.

Hey Gene, that’s no Love Gun.

Selleck’s partner gets shot in the arm with the Wile E. Coyote gun and he demands to remove the bullet himself, since those “disarmer bots” (also looking suspiciously like a projector with stuff on it) are always screwing up. He saves her arm and she’s just fine one scene later, that’s the power of the human touch. In the next, most exciting scene, the cops get into their crappy little cars and get chased by little remote-control modems that explode under them.
They get chased because they forgot to scan Kirstie’s purse for bugs, and there’s a great scene where they jump from moving cars, with the doors open so the cars are 10 feet apart, instead of going through the windows. They shoot the bomberbots with a laser mounted on top of the other car, that uses the same sound effect as the Star Wars ship lasers.

Not the best way to swap cars, but the best way to show Selleck’s ass.

Kirstie, shaken by that idiotic chase, finally gives up “the templates” for the Evil Microchips, which look like photo negatives. They meet Simmons to trade the templates at a sushi restaurant with a racist neon logo, where his partner gets captured because Selleck isn’t paying attention.

Hai! You wan’ sushi? Yes, the face is yellow.

Simmons doesn’t just have Acme chase-you bullets, evil microchips, and remote control bombs at his disposal. The film’s probably most famous for the spiders, which look like erector set toys, and can jump on you, inject acid, and explode with a lot of sparks, “leaving no evidence.” Except acid burns and robot shrapnel in your face. My personal favorite scene is when one kills a female cop in the bathroom, because she dies like a cartoon cockroach. Her legs flail and then stick straight up like she got sprayed with Raid. Crichton should be commended for directing this touching death scene.
Dying in a toilet stall is never dignified.

They trade templates for hostages, but only give him half, so Simmons has to sneak into the police station to find out where Selleck lives. Despite looking like pure evil, and being the city’s most wanted terrorist, he just dons a uniform and uses their computers. He doesn’t even hack in on a phone line, even though he hacked the police cameras earlier. He shows up at Selleck’s house and kicks over his housebot, who talks like Cartman’s mom and looks suspiciously like a stereo system on wheels with a phone attached. Then he takes his annoying kid hostage, and to the top of a highrise under construction, because he knows Selleck is afraid of heights. Not that it stops him from going to the top of the building, hanging from underneath the freight elevator, and swinging around like an orangutan. Also, there is a Spark Factory on the top floor. Action films have a lot of spark factories in them, sort of like how every spaceship since Alien has had a Dripping Chain Room.
The intolerably long roof scene.

Simmons unwisely tells him that the spiderbots are programmed to kill the first person down the elevator, so Selleck uses their cold robotic logic against his nemesis, by making him land on the ground first. And we all know what that leads to. Explosive acid-injection! One even gets him in the crotch.

Where’s the KISS Army when I need them?
After the requisite second death scene, they all live happily ever after, and are all killed by Terminators. I wouldn’t recommend seeing this film, unless you want to shatter your nostalgic yearning to see it again. It’s badly paced and feels intolerably long, it has what is probably Jerry Goldsmith’s worst score, and Selleck and his partner are so damn boring that Gene Simmons chewing up the scenery like Ozzy on a bat’s scrotum isn’t enough to keep it interesting. Unlike The Last Starfighter, it lacks the charm necessary for me to overlook its faults. It was deservingly overshadowed by The Terminator, whose effects and pacing make it look like a TV movie in comparison. The spiderbots are kind of neat and they manage to make them look better than little tinkertoys in a few scenes, but this is a relic best avoided.