Friday, October 18, 2019

Hubrisween 2019 :: M is for Midnight Ride (1990)

At a car rental counter in Montevideo, California, a pleasant young man finishes up the paperwork needed on the rental agreement with a harried clerk. Seems he’s in a hurry to visit an old friend in Hendersonville, and all that’s left to do is hand over his credit card information. Only he doesn’t have one. A credit card. And when the clerk informs no card, no car, and the man reiterates how important it is that he gets to his destination but is still rebuffed, his pleasantries quickly evaporate as he angrily crumples up the papers and then throws them into the clerks face.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the same familiar argument that’s finally happened just one time too many, as her husband nurses a beer on the couch in front of the TV, the wife quickly and quietly packs up her suitcase in the bedroom and slinks into the garage. And after stashing her baggage in the trunk of the car, Lara (Gersak) finds her husband, Lawson (Dudikoff), waiting in the passenger seat, holding her toothbrush, saying she forgot something, and that familiar argument begins anew.

Seems Lawson is a cop, a Detective Lieutenant on the Montevideo force, and Lara feels he is more married to his job than to her. And this cumulative neglect has her ready to move out and move on. But Lawson still loves Lara and refuses to let her go that easily. And as the argument continues, a compromise is reached when Lawson offers they go out for her favorite ice cream to cool off. And if she still wants to leave after they finish, he won’t stop her. 

And while this seems sincere, Lara uses this as a ruse and peels out once Lawson exits the car at the malt shop. But as she speeds away, Lawson lashes out, screaming she won’t get far because he’ll have every cop in the State looking for her, which gives the impression Lara has probably made the right decision to leave this possessive creep behind.

Up the road a piece, Lara pulls over at a payphone and calls a friend in Santa Barbara, saying she’s finally left Lawson and will be arriving in about two hours. But when she returns to her car, a man taps on the passenger-side window -- the same young man who failed to rent a car, who claims he missed the bus and begs for a ride to his home in Hendersonville. And since that’s on the way to Santa Barbara, Lara takes pity on him. A decision she will soon come to regret as he crawls in and introduces himself as Justin McKay (Hamill). For while Lara has every right to be nervous when they approach a police roadblock, Justin acts even more squirelly when she asks the officer what’s going on. But it’s just a landslide, and the officer helpfully points out the needed detour to get them around the obstruction.

Meanwhile, Lawson decides to keep his domestic problems to himself -- sort of, as he commandeers a squad car and speeds after Lara. At the roadblock, the officer in charge thought he recognized his wife but she had played-off Justin as her brother, saying they were headed home to Santa Barbara. This news really pisses Lawson off; and now thinking Lara has run off with another man, he puts the accelerator through the floor and manages to get ahead of his moving target and tries to cut them off, getting his squad car totaled in the process. Here, Lara begs him to stop following her, and he counters by saying then stop running away as she and Justin speed on, leaving a stranded Lawson behind.

When a bewildered Justin asks what the hell just happened? Lara explains that was her husband, she’s dumped him, but he’s a cop that won’t go quietly. All the while, Justin’s behavior has become more and more unhinged as he keeps snapping Polaroids of Lara and engages in other OCD-type behavior. Upon reaching the next town, Lara stops at a motel to use a payphone again. Here, the belligerent hotel manager (Szigeti) emerges, complaining they’re blocking the entrance. Saying they will only be a minute, Lara moves to make the call as Justin, angered over the rude behavior and entranced by the manager’s glass eye, follows the other woman into the lobby.

Outside, Lara calls Lawson and leaves a message, telling him where she’s going and how to reach her but begs for some space and time away from him so she can get her head straight and then they can reevaluate things. Heading back to the car, Justin emerges from the motel and hands her the car keys, saying better safe than sorry. Once more on the road, Lara asks Justin what he’s tinkering with. It’s a present for her, he says, and then reveals the centerpiece of whatever the hell he’s cobbling together is the glass eye he just carved out of the motel manager’s skull after Justin killed her, which he proves by showing her the Polaroids that captured the time of death. And here, right at this thunderclap moment, Lara realizes too late that the real danger is not coming from behind and trying to catch up, but is sitting right next to her...

Perhaps unfairly, these days Robert “Bob” Bralver's biggest claim to fame is probably playing a series of doomed Red Shirts in the original Star Trek series. But Bralver had been performing stunts on television for about a year before he met his demise in The Tholian Web and would go on to establish quite the career as a stuntman and stunt-coordinator on a ton of TV shows in the 1970s and ‘80s ranging from Kojak (1975-1978), Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) and The Fall Guy (1981-1982), as well as a few feature films, including The Nude Bomb (1980), The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), Road House (1988) and Darkman (1990).

And while performing stunt work and playing bit parts for over three decades Bralver also contributed several scripts to the series he worked on, penning a dozen episodes of Emergency (1974-1977) and a couple for Kojak. He also slid behind the camera as an assistant director and second-unit specialists starting in 1978 with a half dozen episodes of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977-1978), the ill-fated sequel, Galactica 1980 (1980), Knight Rider (1982-1984), and Riptide (1984-1986 -- Bozbot 4VR!). And with all these accumulated experiences, Bralver decided it was time to step up and direct his own action-oriented and stunt-heavy feature, Midnight Ride (1990), which he co-wrote with Russell Manzatt -- Rush Week (1988), Trapper County War (1989), for producer Ovidio Assonitis and Cannon Films.

Assonitis got into the movie business in the 1960s, forming a distribution company that catered to Southeast Asian product, distributing over 900 films from several sources including Toho, the Shaw Brothers out of Hong Kong, and Kong Cho Yee’s Edko Films. In the 1970s, Assonitis started producing movies -- knock-offs mostly, with Beyond the Door (1974), which was meant to cash-in on the resulting Satanic Panic after The Exorcist (1973) hit theaters, and Tentacles (1977), a JAWS (1975) clone where a huge octopus subs in for the giant shark that was rushed into theaters to beat out the pending release of JAWS 2 (1978). And then there was the nigh inexplicable The Visitor (1979), where Assonitis mashed-up Carrie (1976) and The Omen (1976) with a Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) chaser. Watch and boggle, Boils and Ghouls. Watch and boggle.

In the 1980s, Assonitis hired on James Cameron to direct his first feature, Piranha II: The Spawning (1981) after being impressed by his special-effects work on Galaxy of Terror (1981). But Cameron only lasted for five days before Assonitis fired him and took over. Yeah, known as a hands on producer, Assonitis had a dubious reputation of bullying his directors into doing things the way he wanted them done; and his personal stamp is easy to see in all of his features like Madhouse (1981) and the even more inexplicable, Sonny Boy (1989), where Paul Smith and a transgendered David Carradine raise a baby and use it to commit crimes when he grows up without his tongue, which they cut out.

The very same year Sonny Boy was released, Assonitis was appointed Chairman and CEO of the floundering Cannon Films, which had recently fallen into bankruptcy due to over-expansion and a series of high-profile flops -- Lifeforce (1985), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). Hemorrhaging cash and under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over fraud allegations, Cannon Films was taken over by Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti and his Pathé Communications in 1988, who began a corporate restructuring and refinancing of Cannon’s $250-million debt. But Parretti and Menahem Golan did not get along. And after a falling out with his longtime partner, Yoram Globus, Golan resigned his position as Cannon’s Chairman and CEO to form 21st Century Film Corporation and was replaced with the veteran Italian producer, Assonitis, who rebranded the property as Cannon Pictures Inc. as a low-budget distribution arm of Pathé, which had also recently merged with MGM.

But Assonitis barely lasted a year as CEO before bailing-out and moving on as Cannon’s fortunes continued to rapidly deteriorate before dying for good around 1994. During its brief existence, Cannon Pictures Inc. only managed to produce a grand total of five films, four of which starred Cannon regular, Michael Dudikoff -- The Human Shield (1991), Rescue Me (1992), Chain of Command (1994) and, of course, Midnight Ride, which was yet another knock-off as Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986) is an obvious influence as the homicidally psychotic Justin hitches a ride and escorts his captive driver through a night of terror, murder and mayhem while her haplessly estranged husband doggedly pursues them.

And as Lawson borrows a taxi cab and gets back on the trail of death and destruction left in their wake, Justin sets the rules for Lara with the top priority being to answer his questions truthfully and to never, ever, run away from him. Making her promise to this as if her life depended on it because it does, Lara agrees as he next instructs her to find them a place to eat. As they search, Justin coerces some history out of Lara. Seems she’s a Russian immigrant and Lawson was a former Marine. They met and fell in love at the American Embassy in Moscow, where he was stationed, got married, and here we are. Justin also shares he used to have a sister but doesn’t reveal too much because they finally find a diner.

But they’re too late as it’s just closed for the night and Justin finds himself embroiled in yet another domestic dispute between a waitress and her surly boyfriend. Once more taking the keys, he uses his switchblade to scare off the bullying boyfriend and then offers to give the waitress (Deane) a ride home -- if it’s OK with “his wife."

Meantime, Lara digs out her spare set of car keys but doesn’t have time to use them before Justin and their new passenger get in. But once they reach their destination and Justin escorts the woman into her house, where he terrorizes and then kills her, he returns to the street to find Lara long gone.

Thus, he lays a trap for the next unsuspecting motorist, who, by mere happenstance, turns out to be Lawson, who never got a good look at Justin when Lara smashed up his patrol car. And so, his guard is down as Justin susses out he’s Lara’s husband. And then, not only does he steal his gun and hijack his ride, Justin ties Lawson spread-eagle to the hood of the taxi and starts playing bumper-tag with a semi, trying to crush his victim’s head, until the stolen car runs out of gas.

And so, to finish him off, Justin puts the taxi in neutral and shoves it down a hill, where it strikes another passing car and detonates, killing a family of three and, as far as he knows, Lawson -- not realizing he’d managed to bail-off before impact. Then, Justin picks up another ride when a passing patrolmen stops to see what happened, thinking he’s a witness and not the perpetrator.

And that’s why Lora doesn’t realize it’s Justin when she heeds the lights and siren and pulls over. Captured again, Lara promises to do anything if Justin will just let her go. But this psychopath has become smitten with her and wants to take her to meet his friend in Hendersonville, Dr. Hardy. He also torments her with the news of Lawson’s alleged death, and how he thought she was a slut that ran off with another guy -- that other guy being him, making this destiny of sorts.

And what follows after is quite the convoluted game of cat and mouse as Justin lets Lara go after a blowout, but leaves all the lug-nuts off so she will invariably crash further up the road, which allows him to commandeer a bus, killing the driver, and then pick her up down the road to torment her further.

Here, Justin reveals more of his case history over the PA system to his captive audience; how his mom was an abusive alcoholic who killed his little sister while he watched when she caught them in bed together -- he claims it was for mutual warmth but, who knows?

At some point, Justin’s erratic driving draws the attention of several members of the California Highway Patrol, whom he leads on a merry chase until he crashes the bus into a gas station. There, using Lara as a hostage and human shield, he manages to pick off the officers one by one until the last two find the other’s bodies near the pumps, which Justin turned on and then ignites the spilled gas with a stolen shotgun blast and lets the resulting explosion take care of the rest.

Meanwhile, Lawson has secured himself another car in a particularly wild stunt by stealing one off the back of a moving semi. And he catches up just as the gas station explodes, spots Lara, bound and gagged in the front seat alongside Justin, who marvels at his apparent nine lives, and chases after them into Hendersonville, where Justin finally disables his car with several shotgun blasts.

Unhindered, Justin presses on to the Hendersonville Hospital, where he promises Lara that Dr. Hendry will fix her right up just like he did him years ago. And to accomplish this, he jumps vehicles again, killing a paramedic and stealing his uniform. All part of his plan to pass Lara off as an unstable psychiatric patient to gain access to Dr. Hardy. Thus, no one believes Lara when she screams about Justin being a killer as she’s hauled to Dr. Hardy’s office.

But Dr. Hardy (Mitchum) believes her, being well acquainted with Justin’s anti-social and sociopathic behavior. And what Justin wants is to give Lara the same electro-shock treatment Hardy gave him all those years ago, saying it will make her feel better and solve all of her problems -- and when he says solve all of her problems he means fry her brain and turn her into a vegetable and then they can get married. When Hardy refuses to cooperate and tries to talk Justin down, the villain takes it upon himself to administer the treatment. 

Luckily, before he can flip the switch, Lawson catches up to them once more, triggering quite the brawl between he and Justin, that covers most of the hospital grounds, that inexplicably has an ATV stowed away in the basement, before Lawson, after being a punching bag for the entire movie, finally gets the upper hand and tosses Justin over a railing, where he lands on a power transformer, which shorts-out on impact and electrocutes him.

But the charge is not fatal and Justin survives. In the aftermath, Hardy tries to explain Justin’s psychopathy to Lara and how he will spend the rest of his life locked-up here in the psych-ward. He understands she’s been through a lot and offers to help with her PTSD anyway he can. 

Lawson, meanwhile, has traded in a broken leg for a busted arm -- long story. And as he and Lara take the first steps toward a possible reconciliation, bad timing at the elevator finds them face to face with a drugged-out Justin, who springs to life just long enough to knock his orderly away, seize a handy scalpel, and lunge for Lara only to have Lawson put a bullet in his head, ending this wild ride once and for all.

Before being cast as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars (1977), Mark Hamill had already established quite the acting career on the small screen, appearing in dozens of TV series -- The Partridge Family, Canon, Petrocelli, One Day at a Time, Eight is Enough, lending his voice to several animated series -- Jeanie, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, and a stand-out performance as a mentally unstable youth out to terrorize the man he believes to be the father who abandoned him in the Made for TV movie, The City (1977). But after Star Wars hit, Hamill never could quite find the traction needed to break away from his career defining role the way his co-star Harrison Ford had.

After a promising start in the comedy Corvette Summer (1978), and being one of the leads in Sam Fuller’s World War II epic, The Big Red One (1980), things kind of dried up and it was pretty hit and miss for the actor as aside from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) he essentially abandoned the medium and started doing stage-plays, where he excelled in productions of The Elephant Man, where he played John Merrick, and Amadeus, where he took the role of Mozart; and when Amadeus was to be adapted as a feature in 1984, Hamill auditioned to reprise the role but lost the part to Tom Hulce when a studio executive told the film's producers, "I don't want Luke Skywalker in this film!" Thus, Hamill only starred in a grand total of two films between Return of the Jedi and Midnight Ride.

Then, in the 1990s, Hamill sort of reinvented himself as a voice-over specialist for video games and animated features and cartoons, where he established the quintessential take on the Joker in Batman The Animated Series (1992-1994). And it’s kind of fun to watch Hamill essentially do a dry run for that role in Midnight Ride as it’s easy to draw a line from the chaos agent Justin McKay to the Clown Prince of Crime, where he gets to fight The Dudikoff and match wits with Robert Mitchum. 

My love for The Dudikoff has already been firmly established, and he’s strictly in his comfort zone as Lawson takes an extraordinary amount of punishment for something he’s supposed to be the hero in. Mitchum shows up for the last five minutes, but refuses to mail it in as he tries to connect with Justin. This was the fifth film in a row Savina Gersak had done for Assonitis, and she acquits herself well in a fairly thankless role as the damsel in constant distress. And I love the wild card element that even when it’s over, Lara and Lawson’s marriage is still on shaky ground.

As for the production they’re all plugged into, well, being set totally at night, with the constantly blue light filters, syncopated drums, and ever present fog, Midnight Ride comes off as an extended music video at times -- so much so you kind of find yourself waiting for the song to start in spots. But Bralver also stays in his comfort zone, concentrating on the myriad stunts and spectacle, which are pretty amazing in their patented ridiculousness as coincidences pile up and our characters, somehow, keep managing to find each other. But all this nonsense is pretty easy to swallow thanks to Hamill’s performance, and The Dudikoff being The Dudikoff, as Bralver lets them run and floors it from the get-go and doesn’t let up until it’s all over, making Midnight Ride a demented good time and another one of those features that really needs to make a digital leap from VHS purgatory to a legitimate DVD release.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween! 26 Days! 26 Films! 26 Reviews! And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage as The Fiasco Brothers and Yours Truly countdown from A to Z all October long! That's 13 reviews down with 13 more to go! Halfway home! Up Next: In Texas, No One Can Hear You Scream Over the Power Tools.

Midnight Ride (1990) Cannon Pictures Inc. / P: Ovidio G. Assonitis / D: Bob Bralver / W: Russell V. Manzatt, Bob Bralver / C: Roberto D'Ettorre, Piazzoli / E: Claudio M. Cutry / M: Carlo Maria Cordio / S: Michael Dudikoff, Mark Hamill, Savina Gersak, Robert Mitchum, Lezlie Deane, Pamela Ludwi, Cynthia Szigeti

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