Thursday, 1 August 2013

Never Too Young To Die (1986)



The success of the James Bond franchise has spawned many spoofs and rip-offs over the years, all trying to cash in on the glamour and gadgets. These range from more mainstream films, such as the Matt Helm series, featuring Dean Martin, to more off-the-wall efforts such as For Your Height Only, starring the 2ft 9in tall Filipino actor Weng Weng, and Never Too Young to Die definitely belongs on the latter end of the scale. This is mostly due to an outrageous, unforgettable turn from KISS bass player Gene Simmons as a cross-dressing super villain/nightclub singer. Throw in cameo appearances from both a bona fide James Bond, in the shape of George Lazenby, and Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, as a computer geek, some truly awful 80s music, and plot twists and turns that range all the way from stupid to incomprehensible, and you have a film never fails to entertain
John Stamos (a big TV star in the USA, not so well known in the UK) plays Lance Stargrove, the teenage son of secret agent Drew Stargrove (Lazenby). Stargrove Sr dies while trying to stop evil villain Velvet Von Ragner (Simmons) from poisoning the nation's drinking water. Lance sets out on a vengeance mission, teaming up with his father’s glamorous sidekick Danja Deering, and his college roommate Cliff, who, fortuitously, happens to be a nerdy genius with a stash of deadly gadgets and weapons.

The children-taking-over-from-the-grown-up-spies is a minor sub genre in itself, and the basic premise in this is no less stupid, and requires no more suspension of disbelief than in films like Spy Kids or Teen Agent. In addition, to the writer’s credit, they did go with the classic Hitchcock “MacGuffin”, in this case the hunt for a computer disc that is somehow vital to Ragner and his plans. Despite this, however, the wheels soon come off the film pretty quickly, thanks to – well pretty much everything, from the plot, the endless continuity gaffes, the soundtrack, the wooden acting, the overacting, and Lance Stargrove himself.

Marvel as our hero outwits teenage wrestling bullies, by pointing at one guy's chest, asking "What's that?", and then prodding him in the face when he looks down. Gasp as his roommate shows off his sub-Bond gadgets, while never questioning how dangerous it might be to keep a homemade flamethrower in their dorm, or how stupid an idea it is to put a bugging device in chewing gum. Cringe at the painfully awkward attempts by Danja to seduce the son of her former colleague by constantly hosing herself down while he eats a variety of different fruits. Wince as he attempts to tackle Ragner by biting his nipple. Be warned though - your head may explode when you hear the lyrics to his theme song.  (“…Stargrove, flying like you've never flown, Stargrove, running through a danger zone…”)
 
The real star of the show is, of course, Gene Simmons, channelling Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, completely dispensing with his regular macho rock star persona, wearing less makeup than when he appears with KISS, but still clad in a gold corset, with a feather boa around his neck. 



Like all good villains, Ragner has a secret lair, in this case, a biker bar / nightclub, where he is the main act, and his minions, dressed like extras from Mad Max, can gather together and be addressed as “turd balls” by him. He is also a master of disguise, by which I mean everybody except the people on screen can see that it is actually him underneath a poorly fitting wig and beard, pretending to be one of the good guys. And he dispatches his enemies by stabbing with an exceptionally long fingernail, or “giving them the finger”. While too shrill and hysterical to be genuinely menacing, the performance is always underpinned with a slightly unwholesome air, as if Simmons if not actually acting too hard in order to play a sleazy megalomaniac.
Director Gil Bettman had previously made TV shows such as Knight Rider and The Fall Guy, and the whole thing certainly has a small screen feel to it, with a cheap look and often flat, generic visuals. Thankfully, the goofy script, and mind-blowing villain make for great dumb, delirious fun, and a trash classic.