I confess to a certain bemused amusement with regard to Anna Nicole Smith. The 1993 Playmate of the Year is not my type at all – the word “grotesque” has crossed my lips more than once concerning her physique – but her 14 month marriage to multi-millionaire J.Howard Marshall was like watching a train wreck. Did anyone ever doubt it would all end in tears and lawsuits? She was 26, he was 89; five years after his death, an LA judge awarded Smith $449,754,134 from his estate (it works out at somewhere over $40,000 for every hour of the marriage!). That verdict is still being appealed, but hell, for that money, wouldn’t you sleep with a ninety-year old?
In addition to a number of videos entirely reliant on her flesh, the former Vickie Lynn Hogan from Mexia, Texas has also starred in two “proper” films. I bought these on a whim – I was drunk, too, but it took quite some time before I plucked up the courage (and, let’s be honest, consumed an appropriate amount of alcohol) actually to put either of them into the DVD player.
The obvious point of comparison for Smith would be Pamela Anderson, another Playboy playmate who moved into films of doubtful quality, but any such comparison would be unfair. To Anderson, that is, who given the right role, is not actually too bad. With Smith, you get the feeling she simply has no talent, and any character would be a stretch, let alone the Shakespeare-aware, ace helicopter pilot and crackshot she is supposed to portray in this shameless Die Hard clone.
She is trapped in a tower block by a bunch of criminals who are after a computer chip which…er, well they never actually say what it does, but they clearly want it bad. Just like Brooce, she’s bickering with her other half, a police officer – “I wanna have a baby,” she whines, not long after the immortal line, “Well, excuse me for still believing in Sunday walks in the park and little babies.” It was at this point, that my sympathy for her character made its excuses and left.
Other points of similarity with McTiernan’s classic action film:
- Hero/ine crashes in through a plate glass window, half-way up the building.
- Slimy worker tries to cut a deal with the terrorists, only to get a fatal come-uppance.
- Bad guys are largely European types – though in Skyscraper they look pretty gay, too.
When in motion, the general execution is not so bad, and the first of these probably provides the film’s best sequence, as Smith leaps onto a window-washer’s cradle, and dangles from a cable, trying to avoid gunfire from the rooftop. Not brilliant, I admit, but compared to much of the rest of the movie, it stands out as tense and well-staged.
The script and the acting sink this one early, and it’s damned further any time Smith opens her mouth. The chief villain – associate producer Hubner – quotes Shakespeare badly, mixing in the odd Biblical quote for good measure: his performance is mercilessly skewered in one review which includes a highly amusing parody of his style. Another article, now sadly lost, spent half its time detailing a Saturday night search for a copy of the video. The other supporting characters such as the cowardly security guard are, at best, good ideas badly implemented, and at worst, pointless wastes of space (who are probably also associate producers – there’s a coincidence!).
Smith whips ’em out four times: one shower scene, two consensual sex scenes (one as a flashback, while she’s right in the middle of evading the terrorists!), and one rape – the last of these might actually have some vague relevance to the storyline, but the others certainly don’t. Her attempt at any kind of action are ultra-lame as well, presumably out of fear that any kind of sudden motion could rupture an implant. She might have been better served by trying to smother the terrorists, Double Agent 73 style.
It’s easy to imagine the pitch for this one: “It’ll be Die Hard with tits!” Given the vast number of other clones in that style made before and since, such an endeavour was probably inevitable – and in the right hands, or at least with the right leading lady, might have had some potential. Instead, the main reason to watch this is for some cheap laughs at the most woeful acting performance since the early days of Pia Zadora. Bad movie fans will likely love it; everyone else should stay clear.
Dir: Raymond Martino
Stars: Anna Nicole Smith, Charles M. Huber, Richard Steinmetz, Branko Cikatic
- To The Limit
If this film is superior to Skyscraper, it’s largely because it has a good bit less Anna Nicole in it. You may even actually find yourself paying attention, simply because the plot doesn’t make much sense for the first 45 minutes; you wonder how it took three writers to come up with the plot, unless they were locked in separate rooms. It was only later that I discovered it’s a semi-sequel to another Martino work, Da Vinci’s War, in which Nouri and Travolta’s characters previously appeared. Does help explain why the movie hits the ground running and doesn’t bother to explain who anyone is.
From what I can work out, ANS is Colette, an undercover CIA agent. It is at least more plausible than the helicopter pilot thing, since the best undercover agent is somebody no-one would ever believe was one. This makes Anna Nicole very, very good indeed. She gets involved when her lover (Nouri) is blown up by a car-bomb on his way to the wedding of Da Vinci (Travolta), which is simultaneously rudely interrupted by a massacre, though it’s not a patch on the amazing one in Queen’s High.
It does leave Da Vinci’s new wife dead, and he himself is badly injured, and barely survives a follow-up attempt in the hospital, when a “nurse” tries to poison him. It all turns out to be orchestrated by the heavily-tattooed, bearded but bald, bad guy Arthur (Bannon), who is after a CD-Rom that threatens to incriminate him in…oh, the usual bad-guy stuff, I guess: murder, drug-dealing, and not phoning his mother on Sundays.
As a result, both Da Vinci and Colette are now being hunted, and must team up to ensure their safety from a constant stream of assassins pointed their way by Arthur. A pleasing number of these are women, but what else would you expect from a film containing no less than three Playboy Playmates of the Year? [Smith (1993), Rebecca Ferratti (1986), and Kathy Shower (1985)]
This is shallow, straight-to-video fodder, but is at least workmanlike, and Travolta is a good deal less smug than his more famous brother. I still question the need for three writers, especially given a particularly lame climax on the Hoover Dam, which will certainly have you handling your CDs more carefully for a while. Nicole Smith is slightly better than in Skyscraper, though any speech longer than a sentence starts teetering perilously towards “I wanna have a baby!” territory.
There is one decent sequence in which she shoots her way out of a motel, which I confess had me wondering briefly who this competent action actress was. Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as usual, with two sex scenes (Nouri and Travolta are the unfortunate actors involved), one bath scene and a shower scene, both of which have Colette paying special attention to cleaning certain of her bits, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Actually, I’m reporting the shower scene second-hand; I dozed off, and it was left to my fiancee, Chris, to experience that horror…
Dir: Raymond Martino
Stars: Joey Travolta, Anna Nicole Smith, Jack Bannon, Michael Nouri
- Illegal Aliens
“Anna Nicole’s last film. It’s probably her best, though that’s not saying much.”
Okay, her swansong won’t be up there with James Dean’s or Bruce Lee’s, but this does at least sense its own idiocy, rendering the movie somewhat bullet-proof, critically speaking. It’s supposed to be dumb, wildly implausible and hideously over-acted. So condemning it for these flaws is complaining because your hotdog tastes of meat. A trio of shape-shifting aliens land on Earth to protect it from the scum of the universe. Thanks to their first encounter with our culture coming in the shape of a porno mag, they opt for the form of attractive women. Two end up getting jobs as FX/stunt people in Hollywood – a sadly underexplored angle – while the third is…Anna Nicole Smith. Then their nemesis (Laurer, the actress formerly known as Chyna) turns up, taking over the body of a mobster’s wife, and prepares to bring about the end of the world. Can she be stopped?
We do have a huge tolerance for “bad” movies in this house, not least Smith’s earlier efforts, so maybe appreciated this more than most. However, for every neat idea, such as the trio taking Cameron, Lucy and Drew as their human names, another doesn’t work at all, or is just creepy, like the director’s apparent obsession with AN’s toilet habits. The film also swings from decent production values – some stunts and chases are large-scale, though I suspect may come from other flicks – to cheapjack as hell. For instance, at one point there’s a ‘Super Villain Monologue Timer’, an amusing idea…except they spell it “Villian”. Ouch. Laurer channels Vincent D’Onofrio from Men in Black to an embarrassing extent, but is still oddly fun to watch, though there’s a strange difference in approach between her or Smith, and the other two leads, who play it almost straight.
There’s no doubt this film is, if not cashing in on her death, certainly shrugging its shoulders and taking advantage of an unfortunate situation. I don’t really blame them for that, even if anyone looking for skin will be wasting their time here. In sharp contrast to her previous, ah, body of work, AN’s clothes remain on; as exploitation goes, this is tame and restrained. And that may be the main problem: a failure by the makers to decide which way to go. SF/action or all-out comedy? There’s enough of each to suggest, with greater commitment, either might have worked better. Instead, it comes off as somewhat lukewarm – can’t say we were ever bored, yet I can’t say I was ever more than mildly amused.
The DVD was released in the US on April 22nd by MTI Home Video, and includes a commentary, deleted scenes and bloopers.
Dir: David Giancola
Stars: Anna Nicole Smith, Joanie Laurer, Gladys Jimenez, Lenise Sorén
Anna Nicole Smith sees herself as a modern-day Marilyn Monroe, and it’s tempting to suggest that her best hope of lasting fame probably lies in sleeping with the President, followed by an early suicide. This would be cruel and unkind but, having sat through these, I’m not feeling especially sympathetic towards Vickie Lynn. Mercifully, the ongoing lawsuits appear to have terminated her movie career, and for once, I can only appreciate the slow, tortuous nature of the legal process in modern America.