Sunday, February 3

Some quick thoughts on American Ricksaw (American risciò) (1990)

Toshiba's Japanese VHS was the basis for this review
Popped in this Sergio Martino-directed action/fantasy/ricksaw/horror gumbo last night for the first time. After skimming through mostly scathing reviews, I was bracing for the worst, expecting a sad mishmash from a great genre director that's as utterly confusing as this theatrical trailer over on YouTube. Surprisingly, it's not quite like anything I was expecting.

The story concerns a young ricksaw driver in Miami, Scott (U.S. Olympic Gold medalist Mitch Gaylord), who finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy after catching someone taping a sexual encounter with a redhead he just met. The videotaping pervert ends up being the son of an immensely popular televangelist (Donald Pleasance) and the shit smashes the fan when the guy is murdered and Scott's falsely accused with both the feds and a thuggish hitman (Daniel Green) on his trail. That all sounds straight forward...until you throw in a mysterious "Chinese witch" in a skyscraper penthouse that seems to be protecting Scott and conjuring cobras, fire, melting keys, and a Siamese feline to help him out of sticky situations. And the televangelist might be a centuries old arch nemesis of the elderly woman possessing artifacts of extreme mystical power.

So yeah, this whole thing is...different. If you're used to the pitfalls of late Italian genre offerings, it's hard to condemn American Ricksaw as "bad" in a traditional sense. In these twilight years, as the country's filmmaking industry grew sadly stale, it literally began eating itself. Now bygone concepts that were already riffed from whatever made bank in Hollywood during Italy's cult prime were regurgitated, only even cheaper, and usually jammed together into a single film. The results tended to be goofy and a pale comparison of what once dependable filmmakers like Martino or Fulci were capable of just a few years prior.

So what makes American Ricksaw pull away? It's definitely the most potent example of this "throw everything at the wall and hopefully make money off the resulting movie" mentality I've encountered. So many zany aspects are thrown into the pot that you're glued to the set in bewilderment and intrigue over where it's all leading. Maybe that was the point...?

Regardless, everyone onscreen works their limited parts well. Gaylord's not totally incompetent and Green (Martino's '86 Hands of Steel) actually shows some growth as an actor. Or at least he doesn't seem to have just stumbled off a football field with two minutes to practice his lines. Pleasance's appearance is literally four tiny speaking scenes making it obvious he's only here to give the film some meager measure of star name power. Despite the budget, Martino stages some effective tension and action in the right places while the story barely hangs onto coherence. Check it out on a rainy day, just approach it with caution. Released in the states on VHS as American Tiger by Academy Entertainment.

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