Tuesday, June 29, 2021

ACTION U.S.A. (1989) (MVD Rewind Collection Blu-ray Review)

ACTION U.S.A. (1989)

Label: MVD Rewind Collection
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound; PCM 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: John Stewart
Cast:  Gregory Scott Cummins, Ross Hagen, Cameron Mitchell, Barri Murphy

Former stuntman John Stewart who worked on some kick-ass movies like Hard Rock Zombies, Phantasm II and The Hidden before an injury turned him to directing movies. His first audacious film was the explosive, bullet-riddled action-extravaganza Action U.S.A, which he unleashed upon the world back in 1989. The straight-to-video gem that was shot in Waco, Texas, and thanks to the production giving a bit part to the Mayor of Waco, along with his daughter, they seemingly had unfettered access to the city, which resulted in a an unhinged and stupefying display of  wild, death defying car chases, gigantic explosions and guys dangling out of helicopters above the city! 

This is the sort of action film that pretty much checks off all the possible stunts there are in the stunt book. We've got a guys firing guns from their sun roof during a highspeed chase, a car plowing through an RV which explodes, a car jumping a school bus, multiple cars get airborne, rollover, and then explodes, a house explodes after a car drives straight through it, there's a fisticuff frenzy at a western bar, and a stomach churning high fall after a guy is thrown through a window out of a office building - this sucker has got it all! 

The story itself is fairly generic, it opens with a drug dealer named Billy Ray (Rod Shaft) in a souped-up nitro-burning Corvette driving wildly through the street before arriving home with his sexy girlfriend Carmen (Barri Murphy, Armed For Action). She's pulls of her top off lickety-split showing us her top-drawer goodies and they get to the sex-making, only to be rudely interrupted before they can get to the coitus interruptus by a pair of brute mob enforcers who literally break down the door and throw the guy in a car trunk. They drive him to a waiting helicopter and load him in, then fly over Waco, dangling him out of it and threatening to drop him. It is revealed that Billy Ray stole some gems from the wrong guy, crime lord Frankie Navarro (Cameron Mitchell, Blood and Black Lace) and they want them back. 

Under threat of being dropped he tells them where the gems are stashed, but they drop him anyway. Luckily, he plunging into a lake and not on concrete, but unluckily, the goons catch up with him and ventilate him with a spray of bullets. Billy's dead but the jokes on the goons because Billy Ray lied! 

Carmen gets away and comes under the protection of the FBI by way a pair of not-that-great-at-their-job FBI agents, Osborn (Gregory Scott Cummins, Hack-O-Lantern) and McKinnon (William Hubbard Knight), who are assigned by their boss Conover (William Smith, Conan the Barbarian) to keep her in protective custody. Meanwhile, Frankie Navarro sends three hired hitmen to track her down and find out f she knows where the gems are, hopefully before she can reveal to the feds the location of the gems. The hitmen are old pros Drago (Rose Hagen, Alienator) and Hitch (Hoke Howell, Kingdom of the Spiders), and a younger guy named Lucky (David Sanders).

This is the type of film that won't strain your brain attempting to figure it out. It's a one-dimensional flick without any twists or turns, and I love how simplistic and non-complicated it is, its just a cheesy amped-up 80's action flick with a fun white cop/black cop Lethal Weapon/48 Hrs buddy-cop dynamic. Cummins and Knight have a fun rapport between each other, but no one here is snagging any sort of  award for acting, but what they do have is an amateurish charisms with some witty back and forth that is quite entertaining. Murphy holds her own in her debut film as the woman-in-peril, dropping her top is a plus and she even sings a country tune at a honkytonk, but again, no acting awards. Rose Hagen as hitman Drago gets some fun lines to spout off, including a weird conversation with Hitch about how he became a hitman to keep his mom comfortable and in luxury till the end of her days. Obviously, Cameron Mitchell slums it here, at this point he would make just about anything, but he's always fun, and we get so see him in a bathtub with some young beauties, so why not.  

Made to entertain the film succeeds with very little plot and backstory needed, some janky dialogue, a shit-ton of high-octane thrills, huge explosions, and some death-defying stunt work that explodes right off the screen. This is definitely one of my favorite discoveries of 2021, a terrifically entertaining shot of non-stop action. 

Audio/Video: Action USA arrives on Blu-ray from MVD Entertainment in 1080p HD framed in 1.78:1 widescreen. The source is in great shape with very few minor blemishes. There's a layer of velvety grain throughout that supports satisfyingly fine detail and textures in the close-ups, plus clarity and depth are fantastic. Colors are vibrant and well saturated, and the blacks levels are solid. This formerly trapped on VHS gem looks quite wonderful in 1080p HD widescreen. 

Audio comes by way English PCM 2.0 stereo or DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround with optional English subtitles. I preferred the directness of the stereo option, but the 5.1 does offer some surround action during the action-scenes, but it is not the most active surround presentation, it feels thin and stretched. The sounds of screeching tires, gunfire and explosions sound terrific though, and that 80's synth score from Del Casher (Nightmare Sisters) has that awesome 80s cheese-patina. Dialogue also sounds fine, there's a bit of hiss in places but not too distracting. 

Extras kick-off with an audio commentary with Director John Stewart, star Gregory Scott Cummins and cinematographer Thomas Callaway, moderated by filmmaker Steve Latshaw. It's a lively discussion conducted via Zoom it sounds like,  they cover how they got that sweet Corvette seen at the start of the film in the movie, and it had something to do with a 7-11 and Slurpee! They also talk about originally wanting to shoot in L.A. before deciding on Waco, and then they get into why setting it in Waco made the film what it is today. It's a fun commentary that's loaded with anecdotes about the making of this 80's straight-to-video classic. Some of the best stuff concerns the gnarly stunts, car chases and fire stunts seen in the film, and how giving the Mayor of Waco and his daughter a small role in the film basically got them access to a lot of resources they otherwise would not have had. 
There is also a 29-minute interview with director Director John Stewart by Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man From Hong Kong), who is a guy that knows how to make an action film in his own right! Conducted over Skype or Zoom this looks to have been originally been made to play after a special screening of the film at the Alamo Drafthouse. Topics covered are the casting of stuntmen, writing the script and planning the stunts, executing the stints,  the emergency casting of female lead Barri Murphy after the original actress quit just a few days into production, and how the film did upon release, and the cult following it has since developed. The commentary and interview also both appear on the OOP Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray. 

Exclusive to this release is a 7-minute Action U.S.A. Behind the Scenes - Stunts Featurette, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the stunts being set-up and executed. The VS release also has it's own exclusive extras. The disc is buttoned-up with a 2-minute trailer for the film, and 10-minutes of MVD trailer previews for Mackintosh and TJ (2 min), Drive (2 min), Camino (2 min), Split Second (2 min), Falcon Rising (2 min). 

The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the original VHS artwork, the disc inside features the standard MVD the standard white background and black lettering. Inside there's a mini fold-out poster featuring the VHS artwork. The first pressing also includes a limited edition retro slipcover that celebrates the rental packaging of legendary video store chain “Erol’s Video” (1980 – 1990). Tucked away inside is a mini fold-out movie poster for the film. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Director John Stewart, star Gregory Scott Cummins and cinematographer Thomas Callaway moderated by filmmaker Steve Latshaw
- Interview with Director John Stewart by Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (29 min) 
- Action U.S.A. Behind the Scenes - Stunts Featurette (MVD Exclusive) (7 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- MVD Trailers: Mackintosh and TJ (2 min), Drive (2 min), Camino (2 min), Split Second (2 min), Falcon Rising (2 min)
- Collectible Mini-Poster
- Reversible Sleeve of Artwork
- Limited Edition “Erol’s Video” Retro Slipcover (First Pressing Only

Action U.S.A. (1989) is a dynamite slice of VHS-era b-movie mayhem, a hog wild adrenaline pumping slice of action-cheese. I was sad that I missed out on the now OOP Vinegar Syndrome release, so I'm excited that MVD stepped up to the plate with their own release, giving fans and newcomers a second bite at the apple, and offering attractive packaging and some solid extras. 

Screenshots from the MVD Blu-ray: