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Cuts like a dull razor (and that is a good feeling)...
Imagine what TV was like back in the late 80s. Can you? My mind races to horrid sets, bad acting, and amateur dialogue ... yet, there was always a level of creativity. Television, especially made-for- television films pushed the envelope for what they could do, what they could say, and while the stories were full of one-line clichés and overproduced images, the stories had some heart to them. In today's cinema, this is what is lacking. We have great special effects, tremendous actors delivering great lines, but the stories feel and are quite bland. Not the case for the 80s. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a forgotten 80s gem (which is only discovered on VHS or late night TV) that demonstrates this great dynamic shift. It has some great creativity, but utterly lacks in all other categories. "Ladykillers" uses the talent of Marilu Henner (from TVs "Evening Shade") as a cop determined to find the killer of male strippers as well as make sure that her secret relationship stays together. Can you have said that with a straight face? Not me, and that is my entire argument there - creativity! Combining male strippers, cop love, a cool weapon, and a villain that uses merely 70s glasses and a bad wig - and you have all the elements of "Ladykillers" that makes it memorable, despite the obvious lacking sets, acting, and dialogue. Can you look past the bad to see where the good blossoms?
Let me restate that this isn't a film that needs to be watched over and over again - the story could become tedious, the acting is so bad, and the music obviously dates this film, but for the 91-minutes that I watched of this film, I have to admit - I was pulled in. To begin, Marilu Henner sinfully pulls off the difficult cop determined to solve the case as well as keep her relationship together. Her flip-flop nature of trying to be this sex-symbol and a hard-nosed cop, just doesn't work - but in several scenes, you believe her. She makes this role simply unbelievable that you are tricked into believing that she could fill this part. Coupled with the fact that her relationship is with the quintessential newbie cop, Cavanaugh (no first name), aptly played by Thomas Calabro from "Melrose Place" fame, you know within the first minutes this is going to be a full-fledged layer cake. Cavanaugh, who is known for his muscles more than his brain, uses this male stripper case to boost his career within the force, which he oddly finds out is his passion in life, to be a male dancer. Again, I can't state this enough, where else are you going to find stories like this? Our actors are bad, but they keep you glued to the screen because you have no idea what is going to happen next. This isn't your A to B to C story, it has absurdest depth, which can confuse even the novice of film watchers. Adding to this already deflowered chemistry, is a band of 80s-hair male strippers, crazy women (literally), and a rag-tag group of police (quite literally the entire squad) whose sole case is to solve this one. These are the layers, and they only get better from minute to minute.
"Ladykillers" is also memorable for the killer and weapon. A unique choice which we are introduced to in the second scene, the weapon seems like it would only scratch your skin, but be forewarned, these razors are lethal. The weapon is interesting, and genuinely spooky, but what takes the cake it the killer. Using merely a wig and a pair of glasses, our cinematography for this film used every bit of light imaginable to freak out the audience. While there was not real threat, there were some well staged scenes throughout with this killer. Whether it was in the clubs or just looking behind our police friends, there was quite a bit of thought that went into this anti-hero. Not to sound like a "Ladykillers"-nerd, there was another great layer to this film. "Ladykillers" introduces this premise of a prostitute turned housewife late in the game, but it adds this undercoat of dirt that a typical made-for-TV film wouldn't even touch. The grand finale is a darkened ride into a world that wasn't otherwise that spooky. "Ladykillers" obviously gained momentum as the minutes passed, and for that I applaud this film.
Overall, I was happy with the final product. I wish there was a DVD, but the VHS transfer did make it seem more ... authentic? Though, I should warn, not everything was a glorious as I portray it. There were horrible elements to this film. Cavanaugh being one of them. The lady that owned the strip club being another. The running scene with Marilu Henner was painstakingly bad, but it was the basis for this story - how the creativity flowed when the story needed to come together. The producers knew that they wouldn't have tons of money for everything, so they put their money where it counted, and it worked. The bad guy was spooky, the weapon (despite the science) was frightening, and the actors did fit their parts. Know what you are getting into when you watch this, but I was expecting the worse, and found something watchable. Be prepared - but enjoy
Grade: *** out of *****
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