Long before Gary Busey became a media punchline he was a pretty damned good actor. Back in the early 1970’s he apprenticed opposite some well known actors like Robert Ryan and Lee Van Cleef. It looked like he was part of the next generation of leading men appearing with guys like Jeff Bridges, Martin Sheen and Jan-Michael Vincent. He’d peak with an Oscar nomination for his take on rock legend Buddy Holly in the 1978 bio pic. Even as a kid I’ve always known of Busey, the guy with the big crooked grin. That’s probably due to the Holly Story and once the VHS machine came to rest in our home, the weekend rentals like Straight Time, Barbarosa and of course Silver Bullet.
Before things kind of went off the rail for Gary in the years to come, he appeared in a couple of action films that found an audience in the home video market. One of which is pure macho popcorn that pits Gary against a whole slew of baddies you’ll be sure to recognize while the other offers Gary the chance to play vigilante in a very low key performance. Despite it’s obvious flaws, it’s one that I’d consider a favorite among a handful of Gary Busey efforts.
Eye Of The Tiger (1986)
Since Rocky 3 wasn’t subtitled “Eye of the Tiger” the song featured in the third Stallone installment from the group Survivor gets a second go around in a vigilante themed outing pitting Gary Busey against William Smith.
In a very understated performance with no sight of the grinning good old boy ham job he has been known to deliver before the camera, Gary stars here as a former war vet and ex con returning to his wife and small daughter in the small town he calls home run by a hard assed sheriff, Seymour Cassel. From the outset Gary is a likable guy and one we just know has wrongfully done time. It’s a happy reunion with Denise Galik as his suffering wife who wants to pick up and start anew away from Cassel and a large gang of bikers who are making their presence known throughout the community.
Gary’s life is about to be turned upside down when he comes to the aid of a woman (Kimberlin Brown) about to be raped and killed late in the night by a group of cyclists. While he does save the woman from harm, a bald headed William Smith takes notice of the quiet man of action who briefly becomes a folk hero in the media. Smith and his gang are about to turn to the tables on Gary twisting this into a cross between a western town Death Wish / post apocalyptic thriller that will see a slowly seething Busey along with his only friend in town, Yaphet Kotto seeking vengeance. Kotto was always a welcome presence in films at this time and I’ll be the first to say the cinema lost a great character player at the turn of the century when he pretty much retired from the game.
With the film’s direction finally settled upon, Busey declares a desert war on Smith and company which means the crooked Cassel by extension. In the nearby countryside, Smith in a setting befitting a Mad Max film rules a drug operation with an army of cyclists and Cassel in his hip pocket. When Gary kills his brother in a run and gun Rambo styled operation, Smith wants the former vet’s head. He won’t have to look far because Gary and Yaphet are coming for him.
Cue that theme song one more time.
Better than one might expect, I liked it back in 86 seeing it on VHS and I liked it now. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian, the film gave William Smith an opportunity to return to a motorcycle. Smith was a mainstay of the genre in films like Chrome and Hot Leather, C.C. and Company and Angels Die Hard. Smith is pretty much an icon to fans of the exploitation films of the 1970’s. Which for me has always begged the question. How come he never surfaced in a Tarantino film?
A bit of trivia to consider. I wonder if Bert Remsen get’s compensated for having his name misspelled in the opening credits as Burt Remsen. At least it’s correct in the closing credits. The long time character actor plays a local minister in the proceedings.
A superior 80’s action entry for the straight to video era and worth a look on 3 counts. A decent action flick, Mr. Kotto and a performance from Gary that exceeds the material.
Now grab some popcorn and get ready to roll your eyes.
How’s this for a list of baddies that “bulletproof” Gary Busey has to deal with.
Henry Silva, Danny Trejo, Juan Fernandez, Rene Enriquez and once again, William Smith.
Wait! That’s not all. Now add L.Q. Jones, Luke Askew, R.G. Armstrong, Darlanne Fluegel, and Mills Watson into the gun play and this one’s just begging to be seen.
Incredibly, Gary is just plain hard to kill and to prove it, he has a jar of shrapnel removed from his body in a jar above the sink in his washroom next to his toothbrush and mouthwash. No fooling. In the opening stanza when he faces down gun runner Danny Trejo he takes a bullet to the shoulder and when Danny and his gang in the ice cream truck have been exorcised from this earth, Gary heads on home to a sexy brunette in his bathtub. He promptly removes removes the bullet and gets on with the lovemaking. “You may be bulletproof, but you’re not love proof.”
O.K. you can roll your eyes now.
While all this is going on, a terrorist group is gathering just across the Mexico border led by Silva and Smith. While I’m not sure why, the military send a small group of U.S. soldiers into Mexico who are promptly slaughtered save for a handful including L.Q. and Miss Fluegel. Her capture is just the bait needed by old R.G. to get Gary to agree to go in and kill every terrorist in sight. Yes, she’s Gary’s former flame who had a falling out with him years ago over the loss of his partner when Gary tangled with the obvious Russian agent, William Smith. Another reason for Gary wanting to get involved in the south of the border gunfight.
So rather than sending in Arnold Schwarzenegger and his platoon of commandos as he did in Predator, R.G. figures the one man fighting force in jeans and cowboy boots known as Gary Busey should be more than enough to take out the scenery chewing Henry Silva and his second rate soldiers under the command of lieutenant, Juan Fernandez. A guy you just want to punch in the face for the hell of it. These two rarely have to do anything other than show up on a movie set and BANG, you know they’re the bad guys.
Gary moves in, gets caught, takes bullet number 39, finds love and makes a Hulk Hogan like comeback ridding the world of a major terrorist plot to overtake the good old U.S. of A by way of Mexico. Anyone remember that scene where Harrison Ford makes a getaway on a giant spinning wheel in the Temple of Doom? Well it was silly there and doesn’t come off here either though seeing Gary Busey rolling down a hillside strapped to one does have some comical merit to it. Now if only I knew it was really Gary instead of a mannequin.
From a story by Fred Olen Ray and directed by Steve Carver, this one’s all about the cast. Carver was by this time a graduate of the Chuck Norris universe having directed Lone Wolf McQuade and An Eye For An Eye as well as the 70’s cult hit, Big Bad Mama. Fred Olen Ray should be a name instantly recognized by the exploitation film fan having blessed us with Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, a few lesser David Carradine entries and he never seems to be out of work with an incredible 153 directing credits to his name at this time on the IMDB.
Crazy as this flick is and enjoyable if caught in the right mood, it’s actually even better today thanks to the emergence of Danny Trejo as a force of his own in cinema. This was just Danny’s 6th credit at the time and he was virtually unknown. Not anymore.
See Eye of the Tiger for a restrained Gary and Bulletproof for the toothy grinning Gary shooting both guns and one liners in a popcorn action adventure where leading men can kill an army of terrorists and never shed a drop of blood. Hold on, that’s not quite correct this time is it as we see Gary actually take hit number 38 and 39 through the films 90 minute running time. Oh well, turn the clock back to a time when Gary was still a viable commodity and considered to be America’s Most Powerful Weapon!