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DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS
Director: Casey Araiza
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NEWS & ANALYSIS
The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 6 - JUNE 2017
Movie review: The Wraith and Charlie Sheen
It was with ironic timing that I name-dropped Carlos Irwin Estevez last month, because this month, we're going to have some fun, turning the clock back not once but twice. My run here at the venerable Phlegm Building began with doing reviews of car movies, and this month we shall review an old car movie done by everyone’s favorite Warlock, Charlie Sheen. (born Carlos Irwin) And 'Warlock' is rather appropriate, as Charlie was a…well, I don't know WHAT a 'wraith' was (until I looked it up, anyway) so let’s tear into the 1986 supernatural suspense thriller, THE WRAITH.
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Done at what is safe to say the turning point in young Charlie’s career, and I DO mean young - he looks like he's 14 in this deal. The film he was in prior to this, he was billed as "boy in police station" (and Oscar SNUBBED him! Those Bastards!). But his next feature was PLATOON (four Oscars, $138 MILLION bucks at the box office…duh, WINNING)
So, let’s delve into The Wraith. Defined by Webster’s as an apparition of a person, seen just before or after his death, this was the next to last project for Buck Houghton, he of over a hundred episodes of The Twilight Zone. We open with a laughable special effects sequence, meant to be cool and amazing, but falling "short" on that one, as some stars or spirits or whatever come down from the sky and haul ass over the desert landscape. We then are treated to an innocent couple (complete in their '80s acid-washed denims) getting hustled out of their car by a gang of thugs.
Much like in 1982’s cult classic/13-week bomb of a TV show, 'Square Pegs', we have every stereotype EVER under one tidy umbrella with this gang. Let’s run down the checklist, shall we? The two mechanics (yep, none of the rest of these dopes actually WORK on their cars) are a couple tweekers, called Skank and Gutterboy. Gutter only speaks in an over the top (and bad) imitation of BobCat Goldwaith, and Skank randomly nose-hits a can of "WD-20". (Kudos to the props department for going the extra mile, to ensure the project didn't get sued.)
B-movie icon Clint Howard (yeah, Opie’s brother) turns in another workman-like performance as Rughead, based on his ridiculously bad toupee. Oogie, played by the late Griffin O’Neal, is the first one to want to fight (and the first to get killed) and is best known for looking FAR too much like the late Erin Moran (fine, if you were a chick) and having Ryan O'Neal as a father. (Which has proved to get you jobs, even if you can't act...and trust me, he can't.)
They are led by Packard Walsh, the 'brooder/bully/uber-weenie', and played by Nick Cassavettes. (John Cassavettes’s kid -- noticing a pattern here?) Also in the gang are two other dopes, the 'smart guy' (wears an accountant’s visor, has the Wall Street Journal tucked in his pants) and the 'jock-guy', wears a letterman jacket, driving a Trans Am. I'm not Gary Dyer, but if the blower on his TA is real, then I weigh 175 pounds.
Soon, into this sleepy little Arizona town, we have the arrival of one Jake Kesey (Sheen). It would have been "tres-Hollywood" to have him ride in on something bad ass, like a Harley, so they opted for a Honda dirt bike instead. Jake immediately draws the attention of Packard for talking with and offering a ride to his girlfriend, Keri (Sherilyn Fenn). At the local lake, Jake makes friends with Keri’s brother Billy, while displaying a multitude of severe scars on his body. Later, at the local drive in burger joint named Big K’s, where Billy and Keri conveniently work, we get our first glimpse of…THE WRAITH! (Bumm-Bummp-BAAHH!)
Squealing up to the drive-in, this all black Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor comes to a stop, and out steps a silent figure; he looks like a helmeted, every piece of X-games body armor known to MAN, Bad Ass, with body-brace dealies all over to boot. (Think Tiny Tim’s leggings, only more.) Well, of COURSE the gang challenges him to a pink-slips type of race, with the previously mentioned Oogie stepping forward. The race, as it were, is vaguely reminiscent of the one Charlie’s dad, Martin Sheen, had with Vic Morrow in California Kid. Complete with the classic "car explodes in a ball of fire in mid air for no reason" (stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker CLEARLY packed a bleepload of TNT into the thing), we are treated to the first arriving cop saying (I'm not making this up) "Think he MADE IT?”
Nope. The cops, led by not-yet-crazy Randy Quaid, are stunned by the fact that Oogie is NOT a French fry, but looks fine. Well, as fine as you can be, when you're missing your eyeballs. Around this time, we start learning that Keri’s true love was murdered by -- take a guess -- yep, Packard and his stooges, and they sliced him up like there is no tomorrow. Remember Jake at the lake, with his many scars?? Well, the director apparently didn't give the audience much credit, because this flashback will happen over and OVER throughout the rest of the movie. JESUS, Jake is the Wraith, the re-incarnated boyfriend, back to bitch-slap these dopes -- we GET IT for Pete’s sake!
I want to step aside for a second and talk about homages and soundtracks. Granted, not as classic a tandem as beer & nachos, but germane to the film. This flick has one of the BEST soundtracks you'll never own. Oh, if your pockets are deeper than mine, and you want to go over to 'Long Jungle River' website and drop 185 BUCKS (not a typo), go right ahead. With Robert Palmer, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, and a young (but way talented) Doug Aldrich (Dio, Whitesnake, Black Country Communion) on board, this thing belongs on Patrick Capone’s Vinyl Vault Show. And aside from the previously mentioned California Kid tribute, there are numerous tips of the hat to Close Encounters of The Third Kind, and a look at a ceiling fan that had me mutter in a Martin Sheen voice, "Saigon...." The Big K’s drive-in initially looks like Mel’s from American Graffiti, but later, with proper lighting (which a movie production can provide, duh) looks like Mel’s and the spaceship from Close Encounters had a kid.
The gang gets systematically eliminated, in a variety of cool explosions and crashes. Oh, the Dodge Interceptor blows up as well, but since it's a (say it like Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons) "GHOST Car!!", it goes POOF and becomes pristine again. Keri is stunned as the Turbo pulls up, and the 'Armored Stranger' steps out, but he/it then morph into Sheen, who delivers his only 'wise ass Charlie' line of the movie, that being "Whoa, I can't do THAT again!" He tells Keri to pack light, because he'll be right back. Back at the drive in, Jake gives the sweet ride to Billy, and rides off on the dirt bike, where Billy has a 'the kid in SHANE' moment, wailing for Sheen to come back. (He's the only one on screen to piece together that he's actually the murdered boyfriend.)
Jake/Wraith/ghost-guy, whatever, picks up his woman, and they ride off into the night. A fun little piece of cinema, that was dedicated to Bruce Ingram, a stuntman who died during production. The body braces thing puzzled me. Perhaps early drafts of the script had the boyfriend only crippled, not murdered, by the goons. Who knows, who cares.
This flick is available on NETFLIX, so grab some popcorn and a jug of 'Tiger Blood', put your feet up, and watch stuff BLOW up, because THAT, America, is...WINNING!!
Til next time, C-Yaaa!!!!