I had one of those “sponsored” ads on Facebook pop up…the kind that seem to materialize magically after you have had a vague thought or clicked on something that triggers a Zuckerberg algorithm to crunch numbers like they were connected right into your brain. As my buddy Rick’s birthday approaches, I couldn’t help but think he had something to do with it from the great beyond.
This one happened to be a T-Shirt for sale that had “It’s All In The Reflexes – Burton’s Gym” with a picture of Jack Burton himself in the center holding a dumbbell in each hand. Of course I had to buy it…and then explain why.
If you knew Rick you knew his two favorite movies of all time were “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man”. Throw in Silverado and you had Rick’s complete movie collection.
Now, Rick was no Siskel or Ebert. He could barely make it through a movie in a dark theater without passing out. If he wasn’t dozing off and snoring, he was trying to catch-up with what was going on in the plot by asking in a too-loud voice and getting hushed by both the other viewers and his friends.
The first two are both terrible films in a critical cinematic sense, but great fun with a drink or three and right up Rick’s alley. For some reason they tickled his funny bone and he became almost evangelistic in trying to convince other folks that they absolutely had to watch them both.
Big Trouble In Little China
Big Trouble is a 1986 John Carpenter martial arts action-comedy starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun and James Hong. The film tells the story of Jack Burton, who helps his friend Wang Chi rescue Wang’s green-eyed fiancée from bandits in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
They go into the mysterious underworld beneath Chinatown, where they face an ancient sorcerer named David Lo Pan, who requires a woman with green eyes to marry him in order to release him from a centuries-old curse. Along the way they fight The White Tigers, Lords of Death, The Three Storms, assorted wild monsters and ultimately have a show down with Lo Pan.
It was a commercial failure when it came out, grossing $11.1 million in North America, below its estimated $19 to $25 million budget. It received mixed reviews that left Carpenter disillusioned with Hollywood and influenced his decision to return to independent filmmaking. But, it has since become a cult classic, and Rick was a part of that cult, and by association, so am I.
Now, I’m a big Kurt Russell fan to begin with, so it wasn’t too hard to get onboard with this one. Maybe it has something to do with him being a carpenter named Dean Proffitt in Overboard…woodworking, last name and boating being three things that agree with my vibe. Captain Ron also happens to be one of my favorite not-so-guilty pleasures. But I have enjoyed Kurt’s movies since his young Disney days. I mean, Snake Pliskin, come on.
In Big Trouble, his character has a combination of arrogance, self-confidence and brawn that is balanced by him continually getting in over his head and screwing up as much or more than he comes through as a hero. All of this is blended into a loose mixture of the history of Chinatown in San Francisco, mixed with Chinese legend and plenty of martial arts, that makes it an excellent dick flick.
It is full of craziness and outrageous characters that induced much laughter from us sitting around sipping whiskey. It doesn’t hurt that it is full of goofy-ass quotes and one-liners so great they filled our vocabulary for decades. These include:
“You just listen to the old Pork Chop Express here now and take his advice on a dark and stormy night when the lightning’s crashin’ and the thunder’s rollin’ and the rain’s coming down in sheets thick as lead. Just remember what old Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big old storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”
“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye, and asks you if you paid your dues; you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that: “Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yes sir, the check is in the mail.”
“Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn… call the president.”
“I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.”
“May the Wings of Liberty never lose a feather”
“It’s all in the reflexes.”
For Rick and I, these quotes would pop up at any moment in time, in any conversation, and release a cavalcade of quotes and Jack Burton mannerisms sure to induce eye rolls and embarrassment to those around us.
For instance, if we both happened to get in an elevator that had a sign…any sign, it might go like this:
Les: [pointing to sign in elevator] What does that say?
Rick: Hell of Boiling Oil.
Les: You’re kidding.
Rick: Yeah, I am. It says “Keep Out.”
Les: “The Chinese have so many Hells, how should I know”
When sipping whiskey:
Les: What’s in the flask, Rick? Magic potion?
Les: Thought so, good. What do we do, drink it?
Les: Good! Thought so.
After a sip of potion (whiskey)…
Les: Feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… I feel kind of invincible.
Rick: Yeah, me, too. I got a very positive attitude about this!
Once we got all wound-up, we sounded like Abbott and Costello or other corny comedic team that had been around each other for decades. Friends that had heard it all a million times just rolled their eyes and ignored us or sighed that “here they go again” sigh. But it had no real effect on us, we had the magic potion…we were invincible.
Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man
On the other hand, there was Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, a 1991 science fiction Western biker heist buddy movie with Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson.
This was a movie Rick embraced for who knows what reasons. Maybe it was because it was an interpretation of the age-old “buddy movie” that he synced with. Perhaps it is because Harley and Marlboro are the type of guys who live their lives one day at a time with little thought about the future. Unlike Big Trouble, it took me years to warm up to this one…more like Rick just wore me down with it.
These reviews from movie critics are priceless, and generally right on the money:
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it “a mindless cobbling from countless buddy movies”.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated it C+ and called it “a kinetic formula shoot-’em-up” that is “engagingly junky entertainment with a healthy sense of its own ludicrousness.”
Variety called it “a dopey, almost poignantly bad actioner about two legends-in-their-own-minds”.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Rourke and Mr. Johnson handle their roles with more ease and humor than can be accommodated by a movie so stuffed with mindless fistfights, gunfights, helicopter chases, explosions and leaps from tall buildings.”
Time Out London called it “utter rubbish, and badly dressed at that.”
Kim Newman of Empire wrote, “For a while, its crassness is amusing, but as the plot sets in, it gradually turns into a stultifying bore.”
Both Johnson and Rourke have spoken negatively of the film. Rourke cited the film as the beginning of his decline in mainstream Hollywood. Johnson, while promoting the film, gave a tongue-in-cheek interview where he was quoted as saying “If you’re a fan of mindless action, if you don’t have a single brain cell in your head, this is the film for you.”
Perhaps this last quote sums it up well enough for Rick, who never liked movies with deep, twisted subplots that you had to really pay attention to. “Mindless action” was just perfect for him, so he could chatter away with no one hushing him up…after all, no one really minded missing a part of this flick. After a few requisite sips of whiskey to prime us for the show, we would be pursing our lips like Mickey Rourke and speaking in well-rehearsed, gravelly Don Johnson voices.
This flick is chock full of cliches and absurdities. Take the villians. It’s not enough that Daniel Baldwin is the leader of the henchmen, with Tom Sizemore as their evil bank executive bossman…they have to dress them up in floor length black leather trench coats like they got teleported from the Matrix…which wouldn’t be filmed for another 8 years. Maybe they were simply ahead of their time.
The main quote I really remember from this one is from the Marlboro Man (Don Johnson)…he was always quoting his dead father with sayings that started with: “My old man told me before he left this shitty world” then waxing eloquent with some wise words like “never chase buses or women, you’ll always be left behind.” or “… there would be blue-bellied chicken shit bastards like you out there.” So, naturally, we just started our own sayings off with “My old man told me before he left this shitty world” and making up whatever fit the situation. Yes, we were comedic geniuses.
As mentioned, it took me a while to get onboard with this tasteless, trashy film with no real redeeming value. But, gradually, I came to appreciate the pure entertainment value of its mindlessness, and it wasn’t too difficult to replace Harley and Marlboro with me and Rick…if one of us was a biker and the other a cowboy, and one of us was going to lose our bar and thought it a good idea to pull a heist on an evil bank.
I’ll mention one more movie that Rick thoroughly enjoyed, particularly after we invented “Silverado Night”. This was where we would watch the movie Silverado, a now classic 1985 American Western starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner. The supporting cast features the likes of Brian Dennehy, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum and Linda Hunt. How can you go wrong with a cast like that.
The whole point of our Silverado Night was to try and keep up with the whiskey drinking in the film shot for shot, which is a considerable undertaking. We would even switch between drinking regular rotgut when in a saloon and then switch to “the good stuff” when saloon owner Stella (Linda Hunt) offers Paden some of her secret stash from behind the bar. Of course he develops a taste for it, so did we.
At first it’s not too bad, and it seems like it will be a cruise since everyone is out in the backcountry and it’s dry as a popcorn fart in church. Then Mal (Danny Glover) makes it into town and heads to the saloon to quench his considerable thirst and all bets are off.
In our younger days we would use full shots, but after a few dances with the devil, we learned to pour lighter shots if we planned on making it all the way through the end of the movie.
And what would a memorable movie be without notable quotes to toss around? Well used favorites with this one include:
Cobb: “I was hoping you’d changed your mind about the job.
Paden: You didn’t tell me you owned a saloon.
Cobb: Oh, that ain’t the half of it, friend. Welcome to heaven.”
Paden: “What’s this?”
Stella: “That’s the good stuff.”
Paden: “Yeah? How good?”
Paden: “Here’s to the good stuff.”
Stella: “May it last a long time.”
Mal: “I don’t wanna kill you, and you don’t wanna be dead.”
Sherriff: “We’re gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a first class hanging.”
Cattle Rustler: “I think there’s only two guys up there and this asshole’s one of them.”
And easily the most used quote by Rick and I: From when Emmett (Scott Glenn) and Mal (Danny Glover) are preparing to kill some bad guys, holds up a pistol and asks Mal if he wants to use it… Mal holds up a big Henry rifle in each hand and simply states “This oughta do”. This is a classic and can be used in almost any situation. If we said it once, we said it a million times.
We would, or could, only do a Silverado Night every few years…it was not for the inexperienced or faint of heart. As we got older and wiser, we tended to tap out sooner…you can really be put on your lips if you keep up with the shot count.
So to sum it up…if Rick had been banished to a desert island, these are the three movies he would be perfectly happy watching over and over.
Very few would agree with this particular assortment and Rick’s favorite story of comparison was that he was incredulous that a movie about an old guy just driving around an old lady (Driving Miss Daisy) could win multiple Academy Awards, when stellar material like his favorites won absolutely nothing. The would is just not fair.
While Silverado was nominated for Best Sound and Best Original Score, alas, they all went unrecognized by the big award ceremonies…but Mr. Ricky Baker loved them enough for everyone. Happy birthday buddy.