Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Light Blast (1985)

Erik Estrada ditches Larry 'Cornfed' Wilcox long enough to star in Enzo G. 'Inglorious Bastards' Castellari's bizzaro clockpunk'd San-Fran policier that was described by never-mourned 80's London style-guide City Limits as "Metropolis for the digital slimline set'...

Remolque no está Disponible
Light Blast (1985, Enzo G. Castellari)

Starring: Erik Estrada, Ennio Girolami, Michael Pritchard, Peggy Rowe, Thaddeus Golas, Sheldon Feldner, John X. Heart

Box Notables: Unopened.

Tagline: ‘The Countdown Has Begun.’

Trailers: Student Academy, Certain Bongo, Uh-Oh, Spaghettio!  

Cherrypick: “He's going to strike again at five."  
                       "But at five o'clock people could be anywhere!”

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” famously tut-tutted let’s-give-it-a-spin physicist Robert Oppenheimer after dropping atom bombs all over Tokyo. And while his paraphrasing of the Silver Surfer’s gaudy puppet-master, Galactus, was years ahead of its time, his queasy certainty that a portal to a new and terrible age had been opened and forever wedged thuswise by the doorstop of progress was bang on the money.
Ponch is Dudey
Jump-cut to the premiere of Enzo G. Castellari’s Light Blast in the California Institute of Technology’s Symposium Hall, where a little known but specially invited band of lab-coated brothers - who in 1968 risked their lives to put the backwater school of Princeton on the map with their daring invention of the LCD clock - must have felt a chilly camaraderie with Oppenheimer and his team of blinkered shits who unleashed the fission-fuelled furies that will ultimately kill us all.

For the film these sweaty-palmed eggheads were seeing unfold before them told the world the tragic tale of how their little liquid crystals were perverted into a weapon of crass destruction by the simple, overlooked stimulus of a low-wattage red light-beam. Writ large in poorly-lit, sparsely populated full-colour FearVision was evidence of how these unassuming scientists’ modish boon to man’s punctuality to man became a terror weapon of such face-melting ferocity that no-one within five metres or so of an outsized public LCD chronograph would ever be beyond its reach…
Hot Chip!
The films director, Enzo Castellari, had served a twenty year apprenticeship at the dustface of Italian B-Westerns, eventually producing a couple of late entries in the Django Western series (Django Surf; Django, O Suicida!). And though the box-office failure of Bronx Warriors 2 had settled his Stateside hash, back in his homeland he was still considered big enough to fill the director’s chair of Italian TV’s enduring fat cop sensation Detetivo Grande Supplementare (Detective Extra-Large). It was while helming one of the show’s most fondly remembered episodes - where the greedy pig has to eat a time-bomb to protect a gaggle of overly made-up, bickering nuns from its blast - that Castellari hit upon the idea of updating the story enough to avoid having to shell out for the rights, recomposing it in a glamorous American location and calling in the services of a Hollywood heavyweight. So it was that Light Blast began filming in late ’84 with Erik Estrada tracking down tacky alarm clocks amid the soot-caked shunting yards of the Frisco boonies.
When in doubt...
Desperate to break with the wise-cracking, maverick motorcycle cop Frank ‘Pooch’ Poncherello that made his name in TV’s weekly guy’s-guy Republican hippie-thrashing fantasy hour, ‘CHiPs’, Estrada jumped at the chance to play the inexplicably double-‘N’-ed Ronn Warren - a smartmouth nonconformist with a badge - and plunged headlong into the films opening scene, where, disguised as a naked delivery-man in order to gain access to a hostage situation, he immediately has his disingenuous Latino jive undercut by a stunning roast chicken POV shot (expertly lit by the great consumables lenser and packshot doyen, Don Camillo).

Fresh from the subsequent nude execution of a pair of needlessly unpleasant bank-robbers, Ronn is a shoo-in for leading the investigation when what appears to be the routine digital watch-based incineration of a pair of teenagers engaged in some soft-focus railyard boning turns out to be the opening verse of an escalating ballad of destruction penned by an unseen criminal genius intent on extorting $10 million from the soft, decadent burgermeisters of Fog City.
Tron: Legacy - the jury's still out
With the cassette-taped threat that the killer is to strike again that very day ringing in their ears, Ronn and his expendable partner head straight for the likeliest location not requiring a filming permit – a suburban stock-car rally held below a perilously large LCD timepiece. And it’s here, watching in horror as the light blast of the title strikes the mud-spattered clock-face that Ronn somehow comprehends the intricacy of the plot against the city: the death ray itself is a harmless crimson special-effect ham-fistedly drawn onto the film-stock in post-production, but the payload is the liquid crystals contained in San Fran’s surfeit of giant digital chronometers - the very source of the ‘blast’ bit of Light Blast

Blindly rushing towards it’s longed for denouement with all the panache of a Guinness fart, the rest of this cromulant aria takes in such ERH fundamentals as high kicking dominatrix funeral directors, a dune buggy chase and a shoot-out at a garden party before following through with an ending unworthy of even Scrappy-era 'Scooby Doo'.
Tracing the malevolent meltiste to secret his lair – under a manhole cover on San Francisco’s rarely frequented waterfront – Ronn trades some arch barbs, levels a few henchmen and sees his annoying partner finally greased before confronting the egregious engineer of evil at the controls of his bonkers machine. But – oh, the hubris! – the one tiny flaw in Dr Killray’s plans was that, blinded by his emotional investment in the bone-broiling brutality of his clock-rocking contraption, he has, in his vanity, continued to sport a natty Casio digital throughout his tenure of (mild) terror…

Can you guess the rest, readers? Let’s just say that if you’re gonna do the crime - don’t wear the time.



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