Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Overstaing the Underrated

The easiest list to make is the one with 'The Worst' in the title, a notch below that is 'Most Overrated,' since all that is required is to find a way to pick apart a consensus opinion. The only list harder to make than 'The Best' is 'Most Underrated,' because the idea of being underrated is having little or no discussion or buzz going on about said underrated item, hence a little more digging is required. There have been other underrated lists, and there will be more, but I'd like to think of mine as somewhat original, because I didn't take any ideas for mine from other lists, making mine even more underrated than your underrated . . . I think. Keep in mind that my idea of an underrated movie is one that is either still waiting for the acclaim it deserves or one which received unfair treatment either upon or after its release (multiple horrible sequels, slipping public opinion of its makers/stars). I didn't bother to rank these . . . that's overrated.

Despite being the last movie John Belushi made, Neighbors is never mentioned as one of the comic's best moments. Paired with Dan Aykroyd, and playing the 'straight man' character for the only time in his career, 'Neighbors' starts out as a typical comedy but quickly ascends into absurd levels of absurdity. 'Neighbors' sometimes has the feel of a Neil Simon comedy, since Belushi's character is eventually being assaulted from every possible angle of his life. It also features a 21-year-old Cathy Moriarty, fresh off her debut in 'Raging Bull.'

The stature of Paul Verhoeven's action/satire of technology and the media has slipped considerably over the years. This could be traced in part to its two subpar sequels, but also to the fact that when someone today sees Robocop, they just see a robot suit which screams 1987. I've always seen 'Robocop' as the high-water mark for Verhoeven, whose rare ability to fill any scene (be it comedy or action) with a feeling of menace and impending pain is put to great effect here. Like he would with Starship Troopers and Total Recall, 'Robocop' is consistently mean-spirited, but never without its tongue slightly in cheek. 'Robocop' is unfarily seen today as just another late-80s action scifi sendup, which doesn't take into account its clever skewering of the media and corporate ethics.

Like Verhoeven, Brian De Palma seems to have as many detractors as fans. The most common insult hurled his way is how he's a hack, since his most famous works were either remakes or reworkings (or in the case of Carrie, based on a famous book). While the above is true, it shouldn't be held against him, because by and large De Palma has actually taken the basic idea of a previous movie and turned it into something ultimately his. The best example of this is 1976's Obsession, which creatively twists Vertigo's themes of love, obsession and identity into a beautiful and unique film. Set in New Orleans with liberal doses of exaggerated natural light, 'Obsession' (like 'Vertigo') constantly has the feel of a dream, and you are constantly questioning what parts of it take place in reality. This little gem came on the cusp of De Palma's breakout with 'Carrie,' and is usually left out when discussing the director.

Kickboxer/Hard Target
Since Jean Claude Van Damme has crossed into that territory inhabited by Sylvester Stallone and since vacated by John Travolta, whereby all of their movies are cleared from our collective memory until they either die or make some sort of career changing film (i.e. Pulp Fiction). Van Damme's inclusion in this territory is certainly warranted (see: repeated straight-to-video roles, endless cocaine habit, all around joke), but that shouldn't stop his two best movies from being enjoyed. As I covered in my comparison of Van Damme and Steven Seagal, Kickboxer was a perfect vehicle for Van Damme, because it didn't try to hide the fact that he was a bad actor. This leads to several intended moments of hilarity and also some damn good fighting. In Hard Target, Van Damme was finally paired with a competent director who actually intended on using a story behind his many jump kicks in tight jeans. John Woo not only gave Van Damme some fun devices (being cajun, biting the rattler off a rattlesnake) but also took the leash off Lance Henriksen and let him wield a supremo bad ass single shot pistol. Both movies have aged terribly, but they remain just as entertaining and shouldn't be dismissed as they are.

The Burbs
Now that Tom Hanks has a free pass for any movie, no matter how stale (Davinci Code) or contrived (Terminal) his performance may be, his comedy career seems to have been forgotten. Even at the time of its release, The Burbs didn't get nearly enough attention as it deserved. Just a glance at who was behind this movie is cause for a raised eyebrow: Directed by Joe Dante and also starring Corey Feldman (!), Bruce Dern (!!), Henry Gibson (!!?!!) and since this is Dante, you know that the immortal Dick Miller is in it. This was also the brief star turn for Rick Ducommun, who was a popular comedian at the time and had two HBO specials under his belt (he would never be heard from again). 'The Burbs' has the usual Dante levels of absurdity and everything that comes out of Dern's mouth is gold ('Go paint your goddamned house!'). This movie has a burgeoning cult following and maybe some day it will get a decent DVD release.

The Getaway (1972)
When discussing the best of Steve McQueen and Sam Peckinpah, The Getaway rarely comes up. Peckinpah made many other great movies, but 'The Getaway' was his biggest hit. McQueen is often associated with his other blockbusters, such as The Great Escape or Bullitt. Compounding matters, when most people hear 'The Getaway' they think about the completely unnecessary and subpar 1994 remake. It's a shame, because 'The Getaway' is an enthralling, gritty and completely masterful on-the-run action epic. McQueen is perfect for Doc McCoy, who is dead set about not going back to prison, but will go to the grave in the pursuit of getting away with a bank robbery. There's an unbelievable scene in the beginning when Peckinpah shows the endless boredom and routine of prison: McCoy is shown delicately putting together a crude model of a bridge, but as he puts the last piece of it on, repeated shots of his daily routine are spliced together with him slowly crushing his just-completed craft. Although it is a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, there are Peckinpah touches everywhere, such as when McCoy realizes he's been spotted at an electronics store, he casually goes next door, steals a shotgun and prepares for the impending bloodshed. Watch for a young Sally Struthers in a nice role.


Duchess said...

Thank you for putting The 'Burbs on your list. :)

Evan Waters said...

People don't like ROBOCOP anymore? The Hell?