Deadly Weapon

Director: Michael Miner 
Rodney Eastman, Kim Walker, Gary Frank

As you no doubt know, there are billions of people living on this earth. And if you were to add up the number of people that have every lived on this earth, you would get a figure in the hundreds of billions. And each person, whether they may be living today or lived in the past, happens to be a completely unique individual. People have or have had different ethnic backgrounds, religions, occupations, and all sorts of different attributes to make them stand out from each other. But while there may be a lot of differences between people, if you were to look carefully at every person, you would see a few certain similarities shared by just about every one of these individuals. One good way to define these shared traits would be to label them as desires. Maybe a better way would be to define them as instincts. For example, I think that most of us have a desire on a regular basis to laugh. Life can be tough, and finding some momentary distraction that makes us laugh and subsequently feel good is a welcome break. Another desire I think that most of us have is to have pride with ourselves. Who among us doesn't want to have the admiration of people around us? Yet another desire that I think the majority of people have is that they have managed to make a great accomplishment in this society of ours. Knowing that you have contributed something to society that society treasures is indeed a great feeling. One more deep desire so many people have and have had is the feeling of love. Knowing that someone simply adores you is one of the greatest feelings one can experience.

Those four desires that I have just described have one certain similarity - they are desires that I think just about everybody would describe as positive. I could probably come up with a lot more positive desires that most people have deep inside of them, but I don't want to talk more about that. Instead, I want to talk about desires that many people would consider to be negative - specifically, one such deep dark desire I think just about everybody has experienced. That dark desire lurking within us is the desire for revenge. Who amongst us has never been wronged one way or another by some other party? And who amongst us has never subsequently thought about what they could do to get back at that offending party? I've certainly have had such feelings every now and then. But I've learned that you've got to think things out when you are wronged. Recently, at the business that I work at, I was cleaning up a section when a family came by to look at items in the section. The family happened to have an unbelievably bad body odor. And they didn't just look for a few seconds and moved on - they stayed put for an incredibly long time as I worked while trying not to gag. I was sorely tempted to get back at them for making the air unbreathable. I thought about running to the adjoining section, picking up a can of air freshener, and coming back and spraying the contents of the can liberally. That would certainly have given them the message and humiliated them. But I realized that they would probably complain to the management of the store, and that my employment might be threatened as a result. So I stayed put and silent, though thoughts of revenge still went through my mind. Hopefully I will meet the family again outside of the store, and I can then humiliate them.

I am sure that you too have been frustrated like this when thoughts of revenge went through your mind. Probably like me you haven't always been able to get revenge on someone who offends you. It's no wonder then that movies concerning the theme of revenge have been popular for so Deadly Weaponlong. One of the biggest box office hits of 1971 was the movie Willard. I am convinced it was such a hit because in the trailer and TV commercials they showed the scene when Bruce Davison was about to inflict revenge on Ernest Borgnine. In that scene, Davison tells Borgnine, "You made me hate myself! Well, I like myself now!" Who couldn't identify with that, even if they didn't have rats to back them up? It's always fun seeing people get sweet revenge in movies. Still having rage about being forced to smell bad body odor, I decided to look at a revenge movie to sooth me. Though this one - Deadly Weapon - was somewhat different that you usually get from a B-grade revenge movie - one that had high tech technology attached to it. The events of the movie center around a teenager named Zeke Robinson (Eastman, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 and 4) in a town in Arizona. He has a life that is one of absolute crap. At school, he is abused by both the faculty and the other students. Life at home is just as bad, with an alcoholic father and a mean sister that both make his life miserable. It's no wonder that Zeke secretly imagines himself as an alien surrounded by hostile humans. But he also has in the back of his mind a thirst for revenge, and one day he gets the chance. A military truck going through Zeke's town accidentally loses a piece of hardware it's transporting, and Zeke stumbles upon the crate holding the hardware. Opening it, Zeke finds a top secret experimental anti-matter gun. It doesn't take long for Zeke to figure out what the gun can do for him - namely using it as a device to get his long-sought revenge against his tormentors. So he proceeds to go on a rampage with the anti-matter gun. As he proceeds with his deadly rampage, he finds Traci (Kim Walker, Heathers), a girl he knows, now attracted to him because of his new found power and confidence. Life is sure now looking great, but Zeke does not know that the government has discovered that their anti-matter gun is missing... and is doing everything it can to get it back.

If you have been around the B movie block many times, then it is likely that the above plot description has you saying, "Hey, this sounds kind of familiar." And you would be right. The same basic story of a picked-upon teenager stumbling across a laser gun and using it for revenge was done eleven years earlier in the movie Laserblast. But Deadly Weapon can't be called a rip-off since both movies share the same producer, Charles Band. Although I have seen Laserblast, it's been so long since I've seen it that I can't fairly compare the two movies because of faded memories. So I can't say if this remake is better or worse than the original, but I have more recently seen other Charles Band produced movies from the '80s, which I can compare with in some aspects. This was an Empire Pictures production (one of the last, by the way), and like many other movies from this company, it has inconsistent production values. When it comes to the basics - photography, lighting - the movie looks pretty good for a low budget. The movie also was shot on a number of actual locations (indoor and outdoor) that do contribute to a genuine feeling that the events are really taking place in a run down small desert town. However, despite the care taken in those aforementioned elements, the movie still sometimes has a cheap feeling to it. There are a few indoor locations that are obviously sets on a soundstage. What's even worse is that these unconvincing sets - and sometimes also the genuine locations - are often dressed with an inadequate number of props. These scenes are very distracting because obviously something is missing. Also, a number of times the props look too worn out and old. I realize we are in a small desert town, but even then I think the principal of the local high school would have a more modern-looking desk that didn't have paint peeling off it.

But I have to confess that the sometimes impoverished look of the movie, due to the low budget, didn't concern me as much as it might for some other viewers. I was perfectly willing to embrace Deadly Weapon if it managed to successfully deliver on aspects that I considered more important, like the portrayal of the characters or the direction of the entire enterprise. Unfortunately, in these and other areas, the movie proved to be a big disappointment. Let me talk about the actors and their characters for this paragraph. While the entire cast of the movie shows signs of talent, they all perform like they feel defeated by the material. Every role in the movie is written in a way that makes it hard to buy these characters and what they say or do. The central character of Zeke is the biggest disappointment. He is such a dreamer and out of reality so much that quite frankly I was frustrated by him. As a result, he seemed to deserve the crappy treatment he got from everyone around him, and I could not sympathize with him. Traci, the girl that hooks up with Zeke, has a few sweet moments, but otherwise her behavior - hanging out with bullies, gleefully tagging along with Zeke as he commits various crimes - makes her look like an idiot. There are few characters more infuriating than an idiot. The supporting players are equally as unsatisfying. The military brass comes across as a bunch of dim-witted mumblers that seems unsure of what to do, far from the disciplined professionals I know that are in the real military. And there are some characters that are so unbelievably poorly sketched out that it's amazing no one in the production noticed. At one point in the movie, Zeke comes across the town sheriff as well as a local minister, and he takes them hostage. You might think that Zeke is doing this for revenge against these characters, and indeed the sheriff and the minister indicate that they know Zeke well. But believe it or not, we not only didn't see those two characters before the hostage taking, we never learn why Zeke is angry enough at the two to take them hostage in the first place.

While I'm on the subject, I'd like to further illustrate the part of Deadly Weapon that has to do with the protagonist's revenge-taking. With Zeke having a ray gun that can fry people, and many people antagonizing him, you are probably thinking there are a lot of scenes with people being blasted. And you are probably thinking that there's no way that could be screwed up, right? Think again. The screenplay by Michael Miner (Robocop) pretty much blows it. For example, when the newly armed Zeke approaches the high school bully, blasting a nearby building to show his new power, what does he do with the now cowering bully? He tells the bully to beat it. Believe it or not, it gets even worse as the movie progresses. In the end, Zeke only blasts three people - one of them being an innocent - leaving a lot of people like the mean high school principal and Zeke's bullying sister completely unpunished. While I could go on considerably about the shortcomings of Miner's screenplay, I want to talk about his direction. This was Miner's first effort as a feature film director, and it's a pretty inauspicious debut. I could talk about problems like continuity gaffs or key footage that seems to be missing, but instead I want to talk about the biggest problem of the movie, which is the refusal to stick to one basic tone. Sometimes the movie is about a lonely dreamer (Zeke narrates his fantasies throughout). Sometimes the movie is a media satire. Sometimes it's about a romance. There's one lengthy sequence when the movie becomes a hostage taking. And occasionally the movie throws in some revenge. As you can probably conclude, Deadly Weapon's tone is all over the place. This is a movie that was made without a clear single-minded vision. While Miner has to accept some blame for this as well as other problems in the movie, he is not completely to blame. Research I did on this movie revealed that Empire Pictures was on its last legs when the movie was being made, so producer Charles Band probably wasn't able to give the project the support it needed. But whoever is to blame for the end results, Deadly Weapon is all the same a dreary disappointment that only looks better when it's compared to the movies Charles Band has made in recent years.

(Posted June 3, 2016)

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See also: Crawlspace, Psychic Killer, Star Kid