Exterminator 2

Director: Mark Buntzman
Robert Ginty, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Geffner

One of the biggest problems that can come up in the middle of shooting a movie is when one of the principle actors suddenly becomes unavailable for one reason or another. There have been a number of times in Hollywood history when the reason for that is that the actor died. Each time that has happened, it's been interesting to see what the makers of the movie do about it. No doubt you know about the case of actor Paul Walker, who was killed in an off-set traffic accident while he was making the movie Furious Seven. Universal Pictures decided to complete the movie anyway, using CGI, body doubles, stunt doubles, and Walker's real-life brothers in the place of Walker. These techniques to complete a movie after the death of an actor is not really all that new. Take the case of the 1937 movie Saratoga. The movie's female lead, Jean Harlow, had about ninety percent of her scenes shot before she suddenly got extremely ill and shortly after died. Metro Goldwyn Mayer decided to use a double (shot from behind) and used a Harlow sound-alike to dub in the dialogue the real Harlow was to have spoken. Yes, all this sounds very complicated and risky, which is why some studios in the same situation have gone for an easier route. When the 1959 movie Solomon And Sheba was being filmed and its star Tyrone Power died from a heart attack midway through, United Artists was offered the choice of either scrapping the project and collecting $2.5 million from insurance, or start over with a new star and get about half of that amount from insurance. They opted for the latter option, getting Yul Brynner to play the lead. With all three of those movies I mentioned, the gambles the studios paid off; every movie ended up making a lot of money.

But there are certainly other cases when a movie has not been completed when its star suddenly becomes unavailable when the reason isn't that the star has died. Take the case of the movie I am reviewing here, Exterminator 2. It's an interesting story, one that actually starts several years before the movie started to be filmed. It starts in 1980, when the movie The Exterminator was released to theaters. Starring Robert Ginty, the movie became a box office smash and is today loved by many B movie fans... except me. (I thought the movie was too cold, too cruel, and too slimy even for my often depraved tastes.) Naturally, with the movie making a mint at the box office, it didn't take long for its producer, Mark Buntzman, to start thinking of a sequel even if he couldn't get writer/director James Glickenhaus to return in any of those two roles. So Buntzman shopped around the sequel project, and eventually found backing for it. Buntzman was still producer this second time around, but that wasn't his only role on the movie - this time he was also acting as the screenwriter and the director. But when shooting started, it did not take long for some serious production problems to come up, largely due to Buntzman's inexperience as a director and being unable to take firm control. The budget started to balloon much past the $1.5 million originally slated for the project. And the studio backing the film, Cannon Films, was not happy with how the movie was turning out to be upon seeing the rushes back in Hollywood. So Buntzman was eventually removed from the director's chair, and William Sachs (Hot Chili), who had been another producer working on the movie, was told by Cannon to finish the movie, in a way that would fit Golan and Globus' tastes.

Sachs accepted the request by the studio to finish the movie, but there was a problem - a big one. The movie's star, Robert Ginty, had shortly before left the project after completing his contract to the letter. And by the time Sachs was ready to start to complete the movie, Ginty was already on another movie project and either couldn't come back or was holding out for more money. (Reports Exterminator 2I uncovered vary on this.) Sachs thought fast about the footage that had been shot up to this point, and came up with an idea. There was one shot in the movie of Ginty wearing a welding mask and using a welding torch. Sachs decided to make Ginty's character one that would wear a welding mask and fry criminal scum with a modified welding torch acting as a flamethrower. This way, another actor could play Ginty's character in these scenes and the audience wouldn't know the difference. Sachs managed to complete the movie this way, helping to make yet another wacky story to come out of Cannon Films. The fact that Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were behind the movie was the main reason as to why I decided to sit down and watch this sequel, since their often-goofy touch promised to make this sequel more cheerful than the original movie. Exterminator 2, like the original movie, is set in New York City, with Ginty reprising his role as John Eastland. Since the events of the first movie, Eastland has managed to get a girlfriend (Geffner, Star 80), and has a job working with his old army buddy Be Gee (Frankie Faison, C.H.U.D.). But one thing hasn't changed in Eastland's life, and that is his penchant to be a vigilante. Nowadays, he goes around the city with a flame thrower and roasts various people he catches committing crimes. One day, he roasts a member of a street gang, not knowing that his victim is actually the brother of a powerful street gang leader known simply as "X" (Peebles, Rappin'). When X finds out his brother has been killed, he is determined to get revenge, and Eastland soon finds out that not only is he in danger, but also the two people in his life he cares about.

I strongly suspect many of you long time readers of The Unknown Movies who have at least a fair knowledge of Cannon Films under the reign of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are wondering if the troubled history of this movie produced the same kind of insane results as the later equally troubled Cannon movie Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Well, Exterminator 2 doesn't get to that level, but the troubles on the shoot are very apparent. While original director Buntzman shot on location in New York City, the reshoots happened in Los Angeles, and the different architecture does show at times. Robert Ginty's character is clearly played by a double on several occasions, not just the time when the character is wearing a welding mask. Even worst is that Mario Van Peebles' hair style changes dramatically throughout the movie. When it comes to the story portion of the movie, the central plot isn't too incoherent, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any problems with it. For example, the movie completely ignores how things were at the end of the first movie with The Powers That Be, despite the fact early on in this sequel the press loudly announces that The Exterminator is back again and is continuing to kill criminals. Why those powers don't immediately jump back into action to try and stop him is never explained. Another problem is that there are several moments when important story details go by so quickly (such as the less than ten second scene at the hospital after one character gets severely hurt) that linking footage or complete scenes don't seem to have been filmed. What's worse about the movie, however, is how much more of the plot unfolds at a really slow pace. The movie frequently seems to be making things up as it goes along, with an incredible amount of padding, such as when Ginty's character observes several breakdancers in the park doing their thing for a very long time.

Even despite all this padding, the movie barely gets over the 80-minute mark before the end credits begin to roll, with the first credit proclaiming Sachs as shooting "additional scenes". Despite the story being ruined in this forced collaboration between two different directors, the Buntzman footage and the Sachs footage do pretty much have the same core feeling to them. It's often a somewhat cartoony type feeling, which may not be very realistic, but it doesn't drag the movie to the scummy depths that the first movie found itself in. This includes the action sequences, which do on occasion deliver some of the goods that grindhouse audiences at the time were expecting, including some surprisingly graphic depictions of burnt corpses (Golan and Globus reportedly couldn't get enough of this particular kind of "crisp direction".) But there are also some action moments that are really botched up. Some of the action scene problems are with the aforementioned problem of linking footage being missing, like how the gang on a robbery scheme managed to stop an armored car and drag the driver out of the vehicle. Some action scenes have no definite ending, such as when a woman is kidnapped by a gang member on roller skates and is started to be chased by her boyfriend... and then suddenly the movie cuts to the next scene. The biggest flaw I found with the action sequences, however, is that I thought most of the action was sluggish and boring. One reason for that is that many of the action sequences center around a garbage truck. If you have seen garbage trucks in real life, no doubt you know that although they look mighty and strong, they are very slow vehicles. So seeing the garbage truck in this movie creep along really slowly dragged the energy level down considerably. But even when the action moves away from the garbage truck, there is a very tired and routine feeling, and I started to think more about those previously seen messy corpses instead of concentrating on what was happening at that particular moment.

With there being a definite lack of good action in Exterminator 2, as well as a slow and somewhat sloppy plot, there's really not many other ways that the movie might have saved itself. In fact, the only other angle I can think of to deeply examine the movie is with the characters and the actors, so I'll finish up with looking at all that. I never considered actor Robert Ginty to be either charismatic or talented, with this effort of his continuing the trend. To be fair, he was saddled with a character showing no real depth, which may explain why he appears bewildered so frequently when not sounding really forced when shows anger. Even worse is the portrayal of his girlfriend. Actress Deborah Geffner shows a little spunk, but she gets very little to do because the movie seems clueless what to do with her; her character only has about two minutes of footage in the movie's first thirty minutes, for example. For his villain character, Mario Van Peebles brings some charisma, and he does try to put some pep into his line reading on occasion, but the writing gives his character no insight, content just to say empty and tired lines of dialogue like, "I am the streets!" while basically shrugging off bad events like the death of his brother. On a more positive note, actor Frankie Faison as Ginty's best friend manages to be upbeat and full of energy throughout the movie, and ends up being the one solitary likable character in the movie. But even his best efforts can't save Exterminator 2 from being anything except a viewing experience for only the most die-hard fans of Cannon Films. The only other possible positive thing to say about the movie is that unlike the first entry, it didn't want me to take a shower afterwards.

(Posted January 9, 2023)

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See also: Outlaw Force, Self Defense, 10 To Midnight