First Action Hero (1994)

Today I'll be reviewing an Italian cops-versus-mafia movie from the mid 1990s, during the short-lived revival of the gallo genre following the burnout of the post-apocalyptic craze in Italian cinema in the 1980s. First Action Hero (which is a monumentally stupid title, a clear and pungent ripoff of 1993's Last Action Hero) is an ok effort, not too good but watchable on a rainy Tuesday night if there's nothing better on TV. It's filmed on location in Miami and thus has some pretty girls and sunny beaches to look at, which helps distract you from all the hammy overacting and greased-back Sicilian hairdos. I've seen worse.

I'm going to jump around a bit in this review, ok? If you've seen this movie recently (and there is just as much chance of that happening as of you being hit by a nerf asteroid while taking a shower in Tajikistan) you will notice that I have rearranged this review quite a bit. This is because this movie sucks and it needs some editing to make it less sucky.

Oh, and my copy is a miserably washed-out public domain DVD, so I apologize in advance for the sheer unadulterated crappiness of the screen captures (and believe me, watching this movie on my 42" LCD was like taking a Yaris to Nurburgring).

On to our show...

It's 1994, it's Miami, and the mafia is running the show. From what I can read on the internet, the Italian mafia did indeed have a stranglehold on Miami in the 1980s and 90s, though it was severely damaged by the diligent efforts of two legendary cops named Crockett and Tubbs. I've never been to Miami myself, but it seems like a nice place to visit.

Miami, baby! Yeah!

The Miami mafia kingpin is a grandfatherly old man named Ben Costa, played by 69-year old Gabriele Ferzetti, and Italian character actor of some note (I hear, I've never actually seen him before). Costa seems to run Miami's crime syndicate with soft gloves, though I'm sure he's not shy about sending some heavies to bust some kneecaps if you don't pay on time.


Costa's second in command and most trusted lieutenant is a violent man named Tony Romeo, a sleazy power-mad thug who climbed up the criminal ladder from beachfront pickpocket to the boardroom of the mafia. Tony is played by 51-year old Orso Maria Guerrini, which is just a funny name (other Orsos of note include a 1920s electromagnetic scientist, a gay muscle builder, and a Chagrian slave trader who lived on the upper levels of Orvax IV).

Tony, about to hit you with his Neuralizer to make you forget that UFO you just saw over Jersey.

Ok, the plot of the movie concerns some trouble the mafia is having in Miami. It seems some lower-level Dons are being killed by an unknown assassin and his paid goons. They don't have a clue who the killer is, if he's a vigilante, a disgruntled citizen, a rogue cop, or even one of their own number looking to move up the ladder to the top with a clip full of bullets. I'm going to call him the "Joker" as I just watched The Dark Knight this week (and it's my review).

This guy in his checked suit is not the Joker, but he's typical of the nameless mafia goons that populate this movie. Why is it that all the bad guys in this film have such rotten fashion sense?

Fed up with all this, the Dons get together to discuss the Joker (did Christopher Nolen watch this movie?), argue about who he might really be, and generally toss insults at each other. Costa presides over the meeting, and spends some amount of time keeping tempers down and guns in their holsters. Even in the best of times the various criminal Dons in Miami don't get along, but when some mysterious figure is killing them off one by one, they really start to get antsy. In the end, they all (grudgingly) decide to let the police handle it for them (the least messy way), and even to pass along anonymous tips to them if something turns up.

Meeting of the Dons, though you'd think they would find a more opulent location for their meeting, what with all the money and power they have.

Meanwhile, the Miami police call in Mark Fiero, a State Policeman from Tampa with a special mandate to bust up the mafia any way he sees fit. He used to work in Miami, until his reputation as a loose cannon (is there any other type in these sorts of movies?) got him run out of town, but now things have gotten so bad that Miami needs him back. Mark is played by 53-year old Fabrio Testi (sure, ok), a grizzled Italian guy with Robert DiNero hair and bad skin who can't seem to button his shirt all the way up.

Mark Fiero.

Pontiac Fiero (and a lady who might very well be a lumberjack on her day off).

Mark is working for Florida's governor directly, which ticks off everyone from his superiors in the Police Department to the weasely District Attorney, who might be on the payroll of the mafia. Mark also has a major violent streak to him, and a near total disregard for basic human rights and the law when he feels the need, though he seems to totally avoid any sort of Internal Affairs incrimination or civil rights lawsuits (the ends justify the means?).

Mark and the DA have some frosty words.

There is a MAJOR conflict of interest here, in that Mark's former father-in-law is Ben Costa, the kingpin! Further, Mark is sleeping with a lawyer named Lori, who is representing several of the major criminal figures in Miami (including Costa and Tony). More on this later.

Mark's Ford Explorer (new for 1994!) gets an inordinate amount of screen time in this movie.

Lori is played by 29-year old Marina Giulia Cavalli, some random Italian chick who I've never seen before, but who looks just like Jane Seymour circa Doctor Quinn (though I read that she's mostly famous for showing her breasts in public when she shouldn't). She's dressed about ten years behind her time, preferring a lot of polyester and shoulder pads, and her English accent is thick as concrete.

Lori (she's alright, I guess).

Mark is working with his old partner Hoagy, who might very well be the gayest man alive (supplanting Ross the Intern) and looks like William Katt from Greatest American Hero. Hoagy will play the role of Comedic Sidekick and Occasional Expositor and he excels at both, flashing his cheesy grin when we need something to lighten the mood or passing along some juicy nugget of Miami crime gossip for Mark to chew on.

Hoagy. This is Miami in the '90s, after all.

Mark and Hoagy go to lunch and then to the Miami Police Department to see his new office. His office is just an empty white room with a tacky desk and a picture of the president on the wall, it looks more like a hotel room than anything else, and these scenes might have been filmed in one for all I know. Mark then gets settled into his new apartment, which is fully furnished but lacks the requisite loner-cop feline for him to dote on to make his character look more human than the brutal killing machine that he is while on duty.

Hoagy and Mark chat, when were suspenders for men ever an acceptable fashion statement?

Figuring to go straight to the top from day one, Mark goes to visit the mafia kingpin Costa at a private tennis resort. The two men, relatives until recently, reconnect and talk about the good old days (though, again, I have to ask how anyone in the upper management of law enforcement thought it would be a good idea for a State Policeman on the anti-mafia taskforce to FUCKING MARRY the daughter of the kingpin of the mafia!). Costa comes across here (and elsewhere) as a Tony Soprano type of Don, very complex and emotional, with a great deal of internal conflicts and nuances.

Mark and Costa have a nice visit.

Ok, enough character moments, let's have some action. We go now to a funeral for one of the murdered Dons, held at a small chapel on a sunny South Florida day. Just then two of the Joker's goons burst in and massacre everyone in the room with automatic weapons. Mark and Hoagy are called to the chapel, which has become a crime scene crawling with cops. Mark meets a thirthysomething woman named Katherine, who until an hour ago was the wife of one of the cooling corpses on the floor under the bloodstained white sheets, who now runs her dead husband's chunk of the criminal empire. She's sneaky, watch her.

Katherine, she gets hotter later.

Being a cop up against the mafia, it's no surprise that Mark is a man with a price on his head. He's targeted for assassination by some of Joker's goons outside Lori's apartment building. The two hitmen unload a few dozen bullets in his direction before running. Mark gives chase, shooting as he does, hitting both men and knocking them down. He then executes the two wounded men without so much as a second thought! Seriously, he just walks up, leans down, points his gun at their heads and pulls the trigger. And then he just walks away like nothing happened! We see later that he does this several more times, and never once has to answer to anyone (not to mention he never gets any information because he keeps executing his captives, he might even find out who the Joker is if he'd just keep his trigger finger still).

This has to be some ethical violation.

A second hit attempt a few scenes later is a bit more lame, with a guy on a Honda motorcycle trying to run him down as he gets into his car outside Lori's building. The guy escapes, helped greatly by the three police cars that seem to be driving ten miles an hour as they "chase" him down an empty highway. Much is made of us getting to see the rider's face at the end of the scene, but I don't recognize him at all (and I've seen this movie now three times in twelve hours, a particularly heinous brand of self-inflicted torture).

Lights on for safety.

Mark now goes to visit Tony, arranging to meet him at Lori's apartment (she is his lawyer). It's not a good visit by any stretch, though Mark's blustering, I'm-Shiva-destroyer-of-worlds attitude is not helping. Tony actually wants to cut a deal, to give Mark inside tips to help get this gang war over (so they can all get "back to business"), but Mark refuses to come down off his high-horse long enough to see the wisdom of this offer.

Tony talks to Mark, though all I notice is the cheapass craftstore art print and the leaning torch lamp in the background, who dressed this set?

Mark then starts putting pressure on the mafia, hitting small-time operations, arresting medium-level lieutenants, and the like. He's up to his usual level of dirty tricks here, planting evidence and illegal search and seizures, along with roughing up witnesses and discharging his firearm with reckless abandon. Not surprisingly, the courts keep undermining him (including Lori, who is doing her best Roy Cohn impression), but he's really just hoping to smoke out the Joker.

Breaking up a crack lab, Mark takes out the guard so the boys in blue can bum rush the door.

About to bust in on a lieutenant, check out Hoagy's Richard Simmons-esque combat stance there, very amusing.

To complicate matters for Mark (and to add an unneeded extra storyline to our already-too-convoluted movie) his ex-wife sends their teenage daughter to live with him. Paloma is 17 and sassy, though she does love her dad, she's just tired of being shipped back and forth between her parents and is in that rebellious phase. She smokes cigarettes and stays out too late, causing Mark no end to worry (it's the summer so she's not in school, in case you were wondering). Mark suggests that she talk to Lori and they do, because girls need women to talk to apparently.

Paloma, don't you forget she's the only granddaughter of the mafia kingpin, because the movie seems to forget that.

Mark and Hoagy go to see the brother of one of the murdered Dons (an Asian fisherman), who knows the location of someone who might (might) be the Joker. They end up having a quick and deadly gunfight at a docked houseboat. When the cordite clears there are four dead goons (my edited version cuts away too soon but I think Mark executes another wounded man in cold blood!) but the prime suspect escapes when Mark and Hoagy start shooting before trying to get any information.

Hey, see that "Ross Perot for President" sticker there? That's awesome, I voted for him (seriously).

The squirmy District Attorney and the bootlicking Police Commissioner have some problems with Mark's loose cannon maverick ways, but he doesn't care. His boss is the governor and he's going to do things his own way (though it really does make little sense that he's allowed such carte blanche, especially if the governor wants to get reelected). If this was Colombia, Mark would have been dead long ago.

Mark in hot water with the DA, note the picture of Bill Clinton over his head, I did not vote for him.

The Joker now kills Costa's niece Santa, the mafia family accountant (she was figuring out that the gang war was being financed from an offshore account that only a handful of people had access to). Over the course of the first half of the film we've met the attractive young Santa several times and it's clear that Costa is quite sweet on her and treats her like she's his own daughter. Her death comes a quite a shock to him and he's not happy about it.

Dead niece, she was prettier when she didn't have a bullet hole in her forehead.

Next, the Joker drops a dime on Costa, calling the cops about the kingpin's criminally underage mistress (just 17 but built like a porn star). Costa is pulled in for questioning, though it's Mark who arranges to have a one-on-one conversation with him in the interrogation room. This is probably the most well-acted scene in the entire movie, with a lot of emotion on both sides and the stark bareness of the interrogation room and the harsh overhead lighting setting the mood. They talk about life and history and how crazy the world is these days before Lori the lawyer comes to bail him out. Lori and Mark exchange burning looks, they are both clearly on opposite sides of the legal and moral fence here.

Monica Bedi-like underage girlfriend (yummy, but not worth the jail time).

Costa and Mark talk, Law and Order-style.

Later, though, we see the two of them back together again in bed. Jesus, is Mark still sleeping with Lori!? After all this back-stabbing and slimy lawyer stuff? She must be a windows-rattling, back-shredding, safe-word-needing tiger in bed for him to put up with that BS. And once again, how is this not something that the governor would be concerned about?

Sex (lousy cap, I know, but trust me, they be doin' it, yo.

And finally the Big Reveal of the Joker's identity. It turns out that Mark was right all along, Tony is the Joker! And he's working/sleeping with Katherine (the former mistress of the dead Don from the funeral, remember?). Between the two of them they hope to control all of Miami's crime, rubbing out all those who oppose them in an orgy of slit throats and 9mm bullets. Joker/Tony (yes, that's what I'm going to call him) starts cleaning up some loose ends now. From here on out the movie becomes one violent killing scene after another, as Joker/Tony and his moll Katherine eliminate everyone who either stands in their way or is related to anyone standing in their way.

Joker/Tony and Katherine share a moment.

Together with three goons they hit another Don's house (there aren't that many Dons left alive by now), blasting through the security with silencer-equipped pistols and submachineguns. They kill the Don next to his pool as he mauls his skanky hooker girlfriend, riddling his flabby body with hundreds of bullets. Joker/Tony then shoot dead the three goons who helped them (first rule of assassination: kill the killers).

The hitmen, soon to be dead (it's hard work being a nameless mafia goon, your life expectancy has got to be about the same as a shipbreaker in Bangladesh).

Next up is Costa's underage mistress, shot dead in her mom's house, both of them left for the police to find. This was more of a personal hit, designed to make Costa mad (never mess with a mafia kingpin's illegal love slave, or so I've heard). I note here a movie-long observation of the lack of blood in these crime scenes, even when a body is perforated by dozens of bullets. It reality, of course, the body would be nearly drained, and a room full of machinegunned bodies would have a layer of blood four inches deep to slosh through. This also goes for the lack of blood sprays on through-and-throughs, but I'm just being nitpicky now (and I've been watching way too many reruns of CSI, but that's not my fault because they are on about fifty times a day on seven different channels).

The cops do bloodwork on the dead girls.

During a lull in the killing spree, acting on what may or may not have been a legitimate tip, Mark brings a warrant and a bunch of cops to Tony/Joker's house to arrest him for the murder of one of that Don poolside (someone saw his car leaving the scene). Much to Mark's surprise, however, Lori is there (she must not have any other clients, she seems to always be on scene at all times) and she works to undermine his case on the spot. She (correctly, it turns out later) points out that the car in question (a Bentley Special) was reported stolen days ago. Thus with no legal leg to stand on, Mark tucks his tail between his legs and leaves.

Lori lets Mark know his warrant is bogus.

And yet, he is STILL sleeping with her! She must be like Traci Lords in bed, it's the only way to explain why he's still boinking her even when she's actively stonewalling his investigations and getting her clients (murders and thieves all) off on technicalities. For that matter, and I know I keep hammering on this, but how the hell does Mark still even have his job? He's not only sleeping with the lawyer of the very man he's trying to put away, but he's related to the kingpin of the entire Miami mafia? Am I the only one who sees this as a problem?

Sex, again.

Anyway, I'll let that go, ok? At some random stakeout at a roller derby rink (seriously, a roller rink, in 1994?), Mark's partner Hoagy is shot and wounded by some goon, certainly acting on orders from Joker/Tony. Mark goes to see his friend in the hospital, a somber scene as the guy lays there unconscious with tubes sticking out of him. Mark is pissed.

Hoagy in hospital, with a nurse who looks like one-time popstar Tiffany.

But not too pissed to cancel that evening's romantic dinner date with Lori! Glad I'm not his partner, maybe some flowers or a nice card, maybe sit with me all night while I fight for my life after getting shot by some goon that you pissed off with your Elliot Ness-wannabe antics? Anyway, Mark and Lori have dinner in an oddly less-than-swanky restaurant (which looks like a redressed cafeteria at a middle school) they talk about laws and courts and mobsters and how beautiful Lori looks in that dress and stuff. Despite everything that's been going on, and Lori's explicit role in it all, Mark is still madly in love with her and willing to overlook anything to get some booty (I know, I promised to let it go, sorry).

Mark and Lori have dinner in a place with Miami's most tacky tablecloths ever.

Ah, but Joker/Tony has had enough of all this and has called in another hit on Mark. The kitchen door bursts open and two masked goons rush in, submachineguns blazing! They fire at random into the crowd of diners, killing a dozen or so before Mark can drive them off with pistol fire. Chasing them outside he shoots them dead and walks away from their bodies. He returns to the carnage to find Lori dead, several bullet holes in her once-impressive chest. Now, he's really, really pissed.

Goon with Phantom of the Opera mask, Puerto Rican gay pride parade shirt, and Racer-X hat opens fire with his Uzi.

Joker/Tony is still not done cleaning house, however. We see two more of his goons (who are being whittled down pretty fast by the looks of it) sneak into a hospital dressed like doctors. Another of the lower-level Dons is having some elective surgery done and the goons storm the operating room and open fire. The doctors and nurses are cut down and the Don is riddled with bullets as he lays there on the operating table. This is a brutal scene as the goons execute a crying nurse begging for her life, which I did not need to see.

The goons bust up the operation, at least they are wearing scrubs, wouldn't want to spread any germs.

Joker/Tony also proves he's less sentimental than pragmatic as he shoots his lover Katherine dead in her bath tub. I agree that she was too powerful to let live, but still, she was hot. Come on now.

Katherine, I don't care about crime syndicates or power struggles, I am NOT shooting this hottie.

And the final nail in the coffin is driven home when Mark comes back to his apartment one night to find that his daughter has been kidnapped! But, seriously, could this really come as any surprise? He should have known that she was going to have a target on her back from the second she got into Miami. This is the oldest trick in the book, get to a man by getting to his family, been done for thousands of years.

Mark hears the voice on the phone saying that Paloma has been kidnapped. And that bluish filter on all the night scenes suggests that his apartment is located next to a cheap hotel with a "Live Nude Girls" neon sign.

Another detective (who I will call Ponytail Dude for obvious reasons) comes to see a pacing and frustrated Mark in his office with a lead. A guy saw another guy heading for a construction site down by the docks with a struggling girl in his car. This construction site is, most coincidentally, owned and operated by Tony, and Mark connects the dots. He and Ponytail Dude rush to the docks to try and save the girl and take down Joker/Tony.

Ponytail Dude, who, if he would turn around, indeed is a dude with a ponytail.

Out now to this huge construction site (financed by the legitimate wing of Joker/Tony's empire) where we see that Costa is here! We learn that Costa and Joker/Tony have been in cahoots this whole time! They have a meeting up in the foreman's office, swilling brandy and winking oily. All along Costa was aware that the Joker was Tony, and they had it worked out that between the two of them they would eliminate the other Dons and take over the Miami crime scene for themselves. This last minute double-cross really surprised me and the clumsy way in which this scene is written suggests that this bit was tacked on at the last minute.

Costa and Joker/Tony tip the bubbly to celebrate their victory.

At the same time, Mark and Ponytail Dude storm the construction site, while their police backup is still some time away. They crash the front gate and almost immediately get into a wicked gun battle with guards. Armed with just pistols (Mark with his .45 and Ponytail Dude with a revolver) they duck and hide and shoot as they work their way through the construction site, taking advantage of the ample cover provided by the machines and stacks of building stock.

The quarry site, a great place to film a gunfight.

The movie's last ten minutes are a crazy action fest. It seems all the construction workers are mafia henchmen and they pull guns from everywhere and start shooting. Of course, they are all lousy shots and are picked off one by one. Stuntmen fall from cranes, stuntmen fall from rooftops, stuntmen fall off bulldozers, but Fabrio Testi seems to be doing his own stunts here (though mostly just ducking as squibs pop and ricochets are foleyed in).

Mark mows them down.

Meanwhile, things between Costa and Joker/Tony are boiling over. Their carefully designed partnership is unraveling as Joker/Tony clearly went too far in killing Costa's niece (though he claims it was to make the ruse more "authentic") and Costa is not really ready to give up power to anyone. Costa is also holding onto the secret that Joker/Tony killed his son a few months ago during his rise to power. All this comes to a head up in the construction office (while down below the gunfight rages) and Costa draws his pistol. Costa ends up shooting Joker/Tony in the head before the cops bust in and arrest him.

Costa kills Joker/Tony, ending the duplicity and the bitterness.

Mark still has to rescue his daughter, who was being held in a storeroom, but is now on the move as a hostage. Mark, in typical action movie fashion, wades through the bad guys, shooting and killing everyone who comes in range as he chases his daughter's captors. In an insane series of running gunfights and lame fistfights, Mark singlehandedly kills 23 men and destroys a Volkswagen Sirocco, a Dodge panel van, and an old Datsun sedan. His weapons of choice are his chrome-plated Desert Eagle, his hairy-knuckle fists, and a crate of dynamite sticks lit with a Marlboro (hell yeah!).

Some guy on fire, an absolute must for every Italian action movie.

Must have fifty spare magazines in the pockets of his sport coat. Where are all the other cops?

In the end, Mark and some lower level enforcer type (maybe a bodyguard of Joker/Tony's) duke it out with fists in a muddy pond at the bottom of a rock quarry. It's odd that this final climatic battle is between our hero and some random flunky and not our hero and Joker/Tony, and I wonder if that's how it was in the original script but it somehow changed during shooting. This flunky has not had a single line of dialogue the entire movie but is now doing the Last Battle, usually reserved for the two main protagonists, and it just seems wrong. Mark wins, of course, impaling the guy through the chest with a length of concrete rebar, before running to hug his daughter.

Reunited and it feels so good.

The end. Please do not watch this movie.

Written in October 2008 by Nathan Decker.

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