High Kicks (1993)

A shot-on-VHS tape, direct-to-video quickie today, filmed on location in California and staring exactly no one you've ever heard of before. Still, not too bad.

We open at an aerobics gym in a strip mall in Santa Monica. This being 1993, there are lots of workout bras and spandex leotards on display, and the first two minutes are a festival of gratuitous softcore porn as sweaty girls press their boobs up against the camera and wiggle their butts for our pleasure. I was highly offended that I had to watch this scene ten times in a row to get a couple screen captures...

Pastel striped butt!

What is it about boobs that drives us men crazy? They're just lumps of flesh and fat, right?

Sandy, the owner of gym, is closing up one night when she's attacked and raped by gang of punks. A horrible thing, to be sure, and thankfully the camera stays away from anything you don't want to see (at first I suspected that my VHS-rip version had been "sanitized", but I'm beginning to think it hasn't been edited that way). Key to the movie's plot, Sandy is physically incapable of defending herself from the attack, and it's that sense of helplessness that motivates her for the rest of the movie.

The gang on the prowl.

Not good.

Much to my surprise, our movie takes us on an earnestly meandering examination of the tragedy of rape and its lasting results. Sandy has flashbacks and depression, and they take the time to show us her painful moments. I'm generalizing horribly here, I know, but perhaps the fact that the director/producer/writer was a woman has something to do with this surprisingly up-front performance.

Suffering in silence.

Her friend also struggles with guilt, as she feels she could have done more to help.

The lovely Tara Lee-Anne Roth, the actress playing Sandy, is actually pretty darn good at the talkie and feelie stuff, and she brings genuine emotion and humanity to her character (even if she does wear way too much lycra and rayon). The All-Powerful imdb.com lists only this movie on her resume, but suspecting that she had other, hidden, credits, I google-fu'd her for an hour. I tried everything, from search engines on every variation of her name to (undeliverable) emails to the (now defunct) production company. Hell, I even tried to find her on Facebook. Nothing. If you know Tara Lee-Anne Roth, or if you yourself are Tara Lee-Anne Roth, please drop me a line, ok? Don't worry, I just want to chat about this movie, I'm already stalking one celebrity and I just don't have the time to add another.

Sandy (she's rockin' an early version of "The Rachel").

Have I mentioned that I'm going to marry Ann Curry one day?

At this pivotal moment, Sandy meets Sam, a long-haired drifter who lives on a boat down at the marina. And while he's indeed a celebration of all that was wrong with mid-'90s fashion, with his electric blue track suit and uncompromising love of acid-washed denim, he's also kind and sweet and steps in to nurse Sandy back to emotional health after her attack. He's a "karate guy", no surprise, but not obnoxiously so. The 1990s were the Age of the Self-Important Karate Loser, especially in Southern California where lots of overly-tanned, muscle-bound guys strutted around in white karate robes and headbands emblazoned with Japanese script they couldn't read, just because they thought chicks would dig them (they were their era's equivalent to today's Jersey Shore douchebag Guidos, though with hairspray substituted for hairgel).


Sam has two friends in town, also karate guys, who spend nearly the entire movie shirtless and flexing. Actually, their sparring scenes are pretty good, helped immensely by some fairly adequate camera work (camera location and angle matters, and it makes editing action scenes in post much easier, trust me). The two friends get a lot of dialogue in a lot of scenes, suggesting to me that they might have ponyied up some cash to help the production along.

Oiy, that's a lot of man-meat.

They agree to teach Sandy some kung fu moves to defend herself, which is easier than you might think as she's already in peak physical condition (unlike you, with your crippling Taco Bell addiction and multiple layers of back fat). While there are a couple of the requisite 1990s Rocky-style training montages, they never drift over that fuzzy line into eye-rolling camp (no driving hair-band ballads or music-video zoom-cuts). She's a fairly fast learner (obviously the actress had some prior martial arts skills) but her progression is slow enough to be believable. I hate to bring up Lopez in the underrated Enough, but there are some parallels in Sandy's transformation (though decidedly less sweating).

Need the whites to do the kicks.

And she teaches him how to do aerobics, which, being a guy, he comically fails at.

Along the way, Sandy and Sam start to fall in love (predictable, but still cute). There are, however, some hurdles. She's worried he'll just up and leave one day because he's a free spirit, and he's worried she'll give him a reason to stay (know what I'm sayin'?). Luckily they do share a love of kicking stuff really hard and tucking their shirts into jean shorts, and finding common ground is the first step in any relationship. I'm glossing over it, but they really do have a pretty complex emotional connection, both are becoming dependent on the other, which both excites and terrifies them for different reasons. I feel for them, having been on both ends several times myself I know how much being in love can be torture. Well, except with Ann Curry, that's just peachy (shut up, you can't understand our love!).

They wear funny hats and get drunk.

And they make sweet love on his boat.

To add some unneeded, but oddly welcome, conflict between Sam and Sandy (they need something to kick their budding romance into high gear), there's this horny chick down at the gym who has the insane hots for Sam. She's an extremely bangable Marina Sirtis-lookalike and she's pushy and sexually confident where Sandy is timid and cautious. During a moment when Sandy and Sam are fighting over something stupid, Sam agrees to go out on a date with Marina, though he realizes halfway through it that he wants Sandy. He manages to extricate himself from Marina's massage lotion-slick clutches, but not before she force-feeds him sushi in her underwear. As Ross would say, "We were on a break!".

Yes, Sam, that's a buttock.

Seriously, why are all you women in love with this dorky tool? Christ, look at his hair!

Seeking to cast out her internal demons, Sandy gets Sam and the guys to hunt down the gangsters who raped her and get revenge on their own turf. Beat-downs follow. The gang, despite doing some very bad things, comes across as amusingly bumbling and inept. If you forget the rape thing, they really seem as harmless as the Prankster Team from The Electric Company. Just so you know, there's CarlosMencia'sBrother, LouDiamondPhilips, RandomChicanoGoon, ForgottenCosbyKid, and TurtleFromEntourage, and they have about three brain cells and two welfare checks between the five of them.


TurtleFromEntourage (there's no point in finding screen caps for the other three, they don't do much other than fall down a lot).

Since they (unwisely) didn't kill the gangsters, or thump them hard enough to make them stay away, it's no surprise that the bad guys muster for a final showdown at the gym. They catch Sandy alone, without Sam or his friends to defend her, and are happy to get their own revenge. Sandy uses her new-found karate skills (and her blossoming self-confidence, which is more the point) to defeat them with a series of swift nose-breaker kicks and round-house eye-blackeners. Nice resolution, yes, but clearly the gangsters aren't trying that hard (five guys should be able to swarm and maul one 5'2" 115 pound woman, even if she has had three weeks of martial arts training). Anyway, bully for her.

Thumped and hog-tied.

Sandy also finds the courage to run off Marina Sirtis and finally admit her love for Sam (aawww...). I wanted to hate this movie, but just I couldn't. Maybe it was all the boobies. Maybe it was the surprisingly effective emotional scenes and character development. Proof positive that a paltry budget can still produce a good movie.

Oh, by the way, Mary-Kate and Ashley called, they want their wardrobe back.

Related to nothing, but see that Shape magazine? In a "real" movie, one that actually got a theatrical release, you'd have to pay the publisher a zillion dollars to have that in-frame. There are whole rooms full of lawyers at Warner Brothers and Paramount just for things like this...

The End.

Written in May 2010 by Nathan Decker.

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