Lethal Weapon casts a long shadow over the cinema of the late ‘80s. This is because it is fucking awesome. Unfortunately for the rash of imitators, it featured Mel Gibson before he turned into the world’s funniest Holocaust denier, Danny Glover back when he was only a little too old for this shit, and a ridiculously solid writer-director team of Richard Donner and Shane Black. Samurai Cop had none of these things, and is thus amazing for entirely different reasons. Insane reasons.
Tagline: You have the right to remain silent… dead silent.
More Accurate Tagline: He’s here to chew bubblegum and disrespect Japanese culture… and he’s all out of bubblegum.
Guilty Party: Writer, director, and Gemini Amir Shervan. An Iranian-born movie theater magnate, Shervan had a dream of coming to Hollywood and sharing his glorious emotional problems with a public that was frankly not prepared for it. He made several films using the tried-and-true formula of goofy ‘roid monsters with flowing locks and a shaky understanding of police procedure going after the kind of ruthless yet flamboyant drug smuggler that were thick on the ground during the heyday of the neon rod. Basically the kind of movies that should have been made by Kim Jong-il and Tracy Jordan.
Synopsis: The Katana Gang is new on the scene and is looking to establish themselves the way vicious coke-traffickers have since the beginning of time: by making friends. Unfortunately, this does not cause them to ship out a bunch of drug-and-sword themed gift baskets, but whatever. Instead, the boss, Fujiyama, dispatches his chief henchman Yamashita (Robert Z’Dar, whose face seems to have its own pelvis) to make a treaty with them. Instead, he just kills all of them, in one case with something I swear is the hidden blade from Assassin’s Creed.
Meanwhile, Samurai Cop (Matt Hannon in his first and only starring role) and Black Partner (Mark Frazer) are on a drug bust. This mostly consists of chasing a blue van from downtown, to the marina, and up into Angeles Crest, which if you’re at all familiar with the geography of Los Angeles, you know would require teleportation, and I’m not even sure that Caprice they’re driving is equipped for 8-tracks. Because arrests are for cops not on the edge, they just murder everyone. Samurai Cop then unwinds by banging Peggy, the Amazonian police helicopter pilot.
The Katana Gang is really mad about Samurai Cop. They exposit that he’s called “Samurai” because he lived in Japan where he learned the language and martial arts. Yamashita vows to determine who the real samurai is around here. I assume he’s talking about the traditional samurai training in calligraphy and flower-arranging.
Anyway, the Captain is contractually obligated to be mad at Samurai Cop and Black Partner and demands results. Our heroes head off to boss Fujiyama’s favorite hangout to get said results. He’s having a meeting with his top flunkies, and has a pretty blonde on his arm that’s far too young for him. Samurai Cop literally cannot function unless he’s sleazing all over some hapless woman and immediately creepily hits on her, alternating with an inspirational speech about the importance of hard work and America. No, seriously, this is a thing that happens. After the cops are done with the shakedown, they go outside to the parking lot, where Yamashita follows and sics his thugs on them. Because Samurai Cop and Black Partner are basically just serial killers with badges, not a single arrest is made.
Samurai Cop returns later, not to collect evidence or maybe see if the bodies have been moved, but to hit on the Blonde. She seems interested, but does not mention the giant stuffed lion head on her wall. He leaves and is hilariously jumped by another set of goons. Did they respawn or something? Samurai Cop beats them to death except one guy, who gives up Okamura, one of the Katana Gang’s top lieutenants, as the man who ordered the hit. Samurai Cop and Black Partner raid Okamura’s house and kill everyone. That’s some bang-up police work.
Samurai Cop stalks the Blonde at church (forgetting about his relationship with Peggy because fuck her) and takes her back to his house on the beach which is far too nice to afford on an honest cop’s salary. He then proceeds to seduce the Blonde in a parade of unpleasant scenes.
Yamashita goes after the cops, first taking out a red shirt and his wife, before moving onto Black Partner and Peggy. Black Partner kills the goons dispatched to his place. Yamashita tortures Peggy for Samurai Cop’s address, and let me remind you that she knows this because they were in some kind of relationship, and one of the reasons she’s not there now is because he’s fucking someone else. By the time the bad guys show up to kill Samurai Cop, he’s finished his unholy business and shoots his way out with the Blonde.
The Captain has had enough. He wants the whole Katana Gang dead, and sends Samurai Cop and Black Partner to get it done. They take out Fujiyama, Yamashita, and an ethnically diverse horde of goons with bullets and swords. Samurai Cop and Black Partner are triumphant.
Life-Changing Subtext: It’s all well and good to be Japanese, but don’t get in everyone’s face about it.
Defining Quote: Samurai Cop: “Well, this one’s dead too. Not captured alive.” Yes, Samurai Cop, that’s what dead means.
Standout Performance: Matt Hannon as Samurai Cop. So much goes into his terrible performance in the titular role that it’s tough to tease out exactly what makes it so enchanting. We start with the look, which would have been ridiculous even at the time. He looks like slightly douchier John Romero, which is especially impressive, since Romero spent most of the ‘90s inventing new ways to be a total tool. Samurai Cop wanders around in light mom jeans, cowboy boots, work shirts, and has a mane of hair that keeps trying to sing lead for Steel Panther. For most of the film, the hair belongs to Samurai Cop, but for a couple pickup shots, he’s clearly wearing a woman’s wig, sometimes with a trucker cap perched suicidally at the top.
Samurai Cop is supposed to be a roguish womanizer, which the film accomplishes by having him come onto literally every woman that he encounters. Unfortunately, the teachers in Samurai Cop’s special school never explained the difference between flirting and sizing someone up for that giant canvas of human skin he keeps in his basement.
A lot of hay is made of Samurai Cop’s supposed proficiency with the Japanese language. The only Japanese word he seems to know is “katana,” and that could just be because he plays a lot of Shadowrun. In other scenes, he seems baffled by the pronunciation of relatively common Japanese names. He’s not really much of a samurai, but in his defense, he’s also a shitty cop.
What’s Wrong: The Katana Gang maybe has two Asian guys in it, Even Robert Z’Dar, as top henchman Yamashita, is not even slightly Japanese. Since his real ethic group appears to be anaphylactic shock, I’m pretty sure it’s okay.
This movie has more awkward ADR than Italian porn. Half the time every single minor role appears to have been overdubbed by someone doing a crappy impression of a Lebanese cab driver.
Flash of Competence: There is some solid late-‘80s nudity to be had.
Best Scenes: Samurai Cop features several sex scenes, all of which are potentially scarring. In the first, Samurai Cop gets it on with Peggy, but both of them seem unclear as to how genitals function. They know it feels good when you touch them, but the mechanics of how they dock are fuzzy. So they leave their underwear on, for her, a thong whose waist is so high her whale tail could be seen from space, and for him, some black manties. Get used to those manties. They’re practically a supporting player.
They pop up whenever Samurai Cop goes to the beach with the Blonde (twice) and when he takes her back to his room for doin’ it (once while Peggy is being tortured). They’re in another scene, this time on Okamura while he prepares to get a little something. I can’t prove it, but I like to think that after Samurai Cop killed Okamura, he steals the man’s underwear, because that’s just how Samurai Cop rolls.
Later on, Z’Dar gets it on with the redhead that follows him around. And she’s just all kinds of naked. Turns out she’s also an award-winning porn star, “acting” in her lone “legitimate” “role.” It would be depressing if not for how goddamn funny it is. They have sex on top of the covers of a made bed with a single sheet covering the no doubt terrifying thing Z’Dar’s got between his legs.
And then there’s the only known team up of Samurai Cop and Lindsay Lohan.
Transcendent Moment: Every other minute, we have to be reminded at how incredible Samurai Cop is, because the movie was cobbled together from scrawled notes on Matt Hannon’s Trapper Keeper and a bunch of karate moves he learned from watching Cynthia Rothrock movies. The scene where he does a wicked guitar solo while sexually taming eight lions had to be cut for time. Anyway, we know he’s a master at everything Japanese: karate, the language, sushi, sword-fighting, tamagochis, body pillows, sleeping in coffins, so by the time we’re ready to see him face off with another samurai, it’s a big deal.
The final boss fight against Yamashita is framed like one of the classic duels in a Kurosawa movie. Unfortunately, neither Hannon nor Z’Dar know what to do with a sword, so they filmed both guys very carefully stroking each other’s weapons, and then sped up the film. This inevitably leads to a karate fight where Samurai Cop defeats his rival through judicious use of making monkey’s O face.
Samurai Cop is an instant anti-classic. I heartily recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in terrible cinema. Just avert your eyes whenever the manties come out.