No, Andy Sidaris did not make a movie called In Conclusion where his rotating cast of nude models, bodybuilders, and people who think Jenny McCarthy has something useful to add in a science debate all get in a giant combination gunfight and hot tub orgy and end up boiled alive in coconut oil. No, I reviewed all twelve of the elder and younger Sidaris’s softboiled and softcore spy series, and I’ve got to come up with some kind of conclusion. Otherwise I watched them for nothing.
The series could only have existed when it did, specifically between 1985 and 1998. It rose after the Golden Age of Porn… well, okay. The Gold Lamé Age of Porn anyway. The move away from shooting on film to shooting on video allowed movies to be made more cheaply than ever before. Malibu Express, our first installment, was much more of a bad noir film than a bad spy film, and looked like the porn of the era. The series instantly got much softer, with more toplessness and less sex, though with the “recognizable” names/faces/boobs of Playboy Playmates. These were geared toward the emerging cable market. Cheap movies with cheap thrills that could fill the late night hours to entertain insomniacs and masturbators. As the series wore on, the Porn Chic of the late ‘90s (a renaissance occurring almost exactly twenty years after the first, and yes, that’s the only time I use a word that describes the achievements of some of the greatest geniuses of the human race with Jenna Jameson making oodles of cash from putting stuff in her) had an undeniable effect. The plots grew thinner and more perfunctory while the sex scenes grew longer and more explicit. It’s a little sad to note that the best movies for female characters happened in the Donna/Taryn/Nicole era of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. By the time the series limped to a close with the awful Return to Savage Beach, the writing was on the wall. This was 1998, and the world had just learned you can see naked people on the internet, for free, all the time. Sidaris was a softcore man in an increasingly hardcore world, and went out with as much dignity as he was going to be able to muster.
While none of these movies are good, Guns still hangs together as the most watchable from beginning to end. It’s also the Empire Strikes Back of the series, which is a bizarre thing to say about skin flicks. Hard Ticket to Hawaii has the best individual scenes (rocketing the the blow-up doll, and the plague snake subplots), but the pacing is off. That’s the criticism throughout, though it gets worse in the later installments. The worst of the movies are the ones directed by Andy’s son Drew, who decided an entire movie about camping was a great idea.
None of the acting would ever show up on an Oscar reel, though Erik Estrada comes closest. His strange rebranding from villain in Guns to hero in Do or Die is profoundly bizarre, especially in light of his weird relationship to Donna. Still, Erik Estrada. You know, you could do worse. Pat Morita also isn’t bad, but the awkwardness of his sex scenes pretty much ruins any fun to be had from his performance.
Of the ladies, Hope Marie Carlton as bubbly Taryn is the best actor. She’s the only one who can even attempt to deliver a punchline, and she had good chemistry with Dona Speir. As for Speir, she is the best of the action heroes, and does do some legitimately awesome things (blowing up her kidnapper’s plane mid-flight and bailing out was incredible). I missed her when she was gone, her replacements were never as good. Granted, the scripts were worse. I think Sidaris had stopped caring by then.
As with all bad movies, the more personal they got the more fascinating they became. Generic bad movies, like the ones aired on SyFy, have very little cache with bad movie fans because their creativity begins and ends with the title. On a case-by-case basis, the Girls, Guns and G-Strings series seems just as impersonal. Yet with each installment undeniable themes emerged. The oddest has to be Sidaris’s fascination with radio-controlled vehicles. Some variation of RC car with a bomb strapped on it appeared in the vast majority of the movies. It’s a decent bomb delivery system I suppose, but the amount of time spent on these, especially in earlier installments, veered toward the fetishistic.
The continuity of the series was quirky at best, though Sidaris was looking at it from the beginning. The Abilene family runs through the first eight movies, and Cody Abilene’s distinctive .357 magnum and holstein case made appearances even beyond that. A lot of the movies could be approached best as a repertory company with the same ensemble of actors performing different roles. And with some grinding. Things got weird when old Japanese men were replaced with young white men or when a villain suddenly turned good in the next installment for no real reason. This last example popped up in the final film, which was when Sidaris really tried to tie the whole thing together, even retroactively declaring Donna and Taryn to be members of the Legion to Ensure Total Harmony And Law.
The favorite theme — and this comes from both my wife and me — was the hot tub. In several movies, the two lead characters (usually Donna and Taryn/Nicole), got topless in a hot tub to talk over the plot. We figured this was because their brains were powered by warm water on or near their nipples. Best part? In Do or Die, Sidaris even calls attention to the whole thing with Nicole pointing out she does her best thinking in a hot tub. If that doesn’t sum the series up, I don’t know what does.
*raises a glass* It’s been a fun ride.
Thank you. Now to see what gag gift my cousin gives me next.
When I told him that Lauri didn’t like Nicole, his response: “Nicole? *My* Nicole?”
I’ll drink to that. As the great Harry Dean Stanton said about his old friend at Sidaris’ funeral, “Things might have been different, but they could not have been better.”* I think that also goes for both Sidaris’ oeuvre and this feature. Everybody, please pause for a moment to reflect on a great man.
*Note: The funeral took place in a hot tub and Nicole was my date. Also, it might have been a dream.