Certain Yakmala films take on outsized importance to members of the group. Instead of any sort of sane mark of quality, this is inevitably because one or more people had an extreme reaction to the film in question. Intense revulsion, quivering rage, or an unshakable desire to just drown all memories of the movie in a sea of whiskey and alkaloids. Revenge of the Red Baron is one such film.
More Accurate Tagline: It’s Never Over
Guilty Party: The first thing you notice about this cinematic war crime is that it features a bizarrely recognizable cast: Tobey Maguire, Mickey Rooney, Laraine Newman and Cliff De Young all show up, so you think maybe one of them was the impetus behind unleashing this upon us. But Maguire was right on the cusp of his doll-eyed stardom, Rooney is clearly only vaguely aware of what’s going on around him, Newman hasn’t done much since her tenure on SNL, and no one is greenlighting a film because De Young agreed to be in it. This suggests that director Robert Gordon has photographs of them all doing something so horrifying that not only would their careers be over, but there’s a good chance they’d get tried in the Hague. This is one of the few movies where a mass grave in Tobey Maguire’s backyard would go a long way toward explaining its existence.
Synopsis: France, 1918. The Red Baron, who looks pretty much exactly like late ‘90s professional attention whore Tom Green, is unmatched in the skies until Grandpa Spencer (Tobey Maguire) gives him a little shot of what I like to call freedom beans. Bullets. Freedom beans are bullets.
The Red Baron is on his way to crashing when lightning strikes him and he explodes. Fast forward to 1994. Now Tobey Maguire is Jimmy Spencer, a hoodlum known mostly for pulling a knife on a teacher. Maguire doesn’t have the volcanic temper necessary to make this remotely believable. Then again, Maguire doesn’t have the volcanic temper necessary to get mildly annoyed when the people at Starbucks call him “Kobe.”
His mom (Newman) packs him up to live with his dad (De Young) and Grandpa (Rooney), where young Jimmy can get a little discipline. This might be effective if his dad treated him as anything more than a home invader who can do some cheap labor. Dad’s open contempt for everyone and everything extends to Grandpa as well, which is probably why the doddering old man is so psyched to show off his model planes to someone who won’t call him an asshole.
These model planes are replicas of his and the Red Baron’s WWI-era biplanes, and the Red Baron’s includes some actual pieces from the real Red Baron’s plane. When the model gets struck by lightning, by the scientific laws inherent in shitty movies, the plane is now possessed. The Red Baron wants his titular revenge, which he gets by killing De Young (which, frankly is the nicest thing he could do for literally everyone in the film), causing a near fatal heart attack in Grandpa, and successfully framing Jimmy for the whole thing.
And you thought he was just a fighter pilot.
Jimmy gets thrown into a mental hospital that makes you long for the professionalism and commitment to healing of the Cuckoo’s Nest, leaving mom to pick up the pieces. Well, the Baron’s not done yet. He really wants to kill Jimmy for some reason, and hey, mom’s here, so might as well. At this point, he gets bullets for the machine guns on his model biplane because they somehow use the same caliber as the assorted pistols, rifles, and shotguns dad had. Sure. Why not.
In a scene that’s like that similar one in Terminator 2, except terrible, Jimmy breaks out of the hospital right as mom shows up. They grab Grandpa out of the regular hospital as well, and make it back to Dad’s house because that’s the one set they still have access to. They have a showdown with the Red Baron that lasts about three days. Not in the movie. In your life. If you watch this thing, you will discover a new form of time travel powered exclusively by the sounds your brain cells make when they hang themselves.
Anyway, Jimmy somehow manages to trick the Red Baron into running into some power lines, which Grandpa then plugs in (shocking himself badly in the process, and no way that’s fatal for a man in his nineties with a bum ticker). And just because this movie needs a final way to say fuck you, the final shot is the Baron’s parachute. The little fucker bailed out.
Life-Changing Subtext: Schadenfreude is the only universal concept in the world.
Defining Quote: Pretty much anything out of the Red Baron’s mouth. He’s supposed to be a Freddy Krueger-style villain who kills and quips, like James Bond if he were a psychopath. So, like James Bond, I guess.
Only these things qualify as quips the way a baby’s funeral is technically a buffet. There’s food there, but that’s probably not why you’re attending. They are to comedy like a black hole, absorbing light, life, and probably filled with a bunch of sodomy demons.
Think I’m exaggerating? Here are a couple:
“We love to fly and it shows.”
“These high gas prices really burn me up.”
“The ladies always flip for me.”
That last one. What the fuck was that even supposed to be? That’s not an idiom. That’s how Scrabble tiles tell you when they’re being used for something unholy.
Standout Performance: Nothing beats screenwriter and Mad TV alum Michael McDonald as Jimmy’s shrink. He openly antagonizes Jimmy, trying to trick him into a recorded confession. He’s like some weird combination of Vic Mackey and the bad guy in Deadpool. This bizarre characterization points to one of the more baffling aspects of the movie, which we’ll get to in the Transcendent Moment.
What’s Wrong: Okay, there’s nothing wrong with having a movie about a killer doll. Brad Dourif has probably purchased multiple cabanas or quarries or whatever it is rich people buy, off the cash from the Child’s Play franchise. That Zulu doll sequence in Trilogy of Terror is pretty much the only reason to watch that one (and a good reason at that). So, on the face of it, sure. Just make sure it moves along pretty briskly, and it might not hurt to acknowledge how ridiculous it is.
This thing is paced like Schindler’s List and is somehow not as funny.
Flash of Competence: The car chase between Laraine Newman, the cops, and the Red Baron (never thought I’d write that), features a decent car flip at the end.
Best Scenes: Let’s talk about how everyone in this movie is an asshole. First off, dad has a neighbor, Lou, but it’s unclear if Lou actually lives in the house next door or merely lurks next to the fence on the property line. Lou is a colossal asshole. He titters to himself like a demented goblin after every exchange, including one where he gleefully shouts to his unseen wife (who, let’s face it, is probably a collection of sheets he drew a sad face on) that “The kid’s killing him!” And yes, this is the scene where De Young’s character dies.
Later, a cab driver with a “hilarious” foreign accent rips Jimmy and mom off for no reason. Brings the plot to a halt while they haggle with him, and then he just drives off with the mom’s watch. Joke’s on the shady immigrant, though, because mom’s watch isn’t worth anything.
Transcendent Moment: My favorite Yakmala films are always those when the filmmakers obviously have some kind of bone to pick. The best of those is when the target is something completely unworthy of such vitriol. Now, with Red Baron, you’re probably thinking there’s some German racism here. You would be mostly wrong. No, what Robert Gordon and Michael McDonald fucking hate with the blinding intensity of a million exploding galaxies, is the medical profession.
Anyone in the medical profession.
I talked a bit about McDonald’s psychologist character who lies to and badgers Jimmy. Well, the orderly who works there admits nonchalantly to being an arsonist. Seriously, that’s just tossed off, and if you’re hoping this is some kind of Chekhov’s Firebug situation, you are giving McDonald way too much credit as a writer. The doctors in the hospital ignore Grandpa while the nurse treats him with the kind of contempt that up until now was the purview of Cliff De Young. Even the two paramedics stop to joke rather than drive the ninety-three year old heart attack victim to the hospital.
I don’t know what doctors, nurses, paramedics, and psychologists did to Gordon and McDonald. In this universe, any kind of medical degree means you are, at best, a feckless sociopath, and at worst some kind of genocidal madman. I’m pretty sure McDonald wrote this one after his first prostate exam.
Revenge of the Red Baron is a truly dire film. While its brief running time might seduce you, remember, there are nicer ways to spend ninety minutes. Like taking a shovel and hitting yourself in the groin over and over again.