Thursday, September 1, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA

For most of the 1980s, the film rights to Marvel super-hero characters Spider-Man and Captain America were held by Cannon Films, which found itself unable to bring the expensive properties to the screen, despite multiple attempts. As the decade came to a close, Cannon founders Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus came to a parting of the professional ways. As in any divorce, property was divided, and Golan found himself holding onto a certain Star-Spangled Avenger right as rival comic book crusader Batman was still breaking global box office records. Wasting no time, Golan's new company, 21st Century Films, announced CAPTAIN AMERICA for a Summer, 1990 theatrical release.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out as planned.

In 1941, polio-crippled American patriot Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) volunteers for a top secret experiment and is subjected to a "super soldier" formula developed by an Italian defector. Just as the experiment concludes, the lady scientist is assassinated by a Nazi agent, and Rogers is given a red-white-and-blue rubber costume and a plastic shield, and is code-named "Captain America" by the Army. On his first mission, he is sent to Italy where he discovers that the Axis powers' own super-soldier, a deformed Italian genius known as the Red Skull, has a rocket aimed at the White House in Washington, D.C.  Moments after confronting the crimson-domed villain, he gets his ass kicked and is knocked unconscious. He awakens to find himself strapped to the aforementioned missile and, unable to escape his bonds, is soon on a trans-Atlantic rocket flight. At the last moment before striking the White House he is able to knock the missile off-course, and somehow traverses the entire North American continent to crash in Alaska (some fuel capacity!), where he is promptly frozen in the Arctic ice. He is discovered and revived in the 1990s, and soon finds himself once again pitted against the Red Skull, who is no longer red and heads an international cartel of businessmen, statesmen and military leaders that secretly rules the world...

As directed by bad B-movie specialist Albert Pyun (CYBORG, OMEGA DOOM), CAPTAIN AMERICA is an admittedly fascinating mess, with an unnecessarily convoluted, insanely illogical script that stubbornly refuses to make any semblance of sense and makes inexplicable - and inane - changes to the comic book mythos (the traditionally German Red Skull being Italian is particularly nonsensical). The movie does move at a decent pace, but the sets are threadbare, the costumes look cheap, and the action sequences are ineptly staged, badly shot and poorly edited. The Yugoslavian locations are occasionally picturesque, but also betray the flick's shoestring budget.

The cast is a mix of familiar, respectable American thesps like Darren McGavin (KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER), Michael Nouri (THE HIDDEN), Ronny Cox (ROBOCOP), Ned Beatty (DELIVERANCE), Melinda Dillon (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), and Bill Mumy (BABYLON 5) - and a horde of badly-dubbed Croatian and Yugoslavian bit players. As the Red Skull, Scott Paulin (FORBIDDEN WORLD) sports the most ludicrous Italian accent ever committed to film, and camps it up shamelessly. Salinger actually isn't all that bad as Captain America/Steve Rogers - he looks suitably square-jawed and athletic - but he's saddled with a misconceived characterization (not to mention, unflattering costume design) that no actor, no matter how skilled or experienced, could make work.

Apparently Golan recognized what a nigh-incomprehensible trainwreck the movie turned out to be, and quietly abandoned his theatrical release plans (despite teaser posters having already been distributed to cinemas). CAPTAIN AMERICA finally crept on to VHS a couple years later, where comic book fans who managed to stumble across it at their local video store could rent it and gaze at it in dumfounded disappointment and bad movie aficionados could revel in its awfulness.

To tie-in with the recent Summer blockbuster re-imagining, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, the MGM Limited Edition Collection, the manufacture-on-demand arm of MGM Home Entertainment, has now made this first CAPTAIN AMERICA feature film available on DVD for the first time. Presented in its original 1.33:1 home video aspect ratio, and sourced from what appears to be the actual VHS tape, the visual and audio quality of this MOD release is nothing to get excited about. The picture is soft, grainy and overly dark, and the audio is flat and slightly muffled. The only bonus feature is the home video trailer - clearly sourced from a tape.

Obviously, if you've read everything above, you'll see that I cannot recommend this disc to any but the most die-hard Captain America fans and super-hero flick completists. If you are a true lover of crap films, you might get a kick out of it, too, but why risk it? Me, I'm glad to have it on my shelf, but then, I'm one of the aforementioned super-hero flick obsessives....

BUY:  Captain America