The Alamo Drafthouse is a brand built on weird. Beyond being situated in a town that has long aspired to remain eccentric in the face of all normality, it’s easy to forget that the original Alamo started as something of a private screening club, running prints of the odd and obscure into all hours of the night. Though the company has obviously grown into an internationally recognized chain of first run movie palaces, the Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, Texas remains committed to showcasing genre repertory programming, namely via its Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday showcases. This column is a concentrated effort to keep that spirit of strangeness alive, as programmers Joe A. Ziemba and Laird Jimenez (often pulling from the extensive AGFA archives) are truly doing Satan’s bidding by bringing ATX weekly doses of delightful trash art.
The thirty-seventh entry into this disreputable canon is Andy Sidaris’ utterly genuine trash action face melter, Hard Ticket to Hawaii…
“You give great secret service.”
Andy Sidaris was a fairly unique individual. A pioneer in live broadcasting, he was the first director of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, helmed the coverage of countless football games, and earned acclaim for his work on the ’69 Summer Olympics. In-between, Sidaris directed episodes of TV series like The Hardy Boys and Kojak. The recipient of fourteen Emmy Awards for his work over the course of a twenty-five year career, he was an utter titan, helping to mold the way we watch a very particular brand of TV. So what did the Prime Time A-lister do once he’d maxed out his run in the control booth? He made action movies…with tits in them; lots and lots of gigantic breasts. In a weird way, Sidaris became something like an '80s Russ Meyer, equipping living, breathing Barbie dolls with bazookas so that they could carry out personal wars against the evil men who wished them harm.
Don’t get it twisted, the twelve L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies pictures Sidaris either wrote, directed or produced (each sporting a rotating cast of Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets) aren’t some sort of feminist answer to the muscle bound, explosion-stuffed popcorn cinema of the '80s. After all, this is the man who pioneered the “honey shot” during football games (where the camera would zoom in on cheerleaders or pretty girls in the crowd). However, that doesn’t mean Sidaris’ movies aren’t meticulously crafted pieces of B-Movie fluff, establishing a universe and set of societal rules all their own. In a weird way, Sidaris works in the same fashion as a Jacques Demy or Wes Anderson, constructing miniature oasis escapes (almost all of his movies are filmed on a Pacific Island), in which we are meant to inhale the noxious, inseparable fumes of suntan lotion and gunpowder. These are microcosms of sweat and sand; helicopter chases and razor-lined frisbees. But none reach the deliriously insane heights of Hard Ticket to Hawaii, the writer/director’s ultimate trash action face melter.
Attempting to describe the plot of Hard Ticket to Hawaii feels like a futile endeavor. “It’s not paradise all the time,” cautions the theme song’s chorus over a slew of yacht rock synths. Indeed, the tropical paradise will become a backdrop for ludicrous treachery, as buxom Secret Agents (for what specific Organization is unclear) Donna and Taryn (Sidaris regulars Donna Speir and Hope Marie Carlton) fly to Molokai with an ill-fated married couple along for the ride and a gigantic cancer-infected snake stashed in the holding bay. The reptilian subplot is perhaps the most baffling narrative introduction, as we spend just as much time following the beast’s reign of destruction (as some poor Foley Engineer screams “HISSSSS” every time it opens its mouth) as we do the machine gun wielding beauties. Yet once Donna and Taryn discover a remote control helicopter smuggling diamonds into this haven (collateral for Peter Bromilow’s Blofeld-esque crime boss, Mr. Chang), the marauding serpent feels oddly at home. This is a live-action cartoon, made by and for perverts, all hoping they too can one day toss ninja stars before dipping into a Jacuzzi with pin-up models.
Like all great works of bizarre outsider art, it’s the utter sincerity of Sidaris’ vision that keeps you engaged, even as bazookas are shot at literal flying fuck dolls. It’d be a stretch to try and sell you on any sort of intellectual underpinnings buried beneath all the big hair and short shorts, but sometimes it just feels good to be in the presence of a ringmaster possessed by madness. Once muscle bound jabronis Rowdy and Jade (Ronn Moss and Harold Diamond) start getting into gunfights with hand-standing skateboarders, Hard Ticket to Hawaii achieves a one of a kind rhythm, never letting you catch your breath before howling at the next ludicrous moment of action tomfoolery. Sidaris isn’t so much a storyteller as he is a dream architect; so great at building an insane space for these surf and turf apocalypses to take place in that it’s hard not to admire his sheer commitment to (dare we call it) vision. He’s crafting a precise brand of motion picture, knowing he has to keep a completely straight face while doing so. Otherwise the joke’s on him, as all we’d have left is another forgettable entry into the realm of VHS nonsense.
This Week at Weird Wednesday: Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth
Previous WW Features: Penitentiary; Skatetown USA; Blood Games; The Last Match; Invasion of the Bee Girls; Julie Darling; Shanty Tramp; Coffy; Lady Terminator; Day of the Dead; The Kentucky Fried Movie; Gone With the Pope; Fright Night; Aliens; Future-Kill; Ladies and Gentlemen…The Fabulous Stains; Pieces; Last House on the Left; Pink Flamingos; In the Mouth of Madness; Evilspeak; Deadly Friend; Don’t Look in the Basement; Vampyres; She; Dolls; Alice, Sweet Alice; Starship Troopers; Message From Space; Rabid; Child’s Play; Lost in the Desert; Suspiria; Effects; Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan; Thomasine & Bushrod