Jun 24, 2008

Movie Review: George Lazenby In Never Too Young To Die (1986)

Movie Review: George Lazenby In Never Too Young To Die (1986)
Well, okay: that’s a bit of a misleading headline. Lazenby’s credit is actually "special guest star," and it’s his character’s death that sets the main story into motion. It would have been nice if ol' George had gotten a bit more screentime, but he certainly makes the most of what he does, proving he can chew scenery with the best of ‘em. Or at least with Kiss’s Gene Simmons, who may not be the best of ‘em, but definitely knows a thing or two about chewing scenery! Perhaps I should backtrack.

Never Too Young to Die was apparently intended to be the start of a huge new spy franchise starring twenty-three-year-old John Stamos as teen agent Lance Stargrove, America’s answer to James Bond. Appropriately, a former Bond (albeit the most affordable former Bond) was cast as his superspy father, Drew Stargrove, loudly signaling the movie’s intent. At the movie’s opening, star gymnast Lance is lamenting the fact that his aloof father never makes it to any of his college’s parental events. Little does he know, however, that Drew is trying his best to make it to his latest gymnastics event, but he’s a little tied up.

Unbeknownst to Lance, Drew is a top secret agent, currently on assignment in some decidedly un-glamorous sewers. He’s betrayed by one of his team, and takes a bullet in the leg, but still manages to take out the turncoat and continue on his mission. It’s an ambush, though, and Drew Stargrove finds himself taking on armies of Uzi-toting punks with nothing but an automatic and a handy bulletproof umbrella. After killing scores of his enemies, he’s finally captured and interrogated by his archenemy, a flamboyant hermaphrodite rock star named Velvet Von Ragnar (Simmons). Ragnar is looking for a computer disk Drew managed to steal, a disk somehow capable of rendering all of Los Angeles’ drinking water radioactive. (Remember, back in 80s Hollywood, there was no limit to the myriad capabilities of floppy disks!) With the aid of another gadget, Drew escapes once more, never revealing the disk’s location. He is, however, further injured in the escape, and when Ragnar corners him in a sewer, his luck has finally run out.

Lance (who has of course been sent the disk, although the movie actually doesn’t make that very clear), does some more moping at the funeral, and catches sight of the beautiful mystery woman Danja Deering, played by Prince protégé and proto-Halle Berry Vanity. He learns that he’s inherited a farm, so he goes and checks out his dad’s secret retreat, where, naturally, he runs into Danja again. They’re attacked by a pair of giant punks (evidently looking for the disk), and in the course of the attack Vanity’s shirt is torn exposing her bra. This becomes a pattern throughout the movie, giving her the opportunity to fire many different weapons in many different bras.

I need to take a moment here to discuss the specific brand of "punk" present in Never Too Young to Die. These are the unique Mad Max variety of punks who populated the landscape of 80s Hollywood, riding around in dune buggies covered with skulls and on motorcycles with horse heads. They sported mohawks, leather straps, safety pins and other traditional punk accouterments, but also fur loincloths and battleaxes, giving them the overall appearance of post-apocalyptic Conan the Barbarian rejects. These punks can be found in all sorts of movies of the era, from Cobra to Police Academy, but fortunately never actually existed outside of movies. They’re an oddity of 80s cinema, I suspect playing on the fears of a population at large who didn’t understand the real punk movement, but also capitalizing on Los Angeles’ ready supply of real punks, an excellent source of scary-looking extras.

The two punks in question are of the dune buggy-driving variety, and soon enough Stamos and Vanity manage to scare them off. Lance later follows Danja to a club in the heart of Punkland, where the punks ride their horse-headed motorcycles through the bar and act scary. Performing is the club’s owner, Ragnar, in a Cher outfit that will leave an unfortunately indelible impression on your brain. Pretending to be an autograph-seeking fan, Lance meets Ragnar and tries out the chewing gum bug that his gadget-loving Asian roommate, Cliff (Peter Kwong), has made him.

There’s a car chase where more punks swing flimsy axes at Lance as he rides his motorcycle, and Danja drives her Corvette under a tractor trailer, presaging the famous Fast and the Furious stunt. More action happens (which always reduces Vanity to her bra), Simmons dons a ridiculous disguise, and eventually Stamos and Vanity take a break to engage in the most absurdly protracted love scene of the decade. It involves two apples, a bottle of Perrier, a tiny bikini, hundreds of fast cuts and eventual nudity, all MTV-cut to a gloriously dated make-out song. Eventually, it ends, and the pair are once more captured by Ragnar. This sets up the big punks vs. military finale, which culminates with Stamos and Simmons going mano-a-hermaphrodite atop the Hoover Dam for the briefcase computer Robert Englund has rigged to make the deadly disk poison Los Angeles. In one of the film’s most disturbing images, Ragnar exposes his "breasts" at a crucial moment, with a nice tip of the hat to Z-Man from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

The ending firmly sets up the notion of a sequel, or better still a franchise, but for better or for worse, that never came to be. Perhaps it was because Stamos was cast the following year on Full House, or perhaps it was because Never Too Young to Die didn't make the hoped-for splash at the box office. Whatever the case, it was an early blueprint for later teen spy attempts like If Looks Could Kill (which follows a very similar plot with The Who's Roger Daltry in Lazenby's stead as the doomed British agent), The Double O Kid, Agent Cody Banks or Operation: Stormbreaker. Where Never Too Young to Die differs from those movies, however, is in its R rating, which is strange. Who was the intended audience for a movie with taglines like "At the age of 18, he became the Double O Kid," but enough violence, swearing and nudity to earn it an R? While the deaths are mostly bloodless, young Lance guns down quite a few punks by the movie's conclusion. Today's teen spies avoid such killing. Of course, the Eighties were a different time.

Never Too Young to Die is very much a product of that decade. In fact, most of the enjoyment watching it today comes from that, the way the Modesty Blaise movie benefits from its outrageous mod Sixties stylings. (Although the Sixties remain an infinitely more visually interesting decade to me!) As a movie, Never Too Young to Die is pretty awful, but then it doesn't aspire to brilliance. Its playful tone, in fact, makes it more fun to watch than some of its more serious contemporaries, like Cobra. The tone it's going for is more Remo Williams than Cobra. And the Bond it aspires to is A View To A Kill, not Goldfinger. So if a blend of Cobra, Remo Williams and A View To A Kill appeals to you at all, then Never Too Young to Die is worth tracking down. And if you ever get that rare opportunity to see it in a crowded theater like I did this past weekend, that's definitely not an experience to be missed!

Finally, I have to mention its soundtrack. Never Too Young to Die contains two amazing Eighties anthems, the opening "Stargrove Theme" and the closing title song. I don't know the performer was on either of them, but both fit the movie perfectly.


Christopher Mills said...

Heh. Just a couple of weeks ago I transferred my VHS copy of this movie (and If Looks Could Kill) to DVD-R.

Where in hell did you find a theater showing this?!

Gareth-Michael Skarka said...

Allow me to second that question: Where was there a theater showing this? Some kind of film festival?

Lizard Lady said...

The New Beverly in Los Angeles:
All the hot oldie/moldy flicks, all the time (revival theatre).
No words can equal the greatness that is Never Too Young to Die, but you did capture it's hilariously fantastic essence.