May 29, 2018
Never Too Young to Die (1986) (part 1 of 10)
The Cast of Characters (in order of appearance):
Velvet von Ragnar (Gene Simmons; KISS actually had to cancel a leg of their Animalize tour so that he could do this movie) is the villain of this film and a supposed hermaphrodite (I think “transexual” is closer to what they were going for). He/she has plans to poison the water supply. (We know this because Ragnar screams “I’m gonna poison the water supply!” about thirty seconds into the movie.)
Lance Stargrove (John Stamos, in a career funk between getting fired from General Hospital and getting a gig as Uncle Jesse on Full House) is the son of “master spy” Drew Stargrove (see below) and the implied hero of this film. Lance is an athlete on his college gymnastics team, and specializes in trampoline jumping [!] and taking advantage of his friends.
Cliff (Peter Kwong, somewhere between slight obscurity and total obsurity) is Lance’s Wacky Asian Sidekick™, and, as such, is very good with computers and all other forms of technology. Even though the filmmmakers would probably deny it, there’s a steady stream of homoerotic subtext in this movie implying that Cliff is deeply in love with Lance.
Drew Stargrove (George Lazenby, who’s famous for playing James Bond only once) is Lance’s dad. Drew is supposed to be a “master spy”, but the evidence on display would suggest otherwise.
Danja Deering (Vanity, somewhere between getting fired from Purple Rain and the inevitable appearance on VH1’s Where Are They Now?) is partner (or something) to Lance’s dad, and will eventually team up with Lance to take on Ragnar. Danja specializes in withstanding extremely high temperatures, and getting naked at inappropriate moments.
Riley (Robert Englund, skirting the fringes of oblivion between getting fired from V and playing Freddy Krueger) is Ragnar’s assistant (or something). We don’t learn too much about Riley because he only says about three lines in the whole movie. We do, however, get a good sampling of his affinity for Cowboy Chic.
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Every now and then, a film comes along that throws together a group of actors that should never have even heard of each other, much less appeared in the same movie together. Witness Never Too Young to Die, a Steven Paul shlock-fest that throws together John Stamos (successful actor, failed singer), Gene Simmons (failed actor, successful singer), and Vanity (failed actress, failed singer). The only combination this film doesn’t toss at us is “successful actor, successful singer”, but that’s probably because only one such individual has ever existed, and Jennifer Lopez was probably about twelve years old when this movie was made. Suffice to say, if The Devil’s Rain was your idea of a “dream cast”, then this film is right up your alley.
Before we start the movie proper, we get a trailer for a film called What Comes Around, starring country singer Jerry Reed in a film he also directed [!]. The trailer’s narrator informs us that this movie is “the story of one man’s struggle for dignity.” Said struggle includes Reed driving his car through an ice cream shop, and another guy falling face first into a big white birthday cake. It was a wise choice to have this trailer accompany Never Too Young to Die, because it certainly prepares us for the ineptitude that quickly follows.
And I do mean quickly, for as the movie opens, we learn we could be watching the world record holder for Earliest Blatant Continuity Error Ever. First, we get an aerial shot of a city at night, which, other than being completely clichéd, is unremarkable. Then there’s a quick shot of a dam, and it’s daytime. Then, you guessed it, it’s night again. I’m sure a lot of viewers are wondering what the shot of the dam is doing in there, but it looks like what happened is that the director attempted to stage a day-for-night shot, and forgot about the “night” part.
We zero in on what looks like an abandoned outdoor amphitheater, as rejected extras from the Mad Max films wander around, yelling at each other and brawling. Flames are shooting out of everywhere. And I mean everywhere. There are flaming barrels, guys walking around with torches, and there’s even jets of flame shooting up out of random patches of dirt. The gathered freaks all eventually start chanting “Ragnar! Ragnar!” in unison.
Thudding heavy metal music breaks out as Ragnar appears up on a ledge overlooking the stage. To our immediate dismay, we get a good look at Gene Simmons in the role of Velvet von Ragnar, wearing thick eye makeup, a studded black leather jacket, and a big blue feather boa around his neck. Incredibly, Ragnar’s outfits will only get worse from this point forward.
“My little turd balls,” Ragnar says, addressing the freaks below. At this, they all start to chant, “Turd balls! Turd balls!” (As will soon become apparent, these freaks will pretty much chant anything they hear.) As Ragnar speaks, we see he/she has an extremely long and pointy fingernail on his/her right middle finger. He/she continues on in what will become his/her own trademark nonsensical dialect, telling them, “My little scum buckets! Squeeze them good, but good!” Please don’t send me emails; I don’t know what he/she is talking about, either.
Then Ragnar tells them that he/she’s “figured out how to access their computers,” and at the word “computers”, they insert a shot of two of the Mad Max types looking at each other while a retarded Huh? sound is dubbed in. Ragnar continues, saying that he/she is going to “re-channel radioactive waste” so that it goes from “Diablo Canyon… into their drinking water!” The freaks just continue to stare at each other in confusion. Finally, Ragnar screams that he/she’s going to “poison the water supply! For gold, for ransom, for jewels, for money!” Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the “ransom” part pretty much implied when you ask for gold, jewels, and money? Anyway, all the freaks start chanting, “Poison! Poison!”, so either they’ve grasped this complex concept, or they’re under the impression that a tour featuring Eighties hair-metal bands is headed their way.
Then he/she explains that to do this, all they need is the information that they have “crammed onto our little computer disk. Our own little… Ram-K!” (For reasons that will never be explained, Ragnar and his/her followers will all refer to the disk as “Ram-K” throughout this movie.) Naturally, this statement inspires the freaks to chant, “Ram-K! Ram-K!” However, according to Ragnar, there’s a problem. “Someone has stolen our disk,” he/she pouts. He/she then uses his/her sharp middle fingernail to beckon forth a bunch of goons, who bring out a scantily clad woman strapped to a big wooden “X” and lay her down in a sand pit.
Ragnar walks up to her and demands to know who she gave the disk to, but she ain’t talking. In response, he (sorry, typing “he/she” was getting old, plus I wasn’t really buying the “she” part, anyway) starts slicing open her shirt with his sharp fingernail. Before he gets it completely open, however, he notices she’s wearing a gold medallion on her ear. He immediately rips it off and screams the name “STARGROVE!!”
This prompts all of his followers to extend their middle fingers and chant, “The Finger! The Finger!” (So at least the makers of this movie can say they’ve given their audience the finger both literally as well as figuratively.) The woman pleads with him, “Not the Finger!” but apparently there is no mercy for anyone fraternizing with a Stargrove. Ragnar only tells her to be more careful next time who she chooses as her “lover”, then he jams his finger… Um, somewhere. I think we can all use our imaginations here. Unfortunately, the filmmakers feel otherwise, because they’ve helpfully dubbed in some vile squishing noises as this happens.
Ragnar turns to the rest of his freaks, and in a typical lapse of continuity, he’s now missing the sharp fingernail on his middle finger. He yells at them to bring him Stargrove.
We immediately cut to the campus of picturesque Dunbar College. Somebody switches on a drum machine and the opening credits roll. We hear an unidentified voice say, “Okay, Stargrove, let’s see that new routine!” We then cut to Lance Stargrove (played by John Stamos) doing gymnastics. It appears his “routine” consists solely of jumping straight up and down on a trampoline. And, oh yeah, every now and then a stunt double does a flip or two.
Meanwhile, appearing over the drum machine is a truly wretched tune that, in true Eighties style, features a synthesizer as the one and only instrument. Even worse, the song is called “Stargrove”, and the lyrics are literally about our main character. (This is rarely a good sign in a movie, with Shaft being perhaps the sole exception.) These lyrics, by the way, are so godawful that I was compelled to transcribe them in their entirety. So, without further ado, I give you the words to “Stargrove” (Note: Some punctuation may have been added for emphasis):
As the song plays, we get lots of pointless footage of other gymnasts doing real gymnastics stuff, e.g., riding the balance beam, the uneven bars, doing a handstand on the rings, etc. (Meanwhile, Lance sticks with jumping straight up and down on his trampoline, which is probably a wise choice.) We also get long lingering shots of the male gymnasts’ bodies in their tight pants, while we hear the coach repeatedly exhorting his team to keep it “real tight”. This could very well be the most homoerotic sequence caught on film since Can’t Stop the Music.
During this, we see a couple of wrestlers silently mocking Lance, implying that he’s a little fagela for being a gymnast. Lance finishes his routine and goes to towel off. Just then, Cliff, our Wacky Asian Sidekick, appears in a nearby window and taps on the glass. Being a Wacky Asian Sidekick, he of course is holding some sort of high-tech gadget with an antennae. He sticks his arm inside and points to his calculator watch, and we can tell by his sleeves that his jacket is about two sizes too short. (Ah, the Eighties. However, I should point out that this fashion choice feels positively contemporary compared to the shaggy mullet on John Stamos’ head.) Lance tells him to hang on a minute and heads for the shower.
Just then, the two wrestlers appear. They stand on either side of the locker room door and block Lance’s entrance. One of the wrestlers takes the opportunity to utter this notable quotable: “Why don’t you try something a little more manly, Stargrove? Like wrestling!” Yes, two half-naked men grappling with each other on a mat. That’s way more “manly” than gymnastics.
To escape from this dire situation, Stargrove uses the brilliant tactic of pointing to the guy’s chest and asking “What’s that?”, then running his finger up to hit the guy in the face when he looks down. The wrestlers are thrown completely off balance by this daring manuever, allowing Lance to easily slip past them. “I think I’ll leave the wrestling to you he-men,” he says, abandoning them to nurse their battered egos.
We cut to Lance in his chemistry class taking an exam. Apparently Dunbar is a school for the sons of the hoity-toity, because all of the students are wearing suits. Lance turns on his big billboard-sized calculator watch and types in “3-4-1”, despite the fact that the watch only has four buttons on it, and he already used one of those buttons to turn the thing on.
Outside, Cliff gets the message and looks up section 3-4-1 in a chemistry textbook, mumbling something about “ethyl carbon radicals”. We see he’s wearing a typically gaudy outfit consisting of a bright yellow shirt, suspenders, a tie, and white shoes. He uses his electronic gizmo with the antennae to send a response back to Lance’s watch (apparently the section number of the textbook was all the information he needed to divine the answer). Cliff takes the effort to prefix the message with “Ready Lance”, just in case there was some doubt as to who the message was intended for.
We immediately cut to Cliff and Lance riding bikes across campus. Lance compliments Cliff on his watch communicator device. “My stuff is for real,” Cliff replies, “It works!” This immediately lets us know that Cliff will be “Q” to Lance’s James Bond, even though his inventions will be far, far less impressive. Lance wants to know what Cliff’s been working on in their dorm room, because it “smells like gasoline” in there.
To answer the question, we cut to their dorm room to see Cliff holding something that looks like a Super Soaker painted red and silver, but which actually turns out to be a type of flamethrower device [!]. Is this really the sort of thing you want to be working on in your dorm room? He calls it the “Fire Blazer” and says it’s a “mix of explosive laser, sling, and some petrol!” Yes, I typed all that verbatim. “You put too much of one ingredient,” Cliff says, “It could blow the whole dorm up!” Lance, uninterested in the possibility of the accidental destruction of his entire dorm and thus, the instantaneous ending of his life, goes back to reading a magazine. Cliff, frustrated at getting no attention from Lance, drops the Fire Blazer hard on the ground [!] and walks over to his desk.
In another attempt to curry favor from Lance, Cliff picks up a small device from his desk and tosses it over. Lance thinks it’s just bubble gum, but as it turns out, there’s a “miniature bugging device” inside. “You chew it up,” Cliff says, “and place it anywhere!” Lance thinks this is “cool” and asks to have it. Cliff tells him to go ahead and “add it to your collection of gadgets!” His collection? Poor Cliff. You can tell he just lives to get a pat on the head like this from Lance. I mean, the guy’s inventing whole new technologies in his dorm room, but does he patent them and earn millions? Nope, he shows them off in some misguided attempt to impress Lance, who simply says “Cool!” and tosses them into a pile along with the Stirling Engine and perpetual motion machine that Cliff made last Friday.
Cliff goes to his desk and grabs a candy bar, apparently using food as a surrogate for his unrequited lust for Lance. Lance immediately grows accusatory, wanting to know where he got the candy bar from. And Lance doesn’t just say “candy bar”. He says “a white chocolate bar with almonds”, which is strangely specific. Cliff finally admits that Lance’s dad sent a care package, which Cliff had no moral qualms about helping himself to. An irritated Lance yanks the package away and begins to examine the contents. Cliff asks if Lance’s dad is “still troubleshooting for oil companies”. (For those who don’t know, “troubleshooter” ranks up there with “producer” and “consultant” as the three vaguest professions in the world.) Lance replies that he doesn’t know much about what his dad is doing these days, which “subtly” implies that there’s some estrangement between the two of them.
A guy in a suit knocks on their door, and with impeccable timing, asks the boys if their folks are coming for Parents Day. Cliff immediately quips that his parents wouldn’t miss it, because they’re looking forward to “the famous Dunbar dog stew you serve at lunch.” Hey, it’s an Asian telling an Asian joke! It’s funny! The guy in the suit doesn’t crack a smile, however, which causes Cliff to look inordinately dejected that his joke didn’t go over. Then the guy in the suit turns to Lance, saying that he assumes that Lance’s dad won’t be there. (Would it kill this guy to have a little tact?) Lance suddenly takes on a defiant expression, asserting that his father will, in fact, be there. The guy in the suit gets excited because Lance’s dad will get to see Lance win his gymnastics competition tomorrow. Having offered forth this expository detail, he quickly exits.
Cliff is also excited about meeting Lance’s dad, wanting to know if what Lance said was true. In response, Lance points to a picture of his dad, asking, “Is this a face you’d see at a stupid Parents Day?” No, but it sure is a face I’m seeing in a stupid action movie. By the way, does this mean Lance’s dad is going to show up, or he’s not going to show up? You know, it’s really great to find a film with such sharp, concise dialogue.