Exterminator 2

Exterminator 2

*1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Is there a way to make setting people on fire seem heroic? I'm not sure that there is and, given that, this film sets itself a tough challenge, armed with only clich├ęd lines, bad Eighties 'street' clothes and a bizarre synth disco soundtrack. Oh, and a garbage truck. It's the latter which makes it stand out from the multitude of similar straight-to-VHS movies out there, and clearly the film was built around this premise. Big truck. Crashing through things scene. Dropping bin bags on a guy (repeatedly) scene. A-Team style modifying the truck scene. It's a great film if you like garbage.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around John, one of those vaguely creepy looking semi-reconstructed Eighties guys who wears so much hairspray that you'd think the last thing he'd want to do is go near a flamethrower. Nevertheless, we see him torching bad guys right from the start. They're not very nice - we see them shoot an old man - but at the same time, they're mostly teenagers who seem to have few options in life, so it's not clear that this is the best way to deal with them. They're also very much disposable minions, acting on the orders of the strikingly coiffured Mario Van Peebles (in his first film role apart from one directed by his dad). All glitter-painted muscle and bizarre shoulderpads, he is X, self-styled leader of a street revolution and trader in cocaine (most of which, it would appear, was consumed by the editors). John has killed his brother and he's out to get revenge. Now John has fallen for an exotic dancer with awful nylon lingerie, and, well, you can see where this is going...

Most people develop what is known as theory of mind at around the age of four. Theory of mind enables us to understand that other people don't share our awareness of events and have access to our knowledge. It is therefore reasonable to assume that whoever developed this story was aged three or under, as it shows no understanding of this at all. When the bad guys chase our hero, they know instantly which flat he's in. Later they turn up at his base (in one of those ubiquitous old abandoned warehouses) without anyone having told them where it is. Similar confused logic presides in the chase scenes, when people run to the worst possible locations and then just stand around waiting for bad things to happen. Several of them apparently forget that the point of a gun is that it can be used from a long way away.

There are a few superior moments thrown into this mess, most notably a fantastic break dancing scene which has little relevance to the plot but shows off the work of some superb performers. There's also an early cameo by John Turturro (as Guy #1); and Deborah Geffner, who plays the heroine, at least makes an effort to act, even if she's a hopeless dancer. Unfortunately this only serves to further highlight what a colossal dick the hero is. But much of what is loveable about this film depends on its awfulness. The love scene, with its pastel backgrounds, insipid soundtrack and actors who look half asleep, is a grindhouse style classic. The gangster who goes to showdowns wearing roller skates is particularly funny, and, well, there's that truck...

Not so much a sizzling thriller as an idea that's gone up in smoke.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2009
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A man with a flamethrower hunts down a drug gang.
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Director: Mark Buntzman

Writer: Mark Buntzman, William Sachs

Starring: Robert Ginty, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Geffner, Frankie Faison, John Tuturro

Year: 1984

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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