Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Category: Series Ender

Starting At the End: Part Two "Leaving On a Jet Plane"

What better way is there to get into a franchise than through its final film? They must have perfected the series by that point, right? Right?!?!?

The Concorde… Airport ‘79



The first North American owned Concorde jet is disembarking on its maiden flight, flying to Moscow with a stopover in Paris. Among the diverse group of passengers is beautiful news anchorwoman, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), who has recently obtained proof that her defense contractor lover, Dr. Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), knowingly sold weapons to enemy nations. Harrison tries to shoot down the jet by sabotaging a test of his new smart missile system, but thanks to the deft piloting of Captains Paul Mertrand (Alain Delon) and Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), his plan fails. They also manage to outmaneuver the fighter plane he sends after them, although the attack does force them to undergo a tense emergency landing in Paris. Determined to stop Whelan, Harrison hires a member of the plane’s mechanical crew to insert a timer that will open the storage cabin door and cause the plane to break apart through explosive decompression, but—once again—Mertrand and Patroni save the day and “thread the needle” by landing the Concorde in the middle of the Swiss Alps. At the scene of the emergency landing, Whelan reports on TV that she has important breaking news she’s going to share with the world as soon as she reaches Moscow, causing Harrison to take out a pistol and end his own life.

Pertinent Details

Comes After: Airport (1970), Airport 1975 (1974) and Airport ’77 (1977).

Was Not Followed By: Although the TV movie Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land was released as Airport ’85 in the Philippines (and was directed by ‘77’s Jerry Jameson) it wasn’t actually an official entry in the series, just a really entertaining rip off.

Returning Players: George Kennedy—the only actor to appear in all four Airport films—returns as Joe Patroni. Monica Lewis, the wife of Jennings Lang—who produced the three sequels, but not the original—also appeared in ’77, but as a different character.

Most Surprising Credit: The film was written by Eric Roth, who would go on to win an Oscar for his script for Forrest Gump, and be nominated three other times for his work on The Insider, Munich and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

You know what I miss? Movie posters like the ones up above. The actual images are pretty bland, but I love the rows of pictures on the bottom. Even as a young kid I came to appreciate that this was a marketing technique only ever employed by terrible movies. You especially knew something was up when the lineup of famous faces featured people who weren’t all that famous or whose golden years had long since passed.

Just take a look at the first one and see who you recognize. You’re on this site, so you’re probably an obsessive like me and know most of them (bonus points if you recognized the woman who played the demonic voice of Regan in The Exorcist), but I suspect most folks over the age of 30 could only pick out one or two and even then as the guy from Austin Powers, the other guy from reruns of Green Acres, and the old woman from those 80s Polident commercials.

This marks a noticeable decline from the other films, whose rows of famous faces feature a few true cinematic legends, including Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Dean Martin. True, none of them would have considered these films a high point in their careers, but they were all smart enough to stay the fuck away from what would turn out to be the series’ final flight.

Clearly the reason for this lies in Concorde’s low budget. Despite featuring some okay-for-the-era special effects, the majority of the film resembles a bland TV movie and is obviously making due with the best it can afford. That it chose to try and sell itself on its collection of TV stars, foreigners, old folks, Cicely Tyson and two pretty ladies (one of whom was the star of the softcore Emmanuelle franchise), indicates the kind of desperation that makes bad film lovers salivate like Pavlov’s dog.

It’s a promise the film delivers on with enjoyable grace. The Concorde… Airport ’79 is a great bad movie—the kind that never once approaches competent storytelling or filmmaking, but still manages to be rousingly entertaining from start to finish. I credit a lot of this to Roth’s amazingly uneven screenplay, which is filled with some truly epic plot-holes and logical fuck ups, but still manages to be populated with characters who never seem truly real, but are utterly charming nonetheless.

I liked this entire collection of broad stereotypes, including the aging Russian gymnast in love with the handsome American sportscaster, the cartoonish Russian coach with the deaf 6 year-old daughter, the old barn-storming owner of the airline who’s lucky enough to be married to Sybil Danning, and pretty much everyone else--especially Kennedy’s Joe Patroni, who comes across like a genuinely great guy.

It actually helps that they never seem like real people, since that would only highlight how little sense the film’s plot makes when you stop and think about it. This way you can just roll along and accept the stupidity without any tedious verisimilitude ruining the fun.

But now that I mention it, I should talk a little bit about how dumb the film’s story really is. You can tell the plot is going to take a beating right from the start when we see Blakely give a national news report that consists entirely of stories about a) the Concorde’s maiden flight, b) the new missile invented by her boyfriend, and c) the soviet gymnast who’s going to just happen to be on the flight. It’s the kind of shameless exposition dump that immediately places the narrative in a world we know doesn’t exist.

But that’s nothing compared to Wagner’s solution to his dilemma. While being accused of treason is probably the worst thing that could happen to his company, it’s very closely followed by having his multi-billion dollar missile system screw up during a launch test and accidentally kill hundreds of innocent people. In fact, in terms of pure negative publicity, I’m willing to call it a draw.

Less egregious, but still hilarious, is that after the missile fails to work, he gets in his private plane in order to fly to Paris and basically arrives there at the same time the Concorde does. This, despite the fact that he’s chasing after a supersonic fucking jet that had a head start!

We also have to ignore that literally the next day after they are almost blown out of the sky and endure a terrifying landing, none of the passengers have any problem getting in the exact same plane to fly to Moscow the next day. Plus, instead of just killing Blakely when he sees her during the layover, Wagner instead has a mechanic sabotage the jet, because apparently he really does want to kill a planeload of innocent people instead of the one person giving him trouble. What a jerk!

I don’t know enough about science and aeronautics to cast doubts on the action scenes, like the one where Kennedy manages to set one of the fighter jet’s missile off course by firing a flare gun out his window, but I will say that no matter how theoretically plausible they may be, the execution of these scenes do render them appealingly unrealistic.

But none of this matters, since I enjoyed every second of this foolishness. As easy as it is to understand why this effort killed the Airport franchise, I really wish they’d gone on and made a few more.

Chances of my watching other films in the franchise: 100%. I especially can’t wait to see 1975, where cross-eyed stewardess Karen Black has to land the plane all by herself!

Final Franchise Entry Rating: Four George Kennedy’s out of Four

The WWTTM Pantheon - Part One "Eastbound and Down, Down, Down for the Count"

WWTTM: A film so misconceived and obviously doomed for failure that it forces the viewer to ask one question: What Were They Thinking?!?!?

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3



After twice failing to get his hands on the legendary speedster known as Bandit, Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) has decided to retire and move to Florida with his simple-minded son, Junior (Mike Henry). Almost immediately bored, he decides to return to Texas, but before he can leave, the father and son team of Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) compel him to make a bet. If he can make it back home from Florida in 35 hours, he wins $250,000, but if he can’t they get his badge. The Burdette’s aren’t above cheating to win, but when their roadblocks prove less than reliable, they call on the Bandit’s partner-in-crime, Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed), who seizes the opportunity to literally step into his hero’s shoes. Partnered with a hitchhiker named Dusty Trails (Colleen Camp) he repeatedly steals the plastic fish Sheriff Justice needs to have to win the bet, but he ends up letting the sheriff win, because, “You can’t have a Bandit, if you ain’t got a Smokey.”

Pertinent Details

Urban Legend: The production of this WWTTM sequel is so mired in secrecy and bad decisions it’s literally the stuff of Urban Legends and has been discussed on More on this below.

Not a Good Year: Coming off the success of the first two Smokey and the Bandit movies, Jackie Gleason’s movie career came to a sudden halt when this and another WWTTM sequel, The Sting II both bombed at the box office.

First and Last: This was the first and last feature film of Dick Lowry, who remains best known for his work on such memorable TV movies as Angel Dusted, Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Pigs Vs. Freaks and the Mr. T vehicle, The Strongest Man In the World.

Inconsistency: The film is titled Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, even though the previous film, Smokey and the Bandit II, used Roman numerals to indicate its sequel status.

Despite the fact that many of the folks involved in its production are still very much alive, the full official story of the debacle that resulted in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 has still never been fully revealed. The film’s failure and terrible reputation have spared the participants from ever being interviewed for DVD retrospectives or participate in Alamo Drafthouse screenings, which means the facts of what happened are still open to debate and conjecture.

The one thing everyone knows is this—when it came time to make the film, both star Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham decided to pass and make Stroker Ace instead (an admittedly lateral move in retrospect). Co-star Sally Field, who by then had already won one of her two Oscars, also passed, as did Jerry Reed. This left only the series' Smokey, Jackie Gleason, willing to return.

In a more sensible time, this would have been enough to cancel the project and enjoy counting the megabucks the first two films brought in, but the studio and producers believed there were more dollars to be mined from the franchise and decided to try and think of ways the series could continue with only its antagonist at the wheel.

And here’s where things get murky. One thing we do know is that this teaser trailer was made:


From this we know the film was original conceived not as Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, but as Smokey IS the Bandit, but the question no one has completely been able to answer is just what exactly that film was meant to be.

Popular myth has it that—in a bizarre bit of post-modernism—the decision was made to have Gleason portray both Sheriff Justice AND the Bandit in the film. Legend has it that when they showed this version of the film to an early test audience, they were so confused that the decision was made to scrap the scenes with Bandit-Gleason completely.

Less fantastic, but much more plausible (until the above trailer was found), is the theory found in the Snopes piece linked above (a theory I personally came to on my own as I was watching the film for the first time in preparation for this post). It suggests that the “IS” in Smokey IS the Bandit wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but instead indicated that in this third film, Sheriff Justice’s situation had been reversed and he had in essence taken on the role the Bandit served in the previous two films—the chaser had become the chased and the lawmen was now the outlaw. In this case, the test audience complained not because they were confused, but because they hated the idea of a Smokey and the Bandit sequel that had no Bandit in it.

This second theory makes more sense owing to the fact that it isn’t totally fucking stupid, and—despite its popularity as a filmmaking legend—years had passed without anyone seeing a single piece of evidence that supported the idea that scenes of Gleason as the Bandit had ever been filmed. That was until a couple of years ago, when this photo appeared online:

This puts us right back at square one. Whichever version is true (and it is possible it is a combination of both), the result of the test screening debacle was that the producers managed to convince Jerry Reed to return and shoot new scenes of him as Cledus, dressed as the Bandit, driving around with an utterly superfluous Colleen Camp (who wears such a ridiculously conservative outfit, she doesn’t even seem to be there for added sex appeal). These scenes were edited into the previously shot material (which explains why Gleason and Reed never appear in the same shot during the entire movie) in a way that almost makes sense, so long as you acknowledge how hopelessly ridiculous the film’s entire premise was to begin with.

If the notion of Gleason playing both the hero and the villain took the film in a strange meta direction, the decision to have Reed play a character “playing” the Bandit isn’t any more conventional. Just watch this scene and try to comprehend how it must have been viewed by fans of the original movies who came to this expecting a traditional sequel experience (Note: The clip isn't embeddable, so click the picture to go to the YouTube page--AND THEN COME RIGHT BACK!!!!):

As a premise, Cledus IS the Bandit is no less strange than Smokey IS the Bandit, and it puts the film in the same uncomfortable territory as the Pink Panther movies that Blake Edwards kept making after Peter Sellers died. Rather than merely glossing past Burt Reynolds' legacy in the role by recasting the part with another actor, the filmmakers instead highlight it by having a character from the other films acknowledge his transition into the Bandit persona. However, instead of placating the audience, all this does is make us even more aware of Reynolds' absence. The lesson is the same one the computer learned at the end of War Games—the only way to win is not to play the game.

Since Reed winning as the Bandit didn’t match the ending with Gleason that had been shot, the filmmakers were forced to contrive an excuse for his losing, and what they came up with is the film’s most explicit recognition of its own meta-narrative (Note: For some reason this one was embeddable. YouTube is fucked):

Without even wanting to, the film's very existence forces Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 into Charlie Kaufman territory.

The other reason why Cledus/Bandit has to lose the chase seems especially ironic, considering how quickly the failure of this film killed the franchise—Smokey needs to keep his badge in case they wanted to make Part 4 (or IV). It also allows for Reynolds’ brief cameo in the film, in which the delusional sheriff hallucinates that Reed is the actual Bandit and makes the decision to let him go rather than wither away in the Bandit-less world of retirement (Note: Click for video):

Strangely, for all of its behind the scenes mythology and utter failure to resemble anything like a normal movie, you don’t hear a lot of people discuss Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 in Bad Movie circles. Having just watched it for the first time, I think it definitely qualifies for cult status. There’s something extremely compelling about watching a successful franchise permanently self-destruct right before your eyes. There's no doubt that this was a film made for the most craven and desperate of reasons, even though everyone involved had to clearly know it had no chance of ever succeeding. For that reason it is an essential entry in the WWTTM Pantheon.

Starting At the End: Part One "Kids Kicking Butt"

What better way is there to get into a franchise than through its final film? They must have perfected the series by that point, right? Right?!?!?

3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain



Rocky, Colt and Tum Tum’s afternoon at the popular Mega Mountain amusement park is cut short when it’s invaded by the glamorous international criminal Medusa (Loni Anderson) and her henchman, Lothar Slogg (Jim Varney). With the help of washed up TV action hero, Dave Dragon  (Hulk Hogan), and their cute tech-wiz neighbour, Amanda, the 3 young ninjas work together to save the day and foil Medusa’s evil plan.


Pertinent Details:

Comes after: 3 Ninjas (1992), 3 Ninjas Kick Back  (1994), and 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up (1995)

Returning performers: Victor Wong (as Grandpa), Margarita Franco (as Mom) and Alan McRae (as Dad), None of the 3 Ninjas.

Theatre or DTV: Direct to video.

Current Rank on IMDb’s 100 Worst List: 89 (2.4/10 with 6,622 votes)

Kids love people who are really good at kicking shit, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood gave them a franchise dedicated to young white kids being trained to do exactly that by their wise Asian grandfather (a Japanese character played by a Chinese-American actor, whose apparently half-Asian daughter is played by a clearly Latina actress who somehow managed to mother three of the most Caucasian looking children the universe has ever known). The first two entries in the 3 Ninjas franchise managed to do well enough in theatres to justify two more DTV sequels, of which today’s example proved to be the last. Was this a case of the series merely losing steam or being snuffed out earlier than it might have by creative incompetence?

Judging by what I watched, it seems more the former than the latter. Despite the film’s low IMDb rating, High Noon at Mega Mountain is no better or worse than any other DTV film made for the children’s market. If anything it has a few saving graces that elevate it to a higher level than I expected.

Chief among these is the performance of Loni Anderson as the film’s leather-clad villain, which strikes all the right notes and—I’m sure—left many of its young viewers with confused feelings they couldn’t quite understand at the time. In a clear example of the filmmakers getting away with something purely because no one was paying attention, there’s a moment in the film where Medusa, unconvincingly disguised in a nun’s habit, tells a security guard she’s there representing “Our Lady of Perpetual Motion”—a joke that surely meant nothing to its intended audience, but which had me laughing after I immediately recognized it as a reference to George Carlin’s “I Used to Be Irish Catholic” routine from his classic comedy album, “Class Clown”.

Unfortunately the filmmakers keep these adult friendly in-jokes to a minimum and settle instead for a predictable series of action scenes, which are admirably executed by their young cast who appear to be performing many of the complicated fight scenes themselves (though they are occasionally helped out by speeded up footage).

The result is bland, maudlin and cartoonish, and lacks the “What the fuck!” factor of similar Asian-produced films like Lucky Seven (1986) and the Young Dragons/Kung Fu Kids series, but is likely the sort of thing I would have watched happily over and over again when I was six or seven years old.


Chances of my watching other films in the franchise: I’m good.

Final Franchise Entry Rating: One and a half high kicks out of four