There are good movies, and bad movies, and more than a few Ba-a-a-a-d movies. Then there are a few good bad movies. Not praiseworthy--but still, somehow you can enjoy them: as Saturday afternoon time-soakers, if nothing else. That’s the category “Armed Response” (which opened citywide Friday) belongs in.
On the surface, it’s another dumb, overviolent, bawdy, bloody, tasteless revenge thriller. There’s some sort of absurd feud going on involving Japanese yakuza gangsters encroaching on Chinatown Mafia turf--and a priceless jade statuette (a Tong falcon?) intended as a peacemaker.
There’s a crooked private eye, Cory (Ross Hagen) who’s trying to double-cross everyone, and a busty hit woman who’s stolen the jade, and a family caught in between: the Roths--who run an unlikely Chinatown bar called the Mimosa, where they exchange salty, jocular family insults and bash punks who wander in. This clan includes a battle-scarred Vietnam vet (David Carradine), his gorgeous wife and winsome daughter, two apparent male models, and a cantankerous, glowering old patriarch (Lee Van Cleef).
Pretty soon, Cory’s machinations have them all hip-deep in trouble: pursued by yakuza king Akira Tanaka (Mako) and his bloodcurdling goons, and forced to do what a man’s gotta do--an agenda which includes mayhem, sadistic badinage (“Rest in Pieces,” one says to a fallen foe) and machine-gun battles in a mysteriously deserted but fully lit Chinatown.
So, why is this movie good-bad rather than B-a-a-a-a-d? It’s a matter of attitude. The people who made it--director Fred Olen Ray, writer T. K. Lankford, Carradine, Van Cleef, Hagen, Mako, Dick Miller, Michael Berryman (a grotesque gargoyle of a hoodlum)--keep projecting a certain self-awareness, self-mockery and workman-like zest: an engaging shoulder-shrugging manner that seems to suggest, “Hey, you know this stuff is silly. We know it’s silly. But--what the hell--let’s just relax, play everything to the hilt, and see if we can’t have a few laughs along the way.”
A good example occurs in the scene where the perfidious Tanaka ties down Roth and begins torturing him with acupuncture and ghetto blaster, while his minions leer fiendishly. Just at the point when your mind registers “racism,” Tanaka (elegantly played by Mako) stops, muses and says, “Isn’t this all a bit archaic? Once again we have the evil yellow man torturing the valiant white hero. Ah, well. . . .” In the next scene, there’s a Boris Karloff “Mr. Wong” movie playing on the Mimosa Bar TV. See what we mean?
The movie (rated R) is played at such a low-life pitch, the better actors get such vulgar spontaneity going, and the brutally cynical jokes are tempered with such a grimy wink, that you get caught up despite yourself. Now, that isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of rancid stuff in “Armed Response”: stiff performances, racial stereotypes, offensive junk, nonsense, holes in the plot. There is. That’s why it’s a good bad movie, rather than a good--or mediocre--one. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.