Friday, April 28, 2017

REVIEW: Rifftrax Live ~ "Samurai Cop"

As usual, I refuse to miss any Rifftrax Live showing unless I am absolutely incapable of doing so. I'm especially intent on supporting them in recent years both because of their continued involvement with the return of MST3K (more about that on Monday) and because they use that fan support to make bigger, better, and funnier things on the regular. This year they're rolling out a riff of The Five Doctors, a summer shorts special with guest riffers, and... this first offering.

Now, Samurai Cop is a movie they've done already as a video on demand, which is true of several of their live shows -- which doesn't preclude them from being fresh. I've not seen this one as a VOD, but I have been able to compare other VODs to live rewrites and the primary thing I notice is a pacing change. Yeah, there's some cleanup to really tweak the jokes to A+ level, but the "monologuing" tends to be cut down only to the really primo stuff and allowances are given for audience laughter. I'm sure that, were I to watch the VOD version, I'd see the same differences.

Before I go on, though, a little bit about the source.

Samurai Cop was a direct-to-video action/comedy(?) "starring" MST3K muse Robert Z'Dar (who appeared in both Soultaker and Future War) and Matt Hannon (now Matthew Karedas) as Joe Marshall, the eponymous Samurai Cop. Karedas has very few screen roles, and is probably better known for once having been Sylvester Stallone's bodyguard. It also features the largely creditless Mark Frazer as Marshall's wacky black sidekick Frank Washington. (And should you ever forget he's black, don't worry, they'll point that out a lot in the movie proper.)

Samurai Cop is attempting to be two genres at once: a buddy cop flick and a "white guy is better at martial arts than Japanese people" flick. And in the process it... really fails to be either. As I pointed out to my movie-going group, all the moves our Samurai Cop uses are things I learned from a New Jersey hockey played in a single semester of judo at college. Nothing against a well-executed throw or wrist lock, but we're not really talking high-end bushido here. And weirdly, even in a movie where you're thinking "why can't they just shoot they guy?" half the time, it feels even more wrong when they do just shoot the guy.

As for the buddy cop side... I love a good buddy cop movie because when done right, it's a story of polar opposites learning to interact. The original Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour are A+ examples of how to do a wacky "odd couple" type relationship that doesn't detract from the action. But here, the partner is a guy whose two personality traits are "black" and "funny."

I mean the latter is fine. If you want to make a jokester character, go for it. Maybe put in some other characterization besides "everything is funny to me," but whatever. But the sheer amount of attention drawn to his race (combined with the number of "ha ha good buddy, nice joke about my skin colour, I'm laughing to show that we're such good pals that awkward comments are totally okay") almost feels like the scriptwriter inadvertently airing some issues he needs to work through.

So, all that said, Mike and Kevin and Bill have no trouble kind of pointing that out. That and the fact that Marshall is weirdly oversexed. Like weirdly. And everyone's okay with it. What really impressed me with this riff was the way they were able to point out what was pretty bad about the movie's "jokes," then repurpose them into things that actually were funny.

Fortunately there was plenty of material to work with outside of the screenwriter seeming to create a wish-fulfillment character who could have an overclocked sex life despite terrible ethics and worse hair. One of the most fun parts of these shows for me is eyeing their set and then seeing where in the movie it shows up. Their production values just keep going up (with regards to film choices, sets, and guests), and I love just how elaborate and immersive it's all becoming.

The main event was preceded by "Manners in School," an educational short where (yet again) a kid is scolded by an inanimate object, learns how to function in mid-20th-century America, and then destroys his creepy tutor. (I actually once had a nightmare with a chalk figure that looked a lot like this.) As much as I love the main features, I sometimes feel like the shorts are where the riffers really shine. It could be because it's such a concentrated package of weirdness, but the warm-up will generally have me in tears before the big show even starts.

The riffers also included photos of their visit to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, as an advert for their upcoming live riff of The Five Doctors. Having heard from one of their coworkers that they're all big Whovians, this was just delightful to me. I'm glad they got to head out before it gets shuts down.

I'm extremely pleased that Rifftrax is still going strong and doing multiple shows per year with the help of fans. Next up is their Summer Shorts Beach Party, with guest appearances by Bridget and Mary Jo, Trace and Frank, and P.F. Tompkins. And apparently some surprises.

And just a reminder to my fellow fans -- please buy riffs rather than torrenting. The days of "circulating the tapes" are behind us now, and your support not only helps them make more awesome shows like this, but also helps them know which of their riffs are the most popular so they can make more. If you'd like to pay up for previously torrented riffs, or if you have a few extra bucks and would like to offset the pirates out there, they have a donation page!
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