DIEGO KOHAN: SUBURBAN COMMANDO
In 1991 I was five or six years old. I have no idea when I first saw Suburban Commando anyway; who knows. It may have been that year or the next, or even four, five, or six years later. In addition, the boy’s fascination and ignorance allowed me to watch the same movie dozens of times oblivious even for a moment to any of its many and gigantic flaws. Impossible to date during the first viewing.
At that time (not clearly delimited) of crowding and popularity of muscular action heroes (JCVD, Sly, Arnold, Norris, etc, etc), at that time we were touched by their most caricatured and humorous imitations. Movies like 3 ninjas or even The Extermineitors (four volumes in four years) were something like an outpouring or detachment of the most original ones.
Suburban Commando is that but it is also more, because it not only has the charisma and the immense size of Hogan but also the performances of Christopher Lloyd (Doc. Emmett Brown himself!) And Shelley Duvall (The Shining), for example. And it is directed by Burt Kennedy, whose extensive filmography is made up rather of Westerns. Which is all very strange considering the final product. The plot couldn’t be better: Shep Ramsey (Hogan) is sort of like an alien but human-looking intergalactic cop or bounty hunter who is forced to stay on our planet when his ship breaks due to a keyboard strike from the famous catch fighter. No wonder: the grace of the film is found in seeing the blond and striking foreigner living in a society that he does not know in detail. (But which he despises: before coming, he shouts “I hate earthlings!”). Throughout the first act, we will see him in situations that could well be a humorous recreation of Terminator (1984) –the traveling of his first walk down the street until he finds civilian clothes-, Back to the Future (1985) –his help to the father of the family that hosts him-, or Edward Scissor Hands (1990) –the ignorance of our rules of coexistence and the protection of the home and its members-.
There is something in the rusticity of the fx that added to the precariousness and awkwardness of the montage of this film awakens tenderness in me; maybe it’s because of my love for inventiveness that is no longer in use (alla Carpenter) or maybe it’s the product of the nostalgia of seeing again now, with grown-up and more prepared eyes, what I loved as a boy. I think it is a pleasant sensation similar to witnessing a very common and recognizable situation that usually takes place in family meals: an adult does a basic and obvious “magic trick” for a child; we all know -now- where the deception is, we could not ignore it or force our “poetic faith” to the extreme, but we see that child´s fascination – who once was us, of course – and we marvel, he gives us happiness. Much later – decades – we are sitting at the other tribune (perhaps even at the same table as thirty years ago), which now receives us accomplices to the Magician.
A simple exercise is enough to appreciate the rusticity of the effects; we could stop the film anywhere, randomly as if it were to open a book on any page to see how it is written. If we ran into Shep’s landing, we would notice that it is a shot of a shed to which the descending ship is added and disappears as if it pierced the ceiling (which does not suffer any damage) while sparks appear behind the image to recreate a explosion, but absolutely nothing happens to the property. Fascinating, resources no more advanced than the ones Chespirito used in his shows. Another example is the level of intergalactic armor that Hogan wears: next to him the Power Rangers´ suits seem like those of Iron-Man.
In the bank robbery sequence you can clearly see the aforementioned awkward montage: the fights are reduced to cartoon bullets (in a negative sense); that is: we see the facial gestures, cut to Shep (Hogan) and the thief already caught, cut to the thief (his double, clearly) flying alla A Brigade. Occasionally, there is even a poorly edited pineapple where after the cut you can see the actor initiating only the fall that is supposedly a consequence of the giant’s blow.
Suburban Commando is a children’s comedy, but even there it has inexplicable things, like when the villain threatens Hogan saying “you have 10 seconds to get off (the ship) before you see the inside of this beautiful girl’s head” while pointing to the daughter of Lloyd’s character, causing him to shout “Son of a bitch!”
However, it is not all this that makes Suburban Commando a lousy movie, but the fact that the general idea and the script are null, the movie and the narration have no purpose other than to have Hogan on screen. In its 88 minutes, there is not a minimally interesting dialogue, and although there is an intention to have some coherence of consequent action (the best thing is the use of the space pistol that Lloyd’s character loses), most of each scene does not make sense nor does ir have an explanation. For example, at no time is it an issue that Shep is an alien, no one is surprised or altered or anything.
So why is Suburban Commando chosen for this section? Because in spite of its many flaws and few (or null) virtues, I am very fond of this film. It is action, it is a child hero, it is the memory of going to the neighborhood video store and being looked at with the expression of “that again?”, it is to not forget that we sometimes like movies even if they do not seem so successful (this is the extreme, of course) and that not all our pleasures have such a visible explanation.
Suburban Commando tried to include any box-office formula of the moment and ended up being a proper grout of the lunch of December 25th. If we think about it, 30 years and hundreds of millions later, Star Wars (latest trilogy) and most of the MCU have a little bit of that too. It is not said in this paragraph that they are the same (of course not!), but what is said is that the nudity resulting from what is trashy makes Suburban Commando expose us, without intending to, to some shortcomings of the great modern blockbusters.
I wonder: how many of the dozens of current films will be as fondly and nostalgically remembered as Suburban Commando?
© Diego Kohan, 2019 | @nocoincido
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