Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hangin' Tough From the Chimney With Care

It's easy to get lost in the hubbub of the holiday season. Traveling to family get-togethers, last-minute shopping, sussing out stocking stuffers, planning big holiday feasts...

Finding costumes to enable this scenario to play out...
...it can all get overwhelming in a hurry. In that shuffle it's easy to see how even something so important as a discussion about our most essential and lasting Christmas-related song might not get the full attention it deserves.

And that is why I've chosen the middle of spring to write about America's most beloved holiday singalong, the New Kids On the Block classic "Funky Funky Christmas."

There's no denying the runaway success of the New Kids on the Block when they hit the scene during the transitional period from the 80s to the 90s. Anyone who was a teen or on the cusp of it at that point was a fan; if they tell you otherwise, they are a liar.

Or Nick Carter.
I bought a blank cassette and dubbed their breakout album from a friend's copy, and wrote "NKOTB" on the label as a point of pride so strong that future blank cassettes kept the branding nomenclature (e.g. "NKOTB II", "NKOTB III - Electric Bugaloo", "NKOTB IV: This Time It's Personal") despite there being no actual music from the group on them.

Pictured: the just-leaked cover to "NKOTB XXXIX - The Legend of Curly's Gold."
My sister and I pooled our allowances to buy a VHS copy of the Hangin' Tough world tour, which we proceeded to watch roughly 937 times and develop favorite moments and parts we knew even then were worthy of our mockery, like how Jon Knight yells to the crowd that "the party is just beginning!" with 1.7 songs left in the show. Only a complete idiot would misjudge proper timing in such a careless and pandering manner. Now then, back to my early-May blog about Christmas music.

At least two of the shirts on this album cover qualify as hate crimes.

Everyone had a favorite New Kid, and myriad reasons to support their decision. The decibel level at which you were given these talking points varied wildly depending on the gender of the kid you asked, and how receptive they were to the strange tingling sensation of awakening they couldn't begin to put words to just yet.

Which I now cannot caption, because I don't want to go to prison.

Most of the girls I knew favored Jordan Knight, the co-frontman of the group and who at the time sported a hairdo I'm reasonably sure wasn't scientifically possible. Donald Trump's coif looks more reasonable and defensible than what Jordan walked around wearing at the dawn of the 90s. Look at those photos of him now and you'd be forgiven for assuming that a pile of burning tires had exploded between him and the photographer just as the photo was taken.

Did... a pastry just fall on his head?
His brother Jonathan was also in the group, and that's just about the most descriptive thing anyone could say about Jon Knight. He was the oldest of the group, by about seventy years if his general energy and memorability were anything to go by, and was not exactly a wellspring of charisma.

Pictured: Jon Knight preparing for a concert in Cedar Rapids, 1989.
Co-frontman Donnie Wahlberg started out in the New Kids already living in the shadow of his little brother Mark; let that sink in for a moment as your admiration for Donnie Wahlberg swells out of simple bewilderment that someone could live in the shadow of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and still have the courage to get out of bed each day.

Sometimes I go searching Google for an image, and the universe does me a wonderful, hilarious favor and writes the whole joke for me.
Perhaps in an effort to carve out his own image distinct from his brother and from his bandmates, Donnie Wahlberg embraced the notion that the group needed a "bad boy." For instance, he could reliably be the one New Kid found not smiling in a group photo, because he was hard and streetwise, y'know.

The hat was just pragmatic, standing so near the base of Jordan Knight's hair as he was.

Invariably Donnie would be the one wearing a bandana or a skull-and-crossbones on his jacket, or both, in a misguided attempt to convince us that he was the dangerous outlier of the group, the real hardscrabble New Kid you wouldn't actually want to run into on The Block, or at the very least that he wasn't careful enough when signing the contracts and actually thought he was joining Guns N' Roses or Public Enemy.

"Okay, guys, say cheese!... eh, close enough."

When the group gathered for photo shoots, and the other guys said "The image we're going for is Fun Loving Young Guys, Dressed For A Night On The Town!", and Jordan showed up as The Hillbilly Neighbor You're Pretty Sure Is Making Bathtub Meth just to thumb his nose at convention, Donnie Wahlberg had to take even greater strides to assert himself as the nonconformist of the group.

By showing up as Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
Danny Wood was my favorite of the group, mainly because he had an awesome rat-tail which I chose to emulate for far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far too many years after I should have come to the realization that it was a big piece of the plate mail which made up my Virginity Protection Armor.

Armor we wore with misguided pride, in my circle of friends.
There was a certain symmetry to my identifying with by far the least attractive New Kid, though. That's not a subjective statement, it's an observable fact. As proof, I now present a picture I found dozens of results deep while browsing for more examples of Donnie trying to look cool, which I swear I didn't touch up in any way, that expresses things more succinctly than I ever could.

I laughed for a solid minute when I stumbled across this. Then I cried for forty more.

No photographer arranging a Halloween-themed photo shoot involving the New Kids on the Block would have kept his or her job beyond nightfall had they gone with any other costume for Danny than "Frankenstein's Monster." You wouldn't even need makeup, just some glue and a couple of carriage bolts.

"It's alive (and mostly just talking on tracks because he's got a very limited vocal range)! ALIVE (AND MOSTLY JUST TALKING ON TRACKS BECAUSE HE'S GOT A VERY LIMITED VOCAL RANGE)!!!!"
Finally there was Joey, who went from being so baby-faced that you'd think he was only in the group because he complained to Mom that the older boys weren't including him, to Joe, who looks like one of those guys who goes out of his way to shake your hand way too hard just so you know he's a man's man.

"Nice to meet you. I'm coursing with testosterone in a way that will RUIN your handwriting for the next hour."
These five kids had the keys to the castle in 1989. In the wake of Hangin' Tough and You've Got It (The Right Stuff), it was clear that anything they released would be insatiably devoured by a generation of not-especially-discerning youth. This occasionally yielded some not-bad pop, as with their best song, Step By Step. I'm not even being snarky here. It's still a catchy enough pop ditty today.

Also, a tour de force performance by Donnie's hat and pout.
It also yielded some pretty cynical "Hey, I need to finance my cocaine habit, get those kids in the recording studio pronto!" material like Funky Funky Christmas, which transcended its genesis to be the timeless classic we all sing at least once with our families before going to bed on Christmas Eve every year.

Donnie's hat soldiered on even after Donnie's pout left the band, citing creative differences.
The song begins with a New Kid doing a bizarrely mush-mouthed Santa Claus impression that sounds like he did it around mouthfuls of ham sandwich in the recording booth. "Santa" extols the joy of "another great Christmas" before another New Kid not bothering to do a stupid voice unknowingly sets the audience tone by scoffing that "it's boring, it's the same thing every year."

To which Santa has perhaps his worst idea of all time and replies, "So let's have a funky Christmas!"

Damn you, Kringle. This day was supposed to be special. Now it's all funked up.
Donnie takes point on this song, spitting the hardcore rap verse "New Kids on the Block, It's Christmas time, we're gonna celebrate it with a rhyme!" so they can check off every box on the pre-recording checklist during the first stanza.

Did we identify ourselves? Did we identify the season? Did we show indisputable street cred? Did Danny drown a little girl in a lake while attempting to play with her because he doesn't know his own strength?
He then launches into a call-and-response segment meant to give each New Kid his own brief moment to shine, and as a general paean to readiness. He starts off with a "Danny D, are you ready?" and receives a somnambulant "...ready as I'll ever be..." in response.

Ready for a funky, funky Christmas.
Donnie has enough time to say the word "steady" afterward, before Joey, evidently in the throes of a manic episode, shrieks "YOU KNOW JOEY JOE'S READY!!!" in a manner I cannot do justice without exceeding my personal boundaries on exclamation points.

Possibly annoyed and assumedly following his scooping all of the surprise-shit out of his pants, Donnie forgoes the "everyone gets his own moment" theme and lumps the last two together, with a quick "Jordan and Jon?" To their credit, Jordan and Jon know they can only disappoint after Joey's bizarre screaming, and instead each simply blurts out a quick "Yeah!" and "Come on!" to move things along.

I should note at this point that the chorus is forever. It is eternity. The New Kids are so enamored of it that they repeat it a dozen times in the four minute song, even though each repetition seems to take at least ten minutes.  All it is is the New Kids repeatedly sing-talking the phrase "Have a funky funky Christmas" over a ridiculously stripped down accompaniment which sounds like little more than a cowbell and someone's elbow absently pressed down on a Casio keyboard.

So, we're treated to more of that for awhile.

Christ, did they think we were gonna forget the name of the song if we weren't constantly hearing it?
Donnie then resumes his emceeing duties, and the creepy factor instantly skyrockets. Let's not dance around it; these were five guys ranging from their late teens to very early twenties when they were sudden superstars, with all the spoils that go along with it. There's no way Donnie Wahlberg and Jordan Knight weren't leaving a trail of first-time Plan-B users in their wake in towns across America.

The group average was a bit lower.

So it's disconcerting to hear him announce that "I swear we got ourselves a party here" which consists of "Girls on the floor, Northside posse at the door," especially when the following line is "Should I stop? Nah."

I'm reasonably sure the New Kids on the Block just implicated themselves in a gang rape, but did it with such holiday cheer that we all just failed to notice.  The girls were probably more than willing, Donnie! What drug did you give them to leave them on the floor, and why? Do I even want to know what your Northside posse did to them?

My god, She's Got It (the White Stuff)!!! I can't unsee!
Then Donnie orders Santa Claus to kick the ballistics, which is singlehandedly the reason why white people have such a hard time being taken seriously while rapping. We have plenty of time to contemplate this malfeasance against racial harmony, since "kicking the ballistics" evidently means "nine more minutes of our tiresome chorus" to the New Kids on the Block.

And in case you harbored any uncertainties about whether this song was written while on the drive to the studio, we're then treated to a stanza-length primer about fire safety couched in a story about a time one of the New Kids encountered Santa on Christmas Eve. The tale involves Santa burning himself on a still-lit fireplace fire while coming down a chimney, and admonishing the New Kid for it. It is conveyed with all the verve and forethought of a conceptual joke being told to you by a five-year-old.
Also, for no reason I can discern, this Santa-burning-his-butt story is told in a British accent. Someone heard the Mush-Mouth Santa performance art from the beginning of the song and thought, "Finally, we're doing rich character work!"

Unbelievably, we're now treated to an extended version of the chorus, including breakdowns of both the backing track and my central nervous system.

Several hours later, if my senses are to be trusted, we finally reach a new stanza. It's Danny's turn to do his brand of essentially spoken-word poetry, since the dude just couldn't sing even by boy-band standards. It's just embarrassing, listening to him... rapping, I guess?... through his verse about slippin' and slidin' through the city streets. At one point he indicates that he's "throwing fresh rhymes" but no evidence exists to support that claim in this song.

Though he also insists that "it's snowin' outside but we're ho-ho-hoing," which serves a dual purpose as a signifier of holiday cheer and a telling, tragic clue toward how Danny made ends meet during the lean years after the New Kids on the Block star faded.

Because no amount of Google image searching yielded a screencap of Dirk Diggler trying to jerk off in that dude's passenger seat for fifteen bucks, here's this.
Aaaaand we're back into the chorus for awhile, to contemplate the various ways we've gone wrong with our lives, and how those decisions led us to listening to Funky Funky Christmas.

Finally, blessedly, we begin the final verse, in which a remarkable thing occurs. First we have a New Kid suggesting that a "funky dope jam" is on top of our Christmas lists, but dances around mentioning that our wish has gone sadly unfulfilled if this song was the only yield from that wish list.

And then, as if to acknowledge a crowd of people reacting hatefully to this song and its 80:20 ratio of chorus repetition to actual verses, Donnie Wahlberg actually says the following line:

"How could you be booin' it with Donnie D doin' it?"

The assumption that any audience would be actively booing the performance of this song is written into the song. This is possibly the most self-aware moment in pop history, courtesy of Donnie Wahlberg.

Even more astonishing when you consider he once thought these pants were a good idea.

I think we're done with the proper song at this point, though the track continues for another entire minute. Gotta make time for the chorus, y'know. Then we finish with Mush Mouth Santa Claus once again wishing us a merry Christmas, but poisoning the sentiment by finishing with the phrase "We're gonna kick the ballistics of our Christmas wishes," which makes no sense on top of setting race relations back yet another six years.

And the music fades out as Santa and his friend decide to "get all them reindeer and let's bust out of here," as every parent in America silently contemplates just telling their kids the truth about Santa Claus rather than risk their ever hearing this song.

If nothing else, Funky Funky Christmas serves a valuable anthropological purpose, in that we now have isolated the definitive cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and can attack it at its root.

Here you go, ladies/gay men/porn mustache enthusiasts. You earned it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Any Piven Sunday

Finally, another reason to use this "Jeremy Piven is a Crotch" picture I made in 2008.

Full disclosure: I actually quite enjoy the film I'm about to eviscerate for your mild amusement or bored dismissal. It still has a few moments which beg to be mocked, though. Turn on the DVD subtitles and there are multiple times where the onscreen text suddenly reads [WHAT IS THIS SHIT. ARE WE SUPPOSED TO BE ROOTING FOR JEREMY FUCKING PIVEN TO HAVE ANYTHING HAPPEN TO HIM WHICH DOESN'T INCLUDE THE PHRASE 'CHEMICAL CASTRATION'?] or some other such extemporaneous commentary from the caption writer.

And he's right. But it's still kinda badass, even when I'm NOT seeing it at age sixteen. So consider this an affectionate and loving roast more than either of the hateful dissections I've done before in this space.

Except for this asshole. Fuck him.
Look What I Did To My Netflix Queue For You: Judgment Night

Let's get one thing straight, off the top. The soundtrack for this movie is unimpeachably badass. I love it unironically, and at no point will I even jokingly be blaming it for some of Judgment Night's considerable shortcomings.

Seriously, it's wall-to-wall awesome. Check it out.

And it kicks off the instant the film begins, with a nice head-bobbing tune to begin our epic tale depicting sheltered white filmmakers' ideas of "the inner city" and its dangers. I assume the producers unfailingly use the term "urban" to describe black people.

"I'm cool, though, right, Jamal? Let's go hang out somewhere where my friends will see!"
We begin in a bucolic upper-class neighborhood, with children riding bicycles and leaves on the ground and ladies walking dogs while waving and smiling at everyone they pass. You'd be forgiven for thinking you put the wrong DVD in, as the opening couple of minutes make for a film named Acceptance Day far more than they do Judgment Night.

We descend to street level to watch a sporty red sports car, which I'd identify by name if I had the slightest clue about cars...

...arriving and emitting Cuba Gooding Jr., who is in the suburbs for exactly four seconds before exchanging flirty eye contact with one of the dog-walking white ladies, a bold move by the filmmakers to willfully guarantee the film has no box office potential in the deep South.

Gooding has arrived at the home of his good buddy Emilio Estevez, who in 1993 was still living in the delusion that he was going to be a bankable movie star after riding that Mighty Ducks career gravy train. Estevez is embarking on a guys' night to the chagrin of his wife, who will be left at home with their baby daughter and who, with only a half-dozen or so lines of dialogue, manages to sound like a joyless nag AND the voice of foreshadowing for the hellish night her husband is about to endure as penance for not staying home.

"I'm just SAYING that one of you might end up suffering a horrible death, and it MIGHT not be the one everyone HOPES dies a horrible death. If you REALLY want to roll the dice, then I SUPPOSE..."

Estevez assures her that they're just going into the city to attend a boxing match, and that no bullet point on their itinerary includes "bang some skanks that you're guaranteed to have paid for." Her seeming disbelief of this claim is immediately founded when Estevez' next buddy pulls up and we all realize with horror that he's Jeremy Fucking Piven. Driving an RV up a residential street while honking a General Lee horn and screaming over a loudspeaker, as you'd expect from Jeremy Fucking Piven. It's truly shocking how well he played against type as a worthless douchebag piece of shit.

Pictured: a worthless douchebag piece of shit.
I should digress for a moment and tell you a real, true, honest-to-gods story about Jeremy Piven. I promise you I'm not making up a word of this. A buddy of mine was a waiter in a restaurant in New York, and Jeremy Piven and some friends came in, already well into their booze and cocaine fueled evening, and proceeded to run my buddy ragged with constant requests and demands and general high maintenance dining. Expensive bottles of wine, extravagant meals, hors d'oeuvres, the whole nine. My buddy busted his ass for over two hours on this one table, to the detriment of several of his other tables by simple mathematical probability.

And when they finally left, Jeremy Piven chose to leave a DVD set of his shitty TV show Entourage as a tip.

My buddy chased them into the street, waving the DVD set and loudly asking what was wrong with the service for him to have gotten utterly shafted on the tip. Piven, surrounded by his crew and visibly embarrassed, had no real answer to this; he then looked genuinely stunned when my buddy threw the DVD set at them and into a messy pile of discs and packaging in the middle of the street. Later Piven would save face by injecting a pure strain of syphilis directly into the eyeballs of a number of adorable orphaned toddlers.

I may have slipped into embellishment briefly there, but I won't tell you where.

So the guys pile into the RV, filled with hilarious signs of the times like a cassette deck and a bright orange NES Zapper light gun, and prepare to head out. Estevez and Gooding ask Piven how he got the RV, and he answers NOT that he time-traveled to the mid-eighties but rather that he sweet-talked the dealer into giving him a test drive for the entire evening. Astonishingly, the foley artists didn't put in an ominous piano tone at this moment, nor did they redub Piven's lines in the voice of Estevez' lovely wife, The Foreshadowing Lady.

I guess they figured they'd blown our minds enough already.

Estevez says their fourth buddy canceled at the last minute, and no sooner does Piven ask what they're going to do with an extra ticket to the fight than Estevez' little brother arrives, screeching his car to a halt approximately eleven inches from the RV to freak Piven out.

And said little brother is played by Steven Dorff, who looks grungy and unshowered and pretty far removed from his star-making turn as a golf instructor and kneepad enthusiast.

The Larry the Cable Guy of his generation. Discuss.
No one wants Dorff around, but Estevez basically says they can all fuck off, and so Piven fires up the RV and they trundle off into the city as the soundtrack does something awesome in the background.

The plan to make it to the fight is immediately imperiled by what appears to be the worst traffic jam in history, with all lanes of the freeway at a standstill. Piven attempts to merge in the RV, pissing off some blow-dried douche in the car next to him; they exchange insults and threats, and Dorff exhibits his most dominant character trait of "constantly ready for a fight" by hopping off the RV and preparing to punch the dude in the second lane.

Amazingly, this freeway fight is averted at the last second as the Urban in the group steps in and does Urban moves on the blow-dried douche, defusing the situation with some sort of martial arts armlock that I'm assuming the director coaxed out of Gooding on set by instructing him to "kinda pop-lock, but with this dude in the way."

Okay, maybe it's not THAT much of a leap. Guy was pretty ripped back then.
Crestfallen by being deprived of what would have been a hilarious Dorff vs. Regular Sized Dude fistfight, Piven throws the RV into reverse until he can take the exit they'd just inched past, and they peel away from the traffic jam amidst his promises of arriving at the fight on time.

And admittedly, we aren't shown a clear depiction of time passing, so perhaps this isn't fair. But it appears that the RV is clear of the off ramp by roughly ninety feet before we're treated to our first image of squalid desolated inner city wasteland, with tons of old newspapers blowing all over the ground and the universal white filmmaker shorthand for the rough inner city.

Seriously, you can't go a block in the inner city without seeing a trash can fire.
Piven is immediately lost; the other guys want him to stop and ask for directions, which is the sort of quaint advice you'd expect from a bunch of wealthy guys in an RV rolling through what looks like the final half hour of Do The Right Thing. The guys use the loudspeaker to boorishly yell at a group of men standing around their own trash can fire, whose attention they draw by condescendingly asking for help while waving and mugging like pricks. Honestly, I wanted to see a molotov cocktail smash through the windshield instantly, and I'm reasonably sure they weren't specifically talking down to me.

The gentlemen on the street pretend they're pulling a gun, and Piven responds by diving for the glove compartment of the RV in which he's got a hand cannon of his own, surprising the other guys and inspiring admirable restraint by whoever scored the film.

"Jeremy's got a gun... Piven's got a gun..."
Speeding away through the city, Piven is distracted while driving and manages to hit someone darting in front of the RV out of the night. Predictably, Piven wants to flee the scene and maybe do some more coke, and the character he plays in this film echoes that sentiment.

He's instantly overruled, and the other three guys clamber out into the night with flashlights to look for whoever they hit, yelling back to him to call 911 while they search. Piven, nothing if not classy, pretends to call 911 on his comically oversized antenna-endowed cell phone without actually doing so, then grabs all the alcohol in the RV and throws it out on the street.

The Law Firm of Estevez, Dorff & Gooding discover a bleeding man lying a short distance away, and carefully carry him to the RV around all of the other bleeding men the filmmakers assume are constantly strewn about the ground "in the hood."  The man is delirious, has a bag of bloodied hundred dollar bills on his person, and is sporting a fresh gunshot wound. He's also inconsolably terrified, and the guys don't know what to do to calm or help him.
"Maybe this DVD set will help. Dorff, hand this to him. Tell him it's Season Three."

Things escalate quickly, now. A cop car whizzes by a few blocks away, and Estevez commandeers the RV to give chase over Piven's objection. They have enough time to realize the cop is in a hurry to be somewhere else and they have no chance of closing the distance in a fucking RV, before they're sideswiped by a black car knifing at them out of the night. The impact forces the RV into a nearby alley, where it promptly wedges itself, door to door, trapping them all and ruining much of the interior decor of the RV, including that cool retro NES Zapper.

Only depriving me of the weapon. Never of the hatred.
The bleeding guy warns that "he's coming, he's out there..." just in time for the rear window to explode as thugs smash it and yank the guy out onto the street. One of the thugs, Redfoot from The Usual Suspects, waves a gun at the remaining guys in the RV and tells them to stay put.

"Give it to the Dorff, ease his pain."
The crew of thugs is rounded out by rapper Everlast, from House of Pain, and the lead singer of Creed. I'm only joking on one of these two.

The Ministry of Sinister Walks

The black car pulls up and we're introduced to the film's main villain, Fallon (or possibly the film's main fallon, Villain), played by Bill Hicks. He talks some shit ("Rule 1: Don't steal from me..."), careful to keep the shadows falling ominously across his face, then shoots the bleeding guy again, getting much more immediate results this time. He then gestures to his lieutenants to follow him to the RV, with "Rule 2: No witnesses."And thus we're provided with the dramatic thrust of the film's remainder, which is the cat-and-mouse chase of our four dudes by Bill Hicks and his goons.

The RV fills the entire width of the alley, so our guys inside think quickly and kick out the windshield to climb out the far side. Estevez, belatedly granting my molotov cocktail wish, promptly sets fire to the interior so the thugs can't follow them.

Squirting through the windshield and sprinting to the end of the alley, the guys are stunned when the RV explodes in a dramatic gigantic fireball, and somehow Piven manages to bitch about having to pay the dealership for it as Gooding shoves his ass over a chain link fence.

"Plus, I totally forgot to record Cheers! It's literally the worst thing that could ever happen to me!"

They flee to a creepy trainyard, filled with old train cars and tetanus, and stand around panting while they discuss what to do next. At the sound of Bill Hicks' approaching car, they frantically yank on train car doors until they find one that opens, and they pile in and try to remain silent.

This upsets the indigenous homeless dudes trying to sleep in said car, and a tense standoff ensues wherein our four guys are fleeced of their wallets, watches and chains in exchange for the hobos' continued silence as Bill Hicks, Redfoot, Everlast and Lead Singer of Creed roam the trainyard, pounding on random cars and yelling taunts.

The scene was actually pretty effective, and was doing just fine without the addition of a mentally retarded homeless guy, Buck (described as having "the brain of a chicken" by another hobo, and quite possibly portrayed by Jerome Bettis if the glimpse offered is indicative), who insists that he's a college graduate, that he used to play football in college and that he had amazing hands.

Dorff, predictably, wants to fight the bums.

Which, once again, would be goddamned hilarious.
Cuba Gooding talks him out of it, then instantly riles everyone up again when Jerome Bettis intimates that he wants Gooding's college letter jacket, because it reminds Bettis of when he was a college graduate, played football in college and had amazing hands.

Dude, calm down. You worked with Ben Roethlisberger. There's nothing you can't handle.
Gooding refuses, the situation worsens, and suddenly Bill Hicks and his goons are alerted to the sudden nearby shrieking of "I'M A GODDAMNED COLLEGE GRADUATE!"

As any commencement speech that's worth a shit should end.
They yank open the noisy train car and what appear to be roughly 1900 bums come streaming out of it like it's some sort of freight clown car. Bill Hicks spots Cuba Gooding's jacket fleeing; he takes aim and shoots the man down, only to discover that it's Jerome Bettis wearing Gooding's jacket... and carrying Estevez' wallet and identification.

Then again, a replica of his picture ID comes with every wallet.
Lost and wandering the city, our four guys are in dire straits, not the least of which being that they've evidently stumbled into a postapocalyptic shell of a former city. Seriously, the effort that went into making this city look like Hell on Earth is genuinely impressive, if a bit misguided. At no point do these guys come across even one convenience store or McDonalds open for business? Is this New York or Sarajevo?

Finally they spot a high-rise with lights on inside, and head toward that hopeful beacon.  Think about this for a moment. They're in a hellish urban wasteland so desolate that they feel great relief at finally seeing a building with lights on inside, and evidence of human life.  Mad Max wouldn't even bother looking in this area for gasoline.

"I'll bet the country clubs in this area only carry domestic beers."

A black kid on a swingset watches as Cuba Gooding, presumably the group's expert in breaking and entering, finds a point of ingress to admit the group to the building to find a working phone. Inside they knock on a bunch of doors and are met with exactly the sort of hospitality you'd expect from folks who have to live behind iron-barred doors in this seventh circle of Hell. The men are all surprised that no one will help them, which is one of those moments where you stop hearing the characters speaking and just hear the screenwriter's voice instead.

"The Homeowner's Association will NOT be pleased when we tell them how we're being received!"

Wandering up a couple flights of stairs, they come across a lady who is frankly way too hot to be hanging around in this dangerous hallway, dressed in a robe and with only a baseball bat to defend herself as she uses the garbage disposal chute.

"Oops! Again! This happens every time! I have GOT to get a better-fitting robe!"
Estevez tries to smooth-talk her, momentarily forgetting that he's traveling with the guy who nearly fingerbanged a dog-walking lady within a minute of meeting her during the film's opening minute. As she threatens to bludgeon them with her bat, Estevez asserts that "We saw a kid get shot, and the men that shot him did it in cold blood." This seems to land with great meaning and importance on the hot lady in the robe, despite that the only real alternative is that they saw Bill Hicks emerge victorious over the kid in a take-ten-steps-turn-and-shoot duel.

Improbably, the lady grants these four strange men admission to her home, despite that the security system inside her baseball bat perimeter consists solely of her lesbian lover and their young child. With this kind of trusting manner, I'm kinda glad we don't stay with these characters for long, lest we bear witness to their horrible ends three or four days from now.

"Wait, you DO have a photo of you verifying that the blood was indeed cold? Well, that was gonna be my next question. Come on in, I guess."

Meanwhile, outside, Bill Hicks and his goons encounter a young gang of teens, having been summoned by the black kid who watched our heroes and Piven enter the high rise earlier. The gang leader and Bill Hicks square off in what is by far the coolest dialogue exchange of the film, as each is an alpha determined to look dominant in front of his entourage.

Season Four, now available strewn in a gutter in Manhattan!
Bill Hicks offers to pay the gang leader for information on which way the good guys and Piven went, resulting in this pretty badass exchange:

Gang Leader: "Man, if I wanted your money, I'd take it."
Bill Hicks: "You can't take my money... but you CAN... take my money."
(holds out the wad of bills the Bloodied Guy was carrying earlier)
Gang Leader: "...that money's got blood on it."
Bill Hicks: "You ever see any that didn't?"

"Maybe we as criminals can LAUNDER the money, as criminals are wont to do! Drive-by!" said the gang leader in an early draft of the script, before the writer showed it to his black friend.
And moments later, inside the lesbians' apartment, our heroes and Piven go from waiting for police they naively believe are actually coming out to this godforsaken hellhole of a neighborhood, to being horrified by Bill Hicks' voice in the stairwell, loudly reading Estevez' full name and address off of his drivers license and admiring wallet photos of Estevez' wife with what can only be inferred as rapey intent.

It's a default look, but still.
Displaying arguably their first hint of self-preservation instincts, the lesbians demand that our heroes and Piven leave their home. The guys are in mild disagreement on this, and by "mild disagreement" I mean Piven promptly pulls his gun and points it at his "friends" when they attempt to unlock and open the front door of the apartment.  Estevez talks him down and takes the gun from him while soothingly referring to him as Razor, which could be a nickname based on Piven's character name of Ray, but is more likely a subtle suggestion for how Piven might spend some alone time in the nearest bathtub.

"C'mon, DrinksomeDranO. Gimme the gun, buddy."
One of the lesbians helpfully offers that the kids have built a bridge on the rooftop in order to pass between the buildings, which would chill any engineer to his bones but is the guys' only chance of escape. They sneak out and up, as we hear and see Bill Hicks' crew terrorizing the lower floors. It's a bit puzzling, how the thugs are so successful in their search of the apartments in the building; I mean, what's the point of barring your front door if you're just going to open it every time someone knocks, giving Redfoot or Everlast an opening to point a gun at you and force you to unlock the barred gate and let him in? How is that possible? Did you  just move to the inner city this week!?

For that matter, why were Estevez and his friends a no-go while politely knocking on each door, but folks are answering their doors for the dudes stomping around shooting doors off of their hinges and screaming about how they're quite clearly on a manhunt? 

What could possibly be the defining difference between two groups of four guys, which might make one group less suitable to be allowed into your home, knowing what we know or can infer at this point about the filmmakers?

"I get what you're hinting at, and it's not cool, man. Not cool at all."
Now we arrive at one of the central moments of the film, as our heroes and Piven reach the rooftop and get a good look at the sort of bridge the neighborhood kids might build to cross between high rises, and every one of us in the audience simultaneously shakes our heads and says, "Nope, I'll take my chances with the guys with guns."

Yeah, that looks up to building code.
It appears to be a ladder, with some flat pieces of wood lying across some of the rungs, maybe some duct tape, and astonishingly lacking in Indy and Short Round.

Gooding goes first, shimmying across with relative grace and disappearing into the far building to look for a continued route. Dorff, utilizing his incredibly low center of gravity, makes it across as Gooding shouts football-based encouragement ("you're at the forty yard line! The twenty! Come on, you're almost there! The five!").

Even though he has to know birdie/eagle/par references would resonate much more.
Meanwhile, Estevez attempts to usher Piven across next, but Piven refuses. They bicker about it briefly before Piven assures him, "do you want me to put in writing? I will follow you." This convinces Estevez, despite every single thing we've been shown about Piven's character and the obvious picture it paints of a shithead who will lie to his best friend's face without a moment's hesitation.

When he's not waving a gun at him, that is.
So Estevez eases out to about halfway across the bridge, at which point the ladder buckles and nearly collapses. Every sphincter tightens as we watch him crawl out of the shitty mess he just made on what's left of the bridge and join Gooding and Dorff to scoop out his pants.

They then look expectantly across at Piven, as if the ladder had more than a forty percent chance of supporting his crossing now anyway, and are stunned by his shoving the ladder off of the lip of the building to crash onto the ground below.

Piven's decided to make a stand and negotiate his way off of the roof. The other guys voice their understandable doubts about the worthiness of this plan, but are forced to retreat into their building as Bill Hicks and his crew arrive on the rooftop and encounter Piven in full-on oily used car salesman mode.

You'd be forgiven for not being able to distinguish a difference.
A tense standoff ensues, as Piven introduces himself and engages in a tete-a-tete for his life with Bill Hicks. He offers $100,000 and his silence regarding witnessing the bloodied guy's murder. He even gives Everlast his ring, which he claims is worth fifteen thousand dollars but can act as a down payment. Bill Hicks pretends to be interested before laying into Piven with an excoriating string of insults, delivered while carefully lit to look particularly devilish.

"I'M AN AUDIENCE SURROGATE RIGHT NOW! Do you have any clue what they want me to DO to you!?"
Piven takes the close-range verbal buckshot, then coolly plays his final card: "TWO hundred thousand."

Redfoot makes a little whistling sound, and Everlast uncocks and lowers his gun from where he'd been training it in the direction of the three heroes across the gap. Lead Singer of Creed continues his streak of doing nothing memorable, and Bill Hicks raises an eyebrow at the brazen new offer from Piven.

Devilishly, of course.
The audience starts gathering items from their pockets and purses to throw at the screen in the event that this dickhole manages to talk his way out of dying, as Bill Hicks finally nods, "Yeah, I think we can make a deal."

Turns out it's all a feint, though. Bill Hicks is just toying with Piven by lulling him into a false sense of security, even letting Piven turn and give his buddies a thumbs-up and make one final, relieved, hilariously ironic remark that "I'm getting off of this roof in one piece," before living the dream of millions by shoving Jeremy Piven to his death from a high rise rooftop.


Gooding flies into a rage, pulling out the gun which once belonged to Piven and spraying fire indiscriminately across the gap, managing to wing Lead Singer of Creed in a manner so superficial that no evidence of it exists for the remainder of the film, yet still providing the single most interesting thing that Lead Singer of Creed has done in this film so far.

Our heroes make their way down this new high rise, exiting to street level and taking one last look at the broken, bloodied body of Piven, lying tangled in the pieces of broken ladder and already partly submerged in the windblown scraps of paper and DVD season set packaging littering the streets.

Trust me, I searched exhaustively for that image, to share here and to make the new wallpaper on my laptop. My search yielded this chunk of what-the-fuck instead, so enjoy, I guess.
Not long after, Bill Hicks and his goons pass through the same intersection, and Everlast pauses long enough to take off Piven's ring and throw it at him, which I found pretty lacking in frugality, frankly. Then again, I don't know how expansive his health care and dental package is while in Bill Hicks' employ, so maybe it's small potatoes to him.

Our heroes find a manhole cover and quickly squeeze down it and into the sewers, then proceed to have a loud discussion directly beneath the manhole instead of moving further. I'm pretty sure that simply walking fifty feet from the manhole before they chat would have ended the pursuit right there, as there's about a three percent chance Bill Hicks would decide that THAT, of all ways, was the direction they should follow.


Alas, the three guys argue directly beneath the manhole, leading to one MORE moment the film could have ended immediately with just one tiny decision. Bill Hicks announces his presence with a sarcastic "Hello, ladies!" down the manhole before he opens fire on them, giving them plenty of time to take one step to any side and be completely clear of the gunfire. Had Bill Hicks just opened fire down the hole without pausing for cute catchphrasing first, he wins. Movie over. Witnesses dead in a pile, already out of sight and not needing to be disposed of.

As it is, the heroes escape into the sewer system with Bill Hicks' men clambering down after them. And from what we've seen of the city, it must be said that this sewer system is remarkably clean and tidy. Suspiciously so. Almost a water park, really.

Someone needs to go tell those nice lesbians and their little girl to come live down here instead.
Our heroes end up in a bizarrely huge room that may have been designed as a subway terminal or the lair of a Bond villain. There's a ladder leading up to another manhole, which Estevez starts to take before being stopped by Gooding, who's gone all crazy-eyes in the six minutes since Jeremy Piven died, and who wants to make a stand in this insane Batcave-to-be. They've got a gun and a relatively fortified position, and would definitely have the element of surprise on their side if they suddenly went on the offensive. Dorff has never heard a plan involving fighting that he didn't immediately love, so he's on board. Estevez is wary but acquiesces, and in that moment something happens that I will always question no matter how many times I see this film.

At exactly the 1:10:30 mark on the DVD, Gooding picks up a length of pipe and tosses it to Dorff. It passes within about two inches of Estevez' head en route to Dorff's hand, and Estevez flinches backward in what looks like genuine surprise.  What I want to know, with my fingers crossed, is whether there is ANY chance that this was Take 35 of the scene, with the mood on set strained at best, and the director pleading, "Just try not to hit Emilio with it this time, okay? He's on the verge of hiding out in his trailer and refusing to come out if you hit him again. He thinks his looks are going to land him acting jobs for some reason. Just... be careful, okay?"

"He's almost certainly gonna have to grow a creepy Amber Alert mustache to cover the bruising, at this point."

There are three exits to this subterranean wonderland, so each of our heroes takes a post near one, brandishing a weapon in the knee-deep water and waiting to attack whoever enters. Dorff, for reasons known only to him, loudly gets Gooding's attention solely to tell him "I've got your back," which is such heavy-handed foreshadowing that he may as well have yelled "PSYCHE!" afterward.

Sure enough, Redfoot arrives through Dorff's entryway and instantly spots Gooding with his back turned. Pulling his gun, Redfoot wades silently through the water toward Gooding as Dorff sees the whole thing unfold but freezes up, doing nothing about it.

Just as Redfoot is about to cock his gun at the back of Gooding's head, Estevez saves the day by somehow slamming Redfoot into the wall without making any sound on his approach, and they wrestle his gun away and gather around him. Redfoot is cocky, remarking that Gooding has never shot anyone before (despite that it seems like an Urban thing to have done at some point), but Gooding has heard enough, and shoots Redfoot in the chest at point blank range.

"In cold blood!," Estevez would later breathlessly tell everyone.
There's absolutely no way all three aren't now deaf from firing a gun in this giant amphitheater, but somehow everyone hears Estevez say they should get out of here, as he begins to climb the ladder to street level.

But evidently this particular gun is like Smeagol's ring, as it turns everyone crazy who touches it. Granted, that assumes Jeremy Piven wasn't already a prick before coming into contact with it, but just look at how quickly it's turned Cuba Gooding into a crazed bloodlusting murder machine. He now wants to stay down here and "finish them off," which sounds utterly insane to Estevez. He tells Gooding to go it alone, and he and Dorff climb up to the street to continue searching for some sign of civilization. Gooding snaps out of it a bit and follows them.

Some time later, Bill Hicks comes across the body of Redfoot, and things begin to unravel. Lead Singer of Creed has been questioning this mission off-and-on all night, but now the crew has suffered collateral damage for it, and he's seen enough, and starts loudly mouthing off about how fruitless and ridiculous this whole enterprise has become. Bill Hicks, evidently on a mission to have a statue and a state park named after him as an American hero, proceeds to live the dream AGAIN by elbowing Lead Singer of Creed in the nose, then drowning him in the knee-deep sewer water. It was truly a glorious vicarious thrill for us all; indeed, I heard inspirational music in my head as I watched him drown.

"With Lungs Wide Ooo-pan..."
On the streets, our heroes have hunkered down in a burned out building (which admittedly doesn't narrow it down, as that describes nearly every building in this city) some distance away. I couldn't help but wonder why they can't just sit it out here. They haven't exactly left a trail out of the sewers. They clearly have a pretty significant lead on Bill Hicks at this point, and there are any number of derelict buildings which could serve as hiding places until at least daybreak.

At one point Gooding even says, "Nobody out on the street."  Granted, with the deaths of Piven, Redfoot, Jerome Bettis, Bloodied Guy, and Lead Singer of Creed, the population of this desolate wasteland has just been reduced by something like twenty percent, but it's still worth mentioning that no one is around to see the swath you're cutting or where you're holing up.

They're flushed from their hiding place by a metro bus, which stops at a nearby bus stop for what appears to be about .06 seconds before taking off again and refusing to stop even as the guys sprint alongside, pounding on the windows.

"Do you think I can't see that there's an Urban in your group? No way!"
Despondent, the guys continue trekking through the wasteland, coming across possibly the least likely sight one could imagine in the context of the city we've been shown: a store, closed for the night, with large plate-glass display windows with no bars over them, astonishingly intact. At this point I began to realize that the people who made this film have never actually been to a city. Any city. Vancouver, at the most.

Though we can't rule out Mayberry.
They promptly smash that window, setting off a blaring alarm. Elated that this might finally summon some police officers, the guys hop through the broken window and walk the aisles, laughing and yelling, doing everything they can to draw attention.

Which they will regret in short order.
They're confronted by two security guards, and are positively giddy as they're ordered to stand with their hands on an empty cooler to be frisked.  Gooding realizes he has made no mention of the gun in his waistband, and tries to warn the guard a moment too late. Claiming the gun, the guard tells his buddy to call in some backup and turn off the alarm.  Said buddy jogs to a back office, turns off the alarm, picks up the phone, and is silently knifed to death by Bill Hicks.

Seconds later, back in the store proper, Gooding glances over his shoulder and sees Everlast aiming his gun; Gooding shouts a warning and dives for cover, barely missing being shot as bullets shatter the glass of the empty display case. The security guard isn't so lucky, taking multiple bullets and dropping like a bag of sand.

Gooding fishes the guard's gun out of his hand and shoos his buddies to a hiding place while he once again makes a stand, but we know it's okay this time since he looks calm and doesn't have crazy eyes as he says it now.

He and Everlast hunt each other in the aisles briefly, before having a Bad-Ass-Off of facing each other and exchanging essentially point blank gunfire, rendering the showdown... sort of a tie...? Although Gooding survives, so I guess he wins by default.

Whitey Ford Sings The Blues, Bleeds Out -album in stores soon!
So, his coterie reduced to no one, Bill Hicks decides to show off his marksmanship by somehow managing to shoot Dorff in the leg when Dorff comes to help Gooding, which, when you think about it, is possibly the greatest shot ever considering the size of the target. Abraham Zapruder might well have been the director of photography on this film.

You try hitting this guy in the leg while he's scurrying away from you.
Estevez sees his buddies into a fitting room so they can hide and bleed together, assuring them that everything's going to be okay and that they shouldn't come out for any reason until he comes back. Now Gooding has the crazy eyes again, either from the gunshot wound or the realization that he will one day star in Snow Dogs. But he and Dorff hunker down and try to exsanguinate in silence as Estevez emerges back into the store for the Final Fight.

And it appears the Final Fight takes place among All The World's Glass.

Which is also the name of that store in the mall your aunt loves.
This scene was clearly used later as a foley artist's sizzle reel when applying for a future gig. Over the course of maybe four minutes of furious hand-to-hand combat, Estevez and Bill Hicks manage to loudly shatter roughly 43000 glass display cases, vases, chandeliers, lampshades and windows, and collapse a stack of obviously empty Old Style beer cases when Estevez is thrown into them at one point, because the only way to combat looting when you own a store with no protection on its front window is to hide the actual items in a back room under lock and key, while just putting the boxes out for display.

Dude, put the gun down. It's obviously not made of glass. Disqualified.
There's a lot of trash talk here, mostly from Bill Hicks. He's openly disgusted that this is his supposedly formidable opponent he's been tailing all night, and takes it out on Estevez by kicking him repeatedly so he can't get up, shoving his head through the store's one remaining intact glass display case, and reminding Estevez that his home address is on the identification Bill Hicks has been carrying around all night, to enable a nice visit to Estevez' family once this fight is over.

"You're not even in your own IMDB picture, loser!"*
 (*Serious Aside I May Have To Omit if This Changes Later: I'm not kidding on this one. Check out his IMDB page and marvel that only his shoulder was deemed worthy of appearing in the thumbnail. It's like he knows I'm laughing at him, and just can't bring himself to look me in the eyes while I do it)

This trash talk is enough to motivate Estevez to get up and pummel Bill Hicks to the edge of the second-floor balcony of the store, where the guardrail buckles like it was built out of ladders by a bunch of kids, and Bill Hicks is left tantalizingly dangling over the edge, gesturing and asking for help.  For some fucking reason Estevez immediately reaches out and grabs his hand to render aid, because evidently Bill Hicks' threat to rape his wife and baby daughter ten seconds ago wasn't enough to convince Estevez of the guy's strength of character.

They struggle on the edge, Estevez spouts some lame attempted "cool" one-liner I'm not bothering to repeat here, and Bill Hicks falls to his death.

Okay, okay. It was "People in glass houses shouldn't throw blows."
Estevez makes his way down to check that Bill Hicks is definitely dead, then makes his way to the office to alert the police.

Or maybe it was "Attention shoppers: this murderous scumbag is falling faster than our already low prices in the produce department!"
In their hiding place, Dorff and Gooding start yelling for Estevez despite his pretty clear instructions to sit tight until he was done engaging in mortal combat and off-the-cuff catchphrasing.

No, it was definitely "We regulate any killing on this property, and we're daaaamned so-so. Then something about geeks on the street. I was in Young Guns."
A cop rushes in and draws his gun on Estevez, who attempts to explain what's happened in the store and the city at large this evening. Mind you, the room consists of Estevez and this cop, so it's somewhat of a mystery how a second cop bursts in, having heard nothing of the conversation up to that point, and says, "Guy's telling the truth. It's like a battleground out here."  Estevez could have said literally anything he could think of, and it would have been corroborated by this second cop.

"...okay, then. He taped Larry Lester's buns together. It's in the report. Got it."
Moments later the store is filled with police and EMTs, and Dorff and Gooding are being wheeled out of the store on gurneys. Estevez trots alongside as they joke around about having "tickets to the Bears game next week," which means we finally, in the film's closing minute, have nailed down the setting of the film as Chicago rather than the grimy New York we've felt safe in assuming this whole time.

And they all have a good carefree laugh about the night they've just endured as good friends do when they've lost absolutely nothing of value, only Jeremy Piven.

Eat my entire asshole, you fuck.
Finally, a cop gets Estevez' attention to hand him his wallet back, as that was clearly a loose end which desperately needed closing lest we assume his home would soon be under siege by some sort of Ghost Bill Hicks.

Just learned his next role after Snow Dogs.
Someone mentions to Estevez that his wife is waiting outside, somehow not being murdered despite having been in the city for assumedly several minutes, and the film ends as he rushes out of the store to see her, unaware that she's accompanied by a very angry car lot salesman who just found the asshole who's going to pay for his destroyed RV.


"Yeah, right over there, walking that dog. Wanna smell my fingers?"
~10 January 2013