May 17, 2017

Schlock Standout Mind Trap Screens at Ciné

Double Feature

As Ciné celebrates 10 years of showcasing the best in cinema, its Bad Movie Night series marks seven years of the very worst that cinema has to offer. On May 23, a free screening of the 1989 film Mind Trap—a perfect piece of ’80s junk about movie crews, Russian spies and heists to steal fantastic machines—will commemorate BMN’s auspicious anniversary. Writer-director Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang tells another quirky tale of crime in the Los Angeles movie industry with sharp writing and engaging performances that offer a more refined (but just as entertaining) post-schlock palate cleanser.

Go Out and Watch:

MIND TRAP (1989) Shana Beddow (Martha Kincare, in her only onscreen role) is an actress starring in cheap thrillers. Her father is the renowned creator of a machine that makes thoughts and memories manifest through holograms. After Shana’s parents and sister are murdered by a coalition of thugs and Russian spies seeking the key to the machine, she embarks on a crusade of vengeance, hunting and killing the villains in increasingly oddball ways. Despite being featured prominently on the VHS cover, Dan Haggerty—Grizzly Adams himself—makes only a few small appearances as Shana’s friend and mentor Sergei.

Mind Trap’s unintentional shoddiness actually improves the quality of the final product. In the film’s first scene, we witness a burglar breaking into an apartment. While attempting to rob a safe full of diamonds, the thief wakes up a woman sleeping near the safe. They tussle, and he is flung from the same sliding window he entered. A sudden shot of a trailer truck reveals that the conflict was actually taking place in the cargo area, and the intruder was cast into the middle of a highway. The haphazard editing of this scene fits tonally with a film about a device that can morph reality. As the characters seek the power to redefine what is real, the audience questions what is really happening.

At the end of this sequence, the viewer’s mind is blown once again when the same images are shown projected on a screen. The sequence is from one of Shana’s films, and the audience is merely joining her and other characters at a screening. The film-within-a-film technique makes Mind Trap’s many flaws, which include stilted acting and characters with identical manners of speaking, more digestible. By using this trick at times of great tension, director Eames Demetrios effectively pulls the rug out from under over-analytical audience members, essentially patting them on the back and saying, “Relax. It’s just a B-movie. Enjoy.”

Stay Home and Watch:

KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005) Shane Black’s script for his 2005 film is his usual deft, fast-paced plot packed with action and humor. This review could easily be a list of quotable lines from the movie, and there would still be ample surprises for the reader when he or she sees it.

Most of these bon mots come from narration delivered by Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a New York City burglar relocated to Los Angeles for screen tests after mistakenly auditioning for a film successfully. In a sly reference to Sunset Boulevard, the film opens poolside with the lead character explaining how he got there—although Harry is beside the pool instead of floating face-down in it. As with all Black scripts, the necessary but boring-on-paper exposition is given life through the playful, humorous voices he gives his characters. Shortly after the intro, Downey gets flustered in his narration and snippily scolds the audience, “I don't see another goddamn narrator, so pipe down.”

Black was lucky to have Downey on board before the actor turned quipping into costly $50 million paydays with Iron Man. (Downey later pulled Black onto that gravy train as writer-director of Iron Man 3.) The importance of actors receives tacit acknowledgement early in the film during Lockhart’s spontaneous audition. Fleeing the cops and shot in the arm, he runs into an audition and accidentally impresses the producers. As he starts with a stiff reading, Black favors shots of the script pages in his hands. However, when Lockhart starts investing his performance with more energy, the camera focuses more on his face. In this scene and throughout the movie, Black’s words are most compelling when processed and delivered by this film’s talented cast, which also includes a rare comedic turn from Val Kilmer as the private investigator Gay Perry.