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Guilty Pleasures: “Black Moon Rising”

April 8, 2012

For decades, two questions in particular have vexed moviegoers: 1) Has Tommy Lee Jones always been that craggy? And 2) Has he always been awesome? With Black Moon Rising, a largely-overlooked 1986 throwaway, we get the answers, and they are a resounding yes and yes. Oh sure, there have been missteps, but not here, that’s for damn sure. With Black Moon Rising we get TLJ doing what he does best—being laconic and getting into fights. But we also get car chases, a goofy heist plot, and Robert Vaughn being sinister. This movie is more dumb fun than it has any right to be. When the credits rolled, I replayed it and watched it again.

In Black Moon Rising, TLJ plays Quint, a master thief who’s been freelancing for the Justice Department, as represented by a snarling Bubba Smith (apparently, even in the ‘80s the federal government was run by threatening black men).

Ahhhhhhhh!!!

When we meet Quint he’s breaking into the offices of a shady Las Vegas business called Lucky Star Enterprises (oh, yeah, that sounds legit), where he steals a data tape—literally a cassette tape—with their financial records. Unfortunately, he’s ambushed by Ringer (Lee Ving), a rival thief and his crew who’re also after the data tape and the federal payday that comes with it. The good news for TLJ is that Ringer’s men all fire their MAC-10 submachine guns in that 1980s style where they hold the guns at crotch-level and spray like they’re watering  hydrangeas, so they don’t hit anything.

Quint ends up hiding the data tape (hee hee hee) inside an experimental car called the Black Moon that just happens to be parked in a service station in the middle of the Nevada desert. A bit earlier we saw its developers, three NASA scientists named Earl, Billy, and Tyke (no, don’t try to reconcile those things, it’ll just make your brain hurt) testing the thing. This means Quint has to shadow the car’s developers to LA where they hope to secure the funding to continue trials and make more prototypes. Unfortunately, it’s stolen along with a bunch of other high-end automobiles from a restaurant parking lot by a be-wigged Linda Hamilton.

“All units be on the lookout for a brunette Wayne Gretzky…”

Hamilton plays Nina, a professional car thief who’s on the payroll of an evil corporate tycoon named Ryland (Robert Vaughn), who is…you know I’m not real clear on exactly how his scheme works. He steals cars, then sells them to wealthy overseas buyers to fund his business which appears to be, um, being evil I guess. It’s kind of like a reverse DeLorean scheme, except I don’t think there’s any coke involved. Maybe there is, I dunno.

Okay, well never mind about that. The point is, Ryland is evil and has the Black Moon secreted in his glittering corporate tower. He’s also hitting a bit of a rift with Nina, who he rescued from the streets as a homeless teenager, and is now coming into her own. It doesn’t help his case any that he has a weird video of her as a teen that he keeps watching. That’s gonna make people doubt your worth as a partner in crime, I don’t care how many evil towers you have.

When you buy two evil towers, you get the Uzi-toting security thugs for free.

So, with Ringer closing in on him, and time running out before the feds need the data tape (hee hee hee), Quint joins up with the Earl, Billy, and Tyke to break into Ryland’s evil tower and recover the Black Moon. Now, the mechanics of the break-in aren’t exactly going to rival Heat for accuracy—they pretty much rely on a huge plot contrivance, but—and I may have failed to mention this—the Black Moon can reach speeds up to 300 miles per hour and runs on water. So that’s the movie we’re in. To its credit, the movie does play the whole scenario with a pretty straight face, when it’s not dealing with the supercar. It’s like an idea Elmore Leonard might have if he went on a mescaline bender and then watched a Knight Rider marathon.

Possibly the most hilarious thing about BMR is the offhand way they treat the car. I mean, the damn thing runs on water! The implications of that are staggering. Basically, the world economy as we know it would be at an end and the world’s political landscape would be thrown into total upheaval, but all these people can concentrate on is how fast the stupid car can go, because, you know, the big problem with automobiles is that they don’t go fast enough.

So, what’s so awesome about this movie?

* The Black Moon is hilariously ugly and impractical.

I want to see the station wagon version of it.

* The movie suggests that the American auto corporation were by-and-large uninterested in the Black Moon. It’s interesting that in 1986, Detroit was seen as largely marginalized within the auto industry.

* More 1986 goodness: the only thing bigger than Linda Hamilton’s hair is her cel phone. Both are huge.

This is what hot chicks looked like in the ’80s…before the lesbians appropriated the look.

* This movie redubs the main title from Blue Thunder. It makes a nice it with the rest of Lalo Schriffin’s synth-heavy score, plus you will not get it out of your head for hours.

*I love how when Earl and Co. meet a potential client at a restaurant, they leave the Black Moon in the care of a valet. Sure let’s entrust the world-changing technology to a dweeb in a Members Only jacket. These guys deserved to get it jacked.

* The action sequences are well-directed and even the more ridiculous ones look fairly realistic.

* It’s an interesting look back at the mating rituals of the 1980s: one dude hits on women in a bar by saying, “I think you want me to take you home and fuck your brains out.” Goddamn, the ‘80s were awesome.

* TLJ uses a Heckler & Koch P7, which is totally what I’d be using if I was a thief in 1986.

* I miss the days when bad guys announced their presence by driving late-model American sedans.

* The fight scenes are refreshingly retro without any choreographed martial arts moves.

Anyway, that’s Black Moon Rising. History should have been kinder to it.

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