Slam Dance (1987)

John Doe made his first big screen appearances in the 1981 music documentaries The Decline of Western Civilization and Urgh! A Music War. While he made his big screen debut as an actor in Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986; reviewed this week), he actually made his first foray into acting with Allison Anders’s Border Radio (1987), which began shooting in 1983. After scoring his first mainstream acting gig in Salvador, Doe found himself on another hot ticket, this time with much-ballyhooed Chinese director Wayne Wang.

Ah, the VHS sleeve we remember/courtesy of rtsrarities/eBay via pinterest

Born in British Hong Kong and trained at California College of the Arts, Wang made his debut with the 1972-shot — for $16,000 — and released in 1975 gangster drama A Man, A Woman, and a Killer. The film was poorly reviewed and it wasn’t until his next film, Chan is Missing (1982), that Hollywood stood up and took notice; the film is recognized as the first Asian-American feature film to gain theatrical distribution and acclaim outside of the Asian marketplace place. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert of PBS-TV’s Sneak Previews loved him. Courtesy of Wang’s choice to shoot in black & white to carry through the film’s mystery-noir narrative, he was hailed as the next “John Cassavetes.” Wang’s next feature, another Asian-centric narrative cast with Asian actors, Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, repeated the box office and critical acclaim of Chan is Missing.

And, with that, Hollywood was ready for Wang to take on an American feature film. Island Pictures, a subsidiary of Island Music, fronted Wang the $4.5 million to shoot the Don Opper-penned (Android and City Limits; rewrites on Critters) film noir Slam Dance. The film was a critical and box office bomb that cleared less than a half million in American box office receipts. Wang himself was so displeased with the end product — which he blamed on producer interference — he tried to have his name removed from the film.

And since it was the first “mainstream movie” for both Opper and Wang, it killed off their mainstream hopes in Hollywood. Opper didn’t write another movie until the Hallmark Channel (!?) disaster film Supernova (2005), an Australian-produced feature film that starred Luke Perry, Peter Fonda, and Tia Carrere. While Wang directed three more indie, low-budget films, he returned to mainstream critical good graces with The Joy Luck Club (1993) and Miramax-distributed Smoke (1995).

Tom Hulce, who was never able to consolidate his Oscar tour de force in Amadeus (1984) into a leading-man career of distinction, stars as C.C. Drood. Drood is a married cartoonist involved noirish intrigue after his lover, Yolanda (a very hot Virginia Madsen), who makes her living as a call girl, is found murdered. In addition to having John Gilbert (John Doe), a corrupt cop looking to pin the murder on Drood, Yolanda’s lesbian lover, Bobby, has hired a hit man (Don Opper) to kill Drood. Of course, Gilbert and Bobby, were in on the murder all along. Another wrench in the noir works is new wave star Adam Ant as Drood’s agent. And the musician connections of the film carries through with keyboardist Mitchell Froom, who got his start with the bands Montrose and Gamma led by Ronnie Montrose, composing the film score.

As for the actor that led to us reviewing this film: John Doe followed up his smaller support role in Salvador with class and style; he should have made a much greater leap into feature films after turning in equally stellar (in larger roles) performances in the much-aired cable cult favorites of Road House (1989) and Great Balls of Fire (1989) (reviews for both this week!). Unfortunately, Doe’s next two films, Liquid Dreams and A Matter of Degrees (both 1991) failed at the box office. Doe fared better with his next work — going thes-for-thesp — as professional gambler Tommy “Behind-the-Deuce” O’Rourke in the Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid-starring Wyatt Earp (1994; reviewed this week, look for it).

While it’s available as a rental on Vudu, we found a free-with-ads steam on TubiTV — denied! — it’s been pulled. But you can stream it over on Amazon Prime. Oh, and regardless of the presense of Doe and Ant — and its title — this is not a “punk film.” You’ve been caveated.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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