Run for cover… This is no ordinary day in the sun!
Let’s say goodbye to the 1980s in style.
By Jason Hink
The short-shorts-khakis-clad ladies of Molokai Cargo are together again for one last
dip in the hot tub mission as distributor Mill Creek Entertainment continues its shiny Blu streak with a 4K widescreen restoration of exploitation king (and Emmy winner!) Andy Sidaris’s 1989 jungle adventure, Savage Beach, and I couldn’t be happier.
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Starring Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, John Aprea, Bruce Penhall, Rodrigo Obregón, Michael J. Shane, Al Leong, Eric Chen, Teri Weigel, Lisa London, Patty Duffek, Dann Seki, and Michael Mikasa as “The Warrior” (hehe), writer/director Sidaris, along with producer wife Arlene, craft a slightly different film with Savage Beach, a less goofy, less ridiculous glimmer of seriousness with more traditional movie-kills and action sequences by a second unit led in part by Christian Drew Sidaris, son of the director and producer. Adding to some beautiful cinematography from Malibu Bay Films regular Howard Wexler and brought to life by Mill Creek’s Blu-ray of American Genre Film Archive’s new 4K restoration, you’ve got a tropic adventure you can (almost) show at the family Thanksgiving. Sadly, it would be the final pairing of our favorite undercover (but never covered up) pilots.
Current day, 1989. In a Bondian opening, Hawaiian-based agents Donna and Taryn (former Playboy Playmates Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton) are up to their short-shorts in an undercover drug operation, helping fellow agents Pattycakes and Rocky (Lisa London and Patty Duffek) rid the world of some nefarious drug smugglers apparently played by various crew members and non-actor Sidaris acquaintances. After some violent gun-play and a fiery van explosion, we’re reminded that we’re watching a Bullets, Bombs and Babes film when all four women celebrate with a dip in the Jacuzzi. Finally…some much needed R & R for our ladies of action!
But they won’t get too comfortable—there’s an emergency mission to undertake! Enter young stud Shane (Playgirl model Michael J. Shane), the latest and newest Abilene boy, who calls on Donna and Taryn to take on an important humanitarian mission: They must transport vital medical supplies to a hospital in the middle of nowhere on a (what else?) remote island. After some hilarious innuendo between Shane and Donna, the ladies are on their way, sharing pilot duties and braving stormy weather in their undercover Molokai Cargo plane. The mission is a success! But stormy weather is ahead (literally!), and with their plane damaged on their return trip they’re forced to make an emergency landing on a deserted tropical island, which appears to have some, uhh, savage beaches. And this is where the story really begins…
Back on the mainland, a series of government-intrigue double- and triple-crosses are taking place as an international gang of thugs looks to find a stash of gold the Japanese buried during WWII. Captain Andreas (John Aprea), a member of the US military, and undercover CIA officer Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) are among those searching for the loot. But leaders from other countries aren’t planning to be as nice, especially Filipino ambassador Martinez (Rodrigo Obregón) and his driven, vicious, sexy woman, Anjelica (Teri Weigel), and their gang of henchmen (Al Leong and Eric Chen).
This entire mishmash of parties winds up on the same beach that Donna and Taryn have crash-landed on (of course), plunging them into the middle of the action. But that’s not all; it turns out, an elderly man known simply as “The Warrior” (Michael Mikasa in hilariously bad aging makeup) has been living on the island, and it’s anyone’s guess if he knows that, by 1989, the war is over. With all of these converging coincidences lining up, is anyone surprised that one of our leading ladies just might have a connection to this ancient savage of the beach? Of course not—it’s a Sidaris flick….
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Savage Beach, the fourth entry in the later-monikered Bullets, Bombs and Babes series, plays in contrast to earlier entries Malibu Express, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, and Picasso Trigger…and that can be good or bad, depending on who you ask or what you’re looking for. Malibu Express, as the first in the series, is a bit of an outlier as a spoof of popular television P.I. shows at the time. It was also done without the involvement of Arlene Sidaris, who didn’t start producing the films until Hard Ticket to Hawaii, which is where the series decided to (loosely) follow the exploits of a team of federal agents, fighting crime undercover. It’s also where Malibu Bay team upped the ante with highly inventive stunts and kills, colorful characters and non sequiturs. Picasso Trigger followed Hard Ticket‘s spirit, bringing back many of the same characters in a similar story of crime and undercover triple-cross shenanigans.
But ultimately, a bit of change is a good thing. In Savage Beach, the number of locales are scaled back, with the jungle (the titular “beach”) becoming its own star of the film. The stunts are scaled back as well, though the fight scene choreography improves from previous films; the dialogue, while still ridiculous at times, is much more down-to-earth and generally makes more sense; and most strikingly, the film aims to plot a story with genuinely emotional stakes, asking our characters to do more than simply shoot, fight and undress their way through a series of colorful set pieces. It should also be noted that Savage Beach‘s Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane) takes a backseat to the real stars of the franchise—Speir and Carlton, whose Donna and Taryn are font and center, taking on this story’s dangerous missions themselves without having to save their bumbling male counterparts as in previous films.
Standouts include the ever-reliable Rodrigo Obregón, deliciously evil as Martinez and working overtime to change his appearance from film-to-film so he can continue playing these characters. It’s clear he’s having a blast on these Triple-B films! Bruce Penhall, a professional motorcycle speedway racer, returns in a chunkier role, looking trim and athletic (he’d return for more Sidaris films), and the great Al Leong is on hand doing what Leong does best as a kung fu henchman aligned with Martinez and his hungry-for-power girlfriend, Anjelica. And speaking of actress Teri Weigel, she’s tailor-made for the part of scheming, vicious Anjelica…and she sells it deliciously. From her sexy power-outfits to her over-the-top line readings, I can’t imagine anyone else in the part. Weigel, another former Playboy Playmate, alongside her work in the porn film industry, would nab parts in such films as Predator 2 and Marked for Death, and made multiple appearances on TV’s Married… with Children.
Sadly, Savage Beach marked the third and final pairing of Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton. Both mid-eighties Playmates, the taller, model-faced Speir was nominally top-billed with Carlton’s Taryn Kendall pitched as the cute, kid sister-like sidekick. But Carlton’s performance resonated with fans; her “in-the-moment” acting was the most realistic performance in the three films she did for Sidaris, allowing for some believability in a world where none existed, and a relatable element for young viewers looking for someone to latch on to. I can’t find any reliable information on why her run with the Sidaris films ended here (Speir would soldier on for several more), but Carlton would pop up in other films of the era, including A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and Slumber Party Massacre III, and television shows like Baywatch and Quantum Leap. Her final emotional scenes in Savage Beach show a rare range for B-film actors and actresses, along with a fleeting glimpse at serious drama, a rarity in these types of films. All things considered, it’s a good sendoff for Hope Marie Carlton.
But let’s not get carried away! Savage Beach is still ’80s cheese, and the ’80s were the best decade. I’m biased obviously, having spent my childhood in the decade…but more than once I’ve been argued with in Facialbook groups and internet forums after sharing my opinion that the ’80s were the best (and these are in ’80s-centric groups and forums)! Living in today’s world of political correctness run amok, politics-as-entertainment, and generally dour, negative interactions on social media, the ’80s were truly a decade of fun escapism.
Sidaris managed to give us the first four films of the Bullets, Bombs and Babes series from 1985 to 1989, capturing that era’s escapist trends on film. Was Savage Beach‘s attempts at more serious subject matter a sign of the times? Was there a general feeling that this escapist era was coming to a close…? Did we had to scale down this era of fun and be “more serious”? Was escapism simply “out”? The James Bond film License to Kill also came out in ’89, and with it came a more serious Bond in a more serious story, ditching the previously sillier and escapist Bonds of the ’80s that came before.
Are we better off?
As I write this, the world is in the middle of a global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has killed thousands of (mostly) senior citizens and put millions of people out of work, destroying economies around the world (including the USA’s), and forcing those who can work to do so from home and avoid all society except for emergencies and essentials. And yet, there are still people out there who will tell me that today is a better time than the 1980s.
Thankfully, films like Savage Beach are now archived on Blu-ray to remind me otherwise.