I grew up in an era exemplified by gender confusion, fear, and paranoia - monsters that played out on television every night, but were more like multiple personalities every messed-up human being shared. As a child, I went sleepless well into the night, burdened by my impending doom. Missiles, in far off Russia, were pointed at me and my family, and could arrive in forty-five minutes. Violence was spreading out from the cities and the political climate suggested that within ten years Americans would be living under martial law, with tanks thundering up and down our streets and booted soldiers stomping our sidewalks and playgrounds into powder and twisted aluminum poles. It was apparent to us all that a truly kick-ass Robocop/Terminator future was coming, and we had no choice but to arm ourselves and be prepared for the forthcoming race, class, and world wars. Hopefully, in that order, because World War 3 would knock out HBO.
Some of these nights, I wondered why we even bothered resisting these things. Maybe surrendering to it would be easier than living in terror. But one thing frightened me worse than anything else. They were the subject of many shocked awakenings in the night or a panicked hollering for my grandmother in the a.m. They were in movies, on television, on the radio, absolutely everywhere, hiding in plain sight. Some you could keep an eye on, because they were famous, in videos on MTV, touring in front of millions of fans. These ones were dangerous because they drew in the youth, corrupted them, prescribed them a means, through music, of attaining dark powers.
These were not the really dangerous individuals, however, these were not the ones that truly frightened us. The ones that worried us the most were invisible, in hiding. They could be anyone - your neighbors, teachers, even your own parents, and if you were a responsible person, you never trusted anyone completely. Not ANYBODY. So subversive were these people, so cunning, so degenerate, that they could enlist you into the ranks of their evil legion without you even knowing it. Who were these demons? These defilers of innocence? Murderers of all that is good and American? I think you know who I mean.
The truth has very little ability to move us, because it's usually the opposite of what we wish to believe(Do you believe in complex international political conspiracies? UFO's? Angels? Shadow People? Ha! Yes, I’m laughing at you). To this day, although murders have been committed by people who happen to be self-described Satanists, there has never been even one recorded incident of ritualistic murder in the U.S. However, this being America, and America being filled with Americans, no one expounded this annoying, niggling message. It was not the message that stirred the public, it was the anemic, unimpressive, runty little brother of THE TRUTH, called 'the truth'.
'The truth' aside, when I was a kid, every murder that occurred was possibly, even probably, associated with this nefarious Church of Satan. Every child that ran away from his\her boring, indifferent parents, and disappeared into the wilderness of urban back streets and blurry milk carton renderings, was simply the latest in an endless line of thousands of innocent victims abducted from their devoted family and sacrificed in the name of the dark one.
During these metaphorical 'burning times', the 1980's, the Church of Satan received the bulk of the public's wrath regarding these spurious murders and vanishings of teens and babies. What was 'the truth'? Meeting a worshipper of Satan, a real worshipper, not a Goth(a teen who dresses in a mongrelized fashion of vampyric-myth-fantasy attire and tamed homosexual bondage leather outfits) is about as interesting as meeting a Walmart greeter. In fact, members of the Church of Satan don't even believe in satan! They don't think that evil fucker even exists! They are atheists for godssake!
But hey, that was 'the truth', the one thing lovers of THE TRUTH hate more than Satanists, and those snooty French. THE TRUTH stated that god was great, and god needed an antagonist worthy of himself if he was anything people should bother worshipping. The greater satan's presence in our lives, the greater god's. It was actually kind of nice to be hearing from satan, god has been a little quiet these last couple of millennia, only having recently become vocal again through his mouthpiece, and official representative on Earth, Ronald Reagan.
It was at this time in history, amidst this scare, when, as a child still in the single digits of years, I first watched NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE. An unfortunate thing, really. Why? Keep reading, asshole.
It's an experience that will be hard to forget. Following the comedy DRAGNET, one of my favorite movies at that age, there came on HBO a movie that opened with a scene vaguely familiar to one in the previous. In DRAGNET, the film's heroic cops, played by Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, deal with a pagan cult that sacrifices young women. This movie had an ameliorating effect on my acute case of 80's paranoia.
I saw those hated satanists(there was no difference between satanists, wiccans, and pagans in the 80's)defeated by a stalwart police force - the entire enterprise brought down, its followers shot dead, its leadership tossed in prison. It calmed my fragile, young heart to see that the forces of darkness could be beaten back, making the world that much safer for me, and anyone else who mattered as much as I did.
But as this movie's ritual continued, I noticed the differences. There was nothing comical or cute about these satanists(not to mention that they weren’t satanists, to begin with). There were no goat-legged pants, or gigantic digital sign flashing P.A.G.A.N. - People Against Goodness And Normalcy, a beacon that marked their deviance, their exception from us, the good, as obvious as day compares to night. These people in NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE were dirty, grimy and twisted. Their leader, played by Gene Simmons(whom I'd never heard of), was a disgusting hermaphrodite(which had nothing to do with him being disgusting, Gene Simmons is just disgusting)who wanted to commit large scale murder, killing thousands, and hold Los Angeles for ransom.
He didn't order his minions to do light-hearted things like shave a lion's head, like the one in DRAGNET. Nor did he wear a funny horned mask while shouting out lines of a poorly rhymed prayer. No, no, this...this atrocity, this horrifying scene - taken right from a stage at the center of hell – I thought that this must be what it's REALLY like. This was devil worship, as it really was. Humanity at its most foul. This was the world that I lived in, not the slapstick, good-guys-always-win world that I wished it could be.
So how did I handle this new realization? This cold, harsh vision of what I thought was reality? I wept. I laid my face in the palms of my hands and cried for the state of this world; for the horrible, lonesome sufferings of the poor children taken, and murdered, in these sacrificial rites. For these martyrs, there would be no brave, expedient heroes, like Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, to rush in and save them at the last moment. In this awful world of ours, the evil were rampant, wild and strong, while the good were weak and vulnerable. How could I leave the house and go soaring down the streets on my BMX in a world like this? The neighborhood was little more than a huge trap.
I might never return home to my mother and grandparents, to my aluminum-sided house with the huge backyard, to my brother and sister, my cats Darby and Gil. Next time, I would most likely be drugged and swept into the back of a white van, never to be seen again, and I would wake to find myself in this living nightmare I was witnessing on HBO. I could see, to my utter devastation, my little Greek grandmother crying, just like I was doing now, agonizing over the fate of her grandson, lost forever to the horde of the damned angel.
Okay, so, my first impression of NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE was not terribly positive. But this hardly matters now, more than a quarter century later. I'm well past the horrors of my childhood, and well into the more blasé boogiemen that plague me now as an 'adult'. My new problems are much smaller in scope than the old. Now it's finding money, free time, and having to deal with waiting a year or so for the next Game of Thrones book. Concerns about the end of the world are behind me, now. I'm ready for it.
Although I don't find the ritual frightening or unsettling, anymore, it is hard to deny what does stand out the most – the natural odiousness of one Gene Simmons, a man more animal than human. A man known for leveraging his fame to achieve sexual congress with thousands of the world’s less discerning women. Being envious of a man for banging 5000 women is like a midget envying a pituitary giant who can't walk without a cane and wears a back brace to keep his spine from collapsing. Why Mother Nature allows Gene to continue walking this earth, being the vector of so many unclassified diseases, is a question only Jesus can answer.
I can feel through the screen as I watch this film, the squirming of a permanent encampment of pubic lice buried at least an inch under his skin. An infested metropolis of vermin that, having generations of freedom within Simmons' crotch to reproduce, have gone on to build an advanced society for themselves. It's a name that's always on the lips of parasitic youths across Simmons' repugnant body.
This city has become a symbol of hope to parasites Simmons-wide who, one day, dream of heading South to the big city. It's an inspiration to future lice leaders to daydream of as they nod off during Lice Social Studies in Lice Middle School. These lice children are the future of their kind, and will not be restrained by the limits of their modest upbringing in lice small towns in Simmons' scalp or equally hairy damp inner thighs. Ugh. He is just awful. Awful.
What really disheartened me about this film was the lame hero. At that time, I'd seen John Stamos on tv starring on several dead-on-arrival sitcoms that were canceled before the next edition of tv guide came out. The problem with people, like Stamos, is that they are too busy fucking, partying, and being adored to ever really get good at what they do. The main reason so many of the greatest artists, writers, and thinkers were mentally ill is because they had lots of time on their hands to refine themselves. No one wanted to be around them, much less get naked with them. People like Stamos get booted to the front of the line ahead of the masses of fugly people who'd struggled to get there, and worked very hard honing their craft.
When Johnny Depp appeared in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, people wondered who is that guy? He can't act. What's he doing in a movie? The fact was he LITERALLY couldn't act. He'd never done it before. One of his first acting experiences was auditioning for that movie, and being one of the best looking guys ever, pretty much, made him a lock for the part. Luckily, Johnny improved over time, and made prudent choices in roles(prior to 2003).
This is not the case with Stamos, however, who plays Lance Stargrove, action superhero, and world saver, in NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE. The whole while his Full House: Season One action-mullet is riding high, blazing a trail through the prairie that would have John Ford rubbing his nipples.
I dated a girl, once, who was one these types. She was supernaturally sexy. Her smooth, toned 110 lb. frame, and creamy alabaster skin, drove me absolutely nuts. She was 20 years old and I was, well…older =). I learned, soon enough, that use of her body, and her advanced coital abilities, would be her sole contribution to our relationship(and it was plenty, believe me. No complaints over here). It was, seriously, all she knew how to do. Being X years older than she was, I assumed I would have the upper hand in this milieu, but come our first intimate embraces(within the first week of knowing each other), I found myself struggling to even make sense of what she was doing. She was gifted, an acrobat, an olympic fucker. Seriously. The Olympics. No Goodwill Games for this girl. She was, all of a sudden, confident, competent, unlike herself in any capacity outside the bedroom(and some dressing rooms and bathroom stalls, and twice in a phone booth, but that was the same day, before and after lunch).
The point is, whatever Stamos is good for, it's not world savering. In fact, it's not even pretending to be a world saverer.
Stamos plays Lance Stargrove, son of Drew Stargrove(played by George Lazenby). Lance is your typical, resentful son of a neglectful father. A father who is off, to his son's ignorance, fighting supervillians as a secret government operative with an arsenal of gadgets(a bullet-proof umbrella! Lame! How about a bullet-proof purse? You'd look just as stupid girling that up under one arm while you're shooting a gay little English pistol with the other).
Anyway, Drew is killed fighting Velvet Van Ragnar, a disgusting transgender(played by an animal named Gene Simmons), who’s trying to retrieve what he calls the RAM-K. It's a computer disk he needs to destroy L.A., then hold it for ransom. RAM, I assume, stands for Random Access Memory, and K for kilo, for kilobyte or kilodyke. Now, I’m not a computer whiz, but since when is information transferred by RAM cards? That is what it is, right? Why else call it RAM? I don't know. Why refer to the proto-simian Gene Simmons as a human being? It's just easier not to care.
After the opening scene, we get to watch Lance practice on the trampoline for an upcoming competition at his college. For those of you who are into actual sports, and have never heard of this, 'men' really do compete on the trampoline. And it takes more than an afternoon of practice, allegedly. You don't have to watch too closely to spot the sloppy interpolations of Stamos' stunt double. Later on, when Lance is inexplicably jump kicking bad guys, it's this training that's supposed to have turned him into the Gymkata killing machine that world savers the world.
You also get to the hear the Stargrove theme song, which is a treat on many levels. I've transcribed the lyrics of the first verse and chorus for your benefit.
Are you feelin' like breakin' out?
Lookin' for danger?
Then you must
Put your trust
Not in a stranger.
Playin' your own game.
Do it your own way.
Keepin' your own sound
That you found
Going down Playin' like you play.
Who knows what you'll find
You may like it or not.
But all that you find, boy
is all that you got.
(flyin' like you'll never fall)
(run into a danger zone)
(are you gonna stand alone?)
You'll notice the use of literary assonance in the rhyming scheme. Pairing the vowel sounds of 'fall' and 'zone' is, particularly, bold. However, I can't figure out what the song is about. On the surface, it seems to be about Stargrove, but upon closer examination of the lyrics, one discovers a meandering, tangential, theme. Look at part of the first verse:
Are you feelin' like breakin' out?
Lookin' for danger?
Then you must
Put your trust
Not in a stranger.
Okay, so...apparently, Stargrove and danger go hand in hand. So, if you feel like putting yourself in some mortal peril, trampoline style, Stargrove is the guy to find. You find him, you find adventure. Hopefully, you find him before he leaves on said adventure, because then you end up trailing behind him, having to brave the poison clouds of Aqua Net and knocked up ingénues he leaves in his wake.
His danger is way better than normal danger, because you can trust Stargrove, thereby, trust his danger. It says to ‘put your trust, not in a stranger’. Why can you trust Stargrove? Well, according to this song, it’s because he's not a stranger, you already know him. So this song's advice, really, only pertains to Stargrove's friends, family, and possibly the girls who are waiting by the phone for him to call(who, incidentally, don't read much). So he's pretty much leaving the rest of us out in the cold. But hold on now, let's not jump to conclusions, let's check out the rest of it.
Playin' your own game.
Do it your own way.
Keepin' your own sound
That you found
Playin' like you play.
Hmm. Now, I guess, we've parted ways with Stargrove on our adventure and are doing it our own way. Is this the inevitable second act parting of ways? Of course, the lyrics also imply that we've got a band and we refuse to compromise our hip new sound and give in to this strange New Wave music the kids love. Maybe Stargrove, rather than irresponsibly taking us out on a mission with him, has decided to represent our group. Maybe he knows people in the music industry. I mean, a guy who's such an ace on the trampoline must at least know Greg Louganis. What riddles might the pre-chorus present us?
Who knows what you'll find
You may like it or not.
But all that you find, boy,
is all that you got.
Now, let me think for a minute. Obviously, the song knows that I'm a boy, it says so, it even addresses me as 'boy'. Perhaps the song knows me through Stargrove? But if I'm already acquainted with Stargrove, then this song is telling me things I must already know. You can't know Stargrove and not know that he's a stone cold killer, a secret operative, and trampoline danger personified. If you hang around with him for any amount of time, there's bound to be a sniper in a helicopter coming along, or a loudly ticking bomb delivered to him as a present from his grandmother. HEY, WAIT A MINUTE, STARGROVE, DIDN'T YOUR GRANDMOTHER DIE THREE YEARS AGO? RUN! RUN! STARGROVE! STOP! DON'T TRY TO STICK THE BOMB IN THE BACK OF THE BAD GUY'S GETAWAY TRUCK BY GETTING TO THE OVERPASS AND DROPPING IT IN THE TRUCK'S BED AS IT GOES BY! STOP RISKING YOURSELF FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS, STARGROVE! GOD BLESS YOU! JUST LIKE HE BLESSED US BY GIVING US YOU!
Fuck the rest of the song. I just don't feel like we're learning anything. Do you? Lance has a smart Asian roommate named Cliff, who happens to invent things that would be useful to a person doing battle with a hermaphrodite supervillain 45 minutes in the future. Lance doesn't yet know how dang fortuitous this is, because his dad’s about to be made deader than Elvis by the gut-churning Velvet Van Ragnar. Cliff also helps him cheat on tests, transmitting answers to Lance’s wristwatch using a device that looks like something a muslim would strap to his back minutes before collecting his virgins. Texting must have seemed really boss in 1986. We didn’t know shit like this existed. Back then, if you’d told someone you had G.P.S., they’d think you caught a skin disease from eating raw cow scrotum.
Meanwhile, in an underground catacomb, Lance’s father, Secret Agent Drew, unsuccessfully, fights for his life against the repulsive Gene Simmons playing arch villain Velvet Van Ragnar. Frankly, Gene Simmons is no more abhorrent as a hermaphrodite psychopath than he is in real life.
When Lance learns that the reason his father, once again, didn't show up for one of his trampoline pajama parties is because he was killed, he gets in a slightly sullen mood, and stays sullen all the way through the funeral. But you can’t mourn a dead dad forever, you have to move on, by late afternoon on the same day. At the funeral he takes notice of a mysterious beautiful woman(Vanity, of The Last Dragon fame) who is clearly more upset than he is. In the limo ride after, Stargrove is told he has been bequeathed a farm that he never knew about. He takes the news in his usual manner, by being a dick to his dad’s estate lawyer and ditching the limo to go hang with The Beach Boys.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, Vanity(I’ve forgotten her character’s dumb name), unbeknownst to Lance, apparently lives an idyllic life on his property. Riding horseback, starting drum circles around campfires, gathering cedar bark for homemade amulet pouches, etc. We catch her just after a ride through the meadow, stripping off the horse’s saddle(much like the one Prince used to put on her)when an enemy agent, who looks like a giant, body building version of the lead singer of Debarge, traps her in the compound’s stable.
Okay, a bunch of stupid shit happens. She accesses the stable’s secret arsenal by depressing some elevator button that’s embedded in the wood and emerges with an AK-47 and, instead of shooting the bad guy, she tells him to freeze and hit the deck. What you do with a captured henchman after you tell him to freeze and hit the deck is something I’ve always wondered. Okay, so you’ve got this dude on the ground, maybe you’ve got one boot on his neck, maybe you don’t, either way, what do you do next? Do you just stand there until one of you gets hungry?
Anyway, another goon drops fifty feet from the stable’s skylight and cackles at her, flipping open his butterfly knife. The diversion gives the dude on the ground a chance to take her gun, he then demands she hand over the RAM-K. She doesn’t know what the fuck he is talking about, perhaps she’s just as confounded by his use of RAM as we are. Lance drives up on his Suzuki and interrupts them. The arrival of another actor doesn’t really bring anything meaningful to the scene, however. Stamos doesn’t exactly represent the intellectual side of our shared Greek heritage. The only tests he’s ever taken in real life had two possible answers – positive or negative.
After the stable blows up(it just does, don’t bother wondering how)Vanity receives a tip from HQ that the skin-blistering Gene Simmons/Ragnar is performing some kind of cabaret act in a city club. Why they didn’t send in a bunch of marines, rather than model-turned-actress Vanity, seems to reside in the realm of hindsight. He is a terrorist, right? George W. Bush would’ve invaded six Middle Eastern countries an hour after hearing this. Stamos follows Vanity and makes an attempt to bug Ragnar’s dressing room with a radio transmitter bigger than an aircraft carrier.
Apparently, Velvet found the only smoky biker bar on earth that not only tolerates homosexuality, but celebrates it. For our trouble, we are treated to a rendition of an unspeakably bad song about hermaphroditism sung by Gene Simmons. I feel nauseous just thinking about this scene. Simmons in female bondage attire, directing the viewer’s attention toward his crotch. I can’t repress the memory fast enough.
Next comes the big car chase in which Vanity, in a sweet blue Trans-am(or Corvette, I don’t know cars), is pursued by bikers. As chase scenes go, this is…well, it’s as awful as anything else you ever seen. Vanity firing a .44 caliber with one hand, over her shoulder…I’m sorry, but girls can’t do that. Neither can Stamos for that matter. None of the masculine tasks that fighting bad guys calls for can be facilitated by either of these two. Meanwhile, Lance is following her on his motorcycle. Blah blah blah. She’s captured.
Anyway, Stamos is ambushed at the farm and tortured by two cackling goons. They hit him and force him to eat a baby tomato, which brings out his inner gymkata. Stamos, suddenly, realizes that his goofy trampoline antics are translatable to martial arts, and he finds himself kicking ass, almost against his will. While it’s true that people in danger have been known to perform superhuman feats, like lifting gallons of milk one-handed, spontaneous fighting proficiency only happens to Asians.
In the very next scene, Lance discovers his father’s secret spy room, where he kept his machine guns, telescoping spy pens and his wall of trophies. Now, a wall of trophies does smack of narcissism, but the tasteful track-lighting he had installed to illuminate it shows us a sensitive, Bob Vila side that we never would have guessed was there. Now we wish Secret Agent Drew was still alive, because we still have his son’s hair to deal with.
Lance’s genius roommate shows up at the farm and the two of them head off to rescue Vanity. Cliff is armed with a new invention of his that shoots fireballs. The thing barely works, so why this is better than a grenade launcher or bazooka from Lance’s dad’s arsenal is not immediately obvious to me. Anyway, Vanity is being tortured, tied down to a cement slab in some heating room that doesn’t serve any kind of practical purpose in a casting plant. It spits out flames, looking more like something you’d find in Bowser’s castle than an industrial compound. So Lance and Cliff barge in, using all the advanced warfare tactics they learned playing Ikari Warriors at Chuck E. Cheese’s. BIFF. BOOM. BAM. Thankfully it doesn’t go on too long.
Next, we are treated to a sex scene between our two stars. It comes off kind of lesbian, because Vanity clearly has more body mass than skinny Stamos who, all throughout the seduction scene, which goes on FOREVER, is sporting some pre-MC Hammer poofy, genie pants. It’s not a terrible scene, you get to see some boobs, and it shows why Vanity was one of the 80’s most popular Hollywood prostitutes.
Following the sex scene, we are treated to an unexpected plot twist, that one of the secret government military intelligence commanders, who looks exactly like Gene Simmons, is actually Ragnar in disguise, and he, surprise surprise, captures our heroes AGAIN. Now he possesses the dubious RAM K. Ragnar taunts our heroes and kisses Vanity using his famous, Pneumonic Plague-carrying tongue. Stamos challenges Ragnar’s main henchman to a fight and he kills the guy with a machine gun he somehow gets a hold of. Forget that he's surrounded by dozens of Ragnar's goons, and that Stamos’ arms look like they’d snap off if he ever tried to work an assault rifle.
What follows is another half-assed chase scene which culminates in Lance crashing his motorcycle, ending up dangling off the edge of a dam. After which, Ragnar and Lance, eschewing all practical, deadly weapons at their disposal, engage in a hand-to-hand fight on the top of the dam. We enjoy this classic dialogue:
Lance, can’t you see the greatness in me? I’m female
AND male. Man AND woman. I’m better than you are!
Lance ponders the logic of this statement for a second, and replies:
Yeah, but don’t you understand something? You’re
only Half of each. I’m a WHOLE man. So, if you’ll
excuse me, I don’t have a lot of time, I’ve got to save
Okay, I like this scene. It was obviously written by John Milius, whose every movie is about how much men are better than women. For the ladies reading this, it might make you feel better to know that Milius had a stroke and is now more gimped out than Rain Man. After a short struggle, and an unspeakable flash of Ragnar’s hermaphroditic man yambos, Lance, inevitably, ends up dangling off the edge of the dam AGAIN and, blah blah blah, turns the tables on Ragnar, who drops to his death. Then Lance, unable to deprogram the RAM K(he can’t program a computer because he’s John Stamos. A drummer, for godsake. Lower your expectations, further, if you can), blows it up using Cliff’s fireball gun, which is overloaded and ready to explode. Strangely enough, though he throws both of them off the dam in parallel trajectories, they somehow end up colliding with each other from opposing directions and exploding.
Then it’s over. You get the scene of the hero, after turning down an offer of a top-level position in the Secret Bureau of Bullshit, as head of the gymnastics division, riding off into the sunset with his new squeeze. They are going somewhere to fuck. After all, it’s what pretty people do best.
This is the longest review I’ve ever written. Hell, it might the longest review EVER written. This only goes to show what a wealth of stupidity this movie is. It does, however, like Ragnar, contain a hint of greatness. The same kind of greatness exemplified by human conflict, itself. I’m thinking of, specifically, the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada. It’s short, lots of shit blows up, and it violates international law for the benefit of a handful of people. Mainly, Stamos, because he now had, technically, starred in a movie, and was, therefore, a movie star; and Vanity, who got a week away from her pimp.
So, in the end, what have I learned from my long association with this movie? I think my greatest lesson was that it’s better being a scared child than a jaded adult. The difference between my dramatic response to this film in 1986, and my bored take on it now, is the lack of passion I no longer feel after having experienced an illimitable amount of Never Too Young To Dies and far too few Raiders of the Lost Arks.
Stay gold, Pony Boy. Stay gold.