A hybrid of martial arts and 80’s disco, Barry Gordy’s The Last Dragon failed to kick-start a new genre, but is worth catching just for the sheer awfulness of the whole venture. Taimak plays Bruce Leroy, an aspiring martial-arts master who falls for Purple Rain’s Vanity, who stars in her own tv show and is something of a proto-video DJ. Neither of them can act their way out of a paper bag, but a gallery of weird and wonderful supporting roles keep Michael Shultz’s The Last Dragon breathing fire. Julius Carry gives a fabulously eccentric performances as the villainous Sho’Nuff, The Shogun of Harlem, William H Macy and Chazz Palminteri have cameos, and Faith Prince plays a wanna-be pop star who resembles Brenda Blethyn as Cindi Lauper. If that’s not enough there’s horrible comic relief from a group of kids who resemble a Bugsy Malone version of The Warriors, risible special effects as Bruce Leroy discovers ‘the glow’ a magical power that enables him to fight Sho’Nuff and the whole enterprise is topped off with an extended promo for Debarge’s Rhythm of the Night. If Rocky can be a stage-show, The Last Dragon is surely in prime position for a Broadway reboot.
While the minutia of the James Bond franchise are still picked over by fans in forensic detail, there’s other 60’s spy franchises worth a look, with the four Matt Helm film making for undemanding kitsch viewing. Dean Martin seems to have made no effort whatsoever to look interested in playing Donald Hamilton’s laid-back spy as anything other than himself, a self-parody interested only in booze and women. In The Silencers, The Ambushers, Murderers Row and The Wrecking Crew, Martin wanders from exotic location to studio set with the air of a drunkard in an airport departure lounge, a half-empty glass glued to his hand and a bevy of beauties to ogle at. Times were changing in the 1960’s, and the charm of the Matt Helm movies is seeing Martin struggle to keep a straight face while lobbing ’hanky panky’ bombs at enemies, riding on flying saucers and seducing women with the charm of a freshly awakened warthog and a stream of resistible single entendres: “I’m gonna shock her out of her mini-skirt!’. Non-Bond franchises were clearly subject to the laws of diminishing returns at the time, and yet as the quality of the productions collapses, the fascination of the films rises; the efforts to convince audience of Helm’s coolness only make the tattiness of the films more entertaining. The Matt Helms were always more comedic that thrilling; they’ve probably never seemed funnier than they look now. Streaming for free on Crackle.