Bullet Points: Tough and Deadly
I recently read an interview with Billy Blanks conducted by David J. Moore for Moore’s book The Good, The Tough and the Deadly (a book I highly recommend). In that interview, Billy Blanks spoke with great reverence about the legendary”Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Blanks said Piper was a motivational person in his life, who pushed Billy to chase his dreams, including the development of his popular Tae Bo training program.
Blanks and Piper starred in two movies together. First was 1993’s Back in Action and second was 1995’s Tough and Deadly…
- The Premise: Our two heroes, private investigator/skiptracer Elmo Freech (Roddy Piper) and amnesiac John Portland (Billy Blanks) meet in a rather unique fashion. John or as he is known in the world of espionage, Quicksilver, has CIA agents looking to eliminate him. When he surives the CIA’s first attempt on his life and the ensuing car crash, John is brought to a local medical facility. John is treated and diagnosed with amnesia. Freech happens to be at this local medical facility when a second assassination attempt is made on John. This attempt is thwarted by Freech after Freech defenestrates the would be assassin. During the commotion, Freech gets John out of the hospital and the two then find themselves as unlikely partners and together they unravel the mystery of why the CIA wants John dead and in the process uncover a drug ring that is being run by some of the CIA’s top brass and some not so friendly mobsters.
- The Montages: Tough and Deadly is an action film produced in the 1990’s, therefore there was an unwritten requirement that Tough and Deadly feature at least one montage. The first montage is a go to for many action films… the workout montage. John Portland is pretty banged up after his run in with the CIA at the beginning of the film, but his character heals and his bond with Elmo Freech is strengthened with a simple 90 second montage that includes the dynamic duo running, doing pull ups and sit ups and even sharing a manly hug at the end. The second montage was a phone calling montage, something I had only remembered seeing in the 1993 film Dennis the Menace. Elmo, John and Elmo’s assistant Maureen Peek (Lisa Stahl of Thunder in Paradise fame) put their private investigating hats on and start calling various phone numbers on a list acquired by Freech. The only thing missing from this scene was The Orlons singing “Don’t Hang Up”.
- The Fights: The montages were not the only thing that Tough and Deadly delivered on… the audience gets some pretty awesome fights scenes too. Just a few minutes into the movie Billy Blanks and Richard Norton (who played the unimaginatively named Agent Norton) go toe to toe. Norton and Blanks square off again towards the end of the movie in a rematch of sorts. Fans will recognize Richard Norton from his work in Not Another Mistake, Gymkata and the China O’Brien movies. We get a match up that I never knew I wanted until I saw it… Roddy Piper vs. James Lew! Tough and Deadly also makes it a double where bar fights are concerned.
If there is one knock against Tough and Deadly it is the lack of a strong villain for our heroes to battle. The overall conspiracy and cover up is used as the evil in this film, with Freech and Portland battling cogs in the machine instead of one supreme villain. But to me the “bromance” between Billy Blanks and Roddy Piper makes up for the lack of villainy. The chemistry between Blanks and Piper is undeniable and you get a sense that their admiration for one another transcended the movie screen. After watching Tough and Deadly you’ll wish Blanks and Piper made even more movies together.
And this is the point in the review that you probably wish I had some Bonus Bullet Points for you…
- Familiar Faces: James Karen plays Director of the CIA, Winston Briggers. Karen is an accomplished character actor with over 200 acting credits to his name. I’ll always remember him from his first feature film role in 1970’s Hercules in New York… Seinfeld fans will also recognize Jackie Chiles himself, Phil Morris, as one of the dirty CIA agents named Trekkler.
- Paging Dr. Piper: Elmo Freech uses the old “disguise yourself as a doctor” trick to get John out of the hospital. Piper was not the first action star to pull off this trick. Charles Bronson did it in Death Wish II and Gary Busey did it in Eye of the Tiger.
- Home Sweet Home: Not wanting to refer to the Billy Blanks character as John Doe, Freech decides to give John a new last name and he makes this decision like any rational human being would. He throws a knife at a map of the United States of America. The knife hits Portland, Oregon and John Portland was born. Fun fact… Portland just so happened to be Roddy Piper’s actual place of residence.
- Tag Team: In the aforementioned interview with David J. Moore, Blanks revealed that there were plans for another Piper/Blanks team up… but this time in the wrestling ring! They would have had my pay-per-view dollars for that one.