Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Samurai Cop
Ripping off more competent and successful pictures is a hallmark aspect of cheese. From Conan rips to flicks like Starcrash, counterfeiting a popular film often makes for a prime example of the sort of moive that succeeds while still being an abject failure of cinema. But for such things to occur, there must a be a certain serendipity. The Canon Group excelled at it with their ceaseless sequels and trend calling. And this week’s feature is all about chasing a trend to the very edge of the Pacific Ocean: Samurai Cop.
The plot concerns San Diego Police Detective Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon). His unorthodox methods and familiarity with a sword get him the nick-name “Samurai.” On loan to the Los Angeles Police Department, he’s partnered up with detective Frank Washington (Mark Frazer). Their assignment: root out a new source of drugs from Asia. Their first bust goes hilarious wrong when their mark, a supposed higher up in the syndicate, ends up on fire and badly burned. Joe and Frank keep watch over him as he recovers from burns all over his body. But after Joe fails to impress one of the nurses, Yamashita (Robert Z’Dar), a member of the drug gang, infiltrates the hospital and decapitates the suspect.
At the point, Joe and Frank are pretty sure they know the man behind the whole drug operation: Yakuza boss Fujiyama (Crantson Kormuro). They go to visit him at a restaurant owned by his main squeeze Jennifer (Jannis Farley). Joe gives a rousing speech about the Unites States that happens to lay a seed of doubt in Jennifer’s mind about Fujiyama. He quickly retaliates by sending some goons to accost Joe and Frank in the parking lot. Joe’s sword-skills prevail, but Frank’s car explodes.
Joe comes back to talk to Jennifer and later convinces her to go on a date with him. Although, he may frame it as police protection at first. But by the time they’re frolicking in swimsuits, Jennifer pretty much knows the score. So does the viewer, thanks to the sudden appearance of nudity and a cut-away to a sex scene between Yamashita and his red-headed assistant.
Joe leads a raid on the home of one of the lower-level bosses and finally puts himself in the crosshairs of Fujiyama, who takes out most of Joe’s LAPD pals. This makes Joe’s captain furious, but he still let’s him raid Fujiyama’s compound where the Yakuza boss has fled with Jennifer and where Yamashita waits to finally clash swords with the Samurai.
And if the plot description sounds like a child’s recollection of hearing his folks watch Lethal Weapon, that’s part of the charm. Samurai Cop is a glorious mash-up of ninja movies (despite the use of the word “samurai”) and that most famous of buddy cop movies. Hannon has a certain resemblance to Mel Gibson, though Gibson only wishes he could be as jacked as Hannon. And while Frazer is there to fill a role we call “Black Partner,” it isn’t really a carbon copy of Danny Glover’s Sgt. Murtaugh. Instead, Frank is very much an affable — almost unflappable — partner who gently reminds the hero about the law, but is just as happy to skirt due process as he is to file paperwork. The actor is also featured in a number of close-up shots which appear to be disconnected from the scene.
Frazer would eventually reveal this was the case and that director Amir Shervan asked him to offer up any and all reactions he could think of at every location. The results are sort of magical, as this video I prepared a few years back demonstrates:
The above also reveals another key aspect of the film’s cheesiness: Shervan’s ineptitude as a filmmaker. Samurai Cop is not just a ludicrous story, but it is directed in one of the most haphazard ways possible. Stage lines are broken, shots do not sync up, and close-up of Hannon clearly indicate they were filmed months later; requiring him to wear a terrible wig. There’s also the pervasive washed-out color values, hideous sound and — when you watch the opening chase — unconvincing stuntwork.
Nonetheless, the whole thing just becomes something magical. Shervan, like a number of other immigrant businessmen, decided he wanted to make a movie and its clear what sort of movies he enjoyed: ninja flicks, buddy cop movies and premium cable soft-core in which ladies take off their tops. But even in that, Shervan is something of an enigma. Despite the presence of breasts, the sex scenes are strangely chaste with everyone involved wearing bathing suit bottoms or underwear. The overall effect suggests Shervan is unfamiliar with the mechanics of sex despite his fascination with the female form. But that only underscores the film’s fever dream sensibility and child-like wonder.
Which makes Samurai Cop a delight to behold. It exists in a fantasy world where any man who picks up a sword can be a samurai and any cop can look like a romance novel cover model while wowing the ladies with his belief in the USA. The fights are hilariously unconvincing, the dialogue obvious products of a first draft and its main character is simply a shell of man outclassed by his partner’s reaction shots. And the best part? It is clear Shervan had no idea he was making a fantastically terrible yet wildly entertaining film. In short: watch Samurai Cop as quickly as you can. It is an almost perfect example of cheesy excellence.
Samurai Cop is available for rent on Amazon Video and as a special edition Blu-ray.