Gary Busey (Frank McBain), Darlanne Fluegel (Captain Devon Shepard), Henry Silva (Colonel Kartiff), Thalmus Rasulala (Billy Dunbar), L.Q. Jones (Sergeant O'Rourke), Rene Enriquez (General Brogado), Mills Watson (Colby), James Andronica (Agent Tarpley), R.G. Armstrong (Miles Blackburn), William Smith (Russian Major), Luke Askew (General Gallo), Lincoln Kilpatrick (Captain Briggs), Lydie Denier (Tracy), Ramon Franco (Camilo), Juan Fernandez (Pantaro), Danny Trejo (Sharkey), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (thug)
Directed by Steve Carver
The Short Version: 80s Action movie excess is the heart and soul of this intentionally ridiculous, unPC gem of a movie from 1988. Starring the indefatigable Gary Busey as a plain-clothes Rambo nicknamed Bulletproof, he's the wisecracking one-man army that strikes fear in the hearts of Communists and terrorists the world over. Armed with a variety of guns, military hardware, and every hero-villain cliche of the last few decades, this farcical, last hurrah of the 80s style of Action Hero is locked and loaded with 94 minutes of armor piercing entertainment.
A multi-national band of terrorists hiding out near the Mexican border steal a top secret military weapon, the NBT-90 Thunderblast, and take hostage the military attachment transporting it. An LA cop and ex-CIA agent, a loose cannon named Frank "Bulletproof" McBain, is coerced back into action to find the super tank, and bring both it, and the hostages back if possible.
One of the last of the special breed of 80s Action Hero cinema is something of a passing of the torch between big name Tough Guys and a burgeoning crop of villains coming down the pike up to that point. There's Henry Silva (bad guy of scores of crime and western movies), William Smith (veteran Tough Guy Supreme of hundreds of movies and television), and newcomers to the catalog of criminality, Juan Fernandez and Danny Trejo. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa even manages to squeeze himself in as a thug in a flashback sequence.
Jammed into this films compact 94 minutes are even more genre Toughs like R.G. Armstrong (MAJOR DUNDEE), L.Q. Jones (THE WILD BUNCH), Thalmus Rasulala (BUCKTOWN), and Luke Askew (COOL HAND LUKE); all are on hand to give able support to Busey's McBain, the human ammo repellent.
Forged with virtually every single action movie cliche, McBain, "a one-man suicide squad", isn't so much bulletproof from a technical standpoint, but he certainly takes'em like a man; having been shot a number of times (39 by the end of the flick) and keeping the bullets he received in a jar like trophies won in the line of duty. Carrying as many wisecracks as ammo packs, McBain is the sort of guy you'd catch saying, "John Rambo? Never heard of her."
This role is more suitable to Busey's offbeat style than his previous hero lead in EYE OF THE TIGER (1986) since the actor wears this more outrageous role like a glove. Not only smooth with sidearms and automatic weapons, McBain is quite the ladies man; so be prepared for a kinder, gentler Busey in between exchanges of quips and gunfire. Later known for off-kilter behavior, Busey's McBain has the sort of impulsive, devil-may-care attitude that could be mistaken for a guy with a screw loose; and Busey lost a few in 1988 in an incident that would take his public life in a different direction.
Several months after BULLETPROOF's brief theatrical release, Busey would nearly kill himself in a motorcycle accident, and his behavior would quickly become the stuff to fill any number of Hollywood gossip papers. Critics at the time savaged the movie, perturbed that Busey, who had made quite a name for himself with his star turn in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978), would now headline a film of this type. What's really saddening is that Busey didn't make more in this vein; or continue to mine more gold from the richness of character that is Frank McBain.
To see the name Fred Olen Ray as a story contributor (along with Ray collaborator T.L. Lankford as scriptwriter), BULLETPROOF could either fire on all cylinders, or spit out nothing but blanks. Thankfully, it's the former; and with action-exploitation specialist Steve Carver (BIG BAD MAMA, LONE WOLF MCQUADE, AN EYE FOR AN EYE, DRUM) at the helm, what could possibly go wrong? The script is chockablock with familiar action movie tropes and attitudes that keep tongues wedged firmly in cheeks. You need not look any further than the opening sequence where McBain is intro'd as a more affable version of Dirty Harry Callahan giving chase to an ice cream truck moonlighting as an arms trafficking vehicle.
Colonel Kartiff (Henry Silva), one of two main villains, is another example of BULLETPROOF's dedication to overindulgence of its subject matter. The Muslim leader of Arab, Cuban and Nicaraguan terrorists, every few minutes he's slapping somebody, or saying things like, "He was a CIA pig! His death was his reward!"; or, "You will obey me! Take.... off... your clothes, woman!" Silva is an old hand at this sort of role. It's not the first time he's played in a dictatorial capacity. He does crazy very well, adapting an insane psychosis to his characters in westerns (THE HILLS RUN RED from '66) and modern day thrillers (Di Leo's MANHUNT from '72). Even when playing a good guy, Silva had a gleam of villainy about him. Films like CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (1974) and MANHUNT IN THE CITY (1975) are examples of this.
Busey doesn't get all the hero glory in BULLETPROOF. Some of it comes from an equally memorable, and over the top heroine. The most irascible of the tough talking hard asses is Captain Devon Shepard (Darlanne Fleugel of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA), an Iron Lady who brazenly talks a lot of shit to the Colonel; like this classic exchange, "In your country, you treat women like camels, and send young boys to their deaths in the name of your excuse for a god!" Her big mouth gets some of her compatriots killed, but she keeps firing off insults anyways. The girl can't help it. She also looks great firing a machine gun.
To not leave out any of the world's major players in the Communist dictatorial arena, the script finds room for 80s villain mainstays, the Russians. William Smith, star of countless TV and film roles, and a master at playing Tough Bastards good and bad, is seen at the beginning during one of McBain's dream sequences. The two have met before. Playing a Russian, Smith (who speaks the language fluently among other languages) officially steps into the movie during the last half hour where he pretty much takes over for Silva once he's reduced to a wimpish state in lieu of McBain's uncanny ability to avoid death. Kind of similar to RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985) with the Vietnamese villains being usurped by the Russians.
Story contributor Fred Olen Ray had directed other, similar action movies, such as CYCLONE (1987) from the previous year about a weapons-laden motorcycle driven by Heather Thomas. Others include ARMED RESPONSE (1986), COMMANDO SQUAD (1987), and WARLORDS (1988).
Aside from Gary Busey and a plethora of guns, grenade launchers and ammo cartridges, the other major attraction of BULLETPROOF is the Thunderblast, the Swiss Army knife of battle tanks. It does everything but fly. It even has its own built in coffee maker. Armed with an array of missiles and machine guns, it gets a good workout at the end when it engages in a handicapped match with modified versions of tanks and aircraft seen in 80s actioners like RED DAWN (1984) and the Rambo series.
Any action fan worth their salt needs to see Gary Busey's best lead role during his brief tenure as an 80s Action Hero. When was the last time you saw Stallone, Norris, Schwarzenegger, or Bronson play the saxophone in between emptying numerous gun magazines? Mayhem nearly from start to finish, BULLETPROOF is definitely packing a lot of heat.
This review is representative of the Shout! Factory 2 disc set with BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN, TRACKDOWN, and SCORCHY (cut TV version). Extras and specs: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.