• Action U.S.A. (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 27th, 2020.
    Director: John Stewart
    Cast: Gregory Scott Cummins, Ross Hagen, William Smith, Cameron Mitchell, Hoke Howell, Barri Murphy
    Year: 1988
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Action U.S.A. – Movie Review:

    Waco-based drug dealer Billy Ray (Rod Shaft) would seem to have it all – a Corvette with a personalized license plate that says ‘Sleek1’ on it, a fancy house, a hot girlfriend named Carmen (Barri Murphy) who just can’t wait to get naked and fuck him on the couch and a bottle of Shiner! What Carmen doesn’t realize, however, is that Billy Ray is involved with some bad dudes who want the diamonds that he’s stashed somewhere in the area. They kidnap her man and dangle him from a helicopter until he tells them where they are, and then they drop him in a lake.

    A short time later and Billy Ray is dead as a goddamn doornail and Carmen is under the protection of F.B.I. agents Clay Osborn (Gregory Scott Cummins of Hack-O-Lantern!) and Earl 'Panama' McKinnon (William Hubbard Knight). These guys answer to Conover (the mighty William Smith of Conan The Barbarian and Geteven) but more importantly than that, need to keep Carmen safe. See, a gangster named Frankie Navarro (Cameron Mitchell of Knives Of The Avenger and The Toolbox Murders) has employed a few goons - Hitch (Hoke Howell), Lucky (David Sanders) and leader Drago (Ross Hagen of Armed Response and Wonder Women) – to get their hands on her because the info Billy Ray gave them about the diamonds? It was bullshit! Those rocks are still out there and Navarro wants them in his meaty, sweaty paws before the Feds can scoop them out from under him.

    From there, our heroes find themselves struggling to keep Carmen safe and away from Drago and company – but they’re not really that good at their job, often letting her wander off on her own, missing flights and taking breaks at honkytonk bars where she gets on stage and sings with a band called Cherokee Rose!

    Action U.S.A. is not a particularly original film, borrowing from Lethal Weapon and any other buddy cop movie you’d care to name, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for with colorful characters and an extremely enviable willingness to blow shit up. Director John Stewart, who co-wrote with Dave Reskin, had a background in stunts, having worked on the first two Phantasm sequels as well as, yep, Armed Response to name only a few of his credits, and he took that background and those connections and turned it into a movie far more concerned with stunts and explosions than with acting or character development. Fine, every character in this film is a cliché, but you know what? It doesn’t matter, because this movie starts out with its foot on the gas and just ramps it up from there (except for a stretch in the middle where things actually do kind of slow down a bit, but never to the point of boredom).

    Acting? Sure, this movie has some. Barri Murphy plays a hot chick that sings well enough, eating on camera a lot of showing off her shoulder pads as well as her fun bags. No complaints here. Gregory Scott Cummins is fine, essentially playing the lead here and having a decent enough camaraderie with William Hubbard Knight that makes us think of Samurai Cop (which wasn’t made yet) than Lethal Weapon (whih clearly inspired this movie). These two are pretty fun to watch. Hoke Howell and David Sanders are fine in their respective parts and Cameron Mitchell is only in the movie for a few minutes (though he does get to hang out in a hot tub with some hot chicks). Ross Hagen is great here, chewing the scenery and waving a giant silver pistol around, yelling at everyone and just clearly having a great time doing his thing. William Smith plays William Smith, not really stretching much as an actor here but using his gravelly voiced screen presence to turn his ridiculously clichéd character into something memorable.

    All in all, it’s just a really fun film. It isn’t’ deep, but it’s not trying to be, but it’s got some Jackie Chan level stunts on display, plenty of great explosions, goofy dialogue, car chases, nudity, country music, a sweet Corvette. What more could you ask for?

    Action U.S.A. – Blu-ray Review:

    Action U.S.A. arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with the feature taking up 29.9GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Taken from a new 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative, picture quality is excellent. There’s a little bit of print damage here and there but it’s just minor specks now and again, nothing really distracting at all. Colors are reproduced really nicely (those explosions look beautiful!) and black levels are strong throughout. The image always looks nice and filmic, there are no issues with compression or noise reduction or edge enhancement to gripe about, and there’s good depth throughout.

    Vinegar Syndrome offers up DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks in English only. The lossless option is the way to go here, it does a nice job bringing those explosions to life and spreading out the score and effects work. There are some spots in the film where there’s a weird bit of hiss whenever someone talks (but no hiss when no one is talking) that clearly stems back to the original recording, but otherwise no complaints. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    The first extra on the disc is a group commentary with director John Stewart, cinematographer Thomas Callaway, actor Gregory Scott Cummins and filmmaker Steve Latshaw, who serves as moderator. Stewart talks about the important of getting a Slurpy at a 7-11 to acquiring the Corvette seen in the opening of the film, casting the film primarily with stunt men, the locations that were used for the shoot, how important it was that Callaway new Waco 'inside and out,' working with a local crew and using some of the locals as actors as well, how they wouldn't have been able to afford the permits to shoot the movie in L.A., details on the different stunts that we see in the movie, where the 'prop guy' shows up in the movie (everyone from the crew did a stunt, we're told!) and having to do some of the action set pieces in one take. They also talk about the real-life dangers involved in staging the different explosions that highlight the movie, getting Cameron Mitchell in the film and what he was like to work with, Ross Hagen's input on bringing Drago into the story, intentionally working humor into the film in the cowboy bar scene, how Barri Murphy did her own singing in the bar scene, working with William Smith and quite a bit more. This sounds like it was recorded over Skype or Zoom so the sound is less than perfect, but hey, given the pandemic fucking the world over right now we should be happy this commentary exists at all.

    From there, check out the Q&A with director John Stewart (who has some sort of trippy light show going on behind him for some reason) and filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith, a twenty-eight-minute interview, conducted online, between the two men (who worked together on Leprechaun 3 back in 1995). Trenchard-Smith, who gave us Stunt-Rock, knows his action movies that starts with a discussion about what happened to leading lady Barri Murphy before then going on to cover why they shot in Waco, Texas, staging some of the elaborate stunts that highlight the film, writing the script with specific actor/stuntmen in mind, the importance of not breaking the laws of physics too much, what goes into setting a stuntman on fire in a film, how the film performed when it was first released only to then fall through the cracks, how happy Stewart is that it's now being rediscovered, his favorite scenes in the movie and more.

    Lost Gem is an interview with actor Gregory Scott Cummins that clocks in at twenty-three-minutes. He talks about getting into sports as a kid and how his athleticism led to getting work as an actor after tearing his thigh muscle and ruining his football career. He then talks about moving to L.A. and getting his start on non-union shoots, graduating to union shoots where he had trouble getting lead roles until he grew his hair out and how he landed the role on Action U.S.A. after showing up at an open call audition. From there he talks about what it was like working on that film, how he got along with Stewart, how helpful the locals were in getting the movie made, how the dramatic side of the film was given far less time to work than the stunts were, doing some of his own stunt work in the picture, how much he enjoyed working with Ross Hagen (who he describes as very positive and as 'a force of nature'), how naturally strong William Smith was, the importance of this film to his career and plenty more.

    A newly created theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection round out the extra features on the disc.

    As far as the packaging goes, Vinegar Syndrome offers this release, part of their VSU limited edition line, (limited to 4,000 copies) with a hand numbered bottom loading slipcover, a reversible cover sleeve and a double-sided poster.

    Action U.S.A. – The Final Word:

    Action U.S.A. is a blast (ha!), and while it might tell the most original story you’ll ever see, it’s a ridiculously fun picture loaded with stunts and, well, action. Vinegar Syndrome has done a great job rescuing this one from VHS obscurity, presenting it in a beautiful presentation and with a great selection of extra features as well. It appears to be sold out now, but if you can track down a copy, do it. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Action U.S.A. Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      Thrilled this film lived up to the trailer. A lot of fun. I got a Mad Foxes vibe from the opening credits which was even cooler. Now I need to re-watch MAD FOXES.