“You really are a horse shit at showing emotion, but I like that in a man.” The first part (of twelve) in Andy Sidaris' “L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies” series doesn't pack the same punch as its follow-up Hard Ticket To Hawaii, but the writer/director's heady mix of beautiful babes, muscular men, brash action, and corny dialogue was clearly the state of play from the very beginning. At the heart of the somewhat baffling plot – a vague remake of the director's own 1973 début feature film Stacey – is a Private Investigator, a wealthy family, and a scheme to sell America's computer technology to the communists – and a hell of moustache...
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“We hear you're a private investigator.” / “And we wanna know if you'll investigate our privates.” Cody Abilene (Darby Hinton, Naked Fist) is a P.I. from Texas, a smooth mover wafting about in a DeLorean with a cow skin suitcase (the 1980s vibe is strong from the first moments) with a thing for regurgitating thuddingly blunt exposition into his Dictaphone. Fancying himself as something of a Dirty Harry, Cody Abilene is anything but, as his skills – or total lack thereof – with a .44 Magnum will be illustrated throughout the movie. He may be a terrible shot, but he's a lady killer of the highest order as a bevy of buxom beauties populate his life, from race driver June Khnockers (Lynda Wiesmeier, Teen Wolf) to yacht club bunnies May and Faye (Playboy Playmates Barbara Edwards and Kimberly McArthur), and many, many more. But there's only so much time for play, as Cody is soon thrust into an investigation concerning a Russian conspiracy to steal American computer technology that somehow involves the wealthy Chamberlain family.
“Pleasure before business. I like that in a woman.” They're a curious bunch, The Chamberlains, what with the insatiable Anita (Shelley Taylor Morgan), her husband Stuart (Michael Andrews) with his secret life as a drag queen, and the family chauffeur Shane (Brett Clark, Fit To Kill) whose habit of surreptitiously documenting his various bunk-up sessions with the Chamberlains is all part of a blackmail sub-plot that takes a deadly turn. Brought into the investigation via the mysterious Contessa Luciana (Sybil Danning, Reform School Girls), Cody quickly finds himself up to his neck in a mountain of intrigue and schemers.
“I need the fastest thing on this lot.” / “Sugar, I'm the fastest thing on this lot.” / “Lord have mercy.” Pursued by a gaggle of goons including Matthew (Art Metrano, Police Academy 2 & 3), Mark (Mr Arizona Richard Brose), and Luke (Mr Universe John Brown), Cody's investigation has plenty of roadblocks in its way. Even allies like police detective Beverly (Lori Sutton) are easily distracted by the romance of a beach house – but at least they're all a better shot than Cody. Good lord, he's useless with a firearm! To be honest, though, it's hard to tell what's really going on most of the time as the script gets swamped with sub-plots, double-crosses, and completely superfluous sidelines such as the bizarre trio of the Buffington family, who are hellbent on beating Cody at drag racing for some convoluted reason. Suffice to say, even with the atomic bomb of exposition dropped at the very end of the film aboard the titular yacht, it's almost impossible to figure out what was going on, let alone why, for the most part. The point, it seems, is to just enjoy the ride for the duration.
“Fast, not good? Sounds like most men I know.” With a proliferation of extraneous characters, and a slew of bit-parts, Sidaris' film is no doubt a case of “Hey, wanna be in a movie?” excess. Charging about between swanky mansions, a desert race track, a marina, a drag strip, nightclubs, and a helicopter business, Malibu Express certainly tries to cram everything and everyone into its over-long running time (even Sidaris himself finds room to crowbar in a cameo appearance as a pervy RV driver). Mind you, not all of the film's myriad diversions are without merit in some form or another. For instance, Cody's go-to phone service is in fact a sex chat line run by Sally (Miss Overdrive Suzanne Regard), whose operators – in full-on fantasy mode – are always in a constant state of nymphomania, even when dishing out convenient bits of plot-centric information for Cody's benefit.
“Oh yeah? Well, if that car's tits, then what are these?!” Similarly, the scene in which Cody and June attempt to outrun a helicopter as Matthew sprays bullets at them skews into entertainingly ridiculous territory as she gets bizarrely turned-on by the whole escapade, before using her natural assets to distract the goons long enough for Cody to – at last – get a clean shot at a stationary target. Sadly, such scenes of utter weirdness are few and far between, but do set in motion the sheer brilliant fun of 1987's Hard Ticket To Hawaii. Indeed, the fairly unfocused Malibu Express often feels like a testing ground, as if Sidaris was figuring out what did and didn't work. To be fair, for a modest budget of $500,000, he does assemble a hefty assortment of locations and characters. He must have been the kind of guy who made friends easily and could talk them into any favour in exchange for a bit-part – and therein lies some of the charm of these movies.
“I tell you one thing, June's gorgeous front porch really saved our ass.” Riddled with random nudity from the get-go, the movie is chock-full with ultra-buff shirtless dudes and boob-flashing ladies, as well as copious scenes where the flimsy plot (kind of mercifully) screeches to a halt as Cody slips between the sheets with yet another of his female chums. However, it's not just the ladies who spend a considerable portion of the movie in little-to-no gear, as the men also have a tendency to strut about with their shirts off for no reason at all. Indeed, Cody seems to spend most of his time amidst the fully clothed Chamberlain family dressed in nothing but a bright red speedo, even when he's discovering dead bodies on the lawn.
“What we call hard evidence.” In today's overtly sensitive times, some might balk at the very notion of nudity on camera – and never mind the context of the space-time continuum – (ironic considering the extremely popular proliferation of online smut flicks), but there is an oddball charm to Sidaris' film-making where nothing whatsoever is taken seriously. Sure, it can be titillating (be honest, what's so wrong about that?), but most things are played for laughs and skew towards the silly. Nobody is safe from parody or pantomime, even the macho hero of the piece. As the man himself said: “We prefer the lighter approach to our brand of entertainment. We like people feeling good at the end of the film.” That charm even extends to the almost familial vibe that the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series possesses, what with its selection of recurring characters, actors, and behind the scenes collaborators, which included Sidaris' own wife and grown offspring in various roles including Producer and 2nd Unit Director. Malibu Express certainly is a blast from a very different decade, what with the occasional bit of casual chauvinism, the jarring low-end country music soundtrack, and the 'Skin-emax' approach to storytelling, but there is just about enough lewdness, merriment and absurdity to keep viewers – who enjoy this kind of fare, this particular 'brand of entertainment' – interested.