Friday, August 12, 2011

FIREBIRD 2015 A.D. (1981)

I am a huge fan of actor Darren McGavin. This stems from several things but primarily from the fantastic 1975 TV series called KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER. This Dan Curtis produced show was seminal in the development of my love of scary stories and the watching of the show as it aired in the mid-1970s form some of my favorite family bonding memories. I often tell friends about crouching on the end of the couch with my mother as we watched episodes of The Night Stalker. We sat close together and sometimes would pull a blanket or pillow up to our faces to hide our eyes from whatever nasty menace Carl was facing that week. It was (and is) a wonderful show and my mom and I still love watching reruns of it even if we have to watch them via DVD and by ourselves.

My enjoyment of McGavin as an actor was cemented when he played the cursing father in the brilliant film A CHRISTMAS STORY. It is this role that most people will know him from because of the 24 hour marathon of the film each December the 25th but to me he’ll always be Carl Kolchak. I nearly always expect to see him sitting in Ralphie’s living room surrounded by piles of arcane texts researching unexplainable events. Maybe that’s the only way to explain that pink bunny suit.

Over the years I’ve sought out several movies and TV shows with McGavin and in general I’ve been pretty happy with both the quality of the films and his performances- until now. Not that McGavin lets me down this time out, but the film is pretty damned dull.

FIREBIRD 2015 A.D. seems to be one of the dozens of movies made in Canada during the years when that country offered great tax breaks to producers. This flood of movies brought us a lot of great films and filmmakers such as David Cronenberg and Bob Clark but it also brought a lot of mediocre movies that I became familiar with as they crowded the late nights and long afternoons on cable channels in the 1980s. Some of these Canadian movies left a lasting impression on me either because of the stories, themes or stars so over the last few years I’ve been seeking them out to revisit the cable standbys of my youth. This hasn’t always been a positive experiment. I sought out HBO repeat king THE LAST CHASE a while back to see if it held up and was disappointed that, although the dystopian future scenario was still interesting, the film was rather lame. Not even the presence of Lee (Six Million Dollar Man) Majors helped that dull film in the cold light of adulthood.

FIREBIRD 2015 A.D. is very much of a piece with THE LAST CHASE. It, too, is a dystopian tale in which cars have been outlawed for some reason and the police hunt down people in violation of this most un-American of decrees. Both movies came out in 1981 and were clearly a natural outgrowth of the oil shortages and supply problems that had been so much a continuing story throughout the 1970s. I half expected both movies to have been made by the same people but there appear to be no linkages, so color me surprised.

As I said, FIREBIRD 2015AD is, unfortunately, a dull movie. Like many of the films that came out of Canada in this period it is shot in a very basic TV style with no energy or imagination. The setups are obvious, the coverage is clear but uninteresting and the visuals are dreary. The film takes place almost completely outdoors so that we can see a number of cars and motorcycles running around but all the car footage is boring. Only some of the scenes of two characters playing around in a dune buggy can be called interesting and that’s because they are tearing through some dusty hills with real speed. The movie plays out like a middle budgeted television film spiced up with a few dirty words and one flash of welcome nudity from the quite cute Mary Beth Rubens. Even genre stalwart Doug McClure doesn’t do much with his underwritten role as the head soldier trying to chase down McGavin’s legendary Firebird. The script makes a limping attempt to present some reason for all these shenanigans – something to do with driving a sympathetic senator to some important meeting - but its heart isn’t really in it. It’s clear that everyone involved knew that this was just a cheap car-porn film that was about five years too late to the drive-in. No, no. The only reason to watch this film is for the half dozen or so flashes of charm and screen charisma the great Darren McGavin is able to generate with this subpar material. I really can’t recommend anyone else checks this one out even if you’re as hardcore a fan as I am. Instead go rewatch a Night Stalker episode.

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