Bodies in Battle: Andy Sidaris' Unofficial Sleaze Trilogy
When tasked with naming atypical, essential action directors, who comes to mind? For me, it's Andy Sidaris. His niche branded action has proved to be one of the most important filmographies in my introduction to the trash epics of low-budget and straight-to-video action flicks of the late 20th century. Equipped with enough objectified models to “act” in his flicks and disposable set pieces to blow apart, the filmmaker found his aesthetic and hallmarked it quickly, wasting no time in crafting the ultimate of silly in crass, genre filmmaking. Alas, I have assembled my definitive Sidaris trilogy.
Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)
Fondly branded as the best possible jumping-off point to unlocking Sidaris’s insane filmography (and most likely his most popular film altogether), the viewer manages to get a little taste of different Sidaris characteristics peppered throughout its 96-minute runtime. From its oily, sun-soaked beach bodies to its exaggerated over-simplification use of animated violence, it’s pretty relentless. Its opening sequence of ripped abs and sweaty jungle assassinations sets the tone of Sidaris’ visual sensibility that he continues to reuse and recycle throughout the entirety of his Malibu-fetish career.
It’s easy to sympathize with those who find this distasteful. An oddball, screwy cousin of the much-loved action riffs of the '80s and ’90s, Hard Ticket to Hawaii holds its epic trash aesthetics close to its heart as it displays full confidence, all acceleration, no breaks. An unapologetic yet delusional playhouse of its own creativity, it contains a plethora of high-spirited, exaggerated cliches and persistence to put as much bare skin in front of lush, tropic getaway-esque holiday locations throughout its insane plot of a cat-and-mouse chase involving diamonds and a big, mean, disease-ridden python. So naturally, Sidaris – a pioneer of genre filmmaking – understands that psychotic pythons are lacking in movies both past and present and allows the film itself to explore the idea to its fullest potential.
Its innocence shines as bright as its sun-soothed beaches and its sweet naivety is mainly channeled through our main heroes Donna and Taryn (Donna Speir and Hope Marie Carlton) who find themselves in an ever-lasting sense of danger. The protagonists wisecrack back and forth with each other in inappropriate situations in the majority of his movies, which is surely not the heaviest hitter in terms of powerful character development. However, in an ingratiating fable like this one that stuffs itself so assuredly with cheese peculiarity – bikinis, guns and bladed frisbee weapons – the goofiness is hard to hate.
It’s as if Sidaris reaches for injecting his own unleashed weirdness into a Miami Vice episode. If there ever was a competition for the number one action face-melter, this would win by miles. Sidaris really does capture the aesthetic of the movie in a single line when a quick off-screen man remarks; “Man, he must be smoking some heavy doobies.”
Malibu Express (1984)
Before disease-infested-toilet emerging rats were his jam, Andy Sidaris was in the early ‘80s mindset among the excellent company of other ‘84 greats (The Terminator, Body Double, and Repo Man). He tossed his ring into the mix by directing a little actioner that never quite received the attention of its preceding classics:, Malibu Express, a compressed fetishistic groovy non-stopper filled with jeans, abs, and mustaches.
When a private eye, Cody Abilene (Darby Hinton) finds himself in an entanglement of Cold War espionage, he must team up with the sultryContessa Luciana and adamantine Officer Beverly McAfee to follow the trail of crime through a hot trail of burning rubber and freshly fired pistols.
Malibu Express definitely has suppressed creative aspects when compared with Hard Ticket, but its fun little beats still manage to hold their own. It’s blatant in writing and in execution that Andy Sidaris has strong feelings toward the objectification of ‘80s trash-television violence and tropical exteriors, all of which are prominent proponents within the film. Sidaris channels his Dirty Harry filmmaking mindset, adopting less gruff Eastwoodmonologues and more race car driving and horny boathouse neighbors. The wide-eyed, unapologetic glory of its fast, dusty shootouts are palpable and nonsensical. Our hero, Darby, even manages to sneak in a one-liner before offing henchmen – whilst standing in the shower with jeans on. It’s all happening, right here, in this movie.
Picasso Trigger (1988)
Suave suits and stolen artifacts are all prominent proponents in the late Sidaris Bond riff that doesn’t let up on the nighttime neon glow of Casino lights and tracking devices in flowers. Good god, does Sidaris go all the way with this weird little secret agent movie. Paired with a bouncy synth score and evil henchmen who just love a good rhyme, Picasso Trigger sets out on what it deems most important: wired-brain nonsense.
While it contains many of the hallmarks and trimmings one would expect to find in a Sidaris joint, this one doubles down on its cowboy bars and pursuing romances, which pumps a little more flavor into the atmosphere than his other movies. Its sweaty and heartfelt characters find a weird connection in the context of the film itself even when Sidaris is dehumanizing them – whether it be by body objectivity or its attempts to blend an unmatched mix of secret-service action. But am I complaining? Never.
Picasso Trigger may lose focus in its character conflicts, but it never loses focus in action. Some of my favorite set pieces come right out of Trigger, maneuvering through its loud gun cases via wetland swampy rivers, exploding yachts and heat-sinking/missile helicopters inbound. It’s a pure Bond adventure via obnoxious nudity and cheap action. That’s the Andy Sidaris mindset.
Whilst often nasty in execution – whether it comes from the idealistically cheap sets or mesmerizingly poor acting – it’s not hard to see that the man understands entertainment. His galaxy brain, auto-piloted to fast cars and beach bodies, instantly found its small but mighty audience. He knew his niche and was relentless in it, maximizing his style throughout his filmography.
Sidaris' entire catalog can be streamed on Tubi.