Deadly Addiction (1988) – The kids wanna rock

Deadly Addiction or Rock House, it doesn’t matter, what you’ve got here is the classic premise of a reckless, renegade cop versus an international drug ring. If for some, sad reason you haven’t seen Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon I won’t spoil it by telling you who wins. Despite the well worn narrative path, this movie manages to pack a few punches, thanks to some canny stunts and special effects. Jack Vacek, former high school baseball star, and cameraman on revhead classic Gone in 60 Seconds, eeks out some incredible bang for his buck here. He proudly offers up this quick and dirty story, barely containing his excitement, and it’s somehow infectious. It might be an entirely unoriginal, predictable, and ham fisted script, but it goes down in an over-the-top blaze of glory.

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Vacek stumbled into cinema history when he landed the job of cinematographer on Gone in 60 Seconds, despite no real experience or know how. He apparently became friendly with star and creator H B Halicki as the crew flew by the seat of their pants, and the pair worked together a few times after. Vacek struck out on his own to realise his Hollywood dream, writing and directing repo man thriller Double Nickels. With the help of his family, the end result apparently turned a surprisingly decent profit, setting them all up nicely. It’s a pretty heart warming success story,  but he was itching to return to the game, with the “dynamite idea” for Deadly Addiction. As they say, lightning never strikes the same place twice, and for whatever reason this movie wasn’t such a success. So ended the careers of Vacek and his partner in writing and life, Trice Schubert. This obviously makes his final project all the more interesting, because it’s raucous, silly, and straight to video.

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Vacek didn’t just make the movie, he stars in it as the fast talking, LAPD detective, Turner. Borrowing heavily from Dirty Harry and company, Turner finds himself on thin ice with his Chief thanks to an unquenchable thirst for vengeance. See, as we’re helpfully told by chubby newspaper man Hank – first and last timer Alan Shearer – Turner’s work came home with him one night and left his wife with “two bullets in her head.” He knows it was “the druggies” that did it, but without support from the Chief – Larry Washington in a blatant impression of Gilbert R Hill’s incomparable Inspector Todd – he has to slink around without authorisation. In some bizarre stroke of luck, Turner is driving along the footpath and stumbles across a “rock house” where a hilarious, smooth talking pimp is hosting a party for big shot drug dealers. In one of the movie’s many cool stunts, Turner decides to drive the pimp’s Cadillac through the front window, and so stumbles further into this international operation of drug smuggling and child mules.

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If the plot sounds at all unsubstantial or tenuous in its linkage, don’t worry, it is. Deadly Addiction is basically just a show reel of cool stunts sequences, involving rather excellent shootouts and chases, and not much else. Its vaguely held together by the imitation Beverly Hills Cop story, complete with comic-relief cop partners, and not just one, but three magnificent-bastard drug kingpins. Turner’s loose cannon status is continuously reinforced in his everyday interactions with others, and the fact that he drives a sports car, a la Magnum, and lives on a boat, a la Cody Abilene. Amongst all the nonsensical action, he begins clumsily romancing morally upstanding journalist, Sara – of course played by Vacek’s wife, Shubert – and sort of adopts a Mexican boy, Juan Carlos Muñoz – who incidentally has forged a relatively successful career directing Mexican soap operas.

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While the script is pretty immaterial, it features plenty of knee-slapping moments, particularly those involving drug lord Degusta and his buddies.  Frequent conversations about dealing expansion and fast food cocaine are meant to reinforce how just Turner is, and how evil the bad guys are. Instead, awkward references to “candy” and “rock houses” taking over LA are so painful that you’ll quickly come to love them. The dialogue is generally silly, expositional stuff, though does feature a handful of gems – “hold on to your virtues girls.” The drug smuggling trio – Joseph Jennings’ Degusta, Michael Robbin’s patchily Columbian accented Garrosa, and Mel Berenson’s seedy businessman Weinberg – are honestly a joy to watch, making the most of their comic book style characters, and leading to some great scenes almost worthy of Scarface. Almost. Greg Cummins – who had a big, trashy year with this and Dead End City – is also fantastic as the sleazy, sinister, henchman-from-hell Turko. On the other hand, Vacek plays his role okay, excelling at the silliness and the action stuff, and Shubert is just wonderfully woeful. I mean, her opening line when she meets the kid is “so, how old are you?”

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The real triumph of Deadly Addiction is how much work Vacek does in the plentiful action sequences, with a presumably self financed budget. He estimated the budget for Double Nickels at $200 grand, and I really hope he didn’t stump up too much more than that here, but considering the amount of cars that get totaled, including a MkIII AC Cobra, I’m a little worried. The upside is, thanks to Vacek’s training on Gone in 60 Seconds, the car chases come out looking real – and they probably are. The sheer amount of property rammed into, dropped off heights, or blown up, is staggering, and the movie is all the better for it. Here’s where I make yet another comparison to Beverly Hills Cop. Honestly, with the emphasis on action and the experience in low budget filmmaking, Vacek and his crew have put together a pretty slick production. Jazz saxophonist John Cascella’s cheesy, generic, 80s, Pop Rock score ties it all together nicely, cutting in and out abruptly. Although it’s void of sax, it does feature some awful mariachi, and what sounds like samples from Owner of a Lonely Heart.

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Deadly Addiction might have an overdone, silly story, but it more than makes up for that in sweet, explosive action. It is readily apparent how practiced Vacek and his guerrilla film buddies are at rendering exciting, realistic stunts on video. The guy was certainly passionate about cinema, and wanted to really make his mark on Hollywood. For whatever reason, probably something to do with the stale and unfashionable script, this movie didn’t get him there. It doesn’t even matter whether you can follow the flimsy, renegade cop, revenge film pastiche Vacek is offering, because the cup runeth over with bountiful action. Turner almost even manages to live up to the balls of steel, rebel cop mantle – with such slick moves as falling through the ceiling when he can’t get a warrant, and getting shot at, a lot. So hey, if you’re looking for trashy, cinematic love that’s purely physical, this is a pretty good place to start.

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