Young Rebels (1989) – Ben & Chuck’s excellent adventure

Get keen folks, there’s another offering from Amir Shervan to blow the dust off. Do I really need to say more? The man is a certified z-grade genius, one of the most iconic trash auteurs in history, despite such a short career in the States, and Young Rebels is up there with the rest of them. If you have had the pleasure of being exposed to his other classics like Samurai Cop or Hollywood Cop then you know exactly what you’re getting. If you haven’t, then you’re in for a wild journey through shootouts, fistfights, strip clubs, and action on the open road, as a stud and his pals take on a Californian crime lord. Add to that some sweet arcade-style synth, terrible sound editing, and dodgy dialogue with even dodgier delivery, and you have yourself some quintessential Shervan magnificence. So what the hell are you waiting for?

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No surprises that the plot of Young Rebels is pretty simple and very similar to Shervan’s other crackers. There’s a guy who finds himself on the wrong side of a crime lord, escalating into an all-out bloodthirsty vendetta as man goes against many. The canny writer-director does throw in a little bit of a different opening act to this script, however, following the incomparable Robert Z’Dar doing some crime. Okay, that’s the same as Killing American Style, but then he brings in blonde beauty Ben, who gets to play idiot protagonist for a few scenes before we actually ever meet the real protagonist.

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That would be the impressive specimen that is Charlie, a helicopter pilot and ex people smuggler with an ill-advised mullet, played by steady bit-parter Jon Greene. He’s up against Mr Vincenzo, a minor drug lord played by Carlos Rivas, a B movie actor from the 50s and 60s who lucked his way into actual classics like The King and I and True Grit. Vincenzo is apparently a big deal, with the whole town in his pocket and hundreds of illegal immigrant workers under him. “Okay all you Mexicans get outta here, I’m keeping the Filipinos.” It might not be very plausible considering what we’re shown on screen, but let’s give Shervan the benefit of the doubt he so diligently sows.

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Ben might just be another long-haired and muscular means to get to an ends with Charlie, but Bret Johnston makes it pretty worth it. He has a classic scene playing a drunk buck at a strip club, before getting manhandled a lot and then shot. Charlie of course is on the hook for the rest of the movie until either he or that damn Vincenzo is dead. Honestly Greene does a solid job, sure he’s the strong silent type but he’s believable, though for some reason looks surprised more often than not. Luckily for him, Charlie isn’t a total loner, he has the help of Ben’s friends – multi-martial artist Tadashi Yamashita (from Andy Sidaris’s Seven, and The Octagon with Chuck Norris) and some other guy. Seriously Shervan credits are so vague, coupled with the fact most characters don’t have names, or actually change names on occasion, so it’s really impossible to tell.

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Also getting Charlie’s back is his committed girlfriend Liz, Z movie queen Christine Lunde from Mankillers and Dead End City, who is probably the most earnest actor on board, and can handle herself with a gun. He’s not so committed to her, however,  cheating on her with his brother’s girlfriend’s sister and calling her by different names. That sounds like a terrible character flaw, but I have a feeling it was totally unintentional by Shervan. Aldo Ray is also along for the ride as a hilarious sheriff with a penchant for swearing, and no his dialogue delivery hasn’t improved from Biohazard. Oh and there’s totally a cameo from Eric “Eyebrows” Freeman himself. The outcome is real predictable, as it should be for an action flick of this type, but the journey is an exciting one filled with guns and violence juxtaposed with strip clubs and sex scenes. You’ve gotta love Shervan’s America.

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Part of the reason Young Rebels is such a blast, as with the entirety of Shervan’s American oeuvre, is the utter lack of filmmaking or acting skill involved. Here he’s enlisted the help of regular cinematographer Peter Palian, who gets to play with handheld this time, along with regular editor Ruben Zadurian and another Ruben – Mazzini, who hasn’t done much either. Between all of them they can’t even get the white balance right. He even brought his wife in to help with wardrobe, at least I assume that’s who Magnolia Shervan is. It just wouldn’t be a Shervan movie without terrible sound editing though, and this time Bob Ernst (film editor on Hollywood Cop) is to blame despite it almost positively being a failing of the director himself. The way levels jump around and primary-school-style foley gets shoehorned in is so grating yet totally endearing. Fans of Samurai Cop are in for a treat as this seems to be where the infamous “shoot, shoot him” line originated, as well as an abundance of the phrase “son of a bitches.” Pure trashy goodness.

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The unfortunate part of this Shervan sound design disaster is that the awesomely 80s synth soundtrack gets lost. It comes in and out illogically, and with seemingly no regard for the proceedings on screen or the flow of the narrative, and it’s drowned out by stupidly loud gunshot and punch sound effects. The music is instantly recognisable though, and quite a triumph. Unsurprisingly it’s the work of regular Shervan collaborators Alan DerMarderosian and Elton Ahi, who really know how to make a movie sound like an old video game. They get funky in Young Rebels too, with some synthesiser licks Daft Punk would be jealous of. As far as the dialogue is concerned this awful sound works in the actors’ favour, considering how awful the lines are and how poorly they tend to be delivered.

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All that said, the crew should probably get a free pass considering the lack of budget and script they’re working with. The frequent failings in causality and continuity are more often the fault of Shervan’s wonderfully derivative and juvenile writing. At least you can tell how enthusiastic he is about the action genre and how much he loves his adopted country. There’s also the fact this straight-to-VHS visionary had to more or less fund his own productions, and boy does it show. I was amazed when an actual helicopter was used in one of the scenes, considering the blow-up getaway boat, re-used locations and sets (you’ll recognise a bunch from Samurai Cop), and general void of production quality.

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I guess we have to give the cast a free pass then too – I can only assume every shot was a one-take-wonder by necessity. I’m not sure what Rivas’ excuse is though, considering his experience as something of an actual actor, and how horribly he executes his lines. If I didn’t know better I’d say perhaps he can’t speak the language. Mind you, no one can speak Shervan’s. The majority of the cast don’t really have any lines, being goons with guns or girls in g-strings. On that note I’ve never seen anyone floss their arse with a pearl necklace until regular 80s video vixen Delia Sheppard did it here. There is one henchman who makes the most of his handful of lines, with such deadpan, smartarse delivery that it’s impossible to tell if he means it or not. Alas thanks to Shervan’s rubbish production abilities I have no idea who he is or where else I might have seen him.

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In this short amount of time I’ve probably thought about the movie in more detail than Shervan ever did. Rest assured it is an absolute ripper of a movie, thanks to a fantastically low budget and a wonderfully woeful writer-director. Shervan’s story isn’t so much one of ‘triumph in the face of adversity,’ but more one of ‘triumph because of adversity’. While that may be technically very negative, it’s buried treasure for fans of trash cinema the world over. As always Shervan delivers a delectable feast for the most basic senses, and many mess-ups to die laughing over. It takes a special set of circumstances, and probably a level of insanity, to have such a consistently awful output, and one that shows more signs of devolution than improvement. But that my friends is his gift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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