Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tougher Than Leather (1988)

(1988 New Line Pictures) Director: Rick Rubin Starring: Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, Richard Edson, Jenny Lumet, Russell Simmons

Yes, Yes, y'all....and ya don't stop.....

...ahem. Sorry....just had a flashback to my junior high school days. Like many white kids of my era, my introduction to rap music was Run DMC's multi platinum album "Raisin' Hell", which contained possibly their most popular track, the high energy cover version of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way", in which they were accompanied by the Boys from Boston themselves. I became a huge fan of "the old school" (as the young whipper-snappers call it now...we used to call it "Top 40"), and this group in particular. So naturally, when my "homies" on the internet asked me to join them in a roundtable review event that centered on flicks of a revenge theme, I decided to tackle Run DMC's "epic", Tougher Than Leather....

God...what a dumb movie. It's an oddity...a blaxploitation flick that was released at a time when such fare was just beginning to be seen as "politically incorrect". Then, there's the fact that the principle "actors", even though they may be the "Kings of Rock" (y'know...there ain't none higher) couldn't act to save their lives (this little trait carries through onto the all of the thespians in character roles, too). Add to this a script that steals liberally from about every friggin' blaxpo, crime/revenge, and action film ever made....and ya still have one god-awful dumb-ass movie. Director Rubin should have stuck with what he does best, running recording companies and producing Metallica records, instead of trying to convince the general public that he can make films.

The Plot: During an opening sequence that steals alot from The Blues Brothers, we are introduced to the "mack daddies" (I've been told that I'm "hip" to all the "fresh" slang all the kids are into these days, which I find to be "groovy", "Daddy-O") that are Run DMC. DMC (better known as Darryl McDaniels) is being released in a very Jake Blues/Dolemite fashion from a correctional facility, where he is met by his pals, Run (Joesph Simmons, brother to hip-hop guru Russell) and Jam Master Jay (the late Jason Mizell). Upon hitting the streets again, DMC and his "posse" hook up once again with their manager, Russell Simmons, and make plans to "lay down some funky joints". After witnessing some on-stage sheenanigans of another group that has Russell under their employ.....a very young group of Beastie Boys, who, because of Run DMC's lack of acting ability are real show stealers. And that's not saying much. But we get to witness some of the inaugural stages of the type of sense of humor that would be later employed in the Boys' own sometimes hilarious music videos.

And then, in typical blaxpo fashion....the Man brings down the hammer. Y'all know what "Man" I'm talkin' 'bout. Insanely racist album label Strut Records convinces Russell to get his groups to sign with them, and then the trouble starts.
Owned by Vic Ferrante (director Rubin, proving that not only can he not direct, he can't act either) who uses the business as a front for his mobster father's drug money, Strut is probably a pretty accurate picture of recording companies pre- Sean Combs, sadly. Vic and his cronies seem to have love using the "n" word alot, too. I don't think I've heard it used this much ever outside of any of the films starring Rudy Ray Moore. Run DMC hires Russell's not-to-bright, yet mechanically inclined cousin (don't we all possess one of these?) Runny Ray (Raymond White) as a roadie, who accidentally stumbles upon one of Vic's dope deals gone bad, and gets himself shot. After going to the police , who are seemingly racist, too, and failing to make any head-way on finding Ray's murderer, the Kings of Rock decide to take the law into their own hands, with surprisingly violent results. The End.

It's a scary world, the one presented in Tougher Than Leather, one in which every white person on the planet hates rap music..... and is a senseless bigot. But, instead of being served up as social commentary, this take on 1970s blaxploitation's senseless script and lack of decent direction makes it seem more exploitive than any of it's counterparts from that era. Some decent music tracks by Run DMC and the Beastie Boys are some of the few redeeming factors of this film, though.

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