Samurai Cop

Year: 1991
Production Co: Hollywood Royal Pictures
Director: Amir Shervan
Producer: Amir Shervan
Writer: Amir Shervan
Cast: Mathew Karedas, Mark Frazer, Janis Farley, Robert Z'Dar, Melissa Moore

Something had made me think this film was a grindhouse horror/police drama mashup, but I realised I'd been thinking of William Lustig's Maniac Cop from a few years before.

Instead, Samurai Cop is a police action drama about a cop who happens to be a samurai... apparently something the sometime use of a sword qualifies you for. It's possible the studio behind it renamed the film to cash in on some recent box office hit (a tactic a lot of those low-rent straight to video production houses resorted to back in the day).

In fact, I think my confusion was from a poster for this film I must have seen in a video store 100 years ago that riffed on Maniac Cop but otherwise had absolutely nothing to do with it.

If only the cheap and deceitful marketing tactics at the scuzzy end of Hollywood in the late 80s and early 90s was the only thing wrong with Samurai Cop...

But before I get to the real magic, we should give the story a cursory once-over – writer/director/producer Amir Shervin went to the trouble of at least one pass over the script and probably a rough spellcheck, after all. Joe (Mathew Karedas) is a straight-talking, break-all-the-rules plainclothes cop who, along with partner Frank (Mark Frazer), has to stop a ruthless Yakuza gang from eliminating all its enemies and taking control of the drug trade in LA.

If you're a fan of bad movies like The Room and Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, Samurai Cop will assume a special place on your list. To call it Plan 9 From Outer Space level bad is almost an insult to Plan 9 From Outer Space. The story is as boring and forgettable as the action, and if every other aspect of the moviemaking crafts had been merely serviceable nobody today (a quarter of a century later as I write this) would remember Samurai Cop ever existed.

Instead it's the fruity dialogue, ridiculous set pieces, frankly bizarre (never mind outdated) sexual politics, shocking continuity, actively distracting (never mind bad) editing choices and costumes and hair that are as woeful as the acting that make it the perfect bad film.

When the romantic lead is walking hand in hand along a beach with the leading lady (her in a one-piece G-string swimsuit and he in slick black speedos so tight you can see what he had for breakfast) is only the eighth or ninth funniest thing in it, your film's in trouble.

Samurai Cop is beyond classic in the depths of low quality it reaches. Shervan couldn't capture a sequence that looked normal by accident, let alone a whole scene or narrative thread.

They also seemed to blow what limited budget they had on jarring scenery that has nothing to do with the plot. In one scene, when Joe and Frank are chasing some bad guy in their car, they're in touch with colleague Peggy (Melissa Moore) in the police chopper above.

As they race around Long Beach docks after the perps, Peggy keeps in touch from the air... hovering over downtown (40 minutes away) for no reason other than to feature a long, expensive shot circling the US Bank tower from above.

It's also obvious Shervan loved classic TV cop shows about rebels who like to break the rules to get things done, but as he apparently had absolutely no filmmaking talent, making a hilarious hash of every trope and cliché that were stupid and shopworn to begin with. In fact – as you often suspect about movies this consistently awful – you wonder if the Iranian filmmaker was a secret genius and it's all an elaborate piece of performance art.

Instead, it's more likely there was just no money... or skill. Everything was shot during the day because they couldn't afford lights. None of the sound from the set is in the final cut – even actors' lines are dubbed.

You'll see hero Karedas' hair change from one scene to the next because they had to bring him back months later to do copious amounts of reshoots and he'd cut his hair short, so they seemingly found the worst looking wig in North America to put on him.

With his flowing locks, high top sneakers and leather jacket he's also the epitome of macho sex appeal in the era. Peggy fucks him (later offering to fuck a much older senior colleague for seemingly no reason). The eventual heroine Jennifer (who owns the restaurant the Yakuza boss likes to eat at, played by Janis Farley) fucks him. When he and Frank go to see an injured bad guy in hospital to question him, the nurse asks Joe without a by-your-leave if he likes what he sees, then if he wants to touch it, then if he wants to fuck it. I'm not kidding.

Joe just smirks while Frank looks on leerily, cheering encouragement from the sidelines over behaviour that surely would have got anyone involved fired and charged even in the early 90s, let alone today.

If you've ever lived in LA the shoddy continuity is also like a bonus reel within the film. Jennifer's restaurant is on Third St downtown, and when Joe and Frank race over there for the final showdown they're clearly in the canyon country of the Hollywood Hills.

But even if you're not familiar with the geography of LA neighbourhoods, it's not hard to see the production has moved miles away with every camera angle change in a car or foot chase. It's hard to remember how many laugh out loud moments there are in Samurai Cop, and I'm sure that (like the best work of Chris Nolan), it would offer something fresh every time you see it.

But in possibly the best cross-pollination of talents in the industry ever put on film, they did a sequel 24 years later, with Kareda looking like a reanimated corpse complete with long, stringy hair, teaming up with partner Frank played by once again Mark Frazer, and none other than bad movie demigod Tommy Wiseau (The Room) in the cast as well.

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