When Jonathan Kaplan originally signed up for TRUCK TURNER, he was told by A.I.P. that it was going to be a vehicle for Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum. Something like a day later he was told that it was now an Isaac Hayes movie. Hayes was hot off an Academy Award win for his Theme from SHAFT and A.I.P. was looking to capitalize on that with another all Isaac Hayes soundtrack. I find this interesting because film companies that often deal with exploitation product usually want to take advantage of certain actors for box office value, but in this case it was more about the soundtrack. It was that soundtrack that ended up being Kaplan and Hayes' ticket to being pretty much left alone to make the movie they wanted to make. The script was originally much more of a DIRTY HARRY kinda thing and both Kaplan and Hayes had little interest in that or in a straight action movie in general. What they ended up going for was a movie with much more humor to it and something that was basically a send-up of the Blaxploitation genre in a lot of ways. It is the humor that really makes the movie memorable in my mind. It is the humor and Hayes' approach to the character of Turner that really makes it one of the best films of this cycle for my money. I mean, I am fond of saying that it is truly my favorite Blaxploitation movie and this Blu-ray just reminds me how much I love it. Not only does it have a very solid looking HD transfer to show off, but there are a couple of great supplements that really bring the whole thing up to a Criterion-level package. The first is an excellent anything-goes commentary track with director Jonathan Kaplan. This is a delightful track and it is moderated by the venerable Elijah Drenner (documentary filmmaker behind AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE and THAT GUY DICK MILLER). So often a moderator for a commentary seems somewhat arbitrarily chose and it really leaves the hardcore film fan rather disappointed because there are so many lost opportunities and missed questions that could have been asked. Well Mr. Drenner is "one of us" for lack of a better phrase and is a guy who not only knows Kaplan's filmography very well, but is also just genuinely interested and fascinated by the stories that the director has to tell about this movie. He really helps bring out the best in Kaplan and Kaplan is a great storyteller so it is a truly winning combination. There are tons of great stories and insights packed into this track and it is absolutely fantastic to hear so much of the behind-the-scenes on a movie I have loved so dearly for so long. This may be my favorite commentary track of the year, right up there with Tm Hunter's commentary on RIVER'S EDGE and the Twilight Time track with Dennis Christopher on their BREAKING AWAY Blu-ray.
The second extra feature is a recorded Q&A from a 2008 screening at Los Angeles' New Beverly Cinema. It runs about eight minutes, features Kaplan and Stuntman Bob Minor and is moderated by none other than Joe Dante himself. Some retellings of the commentary stories here, but other stuff too.
Here's a great Trailers From Hell with Ernest Dickerson on TRUCK TURNER:
REAL MEN (1987; Dennis Feldman)
The name Dennis Feldman may not immediately ring a bell with you the first time you hear it, but believe me, you know the man's work. He wrote the script for JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (which is one of my favorite 80s movies), as well as THE GOLDEN CHILD (which is an underrated Eddie Murphy movie for sure). On top of that, he also wrote SPECIES! Anyway, REAL MEN is clearly the vision of one individual cause it's just weird enough to have somehow gotten made in 1987 with Feldman writing and directing. It's one of those wild adventure movie comedies that we just don't see anymore. Kind of a James Bond spoof, but also just a farce of a certain kind of wackiness that I remember fondly from that era. Enjoyably cast as the everyman turned action-hero here is the late great John Ritter. He is brought into a far-reaching and out there (literally) conspiracy by a near-rogue C.I.A. agent played by Jim Belushi. This was prime time for Belushi's comedy stylings for me. He would make RED HEAT the next year and K-9 the year after that. He certainly elevated both of those movies and does exactly the same here. His ability to play comedy in what would otherwise be seen as an extremely serious scene is something I've always been wowed by. Belushi genes I guess. And as for Ritter, I see him as one of the somewhat unsung comic geniuses of his generation. He was a physical comedian of the highest order first and foremost and could have held his own with the Chaplins and the Keatons of cinema in my opinion. His ability to make his body got to jelly at a moment's notice is something I think a lot of people forgot about when they were so eager to sing the praises of Jim Carrey during his comedic heyday. Ritter and Belushi are a superb duo here and they really keep the energy of this very frenetic and fast-talking screwball of a movie trucking right along. I think that this is one that a lot of folks caught on VHS back when and so it has a bit of a cult following now, but not nearly what it should have. I am elated to see it get the Blu-ray treatment and know that this will mean more fans joining the REAL MEN team shortly.
Transfer is good here too, no complaints. It is certainly nice to see the film widescreen after a 4x3 DVD prior to this release.