Dollar Store Double Feature: "Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe" (1990) and "Laser Mission" (1989)
Whatever Happened to Dollar Store DVDs?
I miss the racks of "Dollar DVDs" which were once a regular sight at Wal-Mart and in dollar stores. Labels like DigiView, BCI/Eclipse, and EastWestDVD specialized in re-packaging public-domain movies, cartoons and vintage TV shows and provided junk-movie devotees (such as myself) with near-endless viewing possibilities. I could never resist these one-buck wonders, and was particularly fond of the "double feature" DVDs with two movies on a single disc. Even if both movies ended up sucking (which most of them did), you didn't feel ripped off at only fifty cents a flick!
Dollar DVDs have seemingly disappeared from the retail landscape, as digital video streaming became more commonplace, but I still own a stack of these discs from back in the day, and I was recently inspired to re-visit two oldies-but-baddies from my collection —Abraxas: Guardian Of The Universe starring Jesse Ventura and Laser Mission starring Brandon Lee. It's been quite a few years since I've watched either of these clunkers—could they possibly have improved with age? Ehhh....not really.
(WARNING: the reviews below contain spoilers.)
"Laser Mission" (1989)
Starring: Brandon Lee, Ernest Borgnine, Debi Monahan
Directed by: B.J. Davis
Laser Mission is a schlocky, generic piece of action junk that probably would have been forgotten by now if it didn't star the late Brandon Lee, who became an instant cult icon when he was killed in an on-set accident during the filming of 1994's The Crow. This South African-lensed cheapie has been a fixture in bargain video bins going all the way back to the VHS era, yet I had somehow managed to miss out on it till now. 85 minutes later I'm wondering why I bothered.
The filmmakers were apparently trying for a globe-trotting James Bond feel with Laser Mission, but unfortunately they tried to do it on a six-pack budget. Lee plays a mercenary named Michael Gold (we know he's a mercenary because an awful soft-rock song called "He's a Mercenary Man" follows him throughout the film), hired by the CIA to locate Professor Braun, a Cuban missile scientist played by a comically-accented Ernest Borgnine. The mission is urgent because a terrorist group of rogue KGB agents also has plans for the Professor -- they want to use his vast knowledge of laser technology to create a nuclear weapon for them out of a large stolen diamond (wait...what?).
When Gold locates the Professor on a beach in Cuba, the bad guys hit him with a tranquilizer dart (Why didn't they just kill him outright? Well, duh...because then there'd be no movie!) and kidnap the Prof. Michael manages to escape back to the US embassy, and resumes his search for the Professor with the help of a goofy blonde (Debi Monahan) who claims to be Braun's daughter, "Alissa." Once our Odd Couple pairs up, they set off on a trip through the desert that takes up the bulk of the movie, arguing with each other and kicking random terrorists' butts all the way, before a final showdown at the bad guys' hideout. After a bunch of stuff blows up and a lot more butts get kicked, the Prof is rescued, Michael and Alissa smooch, fade out, the end.
Giving credit where it's due, Brandon Lee keeps his tongue planted firmly in his cheek throughout Laser Mission, as if he KNOWS this movie sucks but he's decided to have fun with it anyway. What stunned me is that even though Brandon was (obviously) a kick-ass martial artist, his character in this movie barely gets a chance to show off any moves! By the halfway point of Laser Mission I decided to focus on Monahan's impressive cleavage (which is prominently on display in a low-cut dress for much of the film) rather than follow any more of the increasingly nonsensical story and painfully silly dialog. (At one point one of her dress straps slips off her shoulder, but that brief hint of nudity is all we get to see. Curses!)
In short, Laser Mission is easily skippable, even for the most hardcore Brandon Lee cultists. Its most prominent assets are found only on Ms. Monahan's chest. Don't bother to accept this Mission!
"Laser Mission" trailer:
"Abraxas: Guardian Of The Universe" (1990)
Starring: Jesse Ventura, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Marjorie Bransfield, Jim Belushi
Directed by: Damian Lee
After sitting through Laser Mission I didn't think things could get much worse ... but oh, how wrong I was. Abraxas: Guardian Of The Universe is a low (extremely low!) budget sci-fi flick that borrows liberally from The Terminator, with a heaping helping of extra cosmic gibberish.
Abraxas stars former wrestler, one time Minnesota governor and TV conspiracy theorist Jesse "The Body" Ventura as the title character, a futuristic law man from an alternate dimension who is sent to Earth to track down "Secundus," a rogue member of his department. Secundus is played by stuntman and body builder Sven-Ole Thorsen, whose impenetrable accent reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger's... or perhaps Rainier Wolfcastle of The Simpsons. Anyway, in the first ten minutes of this movie, Secundus arrives on Earth and impregnates local girl Sonia (Marjorie Bransfield) merely by touching her stomach. She gives birth to a baby boy approximately thirty seconds later (just as Abraxas arrives to kick Secundus' ass all over the landscape) but apparently she doesn't find this unusual, as she simply takes the kid home and resumes her small town life as a single Mom.
We then flash forward five years. Secundus' child "Tommy" has grown into a cute but creepy little kid who never speaks and who has telekinetic powers, which come in handy when dealing with bullies at school. Tommy and Sonja's solitude is interrupted when Secundus returns to claim his son, because Tommy apparently possesses a cosmic power called "The Anti-Life Equation" that will make Secundus into a God. (Exactly what the Anti-Life Equation is is never fully explained, nor is how the whole God-Making Process works...but that's OK, just roll with it.) Fortunately, Abraxas returns to take on the role of guardian to Tommy and his Mom. From there we are subjected to near endless chase scenes through the woods at night, punctuated by occasional explosions, and lots of unnecessary voice over narrations by Ventura, whose acting performance is best described as "wooden." The highlight of the film is a night time "fatherly chat" scene between Abraxas and Tommy that contains so many howlingly bad, unintentionally creepy lines of dialogue that I won't go into them here (you can easily find them on the "quotable lines" section of the film's IMDb page). I must also mention the hilariously god-awful music, which sounds like the soundtrack to a soft-core porn flick played by Kenny G. rather than what you'd expect to hear in a supposed action film score. Now I understand why Jesse Ventura suddenly quit acting and went into politics...because after Abraxas, he probably couldn't get another gig in Hollywood.Who knows, if Jesse's political opponents had passed out Abraxas DVDs at campaign stops, maybe they could've derailed his bid for governor!!
The age of the Dollar DVD may have passed, but Laser Mission and Abraxas still regularly turn up in those bargain-priced DVD box sets of 20, 50, or 100 public domain B-Movies which are a common sight at major retailers like Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Strangely, Laser Mission tends to be included in a lot of "Sci-Fi' themed sets even though it's not a science fiction film at all. I guess whoever compiles these boxes assumes it's sci-fi because of the word "Laser" in the title.
No matter where you may find Abraxas or Laser Mission, this former Dollar DVD Guy is officially warning you to avoid both films like they're explosive devices. Even the most hardened, battle scarred bad movie devotees (i.e. people like me!) will have trouble making it through them both!