4.29.2011

Parole Violators (1994)

PLOT: A cop-turned-vigilante named Miles Long arms himself with a video camera to catch parolees in criminal acts in order to send them back to prison. That’s right: in this film, hero is spelled A-V-N-E-R-D.

Director: Patrick G. Donahue
Writer: Patrick G. Donahue
Cast: Sean Donahue, Pamela Bosley, Rey Garcia, Michael Kiel, Mike Donahue, Kerry Casey




PLOT THICKENER:
There are some action films which exist on a plane of reality which defies any semblance of rational human behavior or thought. I’m not talking about movies where the hero with a six-shooter never runs out of bullets, or even the hero who has the great fortune of being attacked by thirty dudes, but by no more than one at a time. I’m talking about movies where the hero strains spaghetti on his counter instead of in his sink, and gets hit by two speeding cars before bounding off into the woods like a fucking deer. Really only one movie fits the bill: the action opus from father and son stunt team Patrick and Sean Donahue, 1994’s Parole Violators.

It would be disingenuous on my part to fail to give credit where it’s due; I first caught wind of this film from the always cordial and knowledgeable Big Willie from the Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema. As the podcast’s listeners chased down copies, the film’s trailer began making the rounds via Twitter and Facebook updates before finally landing as a “Cool” post at Badass Digest in mid-April.


After acquiring the film, I was admittedly disappointed by the lack of a bombastic opening sequence. Instead, we get a picturesque shot of the Golden Gate Bridge as the credits roll, followed by a conventional convenience store stick-up. As I’m prone to do in judging action films by the first few minutes, I mentally prepared myself for what I expected to be a film on or around the quality of most PM Entertainment fare. Something with flash and fire and a few memorable moments or characters, but nothing revelatory that approached Arizal-levels of low-budget action genius. Literally seconds after processing this embryonic letdown of a thought, two characters got hit in rapid succession by the same moving car. What unfolded over the next 70 minutes made me chuckle at the silly impulsive cinematwat who judged this film by that first five minutes. While not a pure martial-arts film, Parole Violators is a terrific piece of action cinema.

Former cop and current television show host Miles Long (Fighting Spirit’s Sean Donahue) is a somewhat divisive and shadowy figure among local law enforcement. Some police love that this anonymous “video cop” makes their jobs easier by catching recently paroled criminals regressing to their criminal ways and providing physical evidence to boot. Others, such as Long’s cop girlfriend Tracy (Bosley), find the rumor that he moonlights as a videotaping vigilante both unusual and risky. While his tactics are ethically and legally questionable, they’re effective. He pursues every flavor of low-life, from grizzled stick-up artists to car-jackers. But one recent parolee stands heads and shoulders above the rest.


The villainous Chino, played by first-time-never-again actor Rey Garcia, has just been released from prison several years after being busted by Miles for sexual assault on a minor. His thuggish buddy Toos (Kiel) greets him upon his release and Chino immediately declares his intent to never again do something to put himself behind bars. In his words, he’s “a changed man.” Well, aside from his love for illegally young girls, which he makes sure to reiterate when his buddy questions his sexuality. Beyond the fact that he likes his women young, the only thing we know about Chino is that he has beer on the brain. No matter the situation, he voices his desire to “get a beer” at every opportunity. Just got out of prison? Let’s get a beer. Just evaded capture by throwing a six year-old girl from a moving car? Let’s get a beer. Just had a beer? Let’s get a beer. So how does a reformed sex offender who never wants to go back to prison commemorate his regained freedom? If you said: “he gets a beer,” you’re only half-right. He starts trying to kidnap little girls again.

Miles catches wind of Chino’s release and antics and it’s not long before the bad blood between them starts to boil again. Rather than stay clear of illegalities, Chino and friends go after Tracy’s daughter, inviting the fury of a certain former police officer who lists videography as a hobby. Despite the reputation of kiddie-touchers in the prison community, Chino still manages to lure a former cellmate and his biker friends into aiding his evildoing by dangling the hated Long as a potential reward. It could be said that the line of ex-convicts who want to beat the shit out of Miles Long is ... miles long. (Author’s note: Paused for collective groan).


Most would say that you don’t watch an action movie for the acting, but this film begs to differ. While the dramatic performances are more entertaining than they are good, in a film like this, it works to perfection. Miles and Tracy have an early exchange in a police car garage which requires the actors to yell an entire conversation over the screeches and constant banging of auto work. Later on, an actor sells a shotgun blast to the torso by murmuring “I’ve never been shot before” while softly moaning like an eight year-old who ate too much Halloween candy. There’s also an off-beat and hilarious discussion on the relative strength of birds as a female character writhes around and licks her lips while exposing some prominent camel-toe to her captors... in the back of a pickup truck. (Yes, this happened). So while the frequency and intensity of the action scenes are the film’s obvious strength, the inept acting and incredible dialogue are what enhance the film’s already sky-high rewatch value.

From a directorial standpoint, the elder Donahue is a steady veteran presence and the film is paced quite well. For the most part, the action sequences are competently shot, one of the highlights being an outstanding “empty warehouse” shootout scene. It’s quite literally an orgy of squibs and dudes falling from the rafters. These stunt falls are plentiful, but the one that tops them all has Long falling off a boulder and through about six different tiers of trees before landing chest-first on a branch, only to fall down another cliff before landing with a splash in a shallow riverbed. Fortunately, he shakes off the effects of this 80-foot fall in time to immediately kill two bikers with a knife. As mentioned previously, Violators contains a plethora of high-speed car vs. human body collisions which also need to be seen to be believed. The hand-to-hand fights are a bit short for my tastes but are accented with plenty of blood splatter, falls through windows, and good “baseball bat striking a head of lettuce” sound effects.


Aside from some continuity errors, the only other technical gripe I should note is the clunky editing, some of which appears to have been done to erase all spoken obscenities. I’m dubious on the real necessity of editing “motherfucker” to “mother--” when your film consists of bloody heroes decimating a gang of skinhead bikers with various automatic weapons in order to kill a crazed child molester … but that’s just me.

VERDICT:
In an age where the stuntman has been supplemented or even replaced outright by CGI chicanery, Parole Violators is a refreshing and rewarding watch for action aficionados. Between the epic falls, window smashing, and brutal car hits, this is some of the most insane cinematic stunt-work you’ll find in an American-made actioner and easily the best I’ve seen from a film specifically reviewed for this blog. The lack of clean and crisp fight choreography might leave some martial-arts purists cold, but viewers willing to trade off a bit of chopsocky for pure over-the-top action will want to add this to their collections.

AVAILABILITY:
Since Bottom Line Studios disappeared, exceedingly rare. You might be able to find a gray market copy on DVD.

6 / 7

6 comments:

  1. This sounds great, must try to track it down, excellent review!

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  2. Sir, you had me with the plot description. In fact, I was about to scroll down to the Availability section to find out how to acquire AV NERD: THE MOVIE, but the better angels of my nature won and I read the review. Glad I did, lest I miss out on "Just had a beer? Let's get a beer" and the beautiful description of that bird discussion/camel-toe scene.

    Anyway, never heard of the Donahues, but thank you very much for bringing them to my attention and giving me yet another movie to add to the frighteningly large backlog of Movies I've Yet To Watch.

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  3. Fantastic Review. This looks awesome!

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  4. @A hero never dies / Ty: This film is every bit as incredible as the trailer portends, and then some. Let me know how your respective searches go.

    @EFC: Sean's contributions as an actor forms a longer list of movie credits than that of dear old dad, but their powers combined have led to some batshit insane action movies. Papa Donahue did Kill Squad in 1982 and then a film for Troma called They Call Me Macho Woman before doing this and a movie called Ground Rules (review hopefully pending) in the mid-to-late 90s. The latter has Frank Stallone and Richard Lynch as co-stars so if it's anything but amazing I'm going to be terribly upset.

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  5. Parole Violators, or anything else for that matter, is no longer available for purchase. If you try to purchase anything a message will come up saying, "No Active Stores For This Vendor". That is a real shame since I really wanted the B-Movies magazine they were selling as well as Parole Violators on VHS.

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  6. @NeoContraForce - That's a terrible shame about the availability of the Donahues' films together. A number of them were available for a very short window of time through a distributor called DigiView Productions that sold a lot of public domain films in slim jewel cases at bargain outlets and sites like Amazon. They literally dropped off the face of the earth, so may have been selling those titles without permission. In any case, this only underscores the need for a prestige genre label on the idea of Scream Factory or Synapse which specifically caters to action b-movies. Parole Violators and films like it could find new life if such a pipeline existed.

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