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Film Reviews

You Just Bought Yourself a Hard Ticket To Hawaii (1987)

“Have you seen the movie where the skateboarder is riding around with the blow-up doll and gets killed by a rocket launcher?”

My answer of course, was no.

It was one of those fraternal, one-upping conversations where each participant tried to out-obscure the other. My entry was a grainy, badly-dubbed kung-fu flick from the mid-70s – a category always guaranteed to please. But my sparring partner had named a trifecta I hadn’t yet experienced: a skateboard, a blow-up doll, and a rocket launcher. In that moment, I knew I would go to great – and possibly illegal – lengths to see this movie.

Trying not to sound excited, I asked, “What’s it called?”

“Have you heard of Andy Sidaris?” He asked.

The name sounded vaguely familiar. A distant relative to Dave Sedaris? I stayed quiet.

After a dramatic pause, he said, “HARD TICKET TO HAWAII.”

Cast of Hard Ticket in candid moment of pontification.

I etched the words into my brain, hoping they wouldn’t be washed away by the alcohol. When I arrived home later that night, I immediately consulted the Google God. I hit the search button and found myself becoming immersed in a world I couldn’t have ever imagined.

Yes, there were skateboarders here, but there were soap-opera actors, too . . . and Playboy models, tropical conspiracies, raunchy old men, evil villains, big guns, small guns, bungled lines, bad deliveries, endless double-entendres, dime-store euphemisms, and a treasure trove of jaw-dropping one-liners.

In the history of late-night movies, Andy Sidaris is like a rogue disciple of Russ Meyer. A Chuang Tzu of T&A. He took the Meyer Constant (Large Breasts) and applied it to the Action Movie Constant (Guns + Explosions). The compound result of these factors is what is now called the Sidaris Equation: Bullets, Bombs and Babes (sometimes called Girls, Guns and G-strings). Colloquially, the Triple-B formula.

Average day for Andy Sidaris

Sidaris was born in 1931 to a Greek family from Chicago, IL. After graduating from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Sidaris embarked on a successful television career, where he directed sports coverage for hundreds of professional football and basketball games. In 1969, he won an Emmy for his work directing the Summer Olympics, and he was a long-time contributor to ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Throughout the 1970s, he also ventured into the world of television drama, working on shows like Kojak, Gemini Man, and Monday Night Football.

The rumor floating of Sidaris lore is that he was the pioneer of the ‘Honey Shot,’ which is the sports broadcast production decision to include an incongruous close-ups of cheerleaders or pretty, oblivious women sitting in the stands. This technique is now a staple of sports broadcasting. While the ‘Honey Shot’ might ruffle the conscientious feathers of more observant viewers, the Sidaris defense might suggest that this decision helps break up and balance out the otherwise testosterone-addled narrative of professional sports. Of course, even others might say the gaze is still ‘male’ in its constitution, but then again, the Sidaris defense might simply shrug its shoulders and say ‘it’s only football.’

Sidaris isn’t out to prove anything. He’s just trying to make a movie. At the age of 54, with most of his sports-directing career behind him, Sidaris jumped head-first into the B-movie world when he wrote, produced and directed Malibu Express (1985), the first installment of his Triple-B series. For casting, he preferred Playboy and Penthouse centerfolds, soap opera actors, and various other Ubermenschen – the nice-to-look at bipeds. Over the next thirteen years, Sidaris would make eleven more movies to be included in the Triple-B series, with the final installment – L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies: Return to Savage Beach – completed in 1998. Sidaris died in 2007.

Sidaris may be dead, but this phallic joke practically writes itself.

The films never saw distribution out of the late-night broadcast circuit, and even then, the films were sequestered away to those fuzzy channels on the high end of the dial. The release of Malibu Express was aided by video and the omnipresence of home video systems, so most early Sidaris fans would have come across his films by chance, rather than intention. Despite this obscurity – and perhaps because of it – Sidaris continues to have a strong cult following. The most common port of entry into the Sidaris canon is through the world of Hard Ticket to Hawaii.

Hard Ticket is the second installment of the Triple-B series, and it is one of the best. This is because it takes itself less seriously than the other Sidaris films. None of them are particularly hard-boiled, but the naive idiosyncrasies that make Hard Ticket so compelling began to dimish with each later installment. By the time you reach L.E.T.H.A.L., you have no more toxic snakes, blow-up dolls, or games of frisbee.

Hard Ticket stars Dona Spier and Hope Marie Carlton (both of Playboy fame), as Donna and Taryn, who play DEA agents attempting to uncover the mystery surrounding a murder of fellow agents on a ‘private Hawaiian island.’ On their search, they accidentally intercept a shipment of diamonds intended for drug lord Seth Romero (played by soap opera actor Rodrigo Obregon). Donna and Taryn soon find themselves in a bind – and in various stages of undress. They call for backup, which comes in the form of Rowdy Abilene (Ronn Moss of The Bold and the Beautiful) and his equally muscle-bound partner, both of whom we ALSO see in various stages of undress. Sidaris is an EOO (Equal Opportunity Objectifier).

Normal day on the job for these two DEA agents

If the drug and diamond conspiracy isn’t enough, there is also a deadly, toxic snake on the loose. Questions like ‘how?’ or ‘why?’ are irrelevant. The important thing is that it’s a snake and it’s toxic.

The film is full of discursions, excursions, incisions, and various excuses for female and male toplessness. You have various vignettes and lines of dialogue that stand out more than the others. For example, earlier in the film, Sidaris makes a cameo appearance as a raunchy, traveling businessman with a serious case of the Freudian Slips. He is in the restaurant, being served by a waitress (played by Playmate Cynthia Brimhall). Amazed by the size of her breasts, Sidaris ‘accidentally’ orders a ‘pair of coffee.’ You can almost hear the crickets.

Did I mention there was a toxic snake?

There are, of course, the inevtiable jokes about gun sizes and other mechanisms, but the real treasures in Hard Ticket are the scenes (contrivances). One of the gems includes a seen where Rowdy attempts to break the defenses of Romero’s drug trade by offing one of his top guards. Rumor has it that the guard loves playing Frisbee, so Rowdy makes a Frisbee with razor blades on the outer rim.

Rowdy finds a beautiful woman on the beach, and encourages her to come play Frisbee near the guard, who is sitting in the shade. Rowdy and the girl toss a normal Frisbee back and forth, attempting to draw the guard’s attention. The guard, competitive as he is, wants in on the game. Rowdy tells the girl to scram (but is also sure to tell her that she has a ‘nice ass’), and then plays frisbee with the guard. He then pulls out the razor’d Frisbee, tosses it to the guard, who loses most of his hand and part of his neck in the process.

Perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, is the following clip, which is better watched than narrated:

Hard Ticket is a Mobius strip of mystery, with its drug conspiracies, ‘I’ll be fine’-bullet-hits-to-the-heart, and stripper-styled DEA uniforms. The real mystery of the film, however, is if Sidaris was himself under the influence of “heavy doobies” during the screenwriting (and this is a subtle suggestion for how one might properly enjoy the film.)

Altered state or not, Hard Ticket is a must-see for cult film aficionados. For the past few years, it’s been hard to come by. Netflix had a copy of the disc for a while, but it’s been relegated to Save-Button Oblivion. Copies of some of the Sidaris films were also available on his website (http://www.andysidaris.com/), and VHS and DVD versions of his films could also be found at grossly inflated prices on Amazon and eBay. Out of print means out of print. However, the full 12-movie set was recently made available in a new collection which can be purchased through the website directly. This is good news.

Fear not - Sidaris will never die

In a hundred years, where will Sidaris stand? Will he be like Shelley’s Ozymandias? A once great king, forever eroded by the winds and rains of history, or will Hard Ticket become a guide, a bastion, an oracle; a picture of humanity on the fringes of existence, where physical perfection was matched only by the wit and intelligence of these strange, virile creatures (in dire need of theatrical training)? Only time will tell.

Benjamin van Loon  11/15/11

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