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Junkfood Cinema: Captain America (1990)

By  · Published on July 22nd, 2011

Junkfood Cinema: Captain America (1990)

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; the home of the brave. Here at JFC, we are one nation united under our love for schlock. Every week we salute the standard-bearers of terrible films. First we savagely thrash at the film’s faults; clawing at it like a bald eagle startled into rage by a thunderous fireworks display. But then, once we’ve knocked the stars and stripes out of it, we dust it off and slowly raise it back up with our unabashed adoration like Old Glory at Iwojima. We sing its praises like we’re Toby Keith in September and prove that yes we can…unironically appreciate crappy films. To punctuate this, our other national pastime, we will pair the film with a patriotically delicious junkfood item to storm the beaches of your intestinal fortitude much in the same fashion that the film declares war on your brain cells.

This week’s treat: Captain America.

What Makes It Bad?

It may surprise you to learn that dreamy-faced Chris Evans is not the first actor to don the mantle of Captain America. In fact, the idea that there would be Marvel movies from years past that are now virtually impossible to find is incredible given the fact that superhero movies are currently an industry exceeding Fortune 500 levels of profit and residing more comfortably in the “stupid huge” section of the NASDAQ index, So ask yourself this question, how bad would a Captain America movie have to be before the studio would completely bury it? Now multiple that answer by fourty-teen and you’ve got this film.

The biggest problem with 1990’s Captain America is every perceivable aspect. It looks like it was made with the annual proceeds from a gas station penny tray and harbors all the ambition and artistic vision of…someone who works at a gas station. It borders on erroneous to even use the words production value when discussing Captain America because it puts the film and the word value in far too dangerously close a proximity. It appears to have been shot on 35, but it confounds me just how they were able to loop the film around spools inside one of those cardboard boxes elementary school kids use to view an eclipse. It also boasts all the special effects of your cousin’s wedding video so, you know, there’s that. It’s true, the science involved in giving Cap his powers involved a dim spotlight and “creatively repurposed” Star Wars sound effects. Plagiarism! America!

So with the myriad talent available at the close of the 1980s, the casting options for our titular, jingoistic hero were limitless. But “director” Albert Pyun is not a man beholden to convention…or reason. Therefore he tossed aside the headshots and the copies of Variety on his desk and instead harkened back to his 10th grade English class to help inform his decision. I assume the thought process went something like this:

I really loved The Catcher in the Rye.

Well, I liked it.

I definitely remember The Catcher in the Rye was a book.

I should cast the author’s son as Captain America.

The other cars in that long train of thought tragically derailed and exploded long ago; lost to the ages and a giant bag of what I assume were some truly potent mushrooms. In any event, that’s how we got this gargantuan dope, Matt Salinger, in blue tights who somewhat resembles Dolph Lundgren’s slap-faced cousin. The whole point of the Captain America story arc is that a sickly, frail boy who desperately wants to fight in WWII but can’t is transformed into a chiseled block of hero beef thanks to science. The only thing that appears physically wrong with Salinger is his slight limp, which couldn’t be any more obviously fake if it were being performed by Sirs Milli and/or Vanilli. Salinger perpetually looks like an idiot child with someone waving a shiny set of keys just off screen. I honestly thought they scrapped the physical transformation storyline for a Flowers for Algernon situation…except that he never got any smarter.

But at least there’s the fact that HE DOES NOTHING HEROIC THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE MOVIE!!! Am I being too critical? Let’s go to the videotape! First mission out of the gate he gets his ass handed to him and finds himself airplane-glued to a rocket. Then, despite the fact that it was fired from half a planet away, he waits until the rocket is inches from the White House before he makes any effort to divert its trajectory; he manages to stumble oafishly into success, but still. Then, after he’s unfrozen from a nearly fifty-year ice nap, he calls the first person he sees a Nazi just because they are German. He then steals the truck of the man who saves him from an assassin, runs in terror from a woman in bikini, assaults the daughter of his former flame, watches a bunch of videotapes, steals a second car, and rides a bike off the edge of a cliff. America! Oh, and let us not forget that Captain America is saved not once but twice by the President of the United States. Gotta love a superhero that doubles as an extremely ugly damsel in distress.

Now to our villain, Red Skull. I can forgive the fact that they made him Italian for no reason other than to subject us to the actor’s hideous accent; even the Superest of Marios would say, “Mama mia, that’sa blatant stereotype-ah!” I’ll even deal with the fact that the Red Skull hates black people for some absurd reason. Yeah, they make references to him being behind three major assassinations since World War II: JFK, RFK, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He then laments about how all it did was make them “martyrs to the cause.” How the hell does keeping America racially unbalanced aide his world domination plot?! Asshole. I can even forgive the slight plot-ular discrepancy that he’s abducted as a ten-year-old boy in 1936 and then seven years later (as the titles tell us), in 1943 (also as the titles tell us, clearly harboring no confidence in our math skills), is somehow 40. All of this I can overlook.

But why in the name of Gen. George S. Patton’s bionic testicles did they change his face?! He begins the movie with his signature crimson visage and then, for no reason whatsoever, it’s gone! There is a throwaway line about an hour in about his having cosmetic surgery. But as he is still openly heading an evil organization bent on world domination, what could possibly be the necessity for anonymity? What is clear is that the filmmakers simply ran out of money for the makeup and threw something together at the last possible second. If you’re going to take away the fact that he’s German, Red Skull’s only identifying feature is his red skull…so clearly let’s take that away as well. Would you paint the Green Goblin purple? Would you cower in fear before Bachelors of Science Doom?! Without the red skull, he’s nothing but the “before” model in a Proactiv commercial and the most intimidating thing about him is his army of spoiled, fashionable young Italian assassins; it’s like being threatened by a late 80s Armani ad.

Why I Love It!

There’s something magical about the failures of Captain America. Listening to Matt Salinger effiminate his way through every line while sporting giant rubber ears on the outside of his mask in lieu of cutting two small holes is beyond hilarious. My favorite line? “When do I get some fresh troops in my battalion?” Double entendre! America! I love the fact that the movie shows us a picture of the White House and then not only blasts text on the screen to tell us that it’s the White House but then follows it up with further text telling us it’s in Washington, D.C. Thanks movie, because otherwise I would have thought you meant the White House in Azerbaijan. And why is it that the man responsible for bringing the Nazi spy into the lab where Captain America was created, the spy who then killed his creator, is still accompanying the General everywhere and is still privy to sensitive information? Really, no one cares that he’s clearly a traitor? Just checking.

The only thing that temporarily halted my laughter at all this sterling ineptitude was the sight of two great actors who clearly did not read the script…or the strongly-worded warning letters from their agents. The first is Ronny Cox who plays the president. Ronny Cox is a b-movie auteur with the likes of Robocop, Vision Quest, Hollywood Vice Squad, and Steel Justice to his credit. The best part about his character, other than the fact that he saves our hero twice, is that he’s a child when he first sees Captain America. We then follow the events of his life through an all-too-familiar newspaper montage to track the passage of time. In other words, every pedestrian accomplishment in this kid’s life is front page news! Actual headline used: “Local Boy Graduates High School.” Must have been a slow news…generation. This kid’s best friend grows up to not only be a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, but Ned Beatty as well! His goofball performance is enough to make anyone squeal…with delight.

The best thing I can say about the theatrical cut of Captain America is that it’s not the director’s cut. As “director” Albert Pyun has only screened his “director’s” cut once to the folks in that slightly-less-than-empty Alamo Drafthouse theater last weekend, I don’t expect many of you to fully grasp the weight of that first sentence. I’ll do my best to convey the red, white, black, and blue trainwreck that got Pyun immediately and correctly thrown off this film. If my ranting about how Cap does nothing heroic was at all an overstatement, in the least an overzealous hyperbole, Pyun’s cut seeks to strike down anyone who would dare defend him in this regard. Remember that issue of Captain America where Cappy decides he doesn’t need to fight crime anymore and instead becomes a janitor at Gold’s Gym? NO! Because that’s FUCKING STUPID! That’s right, in addition to cutting to needless insert shots of Red Skull and blatantly lying about who won the 1943 World Series (it wasn’t the Red Sox), Pyun ensures that our country’s greatest champion is shielding the treadmills from villainous bacteria.

Junkfood Pairing: Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Baseball…Shaped Gumballs

What better way to toast America’s hero than with a trio of edible symbols of what makes this country great: reconstituted meat scraps, a dessert that’s actually Dutch, and eating things shaped like things you aren’t supposed to eat. He may not seem like the flag-waving poster boy he should be, but rest assured Matt Salinger’s Cap is as American as this three-course junkfood feast. He’s so American that he seems baffled by the existence of Canada…a country very much established before he was frozen in the 40s. Ignorance of geography! America!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.