Are you bored of action movies with cogent, discernible plots? Are you irritated when characters react in ways similar to actual human beings? Do the well crafted, easy to follow storylines of movies like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and Samurai Cop leave you cold? If so, I have just the movie for you. Courtesy of alleged director Eames Demetrios, I present the 1989 Direct to Video action thriller, Danger USA, aka Mind Trap, aka What the Fuck Is Happening and Why Is Grizzly Adams There?
The story begins with Lyle Waggoner (the Chris Pine of 1975) as a suave cat burglar sneaking into a fancy apartment, intent on stealing diamonds from a bedroom safe. He is not a very good cat burglar. Despite the woman sleeping just a few feet away, Lyle loudly talks to himself as he works, knocks things over, and generally makes a huge racket. When she eventually wakes, Lyle pulls a gun and cheerfully explains how he is going to kill her. After a little banter, our sleepy heroine gets the drop on Lyle with the classic action move of kicking a cat into his face. Taking no shit from the silver haired has-been, she shoots him in the stomach and throws him out of her apartment, which, previously unmentioned, is hauled behind an 18-wheeler barrelling down the LA freeway.
Then things start to get confusing. It turns out this was a film within a film, screened for the lead actress Shana Beddow (Martha Kincare) by her director, Sergei (Dan Haggerty, the star of Grizzly Adams). Since the producers blew most of their casting budget on five minutes of screen time for TV Wonder Woman’s boyfriend and a beloved hippy mountain man, Waggoner and Haggerty are the only recognizable actors in the movie. Though judging by his performance, Haggerty was paid in sweaters and Quaaludes.
As far as I can tell, the real story is about a group of Soviet spies who are looking for the Dream Room, a machine that transforms thought waves into holograms, invented by Shana’s supposedly dead dad, Col. Beddow. It’s also about Shana getting revenge on the aforementioned spies for murdering her entire family while in search of the Dream Room. It also somehow involves a right-wing political consultant who drinks breast milk and constantly reminds people of his two-minute limit on telephone calls, even for the President. The US Navy also plays a part, in some capacity. And an S&M dominatrix randomly shows up for some reason. Honestly, I gave up writing notes halfway through. The only way to get through this movie is to stop struggling and let it take you where it will. Asking questions only leads to madness.
Danger USA is a brilliant action movie parody that would make Jim Abrams and David Zucker jealous, made all the more hilarious because it is clearly not intended to be parody. Virtually every scene has at least one “wait, what?” moment. Here is a typical example. The Soviet conspirators have tracked Shana’s father to his secret laboratory in a Navy base, which looks suspiciously like someone’s backyard workshop. They execute Col. Beddow in front of his daughter, who also works at the base. Just as the baddies are about to shoot her, a guard bursts in and demands to know who’s in charge. One of the killers claims to be a Navy officer and explains that Beddow wanted to defect to Russia and was killed while trying to steal government secrets. The guard INSTANTLY believes this story, even though the guy has no identification, the whole group is dressed in black, two of them are wearing Halloween masks, and one sounds like Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Not only that, the guard then arrests the daughter—his own co-worker—for lying to protect the reputation of her apparently treasonous father.
Mind you, I said this was a typical example of the movie’s what-the-fuckery. It is far from the grandest. Story continuity was never a big concern with low budget 80s action, but Danger USA takes this disregard to absurd levels. If the character from Memento decided to become a director instead of hunting for his wife’s killer, this is the movie he would make.
At one point, Shana goes undercover to get close to one of men who murdered her family in front of her eyes. Even though this man clearly saw and talked to her just the night before, her idea of a disguise amounts to wearing sexy clothes and putting her hair up. Even Clark Kent would be embarrassed by her lack of effort. Her target immediately recognizes her, but thanks to his otherwise flawless stupidity, she eventually kills him anyway. Scratching one name off her list, she goes after the next killer using the same tactics and exactly the same disguise. This next guy, again having just seen her at the family massacre and warned about her coming to seek vengeance, is totally fooled.
The plot changes lanes like a nearsighted grandma hopped up on cough syrup. Nefarious right-wing media consultant Robert Wratka (Sam Hill) is set up like a major villain. He’s introduced making a political ad with a gun-toting candidate vowing on air to personally murder liberal terrorists. He then disappears for the entire middle section. Later, while shooting her way out of an ambush, Shana is shocked when Wratka shows up and yells cut. The ambush was actually a surprise audition for Wratka’s next project and he was impressed with her performance. Not sure if killing several of his actors negatively or positively affected her evaluation.
Although the final act involves an extremely obvious twist (could Shana’s fiancée—who everyone hates and is in a “coma”—be somehow involved?), I guarantee the climax will surprise you. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a climax like this one. Words cannot do it justice. Hell, words can’t even explain it.
Despite having a face I was sure I’d seen multiple times before, Danger USA is lead actress Martha Kincare’s only screen credit. Which is a shame, because—hand to god—I honestly liked her performance. I loved her excited, “hell yeah, I’m doing this” enthusiasm, even when it was wildly inappropriate for the scene. Especially when it was wildly inappropriate. She is the perfect tour guide through this psychotic cinematic clusterfuck.
I doubt Kincare spent much time questioning her motivation before a scene, like for instance, when her character strangles a guy to death with a saw band on an escalator in the middle of a crowded mall. She gives it her all, every time. It’s something to be proud of. I hope she has a giant, framed Mind Trap poster hanging in her house, assuming posters for this movie were ever made under any title. Instead of an ‘Ask Me About My Grandkids’ bumper sticker, I hope she has one that says ‘Ask Me About My Direct To Video Action Movie.’