I've been a fan of Roddy Piper ever since I saw him in They Live. If there's a former wrestler out there that has the goods to be a legitimate action star than he is probably the one. He's got a great physical presence along with some adequate charisma and the ability to deliver a good line or two. Unfortunately, hollywood never really saw it the way I do and so he's been forced to work on the outskirts trudging through some pretty awful shit that I am too lazy to look up on imdb and name for you. I did see him in Hell Comes to Frog Town which was a pretty fun post apocalyptic story about the last fertile man on earth or some shit like that. I recommend that one. And, now, I've seen his low budget actioner called Jungleground which takes elements from a picture like Surving The Game (or, The Most Dangerous Game for all you film snobs) and fuses it with the urban gangland aspects of Judgement Night and then surgically removes the entire budget. Anyway, wanted to knock off a quick review or two before I go home for the holidays so here you are. My long anticipated write up for a Roddy Piper picture that no one has heard of and that wasn't even made in the 80s even though it feels like it was.
Jungleground is the kind of picture set in an urban wasteland and likely filmed in Canada somewhere to capture an authentic look and feel of that type of society. There are basically two locations; the east side of a bridge and the west side of that same bridge. I can't remember which side "jungleground" was on but it was probably the bad side. The picture opens with a cocky little pizza delivery boy who doubles as a drug runner for his boss who I guess is named Poppa being sent deep into jungleground to make a delivery. It's his first time so Poppa sends along a hired gun but the poor boy sets off an explosion after ringing the doorbell of a broken down tenement and the hired gun is dispatched by a boy armed with an uzi on roller skates who is named gameshow and thinks he's being clever when he says "the price is your life" (I guess he is referencing "the price is right".) The explosion looked pretty cool anyway.
Roddy Piper plays a police lieutenant named Jake Cornell and he lives on the good side of the river with his artist girlfriend in their spacious loft. He spends most of his time working undercover in jungleground and his scars and traumas from everyday life are what fuels his girlfriend's art which appear to be badly rendered metal sculptures of various nightmarish things indicative of life in the jungleground or so we are told. She's pretty good at what she does though because on this night she is hosting a gala celebrating her art and also some dealer tells her so but later recants and claims it's all shit because she won't sleep with him. This dealer tries to cause a rift between the artist and Piper with a slew of umemorable insults but Piper just responds by saying "I just figure you're like a kid that hasn't been toilet trained yet. He doesn't mean to offend with the load of shit he's been saddled with." That shut the guy up real quick. His artist girlfriend is a real character though because she doesn't accuse Jake of sabotaging her career like most women would in such a picture. She loves him for standing up to the asshole and paraphrases Rachel Ticotin during a nice rooftop scene "grab me now or lose me forever."
Later, some cop named Wilson shows up at the party and it's all downhill from there. Some bad shit is going down at a jungleground bus station and Cornell is needed to oversee a deal, make sure things don't get too fucked up. His job is just to stand by and look inconspicuous (he fails miserably) while a couple of other undercovers broker the deal. I don't know man, this is fucking jungleground. A few white guys (and a lady) pretending to read the paper in the world's most dangerous bus terminal is probably going to stand out. Still, these are not the world's smartest drug dealers so things go okay until one of them decides to pinch the undercover female cop's ass and she unloads a clip into his chest. I think she was new because a seasoned undercover would probably just have laughed off such a gesture, maybe even flashed a little breast with a wink but this cop was into women's lib and shit. Her pride got them all killed except, of course, for Piper who is captured by the gang and given a chance to live. All he has to do is survive the night in jungleground long enough to make it to the other side of the river.
The movie has an interesting view on gangs. The gang is led by a scenery chewing JR Bourne as Odin. His war chief is played by Peter Williams and is named Dragon. Fuck, these guys all have names from some sort of mythology or other; Well, ok, I guess Thor was the only other one. Some other names were Posey, Diesel, and Ferret. So, there is a good old fashioned power struggle taking place between Odin and Dragon. Dragon's mission is to rid jungleground of pushers and to clean up the neighborhood. Odin says that's his mission but he rarely backs it up with action. He has a point. If these guys want to be a self respecting gang they need to bring in the money somehow. In a part of the city even the cops are afraid to enter drugs seems like the logical choice. Things get a bit skewed when Dragon's young brother (the rollerskating gameshow) is accidentaly killed when, while pursuing Piper, he skates up a ramp and into a hanging car engine that knocks him to the ground and then falls on him. Will Dragon blindly seek vengeance on Piper even though he knows it wasn't really his fault and that Piper may be the best remaining chance to clean up jungleground?
I'm trying hard to defend this one but it was really hard to get past the miniscule budget. I mean, Piper is great in this thing but no one else distinguishes themselves and quite a few should be embarrassed by their performances. I think my favorite scene involved a set of gangland twins dispatched by Odin to go to Piper's girlfriends apartment and hold her hostage until dawn at which point they will kill her I guess (or worse). These scenes contain the film's most disturbing sequences as the twins duct taped her mouth and then would torture her by duct taping her nose shut and then only ripping the tape off right before she passed out. This girl, her name was Sam, was a bit resourceful though and devised a semi-brilliant escape plan.
I forgot to mention the picture's biggest set piece involving the trial of Roddy Piper in a scene that reminded me of barter town from that Mad Max Thunderdome picture. Also, Piper is dressed in a toga and Odin addressed the masses from a balcony. It's probably the only time the picture achieved any kind of worthy atmosphere and it didn't even bother me too much that it was ripped off. Fuck, I am going back and forth on this one. This picture does some things pretty well I guess. They take the old tired "hooker with a heart of gold" cliche and, while they don't do much with it, have her take a bullet in the gut while helping Piper. She doesn't die (at least not onscreen) but Piper still leaves the poor, possibly mortally wounded, girl in the company of a bunch of construction workers and apparently these are not the ogling type but i still wonder what happened to the broad. Scene could have turned into one of those disturbing type of gang bang pornos they used to make in the 70s but luckily the director had more class than that I guess.
Also, one of the gang members is a black cowboy that brandishes a pair of six shooters. I like it when movies twist some stereotypes around like that. Unfortunately, his inclusion leads to one of Piper's worst lines when he says "hi ho silver" after dispatching him. Well fuck it, some of this picture is shit and some of it entertained. How much shit can you tolerate I guess is the question of the moment. I can tolerate a lot so there you go. The movie is full of exploding cars, gun battles, and some hand to hand combat type scenes where Piper finally gets to display the moves that originally made him famous. Piper is a brawler in this one. He gets his ass kicked at times but keeps coming back. Please, for the love of god, someone put this guy in a decent picture.