Samurai Cop (1989)
By: Stuart Giesel on January 28, 2013 | Comments
Guilty Pleasures | Region 1, NTSC | 4:3 | English Dolby Digital 2.0 | 96 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Amir Shervan
Starring: Robert Z'Dar, Matt Hannon, Jannis Farley, Mark Frazer, Melisa Moore
Screenplay: Amir Shervan
Country: USA
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Having been on a bit of a "bad movie bender" for the past month or so - mainly servings of idiotic shit like R.O.T.O.R., The Room, Troll 2 and a bucketload of wonderfully horrid Godfrey Ho-directed ninja movies - I have to say that the pièce de résistance, the absolute "best worst movie" I've come across is this 1989 piece of dreck from Iranian director Amir Shervan. Shervan apparently set out to make a Hollywood-style cop film in the vein of Lethal Weapon 2. What he produced is some of the funniest cinematic dogshit that you'll ever see, and is so laughably inept in every single scene that it deserves to be put into the National Film Registry so that it is preserved for future generations.

Make no mistake, Samurai Cop is a terrible film. You can't even compare it to middling action fare like Con Air or Rush Hour, let alone something truly great like Die Hard or The Killer. But unlike some so-called bad films that are simply unwatchable, there's something about Samurai Cop that makes it compelling, like you're watching a grisly car crash in slow-motion - you know you shouldn't but for some reason your eyes are fixed to the horrible scene like they've been dipped in superglue.

Where to begin? The plot, such that it is, sees the Katana gang - led by the evil, mullet-haired Fujiyama (Joselito Recober) and his samurai second-in-command Yamashita (the freakishly-chinned Robert Z'Dar from Maniac Cop) - being pursued by L.A. police, who have enlisted the help of famed "samurai cop" Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon). Apparently Joe has been trained by the "masters in Japan", can speak fluent Japanese and has proficient fighting skills, so he's the perfect guy to take on the Katana gang. Well, we're told he has these skills, we don't actually see any evidence of this - in reality, it seems that Joe can't speak a word of Japanese, and his fighting skills are lackluster at best. Plus I don't think director Shervan quite gets the concept of exactly what a samurai was - maybe he's getting them confused with ninjas. Anyway, instead of doing any policework, the samurai cop spends most of his time sleazily pursuing every female he comes across, making lame racial jokes with his dimwitted partner Frank (Mark Frazer), and getting dressed down by his cranky boss. Joe even finds the time to score with Fujiyama's girlfriend Jennifer (charisma-free Jannis Farley).

But the plot is the least of the film's problems. It's clear that Shervan has only a fleeting idea of how to shoot a movie - that is, point the camera at something and get the actors to say some lines, hope for the best, do one take and move on. Because every scene in Samurai Cop has something howlingly awful or mesmerizingly lame to recommend it. Where to begin? There's a sped-up chase scene which alternates between being out in the middle of nowhere in wide shots to shots in some sort of urban centre for the in-car scenes. The entire scene - where cops are trailing drug dealers to a dock - makes no sense, with the deal being shadowed by a police helicopter (how's that for subtle undercover work?) and the drug dealers for some reason driving to a boat, taking the boat to another part of the dock to make the exchange, then heading back again, instead of simply driving directly to the scene of the exchange. Matt Hannon's hair alternates throughout the movie between his real hair and an absurd wig that was used for shots where Hannon had trimmed his hair in real life. A horny policewoman asks her partner if he wants a fuck just moments before they are to bust into the house of a gang member because they apparently "have nothing to do". Joe and Frank confront Fujiyama in a restaurant where Joe gives a well-intentioned but ludicrous monologue about "death merchants" and sticking the members of the Katana gang in garbage bags and shipping them back to Japan for fertilizer in front of the gang's lawyer (!) and in fact makes the same threat directly to the lawyer (!!). Soon after, the samurai cop meets a deliriously camp Costa Rican waiter who acts like an overacting extra from Are You Being Served? and makes a joke about how Jennifer's father killed himself. The action scenes look like they've been shot and choreographed by people with no sense of pacing, shot composition, style, lighting or logic - the final fight scene between Hannon and Z'Dar remains a classic in the pantheon of bad movie moments. The police captain, when he's not bitching about his sore arse, is ordering mass executions on gang members without a care in the world about things like due process or the legal system; that is when he's not telling everyone to go to hell. The sex scenes range from dull (Hannon and a female cop named Peggy, played by Melissa Moore) to ridiculous (Hannon and Farley both in the finest 80's beachwear you can find) to disturbing (a female redheaded gang member and bald-headed Z-grade action film stalwart Gerald Okamura). And there's a dialogue scene between Hannon and a horny nurse that simply defies belief - I don't want to explain it in any detail here; it's best viewed fresh. I remember sitting slack-jawed at this utterly pointless, incredible, logic-defying moment of cinematic history, thinking that I must have been suffering some pneumonia-fevered dream and imagined what had just transpired. And the baffling, poorly-timed reaction shots of Joe's partner Frank are simply the icing on a beautiful chocolate shit cake.

And believe me, this is just the beginning. There's terrible dubbing, awful gore effects, a hideous synth music score, probably the worst one-liner I've ever heard in any movie EVER, and more. Entire scenes seem to start and end without warning - Shervan apparently doesn't know how to set the scene or provide any context whatsoever. And the acting...oh God, the acting. Matt Hannon (sadly, never to be seen again on screen) is reliably wooden as the so-called "samurai cop". Hannon looks like a reject from Baywatch, with his long flowing hair, muscular build and expressionless acting style, like he's a human who's been hollowed out and robotically controlled by a blind man ten countries away. Robert Z'Dar, as the "name star" of the film, fares somewhat better, but that's like saying stomach cancer is better than brain cancer. He tries to exude menace wherever possible, but that's pretty difficult when he's forced to deliver lines like "I will bring you his head and I will place it on your piano". Recober's boss Fujiyama growls or barks every line like he's got rabies. Every character, from the black comic sidekick to the grumpy, profane-laden captain to the slutty blonde is a stereotype, and I'm not quite sure whether Shervan meant it as a homage to his favourite American cop movies or simply what he felt any cop movie requires by default. And what the hell was the point in calling the movie Samurai Cop, other than creating a tenuous link with Z'Dar and his appearance in Maniac Cop and its sequels? There's a bit of swordplay, but otherwise Hannon (and Z'Dar) proves he's as much a samurai as Toshiro Mifune was a black n' white minstrel.

So, yes, there are some other horrible-yet-awesome movies out there - Tommy Wiseau's The Room is daft and has some beautifully retarded moments, Troll 2 certainly lives up to its stinky reputation, and Deadly Prey is commendably idiotic. But for me, Samurai Cop reigns supreme as a testament to how enjoyable bad movies can be.
The Disc
Before I get into the content of the DVD, just take a look at that goddamned cover. It bears absolutely no resemblance to Samurai Cop, the film. Yes, I know that movie covers, especially for B-grade stuff, usually one-up the quality of the film themselves in order to catch the eye on store shelves, and I know this one is done in the style of Maniac Cop for obvious cash-in reasons. But, seriously, this is pretty blatant false-advertising.

Anyway, on to the disc. Let's face it, the original source video for Samurai Cop probably wasn't up there to begin with, but this is a pretty horrid transfer nonetheless. The 1.33:1 picture is extremely soft and lacks detail. The picture is badly interlaced at times, there's a whole lot of visual noise, and yet...I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. All that's missing is some VHS white noise to make the experience complete. For some reason the crap picture quality adds to the charm of the cheap production.

Samurai Cop's blistering soundtrack punches through with its dynamic range that's a perfect showcase for your 7.1 sound system...yeah, no. The stereo audio quality is on par with the video - average at best, pretty awful at worst, with the awful score and cheap dubbing simply adding to the experience. Watch out for the odd robotic sounds that a bad guy makes around the three-minute mark.

To be honest, I would have been happy with just a copy of Samurai Cop to cherish for all eternity, such is my love for this delicious piece of rot. But Guilty Pleasure's disc comes with a few features. The audio commentary with Joe Bob Briggs is quite entertaining, with Briggs picking up on a few idiotic things in the film that I had missed. His wry, occasionally informative commentary is the next best thing to accompany a screening of Samurai Cop if you don't happen to be drunk and watching the film with a few like-minded friends. You can play Samurai Cop with a Joe Bob Briggs Intro, but I'd skip it if you're new to the film. Interview with Robert Z'Dar sees He Of The Immense Jaw wax lyrical about his career and his experience on the set of Samurai Cop. Z'Dar is a likeable, if shamelessly self-promoting, interviewee. There are a set of amusing production stills set to background noise from the film itself, and trailers for other Z-grade dross.

Oh, and kudos to whoever developed the scene titles for the DVD release, with chapter headings like "Credits and Exciting Music", "Chase Them and Kill Them" and "Bikini Brief Bumping" telling you all you need to know.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Samurai Cop is the Citizen Kane of shit. It's terrible in every department: acting, script, direction, editing, cinematography, choreography, you name it. It's so horribly misjudged and misguided that it has become a thing of beauty - a true "so bad it's good" movie that's howlingly funny and more entertaining than the best Ed Wood showreel. In the words of its characters: "Do you like what you see?" "Bingo!"

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