Wednesday, August 20, 2008


MGM HD is quickly becoming my favorite cable channel. Imagine an entire channel of films belonging to the majestic MGM studio library, ranging from classic dramas to the most obscure exploitation, remastered in high definition, and aired in their original aspect ratios. I never thought I would get to see trash like ROBOT HOLOCAUST, for instance, in a beautiful HD format. Thanks to MGM HD, I was able to see 1986's UNMASKING THE IDOL, an adventure film I never even heard of before recording it.

Worth Keeter, who got his start making cheap regional thrillers at Earl Owensby’s Shelby, North Carolina studio (like WEREWOLF and CHAIN GANG), returns to the Tar Heel State to direct this surprisingly fun 007 spoof. Duncan Jax (Ian Hunter) is a British ninja (!) who gambles, romances exotic women, is proficient with weapons and electronic gadgetry, and works as a spy for a man named Star (C.J. Bibby). Better yet, Jax has a pet baboon named Boon that wears a ninja costume and also does kung fu on bad guys. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this monkey leaping into the air and knocking dudes on their butts with karate kicks.

The title is a yawner (probably intended to fool people into thinking they were seeing a sequel to ROMANCING THE STONE), but Keeter is pretty good here about providing action and production values on a dime. Duncan’s mission is to invade Devil’s Crowd Island, the most highly protected fortress in the world (it isn’t), and rescue a cache of gold belonging to the Scarlet Leader, a masked red ninja who rules from a throne room surrounded by a piranha-filled pool.

I had trouble following the plot at times, although I don’t think Keeter and screenwriter Phil Behrens were too concerned about it (Jax learns the Scarlet Leader’s henchman, Goldtooth, is the man who killed his parents, but we’re never given the where, when, why and how, and Jax doesn’t seem to care about that anyway). A subplot involving a traitor within Duncan’s ranks is disposed with too quickly. Acting, characterization and dialogue are perfunctory at best, but everything is played with wry humor and at a decent pace.

I liked UNMASKING THE IDOL, and others must have too, because Keeter and cast returned a year later for the sequel (!), THE ORDER OF THE BLACK EAGLE. I never heard of either movie before IDOL popped up on the MGM HD cable channel, but Keeter’s Owensby films were rarely projected outside the South, and this may also have been the case with IDOL. Keeter eventually moved to television, helming many episodes of the various POWER RANGERS series.

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