Thursday, June 6, 2024

Hollywood Zap - Video Game Movie Review - Troma Entertainment

Hollywood Zap (1986)

Movie Review

Distributed by Troma Entertainment, the company co-founded by Lloyd Kaufman, Hollywood Zap is a peculiar piece of cinema that encapsulates the weird, random, raunchy, and crude humor that Troma is known for. Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker David Cohen, this film ventures into the bizarre with a reckless abandon that is both its strength and its weakness, more the latter for sure.

The movie revolves around two main characters: Zaxxon video game expert Nash, played by Ben Frank, and ineffectual protagonist Tucker “Downer” Downs, portrayed by Ivan E. Roth, who is on a quest to find his father (who turns out to be…oops, no spoilers!). Their journey is anything but conventional, laced with oddball characters and surreal scenarios that defy logic and taste. The plot, if one can call it that, meanders through a series of vignettes that seem stitched together by nothing more than a shared sense of absurdity, which isn’t surprising given the Troma name.

The narrative kicks off with Downs setting out to find his estranged father. His journey leads him to cross paths with Nash, a master of the arcade game Zaxxon, a fun isometric shooter that was graphically amazing for its time (it blew me away when I discovered it at The Land of Oz arcade in the local mall back in 1982). The duo's adventures are filled with eccentric encounters, including a memorable appearance by Chuck Mitchell, famous for his role in Porky's, as a shady lawyer. Mitchell's performance is one of the film's highlights, delivering his lines with a blend of sleaze and comedic timing that perfectly fits the film's off-kilter tone.

David Cohen's direction and writing are unapologetically unrefined. The humor is often gross and crude, pushing boundaries in ways that are both absurd and occasionally funny. Scenes are strung together with little concern for continuity or coherence, giving the film a dreamlike, or perhaps nightmarish, quality. It's a film that revels in its own low-budget aesthetic, with cheap sets, wonky editing, and rudimentary special effects that only add to its peculiar appeal for Z-grade movie fans.

Despite its many flaws, Hollywood Zap has moments of genuine humor. There are scenes so absurd that they transcend bad taste and become oddly endearing, such as the little dance the Zaxxon hustler does just prior to playing the game. The film’s randomness keeps viewers on their toes, never quite knowing what bizarre twist will come next. This unpredictability can be as exhausting as it is entertaining.

The performances range from bizarrely compelling to outright bad. Ben Frank's portrayal of the Zaxxon expert is oddly charismatic, while Ivan E. Roth's protagonist is goofy and weak, embodying the awkward everyman lost in the chaos of a nonsensical world. The supporting cast, including a host of characters that defy easy description, adds to the film's eclectic and erratic energy. And, of course, it’s cool to see a vintage arcade with games like Baby Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, and Moon Patrol. At one point, Nash even mentions Walter Day’s legendary arcade, Twin Galaxies, implying he aspires to go there to break the Zaxxon world record—such a great time capsule!

Released on VHS but never on laser disc, DVD, or Blu-ray, Hollywood Zap has achieved a kind of cult status among fans of obscure and unconventional cinema, and among gamers, at least for those who have heard of the movie—it’s one of the most obscure video game-related films ever released. For those curious to experience this oddity, it is available for rent on Amazon Prime for just $2.

After years of knowing of its existence (in addition to loving video games, I’m something of a film buff), this was my first time watching the movie, and having long wanted to see it, I found it at once perplexing, disappointing, and strangely satisfying. In other words, it was a hot mess, but I kept watching as though it were a train wreck, and I couldn’t look away. Essentially, it makes Joysticks, the 1983 B-movie directed by Greydon Clark, seem like Casablanca in comparison, but the video game angle and sheer weirdness kept me interested and even entertained to some degree.

Hollywood Zap will appeal to a very specific audience—those who appreciate the outrĂ©, the gross, and the random. It fits right in with Troma Entertainment's legacy of pushing cinematic boundaries and embracing the bizarre. If you're in the mood for something entirely out of the ordinary, have a taste for the crude and the cheap, and love classic arcade culture, Hollywood Zap might just be worth a watch.


No comments: