Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1978)

You'd never guess from the title, but this one's a much lighter Emanuelle film than many of the others and Joe D'Amato keeps his penchant for sexual violence mostly at bay, while ramping up the bizarro quotient. So it's one of the more entertaining films in the series, even though it's not exactly original.

Maybe I should characterize the scenarios with some sort of charting system. Story 1- Location: Nairobi. Sex: 1. Emanuelle's friend Susan and her mechanic, Susan and Emanuelle, Male/Female (2), and the two women and a man. I think that covers it. I'd only note that Emanuelle's stewardess friend in Nairobi is played by the lovely Ely Galleani, who played the newly-liberated American tourist in Emanuelle in Bangkok, and is here playing basically a character from Black Emanuelle. Ah, recycling.

There's more recycling when Emanuelle returns to New York to meet with her editor- some scenes are taken right from Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (more about that mess later) and redubbed with new dialogue! You can see how they were able to crank out so many of these movies at once. You can also tell that D'Amato was running out of ideas at this point.

Anyway, the main storyline has Emanuelle investigating a white slavery ring in which girls are auctioned off for sex; she goes undercover as a slave, even though this isn't "white slavery" since Gemser was Indonesian and, as we all know, this makes her "black" to the Italians. She ends up in a sort of brothel- also stolen from Emanuelle in America- same sets and scenes in fact, but more entertaining because some of the girls are 70s butch lesbians and the madam's assistant is a transvestite who Emanuelle has sex with. In general, there is also a lot more softcore sex in this one and no scene with anyone jerking off a horse. I think any movie is good if there's no scene of horse-wanking.

Also the tone is sillier this time. This is largely unintentional I suspect. We're meant to be shocked when one of the girls, Midget, is killed off-screen, although everyone wandering around asking, "Where did Midget go?" gets a bit silly. Also, Emanuelle wanders around the house taking secret pictures of everyone having sex, and you have to wonder at some point in this series if she really is an investigative photojournalist or just a pervert.

Finally, Emanuelle decides to leave before she loses her life, enlisting the help of the transvestite Stephen, who fights a gang of thugs in a bowling alley to help her escape. It doesn't work, but hey, really, a transvestite fighting a bunch of dudes in a bowling alley is why you watch grindhouse films in the first place.Sadly, D'Amato just can't leave out the mandatory rape scene; after their long fight, the group of thugs gang-rapes Emanuelle- this is the one sexual violence scene he stuck in here. Then the thugs drug Emanuelle, tie her up, and arrange for her to be lobotomized by their personal doctor. Is all hope lost?

Of course not- the resident nurse is a lesbian (an occupational hazard of being a nurse in these movies) and thus just has to untie Emanuelle in order to have sex with her. Foiled again! Our heroine escapes and hitches a ride aboard a fishing boat to Los Angeles, giving her a chance to have sex with a bunch of fishermen and the film a chance to include another plot twist that makes absolutely no sense.

Part of the appeal of D'Amato, in fact, is that a lot of what happens in his movies makes no friggin' sense. Actually, that's probably true of grindhouse movies in general. There's also a lot of sex, of course, which helps. Where he falters is when the 'outrageous' and 'shocking' content he includes is usually just misogynist. Really, none of the Emanuelle films needs to have a rape scene, and it's hard not to think that they're included so frequently as a sort of defensive position to reassure the members of the audience who're uncomfortable with a sexually-liberated woman. But, here's the thing- the rest of the movie is pretty silly and harmless, and Laura Gemser is beautiful, so we overlook all that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Emanuelle Around the World (1977)

God, what is wrong with Joe D'Amato? His taste for shocking violence totally upends the Emanuelle films because it goes against their frivolous tone. But he keeps doing it.

This time, as the film begins, Emanuelle (Gemser) is having casual sex with a moving guy in his truck. She's in San Franciso, where she stays long enough to meet a UN diplomat (Ivan Rassimov) and state her philosophy of life and sex: "I'm free. Men and women are equal. It's society that obligates us to be different." So far, so good.

Then it's off to India, where Emanuelle meets a tantric guru who teaches westerners how to have karmic sex and take their money. He's played by George Eastman in lots of makeup and the punchline is that Emanuelle fucks him and thinks he's mediocre in bed. This story is entertaining and the camera work is surprisingly good- stop watching the movie at this point because the rest is terrible.

In the second story, Emanuelle heads to Rome to investigate a sex slavery ring and the focus shifts to violence against women. Yes- in a sex romp. Do you know what's not sexy at all? Watching a man with a hideously burned face anally rape a sex slave. So Joe includes that. This story is quickly resolved- the girls call the cops and share a laugh together about being raped. Then the Rome story ends with Emanuelle introducing a young man to sex while spying on his stepmother and her maid, which is a nice scene, although it doesn't really clean the palate of that anal rape scene.

Emanuelle has a comrade in arms (Karin Schubert) in her crusade- the film was also titled, "Emanuelle Versus Violence Against Women"- and it might sound like feminist subversion. It isn't. Joe D'Amato is titilating the audience with multiple scenes of rape and degradation for its own sake, while ruining the light tone of the series. This film really appeals to those misogynists who were offended by the character's independence in the rest of the series and wanted to see her "get what was coming to her". It's no surprise that another alternate title was "The Degradation of Emanuelle".

Okay, now it's off to Hong Kong to further investigate/be victimized by sex slavers, and we have a scene in which a snake is inserted in a woman's vagina while another is raped by a dog. Jesus friggin' Christ! None of this makes sense in the context of a sex romp! But, they call the cops and laugh about it all, so no harm done.

Then, it's off to Tehran, for more of this bullshit about investigating a sex slavery ring that serves shieks and diplomats. The Emir, however, is nice enough that Emanuelle can convince him of the exploitation involved in his harem and they call the cops and laugh about it all so no harm done. Also, Schubert and Gemser have sex with each other and the Emir in order to keep down high oil prices!

Finally, it's off to New York City where- I'm not making this up- a large group of powerful American Senators and their wives force Miss Ohio to pay off a gambling debt by dancing naked for homeless men who then shock everyone by raping and beating her. So, the girls call the cops- but not before Emanuelle is forced to blow a dirty bum at gunpoint. But all's well that ends well. (Except for Miss Ohio who is left near death). The movie ends with Emanuelle sailing off on a yacht with Rassimov.

Yeesh! The Emanuelle series always had this weird blend of 70s liberated working woman feminism and sex romp hijynx. They're all kind of loopy. But D'Amato's misogynist degradation of women and graphic violence in this one are so completely at odds with the character and the series that you wonder if he really wanted to get even with the fans or just women in general.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976)

New theory: the lack of any dramatic tension isn't just a glitch in the Emanuelle films- it's their message. The storyline is Emanuelle, an independent woman exploring the world and sexuality freely and breezily; and the point is to watch her wriggle out of the romantic complications that the directors throw at her. She escapes all plot points. The sensibility of the films comes from a 70s dream of freedom that feels sadly archaic now.

This time, Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) is in Bangkok, arriving by boat with her Italian archaeologist lover Roberto. He wants her to settle down, but she has to be free. You know the drill. She's here to photograph the royal family, but still has time to fool around with a massage girl, the prince and maybe a bellhop- it's unclear. Then, Roberto and Emmanuelle meet up with some square American tourists who represent bourgeois Babbit norms, which she soon liberates them from. In a nutty development, the two couples go see a Bangkok stripper squirt golf balls out of her pussy and are inspired to smoke pot with the prince and massage girl and have group sex. Emanuelle ends up screwing the American and Italian men and retires for nude massage with the Prince. So far, the tone has been dreamy and pleasant and erotic, and little has happened plot-wise. The running time is half over.

Director Joe D'Amato has a taste for shock value that is jarring. A scene with a mongoose killing a snake on film, and one in which Emanuelle gets gang raped by some hippie dudes, but enjoys herself and wins their respect, are pretty offensive, and the rape scene also makes absolutely zero sense- who are these dudes? No clue, but they tell her she's in danger in Bangkok because someone believes she's out to sabotage the royal family, so she leaves. Only D'Amato could deliver a plot point in the sickest way imaginable.

Emanuelle next heads to Casablanca where Roberto is on a dig with his new fiance Janet. Along the way, she hooks up with the American wife, who is now sexually liberated and on her way to Katmandu without her husband. Emanuelle teaches her more about sexual freedom by screwing her on the plane. Then, in Casablanca, she meets Roberto's jealous fiancee and liberates her by taking her to have sex with a group of Arabs, so they split up too. While in Casablanca, she beds at the American consul's home, where his insecure teenage daughter Debbie soon takes to Emanuelle and learns to love herself from her new friend, who delivers the inspiring message, "It's time for you to learn to be a lot more self-confident. You have to believe in whatever it is you're doing." They also fool around in the bathtub.

Emanuelle becomes a mentor to Debbie, telling her that "I learned a long time ago to protect my freedom, to make my own decisions, and live my life the way I want to live it." Debbie watches Emanuelle and Roberto have sex, so he loses his temper and storms out, leaving Emanuelle and Debbie to finally have sex. Complications arise in the last fifteen minutes of the movie- our heroine starts falling in love with the young girl. Luckily, Emanuelle gets assigned to a shoot in Paris about ten minutes later and the two women part with a loving gaze into each other's eyes. Roll credits!

So, to sum up, there's almost no real plot, many of the events make no sense, and the overall theme blends a lot of sex and nudity with a message of personal freedom and self-esteem. Par for the course then.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Black Emanuelle (1975)

I know- this isn't supposed to be Rufus's House of Sex, is it? Well, no, but honestly, who worries about what I post here? Kung-fu movies and racing car movies aren't exactly horrorific either. I like to think that the world of exploitation filmmaking is my dirty oyster.

So, Black Emanuelle: the first Italian Emmanuelle knock-off. Laura Gemser, who appeared in a bit part in the second official film in the French Emmanuelle series, here plays Emanuelle with one m, a globetrotting, sexually-liberated journalist in the 70s. A few things about this: 1. She's actually listed as Emanuelle and not Laura Gemser in the credits, "Emanuelle in 'Black Emanuelle', which amused me, 2. Laura Gemser is actually Indonesian, which I guess seemed black to the Italians, 3. She's often called 'the black Emanuelle' in these movies, which I guess is a bit like Blackula, but not black. Much of the movie stresses her feelings about being black, which I think is supposed to say, "Hey, we're not ripping off the French Emmanuelle here- she was white! Totally different movie!" (We should make a new blaxploitation film. Maybe "Clash of the Black Titans".)

Anyway, the begins with Emanuelle on a plane. Alex Cox has called planes the train-entering-a-tunnel of the Emmanuelle movies. The French Emmanuelle was screwed on a plane in the first film in a scene that is referenced constantly. Here, the black Indonesian Emanuelle sees a couple fooling around on her plane to Nairobi while a 70s soft rock song plays on the soundtrack. She's a photographer coming to Africa for her magazine: this is the plot of all the Italian films. You can pretty much see the whole Laura Gemser series as one really long movie about a photojournalist traveling the world and fucking a lot of people.

In Nairobi, she meets up with Ann, an English journalist, and Gianni, her Italian husband, and rooms with them. The first night, they introduce Emanuelle to the European expat community at a party in which everyone screws around with partners other than their spouse and jumps into the pool. The next day, they stop by the gas station Ann can screw her mechanic, go out dancing in the evening, and Emanuelle screws around with the Italian husband. Gianni and Emanuelle eventually have sex. Later, Emanuelle goes on a safari with the wife and has sex with her. Then she fantasizes about having sex with a tribal chief. Oh, you get the idea. Bored yet?

The Emanuelle movies are basically travelogues with sex. The problem is a travelogue can get boring fairly quickly, and so can a sex film- both of these are activities that are more fun to do than watch in a movie. After a while, the movies are a bit like watching someone's slides from their vacation while they tell you, "We had sex here.... she blew me in this hotel..." They lag mostly in the long spaces with no dramatic tension, which is hard to establish when your main character has no sexual inhibitions to overcome. Emanuelle never really changes- she just wants to have sex. It's hard to blame her, but it's also hard to be enganged in the storyline because you can imagine fairly easily how the story will turn out: the beautiful horny woman with no sexual inhibitions will probably get laid.

Black Emanuelle tries to create dramatic tension and, indeed, it picks up a bit after Emanuelle begins her affairs with the husband and wife- she's falling in love with him, but he's a bit of a player and rebukes her as a tramp, so she screws another man to make him jealous as well as his ex-lover Gloria for the hell of it. (At this point, there is a scene with some servants screwing that is stolen directly from the French Emmanuelle- I'm ashamed to know that.) But what will she do? Commit herself to Gianni and stay in Nairobi? Leave him and remain free? Probably you can guess.

Clearly, however, Emanuelle doesn't just want sex without emotion. In fact, she tells the Italian stallion her thoughts on love, "Emanuelle doesn't need drugs to be sacrificed to love. Love isn't just an explosion of the senses. Emotion counts too." So true. Rufus agrees, but he needs drugs to finish this movie.

The whole gang goes on another safari and there's a sex scene with Emanuelle and Gianni by a waterfall- also swiped from the French movie. But Emanuelle needs to be free and she takes off, only to be gangbanged by a cricket team on a train, in an uncomfortable scene that reportedly made Gemser uncomfortable as well. What exactly is this scene trying to say anyway? The dialogue suggests that she's sexually insatiable and cannot be with just one man when there are cricket teams available, which is certainly legitimate. But then why is she asleep for most of the gangbang?

Meanwhile, Gianni has run off to find Emanuelle, ending his marriage. She turns him down in a dramatic speech delivered directly to the camera like a scene from Annie Hall: "Something always happens. Believe me... It wouldn't work... Love is not enough Gionni. Maybe it's my work, my appearance, my skin. Or maybe it's just fate. But I must be free... That's what it's like to be a woman. Or, at least, a woman like me."

Okay, I know I sound crazy here, but this is what I find totally fascinating about these movies. The series is obsessed with female sexual freedom. I mean, sure, they're stupid sexploitation movies, and definitely they can fit in a lot more sex if she's not in a monogamous relationship; but how many sex films today have anything to do with a woman's right to find sexual happiness however she chooses? Actually, how many films today are about that?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Emanuelle in America (1977)

How to explain the Emanuelle films? Okay, well, the first, "Emmanuelle" was a French movie, based on a popular French book about a diplomat's wife in an open marriage and her sexual awakening. It was one of the first softcore X movies and was fairly well-made, and it made a shit-ton of money. The French made a bunch of official sequels. And the Italians figured they could capitalize off that success with another series about a sexually-liberated woman named "Emanuelle", with one M, almost always played by the lovely Indonesian actress Laura Gemser. I'm currently working on a script about a boxer named Roquie.

Emanuelle in America is one of the most popular of the American knock-offs and one of the best films director Joe D'Amato ever made; this, however, is setting the bar pretty close to the floor. Here, Emanuelle (Gemser) is a photographer in New York in the 70s, which we can tell by the Marlborro Man billboards and the great leisure suit she wears, both of which had become historical artifacts by 1982. She's actually a photojournalist in most of these movies. Emanuelle photographs naked women and lives with a pop artist and is generally a sexually-liberated women- sexual liberation also being an artifact of the 70s. The music is somewhere in the space rock-glam-disco continuum, so the soundtrack is pretty awesome.

In general, I do find something appealing about the attitude these movies have about sex- that it's a fun, zesty enterprise, and not very serious or a means of control over another person. I like that Emanuelle does what she wants and the stories never really condemn her for her freedom. Note that her boyfriend never questions her love for him, in spite of the fact that she sleeps with everyone. Compare this to any recent skin flicks and the female degradation they all seem to feature, and then tell me that social mores are improving! However, it's seldom totally clearcut female empowerment in this series- they always seem to include one rape or degradation scene in the Emanuelle film as a sort of nod towards the patriarchy. But, and this is a big but- Emanuelle always pulls through and overcomes the misogynists. Here, her escape seems a bit callous and blithe and, frankly, I think they should have left out the "snuff movie" subplot altogether, since it makes no sense. But, we'll get to that in a second. Another general point- a lot of what happens in Emanuelle movies makes no sense- they're pretty loopy.

The film is episodic. In the first story, a psycho kidnaps Emanuelle at gunpoint and tells her he's going to kill her for moral reasons, since she photographs naked women. They park and she blows him, which changes his attitude about sex entirely. Next, for 'research', Emanuelle infiltrates a mafiosi's harem in which each girl was born under a different astrological sign. She gets the dirt on him and takes part in an underwater nude girl lesbo session scored to space rock- I'm fairly certain this was the scene filmed expressly for the stoned people in the audience. While in the harem, she has sex with a few men and a woman. Also, in order to fulfill the requirement that every Emanuelle film has to have one scene that makes you somwhat uncomfortable, in this one a girl jerks off a horse named Pedro. This scene made the film somewhat notorious. No word as to how horses felt about the scene.

Moving right along, Emanuelle goes to Venice and visits a Duke and Dutchess, helping their marriage with a threesome. She thanks them pointedly for showing her that she doesn't want to be married, which is pretty bitchy of her and surprisingly judgmental considering that they really seem to love each other, and she has lots of casual sex with everyone she meets. What a snob. Anyway, after she insults them, the couple takes Emanuelle to an aristocratic orgy and she takes pictures for "research" and screws some guy. At this point, I was wondering why the film wasn't called Emanuelle in America and Italy.

Returning home, Emanuelle visits a cathouse for women, also for "research". It's very lucky for Emanuelle that the magazine pays her to do investigative research that involves getting laid a lot. She's caught spying in the female brothel but escapes by a clever stratigem involving lesbian sex. Whew!

The story gets more serious as Emanuelle investigates a snuff film that is being swapped by the rich and powerful. The snuff scenes are of interest to horror/exploitation fans because they're startlingly horrifying and realistic for a sex romp. The investigation brings her to Washington DC, where she meets a Senator from the establishment, man, who wants another war to set the younger generation right and then tries to pork her, shows her another snuff film, gives her LSD, and takes her to see the Central American right-wing rebel snuff film makers. At this point, the film seems like it will turn into a serious crusade against a powerful conspiracy story.

However, her editor buckles under pressure from the man not to publish the story and Emanuelle quits in anger, which inexplicably makes her feel like "the happiest girl in the world", a pretty unique response for someone who just recently witnessed war atrocities and has now given up completely on exposing American involvement in those crimes, or saving their victims, or getting any sort of justice. Basically, she sells out completely. So Emanuelle is now the happiest accomplice to war crimes in the world- in celebration, she goes to an African tribal village with her boyfriend, who sells her to the chief and there's a wedding celebration.

At this point, I started thinking that maybe the younger generation really does need to be sent to war.

Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey)- 2006

Did you know that Norway has the world's lowest homicide rate? This could help explain the box office success of the Norweigan slasher film "Fritt Vilt" (Cold Prey)- maybe they find slashing strange and exotic. Conversely, the exotic snowy location might pique one's interest in this otherwise pretty generic slasher flick.

Admittedly, calling a slasher movie "generic" is like pointing out that there are a lot of horses in a western- the slash'n'hack genre is well known for its interchangeable plots and storylines. At one point in the slasher movie documentary Going to Pieces, a slasher producer talks about watching Halloween with a stop watch in order to know exactly where to place the shocks in his own film! Scream, of course, commented openly on the formula, and post-Scream slashers tend to subvert it in fairly trivial ways- Fritt Vilt has the virginal girl die first instead of surviving. But the genre has yet to attempt the sort of post-modern deconstructions that the western, superhero, and noir genres have pulled off.

So, this one is about a group of young people on vacation in the wilderness, like every slasher flick; but this is Norway, so they're snowboarding and they all have names like Jorg and Blorgen. There are some romantic subplots- these movies were always a bit like teen soap operas that end in bloodshed- and an accident and they wind up stranded in an abandoned ski lodge. Something mysterious happened there in the 70s, although if you try, you can guess it- and now there's a killer on the loose, picking them off Blorgen by Jorgen.

Fritt Vilt is certainly well-made, and the murders and mood are very effective. You can see why Norweigan teens ate it up- there have already been two sequels released there, while it's only recently arrived in North America on DVD- but it's not like Cold Prey takes the slasher genre anywhere new... well, aside from Norway.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sella Turcica (2010)

After a series of mysterious incidents, Brad has returned home from active duty in Afghanistan. But there's something wrong with him: he looks sickly and prefers to stay alone in his room and his demeanor suggests that his condition is far worse than he's letting on. We sense that things are going to get a lot worse before long. I'm not sure we expect things to be so tedious before then.

Sella Turcica is the most recent offering from Toetag Films, an outfit that made their name on the August Underground series, a trilogy of fake snuff videos with highly realistic special effects. The series was one of those ideas that someone simply had to try sometime- a Tom Savini f/x student tricking the audience into thinking they were seeing real murders on film. But it's questionable that anyone needed to repeat the gag three times and, aside from the gore, the production values were really sub-par. You might not turn the videos off in horror, but it's hard not to fast-forward them in boredom.

So it's somewhat amazing how much their skills have improved. For one thing, the acting is better here than before. The star here is Camille Keaton, who is beloved among genre fans for the rape-and-revenge "classic" I Spit on Your Grave, in which she was raped and got revenge (Personally, I think the movie is trash). She's actually one of the weakest actors here though, with the strongest being the lead, played by Damien A. Maruscak, who is creepy but sympathetic throughout- until he's suddenly not sympathetic at all. In general, Sella Turcica has decent acting, moderately well written, believable and has a lot of that thing that most modern horror films lack: namely, atmosphere. There's a palpable sense of dread throughout the film as you wait to see how things are going to explode. And, when they do explode- only in the last fifteen minutes or so- things get very bad and the effects are simply mindblowing.

I do have some big complaints however. The first is that I wish they'd acknowledged Deathdream, a Canadian film from 1974 about Andy, a Vietnam vet who returns home after a series of mysterious incidents, but there's something wrong with him- he looks sickly and prefers to stay alone in his room, and his demeanour suggests that his condition is far worse than he's letting on. It explodes into violence. You get the idea. Updating Deathdream for the current war is a great idea, but why not acknowledge it? Secondly, the film is 100 minutes and they probably could have removed about ten minutes of Brad in his room with black junk oozing from his orifices and tightened the pace a bit in the process. The film is uncomfortable to watch and, sometimes, that's because of the sense of dread, but often it's because it's fucking boring.

Nevertheless, I see much improvement here and, in general, it's good to see a studio aiming at creating tough, ugly, unsettling horror movies. I just wish their plotting and editting was up to the level of their superb effects.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Machete (2010)

How does a director with years of experience making A movies spend a fairly high budget that allows for high-tech trickery and A-list actors to create a film intended to evoke low-tech, poorly-directed B movies with bad actors and ridiculous dialogue? Well, I don't know if it's exactly a compliment to say that Robert Rodriguez has pulled it off., but he has. Machete, yes indeedy, reminded me a lot of the dumb as hell, low-budget action flicks I usually watch, but with people like Lindsay Lohan and Robert De Niro in the stock roles delivering the cheesy dialogue and enough money to pull off some pretty cool stunts. It is still dumb as hell, but that's never stopped me from enjoying an exploitation flick before.

Machete, played by Danny Trejo, is a Mexican federale who gets double-crossed in the film's opening by a prostitute that he's trying to save from a drug kingpin Torrez, played by Steven Seagal. The opening is entirely over the top: Machete decapitates several bad guys in order to save the girl, who is nude and calls in Seagal with a cell phone she had hidden in her pussy. Yep, it's that kind of movie! Seagal decapitates Machete's wife and burns the place, leaving him for dead.

But he's not dead. Instead, he arrives in Texas, an illegal alien looking for work. The rest of the film addresses the illegal immigration debate and all sides involved, from corrupt politicians to redneck vigilantes to Mexican drug cartels- all of them want to kill Machete and are, in turn, killed by Machete. Some have found the political subtext jarring, but trust me, there were plenty of political grindhouse flicks. The problem is that Robert Rodriguez generally makes stupid movies, and God bless him. His movies are entertaining, but they're also usually really dopey, and here his politics never get more complex than lines like, "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us!" Come again?

Rodriguez thinks he's making a movie about the immigrant proletariat rising up against capitalist oppression, but look, he just lacks the sort of class analysis that could make that idea work. Instead, the message goes nowhere and we're left trying to keep all of the characters straight. A second problem is there are way too many characters. The seeming message of the film is: "There are tons of corrupt people who need to be cut down for exploiting illegal aliens. Now, check out these naked girls!" It makes your head spin. I'm fine with the level of political subtext here, but wish Rodriguez actually had a coherent message. Or a coherent style for that matter- is this thing supposed to play as a parody or a rip-roaring action flick? Should we take any of it seriously?

Maybe not. Taken as a lark, it's much easier to enjoy the multiple explosions, random nudity, disembowelments, decapitations, gunfights, slutty nurses, and gore. And, the overall tone is so campy and exaggerated that I could see this being a fun movie to watch over beers with friends. The last half-hour, in which the illegal day laborers rise up in lowrider chariots to do battle with the Minutemen, is especially entertaining. Don't get me wrong- this is a fun movie. Just don't think too hard about it.