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Hipster Holy Grail: Parole Violators (1994)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Parole Violators is an absolute delight.  It is the first movie I have seen so far in the Hipster Holy Grail that I would feel comfortable lumping into the coveted Secret Comedy category on my bullshit rating system.  I can honestly say it belongs in the pantheon of great bad movies and would be a perfect companion piece to all your favorites: Troll 2, Birdemic, Parole Violators.  It is sublime.

My Rating: 5 / 5 (Secret Comedy)

The Plot Summary

Miles Long (Sean Donahue) is a martial arts master / former cop who quit the force after getting frustrated with bureaucracy (translation: constitutional rights).  He now spends his days in a much more productive pursuit: he stalks recently paroled ex-convicts and records them on his camcorder until they crack under pressure and commit a crime.

We get introduced to this right away in the opening scene, which is an armed robbery at a liquor store.  Miles interrupts the robbery and, after filming the robber / yelling at him for breaking his parole, uses his camera as a sort of brass-knuckles-type weapon to beat the guy up.  Once he's subdued, Miles then drags the robber outside and ties him to a streetlight, duct tapes his mouth, and writes the words "parole violator" on his chest.

And if that's not ridiculous enough, we find out why he was videotaping it a moment later when the movie cuts to him in a low-rent TV studio narrating the footage he just shot.  He's the host, creator, and lead camera-person on a hit new reality show titled "Parole Violators," which appears to be a weekly series.  Each week, Miles harasses and beats up some schlub who can't break out of a criminal cycle and gets him re-incarcerated.  Fun!

Now, leaving aside all the inherent nonsense of this premise, what makes it really stupid is that the police are aware that somebody out there is enacting vigilante justice on the titular parole violators, but they have no idea who it is.  They just call him the "video cop."  Nobody has yet made the connection to that hit new show, which means, yes, we're back in Shitty Cop territory. My favorite!

Miles has an on-again, off-again relationship with Tracy (Pamela Bosley), an active cop and former partner.  After Miles learns that a particularly terrible convict named Chino (Rey Garcia) is about to be released, he tries to get Tracy's help to monitor / stalk him.  This leads to the first hilariously terrible conversation that Miles and Tracy have, in which they shout their lines at each other over the not-terribly-loud background noise of the police department's motor pool.  What makes it even better is that they only talk about Chino for like thirty seconds, and then they start flirting and making dinner plans.  So you get to watch these two idiots have a stilted shouting match that basically goes:




This is as good a time as any to point out just how amazingly awful all of Tracy's line readings are.  She puts her whole soul into every bit of dialogue, which means even simple salutations are overwrought with gravitas, and yet very little she says actually has any emotional substance.

Except for "My baby!  My baby!"  But we'll get there later.

Cut to Chino, who is on parole as of today.  He's picked up from prison by his best friend, Toos (Michael Kiel).  They have a stilted back-and-forth about whether or not Chino is gay, to which he bluntly and matter-of-factly retorts, "No, I'm not gay; I'm into little girls."  Which is accurate - he's a pedophiliac rapist and murderer.  Parole Violators just drops that little nugget like an opening text crawl.

Now, let me briefly interrupt here to ponder something.  Chino has only spent five years in prison despite being convicted for multiple offenses.  And while I understand that Parole Violators needed a real scumbag to serve as its main villain, Chino's release is a stretch by any possible yardstick.  Even if you assume that the judge in the case was a softy and gave him the possibility of parole, and even if you assume Chino could wow a review board well enough for them to overlook the rape and murder of multiple children, you still have to explain away the fact that he wasn't beaten to death in a prison shower the way all pedophiles always are.  I'll go so far as to say that I find his release to be the single most ridiculous thing that happens in this movie - and I'm saying that knowing what happens in the final act.

Back to the movie.  Chino and Toos go to a bar to hang out and plan their next murder, because naturally, the first thing Chino wants to do now that he's out is kill a small child.  Miles immediately catches up to them and shoves his camera in Chino's face, demanding to know what his plan is.  This leads to one of many, many poorly edited conversations / arguments in which Chino and Toos basically say the same thing three or four times, but from different angles and with slightly different nuance.  Miles tells Chino to give up and go back to prison (as if that's an option), and when he realizes that his whole "annoy somebody with a camera" plan won't work, he leaves.

Later, he stalks Chino at a public park while Chino and Toos are stalking a little girl.  Toos tries to kidnap her, but Miles immediately hops on a motorcycle and chases after them, so Chino has to abandon their plan.  He shoves the girl out of his van while speeding away and the chase ends.

Oh, wait, did I say he shoves the girl out while "speeding" away?  I'm sorry, what I meant was that he's speeding while we see interior footage of the van, then we briefly cut to a clumsy two-second insert shot where the van is totally motionless and the crew chucks a small girl into the woods, and then we cut back to exterior footage of the van driving fast again.  There's tons of awkward editing moments like this, and they're never not funny.

Chino fumes that Miles is getting in the way of his kid-murder plans, so he tells Toos they're going to escalate things and send a message.  Cut to Tracy's house, where she's getting a birthday cake ready for her daughter, Susan (Lindsey Rhodeos).  Miles calls Tracy and they have another awkward conversation / argument in which Miles tries to pressure her into joining his vigilante tactics against Chino.  There are two really funny things about this argument.  First is that even though they are no longer in that (supposedly) noisy motor pool, they are still shouting all their lines.  Second is that after Tracy hangs up the phone angrily, she has a little breakdown to herself about how she's a good cop, and then Miles calls back - so she answers the phone by basically repeating her breakdown to him, then hangs up on him again before he can even say anything.  Tracy is a crazy person, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, Chino kidnaps Susan.

Miles and Tracy team up to find Chino and get Susan back, which leads them to the first of many scenes in which they go to Chino's favorite outlaw bar and pick a fight with miscellaneous goons in order to get information out of them.  Chino is apparently a popular guy at this bar, so even though nobody should be all that excited about murdering a cop, everybody's lining up to beat on Tracy.  She and Miles get in a couple of good hits, but then they get swarmed by goons and beaten into unconsciousness.

This scene is also the first of many, many times that you get to see Miles do his "rubber arm" act when he gets beaten up.  For whatever faults he has as an actor, Sean Donahue really knows how to sell getting hit by a punch - the only problem is, the people beating him up don't know always know how to sell throwing one.  So almost all these scenes have somebody attacking him in a way that doesn't look too terrible, and then Miles goes all wobbly and staggers all over the place like he's just been hit by a folding chair at a WWE match.

I believe this scene may also be one of the first instances of the random slow motion that crops up in the fight scenes.  The fighting is actually pretty decent most of the time - it's clear that a large chunk of the cast is made up of stuntmen (or at least stunt enthusiasts), so there's a lot of good movement and blocking.  The problem is that the editing is so clumsy, and any time you're about to say, "Wow, that actually looks pretty cool," the slow motion comes up and ruins it.

Anyway.  Once Miles and Tracy are incapacitated, Chino directs the goons to tie them up and toss them in a murder van.  Some miscellaneous goons drive the van and follow Chino in a murder convoy.  While they're driving away, though, Miles wakes up and escapes his binds.  He beats up the driver of the van and takes the wheel, then tries to ram Chino off the road.  They have a vehicular battle for a little while, but then Miles crashes into a tree and the van flips over.  Toos runs up to the aftermath and sees Miles staring coldly out the windshield, apparently dead.  He pulls Tracy out of the wreckage and says some ambiguously menacing stuff while the MIDI score booms with orchestral chords to let us know that we should be feeling a lot of emotions right now.

Toos and Chino leave with Tracy, and the camera lingers on Miles for a minute or so.  Then, slowly, gradually - he comes to again!  Surprise, he's not actually dead!  He was just... I don't know, bored or something.

Miles tracks Chino down on foot to a creepy shack / barn in the woods, where both Tracy and Susan have been tied down to chairs.  Chino and Toos threaten both of them, and then Chino takes Susan into another room so Toos can have some alone time with Tracy.  Things are looking bleak, but then Miles jumps through a window (this is the easiest way to enter a room) and starts beating up Toos.  They have a prolonged fight with some pretty good stuntwork, and eventually Miles subdues Toos and unties Tracy.

Now, despite this fight going on for a solid chunk of time and being noisy as hell, Chino has not once tried to come out and see what was going on.  Apparently he spent the whole time loading Susan into a car so he could make a quick getaway, because as soon as Miles opens the door to the other room, they see that Chino is escaping again.

This leads to one of my favorite laughs in the whole movie.  Tracy, enraged by the abduction of her daughter, tries to threaten Toos with an ax while Miles tries to turn it into a good cop / bad cop situation in order to coax information out of him.  But it's painfully obvious that a) the ax is not a prop, but in fact an actual, heavy thing, and b) Pamela Bosley does not have any upper arm strength.  So you basically have to watch this poor actress clumsily and nervously try to lift the ax without dropping it on her head while delivering her lines as terribly as possible.

The combination of acting and violence are enough to scare Toos, though, so he gives up and tells them where they can find Chino.  Tracy wants to kill Toos here and now, but Miles says they should keep him alive to use as a negotiating tool.  So, the three of them pile into an extra car that was laying around and drive off to Chino's Secret Location #2.

This particular hideout appears to be a gorgeous patio in the suburbs.  Chino is sitting next to a pool and looming ominously, and in the pool he has set up an inflatable raft on which Susan, still bound to the chair from earlier, is sitting.  Chino also has a stick to which he has tied a knife, and when Miles and Tracy show up, he explains that he's going to gradually poke holes in the raft unless they cooperate.  He also snaps his fingers and like a dozen goons show up out of nowhere.

I forget exactly what sets it off, but this just leads to another fight scene, complete with rubber arms and slow motion.  Miles and Tracy both get in a lot of good hits and take down a bunch of Chino's goons, and Chino, true to his word, starts jamming the raft full of holes.  Why he doesn't just kill Susan and be done with it, I don't know - the guy is supposed to be a cold-hearted murderer, isn't he?

Susan eventually falls into the pool and Tracy dives in to rescue her.  After Miles beats up the last goon, Chino and Toos run away, and Miles helps to drag Susan to dry land.  Unfortunately, she's not breathing.  They have a huge, overblown dramatic sequence where Miles administers CPR and Tracy begs Susan to hang on, complete with her screaming, "My baby!" and also, "Damn you, Susan!  Don't you die on me!  Damn you!"

Cut to a hospital, where Susan is in a coma and hooked up to a respirator.  The doctors are unable to do anything more for her at the moment and advise Tracy - and this is a real line that I'm quoting - to "have faith and pray."  It's not a good hospital, is what I'm saying.

Now, just for fun, try to guess how much time has passed in the movie by this point.  Go on.  Take a sheet of paper and write it down, then scroll down and see if you were right.

Okay, you have your answer?  Good.  Did you guess forty minutes?

No, of course you didn't, because everything that's happened so far is more than happens in most full length movies.  I've even left some stuff out.  That's how breakneck a pace this movie has.  Say what you want about Parole Violators, but one thing it doesn't do is waste any goddamn time.

The hospital scene is just a brief interlude for everybody to regroup.  Chino goes off to meet a buddy named Knuckles (Kerry Casey) who is the head of skinhead gang.  At first, Knuckles considers killing Chino because he hates kid rapists (also, Chino is Latino and you would expect Knuckles to be a racist, what with his SS tattoos and shaved head, but that never comes up).  Then Chino explains that he wants Knuckles' help to kill Miles Long, and Knuckles is fully on board.  So now Chino has reinforcements.

Back at the hospital, Miles is once again trying to convince Tracy to come with him on a vengeance quest and kill Chino.  But Tracy is despondent and cannot leave Susan's side.  But you have to understand, it's not because Susan is in a coma - no, Tracy seems to have made peace with that.  What's really got her upset is that she, in her words, "cussed Susan," and now she wants to beg both God and her daughter for forgiveness.

So she does - she goes to a chapel and prays to God for forgiveness for having said "Damn you" to her kid.  This is the emotional apex of the film.

Later she goes to Susan to apologize directly.  Then Susan goes into cardiac arrest and the doctors have to use an AED to stabilize her, and only then does Tracy decide she's ready to start the movie back up again.

But as soon as she and Miles leave, a shady-looking dude steps out of the shadows and follows them.  Well, not really shady-looking.  He's actually a total nerd, and looks more like an accountant than anything else.  But he's sure as shit following them.

Chino suspects that Miles will be after him soon, so he tells Knuckles and the Aryan Brotherhood to set up an ambush on a nearby road.  Just before Miles and Tracy get to the ambush, they notice that they're being followed by the nerdy guy, so they park their car and go to harass him.  The nerd introduces himself as Bud Davis (Leeds Landain), an Internal Affairs agent who has been on Tracy's case as of late and is taking detailed notes for his report.  This ends up being Davis's one trick for the rest of the movie - he'll keep interrupting the scene to say something to the effect of, "This won't look good in my report," and then he holds up the notepad.  In case you forgot.  That he's an IA inspector taking notes.

The Aryans get tired of waiting at this point and surround Miles, Tracy, and Davis.  They abduct Tracy and Davis and toss them into the back of a pickup truck while Miles runs off into some nearby mountains and goes about another prolonged rubber arm action scene.  (I hate to sound so dismissive, but there's only so much I can say about this sequence.  They fight a lot on some mountains - what else do you need to know?)

While Miles is having his fun out there, a Shotgun Guy (Joe Edwards) is holding Tracy and Davis at gunpoint.  This builds up to my absolute favorite line of the movie.  It makes no sense in context or out, but let me set it up as much as anybody possibly can:

Tracy decides to use the ol' "feminine wiles" trick to distract Shotgun Guy, so she starts gyrating and rubbing herself.  SG picks up on it and gets pretty excitable.  Then Tracy says, as lustily as possible, "What's your name?"  And the SG says, "Goon."  And then Tracy goes, "Oh, like the goony bird?"

And then Goon freaks the fuck out and goes, "DON'T YOU EVER ASSOCIATE ME WITH A BIRD!  BIRDS ARE WEAK!" And he shoves the shotgun back into Tracy's face and her seduction ruse immediately ends.

This is a "finish your drink" line if I've ever heard one.

Tracy eventually slips away from Goon by demanding to pee in a bush, and right around the same time, Miles catches back up to her.  Davis and Tracy work together to take out Goon, but not before Goon fires the shotgun and hits Davis in the chest.  Despite bleeding profusely, Davis gets in another "won't look good in the report" line and passes out.  Miles and Tracy drag Davis into another car and narrowly escape before the surviving skinheads track them down again, and soon they have escaped.

Okay, we're all set up for the climax of the movie now.  Can you guess where they're going?

That's right, an abandoned warehouse!  Naturally.

The skinheads regroup at Chino's Secret Location #3 while Miles and Tracy dump Davis out on the side of the road somewhere.  They argue about whether or not to take him to the hospital, but apparently they don't have time, so they figure this is the safest place for him.  Then they gear up with shotguns and infiltrate the warehouse.

The next twenty minutes are basically just a series of fight scenes in which Miles and Tracy take out dozens of goons.  There's a bunch of small, fun moments here and there, but there's only two kills I wanted to specifically mention:

1) First is the death of Lady Skinhead, the only other actress in the movie besides Tracy and Susan.  Lady Skinhead is fighting with Tracy, but then stumbles backward onto a nail that is protruding from a random board hanging off the ceiling.  She somehow falls with enough force that the nail not only cracks into her skull, but it also lifts her off the floor, so she just sways helplessly while other people fight around her.

And to top it off?  There's another one of those awkwardly-cut insert shots here where Tracy belts out, "Hope you had a tetanus shot, bitch!" immediately before she gets punched and has to go back to fighting some goons.

2) Later, Tracy comes face to face with Goon again.  She kicks him in the face, and he does the ol', "slowly-turn-my-head-back-to-face-my-opponent" move where he doesn't fight back just yet, but he looks really pissed off.  So... Tracy kicks him again.  And he does the same slowly-turn-my-head-back move.  And she kicks him again.  And he does the slow turn again.

And then Miles jumps into the scene out of nowhere and kicks Goon in the head so hard that his neck breaks and his head does a 180 degree spin.  After he dies, there's another awkward insert shot so Tracy can call him, "Bird neck!"

Bravo, Parole Violators.  Bravo.

The fighting continues until pretty much everybody is killed except for Toos and Chino.  It works out to a point where Miles is on the roof of the warehouse and Tracy has been shot and subdued down below.  Miles falls off the roof, but in midair he spins and shoots Toos to death, then lands on a car next to Chino.  Miles is somehow still alive, so Chino comes up to give him a kill shot - but at the last second, he gets distracted... Davis, who has somehow dragged himself to the warehouse and is holding up his notepad and says, "Say, what's the name of that other guy who just got shot?  I need it for MY REPORT."

This allows Miles to get one final shot in and kill Chino at last, and the action is over.  The final scene shows Miles, Tracy, and Davis recovering at the hospital along with Susan. All four of them are back to full health and full of smiles.  Davis watches the others share a group hug, and then, in a moment of empathy and character growth, he takes out his notepad and drops it in the trash.  Cue credits.

Actually, wait, let's back that up a second.  Davis didn't toss his notepad out until now, which implies that he was actually still planning on filing a detailed report to Internal Affairs.  Which would mean that when he distracted Chino earlier, it wasn't just a funny line - he was legitimately taking notes.  Which means that him dragging his bloody, half-dead husk a half a mile down the road in order to use his one lame character quirk as a deus ex machina is now a thousand times funnier.

I love this movie.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

There is nothing I didn't like this week.  This is exactly what I want when I go digging for lost treasure.

Oh, sure, it's got all the basic nonsense you expect from a bad movie.  The acting is overwrought and hilariously melodramatic.  The editing is choppy.  There's random slow motion.  The characters make seemingly arbitrary choices.  The music is a never-ending series of MIDI and RPGMaker sequences.  And so on.  But that stuff doesn't automatically make a bad movie fun - that's just the kind of stuff that puts you in an "Oh, I guess I'm not taking this seriously" frame of mind.

Parole Violators is that very special breed of bad where the missteps become transcendent.  And not in the Internet hyperbole kind of way, either.  It's the type of bad that functions as a style to serve a purpose, and even though that purpose may not have been the filmmaker's original intent, it works beautifully.  It is the basis of the Secret Comedy.

What makes Parole Violators even better is that it achieves this with a sense of innocence, almost naivete, that makes it easily shareable.  There's no nudity, no rape (even though they reference Chino's crimes constantly), no graphic gore, no uncomfortable sex scenes.  Even the swearing has been curbed for the most part.  There's a very chaste undercurrent - almost as if it were made by film students at a Christian university.

This is perfect for bad movie fans, because it means you don't have to give any disclaimers before you watch with friends.  No, "Hey, just so you know, there's one really pervy part around thirty minutes in that we may want to skip over."  Just a pure and simple, "Hey guys, watch this crazy-ass thing with me!"

It also has a terrific pace and energy.  A lot of bad movies start to wear out their welcome after about half an hour - or worse, they decide to go to an abandoned warehouse for the final act and just come to a full stop.  Somehow, despite ending in a warehouse, Parole Violators never drags.  If anything, the warehouse sequence may actually have the best scenes in the movie.

Plus, there are some truly amazing stunts in this movie.  I mean this sincerely.  This is definitely a stunt man's movie, as virtually every other scene is an excuse for somebody to get hit by a car, launch through a window, jump off a cliff, or otherwise put themselves in peril for the sake of a completely ludicrous film.  There are too many good ones to list, but one of the best is a part where Miles jumps out of a moving car and grabs a tree branch, hangs onto it, lets go, falls onto another moving car, and then gets up and runs away.  It's incredibly well done.

Speaking of stunts, did I mention that there's a shitload of scenes where people get hit by cars?  I don't think I've done that justice yet.  At least once every five minutes, somebody is either getting hit by a car, falling on a car, jumping out of a car, or otherwise endangering their lives with a car.

But of all the indicators of a great Secret Comedy, I think the thing that speaks loudest about Parole Violators is this: I couldn't actually keep track of all the funny moments I wanted to talk about.  Things keep flying at you one after another, and although the most ridiculous things will stay with you, there's just too much to remember.  It's like trying to pick the funniest line read in Birdemic - you might think you have your favorite, but then you rewatch it and you discover something new.  I guarantee that Parole Violators will hold up to repeat viewings.

I'm not sure I can talk about it any more at this point without overselling it, so I'll just wrap this up with one last impassioned plea for you to seek out and watch this movie.

And don't associate me with a fucking bird.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

This will probably come as no surprise, but the answer is: a lot.

First of all, it handily wins the full obscurity bonus of 50 cred since it has less than 40 user ratings on IMDb as of today.  It also gets my full recommendation bonus of 30 cred because this is definitely a movie I want to share - I'm already trying to clear some room in my calendar to screen it for friends.  It must be seen.

It gets the "you've probably never heard of them" bonus of 15 cred since the crew are all unknowns (and if I ever watch another movie by the director, Patrick Donahue, it will get a bonus based off his work here).  And I would give it a 10 point bonus for having hipstery content, but I can't, because that actually exceeds the limit.

That's right, Parole Violators is the first movie in the HHG to get a full 100 hipster cred out of a possible 100.  Right now, this is the most hipster movie I can think of.  Better watch it before its status rises on IMDb or it'll depreciate quickly.

This is also probably a good time to explain to those of you who are tallying your score at home that any hipster cred you've already earned stays with you no matter what happens to the movie.  That's kind of the point, really.  So if you're on a quest to be the ultimate hipster, you're well advised to go watch this one right now while it's at peak value.  You never know when the rest of the Internet will take notice.

Where You Can Watch

Parole Violators was released on DVD, so you might be able to find a used copy on eBay or if you dig for it.  Alternately, if you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations, you can watch it on Youtube.