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Hipster Holy Grail: Tiger Heart (1996)

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

Tiger Heart is an abysmal excuse for a martial arts movie.  I'm going to try my hardest to hold back for fear of saying something unnecessarily mean, but Jesus, this was tedious.

My Rating: 1 / 5 (Workman Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

Eric (Ted Jan Roberts) and Brad (Timothy Williams) are rich Californian high school students on summer break.  The film opens with Brad begging his father for the keys to his sports car, and then he and Eric go on a joy ride along the coast.

Eric thinks Brad is taking him to karate practice - he's a black belt and takes his martial arts very seriously - but Brad is actually taking him to a party.  There's one catch: they weren't invited.  Brad wants to show up, anyway, because there will be girls in bikinis there.

....aaaaand that's basically Brad's one note for the rest of the movie.

I hate this character.  (I also hate Eric, but I'll get to that later.)  The actor kind of looks like a poor man's Andrew McCarthy and he even plays the character with the same smarmy desperation McCarthy had in the Weekend at Bernie's movies, but his constant horndoggery is so exaggerated and exhausting that you constantly want to punch him in the head.  (Some folks would have said the same thing about McCarthy.  Trust me when I say Larry Wilson was a beacon of dignity by comparison to this asshole.)

Brad takes it to such ridiculous depths that it feels like he's trying to win a contest.  At one point, he's on a double date with twins, then intentionally drops a spoon so a waitress has to bend down and pick up, then he openly ogles her in front of everybody.  I'm not saying that men don't do any of those things, but most men are at least cognizant enough of their surroundings that they would (A) not try to date both twins at the same time, and (B) only do the ol' "oops, can you get that" trick when they're with their guy friends.

Brad doesn't do much in the movie, but since he tags along with Eric most of the time and is a constant presence, I'm obligated to mention him.  I don't have the patience to write any more about him, though, so that's basically a wrap on Brad, everyone.

After the host kicks Brad and Eric out for crashing their party, Eric finally gets to karate practice and shows off his moves.  Turns out he's a talented guy and is at the top of his class.  This will come in handy shortly, as there are nebulous villains right around the corner.

More specifically: Paulo (Robert LaSardo) and Nat (Christopher Kriesa).  Nat is a rich guy villain with one of those ambiguous "buy everything and make it shitty, then profit somehow" plans.  In order to wrap up his next scheme, he needs to buy up a block of shops in LA, but the shop owners are all reluctant to sell.  So he has hired Paulo, a nebulous street tough, to round up all his goons and threaten the owners into submission.

Paulo and his goons go about trashing and terrorizing the neighborhood and occasionally beat up some folks.  They're making decent progress on Nat's list of properties until they get to a convenience mart owned by Mr. Johnson (Rance Howard).

The mart is coincidentally located just down the street from Eric's karate class.  One day, Eric spies Mr. Johnson's attractive teenage niece, Stephanie (Jennifer Lyons), working there.  He goes to introduce himself and make a date, and shortly after, Paulo shows up to wreak havoc.  Eric isn't having it - he picks a fight and effortlessly beats the shit out of all of Paulo's goons.  They run away, promising to come back another time and finish what they started.

And then the movie just dies completely.  There's like maybe forty minutes of bullshit between now and anything else that matters.  Most of it involves Eric and Stephanie's burgeoning romance, which consists mainly of them smiling at each other in various settings.  They go on a couple of dates, there's a bunch of shitty jokes, occasionally you see Paulo acting menacing off to the side somewhere... but nothing matters.

At the hour mark, Paulo's goons finally come back to terrorize Rance Howard again, and then he has a heart attack and is hospitalized.  Not knowing what to do in his absence, Stephanie is browbeat into signing a form to sell the convenience mart to Nat, and then she has second thoughts and tries to back out.  She slaps Paulo, so he kidnaps her just as Eric comes to the store.

Eric chases Paulo to the parking lot outside where about twenty of his goons are waiting.  Then there is a fight scene that is almost interesting because the odds are stacked against Eric for once.  But that's deflated when Eric's karate teacher shows up out of nowhere and helps him out.  They easily and boringly beat up all the goons.

Unfortunately, they aren't able to save Stephanie before she's abducted and taken to Graffiti, a night club that Eric and Stephanie previously connected to the goons through a contrivance I completely skipped past.  Eric plans to go to the club and get her back, but he doesn't want to go alone.  He asks his fellow karate classmates to help, and they all refuse except for The Black Guy.  The Black Guy berates them for not working as a team.  Then we cut to Brad driving Eric and his colleague to the club.

There's another completely arbitrary moment of interpersonal conflict here where Brad gets cranky about having to help Eric and he storms away in a huff.  It's probably the only time in the movie that Brad is remotely sympathetic because he's the only one talking any sense.  ("Hey, guys, instead of charging into a club filled with what I assume to be heavily-armed, heartless thugs, why don't we call the police?")

Then the movie deflates its tension again when Brad gives himself a pep talk and decides he will help Eric after all.  Thank God - those two minutes when these assholes were briefly upset with each other really put me on edge.

Back at the night club, Eric and The Black Guy are surrounded by Paulo's goons again, only this time there are fewer of them and they actually have less weapons than before.  Regardless, it's presented as a terrifying showdown that Eric can't possibly win - until Brad steps into the room and reveals himself, along with the rest of Eric's karate class.  Hooray!  They decided to work together as a team after all!

There's a big dumb Three Ninjas-ish fight where a bunch of eighty-pound dorks best a bunch of jacked-up stunt men who forgot their guns that day, and then Eric rescues Stephanie.  The day is saved.

Almost.  Cut back to Stephanie's uncle's shop, where Nat is setting up security tape and getting ready to demolish the building.  He's patting himself on the back for a job well done until Eric's rich lawyer father intervenes and explains that Nat's plan is null and void on account of it being illegal.  Then Nat gets arrested and Eric and Stephanie make out.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

Ugh.  It's another one of these movies.

Let's be clear - there's a lot of nonsense in here that will trick you into thinking you're about to have a cheesy good time.  It opens with a power ballad, also titled "Tiger Heart," that summarizes the movie.  Everybody knows martial arts and they're not afraid to jump into a fight.  The acting is ham-fisted and terrible.  The dialogue is nonsensical.  The plot is filled with B movie cliches.  Overall, it has that silly don't-take-it-seriously vibe that draws you in.  At first, it feels like you're in store for another College Kickboxers.

But it's a trick.  Tiger Heart commits three major filmmaking sins that make it virtually impossible to enjoy:

1) The tone is all over the map.  It wants to be a teen sex romp, a PG kid power comedy, and a gritty martial arts action movie all at the same time.  This leads to the worst of all worlds.  Everything is goofy and sanitized to keep the rating low, so all the humor is horribly obnoxious.  But even though there's no swearing, blood, or nudity, people are still doing awful things and talking about sex and violence constantly.  Who is this shit meant for?

2) Next is that its protagonist just plain sucks.  I know I spent more time complaining about Brad earlier, but Eric isn't much better.  There are only three versions of him that you get: whiny wet blanket (e.g., the opening credits sequence), reasonably talented martial artist (e.g., the four or five action scenes), and sarcastic, privileged asshole with bad jokes (e.g., 70% of the movie). He constantly has this smug half-smirk that you just want to punch right off his damn face.  Not every protagonist has to be your best friend, but you have to at least care what happens to them in order to give a shit about the story.

3) And that leads to the third big problem: there isn't any conflict until the last twenty minutes or so.

It's supposed to be Eric's movie, but there's literally nothing wrong with his life.  He's already awesome at martial arts when the movie begins, and in fact, he gets to beat up some bullies before the opening credits are even over.  (Though I don't know if you can somebody a "bully" when you show up to their house unannounced and they ask you to leave, but whatever.)  So if you were expecting him to fall flat on his face and then train with a Miyagi-esque figure who teaches him about self respect, you'll be disappointed.

Then you get to see him hang out at his mansion (no exaggeration - he lives in a Beverly Hills palace) where he has some hijinks with the family maid, a Mexican caricature about whom the family jokes and rolls their eyes.  So, he's also rich beyond anybody's wildest dreams and kinda racist.  And then you hear about how somebody from a major college is coming to interview him for admission - which means this fucker doesn't even have to go through the rigamarole of applying the way schlubs like you or I do.  So, he's got prospects and ostensibly a decent academic background on top of all that.

So, okay, maybe it's one of those "he thought he had it all, but he didn't have ______" movies where Eric's going to discover a gap in his life.  Right?  When Eric meets Stephanie, you think, "Oh, I get it - he's going to have a meet cute, but she'll hate him, and then he has to spend the rest of the movie shedding his irritating exterior and becoming less of a wise-ass in order to earn her love."

Nope.  She's totally in love with him from the get go.  In fact, Stephanie is so in love with Eric that like 80% of her dialogue is about how awesome he is.  (The other 20% is "Help me! Help me!") It isn't until an hour and ten before there's any stakes, all of which hinge on Stephanie's uncle's convenience mart, which is completely incidental to anything that might possibly be construed as Eric's growth as a human being.

But at least the challenge he's up against is tough, right?  Like, maybe he finds that he's in over his head and his pride will be his downfall?  Alas, no.  Eric is so good at martial arts that he never loses a fight.  In fact, he never even gets hurt.  I don't think there's a single blow that lands on him the entire time.

Dude, even Bruce Lee got fucked up once in awhile.  Don't try to tell me this little shit is better than Bruce Lee.

So, to put it another way: this movie is about a one-percenter who screws around for an hour until his trophy girlfriend's silly family shop is inconvenienced by poor people, and then he beats the shit out of them with no repercussions or difficulty.

It's borderline infuriating.  If the movie was any more disingenuous, I might lump it in the Offensive Bad Movie category because it would piss me off so badly.  As is, it's just plain incompetent.

I'm putting it in the Workman Bad Movie category instead because the filmmakers don't seem to be doing it on purpose.  I get the feeling that they were really jazzed and had no idea how grotesque their movie is.  It's like somebody with chronic gas who is so used to the smell of their own farts that they don't know why everybody in the elevator is mad at them.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It gets a 25 point obscurity bonus.  Technically it should be 30 since it has under 300 reviews, but at 297, it's so close to the cutoff that I'm rounding down.

I'm tempted to give it a "You probably never heard of them" bonus for a cast of nobodies, but that's not fair.  Robert LaSardo, Jennifer Lyons, and Christopher Kriesa have all had regular enough work that you've probably seen them here and there even if you don't know their names.  And Rance Howard is pretty much Hollywood royalty, so there goes that bonus.  So I think I'll give it a 15 point "ensemble of bit players" bonus instead.

I'm giving it a ten point pedigree bonus for being written by William Applegate Jr., who also wrote Skyscraper, plus another 10 for being a PM Entertainment production.

And then I'll give it a few hipster content bonuses: five points for martial arts, five points for Californian idiots, and ten points for having a power ballad theme song.

That all adds up to a commendable 80 hipster cred out of a possible 100.  It's another classic case of hipster cred that's just not worth it.

Where You Can Watch

Tiger Heart was released on DVD, so it's pretty accessible.  I rented a copy from Netflix.  If you don't feel like waiting for it, though, you can watch it on Youtube.