When the credits suddenly rolled at the end of Dangerous Men, my response was to yell “Yes! YES!” at the top of my lungs. No one else in the theater noticed, they were all too busy having their own ecstatic reactions, laughing and applauding in equal measure. Simply put, Dangerous Men is one of the most indecipherable, comically bad movies ever committed to celluloid.
The movie’s plot – what little there is – concerns a woman, Mira, and her fiancé being attacked on a beach by two bikers. The fiancé is killed, and the bikers plan to rape Mira. She cunningly escapes being violated and goes on a mission to get revenge on every man with nefarious intentions she comes across. To describe what happens next as “incomprehensible” is like suggesting that reading The Canterbury Tales in Chaucer’s original Middle English is a bit tough to get through.
There’s no story in Dangerous Men, so much as there are several story threads that are tenuously tied at best. The movie cuts between each one at break-neck speed until the final scene ends in the most abrupt way possible: freeze-framing on three characters we’ve only just been introduced to. It’s as if the idea of dramatic resolution was a physical entity that committed such a heinous crime against the filmmaker, he had no choice but to get his revenge with a bad enough ending that storytelling itself would be mortally wounded.
The auteur responsible for Dangerous Men, Iranian born architect John S. Rad, spent 26 years making his movie, and ultimately self-financed its initial disastrous theatrical run. Rad – born Jahangir Yeganehrad – began filming his trash opus in the early ‘80s, giving the whole film its grungy neon aesthetic. He refused to be buried in debt, so filming became a start-and-stop endeavor, depending on when he had the cash on hand to afford it. Rad completed filming in the mid-90s, and he had to pay out-of-pocket to get the finished product into a few L.A. theaters in 2005. The filmmaker died of a heart attack in 2007, just a few years after Dangerous Men started earning a reputation on the cult, so-bad-it’s-good midnight movie circuit.
It doesn’t seem fair to entirely blame (or praise) Rad for the narrative and stylistic failures or unintended hilarity of his movie. Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, bought the rights to Dangerous Men in an effort to get the movie a bigger audience. They did the same thing, to great success, with their 2012 restoration of a movie originally released in 1987, the unintentionally hysterical Miami Connection. It may be necessary to give credit to Drafthouse Films, as well as to Rad, because some editing wizardry does feel conjured in order to get the biggest laughs possible from a movie that was intended to be deadly serious.
The opening credits are a great example. It’s a cliché, well known at least among film students, that if one person is responsible for almost every aspect of a film’s production, it’s usually a signifier that the finished product is of low quality. (Even Robert Rodriguez barely gets away with this.) When Dangerous Men starts, at least five distinct credits appear on the screen, one after the other. Directed by John S. Rad. Produced by John S. Rad. Edited by John S. Rad. Music by John S. Rad. By the last credit, the chuckles in the theater turn into guffaws. Was Rad unaware of how comical putting his own name up on the screen so many times would be? Possible. Or did Drafthouse Films play into the cliché, creating a bad movie experience in the meta-tradition of Mystery Science Theater 3000?
The music is another instance of gloriously ramping up the camp factor. There are approximately three musical cues throughout the entire movie, all apparently composed with a child’s Casio keyboard. The songs basically play on a loop throughout the whole film, their appropriateness to the scene be damned. Bear in mind, that musical looping is no hyperbole. There is perhaps five minutes throughout the eighty-minute running time of Dangerous Men that aren’t accompanied by the constantly recycling score.
There are moments in Dangerous Men that are so incompetent they actually made me a little testy. A cop putting a sleeper hold on a man who is attempting to rape a woman, then simply walking away from the unconscious attacker only to desperately try and apprehend him later in the movie is one example. But giving in to the shear lunacy of Rad’s style makes enduring these moments worth it.
Dangerous Men is an excellent study in why people are drawn to movies that are so bad, there is seemingly no reason to watch them. The communal experience explains part of it. There was a palpable energy in the air at the screening of Dangerous Men I attended as all of us were flummoxed, maddened, and brought to laughter by what was happening on the screen in front of us. In a weird way, the high that comes from that energy is the same one I get from watching a movie of extraordinary quality. It’s proof that art can be delivered effectively in the most surprising of packages.
Why it got .5 star:
- Is it enjoyable on a so-bad-it's-good level? Unquestionably. Using every other conventional measure of quality, though, Dangerous Men is a disaster, so that's what the star rating here reflects.
- That being said, if this is your kind of thing, DO NOT MISS DANGEROUS MEN!
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- When I figured out the story would basically be a tale of rape/revenge fantasy, I thought I would have a really tough time making it through Dangerous Men, because the worst examples of this subgenre are exploitative and reinforce rape culture. The worst offender is a movie from the 70s (remade in 2010) called I Spit on Your Grave. Yes, the woman who is raped in that film gets grisly revenge on each of her attackers, but the rape scene at the beginning of the movie is without a doubt filmed to be titillating for male viewers. It's repugnant. These same types of scenes in Dangerous Men, however, are so ineptly staged, acted, and shot that it's impossible to take them seriously. To laugh at them is to gleefully take the power away from them.
- The "big bad" of Dangerous Men, who we don't even learn about until the final 10 minutes of the movie, is a white guy with a bad wig named Black Pepper. You'll see him at the top of this review. That alone makes the movie worth seeing.