Big Trouble In Little China (DVD)
Buried deep amid the special features on the new two-disc DVD edition of Big Trouble In Little China is a secret screen called "Summer Of '86," which features the trailer for Big Trouble alongside those for Aliens and The Fly. That just about boils down the lingering appeal of director John Carpenter's wiggy action comedy: Even though it had a bigger audience on home video than in theaters, the movie still represents the boisterous, visually imaginative blockbusters-with-a-brain that helped convert American cineplexes into clever amusement parks during the hot months of the mid-'80s. The episodic action set-pieces and arbitrary genre pastiches seem more quaint and charming than in today's summer movies, either because the motivations are purer or because the filmmakers are smarter. Or maybe it's just the anything-for-a-laugh likability of leading man Kurt Russell. His performance as a self-possessed, philosophical truck driver consciously apes John Wayne, but with thudding wisecracks (scripted by Buckaroo Banzai creator W.D. Richter) and half-baked plans. (He penetrates the villain's lair by bursting through the front door with a phone in his hand and hollering, "Phone company!") When a friend's fiancée is kidnapped by a gang of Asian mystics, Russell joins sexy lawyer Kim Cattrall, investigative journalist Kate Burton, and pal Dennis Dun to penetrate the vice-ridden labyrinth of the Chinese-American criminal underworld. The joke of Big Trouble is that Russell is really the inept sidekick to Dun, who does most of the whipcrack flying-through-the-air kung fu, in exaggerated fight scenes that bring Hong Kong cinema chic to America about a decade ahead of schedule. And the joke is a funny one, especially as supported by Richter's purposefully convoluted expository dialogue and the hilariously squishy supernatural creatures of effects supervisor Richard Edlund. The DVD contains a congenial commentary track by Russell and Carpenter, old friends who spend more time catching up on their kids' activities and chewing over the craft of acting and directing than they do actually watching their movie. But it's clear that they remain fans of their own work. If nothing else, this is a DVD designed for Big Trouble cultists; it's packed with articles from Cinefex and American Cinematographer that only a genre geek would appreciate. There's even a secret screen containing images from the Big Trouble In Little China video game. Given the film's own arcade-like progression through multi-level lairs with secret passages, the hidden shots of the low-tech tie-in are an appropriate reminder of the whole endeavor's 1986-ness.