Thursday, November 10, 2011

THE DIVINE ENFORCER (1992) - perhaps the greatest achievement of the "priest-fu" genre, and most definitely the nadir

Maybe you’ve heard of the “phone-in” performance. You know, where an actor shows up for one day of shooting without bothering to give a shit or bothering to have read the script, instead
reading the dialogue off of a cue card or a piece of paper. An actor might also show up drunk as well, otherwise known as the "Dean Martin phone-in". Phone-ins are common in the world of B-movies, where desperate actors are hired for their name value, and some of these actors are too filled with shame about appearing in so-called “trash” to bother caring.

Maybe the biggest dual phone-in in cinematic history is found within the little-seen trash actioner The Divine Enforcer, courtesy of Jan-Michael Vincent and Erik Estrada. They play two priests who sit around a breakfast table and stumble over expository dialogue, often reading it off a newspaper, since memorization requires effort (as does storytelling that doesn’t involve people sitting around telling each other what’s going on). Rather than trying to find a parish to shoot at, or dressing a set to look like a parish, the filmmakers just shoot these scenes at what looks like some small house in the valley. At least Jan-Michael has the decency to visibly drown his shame in booze and pills.

They are joined by a third priest at their breakfast table parish, and he at least gives a shit. Not only does he ineptly recite dialogue with passion, he explores the neighborhood looking for ruffians to attack mid-crime. You see, he’s a vigilante priest that has been pushed to the limit and sent over the edge by the evil of man, and serves god by kicking people in the head and snapping collarbones. Since god is all-powerful and all-good, I don’t know why he doesn’t just handle it himself. I guess he creates scruffy punks to commit crimes for no reason as fodder for Z-grade action movie heroes. That must be it.

Meanwhile, sleazy nutbar Don Stroud is draining the blood of women before torturing and murdering them. The astute viewer will probably conclude that these two will eventually battle, but it takes most of the run time to actually get there, requiring some hamfisted coincidence along the way. So, much of the time we have two separate stories that involve separate random encounters that don’t even connect to one another until late in the film. Having said that, each scene is a ramshackle delight that scrapes the bottom of the direct-to-video action/thriller barrel. I dare say that it occasionally even reaches underneath the barrel to scrape off some action trash grime, then uses a needle to inject the grime directly into your already rotting cerebral cortex. Every frame is soaked in failure and shame, like Jan-Michael Vincent’s bloodshot eyes the morning after he got so drunk he punched out a stripper and set his own car on fire for no reason whatsoever.

Special musical guest Hiroko, performing a house remix of her semi-hit “My Love’s Waiting”, only wants to entertain with spirit and spunk, but seems completely out of place, as if she showed up to perform on film without realizing how the footage was going to be used. Maybe she was hoping to break into American dance clubs through a direct-to-VHS trash actioner that no one will ever watch. Either way, she contributes a catchy ass song that carries the viewer through the soul crushing depths of genre cinema, where those with a special brand of intestinal fortitude will find themselves massively entertained while hopelessness and shame creeps into their pores.

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