Superman into a bomb-banning peacenik was an idea destined to fail. Nobody
should have understood that better than the men who brought the world the American Ninja franchise. Unfortunately,
they got caught up in the deal and the predictable failure of Superman IV: the Quest for Peace spelled
the beginning of the end for scrappy Cannon Films. The rise and fall of the
self-made, 1980s defining moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are chronicled
in Hilla Medalia’s The Go-Go Boys: the
Inside Story of Cannon Films (trailer here), which screens
during the 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival.
working in his native Israel, Menahem Golan attained a level of international
respect for films that combined popular appeal with critical respectability,
such as his Oscar nominated Operation
Thunderbolt. His first English language productions were not so successful,
but he kept trying until he found the right formula. Indeed, formula would be
the right word. With his cousin, Yoram Globus, Golan acquired Cannon Films,
turning it into the little studio that could, by releasing a series of cheaply
produced but highly satisfying action movies.
a regular stable of stars that included Chuck Norris (including the Delta Force and Braddock: Missing in Action series), Charles Bronson (especially
the Death Wish sequels), Michael
Dudikoff (the American Ninja), and a
Belgian waiter named Jean-Claude Van Damme Cannon became the action house of its
era. Any guy who remembers the 1980s will have found memories of Cannon. When
Golan and Globus respected their competitive advantages, they were wildly profitable.
In fact, Cannon became notoriously successful pre-selling films they had not
yet made (a standard practice these days), largely on the strength of the stars
they had signed and a bankable concept.
dabbling in art cinema did not doom the Cannon empire. The same team behind Ninja III: the Domination (a
longstanding fan favorite) also scored an Academy Award for foreign language film
for the Dutch WWII drama The Assault.
In some cases, they even leveraged distribution for prestige pictures with
their signature action movies. Unfortunately, when the more artistically
ambitious Golan convinced the fundraiser-extraordinaire Globus to start
bankrolling traditional studio level budgets, the box office results were disastrous.
who loves martial arts films and B-movies will inhale Go-Go Boys. Medalia scored long in-depths sit-down interviews with
the late Golan and the surviving Globus, even capturing their reunion after
years of estrangement. She also talks to most of the principle supporting players,
including a highly animated Van Damme and a more reflective Dudikoff. It is
also nice to see Andrei Konchalovsky get his due as a Cannon artist (most
notably for Runaway Train). However,
the oversight of the late great cult action star Steve James, who played an
important role in many iconic Cannon hits, is frankly inexcusable.
Clearly in retrospect, Cannon never should have
never bothered with the middling middle ground. Their bread-and-butter action
films like Avenging Force and Bloodsport still hold up to this day,
while their art house releases, such as Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance and Godard’s King Lear remain distinctive for their idiosyncrasies. For the most
part, Medalia gives them their due in a breezily affectionate profile. Even
though the absence of James will annoy fans, The Go-Go Boys is still recommended for cult film connoisseurs when
it screens twice this Thursday (1/29) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of
this year’s NYJFF.
Labels: Cannon Films, Documentary, Jean-Claude Van Damme, NYJFF '15