Killing American Style (1990)

The title in this film comes from a line where a Japanese doctor says he cannot use a shotgun and will kill his enemies in “Japanese style,” to which our overly-muscled hero with flowing locks replies while holding a pistol that he’ll do his killing in “American style.” Nice.

Robert Z’Dar is a criminal named Tony Stone who teams up with his gang to rob a garage for ice cream trucks. For some reason, said garage has like a dozen security guards, and a shoot out swiftly breaks out, with Z’Dar and his gang of misfits fleeing the scene. They’re not as good as they think though, and soon mullet cops manage to arrest Z’Dar while he’s doing his girlfriend along with his buddy Lynch, played by John Lynch, who only ever appeared in this movie. With Z’Dar and Lynch on the bus to prison, the actor playing Stone’s brother does a bad drag performance and shoots up the bus but gets injured in the process. So Z’Dar, Lynch, bleeding brother Jessie, and mentally-handicapped Uncle Loony hop in a camper to find a place to hide out. The end up at the ranch house of the supremely muscled John Morgan, who’s sculpted body is made even more impressive by his ridiculous fashion choices and long mane of hair. Morgan takes his kid to a karate class, where he has to beat up some grungy looking dude for being a dick, while Z’Dar and Lynch take over the house with Morgan’s wife and sister-in-law inside. Morgan returns, gets taken hostage, and is forced to get a Japanese doctor to come treat Jessie. During all this time, supercop Lt. Sunset, played by THE Jim Brown, investigates and discovers Z’Dar’s mom is trying to pick up the cash that was stolen from the ice cream truck garage. Z’Dar hits Morgan over the head, and Lynch rapes his wife. Once he’s awake again, Morgan gets sent to pick up the money from Z’Dar’s mom and hides it along with a gun. Then, Morgan and family proceed to kill all of Z’Dar’s buddies, and when more henchmen show up, Morgan kills them too. In the end, Morgan and Z’Dar have a showdown, Z’Dar loses, Jim Brown congratulates Morgan, and I wonder what I’m doing with my life.

There’s a lot to see in Killing American Style, most of it bad. The vast majority of these folks aren’t actors, with really only Jim Brown and Robert Z’Dar having any chops to speak of. Everyone else is the likes of karate tournament dredges and bodybuilding gyms that director Amir Shervan could find to populate his movies. Once he found someone, he tended to stick with them too, so many of the folks with multiple credits tend to only be in Shervan movies. Shervan also wrote the script, and he was no Shakespeare. Lines are occasionally repeated, scenes make little real world sense, and the dialogue is full on atrocious. Jim Brown’s got years of talent and experience, so he did the best by far, but some of these folks are just painful.

Not as painful as the clothing and hairstyles though. Greasy mullets abound, but Harold Diamond walks around in the most ludicrous outfits imaginable. In one fight scene, he’s wearing lavender coveralls that have some kind of split in the center. I had to pause the movie and taken in that I was actually seeing a grown man wearing that. Later he tools around in a glossy jacket with shoulder pads and what appears to be a black spandex unitard with baggy pants. I don’t…sure. Man, the end of the ’80s was rough on fashion.

As much as there is to criticize about the ridiculous of the movie, one thing in its favor is that, even with choppy and unrealistic choreography, I feel like the folks involved actually knew what they were doing. Sure, they didn’t spend much time practicing the particulars of their fights, but these guys were definitely no slouches. Add in the weird over exposure of the lighting, and it gives this burned out California vibe that feels weirdly correct. So no, Killing American Style did not get literally everything wrong. But it will probably make you reevaluate certain life choices that led you to end up watching this movie.

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