We’re back in made-for-tv land here, folks! However, this time it’s not the likes of horror films like Killdozer or Gargoyles; instead, I’m bringing you into TV action movie territory with HBO’s first film ever made for the small screen: The Park Is Mine. Starring a surprisingly talented cast and taking place in New York City, this largely Canadian production supports some surprises and also serves as a holiday movie for Veteran’s Day. It also had a budget of about 4.5 million Canadian, which was mainly spent on blowing up stuff. Canada really gets America, you know?
Mitch is a Vietnam veteran whose been down on his luck for the last twenty years. He’s out of work, behind on his child support payments, and his best friend has just killed himself by jumping off a building in one of those action movie attempted suicide scenes we love, like in Lethal Weapon or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Only this time no super cop shows up with his mother in tow to stop him. With his friend dead, Mitch discovers a letter detailing a plan to get the world to pay attention to down on their luck veterans and little guys, which mainly consists of a small and well reasoned argument to launch a guerrilla war campaign in Central Park for a few days with a warehouse full of bombs and guns.
Yeah, that’s well reasoned.
Mitch initially doubts this, but once a cop acts rudely to him in Central Park, he decides to go through with it. By the 14 minute mark, Mitch is rigging up explosives, setting booby traps, and driving around the park with an AK-47 and a motorcycle to drive everyone out, especially the NYPD. Since the Mayor is out of town, and the Deputy Mayor happens to be one of those kind of self-serving bureaucratic dicks, Mitch then has to hold the park against the likes of SWAT squads, snipers, a helicopter attack, and eventually a pair of mercenaries while also dealing with a wannabe Nightcrawler reporter and phone calls from his estranged wife. And all while wearing camo and a New York Yankees hat, because as well a know, the Mets ain’t worth representing. And all of this is purely with the goal of holding the park until Veteran’s Day to remind folks about the plight of veterans and the little guy.
I know what you’re thinking. Bad guy cops? Vietnam veterans? Booby traps? Guerrilla warfare? Yes, it’s First Blood all over again, except with a small budget and Tommy Lee Jones in red Converse. I mentioned that cast being surprisingly good, didn’t I? Yeah, it’s Jones as Mitch, while the sympathetic head of SWAT is the great Yaphet Kotto. Decorated Canadian actress and director Helen Shaver is the kinda scummy reporter, while the rest of the cast is rounded out with acting veterans who feature the likes of such genre classics as Scanners and The Children on their resumes.
So besides the acting chops, what else did that budget go to? Pyrotechnics! Yes, there is a lot of shooting in this movie, but there is also a lot of blowing stuff up. The explosions range from small blasts meant to simulate grenades (poorly) to a helicopter explosion! Of course they land it first, and Tommy Lee Jones even has a scene of contemplating using a grenade launcher before going back to the AK and shooting its tail, so the helicopter had time to get down before going boom (and also enough time to get all the aerial shots the film needed. Smart thinking). Blowing up a helicopter ain’t cheap, but blowing up a flying one is even more expensive. Roger Corman did it once, and he spliced the footage into every trailer he put out for the next twenty years just to be sure he got his investment back. Also, it’s a Canadian helicopter, so I’m sure the wreckage reeked of maple in the best kind of way.
What gets crazy are the anti-guerrilla measures that the city government considers. The military contemplates search and destroy options and marching in with the big guns. One guy even recommends using defoliants on Central Park, a not so subtle nod to Agent Orange. The idea that wins is the pair of mercs, one of whom is Dutch, while the other is Vietnamese. This makes for the most interesting component of the film, because while it’s never stated on which side of the Vietnam conflict this one guy fought, he’s automatically assumed to be former Viet Cong, both by the city folks as well as Mitch when he sees who it is. In Mitch’s case, he’s having a PTSD-fueled bender in the park, so I get why he misreads the situation and immediately goes back to his big enemy in the last war, but not sure this guy is actually who they all claim he is.
As for the mercenary in question, he’s played by Jong Soo Park. Not a big name in acting, but if you’re a Taekwondo fanatic, you’re likely familiar with his work. Park is one of the original 12 masters that formed the Korea Taekwondo Association and is now a grandmaster. He also traveled widely, spreading martial arts teachings throughout Europe before settling in Canada and helping build up the popularity of both the art and the International Taekwon-Do Federation there. That’s a hell of a name to pull out of a hat to play a Vietnamese guerrilla war expert.
Now this isn’t all this movie does that is surprising. It begins with a solid credit sequence filmed on top of a police car, the exact kind of thing that comedy series Police Squad! parodied to perfection. And then during the credits, we discover that all of the film’s music was performed by Tangerine Dream.
So we get Tommy Lee Jones shooting an AK on a motorcycle, a helicopter explosion, Yaphet Kotto running a SWAT team, New Yorkers cheering for the everyman, mercenary warfare in Central Park, and Tangerine Dream pumping out the tunes for a film all about celebrating the little guy for Veteran’s Day.
God, I love these kinds of movies.