Best Of The Best (1989): Breakdown by Rantbo
Korea may have won the war, but they haven’t won the battle. So says Eric Roberts and his motley crew of American martial artists.
The year was 1989; AIDS was old news, the War On Drugs was no longer taken seriously, and as the box-office receipts for RAMBO III indicated, the Cold War was officially thawed out and warmed over. In short, Americans had little to dwell their fears on. And with the Gulf War still over a year away from capturing our hearts with 24 hour coverage and baseball cards, Americans were in dire need of a foreign ethnicity to fear and hate. So with little left to cash in on, Hollywood decided to look to America’s past for a little bit of cultural payback. And the men behind BEST OF THE BEST settled on Korea. And what better way to teach those slanty-eyed devils that Uncle Sam’s penis DOES NOT RUN! Then to take a rag-tag team of America’s “best” men (a man child, an Earth muffin, a slimy stereotype, a redneck, and an Asian for diversity… you know, so we don’t seem racist or anything), and have them train to defeat those bastards at their own game: Tae Kwon Do.
“Winning isn’t a sometime thing. Winning’s an ALL time thing. We don’t win once and awhile—we don’t do the right thing once and awhile—we do the right thing ALL of the time. Winning is a habit.”
Stitch that onto Old Glory and raise it high, gentlemen!
While the premise of white and/or Americanized men learning/being taught a foreign martial art for purposes of revenge against it’s creator/talented performer is nothing new, BEST OF THE BEST excels in the genre by having the distinction of being one the most laughably and embarrassingly entertaining entry. To begin with, as I hinted at above, THESE are the BEST guys America could produce to go a second round with Korea!? Aside from Roberts and Rhee, I don’t know what’s more insulting, the casting or the fact that despite it, the Yanks still throttle the Asians. Any Korean readers out there—what do you think? Personally, I think it’s hysterically tragic.
Second, Team U.S.A. is trained and lead by none other than Thulsa Doom himself, James Earl Jones.
Yes, that James Earl Jones. Perhaps if they wanted me to believe that my country had a chance in Hell at competing with the team raised from birth to eat, sleep and shit the foot fist way, a good start would have been choosing someone capable of walking up a flight of stairs without taking a breather. And, oh man, that’s not the worst of it. The filmmakers seemed to have understood this to a certain degree, so they scripted in another trainer: Wade. A woman with a degree in Eastern Philosophy to “train” the guys’ minds in the art of meditation and “oneness”. HAHAHA!!! Seriously, come on, you’re fucking with me, movie. And this entry is BY FAR the most grounded of the four (yes FOUR!) films of the B.O.T.B. series. Wow. The only thing that comes close to being believable is that the team’s unofficial leader is none other than Eric Fuckin’ Roberts and his mullet from Hell. And really, what more do you need than that to trounce centuries of cultural mastery?
Despite all my mockery, I really do like this movie. Much like all the other films of this sub-genre, BEST OF THE BEST is practically an hour long training montage, with a twenty minute in-the-ring climax to bring it all home. They even added in a fucking epic bar-room fight and FOOTLOOSE’s Chris “Don’t Point That Gun At My Dad” Penn in the middle to give year-end gross competitor ROAD HOUSE a run for it’s money. Though Swayze’s mullet easily kicked the shit out of Roberts’s in the box office, B.O.T.B. is still entertaining as all Hell and totally worth a watch. Check it out.
[HOW BAD-ASS ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS?]
Eric Roberts is Alex Grady
As I mentioned above, he becomes the teams unofficial leader and it’s not hard to see why, as he’s Eric Roberts. God amongst men. However, Roberts’s coolness had it’s work cut out for it this go-round, as his character is a whiny, aging, melodramatic sentimentalist that wears Cosby sweaters and lives with his mother. How could they do this to him!? Thank Christ for that hair, eh? Plus, he does go on to score a shit-ton of points, beating up on an Asian stunt-man, excuse me “competitor”, later on in the final competition. Which makes for one of the best sequences in the film.
John Dye is Virgil Keller
The team’s resident pacifistic pussy-fart. On top of having the name Virgil and sporting a pair of glasses, he is a practicing Buddhist. And as Chris Penn points out, he dresses like a piñata and with his smart and charming wit, is a natural hit with the ladies. In short, Virgil is like an omen sent back in time from the 90s to warn us of what was to come should the 80s beefcake not watch his back. Sadly, we all know how well that warning was heeded…
Phillip Rhee is Tommy Lee
He’s Asian and I’m fairly certain the only one of these misfits to have martial arts training outside of pre-production, so it’s clear Phillip Rhee is present to make the team credible and somewhat believable as a competitive force. While the Best Of The Best series eventually became his pet project, I find it a shame that Rhee didn’t amount to much outside of it. Physically talented, skillful in his craft and charismatic in his character, I for one would have liked to have seen more from him. Thankfully, he still managed to rock three more of these badboys before disappearing into obscurity. Though I think it was slightly unfair to name the Asian character after a drummer renowned for his considerable crotch.
David Agresta is Sonny Grosso
Well since they already had James Earl Jones as the coach, an I-Tie is pretty much the next best thing to the having a darker skinned ethnicity. You could cry racism on the filmmakers, but I think it’s understandable. I mean, you don’t want to scare off your predominantly white audience by allowing them to think brown people can possess the skills necessary to rise up and fight back, do you?
Chris Penn is Travis Brickley
Every team needs it’s lovable asshole and Travis aims to be the best of the best. He’s a fat, loudmouth, bigoted, racist hayseed, complete with a ten gallon hat, shitkickers and a penchant for starting brawls in honkytonks after hitting on trashy country bumpkins. I swear if it wasn’t for his jolly physique and occasional funny one-liner, Penn would have succeeded in portraying Brickley TOO well as the requisite shithead. As is, he had all the best lines and easily represented the average American for Team U.S.A. to a fuckin’ T. I, like everyone else, came to love the guy.
[THE BODY COUNT: 01]
Yes, just the one. Tommy’s big bro was killed off in a similar completion, as a ice-cream eatin’ Little Tom-Tom watched on in horror. As an added twist, the man who showed no mercy, is the same man who Tommy must fight to bring about the end to Korea. Heavy stuff, huh? ~Pfffft!~
[MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING]
Tommy vs. Dae Han
Turns out the film’s final bout, is it’s best of the best, and also proves to make for a nice microcosm of my above observation of American warfare. Tommy begins the fight from a weak, outsider’s stance of trepidation, which leads to him getting out maneuvered and in trouble fast. But the second his fellow troops begin their catcalls of support, Tommy begins to make headway. After a furious battle of overcoming Dae Han’s cheap shots, low blows and illegal, unsportsmanlike manner of attack, Tommy eventually perseveres with the knowledge that freedom, justice and the American way are in his corner and all three refuse to allow him to lose. And it is here that the war-metaphor takes serious root.
With this fight, Tommy re-enacts the Korean War and after using a fair, gentlemanly, regulation-approved battle plan, has Dae Han bloodied, broken and if he could speak through his standing catatonia, begging for mercy. And despite his inner rage and complete justification for doing so, Tommy obliges like a true American would. It’s the real American way. We beat you, humiliate you on your own turf, but we do not completely destroy you. No, no. We save that final blow, as raping your country’s beliefs, customs and way of life with out American influence and industry, makes for so much sweeter a victory. And in Tommy’s sake, lording mercy, compassion and cognoscente defeat over his fallen opponent, stings far worse than a death punch to the nose. And as history has proved time and again, Tommy’s choice mirrors U.S.A. in prevailing to turn the collective viewpoint of the entire country* to the American way.
*well, at least all the Korean team and stadium.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
“Starting tomorrow, you are MINE. For the next three months—that means NO WOMEN!”
Oddly enough, the Koreans actually manage to out-gay the Americans. It’s fuckin’ weird, but true. Between frolicking in-sync in the snow, or punching in unison underneath a glistening waterfall, those guys had it going on.
Not to say that Team U.S.A. dosen’t pack it in. As I mentioned above, the whole first hour is practically one long circle-jerk of sweat, tears and male-bonding between our boys, which culminates, as it should, during the third act, when their comradely is needed the most…
[flashvideo filename=videos/BOTB.avi.FLV /]
Not a flaccid penis left in the house, I guarantee it.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
As expected, most of the misogyny comes from Mr. Brickley and the best of the best of which, while in the county western bar. Imagine that! After thinning the heard a bit with his disgusting chauvinistic remarks, Travis finds his prey: An Alpha Male Seeking Bimbo. And she, of course, is already spoken for by the resident macho dickhead: Kane “Jason Voorhees” Hodder. Who in an attempt to punch-out Travis for attempting to “mow his lawn”, misses and hits his pissing tree right in the face.
“Now that’s a good move, Burt. Don’t take any lip from ‘er.”
Then there is Wade, the team’s “spiritual guide” to inner-oneness, or whatever. Travis makes short work of her as well, refusing to participate in her dumbass girly activities and when questioned about it, retorts with sarcasm and vicious anti-social remarks. And it couldn’t be cuter.
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
EP-M: Eric + S = Cries
Real men are not afraid to show their emotions. Real men also cry… real men, also cry…
Travis: Yeah! Drop ‘em like a toilet-seat, Tommy!
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
No matter how many centuries your country’s people have spent perfecting their various forms of art, if you give a random group of Americans a couple of months—we’ll kick your asses at it.
[THE CHECKLIST: 16 outta 25]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[ ] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[ ] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[X] Manly Embrace(s)
[X] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[ ] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[X] Unnecessary Sequel [Best Of The Best 2]
[ ] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice
And The Academy Award Goes To—JULIA ROBERTS!
A God Damned Tragedy If I Ever Saw One…
The Best Of The Best (1989) © Best Of The Best Films and Columbia TriStar Home Video