Review by Glenn Heath Jr.
Posted on 08 August 2012
Source Mill Creek Entertainment DVD
Legendary B-movie writer/producer/director Andy Sidaris mastered the art of turning picture perfect postcards into sweaty soft-core cinema. His lush widescreen images of natural beauty, mostly filmed on the various islands of Hawaii, are mere backgrounds for busty blondes in swimsuits toting machine guns and grenade launchers. Mixing outlandish violence, smooth sex scenes, and classic one-liners that would make Mr. Schwarzeneger jealous, Sidaris’ genre films cast Playboy Playmates as secret agents and spies caught up in lethal missions, albeit assignments that weren’t too dangerous for a sudden left turn into a night of delirious carnal pleasures. At their best, Sidaris’ films offer one implausible plot twist and seedy scenario after another, a volatile combination that ultimately gives these lowbrow action films a lasting identity.
An early entry in Sidaris’ Bullets, Bombs, and Babes series that spanned from the mid-1980s into the late 1990s, Hard Ticket to Hawaii celebrates the strange juxtaposition of female empowerment and submissiveness, contradictory themes that remain playfully at odds throughout the purposefully contrived narrative. This duality is present in the opening sequence on a quiet yacht, where stud federal agent Rowdy feebly attempts to talk his colleague/lover Donna out of transferring to Molokai Island, an apparent hotbed of narcotics activity. “Drug enforcement is no job for a girl like you,” Rowdy seductively says. Only moments later Donna calls him on his own chauvinistic bullshit with a classic “you Tarzan, me Jane” retort. Immediately, Sidaris establishes Donna, a woman whose tan legs and voluptuous breasts the camera will ogle for the film’s duration, as the primary action character in a subgenre dominated by dapper leading men.
Seeped in irony and sexy bravado, Hard Ticket to Hawaii sports a wonderful credit sequence where the titular theme song plays over a series of Hawaiian vistas and individual title cards stamped onto the side of loading crates in a cramped warehouse. “It’s not paradise all the time,” warns the chorus over a symphony of synthesizer keys, essentially poking fun at Hollywood’s blatantly mainstream use of taglines to sell sex and violence. Aside from creating a tonal connection between the natural splendor of Hawaii and hapless worker bees inside the warehouse, the montage performs a dual function in terms of narrative: Donna and her sidekick Taryn, a key witness for a mainland organized crime case, fly to Molokai with an ill-fated married couple and a previously mishandled package containing a venomous snake in the holding bay. With this accidental mishap, Sidaris shows that the evil drug runners aren’t the only ones capable of smuggling in toxic properties to the islands of paradise.
From a plot perspective, Hard Ticket to Hawaii is as ludicrous as they come: Donna and Taryn come across a remote control helicopter smuggling diamonds to Molokai, payment from the evil crime boss Mr. Chang to his lead henchman, Seth, who’s responsible for drug running on the island. After a shootout with two of Seth’s henchmen, in which Donna wields ninja stars with startling accuracy, the two women retreat to the confines of their Jacuzzi to get naked and think up a plan of attack. Eventually, Donna calls in Rowdy and his pony-tailed friend Jade from the main island to help eliminate Seth and his minions to reclaim Molakai for the good guys (and ladies). All kinds of sexiness and absurdity ensue.
One does not indulge in sleazy fare like Hard Ticket to Hawaii for revelations of story or character. Sidaris is a specialist in surface, in texture, in glistening symbols. Whether it’s Donna and Taryn’s bouncy bob hairstyles or Rowdy’s bulging abs, physical form is paramount here. Even more interesting is how Sidaris positions the human body, sexualized or not, within wacky action scenes that often defy gravity. The most notable example comes when Rowdy and Jade arrive on Molokai and get attacked by Seth’s thugs, the core assassin being a surfer performing a handstand on a moving skateboard. Seconds later, the killer retrieves a gun (and a blow-up doll!) from his associate in a jeep, only to get blown away by Rowdy’s perfectly aimed bazooka round. In classic Sidaris fashion, his leading man shoots the blow-up doll too, sending the lonely skateboard zooming down a desolate road toward the ocean in the distance. No mercy.
Indeed, narrative tangents and buttons are the key to unlocking Hard Ticket to Hawaii’s many pleasures, like the moments Sidaris cuts away to the gigantic cancer-infected snake roaming the island causing havoc, Taryn’s attempt to speak Spanish to two Sumo wrestlers, or the misbegotten press conference between sportscaster J.J. Jackson and two foul-mouthed athletes. Each adds a certain whimsy to the salacious proceedings, a much-needed sense of humor to offset the glaring gaps in temporal continuity and character motivation. Of course, the ultimate deviations are the sex scenes themselves, mostly make-out sequences where the breasts do all the acting. It is here that Sidaris slows the narrative down to linger on the instinctual slow motion of his characters in the heat of the moment, filming each like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot gone incredibly astray. But Sidaris complicates the pleasure his characters feel in sex scenes late in the film when Rowdy’s orgasmic scream cuts directly to another female character’s yelp from being tortured by Seth’s very own Barbarella.
Like the James Bond movies it often references, Hard Ticket to Hawaii ends in a lengthy shootout between the sexy posse of agents and the brutal drug smugglers. Once again, Donna takes the lead and Rowdy is revealed to be useless without his blunt force trauma weapon of choice, the grenade launcher. The climax extends to include a classic showdown between Donna, Seth, and that pesky snake that has made its way into the pipes. But more importantly, Donna and Rowdy confront Mr. Chang in his penthouse suite, the former eliminating the corporate head of this criminal clan of vipers with a round from her gigantic .357 Magnum. If these action scenes prove anything about Sidaris’ thematic concerns, it’s that he sees gender roles between men and women as overlapping, perpetually in harmony and conflict. In this sense, each coupling in Hard Ticket to Hawaii lives up to the film’s greatest line of dialogue: “You give great secret service.” For Sidaris, female strength and male weakness are not mutually exclusive; but they are permanently entangled.