Review by David Carter
Posted on 09 August 2012
Source Malibu Bay DVD
Hard Ticket to Hawaii saw Andy Sidaris using the creative freedom afforded by true financial independence to make the film he had presumably been wanting to a make: a free-wheeling diversion, equal parts action and comedy. Despite a generally light-hearted tone and occasional sophomoric moments, there was a pronounced intelligence behind Hard Ticket. It was clearly a film made by someone with well defined ideas about action cinema, ideas that were wholly unique in the cinematic landscape in 1988. As his second film with complete control, Hard Ticket to Hawaii was an experiment for Sidaris, whose nascent ideas would come to their full fruition in the sequel, Picasso Trigger, inaugurating the new genre of “Guns with Guns” cinema in the process.
There is a telling scene early on in the film that fully displays one of its primary concepts and, indeed, all of Sidaris’ oeuvre: two shabbily-dressed agents sit in a Las Vegas burlesque show observing the activities of the men they’ve been assigned to tail. As they watch, they complain about the fact that this is their last day on the case; they’ve been demoted in favor of two more skilled agents. Sidaris waits until the last possible moment to reveal the punch line of the scene: the two more skilled agents are the female burlesque dancers on stage, Kym and Patticake. He tips his hand at this point, revealing that Picasso will see the gender shift started in Hard Ticket become complete with women entirely replacing their male counterparts as the films primary heroes.
The titular “Picasso Trigger” is Salazar, a notorious international crime lord attempting to redeem his reputation by donating a rare painting to a Parisian museum. He’s assassinated at the reception as part of a coordinated strike by competing criminal Miguel Ortiz, during which his men also kill the aforementioned demoted agents and an undercover team working in Hawaii. They fail, however, to kill super-agents Donna and Taryn, who narrowly escape being blown to smithereens by an explosives-laded remote-control plane.
Realizing they are under siege, the agents convene in Las Vegas to receive their assignments. Donna is leery of newcomer Pantera, particularly after Pantera protests to Donna and Taryn receiving the most important mission, the capture of Ortiz. Donna responds that she’s “the best man for the job,” a declaration met with nods of agreement from the assembled agents. Donna, Taryn, and the other agents retaliate against Ortiz, not knowing that Picasso Trigger faked his own death in order to trick the team into taking down his competition.
Picasso Trigger is more reserved than its predecessors. Sidaris dispenses with the soap opera intrigues of Malibu Express, the fantastic, such as Hard Ticket’s radioactive giant snake, and the comic relief of both films for a format that is much more straightforward. Picasso Trigger is perhaps the most “serious” film in Sidaris’ oeuvre, yet it is unmistakably a “Bullets, Bombs, and Babes” film. Sidaris still indulges all of these obsessions but here they are almost overshadowed by the plot, easily his best and one that is superior to a good portion of action cinema made in 1989. While Sidaris’ troop was still largely made up of Playboy Playmates with limited acting experience, most of the performers rise to the task admirably.
As a more serious film, it should not be surprising that Picasso Trigger sees the James Bond influence become more pronounced. Nowhere is this more evident than in the climactic hovercraft chase sequence, an homage to The Spy Who Loved Me. This scene is incorporated seamlessly into the narrative, so the fact that it is pulled directly from a well-known film is not overly jarring. Sidaris’ gadget obsession is well on display here as well as the agents get their own version of “Q” in the form of “the Professor,” who provides them with exploding remote control cars and a crutch-gun that shoots heat-seeking missiles concealed in a fake cast.
Sidaris described Picasso Trigger as “a splashy, easy-read comic book for grown-ups,” and the same could be said about all his films. More than his other work, it proved that he was fully capable of making a well-realized action film. Picasso Trigger marks the point in the “Girls with Guns” series where the inclusion of beautiful women as action heroes became less a gimmick and more a component of Sidaris’ approach to genre, and as such Donna becomes Sidaris’ James Bond in Picasso Trigger, the super agent capable of overcoming any odds, and his next four films would be dedicated to her adventures.