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Stunt Rock

Stunt Rock(1980)

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teaser Stunt Rock (1980)

In the pantheon of "stuntsploitation" movies, Brian Trenchard-Smith's Stunt Rock (1980) has enjoyed little more than also-ran status, chilling in the conjoined shadows of the Burt Reynolds vehicle Hooper (1978), Richard Rush's The Stunt Man (1980) starring Peter O'Toole and Steve Railsback and even Mark Lester's unprepossessing backlot whodunit Stunts (1977), which featured Robert Forster as a stuntman who hires onto a calamity-plagued production to find his brother's killer. Shot with Australian and Dutch money on location in Los Angeles, Stunt Rock was a vehicle for Grant Page, "Australia's favorite stuntman," a veteran of such Aussie films as Mad Dog Morgan (1976), Mad Max (1979) and Thirst (1979). (The granite-faced Page was put to good use a year later as the Outback UnSub "Smith or Jones" in Richard Franklin's 1981 thriller Roadgames.) A loose-knit assembly of setpieces rather than a traditional narrative, Stunt Rock begins atop a forbidding promontory of Sydney Harbor, as Page (clad only in a black banana hammock) demonstrates "the thrilling death glide" for an Australian news crew prior to heading west for a job on an American TV series. Like the pre-credits teaser of a James Bond movie, this curtain warmer serves the purpose of telling viewers who Grant Page is and providing a hint as to what they might expect from him.

Stunt Rock anticipates the better known Australian export Crocodile Dundee (1986), with Page deplaning at LAX to take the Hollywood subculture by storm, his compulsion to lay his life on the line (at times literally, as when he dangles from a rope strung between two Hollywood high-rises), wowing the locals and horrifying a potential girlfriend in journalist Margaret Gerard. Yet Stunt Rock is anything but a fish out of water tale, with Page never playing the naf, proving himself at home anywhere danger and a paycheck are involved. On terra firma there is a minimum of tension, despite the contention of Don Blackburn's oily Hollywood insider that "stuntmen are breakables." Page even gets along famously with the diva-like Dutch star of his series (Monique van de Ven was then the wife of cinematographer Jan de Bont and her second billing a stipulation of the Dutch money) and parties during his downtime with the American rock band Sorcery, whose live stage shows - which run to a This Is Spinal Tap [1984] style slumgullion of hot licks and magic tricks - take up at least half of the film's running time.

Breaded with footage culled from prior films and diverging from the A-plot (such as it is) for B-roll vignettes showing Grant doing his thing (chinning himself on a crossbar of the Hollywood sign, standing perilously atop Manhattan's Empire State Building, burning up during the shooting of a fire gag gone wrong on location for Mad Dog Morgan), Stunt Rock often seems like a sitcom clip show of moments culled from previous episodes. Holding the patchwork together is the charismatic Page, whose shtick is as buoyant as Chuck Norris' is leaden and proves surprisingly articulate about the hold that stunt work has on him.

Shot in fifteen days, Stunt Rock has a roughhewn look due to the frugality of its execution and 16mm origins but is proud in its angle on a degraded, pre-redevelopment Hollywood, offering views of Hollywood Boulevard's ageless Chinese Theater, the long-shuttered Filthy McNasty's strip joint, and the Mayfair Hotel, site of the first Academy Awards after-party. Popping up early on in a bit as a TV prop man is Phil Hartman, then known as a rock album cover designer and years ahead of his fame as a Not Ready for Prime Time Player on Saturday Night Live.

Producer: Martin Fink
Executive Producer: Hermen Ilmer
Associate Producer: Arnie Frank
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Writers: Brian Trenchard-Smith, Paul-Michel Mielche, Jr.
Cinematography: Bob Carras, Helmen Ilmer
Music: Richard Smokey Taylor
Editors: Curt Burch, Susan Emanule, Wendy Friend
Cast: Grant Page (Himself), Monique van de Ven (Herself), Margaret Gerard (***), Paul Haynes (Paul, aka the King of the Wizards), Curtis Hyde (Curtis, aka the Prince of Darkness), Greg Magie (Greg), Smokey Huff (Smokey), Richie King (Richie), Doug Loch (Doug), Perry Morris (Perry), Don Blackburn (The Agent), Ron Raley (The TV Director), Chris Chalen (The Escapologist), Barbara Paskin (TV Reporter), Phil Hartman (Prop Man).

by Richard Harland Smith

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