Single Disc Double Feature #1 The Last Days of Frankie the Fly/Search & Destroy
Welcome to the first entry in Single Disc Double Feature (or Triple Feature or Quadruple Feature)! It’s a new column based on my long-standing fascination with obscure or incongruous juxtapositions of movies on those multi-film, single-disc combos you find at Wal-Mart and other such horrible yet wonderful places.
A lot of combo discs make sense by pairing a film with its sequel, or with similar movies starring the same actor. But sometimes the juxtaposition is a little jarring and hard to digest, and makes you wonder who thought Cool World and Tree of Life should be joined forever on a single piece of technology because Brad Pitt starred in them during slightly different phases of his career.
I want this column to be interactive, so if you’re at Wal-Mart and see a disc pairing Schindler’s List with Ernest Scared Stupid, send that bad boy to me at
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and if I am sufficiently intrigued I will write about these movies in tandem, as a double feature with recurring themes and concerns that can only really be appreciated when they are watched together, as the good lord and the people holding the copyrights for the movies angrily dictated.
We’re starting off slowly with a pair of low-budget but star-studded obscurities from the mid-1990s united by the fairly central presence of Dennis Hopper in both films and plots that hinge on desperate outsiders who dream of making motion pictures.
These combo discs appeal to me because if you’re not familiar with the movies on them, they’re a total crap shoot. That was the case when I saw a shabby-looking, literally taped-together disc pairing 1996’s The Last Days of Frankie the Fly and 1995’s Search & Destroy at the local Half Price Books and I took a wild chance spent a whole dollar on it.
The Last Days of Frankie The Fly was released after the release of Pulp Fiction but before Jackie Brown, when video stores were filled with wildly derivative Tarantino knock-offs filled with fading stars hoping to rekindle their once vital careers. Drawn by flashy dialogue, juicy parts, and the promise, however faint, of John Travolta-style career rehabilitation, these movies attracted insanely over-qualified casts.
The Last Days of Frankie the Fly is no exception.The movie doesn’t just star Tarantino-level actors. It attracted Tarantino stars like Dennis Hopper (True Romance), Darryl Hannah (Kill Bill) and Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill’s Michael Madsen. The Last Days of Frankie the Fly had the right people for the job. It just had a script beyond redemption.
The movie stars screen legend Dennis Hopper as the titular character, a low-level, bullied mob functionary with a bit of a Lenny from Of Mice and Men thing going on, noble simpleton-wise, nicknamed Fly because he would never hurt a fly and eats shit. And boy, oh boy, is Frankie ever called Fly a lot in The Last Days of Frankie the Fly. And boy oh boy does he ever hate it! He’s all, "My mama named me Frankie! Why you gotta be calling me Fly, disrespecting me, boss man!?! Ma name is Frankie, not Fly!" Such acting! Dennis Hopper does in this movie! He does a lot of acting. A lot, a lot of acting, and all of the acting he does here I would describe as “bad.”
Hannah contributes acting I would similarly describe as sub-par as the lost woman of the Fly’s dreams, a porn actress for a mercurial and egocentric director played by Keifer Sutherland as a weird, grubby echo of Quentin Tarantino, all nerdy aggression and ragged, manic energy.
This is one of those curious movies that depict the world of hardcore porn movies as being like mainstream movies but with even worse production values and acting and way more graphic onscreen anal. Sutherland’s a frustrated auteur constantly referencing his NYU education, a cinephile scumbag with a gambling problem.
He, Hopper’s meek mouse of a man and Hannah’s drug-addicted sex workers are sheep to the wolf a sleepy-eyed Michael Madsen plays on auto-pilot. I like Madsen tremendously as an actor but he joins everyone here in doing feeble work in a movie I can barely remember less than twelve hours after seeing it.
The movie’s plot finds Frankie finally taking enough abuse from Madsen’s belligerent, sociopathic bully and his intimidating second-in-command, who is played by Dayton Callie, one of those beefy, ubiquitous character actor who gets cast in roles like “Mobster at table” and wrote the script. There’s something poignant about movies like these that set out to say something important, that try to be about characters and acting and emotion and not just about hitting the genre bets yet fail in every conceivable way.
Actually that’s no true. There’s a nice jazz score from George S. (not the one with the Parliament, nor Funkadelic) Clinton and there’s a wonderful scene where an enraged Frankie delivers a tortured monologue about how the kids today don’t got no respect for tradition, so they got no Elvis, and they got no Sinatra, to a gum-smacking race track valet played by a very young, incongruously scruffy Adam Scott.
Like everyone in the movie, he’s doing bad, over-the-top work but because he’s Adam Scott, it’s an unintentionally funny scene, if only because Scott, like the hungry young actor he was at the time, found a way to over-act and make his presence felt opposite Hopper largely through the over-aggressiveness of his gum-chewing.
So Adam Scott completists will definitely want to track this down. Hell, they’ll need to track this down if they’re going to achieve their life’s goal of seeing all of the actor’s work in its entirety. Nobody else should bother, especially if you’re a fan of the actors, all of whom can be seen doing better work in almost all of their other projects.
For Hopper, that includes 1995’s Search & Destroy, which gives him a role that’s not just flashy but good and meaty and substantive. Hopper pours his crazy charisma into the the juicy role of Dr. Luther Waxley, a late-night TV guru with shades of L. Ron Hubbard who has written an adventure story called Daniel Strong not unlike Battlefield Earth to help express his philosophical beliefs.
He’s a bogus cult leader to be sure, but some of his dictates, like “Just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting" are pretty goddamn, incontrovertibly true, and wise to boot. Griffin Dunne plays Martin Mirkhein, an almost impressively unsuccessful businessman and dreamer who stakes his financial and professional future on convincing Waxley to sell him the rights to his adventure tale so that he can make his masterpiece, a movie that won’t just make an obscene amount of money but that will also change the world and show how people how to lead their lives.
He is a consummate fraud but a true believer in Waxley’s theories introduced alongside Dunne’s After Hours co-star Rosanna Arquette and his After Hours director Martin Scorsese, who has a small but important role as the bean-counter who tells Mirkhein he’s in a mountain of tax debt it will be seemingly impossible to climb out of.
I’ve always liked Scorsese as a character actor. Seeing him here made me think he’d be a terrific addition to Preston Sturges’ repertory company as a caterpillar-browed bureaucrat or low-level functionary had he lived in those times and committed himself to acting. Not surprisingly, Search & Destroy has a bit of an After Hours quality to it.
In both movies, Dunne played anti-heroes who are assholes, although Dunne is a much bigger, more egregious asshole here. He’s not afraid to play a character with no redeeming characteristics, who is greedy and narcissistic and dishonest and desperate and really learns nothing and experiences no emotional growth over the course of the film.
Both After Hours and Search & Destroy are about unlikable protagonists who stray far from the world they know in search of a goal and end up falling deeper and deeper into a strange, sad world they do not understand and may not be able to leave with their life or liberty intact.
Mirkhein’s desperate bid to get into the picture business with his philosophical hero leads him to seek out relationships with a series of seedy, disreputable characters, most notably an enigmatic businessman played by Christopher Walken at the height of his Christopher Walkenosity. The character begins the movie a businessman who’s a little nuts and exits the film a lunatic who’s a bit of a businessman.
Walken’s character completely hijacks Search & Destroy. Dunne is ideally cast as an irredeemable schmuck with a hard-on for glory, but he might as well be invisible when Walken is onscreen tap-dancing or singing in a Japanese restaurant or waving around a gun like it’s a nice pen he “borrowed” from work.
Walken and Dunne are supported by a murderer’s row of great character actors in fun roles clearly having a blast, like John Turturro with crazy Tommy Wiseau hair as a nut job who helps connect Mirkhein to a world of underground money but also violence and danger and criminality, and Illeana Douglas, who is poignant and funny as Waxley’s assistant and lover, an appealingly daft horror movie aficionado with a horror movie script that is guaranteed not to uplift humanity but is so commercial that it might actually get made, and then make money, unlike Mirkhein’s silly dream project, which would would almost assuredly be a Battlefield Earth-like disaster were it ever to actually be produced.
Search & Destroy is a slick art-world show-biz satire featuring, in addition to the above heavyweights, a script written by cult filmmaker Michael Almereyda, who, among other distinctions, directed an adaptation of Hamlet in which Search & Destroy supporting player Ethan Hawke’s (he’s Waxley’s smarmy assistant) delivers the “To be or not to be” monologue at a Blockbuster video, and direction from painter David Salle.
If The Last Days of Frankie The Fly was a complete bust, Search & Destroy made up for it. It may not be a lost masterpiece, but particularly for lovers of Christopher Walken it’s a fun and funky little sleeper and a nice companion piece to After Hours, one of my all-time favorite films.
I got my money’s worth from the The Last Days of Frankie The Fly/Search & Destroy double feature, in the sense that I got more than a dollar’s worth of entertainment, and watching these movies in quick succession made me realize what a towering and ubiquitous cultural figure Hopper was, even at this point in his life, when he wasn’t exactly kicking it with James Dean or in the jungle with Francis Ford Coppola.
Between 1993 and 1996 alone Hopper was in Super Mario Bros, Red Rock West, True Romance, Chasers, Speed, Witch Hunt, Waterworld, Space Truckers, Search & Destroy and Basquiat. He was also in some TV movies, and some low-profile garbage like The Last Days of Frankie the Fly. He made a lot of movies that mattered, and have endured, whether as camp or classics, or as camp classics but he was also never afraid to tackle dodgy material even he couldn’t save, as one half of this makeshift double-feature painfully illustrates.
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