Coldfire (1990)

Let’s talk cereal.

Specifically Lucky Charms.

The box promises toasted oat o’s with an explosion of magical marshmallows—you know the ones—pink hearts, orange stars, yellow moons, etc. They’re magically delicious. The box also ensures that Lucky Charms is “America’s #1 Source of Whole Grain.” You highly doubt this, but sure, OK. You are excited because cereal is the most important meal of the day. When you were a kid, your mom wouldn’t let you have sugary cereal. But now you are an adult, goddamnit, and you can do adult things like eat kids’ cereals. And you can eat it for dinner because you are your own boss, the captain of your own destiny. You pour a bowl and avoid thinking about type 2 diabetes.

But then something is wrong.

Your bowl contains a giant pile of toasted oat o’s.  But there are just a handful of marshmallows. This cannot be. You pour more cereal, and you unleash a river of bland beige o’s and a single blue diamond. You don’t even have a full set of the lucky charms. You are outraged. Hurt. Lucky Charms without the lucky charms is just Cheerios, which is shit babies eat and spit up because even they know it tastes like garbage.

And this is where Coldfire comes in.

The cover of the VHS tape shows a picture of Wings Hauser with a gun, cocked and loaded, in front of a giant police badge. On the right is a brunette, also with a gun, posing seductively in a black mini-dress. Wings Hauser’s name, in all caps, is set in front of a furious explosion, right above the title, which is also in all caps. You understand that Wings is the headliner, the reason to watch. The fine print shows that this film is also directed by Wings Hauser (his directorial debut, in fact). Now you are extremely excited because you have watched The Art of Dying, also directed by Gerald Dwight Hauser, and it is deeply loving and generous, like the rich uncle you never had.

The problem with Coldfire is that it does not have enough marshmallows. Meaning, Wings Hauser skates in and out of a few scenes. What we really get are two green cops, Nick and Jake (Michael Easton from General Hospital and, more importantly, The Art of Dying) who are as flavorless as a pile of toasted o’s. This is not to say Coldfire isn’t a good movie. It’s fantastic. It’s awesome. I love it. It just doesn’t have all the green clovers and red balloons we were promised.

A man with a very long earring demands his cigarette to be lit. It’s important to note that we can launch satellites into space and we can reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but no man has ever—ever—pulled off wearing a dangling earring. It’s just not possible. The man explains that Coldfire is a drug that will “lift you up, and spin you around.” It is the ultimate high. Except there’s a problem: The drug stays in your system and the next time you become stressed, it makes your heart pump up to twice its size and “literally makes your arteries explode.” Death is a known side effect. I knew a kid in college who went down to New Orleans and smoked crack and ended up passing out in the middle of Bourbon Street. EMTs had to come and restart his heart. He came home with a deep sense of shame and only one shoe, because he had lost the other while he was temporarily dead. He said that crack wasn’t worth it. I said, oh really?

The two young cops must stop a ring of thugs who have released Coldfire onto the mean streets of the greater Los Angeles area. The dealer is a swishy fellow in a bathrobe who relaxes in his mansion and works on his tan. He has a personal piano player. The supplier is a Russian hard case with a merciless sense of business, meaning he executes people on his payroll for messing up. Wings, of course, plays a loose cannon of a crackpot detective, with years of experience on the force. He has a problem with authority (obviously) and spends the workday calling a sex-line—976-6969 to be exact. A girl whispers into the phone that she has her hand on her pussy. He grins lasciviously. Later, he tells the female medical examiner to “shut up and brush your hair or something.” Wings makes the five minutes he’s actually on screen completely memorable. There’s bigotry, sexism, complaints about the Equal Opportunity Act, and slut-shaming.

Wings takes the young cops under his, uh, wing, and together they try to bring down the drug kingpins. This entails a sensual love scene that involves a lot of candles, ass caressing, and a flowery comforter, all to the tune of a Phil Collins-style drum fill. There are also paddle boats, a shootout at a bowling alley, a guy drinking a beer out of a can labeled “beer,” a guy doing “ninja shit” in the backyard, homeless people singing “Amazing Grace,” and a scene where a cop tap dances in a co-ed locker room. She literally dances like no one is watching, except someone is watching. There’s also the most adorable dog you’ve ever seen. Yes, there is a long history of charming dogs on film, but no dog can even come close to this guy. He steals every scene. He just sits there, looking intensely adorable, with his head on the police captain’s lap. All you want to do is give treats and rub his belly while asking, “Who’s my buddy? Who is it? Is it you? Is it you?” There’s also an attempted back-story between Jake and his incarcerated father and an obligatory scene where a cop “hits rock bottom” and tries to pee on the street.

“You don’t take anything seriously do you?”
“I can’t take anything serious or else I’ll be afraid, I can’t be afraid coming to work every day.”

Coldfire is a solid piece of filmmaking from everyone’s favorite actor. It has everything you want—it just doesn’t have enough of it. Most of Hauser’s scenes are just him at a desk. It’s as though he couldn’t handle both acting and directing, so he did all his scenes in one day, in one hour, in one take. Nick and Jake aren’t strong or charismatic enough to carry it all, so the lack of Wings Hauser in this movie is painfully obvious, even though it’s fun. It’s like having a fun time at an amusement park, but wishing your best friend was there.

But if Coldfire teaches us one thing, it is this: gas was once $0.87 a gallon.

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