Buxom babes out for revenge, bad guy beach bikers, amorous cops, and all the very worst hallmarks of ’80s and ’90s exploitation filmmaking collide in Dangerous Men, a work of mind-boggling virtuoso WTF-ery that came out of nowhere to warp the minds of L.A. cinephiles in the fall of 2005.
The 80-minute action-crime brainchild of an Iranian architect-turned-filmmaker Hollywood had never heard of popped up in a half-dozen theaters with precious little fanfare and no online footprint. Its poster, one of few pieces of marketing materials created to promote it, promised glorious mulleted, denim-on-denim epicness: “An unforgettable mystery drama. A very unique suspense thriller that’s surprisingly entertaining.”
Legend has it word spread among cult movie lovers after local Cinefile Video fixture Phil Anderson spotted a late-night cable broadcast ad that ran during reruns of Fear Factor, the reality show that dared its contestants to pull off stunts normal humans would never dream of. That’s how LA Weekly writer Paul Cullum chronicled its origin as he owned the highly specialized Dangerous Men beat, conducting one of very few existing interviews with its mysterious maker just over 10 years ago.
Alas! Dangerous Men disappeared from screens as suddenly as it had materialized, reportedly making just $70 in ticket sales in its first week. It left a trail of bewilderment in its wake ranging from “How the hell did this movie get into theaters?” to “I just saw this at the Laemmle Music Hall and it made me retarded,” commemorated for eternity on the Internet.
So nonsensical is the film’s meandering crime thriller plot, executed with jaw-dropping clumsiness over the course of what appeared to be two entirely different decades, that it seemed to leave those who’d seen it with the feeling of a fever dream—even the guy who saw it three times. Who can blame them? What had they seen? Who was John S. Rad, the bespectacled goateed multi-hyphenate responsible for such brain-melting madness?
To obsess over Dangerous Men is to obsess over Rad, its enigmatic creator. The film makes sure his name is seared into your memory from its very first frames, as the syncopated twang of a funky bass line plays over waves crashing dramatically on a beach. The credits roll generously on “A John S. Rad Film,” then lovingly celebrate the most important members of the crew, one by one: “Created and written by John Rad.” “Producer—John Rad.” “Music, songs, and lyrics—John Rad.” “Executive producer—John Rad.”
That bass line returns to haunt your psyche as Dangerous Men unfolds. Rad wrote that, too, as the film’s composer. He liked to claim authorship of hundreds of songs and thousands of poems, including the synthy spoken word theme song to Dangerous Men featuring Rad’s own voice.
The score is perhaps the most consistent element of Dangerous Men, which is presumed to have started filming in the 1980s after Rad fled his native Iran for California, with additional scenes shot well into the 1990s. Dangerous Men opens on happy couple Mina and Daniel, who are accosted by lecherous bikers one day on the beach.
Daniel’s killed and Mina turns vigilante seductress, vowing to rid the world of its sleazebags. The film takes a sharp detour from lady vengeance to cop drama as it jumps to a second narrative featuring a policeman on the trail of a treacherous criminal named Black Pepper, who turns out to be an albino villain whose own arc ends with a clumsily staged home invasion attack on a deaf woman.
Not even Rad, speaking with Cullum a decade ago, could provide any clarity to the schizophrenic plot. What he did offer, to Cullum and to posterity, was his own brand of John S. Rad philosophy: “I create different,” he told the journalist, also claiming to have been a multimillionaire in his native Iran before the revolution forced him to leave his fortune and several completed feature films behind. “If it is bad, it’s a bad different. If it’s good, it’s a different [sic].”
A few years after the ephemeral theatrical run of Dangerous Men, Rad, a sharply-dressed polymath who spoke heavily accented English and sported round shaded sunglasses that further obscured his mythical self-made façade, died in his Chatsworth office at the age of 70.
After years of dogged questing to exhume Dangerous Men from beyond the cinematic grave, Drafthouse Films will re-release it again this week into theaters—billed as “a film 26 years in the making.”