Have you ever wondered what James Bond would be like if he was an asshole ninja with a pet karate baboon? What do you mean, you haven’t wondered that? I can pretty much guarantee that you are wondering that now. Thank goodness “Unmasking the Idol” exists to answer this question that’s now burning a hole in your rational brain! Yes, friends, that poster you’re viewing at Screen Right is a real poster, showing real stuff that really happens in “Unmasking the Idol.” Really. This movie is probably the greatest production that has ever borne the MGM logo.
I stumbled upon “Unmasking the Idol” in the listings for Impact: Action on Demand, a digital cable feature that totally justifies what I spend with Comcast on a monthly basis. The plot blurb read something like “a super agent and his karate kicking baboon sidekick must save the world from terrorists intent on starting WW3 with nuclear bombs.” Now, those are all thoughts that, independently of one another, make sense. I was pretty sure that “baboon” was a typo, or at very least an overstatement, and that “super agent” was just referring to a wise-cracking guy in a tux. I was entirely wrong. Unlike so many exploitation films, this one delivered on its promises, because not only WAS there a super agent AND a high-kicking karate baboon, there was A LOT of both, and those SOBs stopped the fuck out of World War III.
Our lead character is Duncan Jax (played by Ian Hunter, a name that is pretty action-tastic all on its own), a monster-truck-driving super-spy with a taste for adventure and cringeworthy mid-80s Orientalism. We are told through dialogue that he’s also “the greatest ninja in the world,” and we learn he’s a super-spy because he winds up in a casino macking on hot exotic babes within the first ten minutes of the film (but only after a helium-balloon escape and a conversation via wristwatch-videophone). Actor Ian Hunter’s only credits are for this film and its sequel, “Order of the Black Eagle,” a fact that is as sad as it is unsurprising. Hunter’s signature acting technique, undoubtedly developed because he knew he’d spend a lot of screen time with a ninja mask covering most of his face, centers around his bulging his eyes to indicate a variety of moods ranging from clever to seductive to dangerous. This only ever makes him look “crazy,” but I kind of love that. He comes across a little like a Steven Seagal-Michael Bolton hybrid acting in a silent film.
Let’s clarify: Duncan Jax is a James Bond-Steven Seagal-Michael Bolton hybrid acting in a silent film who works with a baboon in a karate gi, lives in a secret compound full of ninja babes, and is assisted by a cranky Asian guy who plays the Q role. Oh! And there’s the small matter of his arch-nemesis (a German-probably-Nazi terrorist who killed Jax’s parents) being named Goldtooth.
Ernest Hemingway, the Lost Years
There’s a plot that ties all this together–trust me. Jax discovers that Goldtooth is working with Scarlet Leader, a mysterious ninja whose skills rival Jax’s own and whose interests include “feeding old people to piranhas.” They are plotting to steal a whole mess of gold that they’ll use to finance World War III. Casting a Japanese character and a German character as the nemeses in this film is undoubtedly a sly allusion to the Axis powers of WWII… or it’s just lazy post-“G.I. Joe” jingoism (or both; who knows?). Jax is tasked with taking his karate baboon and army of ninja babes to Devil’s Crown Island to thwart the baddies, with the reluctant help of various ill-sketched-yet-colorful characters, including The Whale, a guy who is definitely fat and who might be South American or Russian, depending on the scene you’re watching at that moment.
There are a couple of things about this movie that allow it to populate that magical, elusive plane of true “So Bad It’s Good”* cinema. First off, this movie isn’t jokey–it’s an adventure story in the tradition of Indiana Jones (itself envisioned in the tradition of black-and-white serial stories), or that of the aforementioned James Bond films. Hell, “Unmasking the Idol” even has a completely incredible warbled theme song over the opening credits that sings the praise of Duncan Jax! Secondly, the movie had a budget. Actual cash was dumped into this insane mess, so there are stunts and explosions and sets and everything. Actors wrestle with alligators, dangle from helicopters, and get kicked in the head by ninjas. Thirdly–and maybe MOST importantly–this film is NEVER BORING. Something is always happening, whether it’s in the form of awkward dialogue, monkey hijinx, or ludicrous action.
*I know, I know–I still struggle with this phrase, but the shoe is fitting so well here!
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that director Worth Keeter is responsible for a number of “Power Rangers”
episodes as well as such direct-to-video flicks as “Snapdragon”
(starring a pre-Amanda-Lepore-ed Pam Anderson) and “L.A. Bounty”
(Wings Hauser *and* Sybil Danning–digest that for a moment, won’t you?). I haven’t seen any of those movies, but I’m going to go out on a rickety limb her and claim that “Unmasking the Idol”
is his masterpiece, and probably also the greatest film ever to be made on the sandy shores of the Carolinas. I’ll also assume at least one of two things regarding story-creator and producer Robert P. Eaton is true: he was eleven years old at the time he created the tale of Duncan Jax and/or this is a pseudonym for Robert Hamburger
This baboon just kicked your ass, and now he’s flipping you off. F’reals.
None of you believe that this exists, I can feel it. You think I’m just making shit up, or that this is some Godfrey Ho-style microbudget junkgasm. Oh no, no-no-no, friends–this is ever so real. For those of you who are Comcast subscribers, dial up this bad boy today, or watch it online on their Fancast service. Those less fortunate folks will have to go down a less-traveled series of tubes, but in the mean time, check out the trailer–it’s in German, but that just makes it radder: