I’m terribly fond of Indiana Jones, but I’m not much of an action-movie buff. I say this because Action Movie: The Play is the type of satirical goofiness that would increase in hilarity in direct proportion to how close its subject matter is to your heart. It’s parody (and really broad, silly parody at that), but it’s also a tender tribute to everything violent. Its group of heroes covers all the subgenres, including Stone Hardgod (Vince Camillo), a musclebound Vietnam vet out for revenge; the scantily clad warrior Cyborg Woman (Sarina Hart); and Jack Jackson (Noah James Butler), a cop with a dead partner, a ’70s suit, and a chip on his shoulder. In an appropriately nonsensical plot, they’re all opposing the sadistic mastermind Kreegar, played by the startlingly maniacal Nicholas Cage look-alike Alex Pearlstein.
Even for the unschooled, it’s a lot of fun. Director Christopher Morrison is an inspired fight choreographer and has constructed some mind-blowing combat scenes, replete with gruesome deaths. Expensive movie-type sequences (car chases, characters hanging from airplanes, alligator attacks) are recreated in low-low-budget style, which can be pretty funny.
There are also canny comic performances. Butler, whose smarmy cop never stops snarling and squinting, is excellent. Amazing ensemble member Dave Dyson is hilarious every time he’s onstage, and provides an oh-so-funny martial-arts-master character, Kung Fu Guy, who should have been featured more prominently.
Sometimes, however, I found myself wishing the writing was cleverer and the shtick tighter. The script, which premiered at the Defiant Theatre in Chicago, is a little clumsy in patches. The plentiful penis jokes only work when they don’t assume that a penis reference is inherently funny, and some dialogue surrounding an evil lesbian character garnered muted groans from the audience the night I attended.
Several of the direct movie allusions just plain crossed the line from broad humor to corny campfire-skit gags. When, in the middle of a tribute to Raiders of the Lost Ark, a crusading knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade walks on, he apologizes for being in “the wrong movie reference.” Ba-dum-bum.
But there is plenty here to keep you entertained, and the corniness is offset somewhat by the sheer coolness of the fight choreography. And hey, if you’re the type who has long sat around making fun of kung-fu videos, this might be just the ticket for you.