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The Series Project: L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies (Part 2)

This week, Erik Estrada and Julie Strain join in the explosive fun, and Professor Witney Seibold clarifies his position on breasts.

So let me clarify what I mean by “number of breasts.”

Last week, as part of The Series Project here on CraveOnline, I wrote about the first four films in Andy Sidaris’ little-known but cheesetastically awesome L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series. As they are all R-rated, nudity smothered sundaes of joy, I elected to run a tally of when the first bare breast appeared on screen, and also note how many bare breasts were on display in each film. Yes, I counted each breast individually. I feel, though, that however pervy it may seem, I need to clarify my breast rules. These are important critical distinctions to make when you’re writing about such films. And, seeing as I was raised in the era of carefully scanning scrambled porn on pay cable stations, my eye is distinctly attuned to the appearance of action film nudity. I was raised during a time when (for teenage boys) nude women could only be appreciated through softcore action films that you could sneak by your parents’ unassuming eyes. In that regard, Andy Sidaris did a great service to teenage boys everywhere. So, to clarify:

If a woman removes her clothing and reveals her bare breasts, that of course counts as two breasts. If, later in the film, the same woman disrobes a second time, in a new and completely autonomous scene, that counts as two more breasts. If a woman disrobes for a sex scene, that counts as two, but if there’s a cutaway to another scene during the sex scene, the same breasts don’t count again when we cut back. Those are the same breasts from before. If a woman is wearing a sheer bikini or brassiere through which nipples can be seen, that does not count. However, if they are wearing a piece of clothing that is wet, and, as a result, completely transparent, that does indeed count. If they are wearing a mesh top, or a fishnet brassiere that is intended to be seen through, that counts as well.

Okay, I hope we’re on the same page now.

Welcome back, dear readers, to our second week of Andy Sidaris’ L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies, wherein I will be discussing the fifth through the eighth films in the series of twelve. To give a brief recap to the people who missed last week’s article: The L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies franchise (named after events of the 11th film) is a series of made-for-cable features that appeared on TV and on home video between the years of 1985 and 1996. They were each overseen by Andy Sidaris, his wife, or a family member. Sidaris was a pioneer of sports TV shows and knew a hot lady when he saw one. (He famously pioneered the “Honey Shot” at sporting events.) His twelve-film series each followed a small team of leggy spies, often played by Playboy Playmates or Penthouse Pets, as they investigated international espionage and took down dangerous crime boss supervillains. The stories in each are hugely complicated.

Now that I have seen eight of these films, I see patterns emerging. Indeed, the patterns are so regular and reliable that the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series strongly resembles the James Bond franchise. But with way more continuity. Indeed, this series, with its common actors and ever-mounting events, has the strongest continuity of any series I’ve written about to date. Well, maybe Harry Potter was better about interconnectivity. But I gotta be honest, I’m having way more fun watching these movies. More boobs, for one. As I come to the end of next week’s article, and I complete my twelve-film report, I’ll be giving you a lesson on how to make your very own Andy Sidaris movie.

But for now, let’s get into the series proper, and discuss the story of the rather straightforwardly-titled…

 

Guns (dir. Andy Sidaris, 1990)

The First Breast Occurs: 27:25 (the longest wait in the entire series)

Number of Breasts: 12

Guns. It’s rare that an action flick will be so pleasingly blunt about its title. It’s like naming your romance film Love, or your horror film… uh, Scream. It’s too bad that there’s no action flick out there named Punch You in the Face.

So our stalwart heroine Donna (still Playboy Playmate of 1985 Dona Speir) returns, but she has lost her spunky partner Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) from the last three movies. Taryn has been replaced by the lovely Nicole (1984 Playboy Playmate Roberta Vasquez, who previously played a villainess named Pantera in Picasso Trigger) who, sadly, seems to have been born without a personality. This is not a dig at Vasquez’ acting; indeed, I was kind of astonished at how well the models held their own in the acting department. Speir especially. But Nicole doesn’t seem to have any discernible backstory or motivation. She pales in comparison to the giggly happiness of Taryn. Nicole will be with us for this week’s entire four-film cycle.

Donna and Nicole are still working for an unspecified government agency (which I have decided, for no real reason, is called L.E.T.H.A.L.), and run a delivery company on the Hawaiian island of Molokai as a front for their spy activities. They have a few helpers in the form of Bruce (Bruce Penhall, who has a disturbing propensity for wearing open vests with no shirt), who is dating Nicole, and Shane Abilene (Michael Shane) who first showed up in Savage Beach. Their boss is Lucas (William Bumiller), who is dating Edy (Cynthia Brimhall), previously the owner of a local Hawaiian diner, which was used as a front for spy operations. Edy is also an aspiring singer, and Brimhall will be the one to sing the many films’ title songs. The team dynamic had been developing throughout the first four films, but it’s not until Guns that it will gel properly, and, indeed, this week’s four-film cycle seems to be enclosed as a mini-arc within the series.

That’s the main strength of these next four L.E.T.H.A.L. films: the teamwork. Not that the agents necessarily work well together. Indeed, they usually take out bad guys on a one-on-one basis. But by this point in the series I found myself getting comforted with this little group of sexy bikini spies and their rock-headed hunk sidekicks. I’ve noticed this happening with a lot of film series in The Series Project. At some point along the way, no matter how bad, dumb, or oblique they may be, I eventually find myself knocked into mild submission, and begin accepting the series on its own terms. By Guns, I was calling characters by name and rooting for them. I was jamming my fist in the air yelling “yes” as often as Donna does.

Sadly, the film proves to be one of the lesser ones in the series, mostly, like Picasso Trigger, due to its serious and even kind of dour tone. Guns is about an evil guns dealer named Juan Degas, nicknamed The Jack of Diamonds, played by Erik Estrada. He is angry at Donna for constantly interrupting his plans to ship guns from Asia to South America via Hawaii. Juan, rather than going after Donna directly, decides to kill agents around her. Estrada proves to be something of a wicked bad guy, which will be surprising to people who only know him as Paunch on “CHiPs.” Although, in a more cynical mood, one might be tempted to snicker at him. Here’s a cool thing: Juan’s tough, nearly-mute lieutenant is played by none other than Danny Trejo. Strangely, Trejo plays a Chinese man named Tong.

The central spies operate out of a new restaurant called Rocky’s run by, well, Rocky (Lisa London). Edy has been given a new assignment as a Vegas lounge singer (at the very same club where Patticakes and Kym worked in previous films) where she shakes her moneymaker and showers frequently. The films still feature a good deal of non-sexual nude scenes from its busty leads. The movies pretty much grind to a halt just so we can ogle the busty babes. As I observed last week, Sidaris’ sex fantasies seem to skew more toward voyeurism and playful adolescent peeping rather than outright sex scenes. Worry not. Those sex scenes will pick up again in the next film.

Guns features a pair of transvestite assassins named Cubby and Tito (played by Richard Cansino and Chu Chu Malave, who will appear in future films) who do the dirty work for Juan. I don’t quite hate them yet, but my rage will rise to horrific levels later. Stay tuned. When Cubby and Tito kill a woman they mistake for Nicole (there’s a dress mix-up, leading to mistaken identity), the hunt is on for the killer. Donna & Co. go on a wild hunt for the killer. It helps that he leaves cards on the bodies of his victims. Eventually, the team must meet at Lake Havasu (I don’t rightly recall why) to discuss things. In the meantime, Nicole and Bruce boink on a motorcycle outdoors at sunset. It’s a lovely scene to rival Empire of the Sun.

Dona Speir is looking and sounding more and more like Wendy O. Williams from The Plasmatics as the series progresses. She’s tanned, taut, wiry and gruff-voiced. A few more steps, and she could be crooning along to The Damned. Donna also seems especially broody in this film, and it’s her dour behavior that lends to the film’s upsetting tone. That, and a serious lack of nudity. We have to wait nearly 30 minutes for a clothes-changing scene, and it’s an awkward one in the back of a Cessna. We soon learn why Donna has been so cranky: we get to meet her mother, Kathryn (Phyllis Davis from “Vega$”) who is an important governmental secretary. There’s actually a clever reveal about Donna’s mom. “How come you never had kids, Donna?” she asks (before we know their relationship). Donna shoots back “Some of us just aren’t cut out for the job.” Next scene, we learn both their last names. Not a good mom. Retroactive ouch.

Let’s see, there’s the usual use of radio-controlled kill devices. Edy kills the sexy assassin lady who killed her old boyfriend. It’s all pretty predictable. Oh yes, and Sidaris regular Rodrigo Obregón has a cameo role as a helpful drag queen named Large Marge. That’s kind of fun.

I have little else to say about Guns. Let’s move on to something a little more fun.

 


 

Do or Die (dir. Andy Sidaris, 1991)

The First Breast Occurs: 6:10

Number of Breasts: 21

The most notable thing about Do or Die: way, way more sex. Everyone gets a sex scene. Usually the nudity is in the vein of sunbathing, showering, or just changing clothes. Now it’s all sexy sextimes. If you like soft-focus softcore Skinemax dry humping, Do or Die has it in spades.

The second most notable thing: Erik Estrada is back, but this time playing an entirely different role. This happens a lot in the series. John Aprea, for instance, played the central bad guy in Picasso Trigger, but was a good guy in Savage Beach. Now it’s happened to Estrada, one of the most recognizable actors in the franchise. Once a villain, he now plays a noble cop named Rico Estevez. And while this may just seem like easy recasting of an obvious stable of recurring actors, I have a theory to cover the phenomenon: the world of the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies is lousy with twins and triplets. It makes perfect sense. None of the times an actor reappears in a new role are their pasts ever mentioned in any detail. Each of them could easily have a twin out in the world. So I choose to think that Rico Estevez is Juan’s long lost twin brother.

The story this time: an evil criminal mastermind named Kane, played by Pat Morita, has decided to kill off Donna (Dona Speir) once and for all. I do like how mythologized Donna has become. She is the world’s most capable special agent. In my deepest dreams, the world’s most capable secret agent really does look like a tanned, sinewy former Playboy Playmate. Kane’s strategy is to hire a series of goons who attack in pairs to kill them off. Their progress is monitored by Kane’s sexy girlfriend Silk (Carolyn Liu), who can determine whether or not the assassins have been killed by a cute little exploding computer graphic. Yes, the Asian babe is named “Silk.” Yes, there’s a scene where she gives Pat Morita an erotic massage. Yes, it will make you feel a little queasy.

The story follows a simple structure: There’s an attempt on Donna’s life, she or her friends foil the assassination, they move to a new location, lather, rinse, repeat. The bad guy, you see, has been tracking her with a device hidden in her wristwatch. Bruce Penhall (still with the open vests), Cynthia Brimhall (still cute), Michael Shane, William Bumiller, and Roberta Vasquez are all back, all with the same relationships as before. Nicole isn’t any more interesting, and Edy still sings a song for us. We’re introduced to a new character named Ava (Ava Cadell) who’ll do cool stuff in the next movie. Also on board is the cartoonishly busty Atlanta, played by Stephanie Schick, better known to the soft porn and B-movie world as Pandora Peaks. Seriously. Those things are huge. The bowling ball simile comes too easily, so I’ll say that her breasts are the size of two bald hydrocephalic men. Atlanta has a sex scene with Michael Shane (who is looking more and more doughy as the films pass) under a waterfall in the woods (?), and it’s everything your Skinematic heart would desire. Or maybe it’s kinda gross. At least Shane has a nice ass. Later in the film, Donna, usually relatively chaste, has a sex scene with Erik Estrada in a swimming pool.

Oh yes, not to forget Chu Chu Malave and Richard Cansino. The filmmakers decided that these films required a bit of comic relief, and made the serious miscalculation of these two. They were okay as the transvestite killers in the last film, but here, disguised as Cajun cooks (!), the two are beginning to grate on my nerves. And here’s the frustrating thing: even though they should rightfully be killed in each film (seriously, they find themselves right next to bombs and grenades a lot), they only get injured like cartoons. A bomb goes off, and they’re left alive, covered in soot, wearing ragged clothes. I hate these guys. Hate them. And they’ll be back. Argh. Perhaps this is our penance for all the sex and tits.

A few cool things: Erik Estrada kills a bad guy with an exploding baseball. Shane Abilene shoots a duck when he’s aiming for a bad guy. There’s a scene where a cat (Trigger) gets poisoned, which is unexpected. Andy Sidaris himself has a cameo as a restaurant owner. Nicole is beset by ninjas late in the film (yes, Virginia, there are ninjas), and they have the following exchange: “Why do you want to kill me?” Nicole asks, “You don’t even know who I am!” The ninja, perhaps unwisely, takes off his mask, and tauntingly asks “Who are you?” Nicole bafflingly replies “I’m Batman!” She then produces a baseball bat, previously unseen by the audience, and pummels the ninja with it. There’s magic in these hills.

Kane, by the way, does not die in a fiery explosion like his villainous predecessors, but lives on to do more bad deeds. His massage-happy girlfriend Silk, in a bit of tacked-on exposition, becomes an agent for L.E.T.H.A.L. off-screen, and plants a tracking chip in one of Kane’s necklaces. Remember this detail. It’ll come back.

This is the only film in the series, other than the first, that does not feature Rodrigo Obregón. I miss his worried and expressions and swarthy demeanor.

The next film is the best since Hard Ticket to Hawaii. Let’s look at…

 


 

Hard Hunted (dir. Andy Sidaris, 1992)

The First Breast Occurs: 9:03

Number of breasts: 20

Hard Hunted has a rather disposable story about the hunt for a superwidget McGuffin, but then we’re not watching these movies for their complex stories. We’re watching them because we’re going to get fistfuls of awesomeness shoved forcibly into our eye sockets. We’re watching them to discover cheese gems like Hard Hunted.

Hard Hunted introduces a conceit I’m surprised I haven't seen used in a movie before. Ava (Ava Cadill) is now the head DJ and president of a local Hawaiian radio station called KSXY. 24 hours a day, she broadcasts sleazy, porny F&S music, occasionally giving out sex advice, and moaning in orgasmic ecstasy. Her sexy speeches also serve as code to spies in the field. Seriously, this is a premise that needs to be used in a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. That sh*t sells itself. Working at the radio station is a hot blonde in a bikini named Becky (Becky Mullen, one of the hottest women in the entire series), who dallies with a greasy, Speedo-wearing gay cowboy. How is it I haven’t seen this film until now?

So Kane is still out there, and he’s still wearing that tracking chip. Kane, however, is now played by a young white British actor named R.J. Moore (son of Roger Moore), who looks and acts nothing like Pat Morita. I would claim that this is perhaps a different Kane, but he’s still dating Silk (Carolyn Liu), and they talk about events from Do or Die, and there’s even reused footage of the necklace. So this is the first piece of hard non-continuity in the series. Kane merely mutates into a young, handsome British man. And we were doing so well.

Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) are still lithe and boring respectively. Nicole only seems to have two notes: bland and determined. She gets tough (or perhaps tuff) in a few situations. Edy (Cynthia Brimhall) still gets a song, and she’s still dating Lucas, now played by Tony Peck, husband to Cheryl Tiegs. Bruce and Shane (Bruce and Shane) are still doing their usual schtick, and are losing their abs rapidly. Bruce has a sex scene with Nicole on a motorcycle… again. Oh yeah, and Silk, early in the film, has a lesbian sex scene with a random chick. I mentioned last week that the eroticism between the women was entirely muted, playing to a friendly sorority vibe rather than a sleazy Sapphic one. So when Silk actually plants a tender kiss on the cheek of a topless woman, it’s actually kind of a shock and, in a weird way, feels wrong.

Oh yeah, there’s a story of some kind. Kane is in possession of a widget called The Klystron Relay, which is a trigger for nuclear bombs. He intends to sell it. It’s stolen by Silk, passed to Donna, then stolen by a thug, and eventually passed into the hands of Kane’s helicopter pilot flunky Raven, played by Al Leong. Leong, if you recall, was a bad guy in Savage Beach as well, only he died in that film. Leong’s new identity only plays into my twin theory. The helicopter he flies is a boxy, black, stealthy-lookin’ mother, and is actually really badass.

Late in the film, Donna is kidnapped by the bad guys. Donna won’t take any of your sh*t. She blows up a plane to escape, but is konked on the head. In true sitcom fashion, she loses her memory (!). A thug uses this opportunity to declare that they’re lovers, and they have sex. When Donna later hears Ava’s sexy radio broadcasts, her memory is restored. Remind me to listen to breathy moans and porno music if I ever lose my memory. It’ll do the trick. As revenge for the rape, Donna machetes the guy through the stomach. “We were never lovers!” she bellows, “I faked that orgasm!” I hate to beat the word “awesome” into the ground, but dag.

Rodrigo Obregón has a small, kind of useless role as a jungle-dwelling thief, and his scenes don’t play into the main story much. Oh yeah, and Chu Chu Malave and Richard Cansino are back, this time as (groan) Wiley and Coyote. It was about this time that my hatred for them turned into a bubbling rage. I wanted them dead so badly. They began to approach the horror of that one obnoxious five-year-old from the fifth Air Bud movie. What was his name again? Oh yeah. Noah. I needed therapy after that one. In a way, though, my hatred of these two added to the texture of Hard Hunted. Like hatred was only one emotion in a vast tapestry of awesomeness.

One more thing: Edy keeps a bomb concealed in the breakaway heel of her high heeled shoe.

The next film will be our last excursion with Donna and the gang, sadly. Let’s take a look at…

 


 

Fit to Kill (dir. Andy Sidaris, 1993)

The First Breast Occurs: 0:30, or 7:56

Number of Breasts: 25 or 27

Tell me if you think this counts: The first bare breast isn’t displayed until nearly 8 minutes into the film, but the very first shot of the film is actually Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) splashing each other in a small Hawaiian pool. Nicole’s bikini is a legitimate swimsuit, but her nipples are visible. I said before that wet clothes count, but only if breasts are clearly seen. I’m not sure if this scene counts as clearly enough. To hedge my bets, I included both numbers above. Watch the film and decide for yourself.

So this is the first of the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies movies to feature prolific scream queen Julie Strain, who will appear in all the remaining films. Strain, 6’1”, sporting a huge head of curly black locks, and possessed of enormous, eager-to-be-exposed breasts, is one of those B-movie princesses who seems to know exactly where she stands in the pop culture firmament. She has starred in over 100 movies, and seems to gleefully chew the scenery as killers, sorceresses and evil seductresses each time. You don’t hire someone like Strain for her subtlety. She is not a subtle lady. And while she seems more cartoonish than the likes of Speir, she’s still a campy delight. I’d rather the over-the-top gnashing and flexing of Strain than the dullness of Nicole. In Fit to Kill, Strain plays a vicious assassin-cum-cat burglar named, for realsies, Blu Steele.

So this film is another treasure hunt along the lines of Savage Beach. The treasure this time is not Japanese gold, but a Russian crown jewel called The Alexa Diamond, which is about the size of a golden retriever’s brain. I did a little internet research, and found that the largest known cut diamonds in the world usually run about the size of an almond. A diamond the size of the one seen in Fit to Kill would likely have the power to buy several American states.

Kane (still R.J. Moore) is after the diamond. He’s still unwittingly dating Silk (Carolyn Liu) who is still feeding info to the good guys. Our gang is still all here, Speir, Vasquez, Shane, Brimhall, Peck, Penhall. Seriously, by the 8th film in the series, I’m actually kind of fond of these bikini spies and their dopey male counterparts. KSXY is still being utilized, and thank goodness. Ava is still moaning her broadcasts, and she still has a near-naked bikini gal as her intern.

Rodrigo Obregón is now playing a hapless Russian who, partway through the film, scams his way into Ava’s hot tub. It’s this hot tub scene that provides the first full-frontal nude shot in the entire series. It won’t be the last. I’m surprised how few of these women allowed their pubic hair to be filmed. I guess that was just beyond what Sidaris found sexy. He had a knack for for giggly dressing room antics and sex scenes that looked more like cuddling and grinding than actual sex. Pubic hair is, I suspect, far too straightforward for him.

In addition to Kane, there is an evil Chinese guy named Chang (Aki Leong) looking for the diamond. Kane assembles his usual tricks to take down the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies, as well as Chang, who seems to be way more insidious than Kane. Indeed, Kane is softened up a bit in this film, and hardly seems like a villain anymore. When he meets Donna, they playfully banter. Kane doesn’t kill his underlings the way a proper villain ought to. In an odd way, he’s become just another beloved part of the ensemble, when he should be the series’ Blofeld. Chu Chu Malave and Richard Cansino are now playing Evel and Kenevil AND I STILL HATE THEM! THEY’RE NOT FUNNY! STOPITSTOPITSTOPIT! KILLKILLKILL!

Sorry. I’m back. Kane also has a vivid fantasy about Donna at one point, wherein he is James Bond, and she’s Carole Bouquet from For Your Eyes Only. When I saw the film, I thought this was just a bizarre fantasy sequence. It wasn’t until later that I learned that Moore was Roger Moore’s son. That makes the sequence less fun. But that’s offset by Strain’s snarling, gnashing glee. At one point, she seduces a man by drinking from a kitchen sink… as only Strain could. That same fellow (I think it’s him) refers to The Simpsons as a “flash in the pan.” Hey. I guess no one suspected, in 1993, that The Simpsons would last through 2012.

I haven’t mentioned each appearance of them, but every film to date (with the exception of the first) has had a bomb on a remote control car, or real working missiles on a remote control helicopter. Sidaris is clearly an R/C fan, and must have liked the action movie potential of the devices. Fit to Kill, however, is the first time in the series the good guys and the bad guys pitted R/C devices against one another.

The film ends with Blu and Chang getting blown up on Kane’s yacht (the biggest explosion yet), and Kane escaping with Silk in a raft. As all the films do, this one ends with a champagne toast to a job well done. I knew that we wouldn’t be seeing Donna and Edy and Nicole again, so this was kind of a bittersweet moment. Yes. I got a little misty for a straight-to-video jiggle flick. Shut up. Watch the first eight of these sometime, and then tell me you also aren’t fond of the slightly-chaotic and not-very-well-written adventures of these busty models.


 

Be sure to return for next week’s The Series Project as we turn a page to see where the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies will go, and how the heck they brought back Julie Strain. The final four are essentially a new series, so I’ll have to squint a little bit to find the narrative connection. It should be fun. We still have more boobs to ogle, and more sh*t to blow up.