Friends, do you know about a ’90s b-action star named Mimi Lesseos? I didn’t until I came across her in my recent studies. Turns out in the ’80s she was an AWA pro-wrestler under the name Magnificent Mimi, in the ’90s she appeared in some movies (including FINAL IMPACT with Lorenzo Lamas), later did some stunts on some TV shows and even in best picture winner MILLION DOLLAR BABY. But more importantly she produced, wrote and starred in a number of low budget action movies. The first was 1992’s PUSHED TO THE LIMIT, where she plays herself having to enter the Kumite to avenge the murder of her brother. I’ll write about that one later, but today’s subject is her third starring vehicle, STREETS OF RAGE (1994).
Based on the trailers most of her movies look roughly similar, but this one jumped out at me as a must-see when I found out it was directed and co-written by Richard Elfman, the followup to his bizarre cult musical FORBIDDEN ZONE. (He’s credited as “Aristide Sumatra,” which I believe is a reference to the more blatantly Elfmany SHRUNKEN HEADS, which he had to have been working on around the same time.)
The title appears over a driving montage scored with some noticeably un-raging smooth jazz. Professional but unbearably cheesy music seems to be a trademark of the Lesseos pictures. In this one she’s not playing The Magnificent Mimi, she’s Melody Sails, ex-special-ops research assistant at a Hollywood newspaper called The Post. Melody dreams of being a reporter, and tries to set up interviews with the runaway girls at a halfway house. She doesn’t get much cooperation until, in the classic action movie tradition, she uses her fighting skills to stop a robbery. In this case it’s adult men bullying a boy named Steven (Ira Gold), maybe 12 years old, with a backwards baseball cap, hanging out with teen prostitutes drinking Diet Coke.
These are of course streetwise kids who say things like “Lady, you don’t know nothin!” And although Steven doesn’t seem in any way tough he does explain that he ran away from his junkie parents to Hollywood because he thought he might meet Clint Eastwood, so I guess that’s where he’s coming from. Melody earns their trust by letting them stay at her apartment (which is furnished with plastic lawn chairs and a Nagel print), and she becomes their only hope for justice when a girl is murdered on the streets and the cops “don’t give a damn.” The killer was a British pimp named Lunar. He travels around in a limo with his face off screen like a Bond villain or something but is not as glamorous because we mainly see him hitting on girls who look about 14.
But this isn’t just about her investigative journalism, it’s also about her love life. She’s got a number of prospects: a douchey guy at the paper who’s been giving her the runaround (James Michael White), a police officer who’s on the case (Christopher Cass) and a Texas oil millionaire (Oliver Page, accent not remotely convincing) who she meets after she crawls through a vent to escape an alley fight and literally drops into an art opening.
With both the men and the mystery she could be in over her head, luckily she’s got the action movie bonafides: “Special forces commando, prisoner retrieval unit, three purple hearts, five valors.” She has to do her own Just How Badass Is She to her skeptical cop date Ryan. He’s forced to admit that the commando thing trumps his military experience being in ROTC at Claremont College.
Of course, Melody gets in a few fights, stiffly staged but kinda fun to watch. She’s doing martial arts but I feel like I can see the wrestling influence in the choreography.
This does have the feel of people who don’t know action movies trying to figure out how to make one, which is kinda cute, but there’s no way anybody would guess it’s from the director of FORBIDDEN ZONE. It’s too quick a production for any of that artistic visual flair. If you’re looking for it though there is some weirdness, especially in a scene that cuts away to Lunar’s pad, where his right hand man sweatily, shirtlessly practices judo in the living room while guests are hanging out, and a waitress carries drinks, a phone and syringes to the boss and his teenage hooker date.
Another weird part is where Melody goes on one of those dates from hell where the date purposely gets her drunk because he’s secretly the villain she’s been after the whole time. (I know, I was hoping when Lunar’s face was revealed he would be a robot or at least hideously disfigured, but they went another direction.) She escapes and sets a poor example for the halfway house kids by driving while intoxicated. At home she finds an intruder ransacking the apartment, so she beats him up with a broom and then throws up after he flees out the window.
Lunar’s driver/henchman is one of the more notable parts of the movie. They call him “Gokor” and the guy’s real name is Gokor Chivichyan, who also choreographed the fights along with Lesseos. He’s a burly guy, looks alot older than he actually is, and although he played a fighter in BLOODSPORT 2 he looks more like a guy you’d encounter in a martial arts school than in a movie. He has the climactic judo fight with Melody, shot straight on in a sparsely furnished apartment, while Lunar sits in a chair watching.
Here’s a weird, meaningless coincidence that I figure is worth mentioning for some reason: the same day I watched this I was reading about Ronda Rousey, the UFC’s first Women’s Bantamweight Champion, and what does it say on her Wikipedia entry but “Rousey trains under Gokor Chivichyan of the Hayastan MMA Academy.”
Well, obviously Melody saves the day. If her story got published I guess it turned into Gonzo Journalism, because of her personal involvement in the events and her DWI. In a draft of her story (which we hear in voiceover) she describes the kids as living on “mean, inhospitable streets.” I guess MEAN, INHOSPITABLE STREETS wouldn’t sound as good as a title, but it would’ve fit better with that smooth jazz.
Based on the two movies I’ve seen so far I can’t claim Lesseos is an under-recognized action icon, but I enjoy what she does. She kinda reminds me of Xena in how she refuses to fit the sex kitten mold, but becomes kinda attractive through her asskicking. Her movies are crudely made but have a charming home-madeness and sincerity. She does the ol’ gratuitous shower scene trick but still comes across very wholesome. I’ll have to watch some more.
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