At any rate, among the rubble I retrieved several reels of Smithee's 1987 masterpiece LAMBADA ASSASSINS. The film was never released in American theaters, making only a brief video appearance, but became a box-office smash in Brazil (naturally) and the Phillipines. The film's history, I gather, is as follows: inspired by the success of DIRTY DANCING and the ensuing Lambada craze, a consortium of investors (among them the wrestling aficionado and future homicidal wack-job John DuPont) approached Smithee to direct an exploitative quickie, something on the order of FOOTLOOSE. They cut off funding after viewing the first rushes and Smithee was forced to scrounge additional backing:
This may account for his extensive use of inserts in the later reels: that is Carmen Miranda disporting herself among the crazed carnevalistas in the climactic bloodbath. From these less-than-auspicious circumstances, Smithee surfaced with a subversively brilliant meditation on dance as eros and thanatos, as self-expression and self-annihilation, as Being and Phenomena. In it the astute viewer can catch homages to THE RED SHOES (the Svengali-like relationship between evil Lambada-meister Judd Nelson and dancer Donna Pescow, somewhat aged and noticeably plumper since her debut in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, but still appealing), and THE TENTH VICTIM (Sandahl Bergman's rocket-launching bra), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (Om Puri's macumbe priest) and DIRTY DANCING (Patrick Swayze's rock-jawed but supple-hipped dance instructor turned DEA agent).
The opening scene depicts a Lambada exhibition in Rio that erupts into a John-Woo-style bloodbath, when the members of Nelson's renegade troupe unexpectedly whip Mac 10s from their billowing frilled shirts and blow away the visiting dignitaries and competing dancers. An acrobatically sexy montage of pistoning crotches and spurting gun-barrels, gleaming sweat and arcing gouts of gore. We see the dancers anointed for their next mission in Puri's tin-roofed macumbe church in the festering favelas. Puri: The arrogant Yanqui thinks he can arrest our cocaine couriers with impunity. You, my children, will teach him differently. You will teach him the deadly power of....Lambada!
Once Nelson and his lambadistas have flown up North, what ensues is a bizarrely ingenious series of assassinations scored to sizzling Latin rhythms: the victims (mostly federal witnesses and DEA agents, though there is one particularly gruesome murder of a nun) are killed on and off the dance floor, stabbed and strangled in the Lambada's feverish embrace; blown away by Bergman's ballistic ta-tas, in one case humped to death when the codpiece beneath Nelson's pants sprouts a stiletto. Ordinary law enforcement is helpless, and in desperation the feds press-gang the embittered Swayze, who was forced into early retirement when his strenuous merengue lessons provoked a fatal stroke in a golden-ager at a Miami resort. Swayze's character suggests a Smithee self-portrait: the mercurial artist forced to prostitute his gifts and combat an enemy who, under other circumstances, would be his ally. In Swayze, Smithee found his ideal void, a slate so blank it might as well be an Etch-a-Sketch. Note the remarkable attention paid to the nostrils of the three leads: when Swayze and Nelson vie for Pescow's loyalty, Lambada Assassins becomes a veritable flare-fest. I conjecture that Smithee cast Pescow solely for her retrousse schnozz. When the camera races up her nose only to erupt into the torchlit savagery of the final shootout on a Rio beach, we are undergoing a symbolic birth, in which nostrils serve simultaneously as devouring and ejecting womb-surrogates. Was Smithee reading his Melanie Klein or what?
-- toxic shakti