“RiffTrax Live: Samurai Cop” demonstrates that some bad movies are too good to talk over. This Fathom event has the former “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (MST3K) crew ad-libbing and joking all over “Samurai Cop” (1991). But they quickly become unnecessary because “Samurai Cop” is already so hilariously baffling.
The film features the Samurai Cop (Matt Hannon) running around L.A. with feathered, shoulder length hair, that in some scenes is a cheap wig. He and his confused partner Frank Washington (Mark Frazer) murder or dismember most of the people they encounter. The acting is so flat and hammy; it turns serious scenes into pure, stupid glory.
“Samurai Cop” has all sorts of continuity errors, from cars that have hubcaps and bumpers blown off in one scene and then show up with them still attached in the next, to passing off the same house or parking lot as several different locations. The tone is all over the place; in part, it’s because of these errors, but mainly it’s because of absurd editing choices, like depicting a violent murder and cutting straight to a close up of Samurai Cop in a speedo. It’s genuine incompetence at its best.
And that’s the problem. RiffTrax can’t possibly match this movie.
Every ten minutes or so, a third of the screen is taken up to show the three of them looking down at little screens. It gives too much of the magic away. Of course, it’s not like it hasn’t always been this way. On “MST3K” it was just the “RiffTrax” team saying whatever came to mind over a movie. But the crucial difference was that we only ever saw the silhouettes of their characters. Seeing them unedited and hunched over little screens reveals that their performance is all in what they say. Their energy isn’t low, but watching the act of them paying attention that dampens the fun. Because it shows the struggle to find something funny to say when the movie is already funny.
When they’re off screen, their commentary registers better. It allows the movie to take priority. And it feels much more like being part of a group of friends, as opposed to just watching them.
Some of “RiffTrax’s” witty comments come at the perfect moment, but these moments are few and far between. Many of them don’t add much to “Samurai Cop” and still, others cover up a piece of poorly delivered dialogue that would have been funny otherwise.
In a movie far more dry than “Samurai Cop,” the “RiffTrax” guys’ snide remarks would make it better. But this film doesn’t need them. It’s charming, dated, dumb and reckless. And it makes these funny people look desperate to find something clever to say.