Nick Carpenter
Created by Stephen Smoke

When it comes to films, it's always a bad sign when there's more entertainment coming from the audience than from the screen. But Living to Die, a 1991Wings Hauser vehicle, is just that sort of film -- the kind of bad that's so bad it's (almost) good.

This sort of cinematic ineptitude just naturally seems to provoke a running commentary from viewers on Amazon, IMDB and other movie sites. Based very, very loosely on the adventures of Ace Carpenter, a character who appeared in a couple of decent P.I. novels by Stephen Smoke. In fact, Smoke, as the screenwriter, aided and abetted in this travesty.

In bringing any written work to the screen, certain changes are always made, of course. In this case, the character's name was changed to NICK CARPENTER, and he went from being a glib, wisecracking LA dick, very much in the pseudo-Chandler mode, to a motorcycle-riding Vegas P.I. (there are several shots of Hauser riding through Vegas -- helmetless of course -- the wind machine keeping his hair nicely fluffed). But that was the least of the changes. Any memorable quality in the novels was surgically removed. Also any freshness or narrative logic.

Mind you, a solid cast can do wonders with a weak script. Unfortunately no such help is forthcoming here. It says something about a film when Wings Hauser is the best actor -- by far -- in it. The rest of the cast ranges from just-about-competent to woefully miscast, stomping around in roles they can't play, laying down clunker after clunker like disgruntled bricklayers with better places to be slapping down bricks on a Friday afternoon..

And Hauser can't lay off this turkey on the director -- he made his directorial debut with this film. No wonder he got all the good lines. Well, all three or four of them.

Oh, there might be a few more moments of wit here, but most of them are flattened by the cast's leaden delivery, and what humor does manage to stand out is mostly of the unintentional variety, such as when Nick's police contact, an astoundingly obese cop, speaks of listening to his gut. Now there's a MST3K moment waiting to happen.

The plot -- such as it is -- is a series of loosely connected set pieces, a few which seem to have parachuted in from some other flick. Before the opening credits even roll, we're treated to a scene (a flashback, I guess) of Nick as a LAPD detective involved in a bloody shootout.

Exciting? You bet. But it doesn't make a lot of sense. Who was the prisoner Nick was escorting? Why was there no backup? Why do bad guys act like they're invulnerable to bullets? But it'll all be explained later in the film, right?

Wrong.

The scene, like so many to come, is allowed to slink away, never mentioned again. The next time we see Nick, he's a Las Vegas private detective, hired by Las Vegas gaming commissioner Edward "Eddie" Minton, who's being blackmailed for his involvment in the drug overdose death of a woman he took home one night.

Of course, it turns out the woman (Darcy DeMoss) is very much alive. And she's soon rolling around in the sheets with good ol' irresistable Nick at his snowy mountain cabin retreat (just a short motorcycle ride outside of Vegas, of course) having some relatively steam-free sex (Lots of huffing and puffing but not much flesh. No, wait! Zoom in on her breasts! Zoom in on her breasts! Hold that shot!).

And plenty of other stuff happens too, you bet!

Except not much of it that really matters.

The dead bodies pile up, scenes come and go, secondary characters (a blindfolded housewife tied to a bed, anyone?) and half-baked subplots wander in, loiter for a while and then meander off, raising more questions than they ever answer.

Why does Nick meet his police contact at a go-kart track?

Why is Nick, established in that superfluous first scene as a deadly marksman, suddenly portrayed as a trigger happy boob, repeatedly opening fire but rarely hitting anything. (Or course, emptying a clip at a speeding vehicle a block away isn't usually met with much success).

Why would a hired gunman take out one possible informant with a single well-placed shot (from a handgun) to the head from across a busy street -- which would seem to suggest the shooter is a pro -- and then act like a rank amateur, making his escape on foot?

Why is Nick's preferred hangout a biker bar called Billy Bob's, where burly male patrons gather to chug beer, play cards and watch a not particularly attractive (and fully clothed woman) doing interpretive dance? Is Vegas now run by Mormons?

And maybe it's only me, but why does the alleged femme fatale seem more like lost Sunday school teacher trying to find her way home?

And that "shocker" ending?

Why? Why, why, why?

I'm sure your shouted-out answers to these and other burning questions will make as much sense as (and probably be far more entertaining than) anything offered in this film.

So don't ask "why." Just rent this turkey, grab a case of beer, get a few buddies together, put out the munchies and press "play."

Enjoy.

FILMS

  • LIVING TO DIE ....Buy this DVD ....
    (1991, Trinity)
    85 mins
    Based on characters created by Stephen Smoke
    Screenplay by Stephen Smoke
    Directed by
    Wings Hauser
    Produced by Richard Pepin, Joseph Merh
    Starring Wings Hauser as NICK CARPENTER ("Ace" in the books)
    Also starring
    Asher Brauner, R.J. Walker, Rebecca Barrington, Janice Carter, Carol Hooper, Denise Lash, Charla Driver, Wendy McDonald, Darcy de Moss, Arnold Vosloo, Minnie Madden, Jonathan Ross, Raymond Martino, Cheryl Nishi, Jason Jaeger, Jim Williams

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.