Never Too Young To Die (1986)

What do you get when you mix a television journeyman, a frustrated soap opera pretty boy, an aging rock star, and a former Prince protege?

Never Too Young To Die, a Gil Bettman directed action comedy to update spies for the rad kids of the Reagan era, penned by the same twisted mind that would later produce the truly execrable Baby Geniuses.

While the film received a limited theatrical run and a home video release, both flopped. The movie held on briefly in syndication before vanishing for several decades into the recess of VHS only curios. Content to let sleeping dogs lie, no one bothered to exhume Never Too Young To Die for DVD/Blu Ray release until 2017.

Let’s get this totally tubular tale of the teenage spy who loved Vanity over with:

The cold open of this 1986 misfire is a herd of lost extras from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, chanting in support of their glorious leader, gender bending Ragnar (Gene Simmons). For the record, that name is not a keysmash or a typo. Clearly, production was aiming for a glam rock and roll nightmare, but the practical result is a puffy mess who clearly ate the whole pack of Frank N. Futers. As Ragnar struts and shrieks some nonsense about  “little turdballs”, and poisoning the city water supply, even the fan club down below looks confused. 

A critical disk of information needed for this overly elaborate poisoning plan is missing. One of the female crustpunks is a traitor. As she is bound to a prop cross, we get a truly disturbing scene where the crowd chants for Ragnar to give the double agent “the finger”. As Gene Simmons licks glossed lips and raises a dirty acrylic coke nail, we mercifully cut to credits. NO ONE needed to see exactly where that was going.

Enter Lance Stargrove (John Stamos), a teen gymnastics champ at a weird high school that apparently has dorms. He’s got a cheery theme song, big hair, and a stereotype of a best friend named Cliff, who only exists to spit computer jargon and build literal plot devices. Well, plot devices other than those that were already stolen from The Goonies and Gymkata. 

It isn’t all sunshine and sweatbands for Lance. His mom is dead, and his dad is going to miss the big gymnastics meet, AGAIN. Best to photogenically brood about it. Stupid dad having a stupid mysterious job.

While he sulks, we cut to Lance’s father James Bond, Drew Stargrove. Stargrove the elder is played by George Lazenby. Lazenby is best known for being the guy who keeps Timothy Dalton from being the least popular Bond actor.

Mr. Stargrove is doing top level espionage for Roto Rooter, but the job goes badly sideways due to a defector in the ranks and some “C4” that looks and adheres like kneaded eraser. Ragnar makes short work of an injured Mr. Stargrove after some boring squabbling over the missing disc for the water poisoning plot. In a psychic link between father and estranged son, Lance bungles the big tumble tournament and lands with a thud at the same moment his dad dies of his own ineptitude. Kismet.

At the funeral, a bundle of dear old dad’s not at all secret agent “associates” show up, including Danja Deering (Vanity), wearing one of the leftover costumes from the Vanity 6 album tour. Lance being Lance, he has a tantrum about his dad ever having known a good looking woman in even the most mysterious of capacities. He sulks his way through a pile of dry as kindling exposition with the one scene wonder family lawyer.

Lance is now independently wealthy, and the owner of his father’s farm/ personal retreat, which he didn’t realize had ever existed. Again, best to sit in the backseat of the limo and photogenically brood about it.

Speaking of the farm, Lance decides to visit, just as Ragnar’s club wielding henchman interrupt Danja’s horseback riding with demands for the missing disc. The barn doubles as an armory, and is blown up in the scuffle despite Ragnar’s goons not having a single modern weapon. Vanity loses the gun she brought to a blunt instrument fight, and the grenade box thoughtfully stored beneath the saddles lights the whole structure up like kindling when the side of beef above struggles to keep control of a semi automatic.

Danja sustains a small wound on the arm, which inexplicably requires her to take off the frilly blouse she nicked from Prince’s closet. Lance is unharmed, but….you guessed it…..proceeds to photogenically brood about it. Vanity’s expression in the still up there pretty much sums up my feelings toward this entire sequence. Whatever secret agency these characters are from is the bottom of the can of dollar store alphabet soup.

Okay, so we’re going to pause a moment here. Another mystery man comes to retrieve Vanity from the farm, and they have a debrief about the obvious misunderstanding regarding the meaning of the phrase “barn raising”. When she mentions the culprit being Ragnar’s henchmen, our ersatz G man replies “The hermaphrodite?” in an incredulous tone.

1. It is a third of the way through the movie, and this bizarre plot point was felt to be of enough merit to be shoehorned in, apropos of absolutely fuck all.
2. That terminology was not a good look even in 1986.
3. The mid 80’s were an unfortunate boom time for casual homophobia in films.
4. Why is Ragnar’s gender identity or physiology more important that the fact that her crew is planning to poison an entire city’s water supply, and has already committed murder? It’s not. But the entire rest of the movie will repeatedly harp on it because of point #3.
5. Velvet Von Ragnar refers to herself as she in the scene that follows this one, and so will I.

Danja heads off to catch Velvet Von Ragnar’s nightclub act. Lance follows along like a puppy, because he wants to prove he can do big kid stuff aside from brood and sulk.

As far as the actual performance? Gene Simmons had a career as a professional musician for over a decade at this stage, and manages not to sing, dance, speak or walk in anything resembling the same time signature as the beat.

The costume is borrowed from the 1980 Linda Carter ENCORE! TV special, and Gene mainly just wobbles around the stage shrieking like Dr. Rockso’s grandparent. Should you be a masochist, but not so much of one as to watch this entire movie, some of the vocals from this sequence were recycled for the 1992 KISS song “Spit”.

Another homophobic conversation is had. Danja leaves, slapping Lance for implying she’s a star(grove) fucker. Lance attempts to go undercover as a fan of Velvet’s to place one of his BFF’s handy bubble gum trackers in her dressing room.

Surprising no one, Lance fails miserably. Velvet flushes the tracker down the toilet. Lance gets his ass kicked outside of the bar, and manages to nearly get blown up when his motorcycle explodes.

This doesn’t stop him from borrowing poor Cliff’s motorbike to go chase Danja, as he adhered the other bubble gum tracker to her car. As usual, he gets in the way of Danja’s escape from more of Velvet’s post apocalyptic errand bitches, nearly gets himself shot, and does absolutely nothing to prevent the goons from capturing her in their fishing net of doom.

Meanwhile, the henchmen drag Lance back to his father’s farmhouse, and whip him until he cries. At roughly an hour into this film, our supposed hero has done little more than pout, sulk and get beaten up by shitty roller derby characters looking for dated computer technology.

But by the power of the cheap badge that the set dresser dredged up from a local plaque and trophy shop, Lance finally finds his footing. The gnashing of teeth for “intensity” and a theme song reprise…..THAT’S his ninja way. Defenestration fu saves the day, and Lance’s reputation as a completely ineffectual idiot. Now he’s just a mostly ineffectual idiot.

Turns out that stupid tchochke is a quest item, as when Lance fumbles putting it back onto his necklace, it rolls into a glowing groove in the floor. Once activated, there’s a little super spy Narnia underneath the bed. Like an onion, this farm. So many layers.

Seeing his dad’s trophy room of awards and accomplishments gives Lance the confidence to pick up a handgun as he sees a figure in motocross gear entering the house. Lance still being a moron, he almost shoots poor Cliff. Cliff came by with both a brand new motorbike and a custom designed flamethrower, because plot device. He also mentions that the disc Lance’s dad had sent before all this started just happened to be inside a specially built compartment inside of Cliff’s new bike. Funny that Lance almost killed the person that has the one thing everyone in the film wants, and that Cliff didn’t mention having it until just now.

Fuck it, whatever, lets see how the homemade flamethrower plays into Danja’s rescue.

Blah, blah, blah overly elaborate villain plot.

How in the hell did Robert Englund end up in this only semi polished turd? He’s wonderful as always, in a bit role as a tech dork named Riley.

Velvet kills the previous two henchman as punishment for their failure to retrieve the disc. At least they call the dirty coke nail “the spike” rather than “the finger” this time. 50% less nightmare inducing.

Move along, nothing else to see in this scene.

Lance and Cliff make like a bad album cover as they fight fire…..with fire. Danja is rescued from yet another overly elaborate crematorium of doom type villain mechanism, and everyone debriefs in what looks like a church basement or a shipping container. The entire water poisoning plot everyone has been talking about the entire film has to be rehashed again for the secret agent bigwigs, who decide Lance and Danja……should sit at the farmhouse and wait.

Hear that sound? It’s the plot grinding to a near standstill in the final stretch.

At the house, Lance and Danja have a weird combination of flirtation and argument, with semi love confessions and suspicions of double crossers in their own ranks mixed with the insufferably pouty Lance brooding over the fact that a beautiful woman has decided she wants to sleep with him. I was going to complain about how long this scene drags on, but for time killing filler, you could do far worse than circa 1986 Vanity stepping in and out of a bikini.

The editing of the actual sex scene is bizarre with moody sax sprinkled throughout the oddly jumpy visual cuts. Apparently, I’m the only one who remembers that this is a mission, with a full crew of spies chilling at the top of the hill with high powered binoculars. Whatever, I won’t yuck someone else’s yum.

Lance and Ganja get airlifted out of the house while lookalikes take their place. Maybe because the lookalikes will get actual spy stuff done rather than having kinky sex. However, the helicopter pilot isn’t Agent Carruthers, but instead is a disguised Ragnar. This transition is one step above Scooby and those meddling kids pulling the rubber mask off the villain at the end of the episode, proving once again that Danja and company are the worst spies ever.

Ragnar drags them back to his dust bowl hide out, which is pretty much run like a nuclear winter Medieval Times. Ragnar demands a toast from her throne, Danja and Lance are pelted with rotted food as they are dragged out in a cage, and John Stamos gets into some awkward territory challenging the big side of bacon main henchman to a duel to see who is a “real man”.

The real spies show up in rescue helicopters, and Ragnar runs with Riley the tech nerd, the disc she had her henchman steal from Cliff’s bike, and a nuclear football like suitcase. Lots of filler shots of the good guys mowing down extras ensue as Ragnar makes her break for it.

With the poisoning device armed and a 3 minute countdown, Lance manages to catch up to Ragnar for what is (thankfully) their last standoff on a municipal aqueduct. Some is this precious time is wasted with yet another inane homophobic conversation about who is a “real man” or “real woman” and other such tripe. Because John Stamos and his 45 minute blow dried and moussed coif is the height of butch masculinity. It’s the femme person in the corset that’s bad. Some dumb shit like that. I stopped listening for the sake of the 14 brains cells I had not yet killed with booze while watching this film.

Lance is such a cocky little shit, its oddly satisfying to see Ragnar take a hearty swing at his head with a tire iron as she calls him a pathetic little boy. In fact, she’s well on her way to kicking his ass until he goes for the cheap shot of biting her boob. Some super tough super spy he is. As one cheap turn deserves another, Ragnar gets in a slash with her infamous coke nail.

They continue their chicken fight on the ground, and the detonator says that only about 30 seconds have elapsed, despite this eating up several minutes of screentime. Vanity catches up in the chopper, Cliff’s homemade flamethrower at the ready rather than the plethora of real weapons her employers supplied.

Just when Ragnar is finally about to be rid of Lance once and for all(delivering the films title line)……
….she gets distracted by him paying her a compliment, and he kills her with her own spiked stiletto nail…..
……and for Danja to toss down the fireblaster, which Lance uses to destroy the suitcase, as it can not be disarmed.
Having saved the world, Lance is initially resistant to the idea of becoming a superspy. However, he realizes as he tries to walk away, that in his brief flirtation with danger (and Danja), what was important was the friends he made along the way. As our trio happily rides off into the sunset together, they make one last joke at Ragnar’s expense as the credits roll. Unsurprisingly, the planned sequels failed to launch just like Cliff’s fireblaster and Vanity’s post Prince career. John Stamos moved on to the comparatively greener pastures of being type cast as a gigolo on cable dramas and eventually as the inexplicably beloved Uncle Jesse on the equally inexplicably beloved family sitcom Full House.

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