Saturday, August 13, 2016

Death Drug (1978)

Contrived, pedantic, and uptight, Death Drug is such a squaresville morality tale about the dangers of controlled substances that it’s almost a cousin to the infamous Reefer Madness (1936). In Death Drug, a promising young musician with a loving wife and a steady day job spirals downward while becoming addicted to angel dust, so the story moves inexorably toward a heavy-handed finale. According to the folks who made Death Drug, all it takes is one puff of dope to turn an otherwise responsible citizen into a self-destructive maniac. Not helping matters is the presence of leading man Philip Michael Thomas. Later to achieve fame as the costar of the seminal ’80s TV series Miami Vice, Thomas has the unfortunate affliction of being a weak actor who somehow believes he’s a genius. His swagger is so out of step with his unconvincing performance that he’s absurd to watch, especially when he mimics the wigged-out state of a user experiencing traumatic hallucinations. The film itself is just as ridiculously blunt, depicting said hallucinations literally, as in crocodiles and rats and such appearing from nowhere. As for the plot, a sentence will suffice. Jesse (Thomas) works as a plumber while pursuing his career as a musician, but when he gets introduced to dope with the promise that it will stimulate his creativity, he loses his job and alienates his long-suffering wife, Carolyn (Vernee Watson-Johnson). He also performs in a disco with the Gap Band, so there’s that. More interesting than Death Drug itself is the film’s weird home-video incarnation. Released to capitalize on Thomas’ fleeting Miami Vice fame, the home-video version has a pretentious introduction from Thomas, some revamped editing, and, jammed right into the middle of the movie, the entire music video for Thomas’ awful 1985 single “Just the Way I Planned It.” That bit is almost as cringeworthy as Thomas’ big dramatic scene in Death Drug, when he confronts his estranged father with a barrage of screaming and tears.

Death Drug: LAME

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