TALKING PICTURES: HIT MEN

Dennis Hensley is not talking. Not much. Not yet. 

That’s good for the other popcorn-clutching theater bums scattered about the cineplex this sunny afternoon, staring in shell-shocked wonder as Cradle 2 the Grave—starring DMX, Jet Li and Tom Arnold—explodes across the big reverberating screen before us. Aside from occasional exhalation of “Whoa!” and “Ouch!,” my guest stays respectfully mum throughout the film, though it’s pretty fucking unlikely—given the noise of exploding safes, heads, and helicopters, and the deafening snap snap snap of loudly breaking bones—that anyone could have heard Hensley cracking jokes above all the din. 

Too bad, too.  

Hensley, after all, is a card-carrying master of the mid-film wisecrack. He’s the L.A.-based author of the brand new book Screening Party (Alyson Books; $16.95), a follow-up to his best-selling 1995 hit-novel Misadventures in the (213), about a gay would-be screenwriter slumming it on the fringes of Hollywood. In Screening Party, Hensley gathers a motley assortment of characters to watch DVDs of classic films, capturing their bitchy banter and borderline-cruel critical deconstructions of everything from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” to Mariah Carey’s “Glitter.” Driven by Hensley’s off-kilter wit and naughty-boy style—vagina-shaped cupcakes are served during a screening of “Basic Instinct”—Screening Party is a funny, kick-ass homage to the fine art of talking during movies. 

But we’re in public now, and Hensley—impressively self-contained—waits patiently till the rowdy climax of Cradle 2 the Grave, in which a gang of born-again jewel thieves (lead by rapper-turned-thespian DMX) steal and then lose a bag of mysterious black gems, after which they team up with a Taiwanese secret agent (Li) and a motor-mouthed purveyor of stolen goods (Arnold) to get the black jewels back, to locate DMX’s annoying kidnapped daughter, to kill a bunch of ugly people, and to save the world from a well-dressed cabal of weapons dealers trying to get their own hands on the stolen gems, which turn out to be powerful pellets of concentrated plutonium capable of flattening civilization as we know it.  

Or something. 

“It was so ridiculous,” Hensley says, as we exit the theater in search of caffeine and a bit of well-earned quiet. “But it was kind of fun, in a way,” he admits. “I think I expected something darker, more realistic—less expensive to film. But it was just so silly.” After a pause, he adds, “You know a film is in trouble when Tom Arnold is a breath of fresh air.” 

Confessing that the cast were more than watchable, Hensley says, “ I thought DFX had a lot of presence—or is it EFX? Or PMS? What the hell is his name?” 

“DMX,” I confidently report, as if I actually owned his albums. 

“DMX! Right,” nods Hensley. “He was good, but I think he thought he was performing in a much more serious movie. He was so intense. He could have been a bit winky-wink, ‘cause everything going on around him was a ridiculous spectacle. 

“And I kind of like Jet Li,” he goes on. “I love how he has only one expression and never breaks a sweat. He doesn’t even move, basically. In fight scenes, he just stands back and goes, ‘Maybe I’ll kick a little.’” 

Having located a coffee shop with an outside table not overly-covered in pigeon-droppings, Hensley cuddles his designer coffee as he takes a seat to continue his critique.  

“I love the little gay twist at the beginning,” he says, a reference to the scene where a gorgeous lady thief (Gabrielle Union), is sent to distract a hunky security guard with her stunning cleavage, but has to send in the overweight male replacement (Anderson) when it becomes clear that the guard is—who’d have guessed it?—gay. 

“I thought it was ridiculous that they thought you could woo a hunky gay security guard with a character actor,” says Hensley. Noting that the guard was, in truth, high quality material—“He had the most expressive eyebrows,” says Hensley—he goes on to suggest, “It’s ridiculous to think that, just because he’s gay, he’d respond to anyone with a penis. Hey, take a tip from me, if you have to distract the gay guard—send in your hot guy!” 

“DMX should have taken over,” I suggest. 

“Exactly,” says Hensley, slapping the table. “You know the eyebrow guy would have gone for DMX. In a minute.” 

Cradle 2 the Grave—”What does that title mean?” Hensley asks—is the kind of movie where fight scenes include people running up walls, spinning horizontally to avoid flying bullets, and launching volleys of kicks and kung fu chops so fast and furious you begin to wonder how John Wayne ever got away his merely slugging a guy. 

“Have you ever punched anyone?” I ask Hensley. 

“Oh, no, I’m a huge pussy,” he laughs. “I was in a fight with a girl, once. Three girls, actually, and I think I kicked their asses. They attacked me and I freaked out and just kind of went off on them, hitting, slapping, whatever it took—so I won, but then we all got swats in the principal’s office.” 

After a while, we begin swapping our favorite Cradle 2 the Grave movie moments. Mine is the scene where Jet Li is chased by a vicious Doberman, and runs up the side of an alley wall, leaping over the dog’s head to land back on the ground—and the dog does the same thing. One of Hensley’s favorite bits is the “CSI moment,” when a handsome bad guy gets melted by a weaponized slug of concentrated plutonium that is shoved down his esophagus. We witness this event in a shot from inside the esophagus, a slimy pink tunnel into which slides the glowing pellet, suspiciously resembling a nuclear suppository.

“I thought that was pretty delicious,” Hensley admits, “though I’ll bet, in another version of that scene, Jet Li shoved that thing right up the guy’s ass.  

“Actually,” he adds, “I’ll bet it’s the same inside shot in both versions.”

____________________________________________________________

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.

 

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Posted on March 17, 2003 in Features by
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