Thursday, May 12, 2011

Culture Shock 05.12.11: Charlie Sheen is a violent 'Wraith' of truth

Let's go back to a simpler time — long before "Two and a Half Men," before the "goddesses" and before the "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour — a time when Charlie Sheen was just an actor.

No, keep going. Before "Hot Shots!" and "Major League." Before "Navy SEALs" and "Wall Street."

I'm taking about going back to one of Sheen's earliest starring roles, the vengeful spirit in 1986's "The Wraith."

Re-released last year as a "special edition" DVD and currently available free online at, "The Wraith" is one of those movies that really takes you back — assuming you grew up in the 1980s and once thought mullets were kinda cool.

Sheen plays Jake, a stranger who rides into town on his bike and, with a sly grin, quickly earns the affection of Keri, played by Sherilyn Fenn before she hit it big with "Twin Peaks" and "Two Moon Junction."

She's the pretty girl who works at the local burger joint, which, as far as I can tell, is this sleepy Arizona town's major employer.

But there's just one problem: Keri is seeing — dating isn't the right word — the local tough guy, Packard, played by multitalented actor/writer/director Nick Cassavetes.

Packard has a thing for switchblades and wild mood swings. He also has a thing for Keri, although she's not particularly interested in his thing.

Otherwise, Packard and his gang have a good thing going — street racing, grand theft auto and a profitable chop shop — until the "Wraith" comes along and starts picking off Packard's crew one by one.

Driving his all-black "Turbo Interceptor" (actually a customized Dodge M4S prototype) and wearing a black costume topped-off with a huge helmet, the Wraith looks like a cross between a Power Ranger and a member of Daft Punk. But he also carries a big gun, which counts for something.

You know, Jake and the Wraith showed up at the same time. Could they be the same guy? Hmm.

Yeah, I'm not giving anything away by saying Jake is actually a ghost who has come back in a different body to take revenge on the guys who killed him. Basically, it's the same plot as "High Plains Drifter," only without the cowardly townsfolk. That means Sheen and Clint Eastwood have something in common besides "The Rookie."

Rounding out the cast are Clint Howard as Rughead, the gang's nerdy tech genius, and Randy Quaid — the only man in Hollywood with a more bizarre personal life than Sheen's — as Sheriff Loomis.

Most of the fun of "The Wraith" comes from its nostalgia value and the comic relief provided by Packard's dimwitted gang, particularly the unfortunately named Skank and Gutterboy. Charlie doesn't really have a lot to do, apart from riding around looking cool and making out with Fenn, which is nice work if you can get it.

The Scotti Brothers Records soundtrack (unfortunately out of print) is like an Ultimate '80s playlist, featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Tyler and Billy Idol, as well as Scotti Brothers regulars Lion and Stan Bush, who also show up on the 1986 "Transformers: The Movie" soundtrack.

So, if you're old enough to have ever worn a Members Only jacket unironically, "The Wraith" is a good way to relive your glory days.

Or if you only know Charlie Sheen as a "high priest Vatican assassin warlock," you might think a movie where he spends 90 minutes killing douchebags is a pretty neat idea. In any case, it's better than "Two and a Half Men."

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