‘Collision Course’ Crashes And Burns Magnificiently

Jay Leno was the best person to take over The Tonight Show after Johnny Carson. And by that, I mean, he was plain and simple. Imagine that act that followed The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. No one can remember without a Google search. Leno was making commercials for Doritos when he was finally selected as the permanent guest host in 1989, something very few late-night talk shows have done since then.

During the entire Late Night Shift scandal of 1992-1993, David Letterman, host of Late Night was the expected replacement to Carson. But NBC banked on Leno and Letterman booked it toward CBS and spent the next 20 years building his own Late Show. And Leno had already left only to return to leave again in a scandal during the winter of 2010 that made Conan O’Brien a hero and Leno a villain. You could always point the finger at NBC brass two decades earlier, but Leno shouldn’t have returned. The Jay Leno Show was awful and NBC should have cut him loose finally.

That being said, I’m not a monster. I empathized with him as he recovers following a burn accident. I wish him the best in his recovery but he had been burned worse (figuratively speaking of course) on the movie Collision Course. From the best of my research, this is his only leading role in a movie. He has played himself in many small cameos as well as doing some voice work. He had a supporting role in American Hot Wax in 1978. But this seems to be the peak of his acting career. Some comics are suited for acting roles sometimes.

In this movie, Leno plays Det. Tony Costas working robbery cases for the Detroit Police Department when his former partner/friend is killed at a junkyard. Police find a Japanese man, Oshima (Danny Kamekona), in a junked car in a crusher. Oshima was in Detroit to do business by selling a turbo charger prototype he had stole from a Japanese manufacturer to Detroit businessmen Derrick Jaryd (Dennis Holahan), an American auto manufacturer, and Madras (Chris Sarandon), a wealthy but seedy businessman.

Madras has his two goons, Scully (Tom Noonan) and Kosnick (Randall “Tex” Cobb), torture Oshima by tying his feet together and hoisting him upside down by a crane. However, Oshima has a fatal heart attack leading to his body being disposed in the junkyard. He was being tracked also by Tokyo Inspector Fujituka Natsuo (Pat Morita), who has been assigned by his toxic tyrannical supervisor Chief Inspector Kitao (Soon-Tek Oh).

When hearing about the murder, Costas and his partner, “Shortcut” (Ernie Hudson), go to the junkyard where Costas finds a hotel key card in Oshima’s possession. But Costas quickly leaves after getting into an argument with the homicide detective Dingman (Al Waxman). At the hotel, Costas runs into Natsuo who has already arrived to look through the suite Oshima was staying in finding an undeveloped roll of film. A chase ensues but Costas is able to arrest Natsuo much to the criticism of Lieutenant Ryerson (John Hancock).

But once they all hear that Natsuo is a Tokyo police officer and confirm it, they release him. Natsuo lies telling him that Oshima had embezzled money from a Japanese company but Costas doesn’t believe an embezzler would come to Detroit to live in luxury, so he begins to tail Natsuo as he continues to go around Detroit. Costas finds Natsuo again pretending to be a janitor to sneak into an office building at Jarryd Motors. Natsuo tells Costas the real reason he’s in Detriot and the two decide to work together, after a night of drinking booze together and bonding.

Despite being mostly a comedy, the movie does touch on some sentiments that were common in the 1980s as how Reaganomics more or less ruined the middle-class blue collar workers. Since both Oshima and Natsuo are Japanese (even both both Kamekona and Morita were both born in America but both had Japanese ancestry), there is a resentment toward them. Dingman initially insults Natsuo by mocking his language and listing off Japanese brand names. At a bowling alley where Natsuo and Costas track Scully, they run into people, both white and black, mad at Natsuo over the current state of the economy in Detriot.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a lot of hatred toward Japanese companies as most of their products became more sold in American stores. Also, the import of Japanese-made vehicles was believed to have hurt the auto workers. There was a fear that Japan would have bigger control in America by the end of the 20th Century, yet that subsided. But it was actually American auto makers stiffing union workers and cheating them. Costas acknowledges this briefly when he says Americans did it to themselves, but little more is said about it.

The problem with Collision Course was that it was reportedly the last movie to be financied through the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, an independent studio and distribution company founded by Dino De Laurentiis headquartered in Wilmington, N.C. A lot of movies, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Raw Deal, Michael Mann’s Manhunter and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, were made through the company and even shot on location for many scenes. And you can see scenes here that are set in Detroit and also set in North Carolina.

Filming took place in 1987, but funding ran out. In 1989 when Leno was guest-hosting The Tonight Show, Morita appeared on the show and they talked about some of the problems on the set with funding. Reportedly some scenes still had to be filmed. Even though the run time is 100 minutes with credits, it still feels unfinished. Hudson’s character just disappears after the first half of the movie. I also have the feeling that Oshima and Kitao were meant to be in more scenes too.

By August 1987, DEG was $16.5 million in debt as De Laurentiis was refusing to sell the company because he wanted to retain controlling interest. Other movies, such as Pumpkinhead with Lance Henriksen and Tapeheads with John Cusack and Tim Robbins, had been released through other distributors. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure had been a co-production with Nelson Entertainment and released through Orion Pictures but was delayed released from 1988 to 1989. Collision Course, along with Rampage, directed by William Friedkin starring Michael Biehn and Alex McArthur, were both shelved until 1992. Rampage was released through Miramax even though Friedkin said the funding caused problems with the final cut.

It wasn’t until Leno seemed to succeed Carson, that Course was released in April of 1992, direct to video. And it looks really dated even for 1992. HBO broadcast it around the Thanksgiving/Christmas season that same year to also capitalize on Leno’s hosting The Tonight Show. However, Leno reportedly wasn’t a fan and refused to even talk about the show for years. Steve Martin was a guest on The Tonight Show in 2005 when Leno was full-time host and was able to show a brief clip to which Leno replied it was a “horrible movie.”

The problem is Leno is playing Leno. Costas never seems any different than any other cookie-cutter smart-aleck movie cop. He lives in an apartment that is full of trash. He talks smugly like he knows more than everyone else. He also thinks he’s a ladies man to every woman he sees even trying to hit on a fellow female officer.

As for Morita, he tries to do his best. Morita was a stand-up comic himself and had appeared on Happy Days before his Oscar-nominated performance as Nariyoshi Miyagi in the first Karate Kid movie. Even though he provided some comic relief, the role is mostly a dramatic one. And in the other movies, he played the character mostly dramatic. Yet, he does seem to have a little fun as Natsuo during a scene where him and Costas get drunk. There’s also the unintentionally comical jump kick climax when Natsuo charges down an alley running toward Madras who is speeding toward them in a car wanting to run them over. It’s so outrageous and silly, it’s something that could’ve only been thought of in the 1980s.

That being said, the movie’s worth a watch if you want a walk down memory lane. You can see elements that would work better in the Rush Hour franchise. I wouldn’t doubt if the filmmakers were inspired by this. While Morita has passed on, Leno hopefully will have a full recovery well his accident.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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