The Daily Stream: Experience The Glory Of Hard Ticket To Hawaii

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Hard Ticket to Hawaii"

Where You Can Stream It: Tubi

The Pitch: "Hard Ticket to Hawaii" may be nothing less than the best B-movie ever made. It is the "Die Hard" of schlock and the "Bicycle Thieves" of gratuitous nudity. Imagine Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers," but Harriet Andersson and Ingrid Thulin are played by Playboy centerfold models, Liv Ullmann is a hunky dumb jock who can't shoot straight, they're actually spies on the island of Molokai, the dead sister's message from beyond the grave is a series of breathy sex advice radio broadcasts with secret spy codes in the dirty talk, and they have to stop a diamond shipment intended for a local drug lord. Also Erland Josephson is a radioactive snake that can give you cancer by biting you. OK, maybe "Hard Ticket to Hawaii" is nothing like "Cries and Whispers," but it certainly is worthy of attaining the same level of artistic and cultural clout as the 1972 classic.

Why it's essential viewing

Director Andy Sidaris got his start in filmmaking via his connections to the world of televised sports. He filmed Olympic events, car races, "The Wide World of Sports," and a 1969 documentary feature film called "The Racing Scene" about actor James Garner's interest in fast cars. In the 1970s, Sidaris expanded into the world of B-movies with the Roger Corman-produced action/sexploitation film "Stacey!" Portions of "Stacey!" were later repurposed for Sidaris' next film, 1985's "Malibu Express," which would kick off a 12-film cycle of what would eventually be called the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series. 

The second film in that series was 1987's "Hard Ticket to Hawaii," a sublime, almost philosophical experience that seems to innately and profoundly understand what exploitation movies are supposed to offer. Not since the gory days of Herschell Gordon Lewis' "Wizard of Gore" (1970) or the ultra-violent days of Brian Trenchard-Smith's "Turkey Shoot" (1982) has the function of cinema been so skillfully accepted. Critics may speak to notions of cinematic art and the glories of shared catalytic emotional elevation via cinema's dreamlike architecture, but at the end of the day, we must accept that we also have a lizard brain that gets off on dumb jokes, rocket launchers, and brazenly uncovered human bodies. If the medium of film is meant to capture our dreams, Andy Sidaris underlines that our dreams are often trashy, ignoble sex-and-power fantasies. That we long for characters who do their best thinking topless in a jacuzzi. That we thrill at razor-lined Frisbees, and blow-up dolls that are exploded in midair by a rocket launcher. 

The story

The setup is perfect: Donna (Playboy playmate Dona Spier) and Taryn (Playboy playmate Hope Marie Carlton) are part of a secret organization that fights crime on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. As a front, Donna and Taryn deliver freight and give rides to tourists in their Cessna, but are secretly foiling the plans of local drug- and weapons-runners. Because their job is secret, the dynamic duo has to received their orders in code over a public radio station run by Edy (Cynthia Brimhall), who buries secret codewords into the dialogue from her call-in sex advice line. Aiding Donna and Taryn is a shirtless bohunk named Rowdy Abilene (Ron Moss), the latest in a long line of Abilenes who can't shoot straight. The L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series will ultimately feature four or five members of the Abilene family, all of them oiled and hunky. In a subplot, Donna and Taryn have to keep an eye out for an escaped lab animal: A radioactive snake. The snake plays less into the plot than you might think. The snake will eventually get its fangs shot off. 

There are kidnappings, smuggled diamonds, unconventional use of nunchaku (dear readers ... there are nunchaku), and a cute cameo from the director himself. Sidaris appears in a diner, trying to convince a girlfriend that he is done ogling women. A busty waitress approaches, leading to Sidaris ordering "a pair of coffee." A lascivious dad joke for the ages. By the end of "Hard Ticket to Hawaii," a large vehicle will explode. 

Sidaris established many formulae in this movie that he would re-use in the subsequent 10 films in his series. The lead characters, for instance, would always be a pair of women from L.E.T.H.A.L., invariable played by magazine models. Other points: Always include at least two shower scenes, cast Rodrigo Obregon in your movie, show off that you have access to light planes and yachts, and then blow them up. 

The wholesomeness of Andy Sidaris

Despite operating from a exploitational ethos, there is something weirdly wholesome about Andy Sidaris' films. His whole L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series is very bright and fun, without moments of genuine pain or darkness. His women are never portrayed as helpless victims, and their nudity is presented as something they enjoy doing; there is less of a voyeuristic aspect than in most movies of this type. In the rare event when a L.E.T.H.A.L. lady has sex (the nudity is usually relegated to showers and jacuzzis), they are the ones in control. What's more, Sidaris' films take place in a moral universe. There are criminals and bad guys, but very occasionally they are apprehended and convinced to work with the protagonists. Everyone in redeemed in Sidaris movies, and no one is corrupted. For example: Erik Estrada plays the villain in the fifth L.E.T.H.A.L. movie, "Guns." In the following film, "Do or Die," he has joined Donna and her new partner Nicole (Roberta Casquez) to stop an evil Pat Morita. 

In the eighth and ninth films, "Fit to Kill" and "Enemy Gold," B-movie legend Julie Strain will appear as villains named Blu Steele and Jewel Panther, respectively. By "The Dallas Connection," however, Strain will have drifted over to the side of right. 

Sidaris movies take place in a world of drugs and crime, but are almost Roddenberrian in their optimism for the future. Yes, there are always criminals to be stopped, but all it will take is the pure hearts of bikini-unclad spies and the oily charms of a few of their sidekick beefcake boys to convert even the most hardened criminals to righteousness. The ones that cannot be redeemed will explode in a Cessna or get razored in the throat by a Frisbee.