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Action (A TV on DVD Review)

Updated: Aug 1, 2022




The Complete Series – Uncut and Unbleeped (1999) (Sony Home Video-2006)

Of the unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century – JFK’s assassination, Y2K, the popularity of tattoos – probably the most baffling of all was the cancellation of the dish-dirty Fox comedy Action.

The series, starring an amazingly funny Jay Mohr in a tour de force as an ace a-hole Hollywood producer – is a look at the pathetic mess that is the business of show, with all its deceits, back stabbings, seething contempt, moral corruption, midnight ego-feedings, lousy compromises and deepening chaos. It was just perfect for Fox!

What happened?

Take what you can get on the DVD though, and you get more than your money’s worth. What Action is essentially about is mucho levels of prostitution, whether you’re wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit or a Disney jungle-girl costume.

Everyone’s selling either their soul or their body. What is Hollywood, if not a gathering of whores and hypocrites? In fact, the pimp who makes $20 million a year from his bui’ness speaks fondly of one of his charges: “That bitch is just like a daughter to me.” And the talk of an actor’s sexuality leads to this thought: “He’s so gay, I’ll bet money he’s straight.”

Man’s inhumanity to man, the destructiveness of greed, the shallowness of an industry that left decency in the dust, blah-blah-blah – you’ve seen and heard it all before – but here you really haven’t: from the child-star-turned-whore-turned-producer (the always underrated Illeana Douglas) to the always underused Buddy Hackett (in his last role), this is all original, sharp as Swiss cheese and in your face, the way you want a Hollywood backlot story to be.

Everybody is gunning for respect, in a world where there is no respect. The studio lot security guard is called “Minimum Wage With A Gun.” The short actor Scott Wolf is called “Party-Of-Five-Foot-Two.” When your director accidentally drowns in your pool, you don’t call the police – you call your publicist. And plans are in the works for an animated Holocaust movie.

Mohr (no, not Denis Leary) – with his static electricity personality and plastic smile – plays the appropriately named and über-ambitious Peter Dragon, a wunderkind who made ten action films that grossed over a billion dollars (ah, the nineties – when people still went to the movies!).  With titles such as Blood Mother and Rip Chord under his expensive belt, Dragon is a young prince of darkness sitting smartly on his throne (this is almost literal: he has no idea what the word “altruistic” means, and he thinks the whore in the Bible is named Marlee Matlin. And when Dragon is facing death from a possible cancer, a rabbi does not present him with a blessing but with a spec script.). He starts to topple as it all starts to unravel, along with his patience, his mind, and even his heart (but no worries – it’s not sentimental for even a minute).

His last film, appropriately called Slow Torture, was an inexplicable bomb at the box office, and thus begins Dragon’s slide into Hell as Hollyweird turns its back on him. (Keanu Reeves himself can’t hide his disappointment regarding Dragon’s current production: “Much better explosions in the last one.”)

In Hollywood, as the cliché goes, you are only as good as your last picture, so Dragon has one movie project (and no backers) to redeem himself. His new endeavor, with the nineties-esque title of Beverly Hills Gun Club, is a curse from the start, and even though Dragon is a total prick surrounded by even bigger pricks (even his ex-wife is a prick), you are rooting for him to come out on top.

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,” sneers the fancy maitre d’, who sees all and knows all, and sees through Dragon with the accent you can’t place.

Murphy’s Law is the rule of the day here: the top action star in the world wants to come out of the closet after Dragon hires him, and Dragon is literally forced into some compromising positions to keep the news from getting out. The young actor who replaces the action star is a drug-addled mess, the romantic interest is unexpectedly thirty-pounds overweight, the legal rights to the story are suddenly announced as belonging to someone else (this is revealed after shooting begins), and yes indeed, animals are harmed in the filming of this movie.

The motherload line of the entire short series is when Dragon is offered a product placement by a tobacco company. He replies, “You want me to sell cancer to children – for under $3 million?”

We never find out if the film ever gets off the ground, and if so, if it’s a success. And yes, we do care. The series, originally slated for HBO but demoted to Fox when cable didn’t cough up enough money, lasted only eight episodes before its shameful cancellation (the DVD gives you all thirteen, unbleeped). Had it landed where it should (HBO), it would have run for years, with a majorly devoted following.

The conventional wisdom regarding the cancellation of Action is that “it was too inside.” This is total bullshit, and too easy of an answer. What do you call Entourage? The Sopranos? The Larry Sanders Show? Even ER?

Granted, it was too good for regular TV. The irony just drips with attitude, like when Dragon tells his prostitute-cum-business partner: “I usually have girlfriends I pretend are whores, and now I have a whore I pretend is my girlfriend.” Still, he speaks of her fondly to others: “Her years in the gutter really prepared her to be a production executive.”

When the lead actress (named Reagan Busch) is told, “Your crotch has had more visitors than Graceland,” and (if she continues to be disruptive), “the only line you’ll be delivering is ‘the Pringles are on aisle three,’” you know you want to settle in with this series for a very long time. However, like the Hollywood depicted here, your dreams will be shattered to shreds.

When interviewed by a journalist about what he would do if he could no longer produce films, Dragon replies, “I’d kill myself. Or do TV. I don’t know which is worse.”

With Action‘s cancellation, we found out the hard way. And at the same time, we’ll never know.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 27, 2007.

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