JF Lawton is best known for having written the screenplay for Pretty Woman. Apparently, the script was changed a lot from Lawton’s original. I suspect that made it much more successful.
Regardless, I’m not really interested in Lawton as a drama writer. He’s a great comedy writer and director. Sadly, after his first two films, he’s mostly abandoned this.
It’s not surprising why. As much as I think they are great films, they didn’t do terribly well at the box office. The first was Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and the second was Pizza Man.
Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death
The great thing about this film is that the viewer will get exactly what they want with this movie. No one will get the wrong idea about a film with the name Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. Anyone thinking a film so titled is a serious action film should be kept out of reach of sharp objects.
Dr Margo Hunt (Shannon Tweed) is a professor of Feminist Studies. The military request a meeting with her where they lay out the dangerous Avocado Gap that has been developed between the US and the Soviet Union. This is because the Avacado Jungle (in Southeast California) is the last supply of avocados in the Free World. But the radical feminist Piranha Women are in control of the region.
They are killing all men who enter the region. In fact, the army sent in three divisions and the Piranha Women destroyed them. And then they apparently ate the men — along with avocado dip.
Dr Hunt Goes Hunting
After some convincing, Hunt sets off to meet with the Piranha Women and negotiate a deal to keep the avocados flowing through the Free World. She is joined by her eager but bubble-headed student, Bunny (Karen M Waldron).
On their way, they stop in San Bernardino to pick up a guide. But all the men are too afraid to go into the Avocado Jungle. All except for Jim (Bill Maher), an arrogant man-child who had a one-night stand with Hunt years earlier.
On their way into the heart of the Avocado Jungle, they come upon a tribe of meek men called the Donahues. With the use of beer, Jim turns them into real men — at least for a while.
Captured by Piranha Women
The group is captured by the Piranha Women who are led by recently disappeared feminist scholar Dr Kurtz (Adrienne Barbeau). Dr Hunt thinks that Kurtz is being unethical in her leadership. While the Piranha Women prepare to kill and eat Jim, Hunt escapes with the help of the male slave Jean-Pierre (Brett Stimely).
In the jungle, she discovers a rival gang the Barracuda Women. They have a long-running disagreement over the proper dip for the men they eat. Dr Hunt leads them on an attack of the Piranhas. Hunt shows Kurtz to be a hypocrite and then mortally wounds her in a sword fight.
Happily Ever After
The next day, the group leaves with the two tribes committed to working together and considering treating men as something other than a food source.
Dr Hunt blackmails the military people about their shenanigans. Back at school, Jim and Bunny marry. And Jean-Pierre is enrolled in classes and involved with Dr Hunt.
Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death is extremely funny with a keen eye to the sexual politics of the time. It’s strangely amusing regardless of where you find yourself in that debate. It’s the film that can bring the SJWs and the anti-SJWs together!
It does make fun of a particular kind of midlist book feminism like The Cinderella Complex. But it seems to come down soundly on the side of gender equality.
Bill Maher is perfect as Jim. He’s all bluster without being anyone’s idea of a masculine ideal. Apart from the sexist ideas that spill out of his mouth, there is nothing threatening about him. Bunny is most taken with his humor and the fact that he memorized the speech from Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland.
Meanwhile, the much more classically masculine Brett Stimely plays the male feminist ideal.
Of all the filmed versions of Heart of Darkness, this is the one I find myself watching again and again. It’s a lot of fun with strong characters and big laughs that boot.
Two years after Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, Lawton created another very silly political comedy, Pizza Man. I’m not sure how it plays to a modern audience. As someone who worked for the heartbreaking Michael Dukakis campaign in 1988, I find it hysterical.
Elmo Bunn is a pizza delivery driver in Los Angeles. He takes the job very seriously. He is perhaps the best pizza delivery driver in the world who never gets stiffed and never delivers a cold pizza. (At least, that’s what his sister wrote about him in the local newspaper as a joke.)
But one night, an order comes in for an extra-large sausage and anchovy to be delivered to Vendome and Temple in East Hollywood. Years before, Elmo’s best friend Donny delivered that same pizza to that same place. And he disappeared.
Elmo Gets Stiffed
Elmo delivers the pizza to a warehouse where there is a group of thugs and The Dame tied up. He asks for $15.23 but instead of paying him, they try to throw him out. He kicks their asses instead. Then Mayor Tom Bradley shows up with an assault rifle, Elmo fights back, and the mayor runs away.
Elmo frees The Dame who grabs the gun and kills all the thugs because “they made very suggestive comments.” She has Elmo drive her home where she will pay him the $15.23.
On the way to her apartment, she explains that the mayor is smuggling gold from Brazil to pay for his metro project. Once there, The Dame tries to seduce Elmo but he just wants what he’s owed for the pizza. He walks into her bedroom to find Ronald Reagan and Geraldine Ferraro in bed together. The Dame knocks out Elmo.
Elmo Escapes Death
The three of them set up Elmo to die in a car crash, but The Dame allows him to escape. Elmo gets picked up by Michael Dukakis who gives him a ride back to the pizza parlor to protect his mates but he fails when they are killed by a “loaded” pizza.
Elmo tries to forget about the $15.23 that is still owed for that pizza. But Bob Woodward follows him trying to give him information (in exchange for the book and movie rights). He tells Elmo that there is a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Elmo wants to know how the pizza fits in and is told it doesn’t and that he should “follow the junk bonds.”
He finds Michael Milken working as a janitor. Milken tells Elmo that Japan is behind the conspiracy. While leaving, he follows The Dame into a club. But just when she’s about to tell him what’s going on, he is kidnapped by Yasuhiro Nakasone, the former prime minister of Japan. But The Dame saves him.
Then we get a bunch more exposition. Ronald Reagan wants to be a movie star again — in fact, that’s why he became president. But now that the Japanese have bought Columbia Pictures, he’s in. They also helped about Mayor Bradley because they want to buy California.
Elmo Gets Paid
Elmo returns to the scene of the crime where he finds Dan and Marilyn Quayle. They explain their plans to take over the nation with funding from Japan in exchange for California. Elmo beats them up and asks for $15.23. They have no money.
Elmo realizes that there is no plan to take over the nation. That’s when Donald Trump appears and admits that he ordered the extra-large sausage and anchovy pizza.
It turns out that he was Elmo’s friend and fellow pizza delivery man Donny. He knew he could never out-do Elmo so he got a bunch of money from his dad and built his empire. Trump needs to kill Elmo because he knows that he will always feel inferior to him.
But when Trump shoots Elmo, The Dame jumps in front of him and is shot herself. When it is clear that Trump won’t pay the $15.23 for the pizza he ordered, Elmo blows up the place killing everyone but himself.
The Dame, right before she dies, gives Elmo $15.23 for the pizza and her car as a tip. And the 1980s are at long last over.
Most of the humor in Pizza Man comes from the hard-boiled detective narration applied to the pizza delivery business. So anyone who has seen anything from The Maltese Falcon on should appreciate that.
Many of the jokes in this film will fly by most modern viewers. That’s especially true with the various political figures who make reference or outright quote things they said in real life. But even without that most of them are still funny due to their silliness alone.
And much of the political satire resonates as well today as ever. After all, the heavy in Pizza Man is Donald Trump who is currently president. And all the things that we are familiar with — his shallowness and insecurity — is right here.
One of the best parts of the film is where Elmo doesn’t know who Donald Trump is. Trump mentions his famous buildings and nothing works. Finally, Elmo says, “Yes! You’re Marla Maples’ boyfriend, right!” And then he follows it up with, “Aren’t you going bankrupt or something?”
JF Lawton’s Later Work
After these films, Lawton moved away from comedy — doing drama and action. Of most interest is the television series he created, VIP starring Pamela Anderson. It ran for four seasons but only the first season has been released on DVD. It is supposed to be a comedy-drama. I haven’t seen any of it.
Lawton created the two comedies under the name JD Athens. And he hasn’t used the name since the success of Pretty Woman. So maybe these were not the kind of films that he really wanted to make. But I think they were the films he was born to create.
Success deprives us of so much.