Before he set­tled into his cur­rent career as a fea­tured play­er on real­i­ty t.v. and in the tabloids, Gary Busey enjoyed a lengthy career as a legit­i­mate actor.  For gen­re movie fans, one of the most inter­est­ing peri­ods of his career was a stretch from the late ‘80s through the mid-‘90s that found him star­ring in a lot of action flicks, usu­al­ly as a fea­tured play­er (Lethal Weapon, Point Blank) and some­times as a vil­lain (Under Siege).

He even man­aged to notch up a few lead­ing roles as a lead­ing man in the action hero: the best-loved of the­se is Eye Of The Tiger… but the most noto­ri­ous is Bulletproof, a goofy romp through action tropes that shows off the gen­re at its most ridicu­lous.

In this film, Busey plays Frank McBain, a cop and ex-mil­i­tary man who is known as “bul­let­proof” because he’s been shot over three dozen times and sur­vived each inci­dent.  The mil­i­tary calls him out of retire­ment to go down to Mexico solo and retrieve a high-tech tank that has been cap­tured by a coali­tion of domes­tic thugs and import­ed ter­ror­ist Col. Kartiff (Henry Silva).  McBain has added moti­va­tion because one of the sol­diers kid­napped with this tank is Devon (Darlanne Fluegel), an old flame that he part­ed ways with on trag­ic cir­cum­stances.  Bedlam south of the bor­der ensues, along with explo­sions and plen­ty of shootouts.

Action movies from the ‘80s have acquired a cer­tain camp allure in mod­ern times due to their amped-up machis­mo — but most of them nev­er trav­eled as far into meat­head­ed silli­ness as Bulletproof does.  T.L. Lankford’s script is a grab-bag of sev­er­al pop­u­lar action movies that had pre­ced­ed in the last few years: it freely lifts plot hooks from Rambo, Red Dawn, Blue Thunder, even Stripes (the finale with Busey and Fluegel dri­ving a mil­i­tary weapon they don’t ful­ly know how to oper­ate).

Lankford wrote a lot of scripts from Fred Olen Ray dur­ing this era — Ray gets a co-sto­ry cred­it here — and it has the same mix­ture of bare­ly-there plot­ting and forced com­e­dy you find in Ray’s films.  The cen­tral premise nev­er quite makes sense, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Army want­i­ng the tank to get cap­tured by the bad guys for rea­sons nev­er real­ly explained to draw out McBain.  It also has prob­lems with tone, like an unpleas­ant sub­plot with Devon get­ting raped by Col. Kartiff.  Finally, there is tons of bad comedic dia­logue, includ­ing end­less plays on the title phrase and Busey’s habit of refer­ring to his antag­o­nists as “but­thorn.”

That said, Bulletproof remains watch­able in a low-grade kind of way thanks to the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of its cast and crew.  Veteran action direc­tor Steve Carver helmed the film: while he can’t sal­vage the dumb script, he at least piles on the action and fills the cast with lots of qual­i­ty char­ac­ter actors.  In fact, the impres­sive back­ing ensem­ble includes such nota­bles as Luke Askew, R.G. Armstrong, L.Q. Jones, Perry Lopez, William Smith and Danny Trejo.  The sto­ry doesn’t offer them much to do but their pres­ence is com­fort­ing.

That said, it’s Busey who pro­vides all the high­lights here.  He plays out the premise with a wink to the audi­ence, giv­ing some much-need­ed per­son­al­i­ty and charm to what could have been anoth­er dull action hero role.  He man­ages to main­tain his dig­ni­ty even when the script has him do things like roll down a hill while tied to a big wood­en wheel. Best of all, he looks like he’s hav­ing fun with this silli­ness and that  will help car­ry the patient view­er through this pro­gram­mer.

DVD Notes: this title has been in and out of print over the years.  Shout Factory has just released an anamor­phic trans­fer of the film on their Action Packed Movie Marathon Vol. 2.  The results look and sound solid — and you also get three oth­er films for the bud­get-lev­el price: Bamboo Gods And Iron Men, Scorchy and Trackdown.