You all know John Stamos, sitcom star who says “Have mercy” and jokes around with toddlers. Or maybe you know John Stamos, the guy who marries swimsuit models/X-men villains. Then again, you may know John Stamos, the guy who slaps a cymbal with his bare hands in the Beach Boys backup band. However, do you know John Stamos the action movie star? Well, prepare to have your knowledge of all that is Stamos increased thanks to 1986’s Never Too Young to Die.
Our story centers on a college student and promising young gymnast named Lance Stargrove (Stamos). Now, Lance happens to be the son of secret agent Drew Stargrove (George Lazenby), only Lance doesn’t know his dad’s a secret agent. Sadly, he finds out in the worst possible way when dear old dad ends up dead while on a mission. It seems that Drew was investigating a plot to poison the nation’s water supply hatched by a hermaphrodite named Velvet Von Ragner (Gene Simmons). However, Ragner needs a special disc to make his plan work, which Drew managed to swipe.
As for Lance, he meets up with dad’s former partner, Danja Deering (Vanity) and gradually starts to discover his father’s secret life. Of course, Ragner’s band of Road Warrior rejects come after the pair trying to get a hold of the disc. It turns out that even Lance doesn’t realize that the disc was sent to his dorm room in a care package. What follows is everything from shootouts to car chases to a Robert Englund cameo to Gene Simmons in drag doing a cabaret show.
Never too Young to Die is one of those movies you’ve got to see to believe. I’m not going to claim this is a great piece of filmmaking, but it is extremely entertaining. I gotta admit, it charmed me. No idea is too out there for this film, and strangely a lot of it works. Even if you don’t think it works, you’ve gotta admit it’s ambitious. I mean, we have a chase sequence where Vanity is pursued in her car by motorcycle thugs swinging battle axes, then she ducks for cover by driving under a tractor trailer Clark Griswald style! Oh, and did I mention that the motorcycles sport metal horses heads between the handlebars? Sure, the sequence is goofy, but the stunt work is actually pretty impressive.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from John Stamos in this. We’re a long way from cracking jokes with the Olsen Twins here. While he’s still got that Stamos coolness going on, his performance is also appropriately dorky. He’s not supposed to be an experienced secret agent, after all, so it’s fitting that he would fumble his way through this adventure a bit. He even struggles some when it comes to the romance element of the film. There’s a pretty funny sequence where Vanity does everything she can to entice Stamos, while he, ineffectively, fights off the urge by slurping down a bottle of Perrier and dramatically devouring an apple. The love scene that results is pretty steamy and yet somewhat comical as our two leads seem to try and inhale each other’s faces. In the end, I gotta hand it to Stamos in this…he gets some James Bond moments, he gets some Rambo moments, but he’s also slightly a spaz. It’s not a recipe that should work, but he pulls it off.
Speaking of Vanity, though, she steals the show. I’m never going to make the case that Miss Denise Matthews (that was her name before Prince got ahold of her) was a fantastic actress, but there is a certain electricity she brings, though. Even through a few awkward line deliveries, she shines. But we’ve avoided the most unique part of this already somewhat bizarre cast. Of all the parts for Gene Simmons to play, I think the last thing I would’ve thought of was a villainous hermaphrodite who is something like a mix of Cher and Frank N Furter. My jaw was on the floor when Simmons’ character does his nightclub act. Strangely, the dress and feathery headgear he wears was once worn by Lynda Carter on a TV special where she sang “I was Made for Loving You” accompanied by dancers made up to look like the members of his band, KISS. You can find it on YouTube (thank you internet). Though Simmons is a joy to behold in this, I dare say his performance may be a bit too unhinged. Yes it’s outrageous, but I don’t know that he succeeds at being that effective of a villain.
Never Too Young to Die is a prime example of what the VHS boom of the 80’s brought us. Virtually anything could get made ‘cuz stores needed tapes and lots of them. The result was not necessarily films that would go down as artistically important. It did, however, give us films as magically ridiculous as this one…and I couldn’t be happier.