Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.
This week we’ll be looking at KUFFS!
THE STORY: George Kuffs (Christian Slater), an irresponsible young man with a pregnant girlfriend (Milla Jovovich) goes to his brother (Bruce Boxleitner), who’s the head of an auxiliary civilian police force in San Francisco, for help. But – when his brother is gunned down, Kuffs joins his old unit to avenge his death and prove to his girlfriend that he has what it takes to be a dad.
I knew who Christian was, because I’d seen him in a couple of movies at that point, but he was still pretty new and, of course, I was, too. [Laughs.] Then we did Kuffs together a few years later. It was the first movie I did after Ghost, and I did it because I wanted to do a comedy, and I loved Christian’s work. It was fun. I, uh, don’t think I ever saw the movie, but I remember it being fun. Kind of silly, but he was great to work with.- Tony Goldwyn – Random Roles
THE HISTORY: Teen idols don’t get much bigger than Christian Slater was in 1991. Fresh off HEATHERS and PUMP UP THE VOLUME, which established him as a kind of teenaged Jack Nicholson for the late eighties, Slater started to try and branch out a bit, and KUFFS was an effort to appeal to his fan base but also establish him as a wisecracking, grown-up superstar. It should have worked. After all, Slater was so popular at the time that I vividly remember seeing STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY and girls in the audience shrieking when he showed up in a tiny cameo. KUFFS, with a PG-13 rating and a hip marketing campaign, should have been next level for him, but the film crashed and burned at the box office, opening to middling reviews and topping out at $21 million at the box office. That wasn’t an awful number for the era, and one assumes that after home video and cable the movie broke even, but it didn’t quite launch Slater into the stratosphere, although he went on to a couple of classics shortly after, including the iconic TRUE ROMANCE, and has since re-established himself as a TV star thanks to “Mr. Robot” so don’t feel too bad for ol’ Christian.
WHY IT’S GREAT: I’ll admit to a kind of lingering affection for Christian Slater, mostly because, as a kid, I saw all of his movies over and over because my older sister was obsessed with him. ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and PUMP UP THE VOLUME got repeat play in my childhood household, and KUFFS was another Slater vehicle I saw a lot of. In some ways, it feels like one of the last gasps of 80’s action cinema, with a few concessions made for the teenaged market. For one, it’s got the wisecracking cool guy hero, with KUFFS very much in the mold of Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley. Had this performed at the box office, I could have easily seen KUFFS becoming a franchise character, and I like the premise, that he’s not a cop but rather the head of a civilian auxiliary police force.
To tie-it-in to the most established formulas, Kuffs is given a partner in Tony Goldwyn, who’s the cop he’s paired with on patrol that, of course, initially hates Kuffs but in the end is down to launch a full-on gun-toting assault on the baddies because – well – it’s an action flick. It even has a super cheesy (but fun) score by Harold Faltermeyer and a pop song fueled soundtrack, just in case you doubt for even a second that this is a BEVERLY HILLS COP clone.
Overall though, KUFFS is a pretty amusing little action flick. Slater’s got the cool guy, irreverent hero shtick down cold here, and his chemistry with Goldwyn is top-notch. If KUFFS has any real failing it’s that it’s so by the numbers in the way it ticks off the cop movie clichés that back in ’91, it probably seemed familiar, although watched nowadays that can be overlooked in favor of retro coolness. I wish the movie had more oddball touches, such as the great bit where Goldwyn and Slater are too broke to afford an arsenal for the final assault so have to inquire about the gun shop’s return policy. Mostly though, it’s standard, fun stuff – with a pretty weak villain (albeit one with a cool henchman played by Leon Rippy) and a somewhat inappropriately cast Jovovich, who was only about fifteen or sixteen when she played the pregnant girlfriend – which in hindsight is more than a little gross but alas that was the era.
BEST SCENE: One of the concessions KUFFS had to make to its teen audience was the fact that to pull in Slater’s base, there was no way this could ever get an R-rating. Given the body count and gun violence, it was touch and go, but in the end, they squeaked by with a PG-13, but one of the ways around it was to creatively bleep out the F-bombs in Told Goldwyn’s tirade against Kuffs in their little meet-cute.
SEE IT: KUFFS is available on a nice new Blu-ray from Shout Factory and for purchase/rental on Amazon/iTunes/Google Play.
PARTING SHOT: While KUFFS isn’t one of the better action movies of its era, it’s still, in my opinion, a solid B-movie entry into the genre and well worth a look for fans of the era.