Meth on Films: Johnny Dangerously

Method Man’s aliases are about as long as a Depression era soup line.  Hot Nickels.  Iron Lung.  Tical.   And so on.

Over the years, he’s had the most fun with variations on Johnny Blaze, the motorcylce stunt driver that became Ghost Rider in the Marvel Comics universe.  First going by the Johnny Blaze alias on Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx album in 1995, he’s since added John John Blazini, Big John Stud, Trapper John MD, and John McClain (though Xzibit claimed the Bruce Willis character’s nom de plume from “Die Hard” starting on his debut At the Speed of Light in 1996) to his closet of rap guises. 

Johnny Dangerous, a take off of Michael Keaton’s Johnny Dangerously (1984), is a fixture for Method Man.  For this segment, we’ll note his usage of Johnny Dangerously on the Wu-Tang Forever cut “The Projects” (coincidentally the same song where we took the name “5 O’Clock Shadowboxers” from), though he has dropped the same reference in rhyme on Redman’s “Do What Ya Feel” and his own “Killin’ Fields” off Tical 2000. 

Why has this particular strain of “John” been a crutch for Method Man?  Maybe it’s because Johnny Dangerously is a beloved cult movie from the 80’s that was one of Michael Keaton’s known roles before Batman.  As per his work with Redman, in the studio and on the film How High, we can also deduce that Tical loves him a good comedy while goofing off between endless puffs of White Owl.  But my guess is that “Johnny Dangerous” just sounds fucking badass, and the fact that the film is a gangster flick at its core, albeit a spoof co-starring Joe Piscipo, was icing on the cake. 

Tagline: “Organized crime has never been so disorganized!”

Referenced in: “Projects” (Welcome to the killing fields with Johnny Dangerous, headbanger boogie n**** going through changes)

Theatrical trailer:

Starring:  Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo, Marilu Henner, Maureen Stapleton, Peter Boyle, Danny DeVito, Dom DeLuise, Dick Butkus

Directed by:  Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Look Who’s Talking, Look Who’s Talking Too, Clueless, A Night at the Roxbury)

Plot Summary:   Set in the 1930’s, an honest, goodhearted man is forced to turn to a life of crime to finance his neurotic mother’s skyrocketing medical bills and to put his younger brother through law school.

Interesting pieces of trivia:

  • One of the first movies with a PG-13 rating.
  • Two of the movie’s four screenwriters previously created “Different Strokes”
  • Weird Al Yankovic wrote the opening theme song “This is the Life” but for legal reasons the song was cut out of the VHS release in the 80’s.  The song was put back in the picture for the 2002 DVD release.  Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave” substituted.
  • Danny DeVito would later go on to produce Red and Meth’s How High
  • 

Hollywood appeal:

  • Michael Keaton was a rising star after the shortlived sitcom Working Stiffs with Jim Belushi.  That show lead to his casting in The Night Shift with Henry Winkler and subsequently Mr. Mom which was a hit in 1983. 
  • Director Amy Heckerling was fresh off of 1983’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which grossed $27mill on a $4mill budget.
  • This was Joe Piscopo’s first film after leaving Saturday Night Live.
  • The film was a spoof of the original Scarface (1932) and White Heat (1949). 
  • 

Wu-Tang appeal:

  • Tons of great nicknames and characters for future storytelling joints: Danny Vermin, Killer Kelly, Jocko Dundee, The Pope, Roman Troy Moronie, and Tony Scarano.
  • Keaton’s Johnny Kelly becomes Johnny Dangerously to support his mother and his brother, rising through the ranks of the mob, gets pinched, then escapes prison.  The idea of organized crime paying off with minimal damage was surely appealing to the Clansmen in their younger days.
  • A New York City self-made gangster who rises to the top under an alias?  Hello Wu-Gambinos.
  • 

Up next:   Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh

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Meth on Films

Method Man is an interesting study.  From 1993-1995, he was the best rapper alive.  Every young aspiring cat wanted to be Tical.  He was larger than life, packing a voice, flow, and cadence never heard before.  One of the Ego Trip rap lists (I believe) made a chart of the Rap Kings of New York gave Meth the crown during that era pre-dating eventual throne claimers Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Raekwon, 50 Cent, Diddy, Jim Jones, etc

My personal claim about Method Man’s legacy is that in 1997, during the zenith of Wu triumphs with the release of Wu-Tang Forever, he was the second best rapper of that year following Biggie.  Since then, his well-documented career has been up and down like a yo-yo.  But if you revisit Wu-Tang Forever, you start noticing what was influencing Meth beyond the usual assortment of comic books, headbanger boogie smoke, and the Twelve Jewels. 

As a fellow emcee, you oftentimes get stuck on words or phrases.  You might have a little notebook you scribble all these things down in.  You might snatch up a sticky pad or Subway napkin or receipt to jot down those fleeting characters to use later when crafting lyrics.  When you hear emcees reference a certain book or particular corner in Brooklyn, and you one day happen upon it, it’s a weird reward: THIS is exactly what Rapper X was talking about in 1995!  You begin carrying around these buzz words that mean nothing to you outside of rap lyrics only to watch them explode like protons and electrons when you stumble across that movie or that video game or that dusty piece of vinyl or that particular cut of white girl. 

In 1997, before Netflix and Redbox and IMDB.com, Method Man was either A) watching alot of American Movie Classics on basic cable or B) jotting down the titles of films from an earlier era that had badass titles suitable for a killa bee’s dart artillery.  Where he came across these titles is uncertain; Meth is a legendary comic book fiend, and he later went on to work in Hollywood in campy stoner flicks as well as arthouse movies with Zach Braff.  But in 1997, I have no idea how Ticallion came across the film The Naked City, a 1948 black and white semi-documentary noir about two detectives finding the killer of an attractive female.  But he did and he referenced it in “As High as Wu-Tang Get”.

So this segment, Meth on Films, will delve into the movies Method Man referenced on Wu-Tang Forever, a surprising and interesting list of films that span the genres of horror, action, comedy, drama, and documentary.

First up: The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Referenced in: “Triumph” (‘Iron Lung ain’t got to tell you where I’m coming from, Guns of Navarone tearing through your battle zone, rip through your slums’)

Theatrical trailer:

Tagline: “An impregnable fortress… An invincible army… And the unstoppable commando team”

Starring: Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven

Directed by: J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, Battle for the Planet of the Apes)

Plot Summary: Two powerful German guns control the seas past the Greek island of Navarone making the evacuation of endangered British troops on a neighboring island impossible. Air attack is useless so a team of six Allied and Greek soldiers is put ashore to meet up with partisans to try and dynamite the guns. The mission is perilous enough anyway but are the Germans on the island getting further help too?

Interesting pieces of trivia:

  • The highest grossing film of 1961
  • Gregory Peck often said he was disappointed that so many viewers had missed how anti-war the film was intended to be
  • Because the stars were all too old for their characters, the movie was nicknamed “Elderly Gang Goes Off to War” by the British press
  • There is no Navarone in real life

Hollywood appeal: Part of a cycle of big-budget World War II adventures that included The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Longest Day (1962) and The Great Escape (1963)

Wu-Tang appeal:

  • The film’s score has been covered by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, a definite influence on the Clan, most notably RZA and his blunted basement production techniques
  • Referenced by Jules in Pulp Fiction (Every time my fingers touch brain, (…) I’m the Guns of the Navarone), which came out in 1994 and might’ve caught Meth’s attention
  • Though not a kung fu flick , the basic concept of the film (historical underdogs go up against a daunting evil power) falls in line with signifiers of injustice and strategicly orchestrated  counterstrikes found in various Shaw Brothers films.

Meth’s usage of the film in his rhyme: Since the “gun” part of Guns of Navarone is referring to a massive German gun emplacement that commands a key sea channel, it’s pretty vicious for Meth to use these particular hand cannons to tear up your battle zone and your slum.  One would assume this particular firepower to be quite damaging to anyone, military personnel or civilain, along the eastern seaboard in the late 1990’s. 

Next up: Johnny Dangerously (1984)