There’s something to be said for consistency of output as a filmmaker. Although we can admire the likes of Steven Soderbergh or Ridley Scott for their cinematic eclecticism, not to mention their undeniable talents, it’s also comforting to see a director’s name pop up and know exactly what you’re getting in advance. Especially when what you’re really in the mood for is a shamelessly tawdry action movie full of scantily clad women shooting huge guns.
Enter, Andy Sidaris, the director of at least one film with legendary status among bad action movie devotees: 1987’s Hard Ticket to Hawaii. That beyond-absurd, beyond-insane feature is the reason that many film geeks are aware of Sidaris today, but it was only one entry in a 12-film odyssey of action movies so profoundly silly and heavily sexualized that, watching them in 2020, you’d swear they must be parodies. Together, the series (1985-1998) was referred to as Sidaris’ crowning achievement, the “Triple B”: Bullets, Bombs and Babes. Never an official term, it was a title posthumously applied to the series of Playboy Playmate-starring action movies by fans, although you’ll also find people referring to it as “Girls, Guns and G-Strings” thanks to Mill Creek’s thrifty collection of all 12 in a cheap, single DVD case “box set.” They’re not the best transfers in the world, but it does include a dozen movies for less than $9, so it’s hard to argue with that. Mill Creek is also releasing the entire series via Blu-ray as well.
Taken as a whole, though, Sidaris’ films feel like a portal to a different time, when “sexy” American exploitation films—especially those produced cheaply for home video and premium cable networks—could afford to be both straightforward and uniquely shameless in their approach. This was a level of ham-fisted audience catering that didn’t exist even in earlier exploitation works by the likes of Roger Corman or Russ Meyer, whose films seem stately and intricately plotted by comparison. The Sidaris’ oeuvre was single-minded in its dogged determination to give the pubescent male audience exactly what it wanted, and it has a tendency to make these films look hilariously guileless in retrospect.
Perhaps the perfect image to sum up the entire Triple B series.
Given that, it’s fascinating to consider who Sidaris was before his late-career jaunt into cinematic T&A. The son of Greek immigrants, he was raised in Louisiana, studied TV production in Dallas, and eventually found his way into live sports production. In that field, he’s credited with revolutionizing several aspects of how TV sports are shot and broadcasted, including being the first director to send hand-held cameras onto the field during football matches. He later worked with both NBC and ABC, training their live event coverage staff in modern sports cinematography, before directing ABC’s iconic Wide World of Sports. He arguably reached his zenith in the field in 1969, when he won an Emmy Award for his direction of ABC Sports’ coverage of the 1968 Summer Olympics.
And yet, there were glimmers of the exploitation filmmaker Sidaris would become, even in those early sports production days. One notable example was his pioneering use of what would come to be known as the “honey shot”—contextless shots of cheerleaders or attractive female fans that would be inserted into slower moments of the game. Along the way, Sidaris was also indulging his hobbies and childlike fascinations in novel gadgetry, complicated weaponry and RC cars/boats/helicopters/airplanes that would eventually come to typify almost all of his features, once saying that he was in the habit of “constantly going to gun stores to check out various new weapons as they hit the market.” To look at his films, you’d simply nod and think, ‘Yep, that checks out.’
This seeming innocence that Sidaris possessed when it came to the topics he just found “neat”—the obsession with RC toys in particular—infuses the Triple B series with a weird sense of naiveté and utter lack of pretension, which carries over into the writer-director’s apparent disinterest in holding to any kind of solid continuity from film to film, even when those films feature returning characters and performers. This is especially true of his stable of buxom actresses, who routinely will play a villain in one film, be killed, and then show up in the next movie as a new protagonist, working right alongside the same characters who shot them dead the year prior. The effect is an ever-evolving paradox of continuity, but one that the audience was clearly never meant to note—they were supposed to be focused on all the explosions and exposed flesh.
These descriptions no doubt make Sidaris’ Triple B filmography sound like the worst of all insultingly exploitative dreck, but oddly, this isn’t always the case. In fact, his bevy of female secret agents routinely outperform their male peers, who are almost invariably portrayed as bungling idiots who are never able to shoot guns accurately, being frequently bested in fights with female assassins. The women, by contrast, are more serious-minded than the men, and it’s never insinuated they’re held back in their work by their gender. Hell, even the male villains of the series never imply that the women are “less than,” as female agents. You might say, in fact, that the men of the Triple B series stand in as the air-headed bimbos typical of action films of the era, while the women usurp all the positions of power and agency.
The women are even packing bigger guns than the men.
With that said … yeah, the primary audience here was still desperately horny men watching these movies at 2 a.m. on Cinemax or USA Up All Night. And yes, we can assume that Sidaris was deriving no small amount of titillation by watching all this nudity and action unfold in front of his camera lens. But despite it all, the series is consistently more empowering to its female characters than you would ever expect … in addition to being both comically amateurish and deliriously entertaining.
When all is said and done, the Triple B are some of the silliest, raunchiest, most amusing low-budget action films of their day. Having watched all 12, here are our picks for five you can consider the most “essential” for your sleazy movie viewing, in chronological order.
The first film in the Triple B series doesn’t really represent Andy Sidaris as a fully formed entity—it’s like a prototype of every idea he’ll pursue later, but he hadn’t quite settled on the format to do so. In particular, this film feels much more like something intended for theatrical rather than home video or TV release, and is more conventional in structure as a result—or as conventional as you can get in a Meatballs-style sex comedy crossed with low-budget James Bond or Magnum, P.I. parody.
Malibu Express revolves around a studly male lead character (the first and only time, for this series) named Cody Abilene (Darby Hinton), the first in an ever-mounting series of “Abilene” scions who are presented as a hunky extended family throughout these films, often serving as supporting protagonists. Here, Cody is meant to be a cool guy audience surrogate/aspirational figure, being described as both a wealthy playboy and a part-time private investigator/racecar driver, as if Sidaris is checking off everything he might have considered replying when asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” in first grade. Cody Abilene seems to be his idea of the perfect macho man, and Malibu Express is notably testosterone infused as a result. You get the sense, looking at the rest of the films in the Triple B series, that Sidaris must have come to the conclusion that this type of character was a miscalculation—making the protagonist a smirking male asshole working his way through a parade of sexy women (including Sybil Danning!) was too conventional and entirely too 1970s to truly stand out. Instead, Sidaris would pivot to making his parade of supporting Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets into the gun-toting stars of the show.
Ultimately, Malibu Express feels much more like a product of the previous decade than the latter films, especially in its staid sense of humor and reliance on car chases to deliver excitement. It gives you a good idea of the ground floor Sidaris was working from, but he would quickly ascend to much more absurdly entertaining heights.
Given that it is by no small margin the most ambitiously ludicrous film Sidaris ever directed, it’s easy to see why Hard Ticket to Hawaii is widely viewed as the man’s magnum opus. It’s the first Sidaris film that bad movie geeks usually end up seeing, and although many of its elements are recreated quite faithfully in the 10 Triple B installments that followed it, they’re never quite as memorably gonzo as they are here. This is undeniably the peak, as far as pure entertainment and unintentional laughter is concerned.
Hard Ticket to Hawaii establishes the format that all the other entries in the series will employ: We’re following several female agents of a purposefully vague government spy syndicate (eventually referred to as L.E.T.H.A.L., but they hadn’t come up with that acronym yet here) as they tackle a criminal cadre of bad guys in a tropical locale, which almost always includes a sour-faced Rodrigo Obregon in the mix. This entry introduces two leading ladies who will anchor the series for several movies, in the form of Donna (Dona Speir, no fewer than 7 Sidaris films) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton, 3 movies), a pair of fresh-faced spy recruits who run up against a drug lord played by Obregon in the first of many villain roles. The scenes between these two former Playboy Playmates are at times painfully clumsy, with Speir’s casting in particular revolving around cramming as many shower scenes as possible into a film’s runtime. Carlton, on the other hand, is actually easy to like, as her puckish smile and dorky secret agent hero worship (she literally has a Malibu Express poster in her room!) gets the audience rooting for her whether they intend to or not.
What really defines Hard Ticket, though, is its singularly bizarre moments, which arrive like clockwork every 15 minutes or so, providing a spike of absurdity that leaves the viewer buzzing and chuckling until the next one. This film simply has everything a bad movie geek could want. Skateboarding assassin clutching a blow-up sex doll? That’s in here. Razor-tipped frisbee slicing into a man’s jugular? In here. Anatomically impossible sex scenes? We got plenty of that. Man sitting down at a restaurant table and monologuing about all the vitamins and supplements he takes to achieve healthy urine? Absolutely happens at one point in this movie.
Hell, even the side plot of Hard Ticket to Hawaii manages to eclipse anything else in the Triple B series. As if the shootouts between drug runners and sexy lady agents weren’t enough, Sidaris pulls a master stroke by also weaving in a story about a deadly, escaped snake running amok on the island … a snake that has been “infected with deadly toxins from cancer-infested rats!” Yes, this is an action movie that occasionally checks in with a side story about a killer cancer python, and if that isn’t enough to pique your curiosity, then I have to think the films of Andy Sidaris might not be your cup of tea. And it will be your loss.
Picasso Trigger is mentioned in the same breath by some Andy Sidaris fans as Hard Ticket to Hawaii, but after recently rewatching it, the follow-up is a bit lacking in comparison. That’s not to say it isn’t entertainingly bad, but none of the series has quite the same spark of the divine seen in Hard Ticket. This one in comparison starts out on the slow side, but it snowballs into a satisfyingly out-of-control Sidaris narrative before all is said and done. Each minute that goes by, Picasso Trigger gets a bit better, but it stands out in an odd way by being somewhat more chaste than other entries in the series … at least at first.
Speir and Carlton return as buxom agents Donna and Taryn, but they’re pushed a bit out of the spotlight by a vastly expanded supporting cast, which includes first-timer (and fellow Playboy Playmate) Roberta Vasquez as double agent “Pantera”—the first of many female villains who will be killed, and then return as nearly identical protagonists in later films of the series. Speaking of identical: Rodrigo Obregon is again playing our villain, as the brother of his own ultra-dead character from Hard Ticket, out for revenge. But at the same time, there’s a secret assassin villain who is a master of faking his own death and pulling the strings from behind the scenes …
If that sounds a bit more convoluted than even the “snakes and drugs!” combo of Hard Ticket to Hawaii, it’s because it is. Sidaris really tries to branch out into parallel narratives in Picasso Trigger, as the agents are almost never together, instead breaking apart into numerous teams that each simultaneously investigate and bring down a specific group of bad guys. This leads to a lot of “Wait, what? Who was that? Where are they?” on the part of the audience, but Picasso Trigger at least finishes strong, with a series of increasingly implausible fakeouts and explosions. Of note: This film’s representative from the “Abilene” family of male protagonists, Travis Abilene (Steve Bond), is perhaps the most deeply unlikable of the entire series, and you’d righteously like to see him get kneed in the groin for cheating on multiple members of the female cast … with each other. But you’ll have to settle for his inability to shoot straight as a metaphor for impotence.
It’s really, really difficult to pick a specific stand-out among the next five films of the Triple B series, released between 1989 and 1993. The first, 1989’s Savage Beach is definitely the most unique of that group, being the last hurrah for the Hard Ticket team of Speir and Carlton, but we’ll cover that film’s far crazier sequel in our next entry. It’s the next four entries that really blur together, even viewing them in quick succession: Guns, Do or Die, Hard Hunted and Fit to Kill are definitely of a kind, and all four continue to be star vehicles both for Speir and new leading lady Roberta Vasquez, suddenly here as protagonist Nicole after originally being the villain, Pantera.
The villains of these films, meanwhile, are almost always smuggler kingpins or corrupt businessmen who are impossible to tell apart—something that is not helped by Sidaris casting someone like Erik Estrada as the villain in Guns (the most accurate Andy Sidaris title ever), and then as a protagonist in the very next film, Do or Die. At one point, the same villain is even played in two separate films by actors of very different racial descent (one Asian, one white)! It makes this stretch feel particularly interchangeable, even compared to the rest of the series—you might think of it as Sidaris’ fallow period, at least in terms of his preference for relying on the hits (explosions, boobs, washed-up TV stars). Even the plots have a tendency to revolve around similar macguffins.
Do or Die does just enough to stand out in a few ways. It has an appearance from Pandora Peaks, she of Russ Meyer infamy, and also a man who is arguably the least believable villain to ever grace the Sidaris roster: Karate Kid star Pat Morita. Here, he’s “Kane,” a duplicitous businessman mastermind who unleashes half a dozen super assassins against our virtuous ass-kickers, Donna and Nicole. All the other, typical Sidaris beats are present (RC vehicles, explosions, etc), but this is the only film in the series where you can definitively say that you witnessed a Mr. Miyagi sex scene. So yeah, that will probably stick in your mind.
After 1993’s Fit to Kill, Andy Sidaris stepped down from being writer-director of the Triple B series, allowing a new generation to take center stage in the form of his own son, Christian Drew Sidaris. The following two films, Enemy Gold and The Dallas Connection were written and directed by said junior Sidaris, with Andy and wife Arelene taking a step back into the role of executive parents … er, producers. And unfortunately, the lack of Andy’s familiar touch holds these entries back—they’re arguably more competently shot than their predecessors, but are far more conventionally plotted, lacking the weapons-grade absurdity you usually associate with the series. They’re ultimately most notable for introducing some fresh blood—gone is Dona Speir, replaced in terms of prominence by former Penthouse Pet Julie Strain, who plays two different villains in Enemy Gold and The Dallas Connection before then returning as a protagonist in Return to Savage Beach. Also along for the ride? World Championship Wrestling’s Marcus “Buff” Bagwell, playing the titular villain in Day of the Warrior before his same character pulls a face turn in Return to Savage Beach. Whyever would people have difficulty telling these films apart, anyway?
We can only imagine that Andy Sidaris felt the need to come out of retirement after those two lackluster Triple B entries, because starting with 1996’s Day of the Warrior he’s back in the writer-director saddle. Although that particular film has its moments (Strain and Bagwell fighting in a wrestling ring is especially stupid), Sidaris truly saves all of his best material for what would ultimately be his final film, 1998’s Return to Savage Beach. It’s a magically batshit stew of interconnected Sidaris Extended Universe plotlines that very nearly reaches Hard Ticket to Hawaii levels of brilliance. After watching the entire series, it definitely registers as a clear runner up on the “how hard will you laugh?” scale, especially in its attempts to tie together bits of plot introduced in Savage Beach, The Dallas Connection AND Day of the Warrior. The resulting mess is a true filmic ouroboros, threatening to collapse inward on itself at all times.
Released in 1998, the passage of time on the earnestly straightforward Sidaris formula has become especially noticeable here, and it must have made the film feel positively antiquated upon release. Sidaris responds by evolving not in terms of plotting or storytelling—those are exactly the same as they were in the mid-1980s—but by upgrading his performers to grotesque new heights. That means glaringly massive “enhancements” on the female talent, but it’s even more apparent when it comes to the men of the L.E.T.H.A.L. squad, who go from being tousled, Tom Berenger-looking bums in the earlier entries of the series, to hairless, roided up beefcakes by this point. Perhaps it was the presence of a WCW wrestler in the mix that pushed things further in this direction, but nowhere in the series is the male eye candy even half as gratuitous. Seriously, you’d think that David DeCoteau snuck in and directed half of it. The bad acting, meanwhile, is on an entirely different level from even the rest of the Triple B series—it must be heard to be believed.
In terms of absurd moments, though, Return to Savage Beach provides a glorious, fitting end to the series. You get everything you could desire: RC cars with bombs strapped to them flying off ramps; random ninja interludes; sexy daydream sequences; sex under a waterfall; an assassin disguised as a pizza girl; Samurai Cop’s Gerald Okamura. It’s a banquet, capped off by one of the crowning moments of the series, when the most improbable unmasking in history delivers a genuine example of what Wayne’s World once referred to as a “Scooby Doo ending.”
Oh, and did I mention that the theme song becomes self-aware at one point and contains the lyrics, “How many endings does this story have?”
Truly, they don’t make them like this any more—nor could they, even if they tried. The works of Andy Sidaris ring with a simplicity of motive and shamelessness of intent that is impossible to replicate in modern society, which probably isn’t a bad thing when all is said and done. But my god, are these movies fun to watch.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre movie geek. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film writing.