While not always a conscious decision, every so often my review choices tend to follow certain themes or patterns. From early 2018 until the beginning of 2019, I somehow managed to review 4 films and a comic book dealing with the subject of cryptids. I then closed out the remainder of that year with a barrage of reviews for independent and other generally low-budgeted films. Then, in 2020, I inadvertently reviewed 4 or 5 films dealing with UFOs and alien invaders.
Although I did pick 5 of the 7 topics reviewed on the site so far this year sometime back in 2020 (6 of 8 if you count this one), I again failed to notice a connection that is clearly running between at least a few of these films. They all feature (for lack of a better term) “washed up” television stars, years past their prime-time heyday. Unlike the 2 examples already featured on the site this year (Eye of the Beast and A Crack in the Floor), today’s film features TWO of these former television stars! (To be fair, one only appears as a glorified cameo. ) In both of today’s cases, stardom came not in the 1990s, but in the 1970s and early-80s.
Criminal Act is a 1989 direct-to-video film from director Mark Byers, who has written and produced a number of independent features over the years, most notably 1987’s Stripped to Kill. The film was written and produced by Daniel Yost, who would also co-write Drugstore Cowboy (with Gus Van Sant) the same year… and seemingly nothing else worth mentioning. Criminal Act received a DVD release in the early 2000s under the new title of Tunnels, which was an alternate title used for the film’s international release. Honestly, both titles are incredibly generic and vague.
Catherine Bach, best known to a generation of hormonal pre-pubescent (and quite a few post-pubescent) boys as The Dukes of Hazzard‘s resident eye-candy “Daisy Duke”, stars as newspaper reporter Pam Weiss. Pam has been delegated to the news desk as of late, not having actually chased any stories or leads in some time. In order to prove that she still has what it takes, Pam makes a bet with her best-friend and photographer, Sharon (Charlene Dallas, a former Miss California who appeared in a few films and TV shows during the 1970s), and agrees to accept the very next story that pops up.
FUN FACT: It’s worth noting that Dallas came out of an 11-year retirement to appear in Criminal Act… only to never appear on film again.
After a rat is found in their office toilet, Pam’s “story” becomes an investigation into the reported rise in the size and number of rats reported to be living in the local sewage system. With the help of an aging exterminator (Vic Tayback of TV’s Alice, in one of his final roles), the women scour the office’s sub-basement, finding a series of old, abandoned tunnels that run beneath the city. While searching the tunnels, they encounter a man named Ron Bellard (Nicholas Guest, best known as Christmas Vacation‘s “Todd”). Ron just happens to be the younger brother of Lance Bellard (prolific voice actor Victor Brandt), the shady multi-millionaire developer who not only owns the newspaper that Pam and Sharon work for, but also most of the town’s prime real estate.
Startled by the man’s sudden appearance, Sharon haphazardly fires off a few blasts from her camera’s flash bulb, temporarily blinding the man. Once he gathers his composure, Ron explains that he was recently hired by his brother, who is “breaking him in” by sticking him with the most demeaning, meaningless tasks… such as inspecting the old tunnels. Both Pam and Sharon have some attraction to the man, even if they may not totally believe his story.
While developing some photos later that evening, Sharon finds the photo that she accidentally snapped of Ron. To her surprise, she finds the image of a rat-like humanoid lingering just inside the shadows! Even more alarming, she also finds what appears to be an even larger creature hidden in the darkness just a short distance from where they encountered Ron!! However, probably most shocking of all, the viewer soon discovers that the filmmakers obviously never bothered to hire a special effects crew as neither of these teased elements turn into much of anything and may have been ditched altogether during the film’s production.
Soon, it is revealed that Lance has hired men to abduct the homeless that reside in the area surrounding his latest development. For whatever reason, these unfortunate folks are then sold to a boat captain, who takes them out to sea to be tossed overboard and drowned. One of Ballard’s henchmen is a burly, bald-headed fellow, played by Over The Top‘s “Bull Hurley”, Rick Zumwalt. In what is surely the film’s most disappointing development, this character is exposed to be the large “monster” hiding in the shadows, and not an actual monster of some sort.
Wait… it gets better! (By which, I mean “worse”.) Although the “rat-man” hybrid does reappear multiple times throughout the film, it quickly becomes evident that this “creature” is nothing more than just some unfortunate actor who naturally happens to have somewhat rodent-like facial features. Again, no special effects were used in the making of this film! Just as confusing is the fact that for a film that bases its entire premise off the appearance of a rat, only the one rat is seen throughout the entirety of the film!
Criminal Act, or Tunnels, or whatever you want to call it quickly ditches any and all pretense of being an overwhelmingly unsuccessful horror film/monster movie and instead resigns itself to being a moderate unsuccessful action/comedy “buddy flick”. In these regards, there’s really nothing defining about Criminal Act, and it’s easy to understand why the film has slipped into relative obscurity these 30+ years after its initial release. The film clearly has no sense of identity, dabbling a little in multiple genres, but failing to really grasp any. In fact, while watching the film, I was forced to wonder if the script was re-written multiple times during shooting, as a few certain seemingly important plot points (and a few red herrings) are brought forth only to never be mentioned again. You know, like anything involving a rat.
While Bach may have been a prime-time sex symbol during her Dukes days, it’s really not much of a secret that she did not get that gig based on her acting abilities alone… or possibly at all. Sadly, she’s not much more than serviceable in her role in Criminal Act, adding little of note (outside of name recognition) to the performance. That’s not to single her out, as none of the cast with the exception of cult film legend John Saxon (in a small role as Pam’s editor) really stand out, and even he is given little more to do than to stand around looking annoyed.
When you combine all of its lackluster elements, Criminal Act/Tunnels has all the makings of your stereotypical “bad” film, and by “bad” I mean one with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. However, in spite of all its failings… in fact, BECAUSE of all its failings, I still found watching the film to be anything but a joyless experience, even if it did somewhat remind me of a made-for-TV film. I can’t say that I’d highly recommend it. I’m not even sure I’d recommend it at all. Yet, while I am fairly certain that I will never seek out the film again, it mildly amused me, if only because of its determination in the face of a glaring lack of identity.
In closing, it’s worth noting that Criminal Act was originally released with an “R” rating. Honestly, the film is much closer to a PG as there is no sex/nudity, minimal adult language (of the most mild nature, dammit), and a level of violence that is far tamer than what is found on most prime-time television today (and possibly by the standards of 1989). This is one movie that is reasonably safe for the whole family… but I assure you, the kids won’t give a shit about some 30-year old straight-to-video movie starring a pin-up girl whose career had hit the skids decades before they were even born. At least, not one WITHOUT a giant rat!
Tunnels is available to watch on both Amazon and Youtube.