So Bad it’s Netflix #9: Smoke n Lightnin

So what if the only Scorsese movie Netflix Streaming offers is Last Temptation of Christ? Who cares if their Spielberg collection consists of Amistad, Hook and 1941? What Netflix does have in abundance is garbage. It’s time to surrender and celebrate it. This isn’t so bad it’s good… this is so bad it’s Netflix. 

If you see an “Alan Smithee” in a film’s credits it means that Mr. Smithee wanted his real name off the project. Do a search for “Alan Smithee” on Netflix Streaming and only two titles come up; Smoke n Lightnin and I Love N.Y. No one has ever seen them or heard of them- yet they have survived, much like unknown life forms at the bottom of the ocean. Miraculously, these two mistakes have now been digitized and granted immortality. Since they’re not going away, the least we can do is acknowledge their presence. They just might save our lives one day.

Smoke n Lightnin (1995)


If the director of Birdemic made his own version of Let’s Be Cops it would probably look like Smoke. Smoke is rated NR, which in this case stands for Not Really sure if this movie is worth rating. Even the movie’s title has problems; bereft of apostraphes, the words “Smoke n Lightnin” look Danish in origin. Christopher Atkins and Kristoffer Ryan Winters play two colossal douche-nozzles who pretend to be government agents in order to score some chicks. They unknowingly steal a top secret C.I.A. briefcase that some murderous criminals are after. There’s action, romance and plenty of laughs, all delivered with the pace and timing of Andy Warhol’s Empire State.


The man responsible is writer/director, Mike Kirton, who, in the end, decided to take credit for the writing but not the directing, as Smoke‘s “official” director is Alan Smithee. This can only mean one thing; after all was said and done, Kirton was still very proud of his script. That’s the disturbing part. Kirton only wrote/directed two more projects after Smoke and then went on to a career as a stunt person. Kirton did stunts on both The Pest (1996) and The Quest (1997). And don’t forget his stellar work in Quest for the Pest and Quest for the Pest II: Bless This Mess, Yes! 

Let’s go to the So Bad it’s Bullet Points!


  • Kristoffer Ryan Winters, Why Are You Here?

Kristoffer Ryan Winters is a successful actor. He was in The Hurt Locker, for chrissakes. But lord almighty, is he an annoying little red headed shit in this movie. Winters is only twenty-two in Smoke and acts like a horny, nerdy child who can barely put two words together. Whenever he sees a woman he starts tittering and pointing like they’re a sideshow attraction. Winters is even awkward on the poster; for some reason he’s sitting in between the other two standing leads, looking completely uncomfortable. The poster doesn’t even want him around. Smoke never even lets young and dick-less Winters get any poontang; Atkins takes it all for himself.


  •  The Beautiful Christopher Atkins

Atkins became a mega-star with his very first film, The Blue Lagoon (1980). After Lagoon, his career had nowhere to go but down. His second feature was The Pirate Movie (1982), with Kristy MacNichol, which I can remember wanting to see but couldn’t, since it was gone from theatres in one weekend. By 1995, Atkins was still coasting on his good looks and must have been excited to headline an action comedy like Smoke. It was time to prove to the world he could still carry a film and carry Smoke he did; right into “too shitty for home video”-land. Looking a bit long in the tooth at age 34, Atkins still manages to turn on the charm, especially when pitching a woo to the hottest duck I’ve ever seen.

He’s absolutely adorable when offering the hot duck a nickel to play the jukebox, telling her, “enjoy yourself for a while.”

He’s never more alive when he finally gets to pork Ms. Duck in a disgusting pond.

  • The Towel-Head Bit

Halfway through Smoke, eager to prove themselves as the Crosby/Hope of the 90’s, Atkins and Winters actually try and execute an improvised bit. The boys go into the bathroom at a country diner to wash up and come back with towels wrapped around their heads. Never mind that this diner offers fluffy hotel towels for its patrons for some reason; this gag was very shaky from the start. They sit at the bar and go into some “I’m Middle Eastern and Indian too” accents, struggling to come up with non-jokes such as “Hello!” and “Hi, honey, I’m home!” and “Very clean bathroom, very clean.” If only UCB classes were available back then; their “yes and” skills are non-existent. Atkins definitely pulls out of the gag halfway through, having realized that the towels were a huge mistake. Winters carries on boldly for a few more seconds and then, seeing that Atkins had lowered his head and gone silent, drops the accent.


  • Reason to Watch the Unwatchable

“They say there’s nothing more dangerous than a fool with talent. Watch behind us and see!”    - Christopher Atkins at the wheel, being chased by bad guys.

There are several highly amusing car chases in Smoke, but the funniest car chase in all of cinema comes in the final set piece, where our heroes are pursued by a pony-tailed thug driving a threshing machine. You know, the kind of thresher used only for farming that can only go about ten miles an hour.

This chase is more of a crawl, really, since Atkins’ Jeep is forced to slow down enough to make it seem like the lumbering thresher is right on his ass. Plus, the wild Floridian terrain they’re driving on is so filled with brush and vegetation that both vehicles have to move very cautiously. This chase is so slow that Atkins is able to open the driver’s side door, jump out and run off with no problem, as if everyone’s riding on an amusement park course. Atkins abandons the Jeep and goes after the thug, which turns into an epic hand to hand battle on the runaway thresher. Look out! There’s no one at the wheel!

What really makes the thresher fight so compelling are the reaction shots of our other three heroes who have decided to park several hundred yards away and just watch. They could have chosen to help in some way, but I suppose they deserve a rest. Their reactions are often wildly inappropriate. They’re seeing their friend get the shit kicked out of him and yet they still manage to look bored. Sometimes, though, they’re able to crack a smile and just enjoy it.

My guess is that Mr. Kirton Smithee wasn’t exactly an “actor’s director” and didn’t bother to give them guidelines as to how to react. After all, when the thug is done killing Atkins, he’ll probably kill them too. Alas, the hot duck isn’t even looking in the right direction half the time.

“Don’t worry,” Kirton must have been thinking to himself while shooting them, “these unusable reaction shots will never cause a problem in the editing room. Never.”


Next Week: Scott Baio “fuggetts about it” in Alan Smithee’s, I Love N.Y.