Wednesday, April 8, 2015

View In Peace: Geoffrey Lewis

Woke up to the news that awesome character actor Geoffrey Lewis passed away. Known for his many collaborations with Clint Eastwood, I'll always remember him being the dim witted and funny sidekick Orville from Every Which Way But Loose. You know, where Clint Eastwood plays a truck driving bare knuckle brawler who has a pet orangutan won in a fight against four guys? Classic. And as "uncle" Frank Avery from Double Impact as the hard ass veteran helping twin Jean-Claude Van Damme's take revenge on the baddies who killed their parents? Terrific. Besides a half dozen flicks with Eastwood, Lewis appeared in films filled with the likes of Steven McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Redford and Sean Connery in flicks like Dillinger, The Great Waldo Pepper, The Wind and the Lion and Tom Horn for directors including John Milius, Michael Cimino, George Roy Hill and Irvin Kershner.

Lewis was a part of my formative cinema viewing years as Stallone's Captain Schroeder in Tango & Cash, Sheldon Lettich's Double Impact, hard and disillusioned teacher Kerrigan to former student Mark Dacascos in Only the Strong, a Sheriff opposite Dolph Lundgren in Army of One then as banker Eugene in Richard Donner's Mel Gibson starring Maverick before appearing as depressed, suicidal hitman Abner in The Way of the Gun. I'd have to say Lewis's work in Every Which Way But Loose and Double Impact are what I'll always know him for. As Clint Eastwood's buddy and pseudo manager, Lewis is quite funny in the face of rude roadside market shoppers, angry bikers and gets the gal in the form of future Vacation star Beverly D'Angelo.

Double Impact is one of my favorite Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks and it's nice to see the then young and upcoming karate star opposite a few seasoned veterans like Lewis and Philip Chan. I asked Sheldon about how Lewis was cast and if I recall correctly, his name came up through the casting director. The duo would reteam on Lettich's next directorial effort, Only the Strong. Lewis plays Frank Avery, adopted uncle of Chad Wagner (Van Damme), a raised in Paris but living in Hollywood karate and aerobics instructor. Turns out Chad has a twin brother, Alex, in Hong Kong. The duo were separated at birth when their parents were killed by vicious gangsters over a lucrative tunnel construction project. Frank saved the kids, leaving Alex at an orphanage and taking Chad with him. 25 years later, Frank is going to take his revenge and the kids are coming with him. Arming themselves to the teeth, Frank, Chad and Alex take on Hong Kong thugs, greasy haired enforcers, high kicking baddies with spurs on their boots and a buff female bodyguard with thighs that can kill using explosives disguised as cognac, sniper rifles, high kicks, Johnny Walker Red, black silk underwear and lots of flexing. Ah the 90's...

Born in San Diego, Lewis was raised in Rhode Island before moving back to California at age 10.  First appearing on television and short films in 1970, Lewis would earn a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination for 1980's Flo, a CableACE Award nomination for 1984's Maximum Security and a California Independent Film Festival Best Actor award for 2005's Old Man Music.

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