Mighty moustachioed private eye and all-round stud Cody Abilene (Darby Hinton) is living the high life aboard his boat, the Malibu Express, scoring with numerous busty bikini babes that beat a path to his door, when the slinky and mysterious Contessa Luciana (B-movie goddess Sybil Danning) hires him to investigate strange goings on at the estate of her close friend, Lady Lillian Chamberlain (Niki Dantine). After first sharing a night of exhausting passion with the Contessa, Cody arrives to unearth all sorts of sordid secrets at the Chamberlain household. It seems studly butler Shane (Brett Baxter Clark) is sleeping with her ladyship’s daughter-in-law Anita (Shelley Taylor Morgan), whose husband Stuart (Michael A. Andrews) leads a double-life as a cross-dressing homosexual. Meanwhile younger daughter Liza (Lorraine Michaels) has been lured into financing a project run by shifty computer tycoon Jonathan Harper. Then one night the blackmailing Shane is stabbed but manages to snap a photo of his stocking-masked murderer. It is up to Cody to uncover the culprit whilst eluding Harper’s murderous musclemen, repeatedly hassled by chubby drag-racing rivals the Buffington family and sleeping with more super-stacked sex-kittens.
What Russ Meyer was to the grindhouse and drive-in circuit in the Sixties and Seventies, writer-producer-director Andy Sidaris was to the straight-to-video market throughout the Eighties and Nineties. He carved himself a mini-empire with his so-called “bullets, bombs and babes” series of movies, trading on sun-soaked vistas, sleek action and most prominently (in every sense) an abundance of sexy, scantily-clad starlets usually culled from the ranks of the Playboy Playmates or Penthouse Pets, who popped their tops every few minutes between blasting bad guys. Sidaris began his career shooting sports documentaries - earning a shelfload of Emmy awards and a notoriously uncredited stint shooting the football sequences in M*A*S*H (1970) (something he begrudged Robert Altman for in numerous interviews) - then parlayed his earnings into his first drive-in hit, Stacy! (1973), though he only really hit his stride once he began distributing his own movies.
Malibu Express is supposedly a gender-switched remake of Sidaris’ earlier hit but this kinky whodunnit laced with drag-racing action and soft-core sex sometimes come off like the pilot for some unholy fusion of The Dukes of Hazard with Magnum P.I. only with the raunch factor cranked up to eleven. While slower paced than later Sidaris fare, it establishes his distinctive sensibilities and cinematic style: flashy editing, deliberately ludicrous plotting, an emphasis on firepower, fast cars and even faster women and most endearingly, his cheeky and knowing sense of humour. This is a movie featuring a big-bosomed lady race car driver called June Khnockers (Lynda Wiesmeier), a trio of numbskulled hitmen named Matthew, Mark and Luke, a car chase where Cody’s lady passenger is so aroused she pressures him for sex even as they’re dodging bullets, and which ends with the cast assembled aboard the Malibu Express for an outrageously convoluted wrap-up, interspersed with a Sybil Danning shower scene!
Unlike Russ Meyer, Sidaris is no subversive. He never questions the values of his bronzed and beautiful Eighties jet-set. He simply wallows in its decadent kitsch and wants his audience to have a good time doing likewise. And for it is, viewers are unlikely to find a more good-natured exploitation film. Former child star-turned-soap actor Darby Hinton makes an affable country boy hero, showing more spirit than he had in the witless Firecracker (1981), while Sybil Danning plays it similarly tongue-in-cheek, vamping it up in an array of eye-popping, hilariously camp outfits. As Andy Sidaris and his producer wife Arlene repeatedly pointed out over the years, alongside the beautiful beach babes in their movies, a fair few buff guys doffed their duds too. Furthermore, Sidaris amusingly sends up macho clichés by having Cody a hopelessly inept shot with his .44 Magnum pistol. Quite often he relies on resourceful sexpots, from his policewoman squeeze Beverly (Lori Sutton) to the aforementioned Miss Khnockers, to bail him out of a jam. Sidaris packed his films with violent action, but they remained disarmly free of misogyny, suggesting a more benevolent (dare one say, even semi-feminist?) interpretation of his oft-quoted maxim: “Leave it to the ladies.”